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Fear of Flying to Italia: Senza Alcol

I woke up just before my alarm was set to go off at 3:45am. Ugh. Airport pickup in 45 minutes. Andiamo!

To start my vacations in the past, my trip would begin with a double Titos Bloody Mary in the airport. But after finding myself drinking too much during the pandemic, I had decided to remove alcohol from my life last September.

Before I quit drinking, my fiancé, Tom (now my husband), and I had splurged on business class seats. Shit!

Unlimited pinot grigio at my disposal en route to Roma and I will have none of it? How will I be able to say no?

Not drinking in business class? Who? Me?!

Tom and I settled into our fancy digs – cocooning ourselves inside a cozy nest of books, iPads, iPhones, air pods, and snacks. The seat backs were designed to sit up in and binge-watch Netflix comfortably.

With the push of a button, they reclined into an extended “bed”. Humans (6′ and under) then have a chance of getting a bit of sleep on their jaunt across the pond.

After warm nuts, two club sodas, veggie ravioli, vanilla ice cream, BBQ beef sandwich and a diet coke, the flight attendants finally left us alone.

I snuggled under the comforter pulling it over my head in the hopes that my possible snoring would go unnoticed by my neighbours.

Minutes later the plane began to bounce and sway. Ugh, turbulence. I do not like turbulence. I have never liked turbulence.

My father was one of 26 survivors on a plane that crashed in dense fog just after midnight in Toledo, Ohio, in October of 1960.

The aircraft had split apart in the air and my dad had literally fallen from the sky. He landed on the edge of the runway still strapped in his seat, unable to move, his ankle mangled around his footrest. Lying on the dark tarmac, he could hear the frantic screams of the injured passengers around him but was helpless to assist.

So yes, alcohol has always been my friend on airplanes, especially ones over the ocean.

Because after 2 (or 5) glasses of wine, with my headphones firmly attached, I can usually sleep (numb) my way through the worst flights.

For years, this method has worked nicely, although many of these flights I actually don’t remember very well.

Anyway, I’m not drinking booze anymore, so no solace available there.

I switch on one of my favourite Spotify playlists, and start box breathing. This method for stress management often helps me relax my way into sleep if I’m having trouble.

Tom, of course, sleeps like a bear in winter.

Soon after, as the plane continues to careen along above the Atlantic, I hear the ping of a flight attendant's call button.

The passenger next to me, who I have guessed to be a mom dropping her daughter off for Study Abroad in Rome, is reaching forward over the seats and clutching her daughter’s hands. They are both whispering anxiously about the bumpy ride to the flight attendant. I can hear him reassuring them that this kind of turbulence is normal.

Since most of the cabin is sleeping (thank you unlimited mimosas), I hear a few minutes of their murmured conversation and the attendant returns to his seat.

The jet continues to bump and grind, and like my two uneasy neighbours, I don’t like it either. I think to myself, damn, why didn’t I just have the wine? Then I would be sleeping through this shit. But I know it’s just a thought and it soon passes.

Suddenly we LURCH. Big.

Big enough to force the woman to let go of her daughter’s hands and sit back down in her seat, tightening her belt. As she does this she glances over at me and we lock eyes. Mom to Mom. It is hazy in the cabin but we can see each other.

The plane goes rumble, chop, wobble and I can feel her fear humming right alongside mine. I keep breathing. Then I mouth to her, “It’s ok. It’s gonna be ok”. She nods and we keep bouncing, holding our gaze a few more seconds until she reaches back up for her daughter’s hands.

After what feels like a lifetime, the plane settles enough for me to fall into a dream-filled sleep. The next thing I know I am waking to the luscious aroma of coffee in the cabin and breakfast trays being passed. I open my eyes, trying to adjust to the commotion and bright lights. Across the aisle, my neighbour is smiling at me and forking a chunk of melon.

“Good morning,” she says with a tentative smile. “Thank you so much for last night. I was really scared.”

“Good Morning,” I respond, briefly overwhelmed by her kindness. “I’m so glad I was awake and I could help. I hate turbulence too.”

I smiled back at her and then sipped from one of the best cups of coffee I’d ever tasted.

I had faced my fear and survived.

Tammy is from San Diego, California, and is mom and step-mom to 6 wonderful children. Drinking worked for Tammy for years until one day it didn’t. Now she is writing about it and helping inspire others to follow the same path.

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Unknown member
Sep 28, 2022

Oh my goodness Tammy I HATE flying and how funny that I recently went to Italy and had to face my fear sober! I’ve flown 8 times sober now and I still hate it but I think I’ve come to learn that I just need to accept I don’t like it and sit with the uncomfortable feelings of it! Glad that you could be there for the other woman and also very jealous that you slept, I just can’t seem to switch off completely! X

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