The Fears We Carry

When I was a child, I had two recurring dreams.

When I was very young, I dreamed – vividly – of an alligator coming into my room. I heard him slog up the stairs and through our apartment living room. With each step of his scaly feet, I heard a squishing, sucking sound. As he approached my crib, he stuck his snout through the slats and announced, “I’m just going to take a little bite right out of your neck.”


As an older child, I dreamed of a super-sized Tin Man type figure who stomped into view from beyond the horizon across the street from my elementary school. As he loomed larger, I froze in place, terrified. My Grandfather appeared from nowhere and pulled me into hiding behind some bushes; there he comforted me and we watched together. The Tin Man stopped in front of the school and his funnel hat popped open. A collapsible sliding board was released and everyone I knew and loved came sliding down to the ground in front of me.

So weird. And very vivid – I can even tell you the precise outfit I wore in that dream.

I still have no idea what either dream meant. Possibly nothing.  And I don’t know why I experienced them so many times over. In both cases, the end was a something of a relief, and perhaps – at least now – a little hilarious. I think the most frightening part of those dreams was not knowing the source of the squishing sound and not knowing what was up with that huge Tin Man.

And that’s probably because that’s the greatest fear of all – fear of the unknown. We fear that which we do not know or cannot see. We are afraid of not knowing what will happen next, not knowing the reasons behind the events of our lives.

It’s really fear of not being in control. And truth be told, we are never in complete control; that is one of our hardest lessons. Very hard to learn, and very hard to accept.

We humans like being in control and when realize that we aren’t? It’s terrifying.

But fear is normal part of life. Some fears we carry throughout our lives; others we abandon. A little fear is healthy; it’s what keeps us cautious around things like fire, busy streets, and strangers.

Sometimes we hang onto those childhood fears like fear of the dark or spiders. I still don’t like sleeping in complete darkness and I may or may not do a little leap into the bed at night…you know, just in case there’s something lurking underneath. Silly? Perhaps. I know there is no logical reason for these fears to linger and yet they do, so I honor that.

Still, as I’ve grown older and my life has changed, so have many of my fears. They now have much more to do with my family, with life and death. I fear things like car accidents when loved ones are traveling. I am afraid of leaving this life too soon and not being here to see my daughter safely and solidly into adulthood. I am afraid of losing my own mother before I am prepared to face that day.

But I’m starting to understand that the real problem with fear is that is it just worry on steroids; we get caught up thinking about what danger might befall us in the future, instead of focusing enough on what is. Right now.

Like honoring my childhood fear with a little leap into bed, I wonder if there is a way we can learn to embrace and even love our fears. I have no problem admitting I own them; they are part of who am I am right now. Hello, I’m Lisa. I’m afraid of spiders and I do not like the dark.

I can’t control the fact that I have certain fears – none of us can. What we can control is how we react to them. Dealing with my fears is just doing what I need to do to soothe myself, just as any of us would do for a child who needed comfort. So what if I use little night lights in my bathrooms and hallways? Who cares if I scream a little (OK, a lot) for someone to come remove spiders from my immediate vicinity?

Perhaps eventually I won’t mind sleeping in a totally dark room. Maybe I’ll even try some desensitization exercises to deal with that spider phobia. But today is not that day.

Until then, I’ll continue to carry these pieces of myself while I focus on other things, things that I can tackle today. Because my greatest fear? Is missing out on what is right in front of me because I’m too stuck on what might be.

And I don’t want to miss a thing.


Lisa A. Listwa is OTV’s Author-in-Residence


22 thoughts on “The Fears We Carry

  1. Excellent essay. We all have those recurring dreams. I remember my first one as a child, an evil circus. I have never been to a circus as a result. I don’t plan on attending one any time soon.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Louis. Thank you! Evil circus does not sound like a good dream at all. Can’t blame you for staying away from them!
      I think dreams are fascinating. On the one hand, I don’t like to put too much thought into them, but on the other hand I often wonder what in the world drives the subject matter. Pizza after 10PM maybe. LOL.


  2. Really enjoyed this piece of writing . I have grown less fearful as I’ve grown older. Our family motto that I’ve passed down to my nine children and twenty four grandchildren is “Feel the fear and do it anyway”. It’s certainly helped some of them to do things they otherwise might not have attempted.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This is a great column. Speaking as a person who is racked by phobias, fears, and terrors in the night you are on the right track. Learn to live with them, learn to embrace them, learn to work with them. I am a much happier person realizing I am wreck and always will be. Bravo, Lisa.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Tim. I love the way you put that. I definitely think trying to pretend our fears don’t exist or shoving them into some deep dark place only serves to make them more difficult to manage. Owning them is just part of the larger picture – accepting ourselves just the way we are.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s funny how I can remember my recurring dreams (I had two) with just as much clarity and they make as little sense to me now than they did back then. When I was old enough to wonder….. I always wondered just what they were about. As someone who tries to figure out everything, I failed in that department.

    Hi, I’m Vickie and I am also afraid of the dark and looking out a window when it is dark outside (for fear that someone will be looking back)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Vickie! Oh, dark windows – I totally get that. I used to be terrified to look out the windows at my Grandparents’ house because they lived on the edge of a small wood. Creepy stuff.
      I often wonder if dreams really mean anything or if they really are just the brain taking out the day’s trash. Fears are real enough, though. For sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My recurring nightmare as a child was the falling dream. It was very specific each night. My bed would fly out the window and I’d fly around the world looking at all the sights, but eventually, the bed would start spinning out of control falling from the sky. I would always wake up screaming before the bed hit the ground. To this day, I still have a fear of heights because of it, but I try to face that fear by hiking up mountains or riding on Ferris wheels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The falling dreams are so weird. I don’t know if I have a fear of heights per se, but I definitely prefer to have my feet on the ground. I’d much rather hike the mountain than hang on the Ferris wheel. Something about being suspended bothers me – most likely the lack of control. The view sure is nice, though!


  6. Hi Lisa! I think it is wise to dig underneath our fears because from everything I’ve read about how our brains process I really believe that we can learn to adjust what we fear. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or that they go away, but like you say they start to fade into the background. And how? I believe from what I’ve read that by learning to reprocess the “thoughts” about the fear we can do that. Again, I’m not saying it’s easy or that I’m an expert. Only that I have had the experience (by meditating) and doing a lot of self work, of changing my thinking and learning to focus on things that are more benign. I believe in the idea of a “growth-mind set” so my go to is always learning ways to better cope. ~Kathy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make a good point, Kathy, about that growth perspective. Life is a constant opportunity for growth and change and finding ways to work with our fears fits well with that thinking for sure. Definitely a challenge, but worth the effort. Thanks for reading!


  7. I can’t enjoy the beauty of butterflies because of being terribly afraid of caterpillars. That goes along with your last line but sort of in reference – not seeing the beauty of something because I’m stuck on what it used to be. Interesting. Great writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is so good, Lisa! My scariest dreams as a kid were also dreamt over and over again. So weird. In one of them, Kermit the Frog was evil (which made me so sad, too). I love the ending – it’s so true that we’d miss out on too much if we let fear guide us. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Well written. You seemed to have touched on a common experience – not only fear but recurring dreams. So, I will join in and tell you that I, also, had a recurring dream when I was very young, maybe two or three years old. In my dream, an alien would walk through the wall at the bottom of my bed. That is all I remember, just a tall, thin, gargoyle-looking creature entering my bedroom via a solid wall. It was terrifying.

    Liked by 1 person

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