There have been so many times in my life when I’ve felt afraid. One that I remember vividly was the night I decided to leave my marriage.
I’d grown increasingly tired of feeling as if I was the only one who was working hard to financially support our family (which consisted of myself, my husband, and his 3 children). I was also growing tired of always feeling like I had to be the voice of reason, calming my husband when he lost his shit. And, if I’m going to be honest, of using alcohol much too frequently just to try and survive my life.
I wanted more. But I was also scared as hell to go after it. So I didn’t.
Then, one night, my husband decided that he would drink to the point where he was obviously intoxicated. After arguing about I don’t remember what, he said he was going to leave. This was my breaking point. I had no intention of staying home and waiting for a police officer — one of my colleagues — to show up and tell me how he had wrecked and killed himself or, worse yet, killed someone else.
I’d had enough, so I decided it was time to leave. Which set a whole host of completely unforeseen events in motion.
I was packing an overnight bag and, before I knew it, I was listening to the all-too-familiar sounds of a shotgun being loaded. After being in law enforcement 15 years, I knew that racking sound anywhere. I also knew what it likely meant.
I grabbed my half-packed bag and headed for the door, turning my head to the left just long enough to see my husband put one more shell in the barrel. I raced out the door, down the sidewalk, and to my vehicle as quickly as I could, waiting to hear the blast and feel the impact in my back.
Fortunately, none of that occurred. I made it to my SUV, started it, and hauled ass out of the drive. I wasn’t too far away and my cellphone rang. I jumped from the sound, looked down at the screen, and saw that it was him. Wanting to know his state of mind and whether he was following me, I decided to answer.
That’s when he started ridiculing my fears, saying that his loading of the shotgun was because he wanted to take his own life…not because he intended to take mine. Tell that to my racing heart and sweaty palms, I thought.
Besides, I’d been in police work long enough to know that I shouldn’t trust what he was saying. For all I know, he was trying to lure me back by telling me I didn’t need to be in fear. I wasn’t going to fall for it though. I knew he had a temper and, though he’d never physically hurt me, I also knew that he was drunk. Nothing was out of the question.
I don’t remember all of the places I drove that night. I only remember hitting as many dirt roads as I could, making it hard to find me. Ultimately, I found my way to my friend’s house (who was also my supervisor from work). She gave me a place to crash for a few hours so I could settle down a bit before I had to head back into work.
During the next few months, as my divorce worked its way through the court system, my soon-to-be-ex found out where I was living, tracked my whereabouts, and always made sure I knew that he was keeping an eye on me.
To say that this was unnerving is an understatement. I constantly made adjustments to my life, such as taking different routes home from work, never opening my shades, and often sitting in the dark so it was impossible to tell whether or not I was home.
It has taken me a long time to mentally work my way through this experience and, sometimes, I don’t feel like I have. I still have nightmares surrounding that night, taking me right back to where I was.
Other times, I look back at the grit I was able to summons when I needed it most and am extremely proud that I finally took a stand…despite all of my fears.
Am I saying that building grit when you have fear is easy? Not at all. It’s one of the hardest, most grueling things I’ve ever done. But it’s also one of the most self-empowering things I’ve ever done too.
If you feel like your circumstances are bigger than your grit — like I often felt all those years ago — here are some things that I did to help me build my grit to the point where I finally started looking after myself and pursuing what I wanted out of life:
- I made a plan. Once I went through the process of planning how I was going to leave my marriage, it was just a matter of implementing that plan when the time was right. This gave me a sense of control at a time when I felt pretty helpless (and hopeless) about my circumstances. So, what are some things you can do to help you push past your fears? What do you need to put into place to make it easier to take the actions you need to take to create a life that brings more smiles than tears? You don’t need to have every single step mapped out in order to make your move, but it is helpful to develop a basic idea of what needs to happen for you to start to challenge your fears and begin to move forward.
- I changed my perspective. For the longest time, what kept me in my marriage was that I felt sorry for my husband. He’d had a lot of hardships in his life and, though many were because of his own doings, I knew that deep down he was a good guy. Sometimes he just let the situation get the best of him and didn’t always respond in the best way. Since I didn’t want to be just one more person who gave up on him, I stayed. That is, until I realized that staying was just as bad for him as it was for me. He deserved to have someone who loved him as a wife…not someone who was in the relationship because of pity. This little shift in perspective helped give me the courage to leave. Considering your own situation, is there another way you can look at it that will make facing your fears easier? Is it possible that you’re only seeing it from one angle (an angle that keeps you from facing your fears), when changing that angle would make it easier to take action?
- I created a solid support network. I don’t think I would’ve been able to leave that night had I not had a ton of people in my corner. Because I had a great relationship (and friendship) with my supervisor, I had someplace to go once I left. My sister was also extremely supportive, constantly helping me work through how I was feeling and offering help when I needed it. My co-workers at the sheriff’s department assisted me from a legal standpoint, helping me when my husband showed up at my new residence with a “gift,” even though I made it explicitly clear that I wanted him nowhere around. Without all of these people, I don’t know how much longer it would have taken me to develop the grit to get out. Thinking about the people in your circle, who can you rely on to help you overcome your fears? Family members? Friends? Co-workers or colleagues? Pastors? Counselors? Who can you trust to help you as you set out to conquer your fears?
There’s no way around it. Building your grit despite your fears is hard. Hard to the point where it can sometimes stop you dead in your tracks, making your heart race as if you’ve just been chased by a vicious animal. But when it is the right thing to do for you, it is also one of the most freeing actions you can take.
Looking back, deciding to leave my marriage created in me a strength that I still rely on to this day. When I’m feeling weak or like life is out of control, I think back to the way I took action despite the fear that I was feeling. I remind myself that I still have that same level of grit inside me, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.
You too have grit inside of you. Maybe it isn’t always on the surface, but it’s there. If I was able to find mine with a shotgun being loaded, you sure as hell can find yours too.
Not that I’m comparing my situation to yours because I’m not. I have no idea what you’re going through.
But I also know that the human spirit is amazing. All you have to do is trust it. Use it to take you all of the places you want to go. Build that grit, despite the fear. You’ll feel much stronger when you do.