What's the opposite of fear? Wrong.
If you're like me, when someone asks you what the opposite of "fear" is, you'd shrug the obvious answer: "courage."
But you'd be wrong.
Oh, you might be technically correct if we're talking about the world of Merriam-Webster. But this is CoAchieving, not A Way with Words (a very fine podcast about language that I heartily recommend). So it's time to get out your English-Recovery, Recovery-English dictionary and look up "fear." You'll find it on pages 278 through 1,127. (There's a lot of fear in addiction.) Now thumb to the ANTONYM entry and you'll see the spiritual opposite of fear.
Most addicts are beset by fear. Riven by it. Here are some of the terrifying, negative core beliefs to which they typically subscribe:
- If he/she/they found out what I'm really like, he/she/they wouldn't love me.
- I’m broken. Defective. I came out wrong.
- I’m not good enough.
- I’m not good.
- I’m not enough.
- I don’t fit in anywhere.
- People who say nice things to me don’t mean them.
- I don’t deserve love.
- I fuck up everything I attempt.
- I’m destined to be alone. And that’s what I deserve.
Can you imagine a human being believing of these statements apply to themselves? (Especially when everybody knows they only apply to me.)
You’ve probably heard that courage is not the absence of fear; courage is being afraid of doing something and going ahead anyway. If you haven’t heard this, watch just about any halfway decent World War II movie. They’ll get around to it. Usually it’s the cigar-chomping sergeant talking a callow private out of a case of the jitters.
"Don't pay no attention to that second louie. You think I'm not scared, Brooklyn?"
"That's right, me. Half the time scared half outta my wits. We all are. And any man who says he ain't is either lyin' or foolin' himself. But we're gonna attack that pillbox anyway."
"But why, Sarge? Why?"
"Because we got orders."
The sergeant is right. Courage is when you're scared but you go ahead anyway. But if you can do something brave even while you're scared, what’s the difference between the guy who forges ahead and the one who shrinks? What's the difference between Sarge and Brooklyn?
Somewhere deep inside, the soldier who forges ahead despite his fear believes that there is a power greater than himself that is going to protect him. Or at least, that doing what he is doing is worth the danger, regardless of whether he lives or dies.
It’s the same with the addict who has the willingness to pursue recovery no matter what it takes. He’s scared shitless. How on earth is he going to get along without pornography? Without transactional sex? Without strip bars and massage parlors or whatever behavior happens to be what he’s relied upon since he was practically a kid for a fleeting feeling of safety?
But he goes ahead. He asks for help. He tells his spiritual brothers, or his journal, or the God of his understanding, just how frightened he is of finding out that all those negative core beliefs just might be true… and he takes the leap. He commits to abstinence. He joins a 12-Step program. He gets therapy. He deletes all the images, contact numbers, chats and hook-up apps, or whatever shovel he’s been using to dig himself an ever-deeper hole for the past few decades or so. He gambles that he will be all right despite the total lack of solid evidence offering any guarantees, or even likelihoods.
What is that? What is that thing that lets a man in trouble turn, not to the old standbys that he’s always relied on for relief, but to the edge of a cliff he may have never before trod, and leap into total darkness on the off chance that the world is not the dangerous, deadly, fucked-up place he knows it is, and that he's not the defective failure he's certain of being?
And the very first time he’s caught before he plummets into the chasm, and is lifted up and placed gently on a brand new road on the far side of the valley, the cracks will begin to appear in those negative core beliefs. The water will have been thrown on the witch. And that terrible four-letter “F” word will start to crumble, to be slowly but surely replaced by a new “F” word that every recovering addict lives by.
Hint: it's the opposite of "fear."
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