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Matter of Fear
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., January 1962
the AA Book says, "Fear is an evil, corroding thread;
the fabric of our lives is shot through with it." Fear
is surely a bar to reason, and to love, and of course it
invariably powers anger, vainglory and aggression. It underlies
maudlin guilt and paralyzing depression. President Roosevelt
once made the significant remark that "We have nothing
to fear but fear itself."
is a severe indictment, and it is possibly too sweeping.
For all its usual destructiveness, we have found that fear
can be the starting point for better things. Fear can be
a stepping stone to prudence and to a decent respect for
others. It can point the path to justice, as well as to
hate. And the more we have of respect and justice, the more
we shall begin to find the love which can suffer much, and
yet be freely given. So fear need not always be destructive,
because the lessons of its consequences can lead us to positive
achievement of freedom from fear is a lifetime undertaking,
one that can never be wholly completed. When under heavy
attack, acute illness, or in other conditions of serious
insecurity, we shall all react, well or badly, as the case
may be. Only the vainglorious claim perfect freedom from
fear, though their very grandiosity is really rooted in
the fears they have temporarily forgotten.
the problem of resolving fear has two aspects. We shall
have to try for all the freedom from fear that is possible
for us to attain. Then we shall need to find both the courage
and grace to deal constructively with whatever fears remain.
Trying to understand our fears, and the fears of others,
is but a first step. The larger question is how, and where,
we go from there.
AA's beginning, I have watched as thousands of my fellows
became more and more able to understand and to transcend
their fears. These examples have been of unfailing help
and inspiration. Perhaps, then, some of my own experiences
with fear and the shedding of it to an encouraging degree
may be appropriate.
a child, I had some pretty heavy emotional shocks. There
was deep family disturbance; I was physically awkward and
the like. Of course other kids have such emotional handicaps
and emerge unscathed. But I didn't. Evidently I was over-sensitive,
and therefore over-scared. Anyhow, I developed a positive
phobia that I wasn't like other youngsters, and never could
be. At first this threw me into depression and thence into
the isolation of retreat.
these child miseries, all of them generated by fear, became
so unbearable that I turned highly aggressive. Thinking
I never could belong, and vowing I'd never settle for any
second-rate status, I felt I simply had to dominate in everything
I chose to do, work or play. As this attractive formula
for the good life began to succeed, according to my then
specifications of success, I became deliriously happy. But
when an undertaking occasionally did fail, I was filled
with a resentment and depression that could be cured only
by the next triumph. Very early, therefore, I came to value
everything in terms of victory or defeat -- all or nothing.
The only satisfaction I knew was to win.
was my false antidote for fear and this was the pattern,
ever more deeply etched, that dogged me through school days,
World War I, the hectic drinking career in Wall Street,
and down into the final hour of my complete collapse. By
that time adversity was no longer a stimulant, and I knew
not whether my greater fear was to live or to die.
my basic fear pattern is a very common one, there are of
course many others. Indeed, fear manifestations and the
problems that trail in their wake are so numerous and complex
that in this brief article it is not possible to detail
even a few of them. We can only review those spiritual resources
and principles by which we may be able to face and deal
with fear in any of its aspects.
my own case, the foundation stone of freedom from fear is
that of faith: a faith that, despite all worldly appearances
to the contrary, causes me to believe that I live in a universe
that makes sense. To me, this means a belief in a Creator
who is all power, justice and love; a God who intends for
me a purpose, a meaning, and a destiny to grow, however
little and halting, toward His own likeness and image. Before
the coming of faith I had lived as an alien in a cosmos
that too often seemed both hostile and cruel. In it there
could be no inner security for me.
Carl Jung, one of the three founders of modern depth psychology,
had a profound conviction upon this great dilemma of the
world today. In paraphrase, this is what he had to say about
it: "Any person who has reached forty years of age,
and who still has no means of comprehending who he is, where
he is, or where he is next going, cannot avoid becoming
a neurotic -- to some degree or other. This is true whether
his youthful drives for sex, material security and a place
in society have been satisfied, or not satisfied."
When the benign doctor said "becoming neurotic"
he might just as well have said "becoming fear-ridden."
is exactly why we of AA place such emphasis on the need
for faith in a "Higher Power," define that as
we may. We have to find a life in the world of grace and
spirit, and this is certainly a new dimension for most of
us. Surprisingly, our quest for this realm of being is not
too difficult. Our conscious entry into it usually begins
as soon as we have deeply confessed our personal powerlessness
to go on alone, and have made our appeal to whatever God
we think there is -- or may be. The gift of faith and the
consciousness of a Higher Power is the outcome. As faith
grows, so does inner security. The vast underlying fear
of nothingness commences to subside. Therefore we of AA
find that our basic antidote for fear is a spiritual awakening.
so happens that my own spiritual perception was electrically
sudden and absolutely convincing. At once I became a part
-- if only a tiny part -- of a cosmos that was ruled by
justice and love in the person of God. No matter what had
been the consequences of my own willfulness and ignorance,
or those of my fellow travelers on earth, this was still
the truth. Such was the new and positive assurance, and
this has never left me. I was given to know, at least for
the time being, what the absence of fear could be like.
Of course my own gift of faith is not essentially different
from those spiritual awakenings since received by countless
AAs -- it was only more sudden. But even this new frame
of reference -- critically important though it was -- only
marked my entrance into that long path which leads away
from fear, and toward love. The old and deeply carved etchings
of anxiety were not instantly and permanently rubbed out.
Of course they reappeared and sometimes alarmingly.
the recipient of such a spectacular spiritual experience,
it was not surprising that the first phase of my AA life
was characterized by a great deal of pride and power driving.
The craving for influence and approval, the desire to be
the leader was still very much with me. Better still, this
behavior could now be justified -- all in the name of good
fortunately turned out that this rather blatant phase of
my grandiosity, which lasted some years, was followed by
a string of adversities. My demands for approval, which
were obviously based on the fear that I might not get enough
of it, began to collide with these identical traits in my
fellow AAs. Hence their saving of the Fellowship from me,
and I saving it from them, became an all-absorbing occupation.
This of course resulted in anger, suspicion and all sorts
of frightening episodes. In this remarkable and now rather
amusing era of our affairs, any number of us commenced playing
God all over again. For some years AA power drivers ran
hog wild. But out of this fearsome situation, the Twelve
Steps and The Twelve Traditions of AA were formulated. Mainly
these were principles designed for ego reduction and therefore
for the reduction of our fears. These were the principles
which we hoped would hold us in unity and increasing love
for each other and for God.
we began to be able to accept the other fellow's sins as
well as his virtues. It was in this period that we coined
the potent and meaningful expression, "Let us always
love the best in others -- and never fear their worst."
After some ten years of trying to work this brand of love
and the ego-reducing properties of the AA Steps and Traditions
into the life of our society, the awful fears for the survival
of AA simply vanished.
practice of AA's Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions in our
personal lives also brought incredible releases from fear
of every description, despite the wide prevalence of formidable
personal problems. When fear did persist, we knew it for
what it was, and under God's grace we became able to handle
it. We began to see each adversity as a God-given opportunity
to develop the kind of courage which is born of humility,
rather than of bravado. Thus we were enabled to accept ourselves,
our circumstances, and our fellows. Under God's grace we
even found that we could die with decency, dignity and faith,
knowing that "the Father doeth the works."
of AA now find ourselves living in a world characterized
by destructive fears as never before in history. But in
it we nevertheless see great areas of faith and tremendous
aspirations toward justice and brotherhood. Yet no prophet
can presume to say whether the world outcome will be blazing
destruction or the beginning, under God's intention, of
the brightest era yet known to mankind. I am sure we AAs
well comprehend this scene. In microcosm, we have experienced
this identical state of terrifying uncertainty, each in
his own life. In no sense pridefully, we AAs can say that
we do not fear the world outcome, whichever course it may
take. This is because we have been enabled to deeply feel
and say, "We shall fear no evil -- thy will, not ours,
told, the following story can nevertheless bear repeating.
On the day that the staggering calamity of Pearl Harbor
fell upon our country, a friend of AA, and one of the greatest
spiritual figures that we may ever know, was walking along
a street in St. Louis. This was, of course, our well-loved
Father Edward Dowling of the Jesuit Order. Though not an
alcoholic, he had been one of the founders and a prime inspiration
of the struggling AA group in his city. Because large numbers
of his usually sober friends had already taken to their
bottles that they might blot out the implications of the
Pearl Harbor disaster, Father Ed was understandably anguished
by the probability that his cherished AA group would scarcely
settle for less. To Father Ed's mind, this would be a first-class
calamity, all of itself.
an AA member, sober less than a year, stepped alongside
and engaged Father Ed in a spirited conversation -- mostly
about AA. As Father Ed saw, with relief, his companion was
perfectly sober. And not a word did he volunteer about the
Pearl Harbor business.
happily about this, the good father queried, "How is
it that you have nothing to say about Pearl Harbor? How
can you roll with a punch like that?"
replied the AA, "I'm really surprised that you don't
know. Each and every one of us in AA has already had his
own private Pearl Harbor. So, I ask you, why should we alcoholics
crack up over this one?"
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., January 1962
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