After two especially debaucherous weeks in a row, first in Spain and then in Monterey and Palm Springs, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with alcohol, my constant and necessary air travel companion, on my 8:30am flight from SFO to BWI yesterday, so I consider it nothing short of a miracle that the woman seated directly to my right was a licensed clinical hypnotherapist.
I'd boarded the plane just before she did and she asked if I'd help put her bag in the overhead compartment. I responded with "Anything for you, queen." or something similarly inane that I allow to spill out of my mouth a hundred times a day like a reflex and she smiled, thanked me and sat down in the seat next to mine. After a moment she said she could tell that I was a good person and asked if I'd let her hold onto my arm during takeoff because she struggles with motion sickness. I said of course and for the hour and a half that followed we spilled our respective guts to each other.
Her name is Mani and she got it out of me, quite quickly actually, that I was nothing short of terrified, just then, to be sitting in the miles between solid ground and outer space. A look of polite concern came over her face and she explained that for human beings negative experiences imprint differently than positive experiences and for certain people, people like me, for instance, specific negative experiences often imprint deeper.
"Do you shy away from scary or violent books and movies, too?" she asked.
"I'm basically afraid of everything," I confessed.
"It's not your fault," she said. "It's part of who you are, and of evolution."
To help me with flying and my general anxiety she suggested that I create a daily Trust Log to put my focus on all the ways in which life is trustworthy.
"Write down all the things in a day that work out for you," she told me. "For instance, you made it safely to the airport today and we took off on time. I'm sure your days are full of things like that. Try and start to notice them."
I told her I'd try.
Finally, she asked if I'd be willing to do an exercise with her. When I agreed she asked me to tell her about something happy that calms me down. I thought about it for a while and said, "At our house we always have music playing, usually soundtracks from Broadway musicals. Recently, my happy place has been standing in the living room and throwing a small football back and forth with Sidney while the two of us belt out show tunes."
"Going forward," she advised, "whenever your find yourself in a situation that's causing you anxiety, touch your thumb and forefinger together and go to your living room with Sid, the football and the Broadway music."
"Really?" I asked, in a not-so-subtly skeptical tone of voice.
"Really," she said.
So for the rest of the flight that's just what I did.
And it worked.
I didn't have to get hammered and I actually fell asleep for almost an hour in the middle of the journey which doesn't (soberly) happen to me, ever.
It was amazing.
I'm not sure if it'll last forever, this "go to your happy place by touching your fingers together" thing, and I'm not sure if I'll ever keep a Trust Log, but a complete stranger made me feel safe on a cross-country flight on a day when that's exactly what I needed and I think that's pretty damn incredible.
So thanks Mani, kind stranger.