Just for Today – Step Away From the FEAR

Just for Today – Step Away From the FEAR

FEAR. Gripping, crippling, crushing FEAR.

“What if he doesn’t….” “What if she does….” “How can I….” “Maybe if I….” “I should have….” “I’ll never…” “If he doesn’t….”

These are the phrases that come tumbling out when loved ones of people who struggle with the brain disease of alcoholism or drug addiction call me. I can hear the fear and desperation and anger and panic in their voices as they talk faster and faster – the flood gates wide open – releasing on all they’ve been going through as every promise their loved one has made about stopping or controlling or getting better thus far has been broken.

FEAR activates the Fight-or-Flight-Stress-Response-System and overrides our ability to "think."

FEAR activates the Fight-or-Flight-Stress-Response-System and overrides our ability to “think.”

I selected the image to the right because it reminded me of myself when I was where they are now — desperately looking for answers in the wake of decades of fear, anger, resentment, confusion, blaming, shaming, denial, deal-making, walking on egg shells, giving a new coat of paint to old broken promises for a fresh new round of what would finally, once and for all, make it all right.

“But nothing so far has worked,” they sob, sigh, screech or whisper in various variations of the same sentiment. (And for some, it’s a loved one’s second, third or fourth relapse after rehab that they’re dealing with.)

Like me back in 2003 when I started my secondhand drinking (SHD) recovery journey, they are so hurt, beaten up, often angry – fed up – and desperate for the answer to, WHY? Why if they love me or love my children or our parents or our sister or brother or… – WHY, if they love me, won’t they stop?

Sound familiar?

If you are feeling some of this, I’d like to share what I shared with a recent caller. And it’s not THE answer – dang it! It can’t be THE answer because this (alcoholism or drug addiction) is a very complicated brain disease, as is what has happened to THEM – the caller – the loved one that’s been trying for so long and so hard to make sense of insanity.

So here goes…this was shared in an email after we’d had a lengthly conversation and she’d been given other resources about the disease of addiction, help for family members, etc., so she had a sense of what I’d be sending her via email as a place for her to start – just for today – to step away from the FEAR. Also, there was no life-threating situation going on, nor is her husband drinking (following his rehab). They are living apart. He was saying he just didn’t know what he wanted, and she was terrified he wanted a divorce [which she did not], so should she talk to him on the week-end before he might file. She knows I am not a counselor or therapist nor that what I share is advice, rather I’ve done a lot, a lot of research and writing on this whole broad topic, so am a resource for next steps. Lastly, understand that what is shared here is specific to her situation, although it’s possible to “take what you like and leave the rest,” meaning, if you can find help from the following exchange – hurray! – that’s what sharing this is all about.)

Just for Today – Step Away From the FEAR

Everything you are feeling is soooooo normal for where things are right now. One of the outcomes of long-term coping with a loved one’s drinking is the constant activation of the fight-or-flight stress response system FFSRS – this post explains, The Fight or Flight-Stress-Response – Secondhand Drinking Connection

As a result of all you’ve been through and this FFSRS-Secondhand Drinking Connection, the tendency is to want things “fixed” – NOW – because uncertainty is so scary and puts us in the midst of the feelings we were consumed with during the active drinking / SHD years.

All of this to say that if you wait a week or two to talk about your marriage and give yourself time to get a bit more settled with yourself, you will very likely have a better outcome, as you will be coming from a stronger, more secure place yourself.

One of the ways to get through this period is to write down what you’re afraid of (as fear is a big FFSRS trigger) and then write down the worst that could happen if it came true and then write down realistically how likely the worst is to happen. For example:
My Fear: I’m afraid my marriage is over and that if I don’t talk about it right now, he’ll file for divorce or keep moving away from me (emotionally).
The Worst Thing: He files for divorce.
Likelihood: Not very likely in the next week or so, and even if he did, there is still 6 months (likely longer) before it’s final, so I wouldn’t have to respond immediately, anyway. This gives me time to calmly think of next steps.

And remember – we can always change our minds.

This is where the phrases, “Just for Today” and “One Day at a Time,” can help. Just for today or for this week-end, you’ve done all you can about this particular fear, so just for today, you can go on and do something that you enjoy – for today. These two posts may help: Worried, Anxious Stressed? – Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There! and Make Time to Worry (and NOT) – Help for Families of Alcoholics | Addicts.

 If you are comfortable sharing what has worked for you to help get a grip on fear, please share in the comments section below.

© 2014 Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at BreakingTheCycles.com
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of BreakingTheCycles.com. She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.

12 Responses to Just for Today – Step Away From the FEAR

  1. I could relate so much to this Lisa. When my husband decided to drink again it was such a fearful time for me. But what I didn’t realise at the time was that my fears were all a reaction to his actions. I wasn’t taking a step back to make a plan to respond to his actions. As time passed I realised that I did have choices and that took away so much fear. The fear of the unknown was still there for me, but I felt more empowered in dealing with it.
    It really helped to reach out to others in a similar situation, just like someone reached out to you. Having someone who’s been through it and come out of the other side to support you is invaluable.
    Thanks Lisa!

  2. Kyczy Hawk says:

    I do this check in: is health or safety currently at risk? If I am safe, breathe. Is there something that absolutely requires immediate action BY ME? Breathe. Let go. I was not in charge of my mom’s drinking; I was not in charge of her sobriety. I needed to take care of myself. While I am no longer in that situation the FEELINGS that were born during that time translate into current events. The answer is similar. Am I safe? Do I have to DO anything now? Let go. And… know that I won’t be “cheated out of my worries”. If the event that I am concerned about is in the future- let it go for now. If I have to worry – I will be given another opportunity later. Really, I will.

    • Great suggestions, Kyczy! I love your check and the addition of the “BY ME?” part, too – so important to remember – is it my business or within my power? And great point about the part you won’t be “cheated out of my worries” – so true. Thanks so much for sharing what works for you!

  3. Vernon Layne says:

    Just for today makes life bearable. Fear is so ingrained in us recovering addicts that sometimes it becomes paralyzing to do the simplest things. But learning how my disease thinking affects me personally has given me the courage to practice the freedom to choose. Even if it’s making a meeting, calling my sponsor or sitting still doing nothing until it pass. Great article!

    • Thanks so much for sharing how you’ve learned to cope with fear, Vernon. “Sitting still, doing nothing until it passes” took me a long time to learn, but it’s made the world of difference for me, as well.

  4. Such a tall order, Lisa – but a necessary one. Fear is a killer, grabbing us by the throat emotionally, mentally, and physically. Sad thing is, we most often go through our daily routines in its presence, as if it’s just the way things ought to be. I mean, it can become a way of life, and we actually become more fearful when it isn’t there. Yikes! But somehow, someway we have to find a way to push away from the fear table. We absolutely deserve that. And maybe – just maybe – we’ll gain the insight that it’s all so unnecessary, and we’ll work toward permanent resolution. Nice piece, Lisa – it’s appreciated…

    • It is SUCH a tall order, Bill – I agree. And boy when I started down this road, it was very difficult to understand, let alone, to do. Thanks so much for your input – and readers, I encourage you to visit Bill’s website, http://www.chipur.com, for wonderful suggestions on how to grapple with fear.

  5. Great post, Lisa – yes, those ‘what if’s’ are amazingly toxic – and so often they don’t come to pass anyway. When they do, the way for us to build up our resiliency and self-trust is to learn how to take care of ourselves, even (and maybe especially) when things aren’t going the way we might like them to. I think that when we can really learn how to deal with both disappointment and powerlessness, things get better – at least they did for me.

    In my book, I talk about the 3 faces of f-e-a-r:

    1. Forget everything and run.
    2. False evidence appearing real.
    3. Face everything and recover.

    The 3rd one isn’t always easy to do, but I think it’s ultimately easier than living with crippling fear and anxiety on a daily basis! Thanks for bring up ‘fear’ – one of our still-taboo topics to talk about….

    • Thank you, Candace. I agree – as we learn to face our fears, we build resiliency and self-trust through self-care. I love your 3 faces of f-e-a-r and look forward to reading your book.

  6. Herby Bell says:


    Your real and excellent piece reminded me of my “harm reduction” years and the active addiction side of this when my wife looked at me and said, “I am really worried you are trying to kill yourself.” How dare she when she knew my family’s history for doing just that and ALL I was doing was starting to drink again?…She was profoundly afraid and full of fear when neither one of us had the family support we needed to deal with what can be a sometimes deadly perfect storm.

    What a concept for a place to land with your great suggestions and to know these debilitating fears are indeed sub-cortical, meso-limbic storms which are just passing through.

    Thanks always, Lisa.

    • Those must have been incredibly difficult years, Herby, and as you say, especially given your family history. It’s heartening to read that find this post might help others who find themselves in a similar situation.

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