“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear”.
So said Ghandi, anyway. And certainly my experience is that it’s true.
Hate is easy. It’s easy to push hate away, to give myself a sharp mental slap for feeling such an unworthy emotion. To tuck it away neatly in the depths of a busy mind. To pretend it doesn’t exist and that it has no power over me, over my actions or my thoughts, over my emotions, over my healing.
Fear’s an entirely different enemy. Insidious, dangerous, gnawing – fear dwells in my stomach, my chest, my mind, my hands, my throat – right where I cannot possibly hope to ignore it. Fear lurks beneath the surface like the knowledge of mouldy food on the bottom of a pile of weeks-old dishes; it screams into my consciousness like the destruction of a cyclone – with no more provocation, sometimes, than an unexpected touch on my shoulder – leaving me shattered and shaking and loathing my own weakness. Leaving me raging against the fact that it’s all so hard when it shouldn’t be. Leaving me desperately tying to hold myself together and frenzied to escape the presence of people, even those people who know and love me and who infuse me with their strength.
Plus it’s exhausting.
Fear is my undoing. It makes no sense – I know, intellectually, that I’m safe. I’ve trusted the people around me with the knowledge of what I’ve been through, with my vulnerability – and they’ve proved, beyond questioning, that they are friends, beyond what I could possibly hope for. I know now that no one will hit me, no one will tear me down with insults or abuse, no one will take forcibly from me what I should never have been forced to give. I am safe. When I walk into the Cathedral, when I sit in the choristers’ vestry, when I’m there as one small chorister among a family of them, I’m entirely safe. Shielded. Secure, defended. At home.
And yet fear stops me singing. Fear keeps me from doing what kept me alive. It’s a physiological response – the shrieking of every over-stretched, raw nerve in my body – that I can’t stop. I wish I could. If it was cognitive, or emotional, I’d be fine, on top of it, in control of it. But somebody forgot to tell my limbic system – that convenient automatic response to danger, that fight-or-flight response that saved my distant ancestors from marauding woolly mammoths – that I’m no longer in danger. That it needs to listen to my rational mind. That it should sit back, open a beer and relax, because it’s no longer needed.
And until it works that out for itself, fear will continue to be my enemy. And between me and fear – I honestly don’t know who I’m putting my money on to win.