Fear of Death

This may seem like a strange topic. How does fear of death relate to our DA program? For me, this has been a longstanding issue that permeates how I live my life.

At the age of 10, I read a book about a little girl who died of Leukemia (“A Little Girl’s Gift”), and the terror began for me. My addiction to food, debting, alcohol, bad relationships, adrenaline, and poor decisions was colored by this fear.

Distraction Doesn’t Change the Truth

I think a lot of people use distraction to keep from facing the one unpredictable inevitability of life. Our material-driven society is fraught with acquiring goods … a more, more, more philosophy, as if focusing on the bright and shiny object changes the reality of the world.

For me, debting/spending was a way to achieve immortality. My money binging was more about getting what I needed to become famous rather than diamonds and pearls (though there was plenty of “stuff” along the way, especially for my son). I yearned to leave something behind so I wouldn’t be forgotten. For others, material acquisitions (new stereo system, cooler car) are a way to keep the thoughts at bay. And for others, the race to get “the most” makes them feel powerful.

But the truth is, the moment I take my last breath, poof, it’s all gone as far as I’m concerned. From my vantage point, as Ayn Rand once quoted, “I will not die, the world will end.” And in that case, what difference does it make?

When my son left for college in 2009, my grief felt as severe as if death were involved. He was moving into manhood, leaving boyhood behind. I was getting older and no longer his caregiver. Nearly four years later, the pain of his absence has eased, but not disappeared.

When I went on disability and finally accepted the limitations of my illness, it was the death of my old life. Letting go of my dreams of grandeur and career in the world was painful beyond words. Working my DA program gave me understanding and humility about that loss.

Exploring My Fear of Death Enriched My Life

Then, I felt drawn by my Higher Power to a willingness to explore my fear of death. Over the past two years, I have been on a fantastic journey, in conjunction with my DA program, of learning how to accept the unpredictability and inevitability of death. I am learning not to recoil from thoughts of death, but to, instead, work to see it as a great adventure. Finally, I have been learning tools and using my DA writing as a way to prepare for death, which, ironically, is helping me to more fully live my life.

Until I was willing to look squarely at this most primal of fears, I was clouded by all I did to avoid it. It impacted my thoughts so deeply that, as with all “secrets,” the more I tried to “bury” it, the more it affected me. I became more and more frightened the older I got (I’m now 57), especially dealing with my chronic illness along with it. My (unsuccessful) efforts to achieve fame became more and more frantic and frenetic as I saw time passing by.

Letting Go of Control

Fear of death also has to do with letting go of control. That is a key element in recovery from any addiction. It is right here in the first three steps, which is paraphrased in the Big Book on page 60:

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.

Living a life in recovery, for me, is all about not trying to control others, the environment, and my desires. I can express a preference, but my serenity is in direct proportion to my level of expectation. Learning to “roll with the punches” is a far easier way for me to live than getting nuts when things don’t go my way. The Big Book gives an exceptional example of how addicts suffer from the disease of control on pages 60-61, in discussing Step 3:

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?

Living in Today

When you look at letting go of debting, credit cards, and compulsive spending, isn’t that something of a death as well? It is scary to leave behind the familiar and “safe,” even if that is the way to destruction. I was terrified when I first got sober with money and cut up my credit cards that a catastrophe would befall me and I wouldn’t be able to pay for it. It is now over three years later and it hasn’t happened yet. But now, I have savings in case of that emergency!

By following the DA admonition of living “one day at a time,” it is far easier to deal with our fears, even the fear of death and certainly the fear of needing credit for an emergency.

For today, you can commit your spending, do your writing, and stick to the plan. It’s simple. When fears arise, you can look squarely at them and see if they are imagined or appropriate. Here is a quote from the site “Soulseeds that speaks to this issue:”

Healthy fear gets you out of the path of a speeding car, and checks in with the doctor about a strange lump. Unhealthy fear is F.E.A.R, false evidence that appears real but is mostly a fabrication of the reptilian brain and the ego that wants to keep you imprisoned in your own mind, unwilling to be fully alive because it’s too risky to venture out. Overcome this unhealthy fear, and you will wake up to an inner security that will put external threats in a new perspective.

I’m still frightened about death, but embracing my new perceptions and practices has also given me tools to live with my discomfort and suffer less around it. Because of my DA program and the work I have done around death, I feel I have been graced with an ability to more fully live in the moment and practice acceptance of all that occurs whether I like it or not. So, just for today, don’t run from your fears. Stop for a moment and feel them. Look squarely at them. Most likely, you will find that it is just your addict mind trying to control you. And once you know that, you can work with Steps 6 & 7 to remove the fear.

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