Confessions of a Recovering Chicken-Shit
I have been working closely with both fear and courage in the past year. My outward intention for 2015 was to focus on how good my body feels when I exercise; my inward intention was to be true to myself. I was aware that I was taking on quite the task since at the heart of being true to yourself likes the paradox of courage: the terror and the liberation. However, I knew that the only way to continue to grow and heal was to stop being the chicken-shit in which I had spent the last thirty some years of my life.
Whether it’s genuine healing, sustainable weight-loss or personal growth, courage has everything to do with transformation. It became undeniable to me that years of living with chronic anxiety and fear was at the root of my persistent health issues. While a daily dose of meditation, therapeutic nutrition and various other tools that I have written about in past posts, transformed my mental health, I still had old fears that were stunting my growth and healing. Mustering the courage to discover what was under old fears and to acknowledge what I truly wanted seemed insurmountable. My lack of courage, however, was strangling me.
The courage I needed comes with the option to coward out. I’m not referring to the adrenaline pumping, in-the-moment courage that sends one into a burning building to save a child. I’m talking about the every-day-slow-burning kind of courage. The type that you have to kindle by first convincing yourself that it’s worth the work (and risk), and then build yourself up to it by giving yourself repeated pep-talks as the other side of you wants to high-tail it to your favourite spot on the couch and never face the world again. It’s the stuff that wakes you up in the middle of the night asking yourself, ‘what the hell am I doing?’ and ‘what on Earth have I gotten myself into?’
A friend I met in university is one of the bravest people I know. She took on jobs, courses, positions and even boyfriends that she did not at all feel confident about. I envied her courage. Considering an ex-boyfriend nicknamed me ‘Panic-Attack-in-a-Box’ because it didn’t take much to ‘wind up’ my anxiety, I knew that unlike my friend, I was not brave.
I assumed brave people weren’t afraid of anything. Brave people were born. My motto was, ‘if something makes you scared, then why the heck would you torture yourself and do it?’ I found any and every possible way to avoid uncomfortable, scary, anxiety-provoking situations. It never occurred to me that my fear was normal or part of the process. For me, feeling fear or discomfort signaled that I shouldn’t do it: I wasn’t competent, I wasn’t qualified, I wasn’t talented, I would make things worse and inevitably fail.
Living fully, truly and what courage guru, Brene Brown, calls wholeheartedly, requires a huge, but often unseen amount of courage. Real, everyday courage, she explains, makes you incredibly vulnerable, but being vulnerable is a part of courage–it’s a package deal. Being true to who you are out in the open without shame or apology is the scariest thing any of us can do. It is also the most freeing.
Denial Kills us as Much as Stress
The cause of our illnesses or excess weight usually reaches far beyond an unhealthy diet or lifestyle and usually has an emotional origin. If we want to free ourselves from that which is holding us back and keeping us stuck in the same situations and patterns then we must first let fear loosen its grip on our lives. Stepping out of denial comes next.
When I crashed a few years ago, my naturopathic doctor had put forth the idea that perhaps I was not fulfilled. At first, I had total resistance to this suggestion. How dare she suggest this! She doesn’t even know me! Besides, she was supposed to be ‘doctoring’ my physical body, not my mind or my spirit. What was she? A Shaman! (Kind of)
In truth, she hit a nerve. A nerve that I didn’t want to go near. A nerve that scared the living hell out of me. I had a perfectly organized, sane and orderly life planned out. Going down the rabbit hole of what I truly needed and wanted would mess all of that up.
Ask any doctor if stress makes us sick or if stress kills. Ask any emergency room nurse, (or read the studies) of how many people suffer heart attacks after recent heart break. We know that the stresses of what has happened to us and all that we have to do in a day or a week wears us down physically, but so too does the stress of denial and of what is not happening in our life.
The First Step Out of Denial is Fear
Pay attention to resistance. Often your outrage is a fear reaction to what it could mean if you actually acknowledged the needs and desires that have been buried deep in the subconscious. In her book, Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can, Dr. Caroline Myss talks about the many reasons why some people heal from serious illnesses and others don’t. She ultimately finds that it is our surrender to our fears and the need to control our life in an attempt to avoid our “worst nightmares” coming true that keep us sick.
Some people stay sick, obese or depressed because real healing involves healing ourselves emotionally. We can eat all the greens we want, but if our spirit is starved, our body will be sick. A healthy diet isn’t always the answer–learning how we became sick or overweight can sometimes be the best medicine of all.
When I think back to the days following my appointment with Dr. Willow where she proposed that perhaps I wasn’t fulfilled on some level, I was terrified. I knew deep down my health issues were a result of me doing what I thought ‘I ought to be doing’. There was an energy inside me that wanted to live, but I had muzzled it. Refusing to acknowledge it had made me sick. All of the ‘what if’s’ crept in and nearly drove me mad, but I knew being brave was the only way up the downward spiral in which I had slid down.
Everything You Want is on the Other Side of Fear
Change is almost always scary. Often, we resist the truth and change until it cannot be ignored any longer. I decided I didn’t want to wait until my health declined even further. I knew making changes that went further than diet and exercise was imperative. This meant deep digging into the past, the present and the future.
I have come to discover that courage is second in importance after the invention of fire. Without it we become stagnant, terrified and stuck. Resentment, judgement, cynicism and depression often follow (A.K.A. – krusty). Without courage we cannot grow or move forward. Life goes on, but we stay the same. It’s comparable to a play where the same scene plays over and over because we don’t want to go through the trouble of letting the curtains fall once in awhile, to go backstage, to wade in the dark and do the work of changing, shifting and re-modelling. Developing a ‘courage practice’ is a dance between building a fire and playing with one. I’m not going to lie. Sometimes you’re going to get burned.
Falling in Love with Facing your Fears
While I was freaking out over my health and my fears and just about everything else I could think of, someone donated Osho’s book ‘Courage: The Joy of Living Dangerously’. A short time later I stumbled on an Oprah Super Soul Sunday episode where Brene Brown was featured.
I became fascinated with courage. In truth, it was a love affair. I gave courage my presence and it gave me liberation. I’m a courage junkie these days. My husband knows someone who loves getting tattoos because he gets a rush from the pain. Setting all judgements aside as to how healthy of a ‘hobby’ that is, I can relate. I’m not interested in skydiving or rock climbing for a rush or for courage’s sake, but I am a practitioner of refusing to let fear stop me from being who I truly am or going after what I want. In fact, I have become a bit of a rebel to what Brene Brown calls ‘the gremlins’. When I hear the gremlins in my head that tell me to be scared, not to make a fool of myself, what if people talk or what if I fail-I challenge them. I listen to them with an open-mind because sometimes they have some valid points. I then take any precautionary measures (like small steps) and then buckle myself in for the ride.
We Wouldn’t Need Courage if we weren’t Afraid
When I became aware that courage is not acting with the absence of fear, but in it’s presence, I joined Brene Brown’s following of living wholeheartedly–seizing the opportunities to do and try what life calls us to do whether we make a fool of ourselves or a success. I do all of this in spite of the fear. The anxiety that sometimes keeps me awake, tossing and turning at night, the 20 pound knot that churns in my guts, the fluttering in my chest and the gremlins in my head that constantly tell me every good sounding reason why I should not embrace fear and instead stay safe and comfortable is a discomfort I’ve learned to sit with. Staying the same has become more terrifying for me than facing the day-to-day fear.
I still have to remind myself to be brave on a regular basis. My instinct is still to run from anything that sparks anxiety. I tell myself the same thing that I told my seven-year-old daughter recently about a presentation she had to do. When she asked what courage was I said, “It’s not a feeling. The feeling will never come. It’s an action. Being courageous means doing something even though you feel scared–even terrified.”