Are blind people afraid of the dark? It sounds absurd but fear is not logical. If you cannot see something how can you be afraid? I would speculate that they do not walk room to room turning on lights as they go. The light matters not. Their fear must lie in some other unknown variable. It is impossible to comprehend another person’s fears or trepidations unless you can be inside their head. It would also require the analytical synthesis of a lifetime of experiences. I was never a child afraid of the dark. I never had a boogey man under my bed or in my closet. I had other fears. I was afraid of seaweed. Easy enough to avoid until your father wants to go crabbing and you get to be the one dragging the inner tube with the aluminum wash bucket stuffed into the center of the tube. And being afraid garnered no grace. “Get over it! There is nothing to be afraid of! Whatever might be in the seaweed is more afraid of you than you are of them!” None of this helped. It did make me learn not to share my fears. No one cared that I was afraid anyways. Sharing didn’t mean I got concern or compassion. I got ridicule and correction; I got lectured on how illogical I was acting, letting my fears control me. At age 8 I am not sure I even knew what “logical” meant. All I knew was that I was pertified and my father was going to let whatever was in that seaweed get me. He offered no protection or defense. I had to force myself through it. I used to have this imagery…what if, as he stood there 15 feet from the dive platform on the boat yelling at me to just get in the water….what if when I got in I vanished underwater. The water was maybe 3 feet deep where he stood, but what if when I slid off the deck, I just vanished. He was too far away to save me, too far away to help. He never offered a hand or carried me out of the seaweed to the sandy shallows. The lesson: why ask for help. Even those you would think should help you, even those easy capable of helping you, will likely stand audience and watch you do it all alone. They don’t lift a finger. Moreover, if they have to lift a finger…you get chastised and punished. It was a childhood of “learning” lessons in such a way.

Do I still have fears? Hell yes. Until about 10 years ago, I was petrified of the dentist. I had a true sadist for a dentist as a child, a horrible man who did dental work on me (and my sisters) without anesthesia. He gave us shots and numbed us….in the wrong places. I am convinced he did it on purpose. Somehow it was my fault for still having pain, as if my aberrant anatomy was of my own design. I don’t know, when you take a drill to a kid’s tooth and she shoots out of the chair, the LOGICAL solution is to numb more….not kneel on her and pin her to the chair. And when I went to the waiting room where my mother sat reading Reader’s Digest, she never understood why I was crying. We all cried. It was incomprehensible to her that the dentist was a monster. So, you lie still and try not to scream or cry…it will be over soon. As soon as I was old enough to decide….I stopped going to the dentist. I didn’t get dental cleanings for (I am shamed to say, 17 years) and fortunately I didn’t have any problems. When I eventually had to go to the dentist, I had to resort to taking Xanax. Drug therapy and an absolutely compassionate dentist here in Gainesville has helped me recover from my childhood torture. I don’t need sedation anymore.

Fears can be conquered or reframed. It can be done all by yourself….it is much easier to do with compassionate, kind, empathetic people willing and genuinely offering to help. Fear is healthy. We are hard wired for fear. We have chains of ganglion, huge bundles of nerve, down either side of our spinal column. Everytime we breathe, we massage those nerve bundles. They are our fear centers, every ready, like sentries on the wall meant to help us survive. They help our bodies run like hell or fight for our lives. I do not admonish myself for having fears, I know that my fear is a potential smoke alarm….I trust myself to know when I might be in danger. It is all part of development…learning when that shadow is just a figment or a real threat.

As a mother, I try so hard to catch myself. To hear my sons’ fears and anxieties and to help them through and to not fall back to the pattern of my childhood, where fear was a sign of weakness. I know…as the adult….that their fear is illogical and maybe even silly. But I carry them through the seaweed. Eventually, their anxiety abates and they no longer need help. But, I have sons who have the ability to ask for help and they ask long before they are needing rescue. And they are no less independent than I was at their ages. I do not foresee either of them being spineless or sniveling wussies. I hope that they grow up knowing that they don’t have to do it all alone and that the people in their lives that stand around them will not stand as witness to their floundering. A few words of encouragement echoes forward into the future, amplifying and has tremendous impact. I think that it will mean that their internal voice is also one of encouragement and kindness.

2 thoughts on “Lessons”

  1. If you 3 had just TOLD me what he was doing, you would NEVER gave gone back to him. He was a good dentist to we aduts….BUT, as you know, parents are not mind readers….and if you don’t tell sometimes what is wrong, we have no idea. I do not ever remember any of crying upon exiting the dentist office… “selective memory” – I don’t think so… I would have asked “why are you crying” — and I guarantee, you would never have been in his chair again.

  2. Momma, it is not an indictment of you. And I do not think as kids any of us would have spoken up. And the point is that there is an assumption that Presner knew what was right and was the authority…and if it hurt or we were scared…it was our fault. And back then…kids didn’t get educated about “good touching” and “bad touching”. But…I think the fact that all three of us have awful phobias of the dentist is testament to what a monster he was. And years later, when he committed suicide, I thought….”I always knew he was disturbed”.

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