Fear – Grapevine Article by Dr. Hal S September 1963

How to turn this potential defect into an asset

On the morning of my fifth AA birthday, now some time ago, I arrived at my office to be greeted by the receptionist with the message that a telegram awaited me. Upon opening it, I discovered that it was a thoughtful greeting from an old AA friend thousands of miles away in the East. The considerate impulse that motivated this gesture impressed me; however, the message inside proved to be of even more value. It said: “Fear knocked on the door, faith answered, and nothing was there. Happy Birthday.”

In the many, many twenty-four-hour periods of continued sobriety that have elapsed since that morning I have thought often of my friend and his message, particularly about fear.

Some people discredit fear as an important factor in the disease of alcoholism. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, the word fear immediately associates images of being cowardly, yellow, scared, chicken, etc. Therefore, they tend to discredit it or attempt to ignore it.

Actually, fear, in my opinion, not only has a lot to do with excessive drinking but, if understood, can be useful in recovery.

Let us begin by recognizing that fear can be divided into two types: positive and negative. The positive elements of fear are healthy and it is doubtful if we could survive without them. The negative elements of fear are sick or sickness producing.

When used for positive purposes the chief goals of fear are self-preservation and the preservation of those things we hold dear. Under the impetus of this emotion we build shelters or homes for ourselves and our families; we clothe ourselves and our loved ones; we engage in productive work; we interpolate ourselves into societies with laws, customs, mores.

The negative elements of fear are anxiety, worry, dread, uncertainty–the whole spectrum of the emotions of insecurity, one might say. The practicing alcoholic uses the negative elements of fear as his power, rather than the positive. The result is a further sinking into the abyss of progressive, compulsive drinking. More negative fear–more drinking–more negative fear–so it goes in a chronic vicious cycle.

In coming to the AA program the problem drinker learns to recognize these character defects but, more important, he is given the tools to forge the weapons to combat them and replace them.

To combat them he becomes slowly familiar with a program of “spiritual progress,” one of whose eventual goals is faith. Faith is the antidote for negative fear.

Many years ago at an AA meeting an old-timer told me: “You can’t think your way into sober living but you can live your way into sober thinking, one day at a time.” This philosophy is the key to recovery and the path to faith.

As the newcomer embraces AA he soon learns that there are others here just like himself and he sees that they have vanquished their primary problem one day at a time. This creates hope. If the newcomer continues to stick, sooner or later he begins to grow and a sense of trust appears. With time and continued progress, faith, like a sunrise, eventually is born. As the sun of this new faith begins to rise, the shadows and darkness of negative fears proportionally begin to fade and dim. When faith progressively replaces negative fear we begin our journey on an upward plane of sober thinking. In this state we become conscious of our God-given positive endowments. Now, healthy positive fear can take its rightful position and begin to replace any lingering negative elements that might still be about.

Positive healthy fear induces good qualities that need nurturing to grow, such as caution, patience, tolerance, open-mindedness, tact and discretion. These, as they become stronger, will replace the old unwanted, discarded negative elements.

We are no longer afraid of alcohol. Rather, now, we are aware of it and respect it. This awareness and this respect we try to keep salient lest we become negligent or careless–two obvious pitfalls for the alcoholic.

We try to choose our paths carefully under the guidance of a Higher Power. We attend AA meetings frequently and regularly. We pursue Twelfth Step work with diligence and enthusiasm. We rely on the Tenth and Eleventh Steps as our daily maintenance. Above all else, we try to “practice these principles in all our affairs.”

This is healthy. This is good. This is sane. This is a new way of life.

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