Sobriety Removed My Fear of Flying
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Sobriety Removed My Fear of Flying


fear of flyingThis post was originally published on November 4, 2013.

Guess where I was twice this month? In an international airport terminal! Guess what else? I wasn’t drunk! More surprising news: I didn’t check out the prices of booze in the Duty Free nor even notice if there was a bar in the vicinity. Airports used to mean free reign to drink at ridiculous hours of the day, regardless of where I was going. Breakfast time? I would think. And then: Who cares?

Big buildings containing thousands of people make me panic. At least that’s the way it used to be. In days of old, I would be in a state of turmoil before leaving for the airport and until I got a drink down me. I could barely cope with checking my bags in. Thoughts of lost luggage would haunt me. I’d be paranoid that the security guard was looking at me strangely and imagine being hauled into a room and interrogated. Maybe, I’d think, because I’m Irish they think I’m an IRA terrorist. I viewed the other people in the airport as potential drug traffickers who were waiting to plant something in my bag.

This is why I would take myself off to the nearest bar to get a stiff one down. But of course, because I’m a professional alkie, one was never sufficient; the other extreme of my insanity would take over and I’d continue to drink until I didn’t give a shit if I got on a plane or not. Many times I felt as though I’d have been quite happy to sit at that bar for the next two weeks instead of going on the trip.

Yet I did always manage to get on the plane to my destination, probably because I was always traveling with my ex-husband. Between us, we would manage to keep an eye on the boarding times and muffled announcements over the intercom so we could successfully position ourselves in our proper seats. And of course my drinking would continue on the plane for the rest of the flight. Someone told me once that if you drink on a plane, the effects are stronger. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I do know I was always nicely toasted by the time we landed.

We traveled quite a bit back then and as a result, I have been to some pretty cool destinations. However, regardless of the destination, its beauty and sights to see, most of my vacations were spent drunk, high, dancing until the early hours and then laying by a pool the next day recovering from a hangover by sipping beer or cocktails. I could have been in my back yard and I wouldn’t have known the difference. All that partying and then laying in the hot sun isn’t something I’d recommend, unless you’re in the market for severe dehydration, sunstroke and bad sunburn when you pass out and forget to apply sunscreen. (In Europe, we can sunbath topless so if you’ve never had sunburned nipples, let me tell you it is not something you want.) Yet excessive inebriation and a tan were always more important than my health and safety.

I’ve traveled abroad one other time since I got sober: when I was about a year into recovery and still very unsure of myself. It was a trip to the East Coast of America to meet up with my friend Emma that I hadn’t seen in 10 years, and amazingly, it was the first time I traveled alone. I realize this sounds utterly pathetic, especially when you take into consideration the fact that I was 36 years old at the time, but I didn’t know if I could actually do it. It was a big test for me, not just to stay sober but to actually be an adult and do something that millions of people accomplish every day. Admittedly, I was a little unsteady on my feet; being fully cognizant of my surroundings and dealing with all the people around me was a new experience. And yet no one looked like a drug trafficker and the security men seemed too busy to pay any attention to me.

This last time, my destination was also to the USA. This time, however, I really did feel like an accomplished grown up. I was calm, relaxed and full of excitement. I rambled through the shops while waiting for my flight and even had some conversations with people who were not remotely interested in planting anything in my bag.

While waiting to board, I sat and sipped lattes while being highly entertained by the loud Aussie talking to his friend on Skype about the amount of coke he had snorted the night before. “Man, these Irish can drink, Mike, and they were giving me coke for free,” he enthused. I wanted to run up and tell him that that there is never a free ride where drugs and alcohol are concerned and that he was making an ass of himself shouting all over the terminal about his debauchery. In my mind, I saw myself then adding that it did not make him appear cool in anyway. While I didn’t say a thing, I did shake my head at another bemused traveler who couldn’t help but hear the Aussie’s proclamations. Yes, I need to work on not being so judgmental.

I landed in Chicago and spent the most incredible nine days submerged in the recovery community in Indiana. My trips used to really serve no other purpose than to allow me to get drunk and high in a new place. This time, I met truly inspirational people, led a meeting and spent time with someone very special, all of which I will remember for the rest of my life. And, wouldn’t you know it, the flight back was a breeze.

Photo courtesy of Boeing Dreamscape [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Nicola O’Hanlon is part of the blogging community for the recovery website You can see her blogs on She was born and still lives in Wexford, Ireland.