This post was originally published on April 13, 2015.
Back in the day when I owned a car, I had a debilitating fear of driving it. When I was still in my heavy drinking days, I concocted all sorts of imaginative excuses not to move my white 2007 Pontiac G6, Blanquita, from its hard-earned parking spot, just so I could hole up in my apartment and drink multiple liters of wine alone. Like many of my wasted rationalizations, I could find justifiable cause for my lunacy. I knew if I left my spot at 7 pm on a Monday night to get to Trader Joe’s to increase my wine and liquor inventory, that would mean that I would have a window of about 30 minutes to drive there and back before someone claimed my spot. No parking spot on a weeknight after 7 pm meant a 45-minute ring around the gang-infested neighborhood by myself in the dark; moreover, less time left for me to get white girl wasted. My fear of leaving the apartment mixed with an irrational fear of being sideswiped by the obese orange Los Angeles monsters we call buses fueled me to isolate on a regular basis.
When I got sober and ran out of excuses for why I would not leave my apartment, I realized I had a pretty gnarly fear of driving. My first clue might have been the fact that my arms tingled before falling asleep the second I got on the 101 to the 10 to get to work in Rancho Cucamonga (yes, you read that correctly). My body did not take too kindly to my cortisol overload from frequent anxiety attacks. I became convinced that I would surely die in a car crash and my obituary would read, “Lucy is survived by her mother and twin sister. She died on her way to Rancho Cucamonga, the city that sounds like a venereal disease.” On multiple occasions, my worst fears were actually realized when I stalled out on the freeway, my only comfort being the music playing when the AAA agent put me on hold while I cried and chugged gallons of espresso. This same scenario happened in that car three times. The third time being the charm, I discovered an instant serenity when I turned on the radio and heard Bowie. I thought, “OHHHH that guy! That guy doesn’t give a fuck. That guy would just be sitting here naked smoking a cigarette while Rome burned, not letting anything ruin his interrupted drive.”
One fine day shortly after my most recent brush with death, I decided I’d had it. Wasn’t it my turn to get mine? Shouldn’t I look chic while driving? If I had to go there, why couldn’t I enjoy peaceful trips to the bowels of Southern California? I devised a plan to fix up my shitter of a car to trade it in for something sexier and less deadly. I settled on a silver 2007 Toyota Camry I named Starman after the 1972 Bowie song. Not exactly the sex machine I had pictured, but it was safe and economical. I tore out of that CarMax parking lot like a flightless bird that had just been given prosthetic wings. A new car meant no more crushing anxiety or massive mechanic bills, right? But my false sense of security did not last more than three hours. I found myself just as nervous—if not more so—that something awful would happen, even with a car in such good shape. True to form, I carried on with my obsessive fears and drove my new-ish car for one whole month before I experienced the Crash Heard Round the World.
On September 11th of last year, I drove myself to a 7 am meeting before work. As I prepared to make a left-hand turn toward an AA meeting at Café Tropical on Sunset, a truck hit me nearly head on, then hit a building across the street (pinning a pedestrian to the wall). My AA friends heard the crash from inside and rushed out of the meeting room like bees out of a hive. The impact of the crash put my body into shock, but I was like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable; I walked away from that accident with only whiplash and a sprained ankle. That was the day a new portal in my brain opened up to show me that I had to wake the fuck up and stop being so afraid of everything and everyone. As the aftermath of the crash began to unfold in the following weeks, I realized that I was going to need a more powerful search engine than anxiety and fear to find peace within myself. I observed a curious energy begin to take hold of me as I watched myself lose all of the things I’d held with a vice grip to protect me from certain death and/or abject poverty: a functioning car, a good job and a trendy apartment (that must have hardwood floors).
What I found was my imagination. In the depths of my post-five-hour-wait-for-food-stamps misery, I came to believe that I could have fun. I re-committed myself to making David Bowie my Higher Power because he would provide the sound track for my exciting and ephemeral life. I christened my intuition with the name Winona, after my favorite t-shirt design (“Free Winona”) at the screen-printing shop where I worked after I lost my full-time job. The only imagination I exercised with any vigor in the recent past was while playing Never Have I Ever to humblebrag about my real and embellished sexual exploits. I spent my entire life envying “creative types” with vivid imaginations, never knowing I was one of those people who possessed just that thing.
I shimmy my way closer to freedom from obsession and anxiety every time I allow my imagination to flourish. Luckily, I don’t have to practice my newfound freedom while driving (a giant shout-out to you, Uber, for carting my ass around Los Angeles for a nominal fee and decent conversation). Out of all of the times I hyperventilated my way from panic to insanity, I could have pictured myself in a floating space car like in The Fifth Element (another Bruce Willis reference, maybe I have a thing?) protected from imminent danger and somehow emerging heroic in a galaxy far far away. When I drank, my head was constantly filled with all kinds of preposterously dark and weird scenarios, a habit that stayed with me during early sobriety. My self-manufactured mind terrorism used to make me tired and sad, but I realize after a little bit of time sober that I just didn’t know how to use my imagination to benefit me and not just scare me shitless. I have a year sober and better self-esteem than I ever have, which means I can picture a much happier life for myself without having to squint so hard to see it. Imagine that.
Photo courtesy of an anonymous witness