by Lee Anne McClymont
When we first moved into a corporate apartment in Chapel Hill in August 2005, I had packed only our summer clothes. Change was coming fast and, foolishly, the only extra item I packed from the city apartment were my daughter’s old school shoes. She loved these shoes. They would be the silent bridge between her old school and her new one. But she was growing so much that summer, I knew deep down that by the end of August they would no longer fit. The thought of those shoes not fitting her feet freaked me out and although I tried, I could not buy replacements down here.
Then I got an idea. I decided to stretch them, so I placed two sweet potatoes in each shoe every night after she went to sleep. In the morning, before she woke up, I would go into her closet and slip each sweet potato out. So I resigned myself to stretching Emma’s shoes at night and metaphorically, stretching myself, as well, with a sweet potato. Those tubers taught me an important lesson: whatever I brought with us into this new life in North Carolina I could make work. All I had to do was stretch just enough to make it fit.
Now this “stretching” business can get pretty messy especially when you are speaking in terms of emotional growth. In fact, the first roadblock I found to any step I took in that general direction was fear. Yes, you have read correctly. Fear can bring power into your life and at the same time it can take power away. But how does fear diminish our own power? Fear stops dialogue. Fear stops love. Fear stops change. I know this to be true in my own life because I may own the world’s largest private collection of self-help books. I bought many of these books when I moved into North Carolina from New York City. I was in transition and trying to feel my way through the confusion. I was on a mission to find the answer to unlocking my fear-gear written in some book by someone else who went through this process. Well, I never found that book. It doesn’t exist.
Lesson #1. How to use self-help books effectively: read as many as you can to assemble a composite of the material that helped you the most. And in addition to reading, start writing. Soon you will develop the communication skills necessary to describe your feelings in words. Why? Because writing is central to up-ending fear’s control.
No matter how many self-help books I had read or how many self-help DVD’s I had rented, I was continuing to get stuck somewhere between knowing what to do and finding the courage to do it. I needed help to unscramble my feelings. I wanted a new approach to learn about fear and how to organize my emotions in a sensible way. So, I began to build a feelings organizer– a safe storage place to build a picture of my working knowledge of myself. I used the lessons drawn through other self- help books that influenced the way I see a problem. Within months I had developed enough material to write and organize my story. I saw a pattern to my reactions to fear-filled situations. My notebook became a safe stage to assemble memory strands. From there I was able to distill deep-seated emotions down into words.
Yes, I was surprised to see that many of these emotions taking form in ink centered on my relationship with fear. I was employing a new skill to help me move forward in my life. I was gathering a perspective from these painful experiences, finding the courage to confront the truth that created them and then learning to exploit my own history lessons. My story began to make sense.
I gathered up my intense memories of the fear filled moments in my life and placed them in neat little sentences that grew into paragraphs. I could see that I was reliving each experience as I wrote. Every time I read them, they were making me grow. Each example gently nudged me to take responsibility for my decisions and taught me how to reconcile the emotion of fear within the whole array of human emotions. Ultimately these little paragraphs in my journal showed me just how to integrate fear within my personality rather trying to run away from it or suppress it. I was learning acceptance at a time when all I knew was resistance.
Fear of death, guilt, failure and abandonment—I held it all tucked deep inside. But the work I began in my feelings organizer led me to be curiously drawn into processing how I had come to understand fear and its power over my life. While I was asking questions and writing answers, I had quietly discovered that I as crafting an entry and exit strategy to the most fear-filled events in my life. I had created a dialogue with past, present and future and had formed a safe passageway linking all of them as I both asked myself questions and wrote my own replies. I could now return to each painful event within the safety of my notebook. I could experience beginning, middle and end and then consider new conclusions to all these situations. In this process I was growing stronger and more confident. I had unwittingly improved my decision- making skills because I mastered a way to diffuse the emotional distraction that fear creates. Paralysis yielded to reason. Hope got its chance.
Which brings me to you. How will you remember this period of your life? Has fear’s influence over your decision-making skills changed during this time? Where do you turn to to organize your story of loss and recovery?
Join me over the next few weeks as I explore the topic of fear through this series of articles. Work with me to create a feelings organizer for yourself. I will supply you with the basic framework for you to start building your own personal narrative. Not all your answers need to be set down in writing. For many, the questions I ask may be best answered by a simple sketch. The value of this work rests not in the final product of your fear notebooks–although they will be helpful as you move forward in life. No, the true significance of the work that you will do through this series lies in the very fact that you are considering re-arranging your current relationship with fear and seeking to use fear to strengthen you own decision-making skills.
Fall makes the perfect foil for change and growth. Whenever one person enters into a silent agreement with himself or herself to grow stronger, the world swells in hope. Remember the sweet potatoes I used to stretch Emma’s shoes? Well, they worked for both of us.
I hope to see you next week to continue our conversation.
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.