Hi, I'm Elizabeth and I'm a honk-aholic

For Lent, I gave up honking my horn at other drivers. Had I known how difficult this would be, I would have given up something more hip like single origin coffee. Or gruyere cheese. But no, I chose No Honking because, well, honking has become something of a problem for me.

I am a gratuitous honker. A honker for all seasons and reasons. I honk pre-emptively and post-emptively. Heck, migrating geese don’t honk as much as I do. Hi, I’m Elizabeth and I’m a honk-aholic.

Something needed to change and Lent seemed like a good time to address this bad habit.

Truth is, I needed a more challenging Lent this year, something closer to the path I’m walking—a path I call “spiritual sobriety.” This way of living means I don’t get to take the easy way out anymore and it requires a combination of rigorous honesty and daily accountability.

The first week without honking was the worst. I just couldn’t stop. My hand kept darting to the horn involuntarily—Father, forgive me I know not what I do—which is to say, I failed a lot before I started making progress. Little by little, though, my honks decreased.

I went from repeated blasts to one-tap-toots to half-strangled-beeps. But it wasn’t easy. I wanted to quit my fast every time I got in the car. This was a Lenten fast for hermits! monks! saints!—not sweaty, frazzled mothers of five just trying to get to the library before it closes because OF COURSE MY KIDS DIDN’T TELL ME ABOUT THEIR BIG SCHOOL PROJECT UNTIL THE NIGHT BEFORE IT WAS DUE. Breaking up with honking felt impossible! But why? WHY was it so hard?

The epiphany came slowly. I began to realize that normal, healthy people honked occasionally—only for a “good reason” or an “emergency.” But for a honk-aholic like me, every honk was for a “good reason” and every reason was an “emergency.” Healthy people might be able to honk without a problem. I, on the other hand, I couldn’t honk without honking myself into full-blown road rage. It was better that I abstained altogether.

The second epiphany was when I discovered that honking rarely changed things anyway. Basically, people were going to drive however they were going to drive regardless of whether I blasted my horn in their ear. This was especially true about my biggest peeve: waiting behind drivers who were looking at their cell phones when the light turned green. I’d always, ALWAYS honked in this situation. Now that I couldn’t, I was shocked to discover that even without honking, the distracted driver eventually realized the light had changed and started moving. My horn didn’t control other people’s behavior? WHAT A REVELATION.

The more I practiced not honking, the more I realized that even if other people were driving badly, I didn’t have to react. Who knew? Apparently, there were other options like:

  1. Go around the bad driver
  2. Slow down
  3. Relax until whatever had annoyed me was over—usually about five seconds later. Most of the time, all I had to do was wait. Aye, there’s the rub. Waiting.

Since when had I become convinced that waiting 5 seconds was absolutely IMPOSSIBLE?

To my honk-aholic mind, waiting wasn’t just an inconvenience; it was unfair, unjust. It was PERSECUTION! During the third week of Lent, I began to wonder if my my addiction to honking was actually an addiction to punishment. Startling other drivers with my horn is a kind of punishment, isn’t it? I mean, when someone honks at me I always gasp or jump in my seat. So why did I do this to others?

Herein lies the crux of my whole addiction to honking: a deep-seated belief that I—and everyone else—deserve punishment.

I grew up in a high-demand religious environment where our beliefs were used as punishment against others and ourselves. We believed we were inherently wicked, vile creatures and that God’s love for us was conditional. But despite rejecting that theology long ago, this year's Lenten fast has reminded me how much it still impacts my life today—like while driving.

In many ways, punishing other drivers for their bad driving is also a way of punishing myself. Honking is just another way of saying there’s no room for mistakes, there’s no room to be human, we have to get it right all the time, we have to explode off the starting line as soon as the light turns green.

The unexpected grace, though, was that the more I didn’t honk my horn, the more I became aware of how often others didn’t honk at me—even when I “deserved” it.

Basically, refraining from using my horn taught me the power of pausing, of giving others a break. It’s ok—in fact, it’s good—for us to slow down. Indeed, if we are to break any kind of bad habit, the first thing we have to do is become aware that it’s a problem and then, learn to pause after we experience the urge to engage it.

By the end of Lent, the practice of abstaining from honking had created many moments for self-reflection. After each Urge To Honk, so to speak, I had the opportunity to reflect on why I wanted/needed to use my horn. Most of the time it was because I hated being inconvenienced and viewed minor delays as a personal affront. In a lot of ways, I worshiped at the altar of Convenience. When other drivers inconvenienced me, I had a RIGHT to lean on my horn because they deserved to know they were bad, bad drivers! I hated waiting and I especially hated it when OTHER PEOPLE made me wait. If had to be inconvenienced, it better be on MY terms!

How silly of me. Couldn’t I see that most of the time I honked at someone it just made them angry and more likely to flip me off? And didn’t this make me even more offended and more likely to speed up, try to pass/cut them off so I could arrive at the next stoplight a whole 2.5 seconds before they did? Why not just chill out?

This is what I’ve learned: how I drive is a reflection of how I live my life.

How I drive is not an isolated, compartmentalized area of my behavior. In many ways, my integrity (or lack thereof, ha!) is mirrored back to me every time I honk my horn, every time I cut someone off, every time I yell at another driver to pay attention.

My Lenten fast provided a convicting and humbling view of my impatient, often emotionally volatile behavior. And it also provided me with the opportunity to change it.

 The catch is that life—and traffic!—is just so LIFE-Y sometimes. It helps to remember that life is this way for everyone—not just me. Everyone has problems and struggles and character defects. We are all just human. It’s good to give ourselves and other people a break, to lay off the horn and be hospitable.

As for me and my horn, we are giving it a rest. And not just until Easter, either. To practice my spiritual sobriety I won't be honking for the rest of the year. Oh, I’m still a honk-aholic. But I’m a sober honk-aholic. A dry honker, if you will.

Hi, I’m Elizabeth and if you need to change lanes, I’ll let you in.

Elizabeth EstherComment