Letting go of my fear with mental health and addiction.

By David Fuehrer

It would be untrue of me to blame my relationship with fear on cancer.

Although I was diagnosed with cancer twice in my twenties and then sat with my father as he took his last breath from cancer… fear, and more specifically, the fear of not being enough, has been my BFF since childhood.

My strongest memory of this is from my early teens. Growing up, my father was either at work or working on projects around the house. It calmed him.

My dad had a veteran disability rating. It was a severe mental condition for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. (Being the only soldier in your barracks to survive a mortar attack in the middle of the night will do that.) The only time I remember talking about this, is when we were told we couldn’t talk about this.

During one of those occasions while my dad was working, I remember feeling not enough.

We had placed our four-wheeler for sale. It was a source of year-round adventures that defined my childhood. We spent countless hours exploring the woods during the summers and towing a sled through the snow in the winter.

When the would-be buyer arrived at our house to look at the ATV, the duty was mine to negotiate the sale. I failed… The man convinced me how much work the four-wheeler needed. “TLC” he called it. And how over-priced our offer was. I buckled. What I remember is the sinking feeling of letting our family adventure machine leave us for a fraction of what it was worth.

Having a parent with PTSD meant our house was filled with love. Constant, heartwarming love, laughter and happiness. There was also something always just below the surface. And the silence from that was deafening.

Building a mailbox in front of our home, with my dad.

My dad’s motto:

The difficult we do immediately. The impossible just takes a little longer

is a representation of this lifestyle. If I focused on accomplishing big, impossible things, there was no room to dwell on those things just below the surface.

This approach to life worked for me… quite well… to a point. The fear of not being enough pushed me through college degrees, competitive bodybuilding and creating a life that looked well put together.

Once trauma began entering my life, my BFF and I developed a seriously co-dependent affair. An author I admire, Suleika Jaouad once posted:

“If you want to write something good, write what you don’t want the world to know. If you want to write something great, write what you don’t want to know about yourself.”

I’ll share what I don’t want you to know first.

Following my first cancer diagnosis at 25, I turned to steroids to replace my loss of physical strength.

Following my second cancer diagnosis at 30, I turned to Viagra to replace my loss of sexual ability.

Following the loss of my dad to cancer at 35, I turned to wine to push through my emotional pain.

Each of these reactions was driven by my fear of not being enough and needing something to cope with that fear.

Today, at 42 years old, I’m facing the return of an old trauma. One of the members of my family struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. They are unable to ask for help and it’s eating me alive.

I want to return to the ways I coped before. All of them. At the same time. My co-dependent affair with fear is in overdrive.

To quote the words of my friend, David Richman,

“There is nothing like watching a loved one go through agonizing pain and suffering. We all would take pain from them and put it on ourselves if we could, but we can’t. All we can do is better learn to embrace our own pain.”

With Suleika’s words on my mind for months, I’ve been leaning in to discover what it is I don’t want to know about myself. And what I’m learning is that I live in denial about me.

By focusing on the impossible things around me, I neglect the scary things inside me. At a time when I’ve never felt prouder of my life and of our work with GRYT Health, I also have never felt closer to the fear of not being enough.

I’ve been asking myself “why”. Why when things are going so incredible in my marriage and in my work, why now do I feel sidelined and so helpless with one of the most important relationships in my life?

What I don’t want to admit about myself is that “control” is my drug.

Have you seen the movie Hot Tub Time Machine? In response to his father’s death, John Cusack’s character says “I vowed to master the chaos.” That has been my approach to life since childhood.

But I’ve reached a point in my life where “mastering the chaos” no longer works. The stakes are too high. There are too many people involved. And most importantly… I want to embrace life. For all of its miracles and tragedies.

So, I am replacing fear with gryt. On our Facebook page that I look at everyday, it says:

“grit — (n) courage and resolve: strength of character”.

It’s time I started living that.

In response to John Cusack’s comment, his co-star says “You’ve got to embrace the chaos. You’ve got to. That way life may just astonish you.”

This is me, embracing the chaos. Admitting my fear of not being enough to you. And admitting that controlling life does not work, to myself.

This is me, embracing life. This is me, finding my gryt.

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