I’m not talking about the sensible kind of fear that’s designed to protect you, like fear of vicious animals, fire, or standing at the edge of the roof of a 100-storey building with no guardrail. I’m talking about the really pointless kind that involves shooting yourself in the foot when there was absolutely no reason for it.
Stubborn and ruled by my heart, I had never been good at listening to the gnawing little voice inside that tried to keep me from making self-destructive decisions. I’d grown up in an environment that didn’t allow me to trust myself, or to have my own feelings about anything.
There came a time when I couldn’t believe I’d found myself in yet another abusive situation. I’d spent years in counselling, understanding the mechanics of such relationships. And then I studied social work and became the counsellor, educating many people about this subject and helping them to eradicate toxic patterns from their lives.
I knew that as an abused child, seeds had been planted which had kept me on the all-too-familiar path of finding others who disrespected and violated me throughout my life. For years, I’d worked hard to change the belief that this was what I deserved. I’d been fighting to change those self-destructive old patterns.
Yet somehow, I kept finding wolf after wolf, and seeing them in sheep’s clothing. Whenever an actual sheep came along, those relationships did not last. Ultimately, something deep inside me didn’t believe I deserved or belonged with a nice, gentle sheep who wouldn’t hurt me.
To be fair, I’d made a lot of progress in being assertive, in recognising inappropriate behaviours and standing up for myself. But despite all I’d learned, despite ending a string of relationships for the same underlying reason, I couldn’t maintain relationships with “the nice guys” and kept ending up with yet another abusive one.
Feeling defeated, disheartened and discouraged, I had to wonder: Was this my fate? Was it my destiny keep suffering in the same miserable place over and over again?
But wait a minute! What about free will? Didn’t that figure in here somewhere, too? I couldn’t believe my destiny would be about having to suffer. It occurred to me that I’d been misunderstanding “destiny.” It’s not what I make of my life. It’s the potential for what I could make of it. And I could use my free will to fulfill it – or not.
Okay, so why had I been working so hard for so many years to make the right choices, only to keep finding out that they were the wrong ones?
Eager to find an answer, I spent a couple of days writing about all the big decisions I’d made since leaving home at 16. I analysed each one, working my way backward through my thought processes to discover the roots that led to such disastrous results.
What I learned from those two emotionally challenging and exhausting days changed the course of my life in ways that now astonish me.
Every single one of those decisions had been rooted in fear. Fear of being abandoned. Fear of not being loved. Fear of failure. So where did all that fear originate? It was rooted in my childhood – and it went right back to my conception, when I feared for my very survival because of the circumstances in my birth mother’s life, and was validated by being adopted into a frightening, anxious environment.
As I contemplated the early fearful months and years of my existence, it became crystal clear to me that I had been letting those fears make my decisions for me, and that this had never resulted in a good outcome.
I can’t begin to tell you what a huge relief it was to reach these conclusions. In a way I’d never done before, I was beginning to understand the insanity that had been my life.
Immediately, I knew what I had to do. I made a solemn vow to myself that I would never again let Fear influence my decisions. I was going to stop letting Fear stop me.
Just days later, I was met with my first challenge. A friend suggested I visit her in England. I’d never really travelled and in a heartbeat, loads of nameless fears popped into my head. You’d think the universe might have been nice and given me a small starter challenge or two, just to ease me into this brave new world I’d created for myself just days before. But nope, I was thrown headfirst into shark-infested waters – or so it felt.
I was a serious homebody, remnants of a decade of agoraphobia in my earlier years. I was terrified. Of what, I didn’t know. “Could I go to England? Oh, no, I couldn’t. I’m sure I can’t afford that, and I’ve got no one to look after my youngest children, who still live at home.” Great reasons. But if I wasn’t even going to contemplate finding solutions to these problems, they were really just excuses. You big chicken.
Look, I said to myself, are you gonna honour that vow you made to yourself or are you gonna cave the very first time you’re confronted with fear? Aren’t you even gonna TRY not to let it stop you? Are you going down without even thinking about a fight? Tsk, tsk, tsk!! I’m soooo disappointed in you!!!
Well, that did it. I’ve always hated disappointing anyone. It was time I realised that I deserved the same respect as I gave everyone else, and stopped disappointing myself, too.
I sorted out child care. And an inexpensive charter flight. I sorted out staying with friends for most of the three weeks I’d be in the UK, found some inexpensive BnBs for the rest, and suddenly, I began to look forward to my trip. Yeah, I still had moments of nervousness, but they were being eaten up by my excitement as my departure date grew closer.
From the moment I landed at Heathrow, and throughout my three glorious weeks in England and Scotland, I was met with countless situations that made me think, “I’m afraid to…” (try this, go here, do that, blah blah blah). But I was on a mission. Not just for that journey, but for the rest of my life. If a sentence began with “I’m afraid to…” I had to do whatever it was.
And I can honestly say, I’d never felt so exhilarated, never had so much fun, and never felt such a growing sense of freedom and empowerment as I had with every one of those fears that I knocked aside, only to discover there was nothing to have feared in the first place. I was so very grateful to have made that one simple, yet monumental decision – to stop letting fear stop me.
I could write for days about how that one decision changed my life. But the first and most obvious to anyone who has known me since I lived in Canada is that I ended up moving to England 10 months after that first trip, and you’ll know just how much my life and I have changed as a result of it. For example, I chased lifelong dreams of painting and writing, which led to exhibitions, selling paintings, and publishing several books. I became an inspirational speaker, a frequent guest on the BBC, and leading workshops and classes to help others change their lives, too.
So many exciting doors have opened, doors of opportunity and possibility…it blows me away to think about it. And none of it would have happened if I’d stayed in Calgary, trapped and suffocating in the fearful little box that was my life. I had no idea what there was “out here,” outside the fearful little box. And I’ve only just begun to explore the world and its many possibilities. It just keeps expanding, making me want to see more, do more, and be more.
And all because I stopped letting fear stop me…