For as long as I can remember fear has played a significant part in my life. As a child one of the things I remember most was being afraid.
How a child feels fear at such an early age is somewhat of an enigma to me as we are all said to be born free and filled with life and all its possibilities.
My mother was a very fearful young woman when I was born. I would guess that when fear is with you from such an early stage of development, you are more often than not carrying the fears of the ones who are raising you and it probably begins pre-verbally.
Early in life, my fears and anxieties were internalized; for it was far safer to turn them inside, than to see my mother as anything less than whole, perfect and right.
At seven years old, I remember waking up in the middle of the night and thinking I had polio. That was the beginning of my belief that "something must be wrong with me" which led to way too many years of hypochondria.
As an adult I would reassure myself I was okay by visiting far too many doctors, in each case, assuming I had something catastrophically wrong with me and waiting until they told me I was okay before I felt I was given permission to live.
I had other fears.
I remember going to school in the 5th grade and thinking, when the 12 p.m. air raids sounded at the exact time each day, it would be the perfect time for Russia to bomb New York City for real. I was terrified of the atom bomb. Not the thoughts of a happy child. Years later a therapist told me that "the bomb" was inside me. It was years of anger turned inward.
When I flew to California for the first time at the age of 10 the plane experienced turbulence. My mother called out with what she defended as her sense of humor, "Well it's everyone for themselves when the plane goes down!" This remark would be enough for me to take a ship to Europe when I was sent to write songs for a Screen Gems television show in 1968. And it explains my taking a train from New York to California when I was asked to come out and write songs for another television show in 1970.
There really was no end to the fears that robbed me of an anxiety-free life and kept me from living fully. Or perhaps more accurately, I kept myself from living fully. A therapist along the way once told me it was not death I feared, but life.
In the early seventies my lip twitched and trembled all the way through singing on the Dinah Shore show, the Merv Griffin show and in 1977, with a mid-sized hit record to my credit, The Johnny Carson show.
Also in the late seventies and the early eighties I was asked to tour the major cities to promote the records I had recorded. The terror I felt before I went on stage, and for the first five minutes of the performance, was intense. The real question is: Why did someone like me, with so many fears, choose to put myself out in front of people? Why, no matter how well received I was at each performance, could I not take that good feeling with me to the next city?
I eventually stopped recording and performing my own songs.
However, three years ago- and 20 years later- I decided to accept an offer to perform in New York City at Feinstein's in the Regency Hotel. I rehearsed and rehearsed and chose to do the whole show in front of invited friends at The Cinegrill in the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles.
Yes I was nervous, but not terribly. I felt prepared and ready for the challenge. I was singing at The Cinegrill to see if I had conquered my fear in the years that had gone by. Not only was I not really nervous, but I was also able to acknowledge to myself during the performance how far I had come. I could feel and accept the audience responding positively to me.
That in itself was a staggering change.
Since the eighties, I've been back and forth to New York, and since the nineties, I have spent considerably more time traveling in Europe, Africa and South America, and soon, India, and Cambodia.
I believe that the years of searching, sifting through various therapies and therapists, trying to find my authentic self through my songs, yoga, workshops, and yes, Kabballah, I no longer bear much resemblance to who I once was.
"Feel the fear and do it anyway,"* was one of the tools I learned in Alanon to build self-esteem.
Seeing how much energy I wasted being fearful of so many things that never came to pass has given me the freedom in the past sixteen years to take a different street.
My mother's thirty-odd years of sobriety, and my desire to let go of "blame" has helped me heal much of the pain and dysfunction of our relationship. Forgiveness has played a major part in my learning to let go and to trust.
Having a son forced me on many occasions to "act as if," hoping the feelings would follow, hoping he would not notice my fear, and that one day he could be the one to break the cycle. Today he is 20 years old and is a very different 20-year-old than I was. He has a few fears, but he challenges them much earlier in his life than I did in mine. I worked hard on myself so that I could fully enjoy the life I had been blessed with.
I believe any other way is less than what the universe has in mind for us.
That is not to say that old buttons cannot, on occasion, be pushed, but I try to restrict myself from going to the old dark places I used to visit.
I try to use challenges as opportunities to grow. I have finally come to learn that if we are not continually growing "upwards" by trying to transform into better versions of ourselves, we are either standing still or going in a downward motion. All our moments are choices, and for today I choose the light over the dark and looking outside of myself instead of focusing in on "me and my problems."
L.A, which is now my home, housing much that I love, has its own dark side. It can be, if you let it, one industry town that appears at times to trump kindness with power, wisdom with wealth, gratitude with greed, and happiness with envy.
Living here with any semblance of balance demands consciousness and a certain vigilance to not lose focus on what is "real".
I have come to realize that all the experiences and challenges that seemed at times insurmountable were all a part of who I am today. Without the struggle, it would have been a very different life.
Today I truly love my life and am grateful for each day. Part of my small but big transformation is due to my husband Bob, who has shown me by example what it is to show up, live by your word, do what you say, say what you mean,- and most of all what it is to be loved.
A friend of mine wears a bracelet with the word "FEAR" written on it. The backside says, "Let it be your biggest inspiration."
I wear a bracelet that says "Faith." The other side says "ALIVE" in the true state of life.
Throw in Love and Light and I think that covers it all for me.
*Editor's note: this phrase was originated by Susan Jeffers in her 1987 book, "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway."
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