Fear

I don’t know if you know this, but Jewel (yes, the singer) wrote an amazing memoir called Never Broken and you should definitely read it. I started re-reading parts of it recently in order to find one specific detail and it felt harder to read this time around.

I’ve been struggling to write this post for like, an entire two days, so basically forever. I keep getting sucked down this rabbit hole of thinking about care—what it is, what it looks like, what it means, why it makes me feel so incredibly vulnerable.

I want to get it right. But this is writing, there is no “right”—not really. Or that’s what I keep telling myself.

Jewel writes about busking her way all the way to and through Mexico as a teenager, hitchhiking alone, playing the guitar at bus stations, living off tips, etc. etc. And you might think, “Wow, what a free spirit, what a badass, good for her!” But I saw it differently: She had an unstable and abusive childhood. She was emotionally and physically neglected, and so she took risks that no sane person would ever let their own child take.

Her parents treated her like she didn’t matter, and so she treated herself the same way.

In so many ways, fear is a survival strategy. It keeps you alive.

If no one’s ever worried about your safety or well-being, you don’t know how to worry about yourself—and you put yourself in these unsafe situations, not because you WANT to be harmed, but because you don’t have that innate fear, the sense that you might be something of value worth protecting. And it doesn’t make sense to you that other people see you as vulnerable.

No. I’m just REALLY, REALLY independent. And I don’t need your help.

There’s still fear, of course, but it’s more this fear of screwing up or fucking up or being wrong.

I wasn’t taught to fear for myself, but in some ways I was taught fear of myself, that fear of doing something shameful and bad—that persistent fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.

When I think about the moments of care that have killed me—they have to do with having a body, with being physically vulnerable, needy even.

Do you know what happens when you don’t fear for yourself?

You do some dumb shit and you put yourself in some unsafe, stupid situations.

Fear is an acknowledgement of vulnerability—when we see another person as physically or emotionally vulnerable, we tune into their inherent value. But somehow I learned to equate my own vulnerability with weakness, and weakness with worthlessness, so that what makes me most vulnerable is to be shunned and despised.

I don’t know why it’s so easy for me to see the vulnerability of others as endearing and lovable but to see my own vulnerability as shameful and better hidden and denied.

Jewel writes in the foreword to her memoir: “I should probably not be here today.” I think it all amounts to a feeling, maybe it’s an instinct, a thought: “I shouldn’t be here.” Which really boils down to: “I shouldn’t be.”

Maybe one of the reasons care can feel so terrible and wonderful at the same time is that it closes the distance between me and being a person in the world. It reminds me that I am human, that I need food, air, water to survive.

It reminds me that I exist.

 

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