Enough.

Standard
Enough.

Pretty much everyone who is getting sober or overcoming an addiction will talk of the battle waged over the long term before there is any sign of peace, of even a glimmer of success. Much like the Leunig cartoon, there are ups and downs as the journey progresses, such as in life.

leunig up and down life

Imagine though the lows gradually deepening, the highs becoming less frequent and you have a picture of a descent into problematic, dispirited living. Combine this with everyday stresses and pressures nice brew for dependency on one or other of the many legal, acceptable substances conveniently awash in our society. Support for chemical support is constant, unwavering.

We have all known the day from hell when wine o’ clock cannot arrive fast enough; the weekend when it’s never too early; the party where it’s never enough. This is the normal face of booze, and it is, it can be, fun. Unless you are one of the unlucky ones who like it just a little sooner, a little more.

The day comes, whether with a loudspeaker, billboard and fireworks, or simply with a shrug and a sigh, when the drawing of the line is no longer optional. This is the day where the presence – or not – of support will make the difference between stumbling and soaring.

Embarrassingly, I can think of at least two occasions in the past where I have proclaimed, even written down, “This is the first day of the rest of my life.” Thank god, the audience began and ended with myself (until now). I have shameful memories going back decades, times when I knew that for some reason, I was unable to join in like normal people. Oh how I wasted time longing to be one of them.

The difference this time is in the planning. Not the kind researched from books though, plotted methodically on a to-do list. Rather the organic, authentic, learn-the-hard-way kind. In between the extremes, and sometimes during them, I have gradually amassed a collection of resources I can tap into depending on mood or need.

I will share these soon in a new section on the blog in case the things that work for me might work for others. That however is the nub: what helps me will not help everyone. It is crucial to remember that it is a journey, a process and each is as uniquely different as we are. 

There are, frequently, still times where the only choice feels like opting out; climbing into bed on a mockingly sunny day and sleeping until the hard feelings pass. I am incredibly grateful to have a reason, three actually, who make this impossible. (They should have been a reason against dependency too, sadly it doesn’t work like that…)

Those days, conversation remains at a high level, the smile plastered on while I interact in shops, welcoming chores, revelling in the basic requirements of living. The need for food, for clean clothes, for bags packed and unpacked, somehow satisfies the huge part of me that needs to be needed. I have achieved, by simple means I have kept going. There need be no depth, no soul baring, no breaking down. On those days I fake it till I look like I’m making it and remind myself it is only one day. That is enough. I am enough.

enough bb

Faith and hope

Standard
Faith and hope

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about hope. Having hope makes us human. Gives us reason to get up in the morning, hoping that the sun is shining and that today will be a good day.

We are encouraged to hope throughout life, hoping we get this teacher or that, that we get a spot on the team, a part in a play. We go on hoping for many things: a good job, nice friends, invitations to parties, pregnancy, promotion, recognition, fame, fortune, a luxury home, a safe home, the ability to make good choices, feel comfortable in our own skin, be appreciated, be loved.

It is perhaps central to life that we have hope.  But in order to have hope we need to have the belief that our hopes might come to pass. So we need to have faith. Faith gives substance to aspirations, allows us to believe in our dreams.

Faith isn’t always placed naturally or obviously. It is hard sometimes to know where to rest your soul. When it feels as though the world is demanding more than you can give it is especially so.

Some people, perhaps enviably, have an unshakable religious faith. This certain belief in someone being there through good and bad must bring strength. And comfort when that strength falters.

Some have faith in the universe; in forces beyond the realm of understanding but perhaps present nonetheless.

Faith in our family and friends, our practices, our ideas are paramount. The knowledge that people have our back, are in our corner, are rooting gives us confidence, gives us hope.

More than anything though we need to maintain faith in ourselves. We need to believe in our value, our worth. No-one else can give us the ability to say ‘I am great, just as I am.’ (Unless you are Bridget Jones in which case Mark Darcy seems to get close.) In this digital age, no number of likes or clicks or shares can equal the moment when we hold our head high with love.

This is so often what depression robs us of – remembering that. Faith and hope can get bound-up, buried so deeply beneath a blanket of fear, memories of past failures, guilt, remorse, indecision, self-consciousness, that it becomes an endless cycle of negativity from which emergence feels impossible.

But there are moments when the impossible recedes, the fog clears and our eyes are bright. These are the moments to hang on to, to file away and revisit. They form a kind of internal library and if we cherish them they can become building blocks, a staircase by which to haul ourselves out.

step ladder

Thank you to my wonderful friend Heidi for sending this picture featuring the amazing work of Nathan Sawaya. She knows me well. (I wish I’d been there to view it with you.) The caption reads:   ‘Sometimes when you’re looking for a step-up you don’t have to look any further than yourself. We’re all capable of more than we think.’

First Step

Standard

one step

In taking on Dry July this year I thought I would give myself an easy intro to change. The idea was that by making myself accountable to others my path to sobriety would be smooth (ish). I chose not to tell people that the month was just the beginning of a longer term plan, a pretty radical plan to alter my lifestyle in a big way.

What I perhaps misjudged about Dry July was the obvious – there was an end point. That I haven’t been guzzling wine in celebration of the month of August seems to have surprised some people.

In an important way the first month helped; it reminded I can do it, I am strong. But I have been here before (not least for three pregnancies) and it has never taken long for the sensible couple of glasses I have gradually allowed myself to creep up to being too much, too often.

I have long known that the medication I take for mental health was negated by alcohol consumption. It has felt like a chicken and egg scenario for the last couple of years, my moods lurching between highs and lows often depending on chemistry. This has affected every element of my life, little, or none of it, positive.

I need to try and create a blank slate where I can rest easy in the knowledge that I am doing my best for me, my family and my future.

The last week has been tough. I haven’t had the safety net of Dry July to catch me; I have understood the concept of ‘one day at a time’. On top of dealing with this it has rained and rained, our car has broken (badly it transpires), my husband is enduring upheaval at work. It has been seriously ‘meh’. Managing cravings while looking after children is hard work. It hasn’t been pretty. But we’re through it. I’m looking forward to next week.

Yesterday, for the first time I admitted that I have ‘management issues’ with alcohol to a friend I haven’t seen for ages. Her beautiful reaction has given me encouragement to be honest, to own and accept this part of myself that I am beginning to realise I am stuck with.

For a long time I felt like I was waiting to hit rock bottom when in reality I was already scraping along it. I am grateful to have the support and resources to embark on the upward journey.

dandelion stages

Self-preservation. Motivation. Determination.

Standard

it is what it is

I have written before about the difficulty I have with change. Actually, my difficulty lies more in the prospect of change. When it happens and I have no choice but to adapt I am quite good at it. I like to put my ‘get on with it’ attitude down to the example and advice of my mum, one of the strongest and compassionate women I know.

Life just now is tumultuous. My two closest friends, with whom I shared kids suppers, gossip, glasses of wine and advice have both recently moved away. This is the reality of living in an expat community. We ‘outsiders’ tend to band together but acknowledge that at any point our strong, swiftly made but tenuous bonds will be broken. I dreaded them leaving. Put off numerous tasks as I tried to prepare. Drank far more wine than I ought to have to dull the reality.

But now I’m here and, rather than wallowing and wrapping myself away I am turning outward, facing what might come next. I am taking a long break from reliance on wine, setting foundations down in yoga, healthy choices, compassion towards myself instead.

We all have an image, a reputation. Sometimes they are hard won, the result of dedicated practice towards a chosen goal. Sometimes they are simply the result of non-decision. Of going with the flow of bad habits ingrained for decades. The work begins in choosing the former over the latter. Oftentimes the decision is obvious; to the outside world it might be a ‘finally’ she got there. Other times though the world might not be aware of quite how much of a struggle has gone into committing to the decision in the first place.

How much we share can affect our motivation. And how determined we are can be driven by sticks and carrots. Positive reinforcement is paramount. Enjoying our decision is crucial in order to maintain the new habit.

Through yoga I am meeting inspirational people who I know are going to positively influence my life. I sometimes wonder why I didn’t get here sooner. I make sure to remind myself it’s all a journey. As one of my lovely friends puts it, sometimes a situation “is what it is” and we simply have to embrace the next step on the path. Employing self-preservation, motivation and determination.

I can

If in doubt, read.

Standard

reading cartoonFor as long as I can remember I have had a book in my hand. I got into trouble at my first school (which I left when I was seven) for refusing to come inside after break time because I was adamant that the book I was reading was more beneficial than the lesson to which I was being sent. (I agree, what a precocious little shit I sound!)

So I moved school and the wonderful Mr Maxwell agreed that books probably superseded the requirement for another felt-covered calendar and homemade pompom. I remember us reading 101 Dalmatians in class and my adoration was established.

I would class reading as my first love and it is my enduring solace to this day. I have read for work and pleasure, racking up mountainous bills in book shops along the way. A friend of mine recently suggested that I become the founding member of ‘Book-buyers anonymous,’ such is the seriousness of my habit. I admit, I have probably only read two thirds of the books I own. What a dreadful admission but I see a book and worry that if I don’t buy it to read in the future I’ll forget it and perhaps never come across it again and my life would be much the worse for it.

I do use the library, but the librarians in my local one are so grim and grumpy I can’t bear it. Even when they are issuing me with a stonking great fine they don’t so much as smirk. I don’t understand it, if I was surrounded by books all day I don’t think I could help but be happy and they mope around as it the world is ending and all the visitors are simply a nuisance.

We moved house recently. It has taken weeks and weeks for us to get even half sorted out. My feelings when getting back after being out were apathetic verging on the downright miserable. So I unpacked some books. I feel better just for walking into the room and seeing them there. Knowing escape is possible. I find whatever else might be happening, if I am in need of succour, laughter or just plain and simple distraction, I will find it on my shelves – or for now the floor, but who cares where they are kept, just so long as they are there.

My best comfort reads – not all are necessarily happy, warm or fuzzy but all of these have the ability to utterly absorb me, which is what I deem as comfort from books.

  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows (just the most uplifting and gorgeously pitched book, love love love)
  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamond Pilcher (If I tell my mum I am re-reading this she asks what’s happened…)
  • The Dust that Falls from Dreams – Louis de Bernieres (longing for the next in the series, such characters)
  • How to break your own Heart – Maggie Alderson (just for the wonderful friend Amelia makes when she goes it alone)
  • The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit – J R R Tolkein (if you want to escape you can’t beat this journey)
  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck (near perfect writing, near perfect characterisation, devastating story)
  • Atonement – Ian McEwen (ditto)
  • The Hand that First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell (I love O’Farrell, her characters are just so so real)
  • A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett (one of my earliest favourites)
  • Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian (possibly favourite children’s book, I could read this 100 times and still enjoy it)
  • Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte (oh that scene with the window….)
  • The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins (engrosses me every time even though I know the twists and turns)
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy (nothing like reading about someone whose life really is utterly doomed to make you feel a bit better!
  • Inspector Rebus books – Ian Rankin (though these can have the opposite effect in eliciting homesickness)

reading quote

 

Stop the ride, I want to get off.

Standard

change-ahead-sign

Do you ever wish you could press the pause button on time? We are all familiar with the pace of life increasing, the distractions becoming more intense, insistent. Especially at a junction in the road, a new beginning, to have some breathing space would be wonderful.

I’m not good with change. I used to be known when I was little for going into a ‘dwam’ in difficult situations. The closest equivalent meaning of this old Scots word is daydream but it is more often employed to describe inertia caused by the pain of indecision.  Like a metaphorical pulling of the duvet over your head in fear of being found out as a failure or fraud.

Having children means not having the luxury of this sort of checking out. However tricky things get food still need to be provided, little bodies and clothes washed.

Arriving at a significant milestone in the family journey presents a major challenge; my head longs to escape but my hands must stay busy. My youngest will start school in less than a month. There is no question of readiness or age-appropriateness; he will be six in April. His two brothers are four and two years ahead of him, he has been in and out of the school for as long as he can remember and will be starting with other younger siblings in the same position. He is bright and inquisitive, confident and kind, qualities that will stand him in great stead in the classroom and playground.

Despite knowing all of this I am dreading it. I will miss him. More than that, I will miss the stage of my life that has seen me more sleep-deprived than a student cramming for finals, less concerned than I have ever been in terms of my appearance. I I’m sure I have said it before and it’s perhaps no more pc now than it was then but I like being defined by my role of Mum. I enjoy being needed. Motherhood is the most challenging and rewarding occupation I have ever found myself lucky to be in. It brings with it soul-searing responsibility and often a feeling of utter terror about the world and the minefield of hazards our little ones will have to negotiate but I wouldn’t chance it for anything.

My oldest is experimenting with a new attitude attitude, trying the bolshy pre-teen exterior on for size. This of course is massively exaggerated with in the company of his peers and I mourn the loss of the innocence, the uncomplicated way of seeing the world when ‘owies’ could be fixed with a chocolate button and everyone was a friend. It will of course be only a matter of time before his little brother feels the same and knowing this sets up a kind of mourning for that which I am yet to lose.

My youngest has always been tactile and cuddly and still is for now. He is possessed of a wicked little sense of humour, seeing the world in a whacky and refreshing way; is happily dancing his way through life. With exactly three weeks until school I plan to dance the steps with him, spend as much time bolstering his precious personality and engaging with his wonder as I can for before you can say ‘uniform’, as people have said to me, I won’t know myself.

falling-big-1

Painfully precious times

Standard
Try a seven year old...

Try a seven year old…

You assume you will remember every moment because it just seems impossible that you won’t. Each night when you watch them sleeping it feels as though you have never seen anything more perfect, marvelling again at their nails, eyelashes, breaths. This doesn’t seem to diminish; I am as incredulous when I look at my nine year old sleeping as I was when he was a newborn.

Knowing that one day it will be unseemly and probably inappropriate to stand and stare at them as they sleep I wonder if I should take some pictures. There is no hesitation after all when they are babies; they are snapped in our every idea of a compromising position – legs akimbo in the bathtub, messily slurping spaghetti, wearing a fetching cardboard box as a hat- you name the activity I’ll bet it’s been set down in digital history.

This morning I looked at my littlest lying top to tail with my husband and mourned the fact that one day he would be as big, as hairy, as manly as his dad.

Going by the fact that my love is as strong as it ever was I suppose it is safe to assume it will always be so. So perhaps it is grieving the lessening dependence on me. The way my suggestions of outfit, news topic or game are rebuffed, rebuked even.

My nine year old now casually comes up sideways on and leans into me, his body language belying his coolness. It is all he allows himself, but it is something. My middle one enjoys the game we play at school drop off when I try to catch him for a kiss and he skips out of reach. I have learnt to enjoy the game itself though for it’s own intimate joke between us. He though appears every night in our bed, climbing in so stealthily that we fail to wake, until he belts one of us in the tummy with his starfish ways.

Sam de Brito, whose column was a highlight of my weekend, wrote last weekend on co-sleeping (http://www.smh.com.au/national/sam-de-brito-my-baby-in-bed-20151006-gk261i). Though sleep quality would no doubt improve and cricked necks would be fewer, it will pain me beyond belief when my boys truly grow out of coming to snuggle in our bed. To echo a fantastic journalist lost too soon, especially for his little girl, I find the semi-wakeful cuddle is when I feel more a mother, “more human, than any other time in my day.” Cherish these precious times, live fully in the present, live well. RIP Sam de Brito.

imagesbaby-sleep-positions2

Time is Big

Standard

time-quotes-6

Sophia Loren is credited with saying “When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.” So what happens when child becomes children, then another one joins them, and your husband is working so hard he relies on you, whether he admits it or not, to get to that office every day in clean clothes and with enough energy to sustain the pressure he is no doubt under?

Before long, if you are not careful (assuming you manage to add in the thinking required for that), your own thoughts are buried so deep under those about your family, along with the corresponding pile of laundry and lists of things to do just to keep the household functioning, you forget they are even there. The hamster wheel becomes all, habitual; movement simply from one meal or load of washing to the next, chores interspersed with good intentions to nag, cajole and even pay the tribe of dependants to help before giving up and doing it yourself.

How others saw you, what you were or perhaps still are away from the cauldron, prior to becoming this provider of everything domestic bears no relevance when you are in the midst of family dinner time (very important for social skills, after all, where else will they perfect their aim of the pea-into-cup move, the hilarity of show-me-your-gobful-of-masticated-pasta-and-I’ll-show-you-mine? Just my family? Right.). The warm fuzzy glow of preparing a beautiful dinner (or more likely the hot flush from a G&T drunk while stirring the failure of a sauce) will quickly evaporate on being met with dubious looks despite your reassurance that it’s a Nigella/Jamie/Bill recipe or ________’s (insert their best friend’s name) absolute favourite and that you got the recipe from their mum especially. After ‘the look’ they will remind you that they do not, and never have in fact, like whatever it is you have just put in front of them, at which point you can either choose to remind them that they ate said thing only last week or make them some toast and feed the dinner to the dog.

It often takes an accident, or unintentional nudge from a friend, book, article to help you scale the virtual walls of the pit of drudgery. Sometimes you have to wait, enduring a prolonged floundering at the bottom as, in desperation, you reach for short-term fixes which do no more than lift you temporarily and then dump you back in the murk.

The short-term fixes are illusory. Good friends, quality time spent with family, exercise, reading a book, walking barefoot on grass or sand, meditating, taking a yoga class with an inspirational teacher, listening to an uplifting Ted Talk, picking or arranging beautiful flowers, eating a delicious meal, cooking a delicious meal, talking to a child about what is important to them, these are fixes, these feed your soul. These represent time well spent. And if you think you just don’t have time for these, try this, it works:

Time is Big.

Our belief that we don’t have enough time is false, We have all the time there is to have. We just fill it up with too much. Today when you feel rushed, say aloud, Time is big, and notice yourself relax.

Riding for the Feeling

Standard

Beautiful and brave post from Hannah Richell.

Hannah Richell

Sometimes I play a stupid game with our iPod. I put it on shuffle and ask Matt to send me a song. I know it’s ridiculous. I know ‘shuffle’ is a piece of apple software – an algorithm – rather than the ghostly hand of my husband reaching out to send me a sign. I know in these moments I’m a mad woman clutching for evidence of something beyond death. But it’s surprising how often something meaningful comes up.

Of course it does. It’s our iPod. It’s full of music and memories. What’s a little more strange is the raft of new albums Matt bought in June last year, just days before he died. He never mentioned them. Just downloaded them and left them there for me to find.

This morning I played the iPod game and the track that arrived was Bill Callahan’s ‘Riding for the Feeling’ from the Apocalypse album. It’s one that Matt…

View original post 422 more words

Boy(s), am I grateful for Mother’s Day…

Standard

IMG_2137

Today I read a feature article online that made me profoundly sad and actually rather cross. It was a first person piece that documented a seemingly very disappointing Mother’s Day. The description of the tantrum thrown by the writer (“BECAUSE IT’S MOTHER’S DAY!” I yelled irrationally.”), reminded me of my five year old on his birthday; when asked to finish the bowl of cereal he had poured himself he wailed “But that’s not fair, BECAUSE IT’S MY BIRTHDAY.”

The writer derided the breakfast-in-bed efforts of her three children. Shame on them for failing to provide freshly squeezed juice and organic bircher muesli, instead presenting the best breakfast THEY could imagine. Honestly, how thoughtless.

I totally get her desire to relax for longer with the papers, to escape from the daily grind, but, as parents of young children we have to accept that we are there to do the looking after, not the other way round, whatever the day.

We all, however saintly we try to be, experience bouts of irrationality, it’s only human. But to expect our children to be able to predict this, or temper their behaviour according to our expectations (especially an expectation based so much around commercialism) is quite often a guaranteed recipe for the exact opposite to eventuate. For the record, our Sunday was peppered with frequent missives such as ‘no fighting, it’s Mother’s Day!’, ‘stop pulling your brother’s hair, it’s Mother’s Day’, ‘Mummy will be very sad if she sees you doing that on Mother’s Day (8 yo to 5 yo stuffing my scarves into my shoes…).

Presents were another element of damnation, the writer having received soap (greeted with sarcasm), a cheese knife (which garnered the non-verbal exclamation “?!”), and a “cute little jug”. I think her children did well, but then all children do well in their own way. The fact that they have made a self-motivated choice should be enough, no matter how right or wrong they may have got it. They have tried their best, and isn’t that what we are always telling them is the most important thing in life?

The words that sprang to mind when reading the piece were ‘spoilt’ and ‘ungrateful’, definitions which, I am sure, do not describe the author at all. I wonder how her children would feel were they to read this description of their day together though? Pretty sad that their noble and loving efforts had fallen on such barren ground I wouldn’t wonder.

There is a strong movement around for keeping a ‘gratitude journal’. Imagine our notes within this compared to those, say, of a refugee or mother in a war zone. I can’t imagine they have any sort of Mother’s Day to speak of. Let’s try to keep life in perspective and minimise the First World moaning.

P.S. For anyone who’s interested I got some eye-wateringly sweet strawberry and cream truffles, chosen because of the gorgeously-girly pink box and the 6 year old’s sweet tooth, some self-tanning lotion (with the hilarious comment, ‘sorry Mum, I didn’t read the box properly’), handy for winter no?, and a divine bunch of crinkly pink carnations teamed with gypsophila that I wouldn’t choose for myself in a million years but, with the heart-burstingly proud smile that accompanied them may well have been the finest bunch of flowers I’ve ever received.