The Value of Fear

The Value of Fear

By Jeff Walker 05/10/15

After getting sober, I realized the importance of fear. In moderation, fear keeps me safe, but in excess, fear could kill me.

Image: 
fearshadow.jpg
Shutterstock

I’ve always been terrified of the ocean. Something about its seemingly infinite mass makes me incredibly uneasy. The mysterious dark heap blankets the earth, filling abysmal trenches, and hiding creatures only tangible in nightmares. Perhaps, it’s the fact that it is so foreign and so enigmatic that makes it so chilling to me. If I had become some kind of deckhand or fisherman, I’m sure I would eradicate this fear promptly. I’d be willing to bet that if I would just spend some time at sea, I’d come to understand that it poses no major threat to me. After all, it seems to be the unknown that scares me the most. Furthermore, conquering my fear of the ocean would also give me the opportunity to see its true beauty, untainted by my edgy disposition. 

After getting sober, I realized the importance of fear. In moderation, fear keeps me safe, but in excess, fear could kill me. I also developed a better grasp on the ability to gauge my fear. I learned to more clearly make distinctions between healthy fears, and detrimental terror. I don’t think it's reasonable or even desirable to live completely without fear. Fear is what keeps me out of the way of a moving train. Excessive terror on the other hand impedes on my ability to enjoy life.  

As a kid growing up in the wake of an ugly divorce, I absorbed a survivor mentality. I was a minimalist because I feared the possibility of loss. I said very little because I was scared to say something I’d regret. I made few friends because I was afraid of bitter ends. I never really lent myself to people, and I grappled with the concept of trust. As I matured, much of my efforts were directed at seeking refuge wherever I could find it. My existence was centered on hiding from things more often than appreciating them. I lived solely to feel safe.  

I remember when my grandparents moved away from the city to a drab little town in the Nevada desert called Pahrump. Still to this day, Pahrump is a boring little dustbowl in the middle of nowhere. Even its name is boring. Pahrump. My dad would drive us up there on weekends and I would stare out across the endless plains of nothing and fill myself with serenity. The barren wasteland made me feel good. It was dry, dusty, and quiet as death, and I loved it. It lacked many things, but most of my appreciation for it was derived from the fact that it lacked danger. It felt peaceful out there, and it bored my restless little mind into a state of consolation. As I grew older, I would look for other things to console me.    

The most relief I ever got from drugs was from my deep obsession with heroin. Doing smack killed any incredulous thought I had about my existence and filled my mind with a peaceful calm that I would chase for years on end. I could never describe my experiences with dope as eloquently as someone like Jerry Stahl, or William S. Burroughs, but take my word for it: junk is pretty fucking amazing. If you’ve never tried it, heroin basically shuts off your central nervous system. It makes your body an outstandingly comfortable little sanctuary, impenetrable to the treacherous millstones of life.  

Looking back on my career as a heroin addict, I can trace many of the fear-based decisions I made to their fear-inducing ends. It took me quite some time to really understand that fear begets…well…more fear. I lived more or less in a state of constant terror, and, thus, the decisions I made led me to terrifying places. Constantly scared of getting dope-sick, I engaged in all the typical nefarious activities of the drug-addict lifestyle. I surrounded myself with some of the most reckless and precarious people I ever cared to meet, and somehow, I sought to get safety from those relationships. I yearned for trust and camaraderie in people that make me cringe when I think of them now. I did things that terrified me beyond recognition, and I perpetuated my deep-seated fears until they controlled me entirely. All I ever wanted was to feel safe; all I ever did was sustain my fear. 

Seeking constant refuge in dope kept me just scared enough to propel my addiction further and further along. There was no practical resolve in sight. Eventually, I became convinced I was staring death in the face and something had to change. In order to relinquish my fears, I had to be entirely convinced that resolve and solace could only be found in sobriety. Living completely without fear is an unattainable, not to mention undesirable, goal, but eliminating unnecessary fear has helped me immensely. Life is scary enough without all the excess terror of drug addiction. We’re all stuck to a giant rock hurtling through time and space. We’re all trying to maneuver our way through a rudderless and exponentially amassing society. We’re all faced with uncertainty and possibly debilitating consequences on a day-to-day basis. We’re all challenged by our own mortality. That stuff is scary enough. 

These days, I maintain what I call a "healthy fear" of heroin. I acknowledge the fact that any relapse could ultimately kill me, but I don’t hide in my room all day, worried that I’ll slip on a banana peel and land on a loaded syringe. I didn’t get sober to limit myself; I want to experience as much as I can in life. I make the best decisions I can with the information I’ve found, and I move forward as confidently as possible. I try not to fear things I don’t have much control over. 

Sometimes, I have nightmares about drugs and the debauchery that comes with them. I never dream about carefree or favorable experiences. My drug-dreams tend to center on paranoia, chaos, and terror. I typically wake up with an immense sigh of relief, eternally grateful that none of it happened. It's not just the drugs that haunt my dreams; it's the crime, the danger, and the pain that comes with them that makes me cringe as well.    

I don’t really believe in the whole "ignorance is bliss" thing when it comes to fear. I do my best to fully understand as much as I can about this strange world, and my place in it. If I find myself reacting to something out of fear, I try to figure out why. Most times, I’m afraid of something because I don’t understand it. I do my best to eliminate questions and come to a better understanding, which usually reassures me. I try to take it easy on myself, and remember that I have limited control over life’s obstacles.

In the same way that seeing past the dread of the ocean gives me the best view of its immense beauty, dismantling the horror of my addiction allows me to see how it sculpted my life for the better. By looking past my fear, I can see the real good in my experiences. 

The truth is, I learned a lot about life during my chaotic and pathetic experiences as a drug addict. I did horrible, desperate, and terrifying things, and I wouldn’t take any of it back. What I went through made me who I am today. I have been shaped by my experiences, and I wouldn’t have the perspective I have, if it weren’t for having experienced them. Are there things I’m not proud of? You bet your ass there are. However, by owning them and moving on, I get to do things today that make me truly proud. And that, I believe, is the beauty of fear.     

Waking up from a blackout in the ER is scary. Sharing needles with acquaintances in public bathrooms is scary. Drugs are scary, and sometimes sober life is scary, too. I obviously don’t live completely without fear these days, but the fact that I’ve gotten better at controlling it has given my nerves some much needed rest.

Jeff Walker is a student and writer living in Riverside, California

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Disqus comments
Disqus comments