I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 18, and then it was only because a new system was coming in that meant it could take up to three years to get a ‘proper’ licence. So I got one.
The day I got my permit, my Dad and I practiced in the parking lot of Portage Place mall. Convinced I was ready, he coached me out onto the road to home. Within 5 minutes I had hit a squirrel. Within 10 minutes I had hit a rabbit. Within 15, a raccoon had also gone under the wheels. I am not making this up. I remember apologising to them in my head while trying to keep calm enough to drive.
It has been a love-hate relationship ever since.
My other car exploits have found me: once stranded on the side of an icy cottage road for hours, once with a chest bruised so badly I couldn’t sit up or cut my own meat at Thanksgiving dinner, and once (my favourite) strapped to a spinal-board. (And my friend has just reminded me that I have also been submerged in a car. Submerged!!) I wasn’t driving all of those times, but all of them had an impact on me (pardon the pun).
When I moved to the UK and found out I would have to take a test to drive a manual car, it just made sense to me that I simply wouldn’t drive while I was in the UK. So I didn’t. For 17 years. I did drive whenever I was in Canada, but mostly that was daytime, summertime, straight-line driving. There are no roundabouts in Canada and no single lanes with ‘passing places’ surrounded by eight-foot hedges. What I was afraid of was driving in another country.
The trouble is that if you stop doing something because you are afraid of it, it gets bigger and scarier and more powerful.
Fast forward to the day we moved to Costa Rica. Many of the roads here are hairy, to say the least, and the drivers like to pass – a lot – whenever they feel like it. I knew I was going to have to drive, but I put it off for nearly two months, and I thought maybe I could do that forever.
Then my husband got really sick, and over the days he was sick, we quickly ran out of everything, until I was in danger of becoming a very bad wife. He needed ginger-ale and some sort of food and I knew I needed to go to the market, but the thought of doing it led me to the edge of a panic attack. My fear of driving had become its own energy, and it was big and scary and stood in my way, but that morning it was me or it, and I had to choose me.
So I put on my bravest t-shirt, armed myself with a couple of crystals, and I even went so far as to ask the Archangel Michael (naturally) to ride shotgun with me. Because if you are going to be afraid, it helps to call in the big guns.
And then I drove to the market. And I was fine. In fact, once I was behind the wheel and doing it, it got less and less scary, and I went from being afraid to being just a little bit proud of myself.
Fear is funny, and just like a leap of faith, it is all relative. Quitting my job and moving to Costa Rica? No problem. Driving 15 minutes down the road for ginger ale? Big Problem – or at least I thought it was. But fear is like anything, it was only as big and scary as I had given it permission to be. And now I am left just a little bit sad that I let it control me for so long.
But the best part is that now I know how to deal with fear: suit up, power up, and ask the angels to ride shotgun.
Just like a superhero.