I’ve always been afraid of the dark.
My first fears grew from when we’d visit my grandparents in their small town in the southwest corner of North Dakota. Darkness has a new definition in the most remote parts of the world. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, unable to see even the faintest outline of what was in the room with me.
There were no nightlights to give off a friendly glow, so forget about going to the bathroom.
I vividly remember getting out of bed and taking a few terrified steps, praying I wouldn’t step on a spider or that something wouldn’t grab me from the pitch blackness. I never made it to the bathroom.
Instead, my fear would overwhelm my need, and I’d scurry back toward my bed, frantically flailing my arms to find it before my shins slammed into the metal frame. Once under the blankets, I would tuck my legs into my flannel nightgown and try to make myself as small as I could so that whatever was roaming in the dark would pass over me.
When I was a young teenager, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, never as dark because we lived in town but still black enough, and hear my parents’ low pitched voices, sometimes a kind of pleading cry. No laughter or joy in those last years. They were on the cusp of divorce, and they waited until my brothers and I had gone to bed to unravel their marriage and our lives.
So I’ve never found comfort in the dark. I don’t feel like it’s a warm blanket wrapping me up, holding me close. At best, darkness has been a wary stranger. At worst, it’s been a faceless, nameless terror waiting to whisk me away to someplace even deeper and darker.
But two years ago, I was “gifted” an opportunity to face this fear head on.
In September 2020, I was awarded a two-week writing residency, alone in a farmhouse, in the darkness of rural North Dakota. When I had applied months earlier, I thought only of the incredible possibilities that could occur by day and utterly forgot there would be pitch black nights to punctuate each of those days.
Think I’m being overly dramatic? Here’s a quick video from night one. Can you see the terror in my eyes?
I actually didn’t consider my fear of the dark because when I applied, I didn’t believe I would be accepted. I mean, why would anyone invest in my writing? Why would anyone invest in me?
But they did. And I went. I faced my fear head on with the help of a number of flashlights and nightlights from friends.
I survived the first night and got up the next morning, moving with a hesitant confidence through the house to get outside. My joy at surviving the night and my desire to see the sunrise as it was making its presence known to the day overrode any lingering fear I had in that moment. I made tea, wrapped up in my writing shawl and walked out to the end of the driveway to get a better view.
Over the course of the remaining 13 nights, my fear continued to recede and my comfort with the dark grew stronger.
But really the dark was just a metaphor for what I was confronting: my deep-seated fear that I’m not enough to be all that I dream of being. My lifelong compulsion to unconsciously sabotage nearly every moment right before I’m about to take flight to ensure I stay small, boxed in and a victim because of missed opportunities.
Better to huddle under the weighty blankets of anticipated failure than to fumble around in the inky blackness of uncertainty or confidently take the first step into the unknown and possibly fall short.
What I now know for sure from my time at the retreat is that the best way to conquer your fear is to face it head on.
Throw the blankets off, get out of bed and take the first step.
Will you bang you shin on something hard? You might. Will you have to face the raging monsters of your imagination? Likely. Will you fall and get hurt? Possibly.
But you know what happens if you stay under the blankets?
Your shins stay bruise-free and the monsters remain at bay, but you don’t get anywhere, and absolutely nothing changes.
Breathing through the anxiety of watching the sun descend below the endless horizon into utter blackness and waking up in the murky blue black of the early morning for two straight weeks didn’t totally cure me of my fear of the dark, but two years later, I’m more comfortable with the unknown of night than I ever was before.
But there’s one more’s facet, too: there’s no reason to navigate the dark alone. There’s no shame in grabbing a flashlight or in turning on a nightlight to illuminate your way. Find the guides that will assist you to confidently take that first step, point out the most dangerous impediments and hold your hand when you stub your toe or worse.
Remember that even the darkest night, without question, fear or anxiety, gives way to the morning’s sunrise. Throw off the blankets and embrace it.
So how about you?
What are you afraid of?
What’s holding you back?
And, more importantly, what are you doing to fix it?
And if you want more ways to look with anticipation to the next sunrise of your life, download my free (re)Discover Your Spark guide.