I live in a suburban commuter town, so thankfully, getting to my place of employment by train is relatively easy — but still, a car for access to shopping, medical appointments, etc., is pretty much a necessity. My husband and friends have been my relatively cheerful (if at times, reluctant) "chauffeurs" for years now, but I have come to realize that it's unfair to keep relying on them for assistance in getting from here to there. And although they didn’t complain, I recognized that by relying on them, I was also curtailing my own sense of freedom, especially during the times when the fear was so strong that I couldn’t even be a passenger for more than a short hop to the store. My panic attacks and palpitations were making me restrict my life, and not letting others enjoy my company. I finally accepted that I had little choice but to somehow manage my fear of driving.
I’ve been working on my fears (driving isn’t the only one), but it’s been the most tenacious — in therapy. My therapist has been helping me reframe that fear by focusing on the positive aspects of being able to drive and providing a realistic context for this activity. My therapist also gave me some practical tools, like how to break a major road trip into a bunch of manageable distance milestones. With those supports, I told myself that there comes a time when a mature adult has to do more than simply cope. I had to make a concrete, action-oriented decision to master this life-diminishing phobia.
I am still taking lessons once a week, and I confess I don't practice driving much on my own. But I think I've progressed to the point where I can drive fairly comfortably on local roads if the weather is good and someone is in the car with me. I can get to the supermarket and the doctor's office. I may never be able to drive on a highway, and long road trips may still, or always, be out of reach, but time will tell what I will be able to accomplish. It's all still a process, but a forward-looking one. At least I've finally put my pedal to the metal. And I feel great knowing that I’m overcoming my fear, expanding my world and proclaiming my independence.
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