“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,
and the strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
~ Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Lovecraft knew a lot about fear. From “The Color Out Of Space” to “The Call of Cthulhu” he dispensed it liberally, so well that his writings are practically legend and have even spawned a pseudo-religion.
I’ve found that fear is the principal issue that has hindered my recovery over the years, and that “unknown” part is the biggest by far. I’ve spent a good part of my life semi-paralyzed by fear: of not being good enough, of being ridiculed, of being thought “less than,” of losing people’s love and respect, of not looking good, rejection, and abandonment — the real biggies for me. In short, all those things that addicts understand so well deep down inside, if not consciously.
And the unknown? The future and most of the present are unknowns that I can’t control — can’t even discern in most cases. I spent years using alcohol, other drugs, and acting out in other ways just to stifle those unknowns. More accurately, to stifle the fear of facing them. Still do, sometimes; this in spite of many years of discovering that they are never (or almost never) anywhere nearly as bad as I had built them up in my head.
One of my favorite little aphorisms (We all know how I love aphorisms) is, “My head monsters are dragging me around by my thoughts.” It’s my favorite because that’s what they do. I can dither about such a simple thing as calling my shrink to get a refill on a medication that I know very well that we both acknowlege that I need.
When I sit meditatively and look at that behavior I know it’s because I’m afraid I’ll be told that I can’t have what I need, or think I need, or that I’ll be chastised for wanting it or otherwise shamed into compliance with someone else’s ideas about how my life should be. That’s how my life rolled from my early childhood in poverty to my later life under the thumb of a benevolent but incredibly controlling parental figure. But knowing it only helps me reason my way beyond some of the roadblocks, and the nagging, underlying fear is still there until the matter is resolved.
Then I’ll probably worry about it the next time too, because that’s how I still roll in situations involving authority or perceived authority, despite the fact that I’ve been in positions of considerable authority myself over the years. The roots of my neuroses go deep, and are only slowly being dragged out of the hard, dried Everglades muck as — finally — some of the healing moisture of recovery softens the soil and roots, little by little.
H. P. was right. It’s no wonder I enjoyed his writing and the little sparks of fear it engendered. It was such a relief from my head monsters.