I’m reminded of a quote by Frederick Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” As I sit here writing this, two very conflicting emotions are running through me. There is a deep sadness for giving free reign to a fear in my soul that allowed so many years of an unfilled life to pass by. And at the same time, I have an immense sense of gratitude and optimism for finally realizing the truth in Nietzsche’s words—knowing my “why” in this life makes me superior to any temporary circumstance I may find myself in.
Two years ago I dug into that space of disequilibrium inside me and I began unpacking all the darkness that comes with being a survivor of child sexual abuse and rape. As I pealed back layer upon layer, all I found was fear in all its manifestations. I’d been traveling this geography of numbing and avoiding for decades, and my not so subtle companion this entire time was fear, something that had been lying on the surface like an oil slick—thick, claustrophobic, and dark. We walk around telling our stories to ourselves, and in so doing, not only do we bear witness to these stories but also we internalize these stories as our reality.
The only thing more heartbreaking than living a life of fear, is living a life of regret. I’ve gotten old with fear, and to be honest, it’s overstayed its welcome. Before I can jettison fear from my life, I need to figure out what "fear" really is, and what it isn’t? On one hand, fear is discomfort, anxiety, and disquiet, all of which are feelings that by their very nature are unpalatable, but not crippling.
On the other hand, fear is entwined in expectation—My projection of what might happen, but most certainly hasn’t come to pass. Therefore, if I approach fear with an absence of expectation and simply deal with what’s in front of me and not what I envision might unfold, it becomes much easier to wade through the disquiet and anxiety. By having the fortitude and reliance to wade through these tumultuous moments, it allows us to transform the disequilibrium inside us into personal growth and beauty.
Where I am apt to get hung up is in feeling that the growth and change within me is not moving as fast as I’d like it to move. And once again, I can sabotage my wellbeing by relying on outcomes and desires as my metrics for personal growth. Often we limit our potential, by lowering the bar we set for ourselves, when we allow our fear of not reaching our goals in a timely manner to govern our actions. My way around this mind trap is by aligning myself with a broader vision of feeling whole and of service to my community. It’s an extension of my faith, not in any religious sense, but in a deep communion with an understanding of my true purpose, vision, or what Nietzsche referred to as my “why”.
If the proliferation of self-help books that top the bestseller lists is any indication, selling people on the idea of personal growth and transformation is not really an issue. I think the real question comes down to whether or not it is reasonable to expect to bring anyone along with you, be it your partner or friends and family? Any change that comes from within you is bound to disrupt the homeostasis of the relationships that you’re involved in. Even a recognizable positive change can leave those around you feeling threatened and insecure, both of which are deeply rooted in their own fear of abandonment.
A dance that my wife Mary-Anne and I have had to navigate in our 28-year marriage is learning how to coexist in various periods of extensive personal growth when one partner is in flux while the other has yet to adapt and respond. If I interpret change in my partner as an assault to my contentment, I run the risk of trying to interrupt, and disrupt, that growth in order to hold my partner where she is. I try to comfort myself in that what I may perceive to be an act of rebellion may in fact be an act of creation. Ultimately, it questions the notion of “I love you for who you ARE not who you WILL BE.
The more I delve into that space of disequilibrium inside and begin to acknowledge and transform the fear I uncover there, the more I realize that the most beautiful parts of me, and those around me, are contained within the darkness of that disequilibrium. There is indeed a wholeness in knowing that each of us in his or her own way is incomplete. Like shaking the dead leaves out of tree, it’s by inviting those around us to witness the transformation inside us, that we come to realize and acknowledge who amongst that group allows us the space to grow. Just as there is a deep disquiet in a life left unfulfilled so to is there immense sadness in relationships that never grow. I’ll leave you with the haunting words of Nelson Mandela: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”