“Do not be afraid.”
That phrase is famously said in the Bible 365 times. One for every day of the year. But I heard it more often than that growing up. We sang it in songs and chanted it in the church sanctuary. We even made jewelry, t-shirts, mugs, you name it; all toting the same phrase.
“Do not be afraid.”
I was 8 years old when I told my mom I wanted to believe in Jesus. We had spent the car ride home from bible study discussing demons and the end times, and I was petrified. I needed to know I was safe. I remember praying with my mom and silently begging alongside her for God to take away my fear.
That became my prayer until I couldn’t pray anymore.
“Do not be afraid.”
At youth group I was taught that that was not a request, but a command. God commanded us not to be afraid. If I knew God was on my side, what did I have to fear?
What did I have to fear?
In a couple of days, I will turn 26. I am excited and terrified because I wasn’t even sure if I would be alive long enough to turn 26, or if I even wanted to. It has only been this last year that I have started to really unpack my childhood fears. I have always been fearful; of heights, the dark, trees, monsters, danger; sometimes I forget how afraid I was of demons because I feel entirely ambivalent to the idea of them now.
My therapist tells me that when bad things happen, kids’ brains can only do so much with what little capacity it has. I read somewhere recently that kids aren’t mini adults; their brains operate on an entirely different level than them; even different from adolescents. Kids make sense of things differently. My therapist reminds me that sometimes when good people do horrible things to children, their brains’ only way to make sense of it is by splitting; the good person gets to stay good, and the bad things become a monster completely separate from the person who did the harm.That way I got to keep my nice image of my abuser while getting the satisfaction of blaming it all on someone else. Someone, or something, evil.
I wonder how many times I told people I was afraid of a demon because I couldn’t understand how someone who loved me so much could also hurt me so deeply. My mind made up a demon because it was exponentially less terrifying than the truth. Because my kid brain mislabeled all of my memories and now sometimes I find fantasy mixed in with the memories and memories along with the fantasies. Sometimes they’re difficult to parse out. It’s like I dropped a bag of Skittles in with a bag of M&M’s; you can tell the difference but you have to know what you’re looking for and you have to be paying attention, otherwise you could miss it. I never stared at my memories like that before, all sprawled out on my hand, but now I find myself staring into my palms and wondering how the hell I ever could have confused Skittles with M&M’s.
Storms were one thing that always have and always will scare me shitless. I have always hated the sight of lightning and the sound of thunder. When it storms, I feel it in my whole body; like I am being physically crushed by the weight of my fear. It can be crippling. But I never noticed that fear was usually accompanied by her partner, shame. They tend to walk hand in hand.
The second I feel afraid, I am quickly hit with a bulldozer of shame. I can hear my dad’s voice reverberating around in my head.
“Oh, just stop being afraid.” “Stop being a baby.” “Stop being such a little girl.”
Just stop being afraid. Don’t. No. Do not be afraid.
This is not a request.
You are being weak.
“Do not be afraid.”
It becomes my mantra. The sound byte that doesn’t stop replaying in my head.
“Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. DO NOT BE AFRAID.”
I was 8 years old and I had the world to fear. Still, people told me that demons were not scary. If I was scared it was because I didn’t have enough faith in God; because I didn’t think God was big enough; because I wasn’t obeying him. I think every time someone told me not to be afraid, I believed more and more that it was my fault; that I was overreacting or being weak or dramatic; that being afraid meant I wasn’t trying hard enough.
So I tried harder.
I have been on antidepressants and mood stabilizers for several years now. They also help me dial down my anxiety to a more functional level. I’m not ashamed of it. I talk about it a lot because those medications saved my life. The medications that I am on to make it easier for me because I was so worn down from trying too damn hard. I tried and tried and tried until I just couldn’t fucking try again.
I’m about to be 26 and sometimes I feel just as scared as I was before.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what my life would look like now if instead of “Do not be afraid”, I heard, “It is okay to feel afraid.” I do not think I would be the same person.
I think I would be braver.
I think I would be softer. Gentler. Kinder.
I don’t think I would pretend to feel things I don’t or pretend to not feel things that I do.
I wish someone had said to me, “Faith, it is okay to be afraid. Everyone is afraid at some point. You can be scared and trust God at the same time.”
I stare at my reflection in the mirror every day and tell myself what I needed to hear as a child.
“Faith, it is okay to be afraid. It’s okay.”
When I was younger, I would sleep with my mom when I was scared or had nightmares, which was unfortunately very frequent. I remember being as old as middle school and sneaking into my mom’s room just to sleep on her floor next to her bedside. Her presence has always made me braver. I hear her voice telling me that it’s okay. Everything is okay; my feelings, my fear, my life; it would be okay, even if I was scared.
Somehow, just telling her made it better.
“Mommy, I’m scared.”
“It’s okay, Faith. I’m right here.” She says.
I believe her.
Little Faith has always known what to do.
I am about to turn 26. I call my mom and I tell her.
“Mommy, I’m so fucking scared.”
I’m scared I’m going to be poor forever. I’m scared that no one is going to love me. I’m scared that I am broken. I’m scared to actually enjoy something because I’m too afraid of the loss if it ever goes away. I’m scared of my world. For my world. I’m scared of violence and pain. I’m scared I’m going to be a failure. Or worse, that I am one already. I’m scared that this is all my fault. I’m scared that God isn’t real or that she is and she hates me. I’m scared that I am ruining everything.
I don’t need her to say anything. I just needed to tell someone. I needed to show someone my fear and not see them recoil or pull away. That is all.
Lately, I have been attempting to be more like the person Little Faith needed when she was younger. I know some things that she didn’t. I know that denying my feelings, my fear, my sadness, my joy; all of it, will kill me. Because whether I acknowledge them or not, those feelings still exist in me and eat me alive. It makes it hard to eat. Hard to sleep. Hard to be alive. And it’s hard enough to be alive as it is; I deserve a break. We all do.
I give you permission.
You can be afraid too.
“No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and oftentimes afraid, that does not change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” – Brene Brown (my new mantra)
3 thoughts on ““do not be afraid” and other shit i finally stopped telling myself”
I love you Faith. I love your fierceness and your fear. I love your self awareness and your courage. You are amazing…..
A great read, Faith. It makes me think of the disciples on the boat who were afraid in the storm. These guys were side by side with Jesus all the time, were very experienced on the water, and they were still scared.