November 21, 2022

the silliest, but also very real, phobia

The Polish film poster for E.T.

A lot of things scare me, but the image/thing that has dominated my fearscape the most: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. While not so common in an anecdotal or everyday way, you can find some recounting of the fear online. I relate intensely to what my fellow E.T.-phobics describe:

My phobia is generally not believed, but if you ever got to see it in action, there were obvious, completely uncontrollable, physiological responses that I would have to seeing an image of E.T.

Separately, I've been working on my panic and fear responses in therapy, and have been undergoing EMDR. To my surprise, in recent weeks, I've learnt and felt how something that once induced a panic reaction inside of me could be reprocessed and experienced differently, even neutrally.

So, this weekend, I watched E.T. for the first time in a very long time; cuddled up with Peter, the puppy, a full bowl of popcorn, all the lights on—and, though the beginning triggered all of the psychotic fear responses it always does, I pushed through it, and it went really, really well (★‿★)

The drunk scene was really good for challenging my fear. Watching E.T. stumble around drunk made me realize that ET has in fact been living in our home: 

E.T. with fur, no?

After the movie came to its heartwarming conclusion, we also put on Heartlight by Neil Diamond, which matches the movie in its warmth, but without the images and movie magic that creeped me out in the first place. (Fun fact: Diamond had to pay Universal $25k for copyright infringement when he released this song.)

And something that's been floating around the internet recently was the E.T. 40th reunion that was filmed for Drew Barrymore's talk show. I really love the vignette about Steven Spielberg hiring two people to keep E.T. alive at all times on set, so that Barrymore could continue talking and interacting with E.T. whether or not they were filming. Realizing the great comfort, love, and friendship a child actually felt for him helped me adjust how I see the creepy alien glow-goblin.

I do wonder why my phobia became so pronounced. And it occurs to me that I was made to go on the E.T. ride whenever my family went to Universal Studios (context: I grew up in Los Angeles, so this was ~yearly). My phobia was firmly fixed by the time I first went on the ride, so I experienced the line and the ride like a harrowing nightmare over and over again, and was very glad when it was eventually replaced by The Mummy. I wonder if the continual exposure to something that I was very not down with exacerbated things. Here's a recording of the ride someone made in 2000.
I also still remember this smell.

So, IDK, I guess this is how you reprogram a phobia. Face those fears, but face them whenever you feel ready and on your terms 💪👽💪👽💪👽💪👽