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Following Fear: How I Faced 30 Fears and Learned to Trust the Unknown

Following Fear: How I Faced 30 Fears and Learned to Trust the Unknown

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Following Fear: How I Faced 30 Fears and Learned to Trust the Unknown

251 pages
3 hours
Jan 14, 2017


Following Fear is a memoir about how the curious events of the summer of 2013 inspired Laurel to stop following her bliss and start following her fear. This group of intimate short stories about facing 30 of her biggest fears shares the journey of learning to trust everything that happens—the wins, the heartbreaks, the embarrassments, the deepest disappointments—and to find safety in the unknown.
Jan 14, 2017

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Following Fear - Laurel Moll



A life altering summer.

The summer of 2013 sucked. It began with a heartbreak.


We walked into our apartment and hauled the heavy bags of groceries onto the counter. I sighed as I felt the relief on my achy shoulders. It had been a typical New York day for me—a long subway commute to and from my office job in Jersey, bounding up and down the steps and pushing past crowds, squeezing in a workout, and meeting my boyfriend at my favorite health food store in Midtown before heading home to our Harlem apartment.

While living in NYC I always felt both exhausted and energized, and this day was no different, except that my boyfriend wouldn’t look at me or crack a smile when I shared a funny story about my coworkers on the way home. He was acting very odd, very cold. As I began to separate the fresh and frozen foods on our kitchen counter, I decided I couldn’t take it. I had to know why he was sulking around.

"Hey…are you okay? You’ve been so cold to me today. I can’t get you to crack a smile, and it’s scaring me that you won’t look me in the eye.

He walked away from me out of the kitchen and into the living room to sit on our couch. I followed him.

So… is there something wrong?

I can’t do this anymore.

This? What do you mean?

What’s going on? Talk to me. Have you been with someone else?

No, but I’ve thought about it. To be honest, I’ve been thinking about leaving you for the past year. I’ve been talking to my friends about it for a long time.

But, wait…WHAT? You’ve been talking to your friends? What about talking to me? I’ve always been right here.

The love of my life and the man I planned to marry was breaking up with me. My heart, my happiness, and my life plans were so tightly wrapped up in him that his confession of truth felt like the most horrific thing I’d ever heard. In a matter of seconds, my dreams of our marriage, starting a family, and loving each other forever were shattered. I felt like someone had smashed a glass candlestick against a brick wall behind my back. It was so sudden, so drastic, that I could barely breathe. I started talking a mile a minute, trying to make sense of it.

Okay. So, what is it? I thought we were… I mean, we’re planning to move back home to Florida… our parents met last week… just 30 minutes ago we bought $150 worth of groceries for the week, and now you’re saying you’re done? I don’t understand.

You’re too sensitive. You’re an emotionally and physically fragile person.

Heart pounding, I sat back on the living room couch and pressed my fingertips to my temples. I was stunned. He had said the words with such certainty, like he’d been practicing for months. While I remember us sitting there talking for at least a full hour more, the cold groceries thawing out on the counter, I don’t think I heard another word after he called me fragile.

I was scared. I didn’t want to think about what was next, and my heart wouldn’t stop pounding. I didn’t sleep for a moment that night, instead staring at the bedroom wall in the dark, wide-awake and curled up in a ball in the corner of our bed soaking my pillow with tears while he slept on the couch. I knew I was sensitive, but I’d always been sensitive, and it felt like utter betrayal to hear him say it was the reason he didn’t want to be with me. But, calling me fragile was the part that cut the deepest. He put one of my biggest insecurities on the table—the fear that I wasn’t tough enough to succeed in this world. I had been working so hard to be confident, strong, and resilient, all the things I knew I needed to be to survive in New York City. It was crushing to hear the man I was in love with tell me he was leaving me because I was fragile. I had always thought he had my back.

Puffy eyed and sleep deprived, I started packing up my things the next day. I frantically threw clothes, paperwork, pictures, and kitchen appliances into boxes and suitcases, roughly shoving it all up against a wall in our office. I drowned out my thoughts by blasting Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city album over my headphones while I pulled endless amounts of clear packing tape around and around my boxes and suitcases and scribbled my name across the top with a Sharpie marker.

I didn’t want it to be happening, but it was. I felt so ashamed and pitiful that he didn’t want to be with me, and my pride wanted me out of there immediately. I wasn’t sleeping, only grieving. I took breaks between packing on those first few days to let out ridiculous heavy sighs in-between my tears. When I did pass out, it felt like it was never for more than 10 minutes at a time. I kept waking up in a panicked, cold sweats. It felt terrible and I wanted out of my body. I wanted to check out. I wanted to get away from experiencing this level of sadness.

So I did my best to make a quick exit, and gratefully accepted an invitation to crash on a girlfriend’s couch in Washington Heights. Before I left, I asked him if we could talk one more time, sitting across from him on the living room sofa. What came out of my mouth no doubt surprised him, but it surprised me even more.

Yesterday you said something that I’ll never forget. You said I was an emotionally and physically fragile person. I need you to know that it’s bullshit. You’re wrong.

Well, I didn’t mean….

I was shaking and frantic, sucking in deep breaths, desperate to clearly spit out my words before bursting into another crying fit.

But that’s EXACTLY what you said. The truth is I happen to be one of the strongest people I know, both emotionally AND physically. I have solid and supportive friendships. I meditate. I never miss a day of work. I dance. I run my own blog in my spare time. I work out five days a week. I moved up here to be with you and left all of my friends and family behind, and yet, I’m thriving. I never gave up. When things get tough between us, I’m the one who is brave enough to ask you what’s wrong and communicate my feelings. If you think I’m fragile, you don’t know me at all.

Well I shouldn’t have worded it that way.

But the point is, you said it with more conviction than anything you’ve ever said to me before. Whatever the case, what you said about me is a lie, and I need you to know that I know it’s a lie. Okay? If you don’t want to be with me, then I will have to accept it, but I won’t let you tell me I’m something that I’m not.

As I stood up for myself I realized that deep down I’d known something was wrong in our relationship for a long time. Maya Angelou’s famous advice rang over and over in my head: When someone shows you who they are, believe them, the first time. Throughout our four-year relationship and even our friendship that had started about 10 years earlier, I had seen clues to our eventual breakup. Deep in my heart I had known he wasn’t fully invested in me, but honestly, I had been unwilling to see it. It was a hidden fear before, but now I KNEW it was the truth. But still, I wished more than anything that he wasn’t leaving me.

He was tall and slim with muscular arms, light brown skin, and deep, dark, honest brown eyes. I used to swoon when he laughed—it was loud, goofy, and unapologetic—but I’d cower when he was angry or sad. His temperament could move mountains; the equally hot and cold nature had always been both a turn off and a wild attraction to me. Whenever we had a fight, I’d refuse to walk away, always trying to calm both of us down with questions and reasoning and apologies, whatever it took to make sure we stayed on track. As long as it ended with one of his big tight hugs and an apology, I’d always felt certain we’d make it through. From my perspective, our love was the kind many search for but don’t often find. We knew each other inside and out and we had often talked for countless hours about our deepest passions and ideas about whether the world was a spiritual meaningful place or a random mixture of coincidences. We valued our friendship as much as our romantic love. Many friends and family had told us they thought we both made each other better.

But yet, here he was breaking up with me. Our relationship played over in my mind like a movie montage, and the warning signs I had ignored before were suddenly glaringly obvious. There was the time he told me he was not a good guy after a particularly heated discussion about our future that wasn’t going anywhere, and I convinced him he was wrong. There was also the time we were headed to a friend’s debut stand-up comedy show and he walked three steps ahead of me instead of by my side or holding my hand for 15 blocks. We weren’t even late, but I stumbled down the streets in Midtown trying to keep up with him like I was chasing after him. It was a small thing, but I remember I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t want to walk with me instead of in front of me.

When I started to recall our relationship over the last year or so, it suddenly seemed so obvious that he didn’t really want to be my partner. When I sat down to look at the facts, I was fairly sure I wasn’t fragile, but it didn’t make his words hurt any less. I called my best friends back home to tell them the news, and said I thought he might come to his senses after a few weeks. Secretly though, I knew he wouldn’t. I knew his eyes, and they told me he was gone. I was panicking and alone, but I didn’t want my friends to worry about me.

I finished packing, but before I handed over my keys, I realized it might be the last time I talked to him for a very long time, or ever. I decided on the spot to spill my heart out to him to make sure I didn’t leave with any regrets. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I might as well speak my truth.

I just need to make sure you know something before I go. I love you. I’m always going to love you. You know that, right?

He stayed silent, but he nodded yes, the look on his face one of I wish you didn’t. When he didn’t say that he loved me back, or that he had changed his mind, or anything at all, I knew it was time to go. I actually felt worse, not better, but I was glad I had said it, proud of myself for being honest in spite of my pain.

With bags of fresh fruit and vegetables from our grocery trip under one arm and my treasured VitaMix blender under the other, I heaved my bags of clothes out to the curb and hailed a cab up to my friend’s doorstep in Washington Heights. When she opened the door, I blurted out, Thank you for letting me crash for a few nights. I appreciate it so much! She looked me up and down and said, Oh my god, you brought your VitaMix?! I sighed, and laughed while trying to shake off my sniffles. I really didn’t want to break into another crying fit. Yeah I haven’t been eating the last couple days so I figured maybe I could force down some smoothies with all this fresh stuff that was in our fridge. I just hate for it all to go to waste.

Hunting for a place to live on Craigslist was a nightmare. The average ad for a remotely affordable apartment said something like, 3 single actors/singers looking for a fourth roommate. Shared kitchen and bathroom and couch. Your room is the size of a shoebox. We’re sorta nice, we all have cats, and we work insane hours. Please don’t expect to have any privacy whatsoever. Hand over your paycheck, we know you’re desperate.

I was single, broke, and the big city was about to eat me alive. I was clearly in the worst place to be searching for an affordable and safe place to live with someone I could trust, so I started hunting for a second job and a small studio where I could be alone. Adding on more work to an already full-time schedule felt like an insane idea, but I had no savings and I was craving a private space to grieve my breakup. My family and friends said I should come home to Florida, but I didn’t want anyone to see me come home heartbroken and homeless.

After a month of couch surfing, I found a part-time job and a friend of a friend offered to let me sublet her small studio in Brooklyn at a major discount. Things were starting to look up until I severely sprained my foot two days before moving into the fifth floor walk-up building. I was in no shape to be moving boxes and furniture from Harlem to Brooklyn, much less handle tasks like buying groceries or walking down the block to do laundry while I couldn’t put pressure on one foot. In THE city where you must walk, climb stairs, and push past crowds of people to get anywhere, it royally sucked.

The frustrations kept rolling in. My studio apartment had no air conditioning for a couple weeks, two of my credit cards were stolen, and my office job started delivering rounds of layoffs. I started having panic attacks at night and my right eye was twitching non-stop.

Things got worse when I got the call that my dad was sick a few weeks later. His kidneys were failing, he was on painful daily dialysis treatments, and a viral infection had worked its way into his brain, rendering him unconscious and leaving black skin lesions all over his face. He hated hospitals and I knew he didn’t want to be kept alive by machines. My sisters and I made the decision to let him go, and he passed away in July. We hadn’t been close, but his death gripped me all the same. It forced me to deal with emotions I had stuffed away for years—his never admitted alcoholism, my anger at him for not being the dad I wanted him to be, my anger at myself for never telling him how it made me feel, and this incredibly tender sadness at seeing him suffer. No matter what, he was my dad and I hated seeing him suffer.

Everything was happening too fast. I was scared I would never have the chance to mend our father-daughter relationship, scared I’d never get to learn more about him or him about me, and scared I’d never get to see him smile again. I’d never get to watch him stand in his kitchen effortlessly making his famous smoked fish dip or super spicy grilled chicken wings. I’d never get another hello hug at Christmas that reassured me that he cared about us, something I had questioned my whole life.

Hanging on by shreds, I turned 30 at the end of the summer. Hoping to pick up my spirits and remind everyone (especially me) that I was going to be okay, I hosted a birthday party at a bar in the Hudson Hotel in Midtown. I had a cute new black and white striped party dress, sparkly red flats, lip gloss, and a clutch purse, but while I looked ready to celebrate, I felt a level of tired in my bones that was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I was hell bent on hiding my darkness that night, especially from myself. I accepted big hugs and well wishes from friends who came to celebrate, put on a brave face, beamed in pictures, drank expensive cocktails, and danced with a smile on my face. I had fun, but I also felt really lonely.

I didn’t understand at that moment why my life had turned upside down all at once. What the hell was happening? I wasn’t sure if I could confidently count on anything or anyone ever again. I wondered how I used to feel so safe and sure about where my life was headed. My level of trust in the world was shattered.

While I was surrounded by loving friends and coworkers on my birthday, I still felt like no one could possibly understand how I was feeling. People said I’d be fine and told me they’d be there if I needed anything, but what I wanted no one could give me. I wanted the safety of being in a relationship and knowing where my life was headed next. I wanted to trust that someone loved me. I wanted to stop bawling my eyes out over glasses of wine after work. I felt zero patience for anyone who said that time heals all wounds. Sure, I could ask friends for hugs and call my mom for hour-long venting sessions, but no one could change all the events that had just happened. I was freaking out.

Why me? Why did all those things have to happen in one summer? Part of me wanted to throw a tantrum, kick and scream, and give up on life. But I didn’t have the energy to do any of that. I was so exhausted, I just felt numb.

Survival instincts.

The summer had been traumatic. It fractured me. It broke me down. It ruptured the way I thought about things, my ideas on how the world worked. My survival instincts were on full alert.

But with the start of the fall season, I kept moving in spite of my exhaustion. I’ve always been stubborn, and I refused to give up on myself. I blasted music through my headphones at work, fiercely typing away at my desk to avoid coworkers asking if I was okay. I exercised like a maniac, jumping from barre class to weight training at the gym to grocery store trips at 11 p.m. until I was so tired my fingers trembled. I would do anything to stay on the move and away from my tears. I was afraid if I slowed down I might show weakness.

Since the summer had shattered my sense of stability, I grasped at anything I could control, and being a workaholic was my remedy for survival. More than anything, I wanted to prove to myself that I was strong, both physically and emotionally. I had told my ex that he was wrong about me, and I wanted to be sure no one could think I was fragile ever again, especially me.

When I finally sat back to survey the damage, the sheer volume of events was almost comical, but more so, it was curiously caffeinated. The last few months had been rough, but without a doubt, I was awake, on my toes, and prepared for battle. I felt more present than ever.

Have you ever avoided a car accident by a really close call or made a split-second decision to swerve out of harm’s way, missing a collision by inches? If you have, you’ll be familiar with that alert feeling you get from the adrenaline rush after missing the crash. Suddenly all you can do is focus on your breath and feel thankful that you’re alive. You’re not thinking about the past or the future. You’re just inhaling, exhaling, feeling your heartbeat, strangely alert, and amazed that you’re alive. That’s exactly how I felt.

My heightened awareness led to something beautiful. Since I had less comforts and safety to grasp onto, and my previous vision of my future was swept away, I finally started to open up and relax my need to manipulate what would happen next. I was now powerfully aware that trying to control my life was both pointless and stressful; I just backed down and surrendered. I cried over journal pages and started praying for the first time in my life. The vulnerability of my tears created more space for something new to come in.

The gratitude adjustment.

I had a nagging inclination that if I wanted to feel better, I had to do something. If I learned one thing that summer, especially while living in New York City, it was that no matter how unfair the circumstances, it was 100% up to me to fix my life.

In perfect timing, I saw a re-run of Oprah’s Lifeclass on TV in September. The episode featured a panel of experts discussing how practicing gratitude offers life-changing relief from emotional pain. I realized I desperately needed to change my current story. What if the outcome of my life was in the hands of something much bigger? Did the Divine have a bigger plan for me? What if all this happened for a reason? Having these thoughts was totally new to me, and it was strangely refreshing.

That afternoon I wrote my first daily gratitude list and promised

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