As my husband Mike and I reflected on where we were, what we were doing, and how we felt when 9/11 happened, it hit home to me how much our lives have been impacted by Fear*. Fear of outsiders, fear of being hurt, fear of not being good enough or smart enough to prevent problems from happening, fear of the unknown. And Fear can drive us to do crazy, foolhardy, vicious things - both to ourselves and others. I listened with increasing horror as Mike recounted a story about one of the customers who came into his shop shortly after the Twin Towers fell. Apparently this customer was so full of Fear and Rage he was talking about going to a nearby Muslim school and burning it down. Fortunately, Mike was able to talk the customer out of that plan by reminding the customer in no uncertain terms that he was talking about hurting innocent children who had absolutely nothing to do with the tragedy in New York, but the level of fear and anger that man felt was all-encompassing and led him to plan an action that probably never would have even crossed his mind previously.
It isn't just fears about 9/11 that impact our lives. As I was thinking about the story my husband was telling me, I began to think about all the small and seemingly inconsequential ways Fear eats into my life. Fears about managing my food intake, about whether I'm getting enough (or too much) exercise, about not being good enough in my chosen field or letting down my supervisors in some way that only I could imagine. Fear is a box that keeps me trapped when I'm not careful about how I let it affect me.
For me, weight maintenance is an exercise in managing Fear. The scale fluctuates from day to day and week to week. It varies with my monthly cycle, with what I ate, with how much and what kinds of things I drank, with how much sodium was in my food, with how recently I went to the bathroom, and a million other factors I have no idea about. I've had to learn to give myself a window of acceptability when it comes to looking at the scale, and I have to remind myself to think in terms of trends, not in terms of any one particular moment's weight. However, when I get on the scale and see it up a couple of pounds (especially if I had a less-than-stellar week of managing my food intake), the moment of Fear strikes me and I have to consciously battle it down and remind myself that it's not necessarily a problem. Yet. Then I have to decide what, if anything, I need to do differently to make sure it doesn't become a problem - without getting sucked into Fear. Because when I get sucked into Fear, I start thinking crazy, extreme thoughts about how little to let myself eat, or how much I'm going to make myself exercise in order to "make up" for my perceived failures.
At our bi-weekly coached runs, our head coach Alfonzo Jackson always starts us out by giving us a pep talk and reminding us of the reason we train the way we do. Sometimes he also highlights current events that tie into our desires to make the world a better place. Yesterday, his message was simple: remember the people whose lives were sacrificed on 9/11 not by mourning and wailing, but by bringing more love and light into the world. Not to say that we shouldn't grieve their losses, but there's more to remembering them than just sadness. He pointed out that before 9/11, there was a much lower level of "us versus them" feelings within our own country. Since then, it seems like people who could be put into a "them" category have been threatened, ostracized, wounded, and had their rights unjustly taken away. Fear, leading us to do crazy, foolhardy, vicious things.
So here's my vow, and I hope you'll consider it too: I will pay more attention to Fear. I will not let it lead me blindly into snap judgments or thoughtless actions. I will not let it use me as a vessel to unjustly hurt myself or others. I will honor it when it's real, and soothe it when it's not. And I will do my best to show love to myself and others despite Fear's strongest intentions.
* You'll notice that Fear is capitalized in many places in this post. In keeping with the Narrative Therapy tradition, it's capitalized because in those instances, I see Fear as an outside force acting on me, rather than being an integral part of me. It helps me remember that I can control the impact I let Fear have on me.