This post was originally published on August 21, 2014.
When President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, his intention was to ease the minds of the American people. But any sober alcoholic will tell you that fear itself is nothing to scoff at. Even AA’s Big Book describes the alcoholic as being “driven by a hundred forms of fear,” some of which continue to plague us throughout sobriety. For me, fear usually shows up when my finances, romances, ego or physical security have somehow been threatened—no matter how minor this threat is. Fear will also sometimes just show up randomly if I haven’t been going to enough meetings or it’s been too long since I have worked with another alcoholic or done step work. I used to think that my fear was real—it took me years to understand that it is just a feeling that can usually be remedied by calling my sponsor or getting to meeting. Here are some ways I know I am in trouble:
1) No Callsies Backsies
Ever since I got sober, I have become notoriously bad about returning phone calls. I usually chalk this up to forgetfulness and procrastination as a result of my chronic fear of intimacy. Albeit no excuse, some level of this is normal for me but when I am unable to return calls that are related to earning money, I know I am in a bad place. This level of isolation has to do with being so scared of something being expected of me or even just of small talk—the question “So how are you?”—because I either don’t know how I am or I don’t know how to answer how I am without crying.
2) Popcorn, Butter, Ice Cream, Licorice
Sometimes my body knows I am falling into a vortex of fear before I do and will start uncontrollably craving foods that will decimate my waistline. One of my known pre-cursors to couch-bound fetal position is when my air-popper is going and a quarter stick of salted butter is in the microwave. This is followed by a marathon of back-to-back episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and, if things are really bad, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby. During times of overwhelming stress, I am known to buy a daily bag or two of RJ’s Raspberry licorice that sometimes doesn’t survive long enough to make it into the house.
3) WTF are you doing?!!!
I’m not going to candy-coat it—one of my biggest chronic character defects is being controlling. And when fear is on the rise, things only get worse. If I have a boyfriend, he is sure to get the brunt of it as I nitpick what he is wearing, where we are going for dinner, how he is driving, where he parked, the table they gave us and so on. I am completely aware that I am being an asshole but often don’t have the power to do much more than apologize for my behavior as soon as I am able to unclench my fists. My controlling nature isn’t just reserved for others, either. I will get mad at myself for not having the right clothes or not having the body to make the clothes I have look the way I want them to. I will stomp my feet for forgetting to pick up Half & Half, break a sweat when I am putting on my makeup and then beat myself up for leaving the house without applying deodorant.
4) Another Red Lipstick
My untreated alcoholic mind, unable to cope with emotions, will do a lot of things to try and distract me from handling my life as an adult. For some people, it’s Candy Crush, for me it’s thiswillimproveyourlife.com—meaning, I will spend hours scouring websites like Amazon, Sephora and Ebay looking for things I can buy that I have convinced myself will greatly change the trajectory of my life. I can’t tell you how many times I have stared at my screen at checkout and thought, “Why am I buying what will be my 26th red lipstick?” and then lucidly answer myself, “Because I need this, I know this is it—the answer I have been looking for.” And alas, while there may be many things I am hiding from and fearful of in that moment, somehow credit card debt is never one of them.