Tag Archives: fear

How to say ‘No.’

Following on from my post on how hard it is to say ‘No,’ a lot of people have contacted me asking; ‘how exactly do I do that?’
Being able to speak your truth is life changing. So let me share with you exactly how.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

‘No’ is such a little word with powerful implications. Before I get into how to say ‘No.’ I need you to understand why we are so afraid of actually using this small but powerful word.

The biggest reason: we are scared about what other people will think about us.

We are also scared of:
Not being liked
Disappointing someone
Of being wrong
Making a mistake
Of being rejected
Potential conflict
Feeling uncomfortable or others feeling uncomfortable
Hurting someone’s feelings
Causing upset

The biggest reason we are scared of saying ‘no,’ is we misguidedly believe that we are responsible for how other people feel.

So instead of saying ‘no’ when we need to, we become liars.

You probably consider yourself to be a ‘good’ person, an honest person even, so it may come as a shock to you, that when you say yes and don’t actually mean it, you are actually a liar.

Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Oh yes, you’re also a thief.

A liar and a thief.

That’s probably a shock to you right? You’ve probably never ‘stolen’ anything in your life and are siting here reading this blog feeling very outraged at the mere suggestion.
Well here’s the thing; if you lie and say yes, when you mean no, you could very well be stealing someone’s learning and growth opportunity from them.

Here’s why:

Let’s say I need to move house this weekend and I’m a pretty disorganized person. My life is always a bit crazy and I’m pretty good in coercing people into doing what I want them to do.
It’s always worked for me, so why change?
I come to you with a look of tragedy on my face, and my sob story of how I desperately need help moving this weekend.
You look at me and see my furrowed brow, hear my plaintiff cries that signal my distress and inside you’re panicking.
Because the last thing you ever want to do is hurt someone’s feelings.
But you have plans this weekend and you absolutely cannot help me.
A feeling of dread washes over you.

The conversation goes like this:
“*Insert your name here* I really, really need your help. Everyone’s let me down; I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have to move but I have no one to help me. Please, please can you spare some time to just give me a hand?”

And you reply: “Sure, absolutely. Of course I can help, don’t worry.”
And your internal voice is going: “Noooooooo! Crap, why did you ever agree to that?”

All week, every time you think of the weekend, you get that sinking feeling in your stomach. You run all these scenarios in your head, maybe if I get there really early, maybe I can help for a bit then sneak off, maybe I can pretend car broke down…
The more you think about it the worse you feel. Then you start getting p***ed off. How come you always get landed with this stuff?
How come you are always the person helping others out?
Then Friday night comes around and the absolute last thing you want to do is help this person move at the weekend. You are resentful, mad and full of self-pity.

So you text them: ‘I’m so sorry. I’m sick, been in bed all day. No way I can help tomorrow. So sorry to let you down.”

And relief floods your body, because you have found a way of getting out of doing something you really never wanted to do in the first place.
However there is a sting, because you’ve lied.
You are a liar.
But you justify it, rationalize it, it’s only a white lie, it’s not a big one. Besides you had to lie, you were forced to. Then you feel a little better.

Sound familiar?

Ever done anything like that?

I used to do that stuff all the time. I was always agreeing to do stuff with people but inside I was freaking out.
My insides and my outsides did not match.

And here’s the thing. The person who needed to move, are they in a quandary? Sure they are.
They have been let down at the last minute. They have a mess to figure out.
But what if you and everyone else they had asked that week had been honest. What if you had said ‘No, I’m sorry, I have plans that I can’t change.’
Would that person have walked away upset?
Sure they would.
But then maybe, just maybe they would have started thinking; ‘this always happens to me, I always leave everything to the last minute. I’m always having to run around and sell my sob story to try and get people to do what I need them to. I’m sick of this, I need to get my act together. I need to organize and plan my life better.’

Bingo. Right there a learning and growth opportunity has arisen.

Maybe they needed this uncomfortable situation in order to learn from it. It is actually pain and un-comfortability that motivates us to change. If you try and save me from those feelings, then you also steal from me the things that motivate me to change.
Our greatest learning and growth opportunities often come from the messes we make in our lives.

Saying ‘no’ takes practice. It feels scary and hard to start with.

If you had said ‘no’ right of the bat to your friend, would they have walked away upset? Yes probably.
Now pay very close attention, because the next bit is important. Did you cause that upset?
No you didn’t.
If you politely and kindly said ‘no.’ How the other person feels about that is neither your business nor responsibility.
You are not responsible for how other people feel.
You are only responsible for how you feel.

Now, if you had said to your friend, ‘get lost you creep, I wouldn’t help you if you were the last person on earth.’
Would you have had a part in upsetting them?
Absolutely. You were mean and rude, that tends to upset people.

But do you see the difference?

People may be disappointed, hurt, angry or upset if you say no to what they ask. But as long as you say it politely, there isn’t anything you can do about that.
Manipulative people in particular, will communicate their disappointed feelings to you, because these are the tools they use to get people to do what they want.

Think about that.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s because of our fear of how other people are going to feel, and our faulty belief that we are responsible for these feelings, that gets us into situations we don’t want to be in.
There are only so many things we can agree to do; there are only so many hours in the day.
We need to say no sometimes to bring balance into our lives.
But more importantly other people need to experience what it’s like to have a ‘no’ sometimes. Don’t steal that learning opportunity from them.

There is a wonderful phrase (I think its’ from Al-anon) that sums this all up beautifully:

‘Say what you mean, mean what you say and don’t say it mean.’

Trust me, applying that simple rule to your life will transform it.
Because when you say yes. You will mean it.

People know I’m going to show up and do stuff, they know my ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ means ‘no’.

It can feel uncomfortable practicing this at first. Naturally, we don’t want other people to be upset or disappointed, as compassionate human beings we would like to avoid that if we can. So we may feel a brief ‘after-burn’ when we see that someone else is disappointed.
But we must be clear; we aren’t responsible for other people’s feelings. It is not our job to rescue others from uncomfortable emotions just because we can’t bear to witness it. We can’t please everyone, it’s impossible.

We cause more upset when we say yes and don’t mean it, then later on have to wiggle our way out of what we agreed to do. This causes frustration and consternation. We are unreliable, people can’t trust us, they don’t know when we are going to let them down. Then our behavior causes upset.

I promise you this gets easier and easier.
There are lots of things I can say yes to. I don’t over-schedule myself anymore. I will totally help you move if I’m able to. And if I can’t, I’ll let you know right away so you can plan accordingly.
The most important thing now is how I now feel about myself. I have no control over others; I can’t move mountains just because I think it will make you feel better. I am no longer chained by the good or bad opinion of others, how I feel about myself is the most important thing.

So I’d love to know how this goes for you, what are your experiences of saying yes when you didn’t want to? What was it like saying no?

Fear is the engine that drives alcoholism Part 2

Fear is such an unpleasant emotion that we want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. So we tend to choose whatever solution works the fastest. We often make the big mistake of choosing something that is ultimately destructive. However, because our need is immediate, we are unable to consider long-term consequences: if we are frightened, we want it to end NOW!

Image courtesy of hyena reality / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hyena reality / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are some common methods of dealing with fear:
Drinking alcohol.
• Taking drugs.
• Cigarettes.
• Overeating.
• Gambling.
• Moving jobs/house.
• Watching TV excessively.
• Meaningless sex.
• Risk taking.
• Inappropriate relationships.
• Ignoring facts.
• Doing anything not to be alone.
• Complete denial.
• Getting angry.

The truth is that we will never be free from fear. As long as we continue to grow we will experience fear. However, what we can change is how we deal with it so that it no longer disables us.
Susan Jeffers, in her book Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, discusses how fear is a natural accompaniment to growth and therefore cannot be avoided. From the day we are born, we are growing and seeking new experiences, with those new experiences comes fear. Again, It is the management of that fear that is key.

For some of us, our first day of school was frightening. It was the unknown, after all, and the unknown can be frightening. We are leaving the comfort of what we know and are stepping into a world we know nothing about. We don’t know what to expect and that frightens us.
I remember sobbing to my mother the night before I went to high school when I was eleven. I was terrified and overwhelmed. It was a big change and it felt like a world I wasn’t ready for. I was frightened up until lunchtime on my first day and then it just became normal. I had pushed through the fear; it was the natural accompaniment to a new experience.

Some of us are frightened on our first day of a new job. Others can just take it in their stride. Learning to drive, doing a presentation at work, meeting strangers at a party, letting someone down, saying no, all these things are frightening to a lesser or greater degree to different kinds of people. We learn to cope with the situations as best we can, and as we get older and have more life experience these things become easier.

Fear can manifest itself in many ways, and in relation to alcoholism I am referring mostly to the hidden fears: the ones that no one ever really talks about – because they’re scared to. These are the disabling, all encompassing fears that drive a person to seek relief in drink.
When a person’s drinking is progressing, it is the fear of how they are going to be able to deal with their fears that makes the thought of giving up drinking so hard. They usually haven’t ever told anyone how they feel because it’s almost impossible to put into words. But they are terrified, even when they know alcohol is destroying their lives; they are terrified of how they are going to deal with life without its support. They believe that alcohol is the only thing that is helping them deal with their fear.

Understanding this, and supporting the alcoholic to find new ways to deal with their fears, is an essential component to recovery from alcoholism. I believe that if the alcoholic doesn’t find a better way to manage fear then they will either return to drinking or simply replace alcohol with another substance or unhealthy behaviour.
Fear is simply too overwhelming to ignore.

You can read the first part of this post here.

This is an exclusive extract from my book ‘Why you drink and How to stop: journey to freedom.’
2013 How to Stop thumbnail 130x160
Available on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble.

Fear is the engine that drives alcoholism – Part 1

Image courtesy of hyena reality / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hyena reality / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fear is a universal experience. Everybody feels fear. Very few of us talk about it.
If we do it’s at a superficial level. People rarely open up about what they’re really scared about, which is extraordinary, because we’re all scared of more or less the same things:
• Being vulnerable.
• Loneliness.
• Other people.
• Not being good enough.
• Not being loved.
• Speaking in public.
• What other people think of us.
• Someone seeing who we really are.
• Failure.
• Success.
• People laughing at us.
• Looking stupid.
• And – other people finding out we’re frightened!

How many did you recognise?
There are, of course, many more, but this is an example of the core fears most people have to some degree, but are least able to speak about. I would boil these fears down two dominant ones:
I’m not good enough, and therefore,
• I won’t be loved.

It is my belief, and professional experience, that these two fears exist inside everyone at some point. It is part of the human experience.
It also seems to me that potential alcoholics are the least equipped to deal with these fears. Dealing with our deepest fears is something we can learn to do at any point in our lives. Some people can deal with them very easily. Others develop healthy or unhealthy coping strategies. As a last resort, alcohol and drugs will just temporarily block out any fears of not being good enough or not being loved.

What is also true is that fears can be imagined and irrational. However, this doesn’t make the experience of them feel any less real. A child can be scared of monsters under the bed. We can tell them to not be silly, we can show them there is nothing under their bed, but once that irrational fear takes hold, it can be hard to let it go.
When dealing with an alcoholic’s irrational or imagined fears, it’s no good telling them to ‘snap out of it,’ ‘get over it,’ or, ‘not to be so silly’. In fact, it is almost irrelevant what the fear is, what is important is the way that fear is managed, not what the fear actually is. So the alcoholic has to find a healthy way of dealing with the fears that are part of the human experience.

Fear becomes the default setting for an alcoholic. They live in fear constantly, are frightened of the world and are constantly trying to find ways of dealing with the fear. In order to understand alcoholism, we must understand how alcoholics react to fear and how it can come to dominate their lives. (Part 2 of this post on fear next week).

This is an exclusive extract from my book ‘Why you drink and How to stop: journey to freedom.’
2013 How to Stop thumbnail 130x160
Available on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble.

Recovery Rocks – Mark Hardwicke

This weeks interview is with Mark Hardwicke who has been sober for 8 years. His story is truly extraordinary, a homeless, desperate drunk who got sober and now runs his own business.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

Although there had been a number of mini-rock bottoms during my life, the rock bottom that finally brought me to my knees came the day before my sobriety birthday. Although I was about 9 stone (126 pounds) and was in the worse physical shape of my life, having existed on the street for the preceding 2 years, it was what was happening in my mind that finally got me.

I am an intelligent person and so I know that people who drank like I drank do not die quietly in their sleep at 80 years old surrounded by the grandkids. People who drank like I drank go out sad, lonely, painfully and early.

I was so scared to death of dying that I knew I had to stop drinking. The problem was that in the same moment and the same though I was also so scared to death of living without alcohol that I knew I could not stop drinking.

This was a tortuous mental crossroads the likes of which I had never experienced.

2) What was your ‘moment of truth’ or ‘clarity’ that prompted you to get sober/clean?’

It was the realization that the tortuous mental crossroads in my head left me with no more options. I could not go on and I could not go back. I was done. I no longer had the power to fight. The ability to lie to myself and those around me. I no longer believed I was ‘fine’. I just gave up. I was beaten in to a state of reasonableness. I just cried.

3) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

The first 30 days of my sobriety were a blur. I met some amazing people who offered me so much unconditional love and support that it was somewhat overwhelming.

4) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

Being restored to sanity and being introduced to a power greater than me that enable me to handle absolutely anything that life throws at me irrespective of what it is. There is nothing that can happen in my life today that God and I can’t deal with together.

The stand out thing that has happened since being clean and sober is to have been present to see my wonderful son William James born on the 4th of August 2011. Nothing could have prepared me for how magical that moment was going to be and for just how much love it is possible to feel for someone else.

5) If you could go back in time to you when you were dinking/using what would you tell yourself?

I would not tell myself to stop drinking or point our the error of my ways. Because I would not listen to the future me any more then I listened to those around me who gave their opinions and advice. I was only ever going to stop when I had reach my rock bottom and so the most helpful thing that I could have said to myself was “Drink more, drink faster, use more and get to your rock bottom quicker”.

6) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

I am now and always have been a worthwhile human being. I have never been a bad person just a sick person. I am decent, genuine, kind, generous and loving. I sometimes allow myself to be taken advantage of and so there are parts of me that still need work. I am perfectly imperfect and am completely fine with that.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

To be honest I am not really a big fan of slogans. It is just a personal thing. The one phrase that I keep in my is “to the precise extent that we permit it….” I find that I can fit to so many areas of my life and it makes me responsible for anything that happens in my life and not other people.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

Recovery is the foundation upon which every other aspect of my life has been built. I have a wonderful life today. It is vastly different from the life that I thought that I was going to have, but I would not swap it for anything.

In addition to this I am blessed to observe and take part in seeing other people come in to recovery as broken as I was and then over time watch as the light returns to their eyes, the color to their skin and the smiles to their faces.

Are you frightened too?


I believe fear is the engine of alcoholism.

At the root of every drinker is a cold dark fear that they have spent their lives running away from.
Alcohol numbs fear.
It dismisses it, evaporating it with a couple of drinks so that nice warm glow takes over.
All is well. Until you sober up.
Everyone who has struggled with alcoholism understands that it has really been a struggle to manage your fear.

But what about fear and sobriety?
When there is nowhere left to run too?
When the only choice left is to face those fears that have dominated your life.

Because alcohol is just a symptom, managing fear is the biggest challenge I see in most sober people. When we get sober we still have all those feelings and emotions that alcohol used to mask.
But now there is no anesthetic.
Every alcoholic or addict reaches the point where they realize that they can’t go back, but to go forward means facing fears that terrify them.

I know, because I had to do it.
I was often paralyzed with fear; I could barely breath because of the terror in my heart.
But I did. I found help and met some kind souls who walked with me through my fears, and here’s what I discovered………

Most of my fears were actually delusions. They weren’t real.
I’m serious.
When I finally looked closely and deconstructed them; I saw they had no substance.
It seems crazy now, but at the time I really believed them. I acted as if they were true. I never questioned them or where they came from I just thought they were real.
Here are some of the fears that I believed that turned out to be nothing:

– I was frightened people didn’t like me
– I was frightened I wasn’t lovable
– I was frightened people would see I wasn’t good enough
– I was frightened I would be alone because of all of the above

I have since discovered that these fears are really common, that actually most people suffer them from time to time. That people use lots of methods to manage their fearful feelings and that I wasn’t alone.

Now I look back and they seem almost laughable. I don’t believe any of these fears that used to dominate my life. I’m free of them and the control they had.
When I had this awakening I then realized that the thought of facing these fears was actually far worse than the reality. It was just like when Dorothy discovered the real Wizard of Oz had no substance at all.
To be human, means we have to manage the human condition, and part of that is managing our fear.

When I was able to admit I was an alcoholic, it wasn’t too big a jump to admit my fears either. It was the first time I had been truly honest about how I felt and it was transformational.
Just sharing how I really felt, deep down inside, with someone who was really listening was the start of my fears receding and my life changing.

I want to start a conversation about fear, I want you to know that if you’re reading this and you’re frightened that you are not alone.
Most of all, I want you to know that you can be free of fear, that they don’t need to drive your life.
That the engine of sobriety can be joy.