by Lee Anne McClymont
You may recall from the last article that our family moved into the Triangle in August 2005 from our home in Manhattan. Stable and happy we lived, worked and played in the city for over 16 years. Our roots reached deep into the Northeast, binding us to roles and lifestyles that precluded alterations. I never anticipated that a change in my professional life would lead me to relocate my family to the South where I had ample time to consider revisions. As each season ushered in new growth, old labels and expectations fell away. My roots could not compete with the vibrant new sounds, smells and sights of the South. Here the birds sing throughout the year. The frogs’ nighttime chorus often makes outdoor conversation impossible after dark. Stillness pervades as the stars dim and the sun rises. Within this wedge of time, I was shaping a relationship with fear that would forever change the way I think.
My family and I passed through several major life changes in a very short period of time, but it was not until I began to write in a blank notebook on those pre-dawn mornings that I became aware of the intense emotions that accompanied me in my new life in the South. Over time, this notebook became a soundboard and my truest friend-a place where I would run to when I needed to grow strong.
Though many of my notebook entries were painful to recall, they all belonged to me. They made who I am-like a sweet potato growing underground, nurtured by the soft, rich soil warming the root and awaiting harvest. Now you may not be surprised to learn, then, that I secretly named the notebook I wrote during our family’s great experiment, Sweet Potatoes. Each time I read through Sweet Potatoes, I started to feel better and more in control of my life and the choices I had made. It was as if the innermost part of me found a passageway through these pages and was eagerly aligning with my outside life. The questions I asked myself in the notebook nurtured my sense of direction. Within the notebook’s pages I wrote about my experience with cancer, job loss and relocation. My journaling prepared me for the assembly process I had quietly undertaken and guided me to a secure place where I could consider what I had learned so far and how much I still needed to learn. Suddenly, I realized the value of fear navigation and the impact it can have on my life.
The notebook was helping because over a period of several months, I disengaged my fear-gears. I organized my work in such a way that I could return to it again and again with fresh answers to familiar questions. I did this by writing a series of questions in the notebook while leaving lots of blank spaces in between the questions for my answers and in doing so, I was subconsciously giving myself the space to recall, detach and then re-visit the experience through what I’d write about it.
Now before you begin to craft you own personal narrative, you’ll need to know a few things. Let’s start by outlining three different approaches used during the course of this series, each has its own objective: assessment, detachment and design. In some cases these approaches will be explicit directions, while in other cases, they will be presented more subtly. Either way they work to move you gently toward assembling a personal narrative with fear. This series provides a safe and secure staging area for you to learn and to practice new responses to fear that serve to forward your goals and objectives, not thwart them.
There are a few suggestions that will make our time together more productive. As you already know, this series is designed to give you enough material to build your own personal narrative with fear. How fast you move through theses exercises is completely up to you. These exercises have the power to re-establish personal freedom by stretching horizons and reclaiming lost hope. Try to remember, real change comes real slow. You may read the exercise today, set it aside for a day or two and then return to it later in the week. This is not a test. Use each week’s lesson as an entry point for building a more complete picture of your relationship with fear. Though it may help for you to follow along the exercises in the order I present them, if you are like most people, you will find some exercises easier than others. Some exercises may stump you completely. If that happens, just move to the next installment and consider returning to the passage later on.
None of this work is easy. Yes, I have tried to include some playful aspects in the series, but don’t let the playfulness fool you. The material you are going to assemble, organize and revise is likely to hold a significant traction within your life. I recommend working on this project in private. After you have developed your skills with fear navigation, you may want to invite a friend into the process. At this stage you work will advance steadily if you give yourself permission to be honest with yourself. Privacy courts honesty. Letting go of your past relationship with fear is difficult for many. As you write your replies to the questions presented here in this column, be ruthless in seeking out the truth behind your fears, yet be gentle in your surrender to this knowledge.
Proceed with caution. Fear has the power to stop us from getting the help we need. Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons this series can give you is to help you assemble enough history with your own fear-filled experiences to recognize you may need professional help. I encourage you to seek that help if necessary. Be sure to talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider if, during the course of reading and working with this material, you feel overwhelmed, discouraged or depressed.
Now, let’s get to work. Last week I spoke to you about distilling emotions down into words. Once I began to write about my experiences with fear, I realized I had shifted my perspective. By writing (sketching works too) I learned how to tease fact from fiction and slowly began to diffuse the anger that resulted from years of neglect and self-sabotage. I was gathering a perspective from these painful experiences, finding the courage to confront the truth that created them and then learning how to exploit my own history lessons. Now it’s your turn. Grab your notebook and let’s start with your first assignment.
List three times in your life when you were afraid. Don’t limit yourself to the recent past. Try to recall the most fear filled memories. Yes, this is tough. Next, try to list three times when you didn’t feel afraid but looking back-you should have been! I can give you a clue here by telling you what first came into my mind when I answered this question. I was 17 and had my driver’s license for less than two months when I drove through my first snowfall in Boston. I had a Saturday morning job teaching trumpet lessons to third graders. I woke up, got into the car, and headed to work. I arrived safely, but to an empty classroom! Some of the experiences that ”bubble up” may make you laugh while others may not. Don’t dwell on them. Once you write your answers in your notebook, leave them there. Let them rest. We will return to them later in the course of this series.
Over the next four weeks we will work with additional exercises that will help you build a personal narrative. Later on in the series, you may chose to return to this exercise and re-read your answers. At that point you may chose to add another layer of detail to your story. Remembering all of the details is extremely helpful as you build a new relationship with fear. The objective of today’s lesson is to get you to start thinking about your experiences with fear as singular events within you life. As you process your own history and commit those memories to ink, you may be able to see a pattern emerge between these episodes. Connecting the dots will be much easier once you have placed your stories within the framework of your notebook.
I hope this has helped you and look forward to next week’s installment where we are going to work on identifying patterns to our behavior in fear –filled situations.
I will also include some tips to ensure your success as you advance through the series.
Remember, you will always be a hero, once you learn to love your fears.
See you next week.
Lee Anne McClymont is radio talk show host and producer of Courage Cocktail which broadcasts live on Wednesdays at Noon EST on WCOM-FM 103.5. In June 2010, Lee Anne published her first book, “Friendly Fear Notebook”. She is a guest columnist for Hillsborough, NC-based newspaper, “The News of Orange County”. She launched Radiocentrix.com as an extension of her interest in using radio broadcasting as an Open Source Media outlet. Her work at Radiocentrix anchors radio podcasting within the digital landscape– effortlessly streaming radio interviews between live radio broadcasts and podcasts. Lee Anne is the principal owner of Vast Republic Inc., a media company committed to promoting the voices of authors, artists and businesses within the digital platform.
Image courtesy of Henry Sosa.
About Lee Anne McClymont
Host and producer of a new radio show hit "Courage Cocktail" broadcasting out of WCOM FM, Carrboro/Chapel Hill NC. The Friendly Fear Notebook forms the basis of this show but with a twist-we talk to an expert and then interview a "Guest with Guts" Come out to our Facebook page called Courage Cocktail poke around, download a pod cast and you are on your way ! Sip slowly....Le