An Outlet for the Ache

Lessons learned from a speeding ticket

Jan 26, 2023

Life Lessons Self-Care Self-Awareness Mental Health
side view mirror of car driving in woods

Photo by Dave Poore

It's 8:30 pm on a Monday in December. I'm driving home from an ASL class at a local community college. Thankfully it's not snowing, but the back-country roads of this neighboring town close to my house aren't streetlight-friendly, so I'm eager to get home and out of the pitch black. Hunger pains are also causing me to go faster than I should. But truth be told, I've picked up the terrible habit of speeding lately. Periodically my conscience would pipe up and remind me to slow down, but over time it got easier to ignore her and justify my actions. Bad habits cement themselves through confirmation bias.

I saw him from a distance drive toward me from the other side and I panicked. Not another car in sight; I was the only target. I took my foot off the gas, shouting "no" repeatedly as if that would rewind time, but it was too late. As soon as he passed me going in the opposite direction, I knew it would lead to a ticket. I saw him make a U-turn in my rearview mirror as I began to slow down. The red and blue lights were glaring in the dark of the night. I pulled over, something I hadn't planned to do today when I woke up.

Nature of offense: "55 mph in a 30 mph zone." Not my proudest moment. It wasn't so much the ticket that upset me, but more so that I had broken my streak. 21 years of driving, zero tickets. Did that mean I was a great driver? Not necessarily. I had made plenty of illegal U-turns in my day, failed to use my blinker or make full stops at stop signs, the occasional freeway exit at the last minute. But it seems for the most part, it was the luck of the draw that kept me from getting pulled over. Until that Monday in December.

I should have seen it coming. In many ways, it was inevitable. My husband had been giving me friendly-turned-concerned-turned-frustrated warnings for months leading up to that day. Reminding me to slow down, drive more carefully, not speed. I listened, but didn't adhere, clearly. Unfortunately, some lessons we can't learn until we suffer, slightly or greatly. I didn't see then how exasperation could make its way from your heart to your arms to your fingertips and then leap onto the steering wheel.

2022 had been good in so many ways. Our first home, meeting our new neighbors, hosting family from out-of-state, physical health, jobs that paid well. But sprinkled in-between - like life - were difficult challenges that tested our perseverance, among other things. Some expected and others not. Adjustments that took a toll. Struggles with our dog's behavior. Marital arguments. The loneliness that can come from starting over somewhere new, yet again.

The body cradles so much pain. Unwillingly, it becomes a container for all of the emotional damage we have experienced. We use it to lock up what is too heavy to face and throw away the key. Choosing to walk around weighed down by resentment, anger, hopelessness - all of heartbreak's kin, instead of heal. After all, bitterness is so much easier than saying 'I'm sorry.' 

I found myself in a place like this as the year trudged along. And unbeknownst to me, it had begun to manifest in my driving. The painful emotions that had built up in me found an outlet. Not a good one, admittedly, but one that fit the need nonetheless. This is a good place to mention that I had also been going to therapy during this time.

Sometimes, it seems, we need multiple outlets, so heavy is the ache.

Our bodies are constantly communicating with us, sending us signals meant to get us to pay attention. And we silly humans divert that attention onto shinier things, so easily distracted. Buying a new toy or making travel plans are far more appealing than going to our first counseling appointment. And the longer we go without listening to the signals, the louder they become. Thankfully, in my case, it didn't get as loud as an accident.

But there is another piece to this that's important — control. When we lack control in one area (or more) of our life, we attempt to take control in others to make up for it. Often these other areas are ones that are harmed as a result of our "overcontrol." Case in point, my speeding habit. Because I felt I lacked control in parts of my life, I subconsciously began overcontrolling my driving. The wheel was in my control. In the small world of my car, I created a place I felt powerful, in charge. Here, at least, I could steer in any direction I pleased, with the destination—predictable, my choosing. It felt like a mini-escape from the problems I faced. And often, we can do with minis. 

Reflecting back on that Monday, the red and blue lights saved me from a potentially more fatal consequence. The ticket humbled me in ways I didn't anticipate. It felt like a loving, but stern, nudge from God letting me know it was time to let go and let Jesus take the wheel, literally. God often has a funny sense of humor, even when He disciplines. It was the wake-up call that I needed to start paying more attention—to the road and to my life. 

The drive back home that day was the slowest I had driven in a long time. And gradually, that slowness began cascading into my thoughts and my inner emotional state, forcing me to decelerate and resolve what I thought I could speed through. In as little as a few weeks, I found myself less tense and more present.

It's astonishing what taking our foot off the gas, literally and hypothetically, can do for our soul.

Maybe driving is the perfect metaphor for life and the same rules apply:

-do not harm while driving

-do not operate while intoxicated

-look in the rearview mirror but don't keep your gaze there

-turn on your emergency lights when in trouble

-look out at the beautiful scenery every now and then

-hit the brakes when there's an obstruction

-listen to your passengers but don't let them call the shots

-use a GPS ("God Please Steer") when you don't know the way

-avoid dead-end roads

-when your favorite song comes on, dance like no one's watching; and finally

-pull into a rest area when you need a break

Because you will. And the longer the drive, the more breaks will be necessary. Otherwise, you might find yourself shouting "no" repeatedly, hoping to rewind time.