A Life Lived in Fear
What I remember most about my growing years is fear. Everybody thought it was shyness, but looking back, I can see the fear behind it all. My first day in kindergarten I ran screaming from the room after my mother. Why fear? I have no idea. I only realize that it has always been with me, like a mouse nibbling at cheese. The anxiety and panic that was always in the pit of my stomach did not go away as I grew up. It finally ended after the alcohol, food, drugs, sex and pills no longer worked.
My parents were hardworking and dedicated to getting ahead and giving my brother and myself the best they could. Relationships, not school, were the only things that mattered. It did not occur to me that school was for my future. It never ceases to amaze me when I look back and see all the relationships that I had been in, literally from the third grade on and never learned anything from them.
Being out of high school and a big shot, I began to really dislike anybody telling me what to do, including the people that truly cared; my mother and father. My father had never abused my brother or me at any time, although he wasn’t afraid to mete out punishment on the most appropriate part of our anatomies. But it changed one night in 1962. I had come home drunk at about three a.m. and my mother came down the stairs asking where I had been. At nineteen years old, I did not feel it was any of her business and told her so. I failed to see my father coming down the stairs behind her. When he heard me, he ran down the rest of the stairs, sidestepped my mother, grabbed me by the front of my jacket and lifted me about three inches off the floor. My father looked me in the eye, still holding the front of my jacket and said in a tone of voice I had never heard, “Nobody talks to my wife like that, do you understand?” I believe today that this was my first spiritual experience concerning a power greater than myself operating in my life. Shortly thereafter I joined the Navy, hopefully to establish a new kingdom. But it was not meant to be.
The Navy is not the place to build a new kingdom. There are too many older and established ones for such an undertaking. So after three court-martials and eleven lesser court-martials, I was informed that I could get an honorable discharge if I extended for a year to go to Vietnam. At the time an honorable discharge meant a lot, so I said yes.
While in the service, I married a girl that I had broken off with prior to enlisting. Like most of my decisions concerning my life, I said yes without thinking twice. After all, she arranged the wedding, rented the hall, lined up the priest and church and borrowed a thousand dollars to do it all and get us started. Seven years and two kids later, the marriage was over. Doom, depression and anxiety became more and more a part of my life and were no longer in the background. I was afraid to raise a family, afraid of being married, afraid I had missed it all and that I was going to miss even more. Afraid to stay home, I worked two jobs.
After a messy split-up, my parents sent me out to Los Angeles to stay with a friend because I was depressed and getting suicidal. My family was afraid that one day they would come home and find me either dying or dead because of the despair and fear that I was going through.
Depressed and full of nameless fears, I began to build another life. Another life built upon guilt for running out on my family and kids. I tried many things during the next five years but they always were just brief intervals on a downward spiral. At one time food kept the fear down. Then, not liking the way I looked at two hundred pounds, I dieted and didn’t use that as a solution again. I tried alcohol, but throwing up in the toilet did not fit the image I had of someone cool.
Then came the drugs and the pills. Those tended to work and as a matter of fact they were great. So for the next three years I used them. They kept the fears down and I could be somebody else. One morning, after a night of walking the floor and realizing that I was isolating more and more at home, I took all the drugs I had at the time and flushed them.
I thought of suicide, because the fear of living made it seem pretty good. The problem was the method. Method one was to use a gun. But all I could picture was me in a wheelchair, unable to move anything except my eyes and my head still going ninety miles an hour with the fears. I thought of overdosing on drugs, but I had read once that people who did that were usually found in their own excrement, urine and vomit.
I withdrew more and more until finally I quit my job, locked the door, pulled the shades and turned out the lights. I remember sitting there night after night in the dark trying to figure out what I was afraid of and becoming more fearful because I had no answer. The pain of frustration and loneliness set in like a fog and never seemed to lift.
After three months of this madness, it was over. On a Friday morning in July of 1975, I woke up and could not stop crying. There were no more illusions about my life. No way to think my way out of this downward spiral. I was unwanted, unneeded, unloving and unemployed. In that one moment of time I could see with such clarity what my life would be like. I would either be in and out of hospitals for the rest of my life, or I would achieve enough despair to put myself out of this mess.
I do not remember dropping to my knees but I was praying to God, whoever He was, to help. It was not the plea bargaining I had used in the past. I had nothing to bargain with. If I had anything, it was the fact that I was powerless over my emotions and my life had become unmanageable. At that point, I remember reading about EHA in a book given to me by a friend.
For some reason, I jumped up and ran to the newspaper and threw it open to the community services section and found EHA listed with a number. Still shaking and crying, I dialed the number of the EHA Central Office. A man named Blair answered the phone. Upon hearing his voice, I hung up. I don’t ever want to forget the feelings I felt when I fearfully hung up the phone. The gates of hell clanged shut. Out of no choice and fear I made the call again and found where the meeting was that night. The meeting was located behind the apartment complex where I used to live.
Since my first meeting I found people who understood what my kind of fear was all about. I cried through the whole meeting, not realizing that I was safe. After the meeting I started to leave and a guy came up to me, shook my hand, hugged me and said, “It’s going to be alright, just keep coming back.” It’s truly the only thing I’ve ever done right. My life has changed without doubt. The fears I had when I came in have left. Today I have new ones to deal with. They are only fears today, not the terrifying and paralyzing ones I used to have. They come today through learning and growing. I’ve learned that there is nothing I can’t walk through with my friends and my program of action.
My relationship with my father improved to the point that I had earned his respect because of my new way of life. His retirement was spent enjoying the things he wanted to do without worrying about me. What a gift to him. I’m truly grateful for that. He knew I loved him because I could tell him.
My friends in my homegroup helped me through my father’s death with their patience, understanding and love. One of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do was to fly back to New York for my father’s funeral and deliver the eulogy. The one thing that helped was that when my sponsor passed away, we had talked of death. I told him of my fear of it and he smiled. He said that when he was ready to pass on, the God he had acquired in the program would reach out for his hand to help him across and say, “Welcome, newcomer.” When Mom passed on three years later, she had met my new wife and daughter and fell in love with both of them. She told me one day, “You did real good.” She passed on knowing that I had found and been given a second chance in life.
Today I’m starting a new business, and although it’s slow going, I believe it is because I’m still learning. I do not learn something new every day. I’m too self-centered to be always aware of new things to learn. I learn when it is necessary for growth and wisdom.
I love to see newcomers getting their four meetings a week chip at thirty, sixty, ninety days, six months and one year. Our homegroup one year birthdays are truly a labor of love with the fun of opening gifts and roasting the birthday person. I have the pleasure of my family as members of the program of Emotional Health Anonymous. There is more but this is way too long already. However, let me leave you with this token of love from what my homegroup calls “The Other Book”. It is from Isaiah 40:31-32 and is basically what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now.
“For they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary and shall walk and not faint.” God bless you all.