Tag Archives: Friends

Shame

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Yesterday I read the report of an inquest into the death of Karanne Hollow, a British solicitor who chose to end her life six weeks after being arrested for drink driving. It stated that, following an argument with her boyfriend she ‘downed’ two bottles of wine and later crashed her car into a hedge at 3am without injury to herself or anyone else.

The coroner’s statement goes on to say she was embarrassed by her consequent arrest and questioning by police a week later. One newspaper report suggested she had previously been treated for depression.

The thing that leaps out at me is that this was a young woman who was clearly struggling with life and who must have felt she had no other choice but to escape the pain permanently. Perhaps she had exhausted all avenues. She must have felt as though there was no one who could help.The last thing she did though was to send a message to her sister; she had people who cared, who would almost certainly have done anything they could to help.

As is tragically borne out by statistics, far too many people find it impossible to reach out; to admit to their struggle, to ask for help. There has to be some onus on friends and family to stay vigilant when someone is not coping; desperation can turn into decision all too quickly.

There should be no more shame in talking about mental health than physical. And yet digestive health, sports injuries, allergies, you name it, all seem to be acceptable conversation material whereas depression and anxiety are hidden away, couched in shameful language and feelings of inadequacy. In this day and age of oversharing (and I put my hand up as a guilty party), that people feel there is still a stigma is unacceptable.

The days of being expected to pull ourselves together should be long past. There are so many wonderful organisations out there, so many souls willing to help; it should never come to it that people feel they have no alternative but to end their life.

Shame around drinking is real, we all know ‘the guilts’ but, gut-wrenching as they are, they do pass, until there is a habitual problem. Then come admissions, bigger decisions that have to be made, ones that will have a lasting impact. Those decisions need bolstering, shoring up with love and with kindness from within and without.

If it all sounds somehow obvious, or easy, I apologise. We all know it is anything but. The tricks the mind can play are infinite in scope, whether it is well or not. It is only by exploring with honesty, by sharing, by talking that the maze can be navigated.

Lifelife Australia – Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention 13 11 14

Samaritans UK – 116 123

Beyond Blue Australia – 1300 22 4636

AA Australia – http://www.aa.org.au/

AA UK – http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/

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Memory Lane

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The thing about memory lane is that if ever you have a chance to go back there in person, you’ll find that planning permission has been granted without your knowledge or say so. Buildings, places, monuments (in your head at least), that meant so much will have been radically altered at the very least, if indeed they are there at all.

They might be smaller, dingier, tarted-up beyond recognition, quieter or they may have been bought by a chain and what atmosphere they possessed pummelled out of them so they now fit inside a box. Whatever, there is little chance you will go back and find yourself able to slot back in.

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Try slotting in here…

We all have our own version of memory lane. For most of us it’s probably more like a half-finished spaghetti junction; roads and pathways criss-crossing, sudden dead ends where the way seemed clear. You can think of it like an ever changing map or blueprint, written on sheets of thin paper, each laid down over the one before, so that ideas, even those dismissed, are there, just not at the surface. Visible, memorable just not accessible.

The muddle this can create while being lived, sheet upon sheet laid down as revisions are made, is immersive, the cliched invisible wood thanks to the endless trees blocking the view. The harder you search for a unobstructed path, the ‘right’ way, an escape, the more overgrown every direction can appear.

Time and distance can bring perspective, I discovered recently that it is possible to return to places that hold difficult memories without becoming entangled again. Just because you are there doesn’t mean you are who you used to be. That in itself is incredibly liberating – and sometimes tragic, such as when you find that a much-loved grocer has been replaced by a very up itself yoga studio complete with list of rules on the door. Much as I love yoga, I pity the New Town residents who won’t know the hot, comforting nourishment of a Margiotta’s homemade pizza.

One of the greatest gifts must be having friends who stay put as you tumble through life, providing an anchor through time and over vast distances. I used the phrase ‘good times’ to one of my dearest friends about our flat sharing days in Edinburgh. She wasn’t sure at first that for me they were. She probably has a point, I was certainly a little nuts, but from where I am now I am focusing on the gratitude I have for our friendship and letting the other bits go.

There are lots of friends – not to mention my family – who have borne witness to some crazy shit I’ve got up to or into. Some were made in the midst of my realisation that things had to change so saw me lurching from one extreme to another. I wouldn’t have blamed people for walking away.

Relationships that endure the hills and troughs of life are one sure measure of fulfilment. I cannot again imagine becoming so unhappy as to be hopeless now that I have cemented friendships and relationships in this new stage of life. I didn’t have any doubt, it’s just lovely to have confirmation. To my amazing group of friends tumbling alongside, thank you.

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Predisposition

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Today in the Sydney Morning Herald, Sarah Berry wrote a piece about a guy with a famous name and his story of recovery.

http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellbeing/wellbeing/life-lessons-from-recovering-addict-christopher-kennedy-lawford-20160926-grojfn.html

Seeing the subject matter of course made me want to read it. Seeing the Kennedy name can prompt different reactions though; sometimes it makes the article or piece more appealing, such as when talking about Jackie’s fabulous hats (I think!). Other times, such as when hearing what has gone wrong with another one’s life, can initially be a turn-off. It is easy to dismiss ‘celebrity’ experience, advice and opinion. We put it down to availability and affordability. But, as this article points out, addition absolutely crosses socio-economic divides.

It is about self-esteem, confidence and the ability to ask for help. Apologies if this is repetitive. I don’t think it can be emphasised enough how important it is to build bonds, strong ones that say to both the addict and the support person, you are worth this, I am with you, I will stay here for as long as I need to.

The genetic piece is interesting I think. At one point, desperate to try a ‘soft’ approach to recovery, I consulted a team of health advisors who consist of a geneticist and a nutritionist. The idea is that you part with an awful lot of blood (not all at once), accompanied by vast sums of money (immediately) and they go away and test it for all sorts of things you didn’t know were possible then reward you with a folder of unintelligible reports and lots and lots of vitamins. The dosage on the vitamins was handwritten and as unintelligible as the science they went with so I admired the pretty graphs in the folder and for the next few weeks took as many pills as I could stomach with my orange juice on the days I that I remembered.

Not exactly a solution. (I kept drinking.) But I did clock one thing as the science man (dry as a biscuit ) flew through the results; the tests had shown that I am NOT genetically predisposed to addiction. If you click through to the link in Sarah Berry’s article you will get to a page of info on this which, to my admittedly totally unscientific mind, seems all to be rather desperate when citing a definite genetic link. The reasons people, we, I, drink are many and complex. I think the management side is so much more important.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to read the science stuff, do try to make time to watch this Ted talk by Johann Hari.

Though he is talking primarily about drugs, the concept can be applied to all addicts and actually I think, to anyone who is suffering from a mental illness too.

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Enough.

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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.

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First Step

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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.

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Running – and even walking – for cancer.

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GO AND MAKE A CUP OF TEA – this will take five minutes…

This weekend will see me take part in the Mother’s Day Classic for the second year.  Last year it was officially a BIG DEAL and I raised well over $1000 for a gorgeous wee boy with Neuroblastoma (Darcy has just had an MRI check up and things are looking really good, hooray).

This year, despite giving up the vino again (and no-one is paying me this time!), I am going to power-walk it as running hurts my poor old joints suffered too much (and yes, I didn’t start training soon enough, at all in fact).  But I have made sure my jaw muscles are in good working order as I am walking alongside a friend with whom I could talk the hind legs off the poor proverbial donkey.

But I thought to get everyone in the mood and to highlight the huge importance of events such as this in raising awareness, funds and support for those battling this hideous disease I would post my memories of my run last year, it was such a high.

Thinking of all those this weekend for whom Mother’s Day (and every other day) is about so much more than breakfast in bed and bath salts – hold your families close everyone.

Memories of MDC 2013

When I committed to participate in the 2013 Mother’s Day Classic around the Domain in Sydney I had no idea what to expect or whether I could even manage it.  My goals though, were reasonable:  to get around the 8KM run in under an hour and to raise as much money as I could for Darcy, a little boy I know who was fighting Neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer.  All this was to be done after a month of intense training while also foregoing alcohol.

I had never been one for setting myself rigid goals so, in order to keep me on the straight and narrow, I started a blog, meaning I was publicly accountable.  That, and the interest and encouragement of my three young sons (the eldest of whom is Darcy’s age) kept me going through some tough times.  Probably worth mentioning is the fact that I am practically allergic to organised sport.  The last time I had seen the inside of a gym was before getting married (eight years before), when I employed the slowest setting on the X-trainer in order to read (and flash around) my bridal mags.  Before that was the half-match I played for the U14 hockey team at school (such a novelty my darling Dad made a six hour round trip, really).  I run around all the time in daily life but as far as real fitness goes I was definitely at the wrong end of any scale.  Also, while I’m not ready to check into rehab, I do, like many people probably imbibe a little more than the guidelines recommend, so a whole month without was definitely daunting.

I started confidently, walking early in the mornings before the getting-ready-for-school-rush began.  I commended myself on my energy and knew this was in large part due to teetotal early nights.  I enjoyed a casual Friday evening dinner with friends on nothing stronger than lime and soda and the next day to celebrate my clear head I got up early and ran, using my snazzy new watch to note time (long), distance (short), number of stops (too many).  Despite the stats, I was thrilled, this summed up the new me – focused, energised and committed.  At a boozy Sunday lunch my craving for a G&T was strong but while everyone else got stuck in I meekly sipped mineral water and drove my merry husband home.

Monday saw me undertake my most serious run yet.  I ran for almost half an hour, half my target time.  I was elated upon arriving home as a red, sweaty mess; I believed for the first time that I might actually make it round the course without requiring the attentions of the lovely people at the St John’s Ambulance station.  On my blog I published a map of my route, my time, my feelings of jubilation.

On Tuesday morning disaster struck.  When I woke up my left ankle was the size of a balloon and it hurt, it really hurt.  It reminded my six year old of an elephant’s leg; “You know Mum, how they go all the way down the same size?”  Yes, I know.  I wept, I railed against the unfairness of it.  I hadn’t twisted it, missed my footing or done anything out of the ordinary that I was aware of.  My husband gently applied ice and comforting words, going in late to work having taken the older boys to school.

I felt idiotic and, more importantly, really worried that I was going to let people down.  I had been making much of my self-imposed month of wholesomeness and the money had begun to roll in.  I was getting as much of a kick out of every dollar donated as I had from my evening tipple.  I was making a difference, and for that to be taken from me felt cruel.  The only thing to do was to apply the RICE technique (rest, ice, compression, elevation), easier said than done when you have a household of boys to look after.  I hobbled onwards; I played on the challenge of abstinence.

In the remaining three weeks I managed only one more run of significance and that was not pretty.  People were kind; it was for a good cause, I was still sticking to half the battle, as long as I made it round, even crawling, it would count.  I exceeded the fundraising goal I’d set which only served to make me increase it.  My boys asked almost daily ‘How much have we raised for Darcy?’  Were it not for their involvement, excitement and pride I doubt I’d have made the starting line.

The day before the run I felt sick, I iced my ankle (once back from the boys morning activities, having made lunch, hung the washing out, you get the picture), laid out my running uniform complete with attractive new tubi-grips.  I tried not to snap at the kids.  I tried to sleep.

I saw the dawn on the morning of the run and attempted to go along with the cheerfulness that was affecting the rest of the family as we embarked on this fabulous adventure.  I wanted to shut myself in the loo and hide.  We caught the bus and began to sense the atmosphere.  The smattering of pink increased as we hurtled towards the city.  Once there the rush was intense.  The emotion was palpable and tears were never far away.  Just reading the tribute cards pinned to participants’ backs was enough to set me off.  I’ve always been a crier when nervous but weeping while in the queue for a portaloo at 7.00am was not something I had predicted.

I found my friend who was running her third Mother’s Day Classic in memory of her Aunt and who was hoping to improve her record of 50 minutes.  She propelled me to the start.  I was shaking, afraid and utterly convinced that I could not do this.  I hadn’t said a proper goodbye to my boys.  I looked for them amongst the sea of faces but couldn’t find them.  All of a sudden there was a hush and a countdown and we were off.  I was running, I was there, it was happening whether I liked it or not.  About 30 meters beyond the start I heard ‘Mummy, Mummy, go Mummy!’ and there they were, in a cleverly found gap.  I gasped, I grinned and I galloped.  I could do this; I would do it for them.

The collective noise of thousands of tapping feet provided a metronomic effect.  We were an army marching against an awful, strangulating disease.  Thousands of families around the world are devastated on a daily basis as their hopes are destroyed and loved ones taken.  Those hopes are never in vain and on that beautiful May morning that was writ large as memories and optimism in equal measure jogged alongside us.  There was an eerie morning fog cocooning the harbour.  Coming around the bend of Mrs Macquarie’s Chair the city rose like Atlantis from the deep.  Angelic hosts appearing atop the rays of sunshine that pierced the clouds would have been in keeping such was the spectacle of the occasion and the setting.

Embarking on my second lap was one of the very hardest parts.  I had lost my friend long before; I was keeping my own pace and finding my own way.  The novelty of the drinking stations had worn off (it was a weird experience seeing them holding out water for me, I wanted to look behind me at the real runner), I was being passed by what felt like hundreds of people and I was sore.

My mind began to wander.  I thought of the imagination of children when I remembered my five year old’s description of the weather including ‘fog drops’.  I thought of Darcy what he and his family were enduring.  Then I passed my patiently waiting family and my boys began to run alongside me.  Suddenly I was at the 5km mark and I sensed possibility. I was in a bubble of determination; thanks to the fog and my family I refused to think of anything other than crossing that line.

Someone had been clever with their marshalling choice for the 7km mark.  Encouraging words, spoken from the heart from someone who could have been your Mum, or your sister or your friend.  The end was in sight, my boys were waiting and I went for it.  So what if hurt, I would heal.  I crossed the line one minute and fifty-nine seconds to spare.  I laughed and cried in exhilaration.  I hugged my family and held them close.  What a rush, what an honour and privilege it was to be part of something that hopeful, that determined.  The best bit?  Hearing the pride (tinged with incredulity) in their voices as my sons said ‘You did it Mum.’

 

MDC 2013 - the best finishing prize ever.

MDC 2013 – the best finishing prize ever.

Birthday parties – why we bother…

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The cake! Dave the Minion with balloons.

I hope that you, unlike my husband, read the title correctly.  When shared it with him, he chuckled and thought it must be composed of one long moan having automatically inserted a ‘do’ in between ‘why’ and ‘we’.  But not so.  I am, in fact, saying hurrah for the children’s party.  For all the work and stress (and not even thinking about the utter annihilation of the house), the excitement and joy that those two hours bring are worth it all in my book.

Last weekend we threw Edward his first proper party for his fourth birthday.  I think up until pre-school the party is more about the parents congratulating themselves on surviving this far isn’t it?  He had his heart set on a minion theme.  It is amazing how many people are unfamiliar with minions, compared to those to us for whom Dave, Tim, Larry, Evil purple et al are like common acquaintances.  Just another minor divide between parents and those who live in the real world and whose acquaintances are not made out of plasticine (mostly).

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Even the Source got into the minion swing of things, thanks BJ!

One lovely thing about this party was how excited and involved the big brothers were.  I had literally nothing to do with the invitation; it was designed, printed and written out by William whose PowerPoint skills (honed through weekly presentations on such things as the life cycle of grasshoppers, rugby union and Hereford Cattle – thanks for the help Uncle Robert) already put mine to shame.  It was vital, according to the eight year old to put together a brilliant playlist (What?  To make sure ‘pass the parcel’ goes with a bang?  Liven up musical statues?), resulting in one of the most fun party planning sessions we held (the catering meeting was less amicable once I said no to Happy Meals – with Coke – followed by bubble gum).  I am pleased to say the soundtrack included some songs I actually liked – in between Bruno Mars and Alvin and the Chipmunks singing Party Rock.  Much as the footage of the boys dancing (I feared for life and limb while filming this) to this song will amuse me forever I never thought I would see the day when my music collection would include the soundtrack to ‘Chipwrecked.’

The morning of the party saw William and me answering the door at 7.15am in my pyjamas to the man with the bouncy castle which prompted an outburst from William ‘But his van’s so small.’ (Sorry William)

The extra time on the castle, we had assumed would allow us peace from small people in order to fling everything into our bedroom to impose a phony tidiness on the house (I always worry for people whose bedroom doors are open to the public).  What eventuated was the cancellation of the party roughly 27 times in two hours – once when we patently knew people would be turning into our street.

Anyway, the party was a great success and Edward had an absolute ball with lots of his friends, and lots of our friends all being there for him.  I don’t mean that to sound as though he enjoyed being the centre of attention for the sake of it (but he did!), more that it meant so much to us all to have our house full of the happiness and laughter of people we love.  That is why I say hurrah for the birthday party.  It can encompass all that is well and good and working in a child’s life.  Friends are being made, relationships apart from the family forged and the coming together of this at a party is beautiful to see.  Childhood relationships, based on playing in a mutually fun and engaging way which is, in turn, being nurtured by the establishment responsible for the child while he or she is away from the family are so crucially important I think for a child’s sense of well-being.

In another layer during the party, the child sees the relationships between his siblings and their friends and his parents and their friends.  This gives him confidence to establish bonds that he believes and invests in, knowing many will have long-term value.

Living life as an expat family is full of ups and downs.  There is the constant push and pull of here and there.  I have written before about my thoughts on ‘home’ which I suppose at the very lease means I had a happy childhood.  I can certainly remember many parties; birthdays spent doing treasure hunts and pram races on the front lawn, Easter celebrations amid the daffodils, ‘pit’ parties in Roxburgh, Halloween parties in Sprouston (where older brothers and sisters wreaked their revenge for smaller ones annoyances throughout the year), the village bonfire, the Christmas Eve drinks where Robert and I would revel in being ‘looked after’ by the teenagers (probably a ruse by the parents to stop the older ones sneaking a few Archers and lemonade!).  All of these happened in a close and comforting circle of which our family was a part.

It suddenly struck me last weekend (you’d think I might have got here sooner I know), that it is our turn now to create the same for our children.  The first names on Edward’s list (at the inaugural minion party meeting) were those of the gorgeous family friends we have made, as though no party would be complete without them first and foremost.  Coupled with his closest friends from school, we were a very happy band with a very excited, very lucky boy in our midst.

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For my next trick…

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Happiness is...

Happiness is…

One year ago today I started this blog, then called ‘me without sav b’. It marked the beginning of a month of abstinence while I trained to run the Mothers Day Classic four weeks later. I raised over $1000 for a boy called Darcy (who is the same age as William on whose birthday Darcy’s treatment began), who was undergoing treatment for the awful childhood cancer neuroblastoma.  I would like to think that people sponsored me to run – I am no runner – but, truth be told, it was probably as much about my forgoing of alcohol as the exercise. Recording my month ‘off’ ensured I was accountable. This in turn helped make the venture much easier. For this reason, among others, I have decided to ‘go public’ with my latest undertaking – a twelve month stretch off the booze. Here’s why (stop reading now Mum):

Following a particularly vile hangover, details of which I won’t inflict on you, I came to the realisation that I was missing too much of life to carry on in this vein. I have been stressed, crabbit, disorganised, forgetful and only just managing to keep up with the day to day tasks of managing a family of five. Everything was last minute, I thrived on pressure, – or so I thought – all mothers of young children need something to help them cope with the daily grind, the expectations, the sheer bloody monotony that accompanies this choice. And yet a few months before I had begun a fledgling career as a writer, people paid me for words, one of the things I love most in the word. But it seemed that the more I drank, the less the words refused to flow. And the early mornings stopped, and the unhappier I became, and the greater the need for that ‘witching hour’ snifter became and with it the loss of another evening.

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I have signed up to do a 12 month HSM through Hello Sunday Morning, an amazing and inspiring organisation which aims to ‘change your relationship with alcohol one Sunday at time.’ You can be as active or passive as you like once you have completed a short profile – there is real support from people of all walks of life in many countries and at various stages on their personal journey. You can set yourself goals, large or small and tick them off as you go. Checking in, monitoring progress would not be for everyone but I find it invaluable.

I am claiming my evenings back, and the early mornings, sometimes featuring a walk with friends in whom I have confided and who are my cheer squad. The fog is lifting. I am still forgetful and disorganised but some things I might have to admit are just me (I’ve always joked that I was born to be blonde after all) which I can live with.   What I can’t live with is the knowledge that I am failing to do everything in my power to live a happy and fulfilled life, thereby hopefully passing on positive examples and ethos to my children. There is no doubt that even in the 13 (count them!) days since ditching the vino I am a nicer wife and mother. I have oodles more patience and I’m simply enjoying my family again, laughing at their foibles, giving them more time.

Lorna Jane (a trendy exercise-wear shop for those of you not familiar) featured a slogan in their window a couple of months ago that I read every morning on the school run: ‘Be the best version of yourself you can be.’ I can now say proudly that I am trying.

Quite.

Quite.

 

 

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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=PweYu0v9_ks

 The other morning after speaking to my parents on the phone William asked me why I was quiet (I know, it doesn’t happen often).  “I’m homesick” I told him.  “But you’re at home Mummy” was his response.  Quite.  So why, seven years after landing in this Great Southern Land, do I still not call Australia home?

It has got me thinking about what ‘home’ means and the link between home and identity.  According to the OED home is ‘the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family’.  So on the surface where I am now fits; it’s just that pesky ‘permanently’ I have a problem with.  I don’t have a problem with commitment on the whole, and I am the sort of person who, when I do commit, gives it my all to make it work.  Even in the short term, I hate to be seen as having failed but more that I haven’t tried so I have employed the mantra try, try and try again (heralding the Lions?)

 We have a fabulous life here, as I talked about on May 2nd.  Our needs are more than met, the boys are thriving in their respective school and pre-school, we have some lovely friends, and yet.  And yet.  There is a need in me which I almost cannot name, which defies definition and yet which somehow exemplifies homesickness.  It is an ache I carry for much of the time, a tug that I feel when I see a tall, grey haired grandpa or yearning to be where my soul can rest.  I worry that I cannot be the best version of myself without repairing the roots I yanked from the loamy Scottish ground seven years ago.

 There is a saying which suggests that the most important things we can give our children are ‘roots and wings’.  I suppose the whole point is that they are mutually dependent; we can push push push ourselves as long as we have that starting point to return to if we fail.  But if that starting point is shaky and unconvincing, what kind of support structure is in place?

 I am incredibly lucky; I still have four uncles, four aunts, many cousins who also have children.  At two out of three of my children’s christenings (all taking place in the church in which my brother and I were christened, Andrew and I were married – where we have a family pew, yes really!) my cousin Naomi’s children and my own have gone from a shy hello to a plaintive, ‘When will we see X again?’  The joy I felt being at Cowbog (see header photo on this blog) two years ago was renewed every time I saw my boys with their cousin (now plural) and the children of my close friends.  The strong, binding web of family and shared history is impossible to break entirely and it seems can survive neglect but as a sad version of itself, like a holiday house that would be nice to visit if only you had the time or money to invest in it.

 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 057 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 228 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 492

 For many people The UK means London or some other urban centre.  Some friends we have here had a wonderful few years in Oxford, others in Bristol.  All of them enjoyed their UK hiatus but treated it as such, a break in the norm.  They always knew they would return home.  My UK, my Scotland is the glorious, soft, fresh-aired countryside of The Borders.  Rich in history and legend, The Borders is populated by canny, determined souls whose passions run deep (apart from when it comes to the rugby where jersey sleeves are singed by emotion).  For my first 20 years –  probably more if I’m being honest – I was ‘Julia Wilson from Cowbog’; the farm was central to my very identity and like a ripple on a pond, Cowbog at the centre was supported by gradually bigger areas and layers of family.

In this age of international travel and expatriation perhaps it is unusual for place to play such a large part in the formation of identity.  So many people chase the dream, be it corporate or lifestyle that it is easy to identify only with those within the immediate family bubble, wherever that bubble may journey.  While I admire the ‘us against the world’ ethos that such a family habitat naturally demands I’m not sure it’s what I want to give my children.  Perhaps I am not strong enough, perhaps I need my comfort blanket of family, perhaps I don’t want to grow up.

Going beyond myself though, I think about the boys and their identity and sense of belonging.  We joke that the Scottish brainwashing has worked on William but only partially on Sam (Edward I could claim as mine but that is only in a maternal sense, not a patriotic one just now).  In fact, in the car on the way to school recently we were discussing the Lions tour as the boys had just received their shirts from Gran and Grandpa.  William said something like “I’m Scottish, the same as Mummy but you’re not, you’re from here.” This was to Sam and Edward. Obviously there was no malice intended but the division is there (Should we prepare for massive psychological bills?).  I of course told them we all had the same passport and that was that!  Gorgeous Sam though had insisted on wearing his green shorts with his Lions jumper as he ‘supports both’.

boys in lions shirts1

 I recounted this conversation to Sam’s lovely teacher at pre-school whose take on it was typically lovely and caring as she suggested that we are all citizens of the world and all just the same.  If only this were true.  Unfortunately patriotism has a large part to play in our identity and though of course our family loyalty is first and foremost to the people we love, I wonder about the impact of identifying ourselves differently within that unit.

One of my favourite poets, Eavan Boland explores this theme wonderfully in her poem Lost Land.  I considered just putting a link here but, just in case people were too busy to read another page and didn’t click on it I thought I’d make it easy and include it.  I would hate for anyone to miss out.  I first heard this on my post-colonial poetry course at Edinburgh and it still gives me goosebumps.

The Lost Land

By Eavan Boland

I have two daughters.
They are all I ever wanted from the earth.
Or almost all.
I also wanted one piece of ground:
One city trapped by hills. One urban river.
An island in its element.
So I could say mine. My own.
And mean it.
Now they are grown up and far away
and memory itself
has become an emigrant,
wandering in a place
where love dissembles itself as landscape:
Where the hills
are the colours of a child’s eyes,
where my children are distances, horizons:
At night,
on the edge of sleep,
I can see the shore of Dublin Bay.
Its rocky sweep and its granite pier.
Is this, I say
how they must have seen it,
backing out on the mailboat at twilight,
shadows falling
on everything they had to leave?
And would love forever?
And then
I imagine myself
at the landward rail of that boat
searching for the last sight of a hand.
I see myself
on the underworld side of that water,
the darkness coming in fast, saying
all the names I know for a lost land:
Ireland. Absence. Daughter.

Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward. Victor Kiam.

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I’m sure the quote of the title isn’t meant to be funny but the never-say-die optimism makes me chuckle.  Perhaps I’m not cut out for motivational thinking?

Sam's family portrait.  He is the big one with six eyes, I have the long eyes on stalks!

Sam’s family portrait. He is the big one with six eyes, I have the long eyes on stalks!  This is my motivation…

I have to admit I’ve been finding it hard to motivate myself to write this week.  Having the goal of the run and the fundraising focused me and gave me something to work towards and therefore progress – or lack thereof – to relate.  I’ve realised how beneficial it was for me to have that goal (echoes of being told I just had to find an aim in life as I floated through my teens and twenties…) and how invigorating I found being that busy.  It was exciting busy rather than just the normal busy blur of washing and schoolbags and meals that my life generally is.  My parents have made being busy into an art form; my Mum constantly has huge number of balls in the air and never seems to drop one (if she does she is amazing at damage limitation).  I felt like that for about a week and I realise everyone benefited, I was more efficient in every area.  I need a new challenge to save you all from my introspective pontificating!

Suggestions are welcome as long as they don’t involve running anytime soon.  My ankles are slowly slowly recovering; it is really quite alarming how long it’s taking and how much I’m rattling!  My amazing inspirational friend Joanna is doing the first of two 10K runs on Saturday – FOR FUN!  Or at least a personal challenge.  There is no way I would have managed it were it not for raising money for Darcy so I am full to the brim with admiration.

I can’t believe my firstborn is 7!  I love remembering his first few months, the wonder and humility I felt – and utter helplessness at times.  My Scotland memory box is not one I allow myself to access very often, knowing it will tinge my day with melancholy.  But thinking of my dear friend mentioned above has allowed me to immerse myself and wallow.  Life moves on apace, not just for the generation following us but the one in front too.  Our control is so little perhaps all we can do is watch over our own little patch and hope for the best – take heart from children and keep it simple. I wish I could stand beside you Jojo to face the next chapter.

It seems we are all sentimental and love harking back to our childhoods – by watching funny montages on YouTube, ironic no?   Perhaps it comes out of a natural nervousness of the future as the unknown, especially on our children’s behalf.  Children are so beautifully in the now it’s hard not to envy them their lack of care about things past or anxiety about things to come – until it is suggested that the Wii might not be brought out at the weekend, then they’re plenty worried.  I’ll never forget William’s first teacher at day-care telling me she had a book about managing children without ever resorting to punishment or bribes…she was fired soon after, maybe for not getting children, at all?

One thing that is driving me potty in terms of bribe material is the huge individual bag of sweets the parents of Sam’s rugby team dole out at the end of every match.  Last week Sam’s loot surpassed that in the bags I made up for William’s 7th birthday party.  It’s not simply the number of baddies being ingested at 9.00am after a lovely healthy start to the day, it’s the misplaced ‘reward’ they are getting.  Isn’t the best reward the praise and excitement of their family and the feeling of having played to their best?  Perhaps I am misguided and naive but I know that Sam is on a natural high before the sugar kicks in.  Being such an old bore when it’s my turn I am going to go old school and take one bag of something like jelly snakes and give them one each.  It may well seal my fate as the mean mum but I’ll be channelling the Bupa ad and telling myself they’ll thank me one day…

The Jamie Oliver food revolution day got no media coverage here but we had fun beginning the weekend of celebrations for William’s birthday with the complete mayhem that was our pizza party!  Ten children at the end of the week armed with dough and tomato sauce, thank god my lovely friend Hannah brought a bottle of lovely fizz to get us through! The difference between the beautiful pizzas the girls produced and the chuck-it-all-on attitude of the boys won’t surprise those of you with both sexes but I will admit to having a(nother) moment of thinking how nice it would be to have someone in the house who would willingly sit down for more than five minutes at a time!

Scarlett and Ruby joining the revolution!

Scarlett and Ruby joining the revolution!

Sam and Oli following closely behind!

Sam and Oli following closely behind!

 We had such fun playing mini golf with William’s friends on Sunday too, Andrew managed to burn some of the evil sugar and colourings (in the cake that he had, mostly, made!) out of them with soccer afterwards too – impressing some Mums with his speed into the bargain!

The birthday boy and cake Andrew made!

The birthday boy and cake Andrew made!