10.11.2011

The Cure for a Fear of Flying (or, how to fly without liquor, prescription drugs, or insisting the pilot take a breathalyzer)

October is spooky. Frankenstein is on your neighbor’s porch, there’s a cemetery in your yard, and brains are congealing in the fridge (made of gelatin. You hope.)
But the most terrifying haunted house can’t compare to the fact the Grim Reaper sharpens his scythe on the airplane every time I fly. It’s either Grim or Johnny Cash, and since Johnny’s dead, it’s really the same difference.
I wasn’t always afraid to fly.  I’ve flown coast-to-coast, across the ocean, from Memphis to Manhattan. I’ve flown Aeroflot to Siberia, and if any situation is fraught with peril, it’s flying Aeroflot — routinely listed at the bottom of the airline-safety barrel. Yet I wasn’t afraid.
Several years and a few white-knuckle, bumpy flights later, I lost the youthful delusion that bad things only happen to other people. Suddenly I was an adult upon whom tragedy could strike, and 35,000 feet seemed a promising location.
 After that, I’d only fly after washing down a valium with a stiff drink from the airport bar. That panic-dampening combo was the only thing preventing me from shrieking “This plane is going down!!” while shoving passengers aside with my sweat-soaked palms, thus saving myself before takeoff.
I became the worlds’ most-vigilant flyer, my head whipping around like a spastic spectator at a high-speed tennis match at every bump and thump. Once I grabbed my husband’s arm (a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, he finds aviophobia  as sensible as a fear of freckles) and hissed “what was THAT?” while bracing for our rapid spiral from the sky. Fortunately, the noise from the air vents did not signify a crash. Ahem.
The irrational fear weighed heavily on my mind. I was shackling my family to tedious car rides because turbulence makes me nervous. I was chicken. I realized by refusing to face my fear, I was sending myself — and my kids— a message that avoidance is an acceptable answer to fear.  How do you tell your kids “there’s no reason to be afraid” if you can’t convince yourself?
So, I swallowed my fear, didn’t swallow any pills, and in June hopped a plane to Seattle. It was the first time I’ve flown in more than 10 years.  Was I nervous?  Yep, but I didn’t say “what was that noise?” once. I didn’t give the pilot a breathalyzer, and I only scoped the plane twice to see if anyone resembling Johnny Cash with a scythe was on board.
This Halloween, if there’s a sinister noise outside my window, I’ll remember I’ve looked the Grim Reaper in the eye, then marvel at the fact he does not have eyes. Kidding. I’ll remember I’ve faced the thing which scared me most, and tell my kids “there’s no reason to be afraid.” Unless something’s crawling out from the gravestone in the yard. Then —be afraid. Be very afraid.
Amy M. Dawson is an Atlanta-based writer scared of spiders, murky lake water and Snooki, but is no longer afraid to fly. Visit www.virtuallybetter.com to learn more about flying without Valium,vodka and sweaty palms.

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