Fear of failure and earning love

I always say that I am not going to become a professional, sponsored climber and that I enjoy climbing for the sheer joy of climbing.  The sheer joy portion of that statement has been true from the beginning, four years and three days ago, when I began climbing.  I have never thought of myself as being one to return to sports in a very competitive sense, much less a professional sense, due to my physical condition at present, as I am quite overweight right now, even though I have lost almost two stone.  I have stayed away from becoming better because I am afraid of failure.  Failure is something that I continue to live with and have lived with my entire life.  I have failed in huge ways — ways you cannot even imagine and ways I cannot even explain to you in a way that you would understand.  So, what stops me from progressing in things that I could easily progress in because I have a high degree of grit?  Fear.  Fear of failure.

So, what exactly is it about failure that I am so fearful of?  Is it embarrassment?  Partly.  Is it abandonment?  Partly.  Is it a total loss of command over my emotions?  Partly.  It is, though, larger in the sense that I derive my identity from what I do.  What I do is who I am and vice-versa.  I have, through many horrific traumas in my life that have caused me to have mental illness and basically “fail” at life itself, managed to lose that intrinsic sense of who I am as a valued human being simply because I am just that — a human being.  My first civilian therapist after I got out of the military said to me, while I was extremely raw from trauma, on the wrong medications, and the PTSD was raging out of control, that, “There’s something intrinsically wrong with you.”  I have never gotten over that.  Every time my psychiatrist tells me I am making progress, that therapist’s voice echoes in my head with the words, “There’s something intrinsically wrong with you,” and I cannot shake it.  The psychiatrist whom that particular therapist referred me to asked one time after I had told him what I was thinking, “Well, who do you trust more, me or (that person)?”  My honest answer was that I trusted my doctor more, obviously, but those words still haunt me, and they bind me to a point.  Why?  They go back to a deep-seated insecurity from childhood about having to earn love.

At the age of eight, I was in a Lutheran Sunday School class with one of the sweetest ladies I have ever known, and we were going around the table telling when and where we had been baptized.  In the Lutheran faith as taught in this particular church, you were either sprinkled as a baby to be baptized or you were going to suffer eternal damnation in Hell.  When it came my turn, I did not know the answer, so Elsie (the kind and loving teacher who was in a motorized wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis) told me that I could go home and ask my mother and tell the class the next Sunday.  That seemed simple enough.  I remember going home and finding my mother in the kitchen at the sink doing dishes.  I asked the question of when and where I was baptized.  My mother calmly, without hesitating and with her back to me, answered, “Oh, you weren’t, Honey.”  My eight-year-old heart stopped.  I went straight to my room and cast myself on my bed and wept until I could not weep any more.  I had not been sprinkled as a baby, so I was already going to Hell at the age of eight.  I never went back to that Sunday School class.  I never saw dear Elsie again.  I was thoroughly and truly convinced that I was doomed for all eternity and I was only in second grade.  I also drew the conclusion that my parents did not love me because they had allowed that to happen to me.  Clearly, they had dropped the ball in my young mind.  I will not go into my entire history with religious experiences following that, however I will tell you I have a lot of personal experience in most major religions that the average person can name.  I was seeking love.  I had failed, through no fault of my own, to gain God’s love.  That was how I saw it.  I was a failure and nothing more.  I could not be saved from my fate.  I grew up with that always in the back of my mind.

One day, I decided that I could perhaps earn love, even the love of God, if I was good enough at things.  I excelled at everything.  I worked hard.  I was so diligent and committed to perfection that I never got so much as a pink slip, much less detention all through school.  I graduated Valedictorian of my high school class.  Then I went into the military.  I graduated as an Honor Graduate in Basic Military Training, and top of my class in Military Police Academy.  I was earning something, but I was not sure that it was love.  I was, however, earning respect, loyalty, and a reputation for being everything the ideal soldier was.  Then I got deployed to the Desert as a machine-gunner carrying the M60.  I ended up with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Depression and Anxiety.  I was broken.  I got an Honorable Discharge under medical circumstances, and by the time I was discharged, I had been stripped of everything I had ever worked for — my badge, my gun, my beret, and my dignity, as I had been hospitalized twice in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s Ward 9C…the inpatient psychiatric unit.  I had lost everything.  Again.

I got back up, though, and decided I was going to recover from PTSD and have a career as a psychiatrist helping fellow Veterans in the VA System.  I set out on a course of study that eventually led me to earn two B.S. degrees (magna cum laude) and an M.S. degree over the span of 16 years.  That was fully half of my life spent at the time.  I could not score high enough on the standardized test — the MCAT — to convince any medical school to take me, though.  There I was again.  I had lost everything.

My psychiatrist of over 11 years retired, and I began seeing a different psychiatrist, one that I was familiar with because he had taken me on when my primary psychiatrist was gone on vacation and such.  He is my current psychiatrist.  He is the one who introduced me to rock climbing, my passion and treatment for PTSD of four years, now.  He also got me started on a blog about climbing, encouraging me to branch out into vlogs on YouTube, and other things that could take my mind off of my failures and lead me to a suitable and possibly even productive outlet for my feelings with my disabilities.  At first, climbing was merely something that I enjoyed and that worked well for getting my mind off of the PTSD stuff.  Climbing has ended up being the only thing that gets my mind completely off of the PTSD junk.  I find myself obsessed with climbing, and if I cannot climb, then I have a really hard time.  This pandemic has been brutal on me from that aspect.  No climbing…. No relief from the PTSD.  I have thrown myself into writing more, and it helps, but not nearly as much as climbing.  So why am I selling myself short here?

What I mean is that climbing could be my “profession”.  It already is my profession from the standpoint that my full-time job is to recover from chronic, severe PTSD to the greatest degree possible in my lifetime.  I am 39 years old.  I am out of shape.  I am overweight.  I have a mental illness.  Does any of that stop me from climbing?  NO.  None of that stops me from climbing.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why I need to pursue climbing with everything I have.  I can lose weight.  I can get in shape.  I can train.  I can continue therapy.  I can continue to take my medication.  I can CLIMB.  And I must, even if it means failure.  Can that earn love?  I no longer need to earn love.  I have love.  I just have to learn to love myself, now.

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