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April 1976

Panophobia

A fancy word that means you're afraid of everything

I CAN'T SAY exactly when I conquered my phantom fears. I once made a list of all the phobias in the medical dictionary and decided that, at one time or another, I had suffered from every one of them except "fear of open places." I guess that made me a candidate for panophobia: "fear of everything." It is a long road from there to the blessed feeling of emotional security and stability I now enjoy.

After about four years in the AA program, I was given an opportunity to become a social worker in a mental hospital--and I took it! In my drinking days or my early AA days, I would not have had the courage--not because I was afraid of madness (that had a familiar face), but because I lacked the self-confidence even to accept the job, much less to succeed in it.

But I did succeed, or at least I received praise and approval from my employers. And I loved it. Not only was I earning twice as much money as I had ever earned, drunk or sober, but I had an opportunity to help a great many people--some of them alcoholic, but most of them schizophrenic. Whatever help I was able to offer came directly out of my own experience and the principles I had learned in AA.

I remember one schizophrenic patient telling me she was afraid to leave the hospital because she had a phobia about riding buses. I told her I had suffered from the same fear for years. She asked me how I had conquered it, and I said, "Well, I prayed a lot."

Not a very scientific answer, but it got the response you hear so often in AA: "Gee, if it worked for you, maybe it will work for me." I don't know whether she conquered her fear of buses, but somewhere she found the courage to leave.

I also remember the last time my hand shook while signing my name. It was after about six years of sobriety. I was filling out a form to have an X ray taken, and I suddenly became aware that the technician was watching me. My hand began to tremble so badly that I pushed the form over to him and asked him to finish it. His comment? "You need a drink." I managed to laugh. From then on, I was able to conquer the twinge of panic that sometimes arose when I found myself in a similar situation.

And I remember the night I realized that, for all practical purposes, my phobias were gone. My AA husband and I were riding home from a meeting, where I had expressed my usual thought that I was surely insane when I was drinking and was probably not sane now. My husband said, "Why do you always say that? You're as sane as anyone I know."

Thinking it over, I realized he was right. The phantoms of fear and depression that had followed me through the years were gone. I don't know where they went, but I know what drove them away. Sobriety. The return of self-respect. The security of the AA Fellowship. The knowledge that God will never ask me to cope with more than I am capable of handling. And, well, I prayed a lot.

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