By Jaron Zanerhaft
With Halloween approaching fast, horror is on my mind. The breath of fall draws the hair on the back of my neck slowly upward, waiting nervously for winter’s snarl and bite. It’s the perfect time of year to evaluate my own fears and take a flashlight to the darker corners of my soul.
So, what am I afraid of? Throughout my life, I’ve dealt with some pretty irrational yet amazing fears. When I was really young, I used to be scared that something as large as a whale could exist and still be alive. Around the time I started college, steeped in doubts and questions of self-definition, I developed a fear of people who sleep naked. These days, I fear losing the semblance of an identity that I’ve already created for myself.
Recent research has shown that the same area of the brain that governs the extinction of conditioned responses associated with fear is also allocated to respond to triggers that lead to relapse in drug addiction. This means that overcoming your fears makes it easier to stay sober. Even when the fear has nothing to do with drugs, working through it strengthens your ability to resist temptation.
Luckily for Halloween, this kind of research strongly supports exposure therapy. Visiting the full-sized model of a Blue Whale at the Museum of Natural History in New York helped me work through my fear of large life. For a few nights in college, I decided to sleep naked, and I quickly got over that fear. I have found fear to be a good thing, something to walk into and something to help me grow. You might be better for it. It might even keep you sober.