Fear can be a good thing. It keeps us safe and on our toes when we dodge an out of control car. Or when we walk down an unlit street in middle of the night hoping the dog will pee so we can go home and back to bed. When we’re afraid, our senses do double time. We hear the snap of a twig off in the distance, the crunch of gravel underfoot … things that we may not notice during daylight hours when we’re not on guard.
As children, fear makes us behave when we know that we’ll be beaten if we don’t. We fear hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes. It allows us to make decisions more quickly, as a jolt of adrenalin wakes up our response system. We then choose between fight and flight in a heartbeat.
But fear can also be a bad thing. If you spend your life being so afraid that you dare not leave your home, you are missing out on a whole lot of good living. To a certain extent, everyone is afraid … of losing a loved one, being abandoned, and dying. We’re afraid of the boogeyman that haunts the hollow tree down the street and the bedraggled old woman who walks by every day carrying all of her possessions in two worn shopping bags. Sometimes she stops and stares and all we want to do us run in the opposite direction.
I have spent a good portion of my own life living in fear. I was afraid of my father because he was mean, hateful, and abused me. I was afraid of my mother because she didn’t protect me from him. For a good long portion of my life I’ve been afraid of being useless, unloved, and being alone. I’ve lived on adrenalin, ready to run like hell or fight to the end.
The most important question I was ever been asked was, “What are you so afraid of?” At the time, I was unable to come up with an answer for the psychologist who sat across his desk from me. I was twenty-five years old and a new mother. I’ve spent the years since trying to find the answer to that question. It’s been a long, difficult journey of digging down so deep it’s made my heart bleed at times. I’ve got a handle on it now and continue to work at bringing up the rest of the remains of my somewhat fractured life.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of becoming a mom to one of the cutest, funniest, little balls of fuzz I’ve ever been acquainted with. Brody is a bundle of joy … happy, respectful of his big brother Sam, and ready to wash your face if you smile at him. He often streaks through the house with odd bits of laundry I’ve neglected to pick up from the floor, like my bra or underpants. He loves toys and at the end of the day the whole basket of dog toys that Sam is usually bored with, are spread from one end of the house to the other.
But the joy ends when someone he doesn’t know walks through the door. We know very little about him, except that he’s four year old and was given up by his owners because they could no longer care for him. He supposedly lived in a barn for a good long while, so most recently hasn’t had what I would call a real home. All we can do is guess at the rest.
The problem is that Brody is afraid of losing his space and this place he now calls home. When my brother arrived a few weeks ago for a four-day visit, Brody was not comfortable. It took him the four days to get to the point where he trusted Zed enough to allow him to pick him up and hold him.
He snapped and bit a young man I was trying to hire as a dog walker for a time when we would be away for a whole day. Brody broke the skin, but there was no blood. Needless to say that didn’t work out very well.
He seems to be mostly afraid of men and especially my son. As long as Mark sits still on the couch, Brody will be calm. But as soon as Mark gets ready to leave there is hell to pay, with Brody behind him, barking, growling and lunging trying to get hold of a pant leg. Should Mark turn around and face him, Brody backs way off with his tail between his legs. It’s a serious and scary situation. I don’t want him to bite anyone, yet I want my family and friends to feel welcome in my home, especially by this little guardian of mine. And I have no intention of giving him up.
Because I know and understand fear so well myself, I feel nothing but love and compassion for this sweet, little being. He is always on alert. Even when I think he is sound asleep in my lap, he’ll rise to the challenge of the slightest sound that may mean an acorn has just fallen from a tree outside or that we are being invaded by aliens. They are things that I can’t hear or smell myself. Things that lie hidden in his past that I will never know of.
But I am bound and determined to help this little guy through his fear so that he can live a peaceful life. And while I’m helping him, he is helping me discover more things about fear and myself that I was not yet aware of. Every day I ask both myself and Brody what we’re so afraid of. With the help of a dog trainer friend, I know I can help him have a chance at a happy life and my own healing will continue.
What do you fear? What do you do to keep your head on straight when you’re afraid? Do you whistle a happy tune or hide?