It was a small memory from childhood, but certainly not a defining moment by any means. In fact, it was so small I don’t think I ever verbalized the story to anyone.
Not my parents, my siblings, my kids, not even to Brooke in all these years of marriage.
Being afraid was something I was good at stuffing and not feeling.
So when our counselor asked me to do some homework and bring back a list to him of all the things I was afraid of, I thought it would be a simple assignment.
Fear? Nope, I beat that coward to a pulp years ago.
The “write your fears down” exercise proved that fear wasn’t the coward. I was.
My go to antidote against fear was really a self-protective move of pretending, even if it was subconsciously, that I wasn’t afraid.
So as fears started pouring out of my hands onto that white piece of paper, my reaction was more “uh-oh” than “I told you so.”
I’m not positive if it was right that second, but I recalled that small little story that no one but me knew about.
My bedroom growing up was along the backside of our house. Right above the basement door and the steps that led from the backyard driveway up to the deck to our back door.
If someone were to come in that didn’t belong, I was the first bedroom on their route.
It was a delusional thought, but I remember as a 13 or 14 year old boy, laying in that bed and hearing the basement door below me make noises. Like someone was breaking in.
With the benefit of hindsight, I’m sure it was just a door jam that wasn’t perfectly sealed any more that rattled a bit in the wind.
But when the fear took over, I’d lay there in a panic. Too afraid to move, too afraid to tell my folks, too afraid to see what was really true.
Eventually the door shaking (and my own) would subside, I’d get to sleep and I’d tell myself to not be afraid the next time.
I had (and still have) extremely supportive parents, understanding siblings and friends who would have listened to me, but somewhere along the way, I learned the strategy that I wasn’t supposed to be afraid.
A trick I left in my bag for a couple decades and went to often.
But as the words and fears poured onto the page for that assignment, I realized I’m terrified of many things.
Of being a failure. Of being a success. Of being rejected. Of being known. Of losing my family. Of losing my wife. Of being a fraud. Of scary noises in the dark.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but for all those years, I buried my fears down deep. As a way to protect myself from pain.
In a sense, I used that fear as a friend. To help me feel safe. To project the image that I was ok.
As our counselor read through my long list of fears, something else emerged. A real sense that my true friends weren’t my self-protected fears.
My real friends were the two humans in that room who heard my fears, understood my panic and promised to be there with me the next time it gets really scary.
Which turns out, happens far more frequently than I ever thought it was ok to admit.