Lifelong fears are remarkable. They fill us with anxiety over what others may see as asinine or irrelevant. But for those who fear them, they are as real as the air we use to fill our lungs. We rationalize them, find ways to avoid the consequences that lead to them, and we March through each day envisioning the end goal of that fear – the ultimate pay day when the fear comes to collect. But what happens when we pass the threshold that encompasses that fear? What happens when we turn to look back on the fear instead of looking forward at it as we always have?
Today, I am in that unique position as, today, I have officially lived longer than my father.
My father died on July 19, 1980. He was 43 years, 7 months, 14 days old when he passed. Today marks my age in time as 43 years, 7 months, 15 days. In my life, I have run into many different fears that led to whether I would survive. When I was 32, I was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease (heart disease). I have brought my plaque numbers down from 53% blockage to 14% over 11 years in the more important arteries that doctors focus on. In 2015, I had a horrible lung infection and before they found out what it was, I was certain that my chest was going to collapse and I would not live to see another day. I was in the hospital for 12 days before they finally found the right anti-biotic that beat back the infection. By March of 2017, I was drinking so much that I had pancreatitis, was borderline with cirrhosis, and was riddled with gall and kidney stones. I got sober and have recovered with a relatively healthier liver, pancreas, gall bladder, and kidneys.
But none of these fears matched the overwhelming fear that I would not live longer than my dad.
When my dad died, I was almost four. As I grew, the idea that I would not live beyond my father’s age grew with me. It was a totally irrational fear – I had the opportunity to change how I lived, how I treated my body, how I could change the way I approached life. So, naturally, when I turned 18, I started smoking because – I’m stupid. I worked at a fast food restaurant in my teens, eating cholesterol laden burgers nightly because – I’m stupid. For years in my teens and twenties, I was a rabid binge drinker. In my thirties, the binge drinking turned into nightly drinking. Nightly drinking turned into daily drinking. Daily drinking turned into non-stop drinking high functioning alcoholism because – I’m stupid. And yet, through it all, I watched myself knowing I was tempting fate. I was going to make the fear become reality.
When I was diagnosed with heart disease, I actually sighed a deep breath of relief. They had found it a decade ahead of time. I also had at my disposal more tools and better medicine than my father had (he died of a second heart attack). Through all of the stupidity of my thirties, I stuck to a heart healthy style diet. I clung to my regimen of pills that are designed to help keep the numbers in check. I did what I could to eliminate sodium as much as possible. And even though I was actively trying to test the boundaries of how far I could push my organs, I also monitored how I was doing with my ticker because – I’m stupid.
So, this morning when I woke up, and the realization that I had somehow come to the other side of a fear that has weighed on me for around 30 years, two things crossed my mind: “I did it, somehow, I did it” and “does this mean I can back off?” Then it hit me: back off of what? Outside of just making sure I eat semi-better, I haven’t exactly done anything except survive. This doesn’t mean I’m gonna just throw up my hands and do whatever. My daughter is nine, and I would like to see her grow to be a woman. So, the game will change to what it was supposed to be the whole time. In short, to answer the question I posed before (what do we do when the fear is no longer a fear), we do what we were supposed to do while we were living in that fear. We live. We move forward. We take a deep breath and enjoy the life we have been ignoring because of the overwhelming presence of our fear.
I woke up today not afraid. But instead of being relieved, I realized I have been completely stupid in how I have approached life. So, today at 43 years, 7 months, 15 days I approach life in a new way – the way I should have done for 30 + years. It is too late to fix the past, but the future isn’t here yet…