On conquering a phobia (sort of)



I have a phobia. Well, I have a few (dentists, for example). The one that’s relevant right now is balloons. I don’t mean I see a balloon and go catatonic or scream or faint. I mean I see a balloon and I have to get it away from me. Hitting it like it’s a game is fine - because it gets punted across the room. If there’s one anywhere near my face, I panic and hit it out of my face. And that’s all.


So what’s the reason for this phobia? I think it’s learnt. When I was small, I played the violin. One day a string snapped and slapped me in the face at about 90 miles an hour. Not happy. Since then, it’s been hard to put things I expect to lash out or generally move\burst\explode\hurt me anywhere near my face.

Skip to the beginning of 2013 and I’m doing archery, which normally entails this piece of kit:



This is a calliper release. It holds the string till you squeeze the trigger there, and then it lets it go for you. Easy. Also, a bit cumbersome (although they’re very popular; a lot of archers do like them). So my instructor suggested this upgrade:



Now this is a vast improvement, I’m thinking. So I try it - and the click it makes right by my face as it ‘primes’ scares the shit out of me to the point that I drop the release (which is on a wrist strap, thankfully) and let go of the bow (also on a finger sling, so I have time to grab it again before it falls too far). The arrow went into the safety wall without my control - a bit of foresight on my instructor’s part, making me stand only 6 feet from the safety wall and targets. And I’m left standing there with one hand on my knee, shaking, sweating and hyperventilating like a shark’s just lurched out of the water by my boat and made a grab at my chum bucket.

Once I’d calmed down, the next three arrows went the same way. I just could not make myself suck it up and get on with waiting for the click just so I could then loose the arrow. I wasn’t in control of when the arrow flew. I had no idea when it was going to fly, and that scared me more than the click. Each time it got worse - I was waiting on the click to freak me out. It’s like when you touch something and get a small static shock that really takes you unawares, so it scares the pogees out of you. Then you’re reluctant to touch it again, because you expect another shock. And a fear is born.

I gave up. I went back to my calliper release and tried to think happy thoughts. But my aim was off and I was still in shock, unable to do something as simple as find the valley at anchor, or in fact line up the sights. I gave it up as a bad job and went home.

For the next few days, if anything moved out of the corner of my eye I jumped about three inches and turned on it, expecting it to be something that would bite me. I shit you not.

The next week I stayed with the calliper release. No other release was mentioned or even alluded to.

Then I had two weeks off. And it went round and round in my head, how I’d taught myself to be scared of the click by my face. How it was just a click, not a scratch or pain or even a touch. It was just a click.

I went back in and after a solid warm-up, asked to see the release. My instructor gladly gave it to me and I spent five minutes just handling it, turning it over and over and playing with the moving parts, trying to get it straight in my head that it was just a back tension release, that it couldn’t hurt me, that the worst thing it could do is click at me. Just that. Just a click. I put it by my ear and flicked it a few times to make it click. It sounded as I remembered, but the fact that I was holding it and making it click made all the difference. I used spare cord as a substitute bow string and watched it work; the click, the tip and release. I did it over and over, watching it. Then I shook it a few times and sniffed it. Ok, I that last sentence was a lie. But I felt like doing that.

When I was satisfied that I knew how it worked and that the science of how it actually released was sound, I felt a lot better. I tried it again - and the click still put me on alert, still made me freak out, but this time it was under control. The arrow went off and actually hit a target and not the safety wall around it. And the best part was, although the loosing was a shock and I was still left breathless like I’d been slapped, I wasn’t anywhere near as badly shaken as I was the first time I’d tried it.

I went back to my usual spot (8 yards - that’s as much room as we have indoors, seeing as we’re in a commercial centre). Getting used to the release took two ends - 24 arrows. Underneath it all was the fact that I wasn’t shooting smoothly, but my instructor told me to just get used to the release and not concentrate on anything too much.

Eventually I was over it - just simply ‘over it’, as if I’d never been freaked out. The click was fine, the release was still a shock every time, but it wasn’t scaring the shit out of me. In fact, it was exciting. Whoever said there’s a fine line between horror and adrenaline-highs was right. The biggest rush was the fact that I was back in control of when the arrow flew. And there’s no beating that - not for me, a control freak.

A few more ends and I was back in control of where the arrow went, and a few ends later I was practically back to where I had been before, with the calliper release. My instructor was a very happy chap, but I think I was much closer to exploding with my mahoosive sense of achievement.

And after all that? After saying I wasn’t happy with how I’d finished, with how poorly I’d done, he pointed out that not one of my arrows - all lesson - had been outside the yellow. My argument was that I wasn’t on the spider once, not even in the inner circle. His argument? They were all in the yellow.



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