Detaching From Fear

Author Mary Ellin Lerner on one of the many lessons learned from attending recovery meetings

March 29, 2022
Man on a couch reading sobriety literature

Sometimes I hear a piece of sober wisdom so powerful that it changes my day, my week, my year and most importantly, that stinking thinking to which we addictive types are so susceptible. The possibility of encountering such lifesaving inspiration is one of many reasons why I try to attend without fail the two phone meetings that have miraculously entered my life as a result of the pandemic.

And today it happened once again. I overheard something at my midday meeting that flipped the negative script that my alcoholic brain was feverishly crafting from the moment I woke up this morning.

The topic for discussion was fear and in particular the fearlessness with which we in recovery are supposed to do our soul-searching inventory of character defects and our past and present misdeeds. The moderator read from our recovery literature (AA’s “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”) about the role that fear plays in our resentments, our bad behavior, the destruction of our lives and our relationships, and ultimately, our alcoholic drinking. Then our meeting leader shared about the type of fear that has caused her, and many of us, the most trouble:

We need to be wary of the fear of losing something we have or not getting something we want.

Being mindful of this type of terror doesn’t mean trying to prevent the feeling of fear from cropping up. It is difficult if not impossible to completely preempt emotions from arising. What matters, our sober wisdom tells us, is how we deal with negative feelings when they do appear: how to detach from them and defuse them. The key is to use prayer and other tools we learn in recovery to restrain ourselves from acting on our fears in ways that will sabotage our lives and our relationships. I find that with any negative feeling, simply pausing long enough to be aware of it prevents me from the most destructive forms of acting out.

The wise words of the moderator really hit home today. In recent weeks I have been making myself miserable and putting myself in danger of wrecking some of my life’s greatest blessings by giving in to my fear of losing what is dearest to me or not getting what I most desire. Today’s epiphany about the destructive power of my primitive fears came just in time to save me from making some painful and regrettable mistakes.

Keeping in mind the power of fear, and specifically the fear of personal loss, goes beyond working on my own character defects and restraining my worst impulses. It helps me understand some of the incomprehensible, hurtful or even infuriating actions of the people I know, from those I love most dearly to strangers who pass me on the street. When I recognize that other people have the exact same fears as I do, and are equally vulnerable to acting on them in destructive ways, it helps me be more forgiving and compassionate, more empathetic, when my loved ones and my acquaintances behave in a fashion that strikes me as peculiar or crazy or even hurtful to me. And I am able, instead of reacting in a negative way, to say to myself these words from our sober literature:

God save me from getting angry at this person.

I hope this wisdom from my recovery meeting was helpful to you.

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