By Lee Sullivan
Random Writers Week 7 Topic: What personal prisons have you built out of fear?
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. ~ Dale Carnegie
A few weeks ago I received an email from a very dear friend that contained the following statement: “…I feel awful and I avoid you because I haven’t been a better ….”. My heart went into an instant tailspin. I wanted so badly to reach through my computer and hug this person because I could so empathize with what they were feeling. I could empathize because I have the same ‘flight’ response when I know I’ve either done a bad thing or haven’t done something I should have. I avoid situations where I know I’m going to be scolded, reprimanded, belittled or punished, even if only in my own mind. I am truly my own worst prison guard.
Many years ago I created a horrible situation for myself, and others, because I could not overcome the fear I had created in my mind. When my ex-husband and I decided to divorce, it was not your typical marital dissolution. We lived together through a separation, coordinated ‘date nights’ and who would get to use the house for those nights, and even chatted openly about our respective new dating lives. We were friends who had love and respect for each other, just not as husband and wife. We also evenly distributed our assets and debt. And, there was a considerable amount of credit card debt to be split up.
I eventually moved out of the house and in with a roommate. The roomie and I rented a house that was by far more than either of our budgets allowed, and the financial stress, among other things, resulted in me leaving that situation and moving into an apartment on my own. As a result, I began to not only use my existing credit cards to pay regular household bills, I also accumulated more credit cards and used them to pay for all of my extracurricular activities and my completely unnecessary purchases. This vicious cycle continued for more than a year and while my income did increase, so did my debt.
I was in trouble. I was terrified. I knew that some of the credit cards I maxed out were in my ex-husband’s name. I couldn’t tell him. I would think about telling him and my fear of his response kept me silent. The collection phone calls came with such frequency that I became deaf to the ringing phone. I disconnected my home phone in an effort to avoid the reminders. I ignored letters and emails. The more dire the situation became, the more I ignored it.
Unfortunately, my ex-husband found out what was going on from one of those credit card companies when they called him to collect on my bad debt. I could not hide anymore. My world came down around me and my fear grew even more menacing than before. I crawled into such a dark place that I didn’t see light for a really long time. That call from my friend – my ex – was the last time I ever spoke to him. A few days later, I filed for bankruptcy.
I lost a great friend when I betrayed my ex-husband, but more than that, I lost a family. Not only did he hate me, but so did most of his family. To this day, I think they still do. I loved his mom like she was my own and I lost that. I lost four beautiful nieces and some great friends in my sister-in-laws. My fear cost me so much. If I had just acknowledged to someone I was in trouble, maybe they would have helped me. I was just too scared to tell anyone. I was too embarrassed to admit I had been careless and irresponsible.
My fear of admitting my mistakes, of confessing my ‘crimes’, put me in a prison that only bankruptcy could get me out of. The problem is that even though I was released from the prison of my debtors, I believe I will forever be on proverbial probation and parole. I live with the guilt of my reckless actions and the ensuing denial of my problems. To this day, I can’t shake the sick feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I think about it.
I don’t live my life with my head in the sand anymore, but I still struggle, just like my friend above, when I know I should confess some action, or lack thereof. My prison walls were not built in a day but I did lay each and every brick all by myself. My fear that the people in my life would judge me, berate me, criticize me, and even not love me anymore, kept me from coming clean about the fact that I screwed up and needed help. I look back now and can’t imagine anyone in my life at that time turning their back on me if I had just acted and said something. The quote from Dale Carnegie is spot on for my situation. My fear led to my inaction, which led to more problems, more fears, and more doubt in myself and those around me.
I like to think that I live my life in a more honest and straightforward way now. I’m no longer afraid of other people’s judgment of me when I screw up. We all make mistakes and we all need a little help every now and then. We just have to let go of our fears and ask for it.