I have had a huge nemesis my entire adult life. A fear of driving.
When I was a teenager, I used to fantasise about being old enough to drive, and poured over ‘The Loot’ weekly – Bristol’s local paper to sell stuff – looking at which car I might try to buy as soon as I was old enough.
When I turned 17, I started driving lessons. I had a couple of terrible instructors, and rather than grow in confidence, my confidence just ebbed away. It seemed like an endless stream of lessons, but nothing ever really ‘clicked’ and I never learnt how to drive fully. So without even sitting my practical test, I gave up.
Aged 19 I moved to London, justifying my inability to drive on living in London and there being no need to drive, because we have the tube and there’s already too much traffic right?
At 25 I tried to face my nemesis the first time, and began a series of lessons. Sadly for me I found another terrible instructor, who I did lessons with for around a year, before she put me in for my test, assuring me I was ‘ready’ – I felt I was not. I sat my test, and failed on a million minor things – because the fundamental quality of my driving was terrible. This isn’t ‘a shoddy workman blaming his tools’ and I know this because my next instructor was incredible.
In spite of all of my alleged driving experience, he had to even teach me to do ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ in the right order – that’s how bad my last instructor had been. We spent the first couple of lessons just driving around corners!
I sat my test a couple of months later and failed on a silly mistake, passing the next time with flying colours. It felt like I’d won the lottery. That should have been in right? Objective complete. Sadly it wasn’t to be so.
I was still with my ex husband at this time. Driving was his thing. It was actually the thing that truly gave him purpose. I supported us/him throughout our relationship. The whole 12 years. Crazy right? But true. So driving was the thing that he did, in the car that I bought, maintained and bought the petrol for.
You know what’s crazy? It’s hard writing this. As honest and open as I am, and as much as my life has changed. Telling you all this now still feels like a weird betrayal. Like I am breaking his confidence. You see I kept the fact he didn’t work as a secret from the rest of the world (well tried to). I didn’t want people to think badly of him. I thought if I let people see him as the man I imagined he could be, he would somehow become it.
So when it came to me driving, he would insist on coming in the car with me in case I damaged it. And would make the whole experience uncomfortable for me when he did. At the time I thought I was strong and indepedent, but I see now how I allowed him to control and manipulate my entire existence. So I gave up. I’d already given up on me a long time ago. This was a drop in the ocean in comparison to that.
Fast forward to 2015. I’d only driven a handful of times in the 10 years since I passed my test. My friend Clarissa was hugely encouraging when it came to getting me out on the roads, and took me out around a year ago for driving practice. I developed a weird relationship with driving, I avoided it at all costs, but when I actually did it, I loved it.
One such episode was in Ibiza, where Clarissa and Emma (our other friend) encouraged me to take the wheel and ‘have a go’. I did. It was scary. But I did it. Then avoided driving again.
Then at the end of last year, the Universe stepped in in the form of Emma. She had decided she was going to go travelling, and she had a car that needed babysitting whilst she was away. I thought about it, and almost said no, but in the end, decided to take her up on her offer.
They both believed in my driving ability inherently, and always have, when I didn’t. They didn’t flinch. If they felt even slightly uncomfortable when I was driving they didn’t show it.
When Emma left, at first I hardly used the car. But little by little, I started to use the car more. Little trips at first, afraid of parking at the other end so properly planning the whole thing in advance. But since the end of November, I’ve gone on a journey in every sense of the word.
I am a driver.
I love driving.
I am free.
I’m actually crying as I write this. Which gives you an idea of how big this hurdle has been for me to overcome. It’s been my dirty little secret. In so many ways I live so fearlessly, it felt so at odds with who I really am.
Yesterday I drove from London to Bristol and back. Solo. I kept a steady 70-75 miles an hour, sometimes even to 80 when overtaking (shush). I used every lane. I kept hearing Clarissa’s motorway driving lesson playing back to me in my mind as I drove along. I can’t say I loved every moment, but it was a hugely enriching and rewarding experience.
Today I return the car to it’s rightful owner. But I can’t thank both Emma and Clarissa enough for encouraging me to get into the car in the first place, and for trusting me and my abilities when I didn’t. That trust is the thing that set me free.
So you see my friends, there are some things we don’t/can’t just fix on our own. Sometimes divine intervention comes in the form of beautiful friends who help light shine a light on your path. Hold yours close and keep collecting new ones, you never know what you might be about to learn.