If you read that last paragraph and got really angry at me, let me assure you I am upset too! The words sting my soul because I have been, and often still am, a coward. I prefer to avoid conflict than face it, to run from trouble than to wade through it, to pretend problems don't exist when they are crushing the life out of me. But to overcome fear (or cowardice), we must face it; we must open the door to where we hide.
My particular fears that were a major part of why I got tangled up in addiction were that people wouldn't like me if they really knew me and a terror of intimacy (mainly because I had no idea what closeness in a relationship really was). I would hide my soul, trying to find comfort and happiness in sexual behaviors rather than in real relationships. This led to a lot of heartache, deception, and broken promises.
When I began recovery, I imagined it would clear up all my fear issues because now I would be on a path of righteous living. No more sexual acting out, no more fears, I thought. I thought wrong. And my fears only got worse!
Now, instead of simply fearing what my secrets would mean to my reputation if exposed, or fear of closeness with others, I also adopted fear of failure (I can't even do recovery right!), fear of being alone (my wife had left as a result of my addiction), and many others. I couldn't understand why cleaning up my behaviors wasn't simultaneously relieving my fears.
Many addicts in recovery get stuck at this point. Fear paralyzes growth, or movement of any kind (except maybe slipping back into old addictive patterns for attempted relief). And such paralysis only reinforces a core belief of most addicts: I'm a coward. This is like a death sentence to the soul, especially for men. To remain stuck here is as good as a dead man walking.
Good news! You don't have to stay stuck in fear. By God's grace, you can face your fears, learn to trust, and embrace a new life of courage and adventure.
There are 3 key elements to breaking free from the paralysis of fear:
1. Face it in COMMUNITY.
Fear isolates us. This is why it is so easy to get locked into addictive behaviors. We drift off alone, spinning thoughts of worthlessness and fear, and to find relief we self-medicate (sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.). Fear (and shame) is always going to defeat us when we are alone. That's why you can't effectively deal with it without the help of others.
Support groups are a great starting point for facing fears. Sometimes just the act of entering a support group is a huge step in overcoming fear! Find a group that values confidentiality and learn to open up in such a safe place; about your addiction, fears, hopes, struggles.
Sometimes it is helpful to get more one-on-one help in facing your fears. Counseling can be a great environment for such work. A good counselor can help steer you into places in your soul that need healing. Take the time and make the investment to face your fears in the presence of others who care for you.
2. Fight it with FAITH.
Psalm 56:3 states, "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you." The good news about fighting fear is that we don't have to fight it in our own strength. In fact, we have proven that we cannot overcome it in our strength. If we could, we wouldn't have found ourself drowning in addiction. We need a Power greater than ourselves to overcome our fears.
Fear often tells us things that aren't true, or maybe truths with a shaming tone (i.e. "You're weak and that's why no one will love you"). So to combat fear with faith requires knowing the truth about who you are; who God says you are. A resource that helped me in this is The Bondage Breaker by Neil Anderson. Understand your identity in Christ, and run to Him when fear rises. Trust in God is the antidote for fear.
3. Finish with COURAGE.
God doesn't want you to live in fear. This doesn't mean you won't feel afraid, but He doesn't want it controlling your life. And He makes a way for us to live fearlessly, by way of His repeated promises of His love and faithfulness. Everything else may fall apart, or fall away, in your life, but the love of God never will.
Hebrews 13:5-6, "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear, what can man do to me?”
You can confidently say...
God wants you to have confidence (courage) that He is your helper and no one can thwart His plans in your life. There is a peace that grows when you place your confidence in the ever-present love of God. Fear may try to overwhelm you, but the love of God is greater than fear.
Joshua 1:9, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Dear friends, do not be afraid. Stand up by the grace of God and declare yourself a Coward No More! Engage community, battle by faith, and finish with a brave heart.