The December 2016, Non Flyer group was a great success even though a blizzard meant we had to postpone our flight until January. Five people attended, all smart, brave and accomplished, but all really frustrated that they couldn’t stop themselves from feeling afraid when it came to flying. A few coped by avoiding airplanes, missing out on career opportunities and struggling to feel good about driving-only family vacations. The few that still flew talked about how shameful it felt to be “out of control” in front of their kids and coworkers and how the alcohol and drugs they used to “take the edge off” worked inconsistently and left them feeling weak (and hungover) once they arrived at their destinations. They all found great comfort knowing that the other members of the group understood exactly what they had been going through.
We spent a day and half in the classroom, learning how scary thoughts and preconceived ideas narrowed their focus so all they saw were things that seemed to prove there was trouble. The group really enjoyed their chat with Captain P., an Air Canada pilot who’d been flying for almost 50 years and who helped the group to realize that the noises, sensations and procedures they thought were clear signs of danger were actually regular, everyday occurrences, less dangerous than driving on the same highway many used to get to the group. We learned to cope by focusing on those things we can control, like how we deal with fears and bodily arousal, and started to appreciate that the intense frustration each person felt came directly from the fruitless struggle of trying to control the uncontrollable, like weather, other people’s actions and the operation of the aircraft. It was difficult for some to wrap their heads around the idea of putting down strategies they had used for many years, even though they were ineffective – at least they felt like they were doing something, which was better than just sitting there, scared. People were excited and ready to take the next step and fly, but that’s when the blizzard started, closing the airport and forcing us to postpone our flight.
We met a few weeks later and people talked about using the coping tools they had learned in their daily lives. One member talked emotionally about how the group had really changed his mindset, and how he realized that acknowledging his fears was actually a strength and not the weakness he had always believed it to be. Another member told of flying to the Caribbean with her family for the winter break just the week before. She was a frequent business traveller and acknowledged how she used to gauge the awful-ness of each flight by the number of mini-bottles of alcohol she needed to drink to numb herself. She still drank on that flight, but only one mini-bottle because she decided she was ready to show herself that she could fly better and was tired of starting every flight with the preconceived idea that they could only ever be “awful.”
One very brave member of the group remained quite afraid of flying over the break and continued to hold tightly to the avoidance tool that he’d always relied on to help him feel safe. He continued telling himself “I just can’t fly” and almost turned around on the way to the airport. To his credit, he didn’t, and he boarded the plane with the rest of us and talked openly about the fears that still seemed too strong for him to overcome. Although he didn’t actually fly with us that day he did come farther than he’d ever come towards facing his fear.
Every person who signs up for one of our courses has their own, unique story and is on their own timeline for change. Success isn’t determined by the all-or-nothing metric of whether a person took a flight or not, it’s measured by whether each person did what they were ready and able to do at that time. The members of all of our groups can ALL be very proud of themselves for that. Getting over this fear takes time AND effort. Put in both, and you can get exactly where you want to be.
Let us know if you also want to stop fighting useless struggles against fear and grow into more of the person you truly are. Sign up for our two, April courses or come in for some individual training. You can do it.