Don’t expose!

This is an old story – a very old story. Don’t know why, but recently it keeps popping up, whispering in the back of my mind, “Me! Me! Me! Tell me!” Perhaps it’s the time of year.

So, deep breath.

Many many years ago one of my greatest fears was driving. Despite the fact that I passed my first driving test (which can be seen as an indication that I acquired the necessary skills and a bit of confidence); despite the fact that I had never been involved in an accident directly or indirectly – I was petrified. The mere idea of getting behind the wheel for even a short drive around the block, was more than I could handle.

What’s more, it was one of those hidden shameful fears, the kind you will do anything and everything to hide from the world. And I was an expert at manipulating situations so as not to have to deal with it. My love of walking and reading on the bus (together with my ex-husband’s love of not having to share the car) made this quite easy.

At the time, I used to spend a couple of nights a week with a colleague working on a joint literature project we were conducting with our 8th grade classes. Because we both had young children, the only time we could meet was after bedtime. So, once my kids were “done” for the evening, I would make my way to her house (which was only a couple of blocks away) and she would then drive me home, usually close to midnight. Because she and her husband had two cars driving over to our house, when it was my turn to host, never created a problem.

That is until one day, she broke the routine. The plan was that she was to come over to our house. The kids were in bed; my ex-husband had come home from work, showered and was ready to settle down for the night. So far so good. When she arrived, she mentioned that her husband had dropped her off on his way to his night shift. “Uh-oh,” a little voice stuttered inside me. I could already feel the knots twisting in my stomach. “And how do you plan on getting home?” I asked kinda by the way. “You’ll take me,” she responded. Under normal circumstances that would’ve gone over well, but these were not normal circumstances. There was no way I could bring myself to taking her home in the middle of the night. There was no way I could face starting up the car with her beside me, not to mention driving back alone on the quiet streets. And, there was no way I was going to openly admit my fears. There was nothing logical about my fears. There was nothing rational about the turmoil of emotions fueling up inside me. There rarely ever is.

One response led to another and before I knew it we were all (she, my ex-husband and I) caught up in a furious battle of confusion and frustration. Bottom line, my ex-husband, much against his will, took her home.

The next day she questioned me, “What was that all about?”

“I’m afraid of driving,” I said flatly. Zehu! It was out.

“What’s the big deal?” she laughed utterly shocked at my remark, “You get in the car and you drive!”

“When you aren’t afraid, it’s no big deal,” I told her, “but, believe me, when you are afraid, it’s major!” She still wasn’t getting it.

Then it clicked, at least for me. It was one of the most powerful lessons of my life: Don’t expose! That’s what the outburst of emotions had been about – not my fear of driving per se. Here I was, struggling so hard to keep my fears a secret, and there she was, through no fault of her own, forcing me to expose them to the world, well at least to her and my ex-husband. Whatever. The point is, for whatever reason – I didn’t want to!

We all have our fears: rational or irrational, genuine or imagined – it makes no difference. The fears we are ready to openly admit can be dealt with. The real problem lies with those fears we so desperately try to hide, because on top of the fear itself is the fear and shame of being exposed.

Since that evening, many many years ago, thanks to the loving help and patience of supportive friends, as well as the necessities of life, I have overcome my fear of driving. But, what’s more important, I have learnt to be more attuned to and, consequently, respectful of hidden fears, particularly when I sense the sometimes frantic sometimes stoic efforts people invest in concealing them.

The last thing they want is to be exposed.

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