Given everything I’ve been dealing with – fear about the unfolding political scene on one hand and the recurring nightmare of an upcoming parole hearing for the man who raped and murdered my mother on the other – I have at times felt powerless. Not just powerless but unable to summon the energy to continue what seems like an endless, life-draining battle. I become prey to fear at these times, fear that I will slip back into unending waking nightmare that was my experience of PTSD. I have worked hard to claw my way back to health, and when I am overwhelmed, I forget all the lessons I have learned and the ways I have changed.
It’s said that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real (or Fuck Everything And Run). It takes courage and a dedication to clear-sighted integrity, seeing what is real both in myself and in the world, to overcome those fears.
But I’ve also heard courage is fear that has said its prayers. I don’t have to be fearless. I’m not sure that’s possible without massive self-delusion. To do what I am called to do even though I am afraid is the essence of courage.
Where do I find such courage? It’s commonplace to suppose that “doing something for someone else” or because no one else can do it is the best way to overcome fear. I’ve done my share of acting according to this belief. I find that although it is sometimes effective, it’s harsh instead of nourishing. It’s a position of desperation. I soon find myself “running on empty.” I’m the last person I take care of or even give consideration to. In fact, the very notion that taking action when afraid can be nourishing came as a startling revelation to me.
There are so many things I cannot change, the past being at the top of that list. But I do have some say in my own attitude. Instead of seeing myself as desperate and without any choices but to plunge ahead, gritting my teeth the whole way, I can see myself as resourceful. I learned to do this for others when my kids were having a hard time in their teenaged years and my therapist pointed out that they didn’t need me to inflict my own worries on them, communicating that I thought they were incapable of handling their problems; what they needed was my faith in their ability to find their own creative solutions.
So if I’m going to be creative and resourceful in facing the parole hearing and the distress rampant in my community, I need to think “outside the box.” Not attending the hearing is an option that never occurred to me in the early years. Once I let go of “I have to do this,” I see other possibilities. Some I can anticipate on a reasonable basis (another family member might attend, a representative of the D.A.’s office might – actually, does – attend; I could send a video of my statement; I could hire an attorney to attend in my place), but I must also keep in mind that my imagination doesn’t dictate what happens. Many times I thought I knew all the possible outcomes, only to discover that what actually happened was something I had no way of anticipating.
There’s also the aspect I hinted at above, that instead of forcing myself to do something terrifying, I try to discern where I am led. That implies a leader, a caller, or one who summons, and these are reassuring concepts for people of many faiths. I don’t mean it as a religious tenet. “Being led” is shorthand for finding the actions that are right for us. That sense of rightness is akin to true vocation. What lies before us may be perilous, filled with reversals and setbacks, but following that path brings us deep satisfaction and sometimes even joy.
I’ve found that it’s equally important to remember I am not alone. The rugged individual, dragon slayer mode doesn’t have any room for asking for help or delegating or letting someone else take point. All of these things allow me to catch my breath, so to speak. Once I’ve stepped back, I can evaluate where my abilities are best applied and how much energy I have at any given time. Knowing what I’m good at, what I may not be skillful at but am willing to tackle, and what I really, really don’t want to do allows me to make mindful choices. When I ask for help, I often discover that those toxic areas aren’t the same for everyone. For example, making phone calls is easy for some people and grueling for others.
Instead of “I have to do this. Alone. No matter what it costs me,” I move toward “I’ve created a support network, and together we can handle this.” Sorrows shared are thus divided; we carry each another when one of us stumbles. My resourcefulness includes the strength of others. By tackling daunting tasks in community, I become not only stronger but more resilient. I learn again and again that I am resourceful in my friends as well as my individual abilities, and that makes me powerful.