“How I transformed fear into my friend,
and myself into the Beloved.”
If my story began as a play, the opening scene would be as follows:
[Setting]: Inside of a walk–in closet. The darkness is so dense you can barely see your hand.
[Main Character]: A young woman in her mid-20s, teary-eyed with a kind of confused hopelessness that comes from despair. She is lying on the cold, hardwood floor.
My image of myself
I am looking at pictures in my mind of how I coped as a child, and how I continue to cope as an adult: fearful, hiding, barricading, and making efforts to be alone … the very feelings that brought me to therapy. Lonely and feeling abandoned, I wondered why God had chosen me for this prescribed life of tears, frustration and agony. I stared into the darkness. He must’ve made a mistake… and a terrible one.
Before Therapy with Benita A. Esposito, LPC
Before I started seeing Benita for therapy, I knew I needed help. Yet, I waited months before I picked up the phone. “It’ll get better with time,” I said. “I don’t have the money,” I cried. “ My husband won’t support me,” whispered self-pity’s slimy, deceitful voice.
But my anxiety and fear worsened. My chronic fatigue grew, my depression deepened, and I kept being nudged back to Benita’s website. I had just started working as a psychotherapist myself. I felt as if I had FRAUD seared like a brand across my forehead. Black and smoking and oozing with gunk. I remember writing in my journal:
“I feel like a fraud. A big, fat phony. Every day I want to hide, even from myself. Who would want to know a fraud like me? Stripped of my dignity.”
I reached my breaking point. I called Benita and scheduled an appointment.
I had been in counseling before, but I was weary of being seen and known even though I realized that was part of the therapeutic process. I believed everyone else was lovable and acceptable, but not me.
Never could I have known that the moment Benita and I met would spark the catalyst for the deepest inner healing I have ever experienced.
All of that weariness changed. With Benita, I felt as if each meeting was a soul encounter. She poured out warmth, welcome, and grace into me, time and time again.
In the beginning, Benita helped me diagnose my primary condition: post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. I was surprised and shocked as we read through the diagnostic manual … after all I am a therapist, and I hadn’t realized that PTSD was the source of a lot of my pain. No longer feeling as crazy or as stupid, I thought, “Hey, I may be screwed up, but at least I’m screwed up for a reason!” Therapy only went deeper from there.
We started exploring, unwrapping all of my trigger points: Wounds of abandonment from early in life, car wrecks, trauma from a spiritual experience called “The Dark Night of the Soul,” and core beliefs of being a burden and unlovable.
Not long after our start, Benita mentioned how PTSD can be healed more effectively if the client invites their most significant loved one into the therapy sessions. For me, this was my husband. I recall Benita painting an ideal picture for me: I go out into the world of chaos and come home to a safe, protected haven and a deeply bonded relationship. I started imagining that home of comfort and protection. At that time, our home felt more like a life-draining prison cell than a fortress of safety… for both my husband and me.
My husband graciously began coming to therapy with me. And that’s when things started to really change.
Changes were slow, to be sure, and sometimes they got worse before they got better, but all the while they were moving forward and upward.
Diving into Therapy
My husband and I began to learn how to connect more deeply. I learned how to calm myself while he also learned how to help calm me when I was emotionally triggered. Benita helped us gaze into each other’s eyes and breathe together while our hands rested on each other’s heart. He’d say, “I’m right here for you. You’re OK. Breathe with me.” I followed his lead, and took deeper breaths, and felt my body unwind and relax. I learned I was lovable. And most of all, I began to feel my husband’s immense care for me.
One day, my husband was angry because I had left a mess in the house. When he saw I was crying in reaction to his anger, he softly cupped my face in his hands, and looked into my eyes, and said, “It’s ok. It’s a mess. It stresses me sometimes, but I still love you.” That moment was a turning point in my healing. (By this time, Benita had helped me to see how our fights triggered my sense of disconnection from myself and feelings of abandonment.)
I began to feel safer, knowing that when my husband was angry, he still loved me. I felt more secure.
When I was angry, I didn’t have to run. It wasn’t the end of our relationship. We encountered the depth of each other’s souls, not just our minds and defenses. Our marriage has begun to develop in beautiful ways.
And yet, my relationship with myself kept holding me back.
I participated in the “Your Authentic Life Retreat.”
Always on time, Benita invited me to attend a retreat she was facilitating called, “Your Authentic Life.” I checked in with myself. I still felt layers of shame and fear. I held these as my greatest enemies. After all the therapy and spiritual healing I had tried, I still could not abolish them! How I longed to take a pack of dynamite to these wretched feelings! Was I living my life authentically? No! Why? Inside I still wanted to run and hide. I sighed. And as God would have it, I went to the retreat.
That day was a simple day. Simple and profound. Never could I have guessed or expected what it had in store for me. It wasn’t until the end of the day that my breakthrough came. Always on time.
Benita was coaching another woman who was striving to be set free of her fear. Benita read a poem she had written: “The Enlightened Voice of Fear.” In her poem, the Voice of Fear chimes in:
“You do not have to get rid of me to be free,
I am a part of you.
I am your friend, too!
I see you look surprised.
Don’t you see all the colors in that rainbow?
Could you see white if you could not see black?
I am not your enemy and I will not kill you.
You can learn to be with me,
To contain me and
Know your wholeness.”
With these words, my soul began to heal. Because of these words, I then questioned how I strove and strove to disconnect with my greatest enemy: Fear! Fear! Why must I be afraid? I pondered, and I pondered, and I healed.
That night, I wrote the following in my journal from within my Authentic Self:
Everything I thought that I would never be, I am.
All that I tried and strived to resist has overcome me.
How can I be settled in this new paradigm?
This new understanding?
This new way of living?
My, how the tables have turned.
That I would face all that I’ve run from
Surely there is a purpose to this,
some aspect of healing.
I cover myself in shame
for the hideousness.
Now I hesitate to say,
Is it really all that hideous?
By whose ideal have I prescribed such a fate upon myself?
This is the new paradigm:
That in the totality of who I am,
judged or not by man
(yes, indeed judged),
it does not change who I am in my King’s sight:
I am who I am.
And so I struggle through the night and the day,
All the while trying to bring together all the broken pieces of my existence,
To hold them and fumble them in my hand.
More tenderly now,
I hold them out in front of me
and hug them close
and hold them out for all to see.
I hold them out before my King.
He draws me in,
and holds my hands
and folds my fingers over
these delicate precious pieces of gems,
And He kisses my forehead and holds me,
and suddenly, I am whole.
I cried and cried and cried. I thought of the words of the other woman at the end of the retreat, “Fear has served me well.”
and staying connected with myself,
and being loved by others,
in the midst of my fear,
freed me from my fear of fear.
The next morning at church we sang “No Longer Slaves,” a song describing our freedom from the bondage of fear and our identity as children of God.
In my mind I saw him: Fear. Personified in the bodily form of a young man and yet formless at the same time. He smiled at me. It wasn’t the smile of death and destruction I had come to associate with fear. I didn’t feel the sharp pains and see the glare in his eyes, but instead I felt peace. I felt secure. Instead, I felt Fear had been my friend all along, tormenting and subjecting me to disgusting maladies, and yet all the while forming who I was. I accepted fear. And then, as with dust in the wind, he began to fade. A gentle smile brushed away into the air.
Fear transformed into my friend,
and I into the Beloved.
“Perfect love casts out fear.” All those times I prayed for God to take away my fear, little did I know I simply had to love my enemy so he could become my companion. Now, we walk together, he and I, side by side. Smiling into the wind and chuckling amidst the sandstorm. United at last as one.
And so I continue on my journey, learning the greatest lessons. God is always present, intimately involved in my life.
In the past, I felt like my Authentic Self was a worm inside the apple of my being. That was a lie. It took a lot of pain and searching to figure that one out.
I don’t have to hide. I am the Beloved.
I can be me
with the shadows and the light of my being.
I can be known and accepted this way, too.
By revealing my shadow side, I invite other shadows to come out from lurking in the darkness so we can meet together in the light. In doing this, I find that I am able to live freely in how God created me to be … secure, known, explored, discovered, encountered. Unconditionally loved.
I’m not finished, and I accept that I never will be finished on this side of Heaven, and at the same time God promises, “I will complete the good work I have begun in you.”
So I choose to walk steadfastly into both the darkness and the light, with a courageous heart and my new friend, Fear, and a big enough Love to embrace all that I am. The darkness and the light.
~ End of Vivian’s Story ~
Vivian’s story inspired me, Benita Esposito, to write this poem.
Beyond the darkness and the light,
and within the darkness and the light,
there is an I,
My Authentic Self,
who is lovable and capable and smart and strong.
Redeemed from the illusion
that I was ever
from my wholeness
and the love of God.
Loving all of myself,
I have found peace in the midst of the storm.
To the reader: please share how this story has impacted you. We’d love to hear your comments.
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This anecdote was written by Vivian (a highly sensitive person) after 12 private psychotherapy sessions and one group “Your Authentic Life” Retreat (a life coaching format) on September 17, 2016. Vivian (a pseudonym used to protect client confidentiality) gave me permission to share her story. The photos of the couple in this story are free stock photos from Morguefile.com.