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Conquer your fear of the present: a personal story

Mind KEY / Health  / Conquer your fear of the present: a personal story
Don’t be an avoidant destination junkie. Be present.
When you’re on the road less traveled, be sure to take a moment to settle your feet in the grasses on the side of that unique path. Image by Theresa Birmingham.

Conquer your fear of the present: a personal story

By Theresa Birmingham

Confession: My name is Theresa, and I’ve been an avoidant destination junkie. I’ve spent most of my life seeking adventure after adventure, focused solely on the future. Because of this, I’ve struggled with situations where I must be present.

But I’m kind of converted now. . .

I still love to travel, of course. I’m still looking forward to the Sam Hunt concert I’m hitting at the end of the month. But my conversion isn’t about feeling or not feeling anticipation for the future. This recovery has been about understanding that the future is not the only thing that can bring me pleasure and joy. I need to be present, something I’ve struggled with for thirty-three years (yes, that’s my whole life).

 

Why I’ve avoided being present

We could get into the various psychological reasons I’ve been a runner, but honestly, if you’re going to take anything away from this article, it’s important to understand we all have reasons why we become avoidant distracted destination chasers.

So, what is an avoidant personality? Avoidant personalities are characterized by “a tendency to avoid intimacy or interaction with others.” However, in the case of those of us who are avoiding the present in order to chase our fix from our drug, destination, the avoidance is secondary in some ways. It’s the underlying issue, for sure, which means our cure for living in the future lies in understanding our avoidant behaviors.

In this case, we are not discussing avoidant behaviors as the fear of intimacy or interactions with others. For many of us avoidant destination junkie personality types, it’s about three things: the high for the next adventure, fear of being present, and fear of having an unfulfilled life. While chasing a high or seeking a life that is fulfilled are not bad in and of themselves, when they stem from fear rather than from joy, these goals can be detrimental to our mental health.

 

Live as if you’ll die today

One of my favorite quotes since high school is by James Dean. It has been a guiding force and philosophy in many adventures.

“Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die today.”

Although a person who understands how to be present might easily see how this quote represents mindfulness, for someone like me, who’s always been a planner, all I’ve ever seen is the push forward mentality of these famous lines.

I’ve always tackled life as though tomorrow is when everything happens. Then I turned thirty-three. And I’ll be honest, I had a tad bit of a life crisis. All of sudden, the future was scary. My life wasn’t what I’d always thought it would be.

No significant other. No steady job and just squeaking by on an adjunct and blogger’s salary. Add to that, no home to my name. A car I was just barely paying for. No daily practice of working on my best self.

This realization left me a bit of a wreck. I was forced into a state of mindfulness, where I had to really think about what I wanted from life, and why I hadn’t found those things yet.

What I’ve found is that I love my life just as it’s been. I would not have learned the lessons I’ve had to, nor would I have reached the goals I have if not for the person I’ve been. But. . .  As much as I like me as I am, I’ve found such appreciation for the person I’m becoming, as well. Someone who enjoys a beautiful adventure, but who’s also steadying out a bit, learning to find joy in the present.

 

Conquer your fear of the present

In retrospect, I didn’t necessarily conquer a fear as much as my fear of being present was scared out of me by a greater fear: not reaching the goals I’d already set. Goals that, although set in the future, require me to be present. To focus. To understand who and what I am becoming.

One of these goals was to have a life of working on my best self.

My journey to this knowledge has been a long time coming; it’s not a new idea. I’ve been in many situations where I’ve had to work on being present, and although I find that mindfulness is possible, being mindful and present are still incredibly scary and emotional practices. When one is practicing mindfulness and being present, they have to get down deep, dig under the layers and realize there are things you haven’t fully worked through.

These individuals, myself included, also might realize there have been many times in life when they have thought they were experiencing life, but they weren’t really live in the experience of that piece of their life.

No judgment.

We avoid certain parts of our lives because these can cause pain, and we’ve been evolutionary conditioned to evade pain. It’s biologically ingrained in us. But the truly awful thing about not overcoming this evolutionary quirk is that when we don’t live in the present, and we avoid pain for the promise of the future, we also miss the beauty around us.

Are you avoiding your present pain for the promise of the future? Are there goals you’re not tackling because it takes a mindful presence to work on them? Is your fear holding you back? Are you always charging forward, unaware of the chaos you leave in your wake, all for the high, the fix of your drug, destination? Then, you might be a destination junkie. . .

 

An avoidant destination junkie conquers fear (kind of)

Overcoming fear is a lifelong process. It doesn’t just happen in a snap.

I’m not over my fear of the present, of what thoughts or memories may come over me if I sit still, but I’m working on it. I’m also working on my need to chase the future promise of beauty and joy. First, because in the actual future, I want to be able to savor those moments of beauty and joy. Second, because my life is about the here and now as much as it is about the future.

I always looked at the anonymous quote, “Create a life you don’t need a vacation from.” Ironically, for quite some time now, I’ve thought this quote epitomized my life. If anyone was living this philosophy, it was me, right? My life was a perpetual vacation or at least vacation planning. Life was about dreams and goals and the life well-lived, right? Except, and here’s the irony, when your whole life is a vacation, it’s a jarring thing to have to live in your thoughts once again. It’s jarring indeed to have to actually live and experience things in the moment and to deal with the reality that is your life.

This does not mean you don’t dream. You need to dream, to adventure, to continue pursuing your passions. But. . . You also need to live in the moment, not just in the beauty of some future destination. The pieces leading up to that destination are happening now! Follow that dream along each part of the downward slide and upward climb, and feel that pains and joys that come with your journey.

Life is not about the destination, right? It’s about the journey. So, journey onward, and live in the moment as you traverse the many magnificent paths your life is taking.

Theresa Birmingham

​Theresa Birmingham studied Biology and English Literature for her undergraduate degree and then went on to get her Masters in Forensic Psychology and also in English Literature and Creative Nonfiction writing.

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