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The 5 Questions That Helped Me Overcome My Fear to Escape My Father’s Abuse

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced abuse or struggle with suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

On the 18th of May in 2019, a bold bald man asked me to answer five simple questions. What followed was a mind-blowing transformation that turned my life upside down.

I managed to escape my abusive father’s basement in 34 days without a single penny in my bank account.

Even though I knew that he would kill me if I tried to.

So, if there is something in your life that is holding you back, this article is for you. Buckle up for a journey through a dark but rewarding chapter of my life.

How did I end up in an abusive basement?

The honest answer to this question is that I had been a self-absorbed douchebag. But this answer needs some more background. It all began in a clinic the morning after a suicide attempt.

My girlfriend at that time  — as devastated as she was  — visited me every single day to comfort me during these harsh times. Half a year later, I dropped her.

Why? Because of my profound belief that I don’t deserve to be loved.

As I ran away from this scary thing called love, I also turned into a homeless 23-year-old graduate student. I had no job, a five-figure student loan (which fueled my anxiety like kerosene), and overall debilitating self-doubt.

Author, young man standing in front of a bus, sad and lonely

That photo is me at that time. Young, lost, and broke.

So, what did I do?

I move back into my father’s basement. Anyone who ever moved back to their parents after graduation might be able to relate to  the overwhelming shame I was about to experience.

But the fact that my father sexually abused me as a child turned this experience into a ticking time bomb.

How I survived the months inside this spiritual prison goes beyond the scope of this article.

However, I like to mention that Headspace, journaling, and therapy played an essential part in my survival. And, of course, Tim Ferriss, whose five questions led me to freedom.

The Five Questions That Lead Me Into Freedom

“We suffer more in our head than in reality.”  —  Seneca

Do you have ambitious goals in life? Or just some scenarios in your head that start like, “One day, I will…” I did. Furthermore, I had my fair share of “if only” scenarios and daydreaming.

So, let me ask you the same question Tim asked me a few years ago: What are you waiting for?

Do you have a valid answer to this question? And yes, the following are almost always invalid answers:

  • It’s not the right time.
  • I’m still waiting for X to happen.
  • I would start if only X.

Most of us can attest that the time will never be right. And waiting for something to happen is riding the fast lane to “I wish” statements on your deathbed.

The truth is you are often scared of doing what you want to do. But you are not alone. We all feel afraid to make changes. The question is, what do we do about it?

Do we get debilitated by fear, or do we act despite the fear?

In the end, the tough choices in life become the precious memories we keep close to our hearts. For example: asking, saying, feeling, or doing the things that frighten us.

So, let me walk you through the exact five questions that helped me to make one of the best decisions of my life.

Author: Young man in swimming trunks standing on a rock above the water, smiling brightly

That’s me after answering the five questions below. Quite the dramatic change, right?

1. What is the worst case if I move out and cut myself loose from my father?

My answer: He will kill me. I will destroy many lives by telling the truth about him and what he did. Everyone will hate me.

Yes, those were my exact words. It may sound ridiculous to some, but I know other survivors can relate to thoughts like these. The terrible aftermath of abuse often consumes your thoughts and feelings.

To this day, I own the habit of looking over my shoulder, afraid that he will kill me any second. Trauma often feels like a broken smoke detector that goes off in the slightest blink of imbalance.

So after defining our personal nightmares, let’s move on to the next question.

2. What could I do to minimize or prevent the damage?

My answer: Take a year off to hide somewhere. And accept the fact that no one will believe me before telling anyone.

I had the brilliant idea to borrow money and buy a one-way ticket to South America. If I’m homeless, at least I could be at some tropical beach.

After putting some more thought into this, I came up with a realistic plan. My idea was to hide in different apartments from friends.

It may sound a bit dramatic, but trust me, my whole body was shaking while answering these questions. After all, I needed some exit strategies to calm my nervous system down.

That’s the whole point of the Fear Setting: to find yourself some seatbelt that will protect you in case of danger. For example, you don’t get into your car expecting to crash. But in case you do, you will be grateful for the seatbelt.

3. What effect would a (more likely) positive outcome have?

My answer: I will finally be free from this manipulative abuser. At least I will have tried to make a change. I will be able to look at myself in the mirror again. 

Allow yourself to think positively. Because how often did you make up a worst-case scenario in your head that never came true?

I know how hard it is to stay positive while facing your fears. But it’s worth it. The last sentence alone motivated me enough to break free. It felt like a crack in the prison wall that allowed some light into my life again.

And for my professional overthinkers out there: A year ago, you probably lost your mind over scenarios that you don’t even remember today.

4. If the worst-case scenario happens, what can I do to repair the damage?

My answer: If I’m dead, so what? I will be gone. But if everyone hates me for telling the truth, then I have to accept that they might not be the best company after all.

 I have to admit that this is quite a depressing and fruitless answer. But at the time, it helped me to cope with my fear. Furthermore, it shows how I felt inside — dead and hopeless.

Repairing your worst-case scenario is your insurance. In other words, it is a backup plan to return to your current life or at least a safe spot.

I know that my answer does not fall into fixing the damage. It is more like a desperate excuse by a guy playing his last cards.

I am sure that you will find more constructive thoughts.

5. What are the costs of inactivity?

My answer: I will be living with an abuser every day. Knowing what he did and not telling anyone about it. I will protect him, and I will hate myself every day for it!

Wow. These words had been my striking epiphany, the much-needed glimmer of brutal honesty that sparked a raging fire inside my chest.

The anxiety I had felt before, defeated by the haunting thought of staying with this man for one more second.

Of course, there was risk involved, and of course, I still felt afraid. Yet, almost any outcome was better than the current status quo. Because how can I forgive myself if I protect this man with my silence? This burden eats me alive.

Imagine yourself five years from now. Do you want to look back on this moment and explain to yourself why you did nothing? Can you bear the picture of procrastinating for the next 10 years?

I can’t tell you where to go, but standing still will often be one step in the wrong direction.

What did happen after the Fear Setting?

First things first, he didn’t kill me. But on our last encounter, he pushed a big knife into my heart. A metaphorical knife, yet a painful stab. But let’s start at the beginning.

Inspired and frightened by the tremendous costs of inactivity, I applied for a job the same night. Within the next week, I got a job. Then, thanks to a lucky coincidence, I could move into an affordable student dorm.

After laying the foundation for my escape, all I had to do was walk out the door. It may sound like a small step, but it was a colossal leap of faith.

So I took him to a public restaurant to tell him I never wanted to see him again.

The Last Encounter

Every fiber of my body fought the fear within me. With a clenched fist hidden under the table, I controlled the shaking arousal in my body. And with sheer willpower, I fought the internal urge to puke on the table.

As my body drove to the edge of a panic collapse, he remained calm as a soft summer breeze. There was neither a glimmer of humanity in his eyes nor a spark of sorrow in his voice.

Two aspects you wish to see in a father after telling him he will never see you again. But he isn’t a father. Merely a human. And so he demanded from me to stay silent about what he did.

That was the final attack I had to endure. The last bitter pill I had to swallow. That day he made me understand that I will never feel what it means to have a loving father.

The Path of Healing

Deeply hurt by his crushing words, I remember this moment as the pinpoint of my healing.

It was at that very moment that I’ve felt a profound sense of being myself. And on the train home to my new apartment, I took my first deep breath of freedom.

I would love to tell you that my life has been nothing but cherry blossoms and unicorns ever since. But that’s not how life works. Yet there hasn’t been a single moment I looked back with a sense of regret in my heart.

How does this help you with your life?

“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”  —  Jerzy Gregorek

I didn’t put a dent in the universe, as Steve Jobs would have phrased it. Neither did I build a hugely successful business or achieve every item on my bucket list. Hell, I didn’t even come up with the idea for the Fear Setting. (Once again: Tim Ferriss is the mastermind behind it!)

All I did was overcome my fear.

And if you have read until this point, I know that you want to do it too.

The Fear Setting had been (and still is) a crucial tool on my belt. I am writing these words because of it. Not because I survived, but because I am facing the debilitating fear of sharing some dark secrets here on the internet with you.

Do I have to drop the super cliche, “If I can do it, so can you?” But honestly, I was broke, depressive, and most importantly: I was freaking convinced that my father would kill me!

You have no choice but to die. Yet you can decide when to start living!

So, whatever it is you want to do — no matter how big, small, or impossible it might seem, or how terrified you are — allow yourself to envision achieving this goal.

Now answer me: What are you waiting for?

If you enjoyed this article, here are more lessons, stories, and resources from the edge of life.

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, suicide, and mental health issues. Because of the silence around these topics, I almost lost my life. Therefore, I created a small community for people struggling.

This project lies close to my heart, and I’m investing my free time into it. You are more than welcome to join my inner circle or support my mission.

For requests and collaborations please refer to my Instagram account. Thank you!

Original photos by author

Originally published: May 20, 2022
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