If you’re as shocked and upset as I am on this dreadful post-election morning (make no mistake, #ImWithHer), you might be asking yourself questions like… How is this possible? How could this happen? This can’t be real – how could so many people vote for Trump? Or at least, those are the questions I’ve been asking myself since I woke up to the worst news I’ve had in a long time.
I can't tell you why millions of people voted for Trump because I don't know them. I've only listened to two people who voted for Trump. If I make assumptions about the other 60 million as to why they voted I'm just as discriminatory as Trump himself. What I can explain to you is why I understand a bit about Trump's behavior during the election cycle.
Only one word explains Trump's behavior and rhetoric: fear.
As a wife and caregiver of a disabled veteran, I’ve become well acquainted with fear over these 11 years since my husband’s last deployment with the Army in Iraq.
You see, when you are deployed to a combat zone with the Army, fear keeps you alive. It keeps you on your toes so you can react at a moment’s notice. Your fear could cause one of three reactions – fight, flight or freeze – and those instinctive, human reactions might save your life when you are in danger.
However, when a soldier brings that fear home, wearing it like a shield even though there is no real danger at home, it has the opposite effect. When we don’t need fear to stay alive and hold onto it regardless, it keeps us from living a full life because it is now misplaced fear, which means we are afraid when we don’t need to be.
For a lot of veterans it’s hard to let go of fear because it feels like a safety net. My husband’s fear of crowded places in Iraq kept him safe as he led convoy teams across the country, but back home it kept him from going to the grocery store or parties. His fear of loud noises at his Forward Operating Base in Tikrit kept him alert so he could respond quickly to attacks, but at home it meant he couldn’t go to concerts or go dancing anymore.
Misplaced fear doesn’t keep us alive, it locks us in a fear prison.
My husband was locked in a fear prison for so long he developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His post-traumatic stress (which is a natural, human reaction to a traumatic event) looked like unnecessary fear (see grocery store example above), and when it went unchecked for so long (like all the years I went to the store because he wouldn’t) it became a disorder.
I also understand what a fear prison feels like because I lived in one myself. After his PTSD went untreated for so many years, I developed secondary post-traumatic stress (SPTS), which means I began to show the same symptoms he did: fear of crowded places, hyper-alert, anxiety attacks, etc.
Fear is very, very contagious.
Once my husband began to face his misplaced fears head on, one by one, he slowly broke down the walls of the fear prison. He went to the grocery store even though he was afraid. He started going to parties and even attended loud, crowded concerts. I did the same, pushing through my own misplaced fears one at a time.
When we face fear head on, it no longer has power over us.
Yoda was the one who taught me fear is a choice. I’m not joking.
Yoda said, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” During those difficult years when my secondary-PTS was getting worse and worse, I grew afraid of my husband. This turned into anger toward him and our situation. This carried on for so long I grew to hate him and even the military for getting him into this mess, which only led to my own misery and suffering.
Once I realized how fear, anger, and hate led me into my own prison (thank you, Yoda), I wondered how I could describe my way out. I thought about the opposites from Yoda’s saying…
Trump's behavior clearly shows he's been overtaken with misplaced fears just like my husband was. Trump is such a savvy businessperson and salesperson that I think he could also see the fear in people’s eyes as he traveled across the country and gave their fear exactly what it wanted – a message assuring them their fears are real and justified.
Now that he is President-elect, his message of fear is spreading like wildfire across our country. Remember how I said fear is very, very contagious? I woke up this morning feeling afraid and even hateful. There are so many people I want to blame and hate for letting this happen. However, if I let Trump’s fear and hate overtake me, he wins. Fear wins. Hate wins.
My hunch is that millions of military families voted for Trump because the never-ending conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have conditioned them to live by fear, just like my husband and I did for years. Instead of hating people who voted for Trump, I must choose to understand them. Because if I choose to be afraid of people who voted for Trump, fear wins, and I’ve worked waaaaay too damn hard to get fear out of my life to let it back in now.
I refuse to be controlled by fear.
Instead, I will get back to work and double down on showing people they don’t have to live in fear. I will continue to spread the message that there is a way out of the fear prison – my husband and I are living proof – and if we can get out, you can too.
If you are a person who voted for Trump out of fear, I want you to understand one thing today: your fears of people who are immigrants, LGBTQ, Muslim, non-white, or women are misplaced fears.
You don’t have to live in fear of those people. Just because they’re different from you does not mean they are a threat or pose a real danger. Your fear is keeping you from connecting with millions of incredible, wonderful people who might bring joy to your life because ultimately that’s what humans are made for – connection. Right now those fears are controlling you and have power over you, but if you face them head on – if you get to know people who are different from you – I promise you will find your fears are misplaced. You will discover there’s no reason to be afraid of them and you will finally be released from that fear prison.
Instead of choosing fear, choose faith. Faith in people. Faith in your community. Faith in your fellow Americans, even if they are different from you. Choose to understand them. Their struggles, their hopes and even their fears. If you understand people who are different from you, you can learn to accept those differences and that acceptance will be the linchpin in releasing you from your hate.
When fear no longer taints our vision, we can see joy in the world again.
I know it’s hard to let go of fear, but when you do, you gain power over your life again. Fear no longer controls you and more than that, you can feel joy again (or perhaps for the first time in your life).
When you no longer live in a fear prison you can experience the joy of tasting fresh pupusas made by your immigrant neighbor. You can feel joyful when your friend tells you he and his husband are expecting twins... when your Muslim sister makes strides in the fight to educate girls around the world... your young, non-white nephew doesn’t notice your skin color is different because he knows it doesn’t matter… and the list goes on.
Those are all real moments I’ve felt real joy because I choose to understand people who are different than me, not be afraid of them.
Please join us on the other side of the fear prison. We welcome you with open arms.
Let’s do this thing called life together, because…
We’re stronger together.
Sarah Dale is an artist, filmmaker and advocate for military families and veteran caregivers like herself. Sarah specializes in using her creative skills to continue her journey of healing from secondary post-traumatic stress and help other military families find healing as well through projects [...]