Where are our fears from?

When I was 6 years old, I experienced a major earthquake. With a magnitude of 7.7, it was the one with the most damages, deaths, and injured people in 1990 around the world and the worst recorded disaster in Iran …

At this time, we were living in a small village – Manjil – in the north of Iran on the foot of

the Alborz mountain ranges. It was the night of June 20th: My parents went to bed earlier; my little brother and I were allowed to stay up late to watch the World cup soccer match Brazil vs. Scotland. Both of us were big fans of Brazil. It was midnight as the game was over and our favorite team had won. We then went to bed happy but this happiness wasn’t meant to remain …

Thirty minutes past midnight we all had been waked up by massive shakings of the earth; the earthquake. Due to the heavy waves, my dad wasn’t able to open the front door, so we had been stuck in the house until our neighbor broke the door from outside and freed us. The next following days we stayed outside with no roof on top of our heads, shaking from both; fear and the aftershocks. No one could access his house anymore, indeed there was not much left from the buildings except for ruins and dust. My little brother couldn’t talk for some time as traumatized as he was.

A few days later, after the roads had been opened, my grandpa came to pick us up. On the way out of the village, my auntie kept pushing my head down so that I would not see the happening on the street. However, I fought and freed myself. I wanted to know what was going on around me and looked out of the window. There, I saw something that was not meant to have been seen by the eyes of a six years old child: Corpses wrapped in white pieces of clothes laying shoulder on the shoulder between the bricks and ruins on the ground and covering the edge of the street accompanied by their survivor sitting next to them crying, screaming and scratching themselves in the face. Little kids were looking for the remains of their parents, parents hugging the little bodies of their dead children, weeping and hoping that this would bring them back to life. I was terrified: Our beautiful, peaceful village at the dam that used to resemble a picture out of a fairy tale book had been transformed into a cemetery overnight.

My grandpa brought us to Tehran where we found refuge in the arms of our relatives, but my dad had to go back to be there for locals as the only Doctor in the village and their trust person. This brought even more trauma into my already fragile emotional state: The fear of losing my dad …

However, this was not the first time that I had faced death at a very young age. I was born during the Iran-Iraq war. As I was five years old, my dad had been sent to the war areas to work at the hospital right on the border where the military action was happening. Although I was a child, I knew exactly what war was about. Above all, I knew that people die in a battle. While my dad was away, we would often drive to Tehran to be with my grandparents. There, things were different than in our small peaceful village far away from the border. Tehran is the capital city. It means living in permanent fear and anxiety. With every „red alarm“, that went on as a sign for the bombs on their way to us we got up in a panic and ran the staircase of the high building, where my grandparents lived, all the way down to the bunker. There we sat all together 100s of us next to each other listening to the bombs coming down damaging the cities and killing more and more people, while we were praying and hoping we would be „lucky“ one more time and get through this bomb attack. Sometimes we sat there the whole night sleepless waiting for the „green alarm“ to go on and ensure we were safe to leave the bunker.

Although thirty years have passed since those days, the pictures of the bunker are still alive in my every memory: The young women crying and praying for their husbands to come back safely while they were trying to calm down their babies on their lap. Mothers yelling and screaming to heaven, asking God to stop this „bloody“ war and to bring back their beloved sons, fathers trying to cheer up the mothers by saying, if they would die, they would die for their country and God. And I ... asking God to save my dad and other soldiers and to look after them.

Every time my dad wanted to leave us after a short visit on the weekend, I stuck to his legs and tried to hold him back and keep him there, weeping and begging him to stay. When he would leave, I would run to his closet, cover myself with his clothes crying and screaming my lungs out of my chest, and asking God to bring my dad back and to stop the war ...

In August 1988 the war was over after 8 years but its memories are still alive in people's minds. One of my cousins died in this war at the young age of 18 next to thousands of other young guys. One of my uncles got seriously injured and survived only with lots of luck. My dad kept body and soul together but he had seen many people dying and suffering. And me? I have been carrying the pain and trauma of this war in every cell of my body since then. I was one out of a billion kids who have ever been traumatized by human violence. War is a horrible thing …

After the earthquake, we moved to Tehran and got back to „normality“. It was Summer and my parents signed me into different courses hoping this would cheer me up and help me overcome the sadness and trauma. Swimming was one of those courses. And I loved it. Until … one day during the class, I had an accident. I swam unknowingly into the deep part of the pool. The teacher whistled as a sign to turn. I stopped and tried to stand, but there was no ground under my feet. I got panic and sank. I tried to help myself but … I couldn’t swim anymore, my body was stiff as a piece of wood. It took a while for the people outside to notice what was happening in the pool. In this period of time until somebody got in to save me – which appeared to be ages – all those pictures of the dead bodies wrapped in the white sheets of clothes, that I knew from the earthquake and the war news on the TV, came up to my mind again: „This is my end! I am going to die.“ ran through my child mind. As they took me out of the pool, I swore to myself that I would never set foot into any waters anymore. My parents and my auntie tried to talk to me and assure me that this was only an accident and I was safe to move on with my swimming course but I couldn’t trust anymore.

All these traumas and more, over the years of my childhood, had caused more and more fears in my life but there was something deep down inside me that helped me to do not become a fearful person and this was my curiosity which has always been way bigger than my fears …

The years came to pass, and I stood by my word. As I was seventeen, I tried to swim again, but it didn’t work out, I was still too afraid. In my mid-twenties, I put myself together went to the pool, and taught myself step by step how to swim. I am not a big swimmer but at least I can swim. However, I am still afraid of open waters ….

I decided to live a conscious and fearless life. Over the years of experiencing myself, I found a way to overcome my fears: First I recognize them and bring them from the unconscious into my conscious mind. Second, I sit honest with myself and say: „I am afraid of ...“, and third I go into the fear and face it. I don’t fight nor deny it. I embrace it.

Today I decided to go into a big fear of mine; the one of open waters, to overcome the trauma of my childhood and to heal the past for good.

„What is the best way to overcome the fear of open and deep waters?“, I wondered.

The answer was pretty simple: „To go into open and deep waters.“

Life is all about becoming a better version of ourselves every day: step for step! Dream big, start small.

(Written, Mai 2018)