Monday, March 25, 2013

All We Have to Fear Is…

Nineteen-year-old Cork Graham on his Vietnam political prison freedom day May 18, 1984 ( AP/Wide World)
I didn’t mention it in my last post, but that was one of the major qualities of my relationship with SuzyQ, fear and how that fear expressed itself in a hard to ignore insecurity: never ceases to amaze me how self-destructive fear and the resulting insecurity can be. See, when you’re afraid of things like your significant other is THE ONE, or NOT the one , and prevents the relationship from reaching its full wondrous potential.
If you’ve been cheated on repeatedly, it effects your self-image, and especially how you relate to others. You’re always wondering if your love is cheating on you, or is about ready  to call it quits with you—and you know what they say about what you focus on, right? How what you imagine can comes true based on the amount of energy and thought you put into.
What killed that relationship last year was fear of the unknown, fear of intimacy, fear of loss, and, yes, surprisingly so, fear of success!
And that’s just a romantic relationship. What about all the other relationships out there: business, friends…even the relationship we have with ourselves?
Ironically, the very part of ourselves that’s supposed to protect us, becomes more inflated and instead of protecting us, actually, increases our dilemmas. This protective part or ourselves is the ego. A healthy ego helps us define our identity, supports a strong confidence, and on a base, animalistic level, creates an emotional response for an organism to keep alive. On the other hand, an unhealthy, an inflated ego, confuses arrogance for confidence, and is often resulting in someone who has intense conscious and subconscious fears as the result of repeated stress, especially in someone dealing with PTSD versus PTSR.


You could easily say that FEAR and I have had a profoundly deep relationship, ever since the early years of my life. You might be swayed to think the opposite by the fact that I lived a relatively privileged childhood, something my father was able to provide because we were expatriates, and would never be able to afford, had we lived in the US on his salary. I went to private school. We got to travel every summer, whether it was back to the States every other year or at least to one of the many nations around South Vietnam and Singapore, if not to Europe in special years.
What many who’ve never read My 2004 bestselling memoir: THE BAMBOO CHEST don’t get is that there were some pretty horrific things happening in Vietnam when we were there though, and it didn’t matter that we were civilians. Matter of fact, my first memories of life are those of the second part of the Tet Offensive of 1968, Little Tet, known by those who were there, as much bloodier than the early battle covered by Walter Cronkite. The deep red color of the blood spilled onto the streets tinted my childhood nightmares for years.
It’s funny how people, especially my parents, took my silence and introversion during the latter part of my childhood in Saigon as just a normal part of shyness: before we arrived in Vietnam, I was very talkative and pretty precocious. By the time we left Vietnam, I was extremely shy and withdrawn. And it was another indicator of what fear had been doing to my subconscious: I started bedwetting again then. I didn’t stop until I was twelve years old...and interestingly enough, just about the time horrible nightmares related to what I had seen in Vietnam, faded.
It was about that time that I made a promise to myself: I would take on any challenge, do everything in my power, to overcome fear. I would go out into the world and seek fear where it thrived. When the opportunity came to head into a combat zone as an 18-year-old, that’s what I did, camera in hand. I can’t tell you how many times from then on that I wished I had stayed on the normal path, finished my electrical engineering studies at Berkeley and went on from NROTC midshipmen to naval aviator, flying the newly minted F-18. But, from age 18 to age 26, yet another opportunity to look that demon in the eye always availed itself.
Midshipman Graham, back row, under the "XIN" in Lexington
I learned what it was like to be alone in the Thai Gulf, trying to get away from pirates; being taken prisoner on an island off the coast of Vietnam; being interrogated by a communist intelligence team; and even what it’s like to be blindfolded and put up against a wall during a mock execution.
And those experiences in Southeast Asia were just the fears of adventure and daring. Can you imagine what it was like to be in prison one day, having done 11 months, seven in solitary, and then it’s like I’m walking out on a stage at Carnegie Hall: all the lights were on me.  One day I’m in solitary confinement; the next I’m being interviewed by reporters from almost every news service from around the world. A week later I’m on GOOD MORNING AMERICA and being remotely interviewed, on a camera, on camera one, that the engineers were unaware that I was talking to a dark screen that should have had Joan Lunden’s face on it, so that I’d actually be able to talk face-to-with someone, instead of just looking at a glass eye representing millions of viewers. Stage fright, anyone?
Now, if that wasn’t enough of a lesson in how intense fear can become, there were other opportunities, like helping defend an Army base during an overrun by enemy forces, ambushes in the jungle and my favorite way to become scared shitless (NOT!): mortar rounds coming in out of the sky, explosive detonations that not only hit your emotions, but send shockwaves through the ground and your body. Terrifying…especially since they’re walking their mortar rounds in on you, in the hopes you’ll freak and do something really stupid, like try and make a run for it—right into the sights of their machine-gunners on the hill.
In the process, I learned how to strike up a treaty with my new friend, Fear, and have a somewhat less rigorous interaction. It takes a bit of preparation. There are meditations and positive reaffirmations. Yes, a lot of that really does work, but you have to put the time, belief, and emotional energy into the effort.
Often it’s not the actual incident that causes fear. It can, and often comes about, as a result of how we were raised. Take two children. Both go through the same, very traumatic events. Scold one child, tell them to get over it, and tell them to grow up and be an adult—cowboy up! Take the other child, tell them how much you love them, share with them how fear is something that we all have, and all we have to do is find a benign place in our minds for fear to live, so that it’s not keeping us from achieving our life purpose, and the differences can be amazing!
There are a number of powerful words we can share with the young, like “do your best, accept your emotions and work with them.” That doesn’t mean giving awards and bonuses for unachieved goals. We’ve seen the horrendous effects of that in our “entitled society” that’s sprung up in the last 20 years. No, it means rewarding goals achieved, and recognizing errors, fears and failures, and learning how to work with them to get the next stage of personal development.
I also find it interesting how one fear overcome, doesn’t necessarily mean that all fears are overcome. Take for example the conversation I had with the renegade hypnotist and Vietnam veteran Mark Cunningham. We marveled at how when we were younger, it easy was for us to charge a machine gun nest keeping our team pinned, yet, find it hard to strike up a conversation with a woman we’d never met before and to whom we were attracted.
That’s the thing about fear: you can bolster  your psyche to deal with fears within one environment, and type of scenario, by taking a confidence built in another environment; but, not until you actively practice overcoming your fears within the specific type of scenario or environment, it just won’t completely gel.
What does that mean?
 It means you can build your confidence in combat, or climbing dangerous mountains, and stick your chest out and feel confident from that experience of having a confidence built on those achievements, but not until you actually build practice in the other scenario, in this case dating and romance, being calm and confident speaking to someone of the opposite sex,  in order to build your confidence fully, you’ll need to actually go through the repeated act of improving your speaking experience with those of the opposite sex.
The experience of overcoming fears and building confidence can be done in a sink or swim scenario, as pretty much my 20s were in the 1980s. Or, it can be the baby steps and solid improvement as done  by someone intensely shy, attending toastmasters to learn how to become a good speaker and turn that almost crippling fear of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of eyes on you as you speak, into a rush of excitement that charges your speech for success.
Taking over your mind and mindset, making it an asset is something I’ve been keen on for a very long time. The techniques I’ve learned I’ve used to teach a variety of people in the military, law enforcement and even in the corporate and business world. Over at GCT Magazine, we’ll be releasing that information soon, in webinars detailing and training the warrior mindset. GCT Magazine's New FREE Newsletter Subscription HERE!

1 comment:

Dave Butterworth said...

Thanks for the great post, and insight into something that is, for those of us blessed to be Americans, far from our daily lives. My memories of Vietnam, are not of the country ravaged by war, but rather of the fallout of that war, as the boat people were showing up on all the shores of the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, even as far as our home (at the time) in Singapore. The looks we saw were desperate, but also relieved, to be away from the Fear you described.
Keep writing, and telling these stories...they matter. As do you.
Dave Butterworth