People who don't know me very well might not know that I used to be a wooager. I mean full-on, hardcore, drunk-the-Kool-Aid woo. I grew up in Northern California - I think it's something in the water there. They add it along with the flouride. Seriously though, if it was magical or occult, I believed in it. I read palms and tarot cards, I believed in ghosts, I was absolutely positive that I could tell the future, had a psychic connection with certain people, and even had some minor influence over the elements. I still have my magic amulet - a small leather bag that I made myself, to wear around my neck and carry magic items, symbols, and the physical representations of my guiding totem spirits. I blame that last one on the Clan of the Cave Bear book and the white, middle-class guilt that is so prevalent in liberal areas like the California Bay Area. Oh, and I could psychically command my dog. Sometimes.
It pains me just to write this all down, before I've posted it and before any of ya'll can read it.
Now, losing one's faith rarely actually happens in a single moment, or even on a single day. Usually, there is a long time and many instances leading up to the final step, and usually quite a few remnants hanging around in the brain like cobwebs to be dusted out for some time afterwards. Sometimes that final step isn't even noticeable as distinct from the others, so that the loss of faith feels more like a gradual fade. But sometimes it is an actual turning point, a moment when everything changes, a "click" in the brain, a lightbulb turning on. Mine was just such an event.
One of my "psychic powers" was the ability to tell when something out of the ordinary was going to happen to me before it did. Now, I had a very good education - I even was enrolled in the smart-kids program at my school, what we called Gifted And Talented Education. And in our GATE classes, where they took us geeks out of regular classes once a week and dumped us all together, all grades, into a single room, we learned about stuff that the rest of the school didn't - we covered art and music and history, and yes, critical thinking.
And yet, I managed to make it all the way to adulthood with very good logic skills and a deep internal sense of skepticism, but a shocking lack of critical thinking skills. In fact, my GATE program had an entire section on ESP and UFOs, from a completely credulous standpoint. I value the city planning section and the American Sign Language section and the "how to write instructions for complete idiots" section (otherwise known as communication & lessons in assumptions in writing), and also the day we dissected a cow's brain. But c'mon, UFOs and ESP? As reality? I wasn't equipped to tell the good lessons from the bunk at that time, creationist senator's beliefs of kid's abilities notwithstanding.
So I didn't have the tools to understand probability, particularly with respect to just how ordinary "out of the ordinary" actually is. I didn't understand logical fallacies or cognitive flaws like confirmation bias. I didn't know how to ask the types of questions that yielded realistic answers. When you start with faulty premises, you will get faulty conclusions, even if your logic is sound.
So, when my stomach started to flutter, and I started to get a little nauseated, and I became hyper-aware of my surroundings, I thought that I was having a premonition and that something unusual would happen to me soon. I had no idea that when you go anamolie hunting, unlike deer hunting, you are pretty much guaranteed to bag one and bring it home.
Finally, I made it to my mid-twenties. I met a guy who seemed so incredibly in synch with me that I just knew it couldn't be coincidence. I mean, we could read each other's minds! I could have a thought and he could say it out loud before I even opened my mouth! Given my past experience with psychic phenomena, this was totally possible (I thought), but it was kind of spooky just how tight our psychic connection seemed to be!
Then I took him home to meet my family for the holidays. I have never been a really big fan of air travel, but as a kid, I was mostly OK about it. I can read pretty much anywhere, and I can sleep pretty much anywhere, and I can also hold the contents of my bladder for a frighteningly long time. But as I got older, I got more and more bothered by riding in airplanes. Again with the lack of grasping statistics (I could calculate them in my head back then, but I didn't quite grok them, if you know what I mean - I didn't understand their implications), I became more and more uncomfortable at being out of control as a passenger in an airplane. I also started to develop motion sickness that I never had growing up, but I didn't recognize that for what it was until years later.
We boarded the plane and got our luggage stowed away and I sat down in my seat. Suddenly, I was overcome with heat, and that familiar stomach-flopping sensation tripped in my mid-section. I started to sweat and tremble and I could swear that I could hear the creaking of the joints in the plane.
I was going to die.
This flight would be my last and my parents would be waiting for me at the airport, only to be greeted by the news of the death of their eldest daughter. I could see my fate as clearly as if I were watching it on a movie screen. There was going to be a malfunction in the plane and it was going to fall out of the sky. I was going to die.
I jumped out of my seat and started speaking really fast and low "I have to get off I have to get out this plane is going to crash I can't be here I need to leave I have to get off the plane ohgodohgodohgodIhavetogetoff ..." My then-boyfriend tried to calm me down and asked what was wrong. I explained that I was having one of my premonitions and my premonitions were never wrong. He offered to let me up and we would miss the flight together if that was what I wanted to do.
That made me pause. What if I was wrong? I will have missed the flight, I will have lost all that money on the tickets, and I will look incredibly stupid to everyone who finds out why I got off that plane. But, if I'm right, I'll die.
I took a deep breath and decided to stay on the plane. Then I promptly put my head in my lap and cried. And I prayed. I prayed with all my heart to whatever benevolent deities were listening to please deliver me safely. The lady on the other side of me asked my boyfriend if I was alright. He told her that I get motion sick but that I would be fine. I cried and I mumbled to myself - to the powers that be - and rocked in my seat, absolutely positive that these would be my last thoughts on this earth and that I wouldn't be able to tell my parents that I loved them one last time. That is pretty much always my "final" thoughts before my impending demise. I've had more than one brush with death, and that's always the last thing I think before realizing that I'm actually going to survive.
As you can probably guess because you're reading this now, I did not, in fact, die in that plane crash. I meditated myself to sleep (a trick I learned years prior to combat my sleep disorder), and when I woke up, I felt an embarrassment so deep, that I don't think I had ever been that embarrassed before ... except for maybe the time I wet my pants in elementary school because I wanted ice cream from the ice cream truck and my dad didn't want to go out and get it for me, so I chose to wait in line at the truck instead of going to the bathroom and I didn't get either the ice cream or the bathroom.
The sureity that I was going to die had completely lifted by the time I woke up. My premonition was wrong! They're never wrong! Or, were they? Really, how many times had I had those premonitions? And how many times were they actually true? And out of those times, how many of those "out of the ordinary" events were really out of the ordinary? I mean, they were unusual, but how often does unusual really happen to people?
That day, I came face to face with the realization that my magic powers were gone ... or, more likely, I had never had them in the first place. Once I started to question the supernatural events in my life, I had to question them all because they were all connected. I was wrong. I had no magic powers. Magic powers didn't exist.
As I said before, the loss of faith is rarely an isolated event. I mentioned reading palms and tarot cards. I did that until I studied with a psychic medium in Lake Tahoe back in high school. I'll tell that whole story another time, but the punchline is that she told me outright that the cards and the palms are not where the truth lies. The cards and palms are merely a distraction, something for the client to focus on. What she reads is people, and the cards keep the people from realizing that she is just reading them. But learning that lesson still didn't teach me that magic wasn't real. It just told me that magic might not be exactly what I thought it was.
After the plane incident, I started questioning other things. Another story for another time is how I found out that my "psychic" boyfriend and his amazing mind-reading ability was really more computer-magic than mind-magic and that he was just spying on my internet use. But I discovered that because of the plane incident. Once I started questioning, I started finding answers. Once I no longer took magic as a given, but started insisting on evidence for it, I started to see reality.
I also learned what a "panic attack" was and discovered that I probably just had an anxiety attack and that all my "premonitions" were just anxiety that led to me post hoc-ing so-called "unusual occurrances" as the predicted event. Now that I know what anxiety attacks are and what to look for, I have only had 1 since, and I was able to get it under control fairly easily, and I have been able to keep the early tremors of anxiety from blossoming into full-blown anxiety attacks by better understanding what is happening to me. Knowing the reality of my problem led me to solutions that actually work to help me manage it, rather than allowing it to run my life.
I have to say that losing my magic powers was a boon I never would have thought it could be. If you had told me as a teenager that I would lose my magic powers and asked me how I felt about that, I would have been horrified. That would mean that I'm not special anymore, that there isn't anything about me that sets me apart from everyone else, or that makes me better than those lowlife assholes that I was hoping I could use my magic on in retaliation if I could just develop it enough. Life would be ordinary, and then there would be no hope for extraordinary. If this was all I was, then this was all I ever could be.
But I didn't understand what "this" really was. I didn't understand the sheer majesty of it all. I didn't understand how much more potential I had without my magic powers; how special I really was, how unique, and yes, how much better I was than those assholes who used to beat the crap out of me. I wanted to be connected to something greater than myself. I had no idea just how great was the "greater than" that I was really connected to. The daydreams of a bullied, frustrated, impotent, awkward teenager paled in comparison to the reality before me, just waiting to be discovered. Don't get me wrong, I still daydream of being able to fly, of knowing what is inside the heads of other people, and of justice being doled out to the assholes of the world. I still think the world would be more awesome if I could do all those things. But I no longer underestimate just how awesome the universe is without them. And I no longer underestimate just how awesome I am without them either.
That was the day I lost my magic powers, but the day I gained something much more powerful. That was the day the blind became sighted and I was granted access to the universe.