The following is an excerpt from my book Fear to Flow. It represents the start of my journey, as I began to recognize (ever so slightly) that I might be living my life based on false fears. A crack in my foundation, which eventually spread like wild fire, propelled me on my journey from fear to flow.
“What about that midnight phone call? The one that wakes you from your peace.” ~Carbon Leaf[i]
The Phone Call
I lived most of my life in fear, yet you’d never know it by looking at me. No, I was as calm, cool, collected, and in control as you can get. I was “the strong one,” as my parents told me. Perhaps I came off that way; however, what was going on inside typically was not calm, cool, or in control. It was anxious, unsettled, and fearful. Imagine me as a duck, looking all composed above the water, but frantically paddling her feet under the water to stay afloat. That was me. Ducky. It was an exhausting way to live. But for me it was normal.
I’m a planner, which is both a blessing and a curse. Ever hear the saying “We make plans, and God laughs” – well, that is what my planning ability resembled most of the time. Yet I continued to plan. I now know my need to structure and organize my life came from my need for control; to plan for every possible outcome and scenario so there were no surprises. Surprises can be scary. Yes, they can be good, but I don’t really like surprises (name one planner who does). Not only can they be scary and throw you off balance, but they can rock your world. I discovered this at the ripe young age of 12 when my parents got separated and eventually divorced. That was a scary surprise that turned my life upside down. This is also what I attribute to the beginnings of a life-long fear of the unknown. My dad was leaving our family, and my mom was a wreck, and I was trying to do everything in my 12-year-old power to hold everything together, to keep my parents and my life from falling apart. Spoiler alert – it didn’t work. And that’s when the fear of the unknown crept into my heart and created a permanent home. That is also when I developed my (limiting) belief that I had to do more and more and more (of whatever I thought would help control a situation that instilled fear) to keep things from falling apart. And yet, despite that, you can surely never do enough (as I discovered when, despite all my efforts, my parents still ended up apart). I feared loss and losing control. This fear became a part of me.
I know today (and I am sure many of you know) that if you’re living in fear, you’re not living in the present. I’m not talking about real, rational fear, the fight or flight type of fear that occurs when your life is truly in danger; that is true fear that is innate to us all. What I’m talking about is the made-up, self-created, irrational F.E.A.R.: False Evidence Appearing Real. The fear that comes from the “what ifs” and stories we create in our head; stories that become real in our mind. Those are the fears I’m referring to; they are the ones that pull you out of the present moment because you’re so focused on what might (or more likely, what might not) happen in the future. Future-focused fears. It’s like planning for a headache or a disaster that never happens. And this was how I existed. I was afraid the bottom would drop out. It was how I ran my life. It was exhausting, only I never realized it until I went through a year when there were additional exhausting things happening in my life that didn’t allow me to expend any further energy on my false fears. I ran out of my capacity to let my future-focused fears exhaust me. Well, it wasn’t quite that easy, but it was definitely that simple to understand.
As I just described, I feared many things, including the dreaded “middle of the night” phone call. Although I never received a real late-night, wake-you-from-your-sleep, it-is-bad-news phone call, I feared it. Doesn’t everyone? I’d heard my mom say enough times how her heart dropped when the phone rang at midnight. So if my phone rang at midnight or at 2am, my heart would drop too. I’d immediately think, Someone died, and suddenly sit straight up in bed. Then I’d answer the phone and hear it was a wrong number. Those are the phone calls that make your heart drop – the ones from unknown numbers at odd hours of the night; not the calls that come in the middle of the day from your dad.
I received that phone call that rocks your world and changes everything forever, but it didn’t come in the middle of the night. Mine came on a Sunday afternoon in March. March 16th at 2pm to be exact. It didn’t wake me from anything except my peaceful life. It was my dad, and in his brave, strong voice he called to tell me that he had pancreatic cancer. Actually, what he told me was he had to have surgery because the doctors saw something suspicious on his pancreas and he didn’t want me to worry. He never said pancreatic cancer. He gave me vague information about his “doubtful pancreatic functioning.” Despite what he said, I knew in my gut it was bad and that this was serious. He didn’t give me a lot of information, and as a planner, I needed that. It helps me plan and prepare for the future. So in the absence of information from him, along with my intuition telling me it was bad and my need to be prepared for what my dad was dealing with, I became the Internet research guru on pancreatic cancer. I was determined to find out what I didn’t know. There’s nothing worse for a fearful planner than lack of information. What does this mean? I need more information. What is “doubtful pancreatic functioning?” I needed to know. I needed to understand what we were dealing with. I had to know what the path was for my dad’s (at this point, potential) illness.
Truth be told, there was no planning for what we would all experience. Yet I searched for everything and anything I could find, mostly because I kept wanting better information. The only hits you get when you Google “doubtful pancreatic functioning” are related to pancreatic cancer. My hours of research during the middle of the night and wee hours of the morning did anything but prepare me for the agonizing journey ahead. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time. I read, read, and read some more. Ironically enough, it didn’t assuage my fears at all. It made them worse. I was desperate to find “better” information – something other than five-year survival rates at 6 percent and that of the 40,000 people diagnosed each year, 37,000 die. The news was not good news. Yet, at the time, having this information felt better and less scary than not knowing. This is my dad we’re talking about – the strong, healthy, always health-conscious, fit man I’ve known since the day I was born. Long, strong, and lean. Pancreatic cancer? This makes no sense. Of all the cancers he had to get THAT one? The one where everyone dies? In less than five years? At this time, I was 43 years old. He was 74. I expected him to live for AT LEAST 20 more years. His parents lived into their 90s. We had longevity on our side. It didn’t make sense. My dad – the person I relied on for everything my entire life, the person who ALWAYS told me that everything would be okay, and it always was. Mostly because he made it okay. Now suddenly he was not okay. Neither was I.
One phone call and my foundation cracked. I started down this slippery slope of unsteadiness that began to spread into every area of my life. It was one crack that kept growing, expanding, and breaking off into smaller cracks; everything was unstable, and my ground was shaking. All from that one phone call on a Sunday afternoon in March – the one that woke me from my peace.
[i] Carbon Leaf, “What about Everything?” Lyrics. Indian Summer Revisited (2014).
Fear to Flow will be available on amazon.com on July 11, 2016.