I'm a bit in awe of fear. I don't mean that I bow down to it anymore, but I'm continually amazed at how creative and convincing its voice can be, especially when we're caught in its grasp and working hard to loosen the fingers that keep us stuck. Once we reveal Fear's illusion (and I capitalize it to convey that it really is like a character in our psyche), I actually feel a little sorry for this part of ourselves that has to work so hard to keep us separate from love and truth and joy. It's like the end of the "The Wizard of Oz" when the curtains are pulled back and the great voice of Oz turns out to be a vulnerable little man. Fear talks a good talk but once we expose its lies, it shrinks to its actual puny size and slinks away.
Over the weekend I received a lovely email from a woman who wrote to thank me for my Conscious Weddings work. When she initially contacted me in April she had written (with her permission):
A few weeks after I got engaged I found your book and found it so helpful and comforting. While I've been working through the doubts and fears, they have resurfaced now that we have less than three months to the wedding. Taking this as a sign that I still had work to do, I've begun the journaling technique you suggested. I write down my fears and then write to find reasons that those fears are irrational or rational. I have not found a reason that the fear that is concrete. But I am still very anxious and am having trouble trusting myself.
My biggest fear is that I will have doubts the day of the wedding and be scared to walk down the aisle. How can I learn to trust that this is the last phase of the process and not think that this is a sign that I shouldn't marry? Do you have any advice on this "day of wedding" fear?
I offered her some advice and hoped it was helpful. I didn't hear from her for months, then in last weekend's follow-up email she wrote:
When I contacted you in April, I was so afraid that I would have doubts on my wedding day and that they would prevent me from being able to get married. I was sure that I would have some paralyzing fear that would make me run from the altar or not show up at all. But I can honestly say that my wedding day was one of the most wonderful days of my life. And yet, I know working with fears is not over. Just today I tended some potted herbs left over from my wedding centerpieces and worried that their wilting leaves might be a sign that my marriage might eventually wilt as well. As if my ability to grow plants has anything to do with my marriage!
As I worked through this fear that my dying plants might be a symbol or a sign, I thought back to you and visited your site as I have so often done in times of anxiety or fear. I remembered all over again how vital your words were and are in giving me a way to understand emotions, feelings, and life's transitions.
I asked for permission to quote from her email because I was impressed by her commitment to working with her fears, and I want to emphasize a point I often make: working with fear is hard work and, left to its own devices, fear will continue to drive your car as long as you let it. Often when people seek my advice they're hoping for a quick-fix that will magically remove fear from their inner world. As one of my clients said a couple of days ago, "I keep hoping that I'll wake up one morning and this anxiety will be gone!" We laughed together, as she's now realizing that working with fear is a daily - if not hourly - commitment. When people succeed in booting fear out of the driver's seat it's because they work every day with it through journaling, dialoguing, or any other technique that they've found effective. It's not easy. It takes time and devotion. But such is the case with any practice of personal and spiritual growth.
For the woman who wrote, her journaling paid off: she had a wonderful wedding day and is enjoying her new marriage. But as she also acknowledges, working with fear is a lifelong endeavor. The fear voice said, "These wilting leaves are a sign that your marriage will eventually wilt." (Such a classic way that fear creeps in!) She recognized in that moment that fear's voice was at work and that she needed to battle it with the truth. Once she did so, she could go back to enjoying the moment of replanting and, more importantly, enjoying her life.