I'm sure many of you know that Allegra has been ill. It seems she has taken a turn for the worse in the last few days. We are hoping for a miracle. Please keep both Allegra and Barry in your thoughts, hopes, wishes and prayers.
Every year Oliver writes a list for Santa. This year he wrote William's too. Being five years of age William is just starting to read and write and jolly good he is at it too, but he is not quite up to list writing just yet. Astonishingly the two lists are virtually identical in every regard. I think perhaps Oliver is hedging his bets knowing that whatever William gets , he will be allowed to play with too ... super smart boy that one. On his own list however, Oliver added this postscript ...
"p.s. please give me an apple instead of an orange in my stocking"
Children have many valuable lessons to teach us. I have long been of this opinion and am unlikely to change it any time soon. When did we lose the knack of asking for the things we want or need? Why is it that children can do this so freely whilst we anxiously tie ourselves in knots instead?
Christmas Eve Eve is upon us and so I'm doing a double post in order to clear the decks for the festivities. Want to change the pace tomorrow (if I get time to post at all).
Day 29 - Something you hope to change about yourself. And why.
Just one thing? Are you kidding? I have a long list ...
OK one thing I hope to change about myself is I want to learn the knack of living in a more "present" way. It is abundantly clear to me that I over think. The knock on effect of this one aspect of my character is just huge. It stops me from enjoying, and it stops me being joyful. I can see that. And I hope I can change it.
Day 30 - A letter to yourself, tell yourself EVERYTHING you love about yourself
Ah Jos, you are a funny one. Such a tender soul hidden beneath these layers of awkward outwardness. It's not all bad you know, not by a long chalk. And yes, you have made some mistakes and not all of them are undo-able by any means. I know that troubles you. One of these days you are going to get the hang of exercising grace in regard to yourself. Along that same path comes the art of accepting that which can't be changed however much you might wish it.
In the meantime I will tell you this. You are changing. Bit by bit and perhaps so gradually you mightn't see the signs of it, but look back ... are you the person you were even a year ago? No. That funny feeling you keep getting ... that fluttering in your heart? Well that is hope and it burns bright within you. It is something that is essential to your being and well-being. It is something that I love about you.
The funny thing about all this trying to change yourself is that at it's root you seem to think that you will find it easier to love the person that you are trying to become. But what about the present Jos as she is right now?
You remember that stuff you read about mental filters? How if someone says something that chimes with your internal view of yourself you listen properly, but otherwise you kind of hear it but it is just like noise ... it bounces right off your ears without going in? Well, I want you to listen to the things that people say to you and open your heart to take in their meaning.
You are kind. How many times are you going to hear that before you believe it? It's a good thing to be. You are not perfect and never will be but that doesn't stop you being decent, hardworking, reliable, trustworthy and a good and loyal friend. You are a loving wife, sister, daughter, and aunt. You are OK you know, really you are. What do you think would happen if you started believing all this stuff? Would the world stop turning? Would your head grow to be the size of a pumpkin?
To value yourself is not a bad thing. It's neither boastful nor selfish. Just be yourself Jos, that's always going to be good enough for me. Be thankful for who you are, and be thankful for the life you have. And relax ... remember to enjoy, will you? I love you. xx
What if you were pregnant or got someone pregnant, what would you do?
I remember the day I found out that I was pregnant. Oh my word what a period of mixed emotions that was. Unplanned but not unwelcome news at the time. Pretty momentous all the same.
As the pregnancy progressed and my body changed it was kind of a wondrous thing to feel a little one moving around inside. To see her on the screen at the ultrasound scans. Perfect little fingers and toes, and such a funny little nose. Tiniest hands making the smallest of waves.
To lose Charlotte so late on in the pregnancy was very hard. It tore me apart to the point where I thought I might never recover. Grief feels so unbearable at the time doesn't it? You think it will never ease but time does it's work in this respect as in so many others.
And now in retrospect although I do still feel some of that sadness at times, I also feel deeply grateful to have experienced that wonder at all.
The best thing going for me right now is that I am in reasonably good health at the moment.
It's far too easy to take this for granted. I know it. So given that, I really don't understand why I find it so difficult to remain in a state of gratitude. I have a lot to be grateful for. I see so many people around me who either have had or are having unbelievably hard times ... healthwise, relationship-wise, family-wise, financially ... just life-wise really.
My problems, such as they are seem pretty insignificant in comparison. And yet it seems that my default mind-set is more inclined towards the negative than the positive. Why, when I can see how lucky I am, why do I persist in focussing on the few things that are not going so well rather than the multitude of things that are fine and dandy?
I allow this negativity to overshadow me. I allow it. Even when things are mostly fine, still in the back of my mind I am anticipating bad stuff happening. I think it's partly because there is an element of never really feeling safe. I am all too aware of the fragility of even the good things in my life. It's not good to live in dread what might never happen ... or even what might. Worrying changes nothing.
Have you ever thought about giving up on life? If so, when and why?
I'm not sure I want to write about this at all.
I have thought about giving up and ending my life. I've had the idea knocking around in my head from time to time but only a couple of times have I given it any kind of active consideration to the extent of making a plan and starting to hoard medication.
I can't really pinpoint specific times when I've had these thoughts as they've recurred throughout my adult life although not usually in the context of giving it serious consideration ... more as a way of re-assuring myself that there is always a choice however dreadful things might seem at the time. I guess it sounds strange as a way of providing comfort to myself but sometimes it has helped me to see things more in perspective when things have felt unbearable.
I have been through some times of deep despair. Times when I've felt there was no alternative other than to give up. I have thought about how to do it and worked it out in my mind. In my day to day life I think once I'd made that plan and knew it could work it kind of eased the mental pressure. I stopped thinking about it as often. I know it's always there as an option but I also know that this is an act with far reaching repercussions for the people I love.
I have got people in my life who love me. I love them too. I wonder how I could ever have thought of leaving them ... hurting them. I know there is nothing more selfish than to think of myself in isolation like this. It's not like I could take it back or say "oops, sorry, I made a mistake".
I've known people who've tried to commit suicide, and one who succeeded. I saw at first hand the devastation wrought in the aftermath ... the result of acting upon that self destructive impulse. For years one of my friends has been haunted by the notion that she and their children were not sufficient reason for her partner to want to stay alive.
To despair is natural enough at times. To give up on life even. I can understand how a person gets to that point. I know some people get scared at talk of giving up or even actively seeking a way to end it all. I think a lot of people consider it at some point in their lives without really getting anywhere near acting upon those thoughts.
I very nearly died before I was even born. My mother started hemorrhaging at around week 30 and was taken into hospital. Because of the seriousness of the situation she stayed there until I was born. Apparently I spent the first couple of months in an incubator because I was born prematurely and had some complications.
When I was three I slipped through the railings of a bridge and nearly fell into a waterfall about 20 feet below. My father caught the collar of my coat and pulled me back. When I was six I fell into the deep end of a swimming pool. I couldn't swim. My brother grabbed me and swam to the shallow end.
In my early teens I was attacked by a man with a knife. I was lucky to get away with quite minor injuries. In my late teens I came off my motorbike and was dragged under it along the road for quite some way. Other than scraping the skin off down to the bone I was largely unhurt. Good leathers. In my twenties I was in a car accident. The car was written off but I walked away with bruises only. A few years ago I had a series of minor strokes. And this time last year the lump I'd found was diagnosed as nothing more serious that a benign tumour.
I remember once being told about my guardian angel. I was sleeping out having got stuck without any money about 50 miles from home at night time. I'd found a haystack and was using it as a bed. When I woke up there was a travelling man resting not far away. He told me that he'd seen a shining man standing over me in the night. How I wish I'd seen this angel ... or any angel for that matter.
I'm not sure that there is a reason that I am alive today. That doesn't mean I don't thank my lucky stars that I am though. I try to remember to be grateful every day.
Make a playlist to someone, and explain why you chose all the songs. (Just post the titles and artists and letter)
I know you thought that I wasn't really listening whilst you tried to inculcate a love of "proper" music in me. And I know you thought I would stay stupidly stubborn for ever. Ha! Just shows what the passing of years can achieve. Drip drip is not only a form of water torture you know. And now look, only 40 something years later and I do actually love much of it ... my top ten are below. So ... I'm all ready for Desert Island Discs should they ever make that call (ha ha).
I wish I had done more than simply trust to nature in order to become a mother.
I'm not sure I can describe exactly the pain being childless causes me. This emptiness. It is a hard but dull ache that mostly exists in the back of my mind these days. As time has passed and along with it any hope of motherhood I have largely come to terms with this. Mourned it. It's just every once in a while that a keening rises up to snatch my breath away.
I balance this against the joy I have in being an auntie, godmother, friend and now even a great auntie ... how did I become so old? Lucky me to have lived so long.
Asked a question of this nature it's tempting to focus solely on something I wish I'd done where the chance to do it has now passed. Hence my initial answer above, which I wrote yesterday. Then I had a think about it and realised that I quite often do this avoidance thing where I focus on what I can't change rather than what I can. So with that in mind I'd like to answer again whilst leaving my initial response to stand.
I wish I had put as much effort into living fully as the person I am rather than focusing so much energy on continually trying to be the person I want(ed) to be.
Some things are almost too simple aren't they? How can peace come from acceptance? How can it possibly be as simple as that? And how stupid does it make me to have taken so long to finally come around to it? I am going to get the hang of this acceptance malarkey ... I may have to learn to accept my own stupidity with a bit more grace first though!
I wish I'd never done things that hurt other people.
I wish I'd never done things that hurt me either.
I wish I hadn't spent so many years opting out of life generally.
That about covers it.
The thing is that I have spent quite a long time thinking and writing about the vast array of things I've done that I regret. They are many, and the hurt I've caused is my biggest regret of all. In saying that I realise that the regret I have is not focused so much on the actions themselves but the harmful outcomes of those actions.
I wonder if that is wrong? To repent the outcome of sin rather than the sin itself? Absolutely I acknowledge the wrongdoing in my actions. But a part of me sees these mistakes as part of a whole rather than in isolation. Perhaps this is just a "let out clause" though. A way of not shouldering my responsibilities.
Mostly when I think about this its something along the lines of ... "how could I have been so stupid and how could I not have foreseen the consequences of my stupidity?" This learning to forgive yourself bizzo is bloody hard.
It is what it is ... so given that what to do?
But what of the actions themselves?
I guess at the end of the day it should be like this. There are things that I've done that were patently wrong ... ethically, morally ... whatever you want to call it. To feel regret and/or sorrow is one thing, but I think perhaps to feel contrition is better. Contrition drives the desire to change for the better.
I wonder if contrition is really a healthy background for living a life though. Permanently I mean, rather than a phase to go through on the way towards a life that is fuller ... freer. I don't know but it seems kind of ... joyless. At the crux of this I don't feel deserving of joy. Too sinful perhaps. I see that.
How do you shed guilt whilst retaining personal responsibility for actions done and their consequences?
Your best friend is in a car accident and you two got into a fight an hour before. What do you do?
I always thought I was the queen of feeling guilty until I read this question. Even to me it seems just ludicrous to link these two events in any way.
It kind of reminds me of the other day when I was talking to a friend of mine. She is pregnant. After a string of miscarriages she is haunted by the prospect of another. On the day she came to visit us she'd discovered a dead pigeon in her back garden. She asked if I thought this was a bad omen. I wanted to laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of this suggestion. I mean how can anyone in their right mind read any significance into such a random event?
It just goes to show how stupidly rigid my thinking can be some days. Thank goodness for facial expressions and other non-verbal clues. One look at her face was sufficient to quell any humour in my mind. Deep rings under her eyes and anxiety etched clear across her face. No, I quickly saw that my humour and cynicism were inappropriate responses to my friend's concern.
Similarly here, I can see the ridiculous nature of the scenario posed ... but I can also see that underlying this question is one of how we perceive cause and effect. Our emotional state affects that perception and hence our responses to events.
If my best friend were in an accident I would do the same things regardless of any preceding row. I might feel very differently in terms of spurious feelings of guilt but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't let it affect my response to any great degree. I am a practical person so I would try to help in that way as well as offering emotional support to my friend and her family. That's it really. I guess there are some advantages to seeing things in such simple terms.
If ever there was a subject I wish I could talk over with my younger self it is this one. I suspect however that my younger self would be almost as hard headed when it comes to listening to advice as my older self appears to be!
Bizarrely perhaps considering my life experience I still have a somewhat liberal view on the use of drugs and alcohol. Some people enjoy using mind altering substances as a form of recreation. I don't see anything morally or ethically wrong in that as long as no-one is being harmed.
There are health risks ... both to physical and mental health. In much the same way as people need to be aware of the risks associated with any activity, so they need to be aware of those associated with the use of mind altering substances. Informed choices can then be made from the outset.
Which is all very well in principle.
A lot of people "dabble" in drugs and/or have a drink socially from time to time. It is part of their lifestyles and they give it only passing thought. It neither dominates them nor causes them any real problem. Some see a vast difference between alcohol and drugs ... as if alcohol were harmless in comparison to other substances. The media portrays them in such different lights, but alcohol is a drug.
Drug. Addict. They're just words. Huh.
The problem arises with an escalation from what starts off as occasional casual recreational use to what over time spirals until the person concerned finds themselves caught up in the trap of full scale addiction.
Addiction is a scary word. It conjures up images of down-and-outs ... rake thin junkies or winos sitting on park benches talking into space and drinking their days away. There are some poor souls who end up in this state. I have a lot in common with these men and women.
How do people with lots to live for allow themselves to be sucked in to this ... what increasingly becomes an almost double life ... the addict ... and the outwardly "normal" person. And once trapped why don't we wake up to our situation ... why don't we struggle harder to escape it? Are we as weak and pathetic as it sometimes appears? Perhaps.
I wish I knew the answer but addiction crept up on me and I hardly even noticed it happening ... at least on one level. Denial becomes a way of life ... we are so adept at turning a blind eye when it suits us. A drink in the evening became every evening which became a bottle and then more ... and all the while there was this disquiet going on at the back of my mind and the only way to stop it was to drown it out. I lost most of my friends, my work suffered, my remaining friendships suffered, my marriage increasingly became an unhealthily co-dependant relationship with addiction at it's center.
And still I carried on. Why? Partly because I denied that I was addicted at all. How could I be? I didn't fit the image I had created in my own mind of what an addict looked like. Paradoxically the reason I carried on was because I had in fact become addicted. Funny that.
I fully accept that this was a trap of my own making. There is little comfort in knowing that I fell into it because of my own folly. Even so that's the truth of it. I didn't exercise control because I wasn't drinking for the taste, or to be sociable. I didn't take drugs for the buzz either. What I wanted ... what I craved was oblivion. I wanted escape from my own head and all the thoughts and memories it contains.
Addiction is a form of madness that feeds upon the madness already within us.
Because it is progressive in nature I became ever more deeply entrenched in behaviours that facilitated my addiction. I increasingly detached from the reality and consequences of my own actions. My natural resilience, character and personality were being gradually stripped away to almost nothing, leaving only this never ending need to escape from life.
The thing that I could never have guessed at the outset is how you end up doing unimaginable things in order to feed your addiction ... things that leave you burdened in the longer term with feelings of deep shame and guilt.
Plenty of people enjoy using drugs and alcohol recreationally and will never develop the kinds of problems I have described or experienced. Plenty do though and only some of these are lucky enough to stumble upon the road to recovery. I know how lucky I am to be here.
I talk about all this as if it were in the distant past. That is not true. The reality is that although my road to recovery started some years ago these last few years in particular have been ones where I have taken one step forward only to take them back ... and then some. I am changing that now. One day at a time.
The principle of freedom of choice is generally one I agree with. There is a price to freedom. People are free to make poor decisions ... ones that can result in them leading impoverished lives ... and not just them, but those that depend on them as well. Such a lot of senseless misery hidden beneath this banner of freedom.
What do you think of religion? Or what do you think of politics?
I think religions offer ready-made constructs that one can choose to subscribe to or not ... they can also act as a starting point for a spiritual journey of unknown duration and destination.
Faith and religion are not synonymous in my eyes. I think the two can and quite often do co-exist quite apart from one another. To some, all matters of this nature are seen as a complete irrelevance. To others it's central to their lives and everything that matters to them.
I think what is important above all else is to act in good faith ... regardless of the source or label of our particular faith.
I have said before that I long to have an enduring faith. I want to believe in something beyond what we see in the here and now. I tried to believe for quite a long time, but trying is not in itself sufficient to cement faith into place. I fasted and prayed ... I read my bible. I lived as if I already had faith ... walked the walk so to speak. But there is an inherent mis-trust in my heart I guess. Perhaps I've tried to believe in the wrong thing. Hard to tell.
In a lot of ways I want to say that I hate religion, but the reality is that I hate what is sometimes done in it's name rather than religion itself.
I think political activities are often seen as exercises in futility. It's pretty popular these days to be cynical, insisting that politicians are out solely to line their own pockets or to toe the party line regardless of personal ethics. It may be true for some but on the whole I choose to believe otherwise. I think most people are well intentioned and when faced with impossible choices they try whenever possible to go down the path of least harm.
But I know too from working in various organisations that the prevailing culture can have a massive impact on our thinking. Over time it can whittle away at our core values as we get increasingly weary of standing firm against what can seem like a tidal flow of popular opinion. I can understand how people who initially set out with all good intentions can find themselves on the wrong side of their own moral code.
Politics does interest me although I know little about it. In my very limited experience I've yet to find a viable alternative to one of the popular democratic systems in terms of maintaining personal freedoms, rights and what is loosely termed "the greater good".
I believe these three are imperatives and therefore must be balanced in order to both please and displease everyone to pretty much the same degree. To me, this almost defines democracy ... that it is so apparently imperfect and yet we seem unable to improve on it.
And what of the merits of a benevolent dictatorship? Surely this can only ever work if I am in charge? Ha! ... thoughts for another day methinks.
A book you’ve read that changed your views on something.
I'd love to say that I am really widely read but I'm not. Mostly I read pretty mainstream fiction, some poetry, some hobby based stuff and a sprinkling of other types of non-fiction. I haven't read many profound books, but I have read some that have affected me profoundly.
"The Problem of Pain" by CS Lewis really is a profound piece of writing. At the time of my first reading of it I was seeking answers to questions that threatened to undermine my already faltering belief in a loving God. I remember being hugely frustrated at being continually told to "just have faith" by men and women much more experienced in matters of faith and wisdom than I.
"In what?" I wanted to yell. "In a god that allows all this?" I remember that confusion and anger. I carry it with me still, although perhaps not with nearly the same intensity.
I have a deep longing for a faith that is sustainable ... that withstands scrutiny. I want to believe in "more". I accept that what I'm talking about may not be faith at all. It seems to me that at it's core faith is a complete surrender of will ... an acceptance of things unknown and unknowable. This kind of faith is beyond me.
What I loved about this book is that it engages in an intellectually rigorous argument. It starts with the premise that there is a creator god, but from that point on there is a scientific-like exploration and analysis of the issues. The author attempts to reconcile the apparent dichotomy of a divine, omnipotent and loving God who yet permits the pain and suffering we see in the world around us.
In his response he argues that even God must act within the confines of natural law. To do otherwise would be contradictory to God's own nature. Thus intervening to eradicate pain and suffering risks changing the fundamental order of things ... an action that might have far reaching consequences ... certainly beyond our limited capacity to predict.
So it seems that God is inherently unable to reverse that which is caused by nature itself.
It appears then that there's no divine omnipotence, or at least not as I'd come to understand it. Not in the space time continuum in which we currently exist anyway. There is a strong inference running through this argument that once we move into the spiritual realm the laws of nature become an irrelevance. Quite a thought in itself.
I suppose I'd always thought that a Creator God worth his/her/it's salt should by their very nature have had the foresight to design in an ability to intervene to reverse pain, suffering, injustice ... to basically right the wrongs that happen and redress the balance.
If anything persuades me of the level of my own ignorance it is this. That I think myself in any way capable of judging such matters when it is so apparent that I am unable to see anything except this miniscule portion of the overall picture. To balance anything one must first see the whole, have the capacity to comprehend it, and have the wisdom, compassion and capability to act on a truly universal plane for the greater good.
Even so, it made me think about the joy and sorrow that I feel must exist at the heart of this decision to allow suffering and pain in order to protect the natural order of things.
I suppose the thing was that I'd never tried to think anything through in quite this way before. It changed my views on the nature of certainty, faith, and of what divinity itself might actually mean. We have such limited ways of thinking don't you find? I still find that. It frustrates me to catch such fleeting glimpses of a wisdom that lies so very far beyond my grasp.
On a lighter note I have also been re-reading "The Cloudspotters Guide" by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Some books are just a joy to browse through and read. If you get the chance, have a look. There's a lot more to clouds than I ever imagined. I will never look at skyscapes in quite the same way ever again.
If you have read this far then you and I both deserve a break! Will be back with more "30 Days" posts in a few days. xx Jos
Someone or something you definitely could live without.
I understand the value of lessons learnt. That in pain we learn acceptance, and that acceptance is a sacred art.
I understand that in weakness we find a new kind of strength. That we learn grace and patience. That we can look beyond the immediacy of our pain to find that joy is still possible in any given moment. That we learn to be present in our lives.
I understand that grief is followed by healing. And I understand that without darkness light has little meaning.
I could live without knowing all this. I understand that wisdom comes at a cost. I could live as a fool.
Something or someone you couldn’t live without, because you’ve tried living without it.
I do not like to rely on others. Partly it is a hatred of feeling like a burden, but also there is an element of fear that I will be let down. By keeping my distance from most people I thought I was protecting myself from hurt. I didn't realise the pain it was causing me. I suppressed it along with a lot of other things. I am changing that now. I wouldn't want to live in such a dis-connected way ever again.
That said, I know I can live without even the people I love the most dearly in life. I wouldn't want to, but that is not the same thing as couldn't. The people I love bring joy and meaning into my life. They make my life worth living. In a few days time I will be marking one year since my very dear friend Gabby died. What a hole she has left in my life. I miss her every day and I think I always will. My life is not the same without her in it.
If I were to have to live for the most part without people again, I would always want to have a huge stack of books and my radio if at all possible. I spent many years living alone before I met Trev. I hardly watched TV and didn't trade in my black & white for a colour one until I was in my late twenties. I prefer reading, listening to the radio, and playing or listening to music. I am comfortable with silence. It's not something I have enough of these days and I miss the feeling of calm and "centered-ness" that comes along with it. I will work on ways to balance my need for solitude and silence with the other demands in my life.
Other than the bare necessities for survival I know I could live without pretty much everything I have in my life right now. I wouldn't choose to but I could. In the past I have lived with very little for quite long periods of time. Not in poverty, but with very limited resources. For over a year I lived alone in a small caravan, around 6' x 12' inside. No water, no power, no toilet or shower. This was many years ago now, but I remember what it was like. It's amazing how we adapt.
I lived without being in contact with my sister for over a year. We fell out and neither of us had yet learnt the humility necessary to heal that rift. A valuable lesson. In the end nothing matters to me as much as the people in my life that I love. I could survive without them but I wouldn't describe that as living.
When I was a very small girl my hero was my father. I had no idea how badly that would turn out. I guess a lot of little girls idolise their dads.
The problem with heroes is that they are after all only human ... and perhaps the most amazing thing about heroes is that they are as human as the rest of us. It has taken me quite some time to stop expecting perfection from myself. I am glad at least that I learnt early on not to expect it of others.
These days I define heroism quite differently than I've done in the past. I look at people fighting their personal battles with grace and dignity ... I look at those who do much for others at great personal cost ... and I look at some who make the headlines in their field of endeavour for one reason or another. All flawed humans doing exceptional things. Not always perfectly, and not often recognised. To me this is the essence of heroism.
I have written letters to my dad. I've tried quite a few times over the years to mend our relationship. I won't stop trying. Some things are broken beyond repair but I live in hope that this is not entirely true here. I do accept though that I can't change anyone else, only try to better myself.
A band or artist that has gotten you through some tough ass days. (write a letter.)
I would have to pick Joan Baez for this one. For me she is not only an outstanding artist musically, but I admire her for her courage and determination to stand by her political views through good times and bad. I was privileged to go to her concert in a nearby town earlier this year and even now she has a voice that anyone would envy. She is aging well ... to the point of laughing on stage at forgetting the words to her own songs. It was without a doubt one of the highlights of my year going to see her and taking my mum along to share the experience.
My all time favourite album is 'Ring Them Bells' ... although it runs only a whisker ahead of 'Between The Lines' by Janis Ian. I could wax lyrical for hours about this album too. Again that mix of fabulous instrumentals intertwined with beautiful melodies and evocative words.
But Joan's album wins because not only does it showcase her own talent but has introduced me to the truly wonderful music of other artists as well. Outstanding amongst these is Dar Williams. Oh my, such a voice.
When I have days where everything just piles in on top of me I retreat to the bathroom if it's at all possible. I run a tub of scalding hot water and put on a loop of 'Ring Them Bells' back to back with 'Between The Lines'. I let the music wash through me. It reminds me of beauty and the power of hope.
Shhh ... don't tell anyone will you? The bathroom is pretty much the only place where I "sing" out loud. Har har har.
So ... onto my letter ...
You don't need me to tell you that you are awesome. You have a massive fan base, that should tell you more than any words I can ever write. You make my heart sing ... even on the bad days. This is no small thing. I hope your heart sings along with the songs you share with us all.
Warmest hugs from your 10 million-th and one fan. xx Jos
I'm not altogether clear how to interpret this one. Pin-pointing a specific area infers that I think there are things where I feel entitled to compliments. Ha! The vagaries of the over-literal mind.
I do feel under-appreciated at times. Not often though. I don't give it much thought. Mostly it's at work. Sometimes though it's at home too. Since Trev lost his job things have been pretty tight financially. This causes me a lot of stress as it does Trev too. Rows erupt out of nothing because of this stress. We are both trying to recognise this and address it. Part of this is paying more attention to each other and complimenting one another more.
Generally speaking Trev doesn't compliment me at all often. So I have taken to telling him when I have a new haircut or a new blouse on ... whatever it is. He wouldn't notice otherwise, but with a not-so-subtle hint from me he will respond with a compliment. Kind of defeats the purpose but then I suspect that he is never going to become more observant. I have got used to it.
I don't generally get compliments about my looks but that's OK, I don't spend much time or effort on looking any particular way except on very special occasions. I don't feel at all comfortable when I am dressed up, to the point of avoiding doing so if at all possible. Particularly if I think it will be necessary to wear a dress or other quite feminine clothes. It makes me feel awkward ... which seems so silly at my age! I still can't walk in heels of more than about an inch in height. I prefer shabby casual. The jeans I am wearing today are about 8 or 9 years old and wearing out. I am loath to replace them despite obvious threadbare patches and worn seams.
I have had 2 hairdressers in the last 18 years and would be still going to the first one if she were still working. It takes me ages to break in a new one ... to stop them banging on about lifting roots, volumising, waves, perms, highlights, low lights, tips, covering grey, .... "all I want is a haircut please ... no extras thanks." If I can get away without having it being blow-dried I do. I don't like my hair being messed around with. I don't like the feeling of someone hovering around me.
I love my current hairdresser Nathan. He gets it. He washes and cuts. I'll let him blow-dry it because he is really quick about it. He knows I hate the blow dry bit. We chat all the way through my visits. I know all about his family and he knows about mine. I've been going to him for about 5 years now. I've stopped hating getting my hair cut which I attribute largely to him.
Hmmm .... quite a lot about my hair in this post. I like that it is going grey. Some of my women friends think it's odd that I am greying naturally. They compliment me on being so brave ... kind of a non-compliment hidden in there somewhere! They are kind about it though which makes me smile. I have some lovely friends.
Something people seem to compliment you the most on.
A few people have mentioned that I am kind hearted. Some also say I am soft in the head! I tend to agree with the latter more readily than the former.
I do make an effort to be kind wherever possible. I don't like to see people struggling, I would rather stand alongside and help out where I can. I think this is an instinctive response though, so I don't entirely accept that it is something to be complimented on. I am not very comfortable with compliments on the whole.
To me being kind is not about saying nice things although that is part of it. It's about being more aware of the people around me, noticing them and thinking about how they seem generally. It's all too easy to ask people how they're doing and then not listen and look properly when they're answering. People will often say that they're fine verbally but give non-verbal clues indicating otherwise.
Sometimes I'm tempted to offer help when I think I see a need, but where it hasn't been requested. I guess in this instance being kind also entails letting people figure stuff out for themselves even when I see or think that they're going about it all in a very cock-eyed manner. Respecting others involves letting them make their own mistakes but being there to help pick up the pieces if need be. No-one likes a know-it-all.
Sometimes I find it hard to find ways to soften the truth with kindness ... this is especially the case when friends ask for my opinion. I've always thought that part of being a true friend is to treat them lovingly but also like the adults that they are. So I give my honest opinion even when I know it might not be what they are hoping to hear.
I still debate with myself internally whenever I find myself stuck between trying to be kind and telling the truth. I pretty much always opt for the truth except when it comes to people's physical / personal appearance or outfit, even if I don't like it. I figure that my opinion in this area is of no real consequence anyway, so I go with confidence building responses. If I can think of something that doesn't sound too over the top so much the better. Too much emphasis is put on appearance in my view ... why should it matter so? And so that's how I justify it to myself!
Someone you need to let go, or wish you didn’t know.
I know that I am a very lucky woman. In my small but select band of friends there isn't one person I feel the need to let go of. Or at least I can't think of any compelling reason to do so.
One of the things I have learnt over the last year or so is to be a little more circumspect when making too many friends with others in my addiction support network. I have on occasion found myself being asked for support at a level I am just not able to sustain over a lengthy period of time. I hate letting people down and will generally stick by people for a lot longer than I perhaps should.
When anyone needs help my instinct is always to do what I can, even when it depletes me of strength to fight my own battles. I am learning to see the signs of this happening and hold back a bit more. It goes against the grain to do this. I hope that when I am stronger in myself I will be in a position to offer better support to these friends. In the end though I need to recognise that I cannot carry other people's burdens even if my instinct is to try.
So I am learning to be honest with these friends about how things are with me just now and trusting in their understanding. It is sometimes tempting to think that when friends withhold support it is because they don't value friendship to the same degree as us. It is only now that I am learning of this need to focus more on sustaining my own recovery first and foremost, however selfish that makes me feel.
So rather than letting people go as such, I am learning to balance my needs as being of at least equal importance as theirs. I have made some really wonderful friends through my support network and with these friends there is a strong and deep bond of mutual help, support, respect and love. I couldn't manage without them that's for sure. We pick one another up when hard times hit and I have been feeling the benefit of that a lot recently. They light my life.
Like many of us I have people in my life who are not friends. Their behaviour affects me ... sometimes deeply, but on the whole I am so practised at keeping my distance emotionally that I generally let go of them relatively easily. Not always in a very tolerant or forgiving way though! So much to learn ...
Someone you didn’t want to let go, but just drifted.
I first met Alf at a church fellowship group. I was in my teens and he was in his late twenties. Alf was a Peter Pan-like character, full of life and fun. An ex heroin addict he'd recently been released from prison where he had become a regular church-goer.
Not perhaps on first sight a natural prospect for friendship but Alf and I hit it off right from the start. I think sometimes very different people fit together better than those who on the surface at least seem similar. We became friends and remained that way for about 10 years all told. I was bridesmaid at his wedding. There weren't many people I'd wear a frilly dress for but in this case I was happy to oblige. I was thrilled to bear witness to such a positive step in his life.
In my mid twenties I went off to college to further my studies but I still came home quite often on the weekend and spent the shorter holidays staying with Alf and his wife Sarah at their home. Sarah and I are still friends.
We loved to smoke spliff together and would dabble in "party drugs" once in a while. We had a lot of laughs doing this. I never really thought about it being bad or dangerous because I wasn't doing it every day. Alf was though. I liked the effect of switching my brain off and letting go of difficult thoughts and feelings. I was working and studying hard so to my mind this was a way of both joining in and having some fun ... some down time.
Alf was doing other drugs from time to time although I was unaware of this. He was drinking at hazardous levels on a daily basis. I wasn't drinking at all back then but I was aware that the level of his drinking was problematic. Seems funny really that heavy drinking was the norm amongst a lot of my friends even as far back as then. I could see trouble ahead but Alf insisted that this was all just "having a good time" and I needed to "chill".
As my post graduate studies and work took me further from home I saw less and less of Alf and Sarah. We talked on the phone but saw little of one another. Their marriage broke down in this period and they split up. It had lasted less than three years. From there his drinking and drug taking escalated from hazardous to chronic in an incredibly short period of time. He was in self destruct mode. He isolated himself from pretty much everyone and deteriorated rapidly in both mental and physical health.
For some time from then on I mostly heard of Alf rather than from him. He was in trouble with the police, getting into fights, robbing people, other things that I won't go into. Whenever I was back in town I would trawl around the old haunts trying to find him. Sometimes I'd be successful and we'd go for a bite to eat. He was not the man I'd known. We'd drifted apart almost completely by this stage. Our daily lives were just so different. It hurt us both to see one another in a way. I understand that a lot better now then I did back then. I wished I'd known then what I do now.
The last time I heard from him was in a letter he wrote saying that he wished he was dead. This not long before his death. He had moved out of his room in shared accommodation and was mostly living on the streets with some overnight stays in hostels. Sarah talked with his old probation officer who kindly arranged for him to stay at a halfway house but he walked out after only a few days. They did not allow drug taking on the premises. It seemed that he was completey engulfed in his old heroin addiction.
A while later I heard that he was killed in a car accident. Turns out he stumbled onto the dual carriageway and directly into the path of an oncoming car in the early hours of the morning. He was probably just trying to walk back to the homeless shelter. According to reports he'd been seen earlier in the evening and was completely wasted. I hope this means he felt no fear or pain, but more than that I feel so very sorry for the driver of that car. What an awful trauma to have to go through and then learn to live with. Just imagine.
I didn't want to let go of Alfie, I think he just decided to let go of life and all of us along with it. He was only 42 when he died. I still miss him and all the laughs and the jokes we shared. He taught me a lot without even knowing it. On the whole my life seems vastly different now to what it was like back then although obviously some remnants remain. I am glad for that.
Someone who made your life hell, or treated you like shit.
It's one of those things ... when someone does something that seriously impacts your life it can be hard to look past that on to other things. With this in mind I've decided to use this exercise to talk about someone in my present rather than my past.
One of the unintended consequences of the way I have lived my life is that until relatively recently I haven't let many people close enough to make my life hell on a personal level, even if they wanted to. Most people have no intent of harming anyone. It's easy to forget that sometimes.
As a young engineer I was bullied a lot in the work-place. Working on the factory floor as a 16 year old was an education in surviving in a sometimes quite hostile male dominated environment. I could say a lot about my negative experiences over the years as I have worked in many such environments since those early days. I have been hit, and hit on, spat at, pushed around, yelled at, had men expose themselves to me, been intimidated and humiliated. All sorts really.
Everywhere there are decent men too. Despite peer pressure these guys do not join in with the shenanigans. Perhaps they have daughters of their own ... perhaps they are steered by their own moral compass, but these men stand apart. They are the ones that help regardless of the jeers. I respect that. I know it's hard to stand apart.
I have been in engineering for over 30 years now and things have improved a lot. Even so only just over a year ago I was hit in the face by a colleague. Sometimes I get scared in amongst these men. Even so I can still honestly say that the person who has treated me the worst was and is a woman that I work with still. Like me she has been through some hard knocks over the years.
She's tough. She consistently gives me a harder time than any bloke I've ever had trouble with. She treats me like shit and uses her position of power to try to coerce me into things I am unwilling to involve myself in. I consistently state my opposition to her suggestions both when we are in the presence of others and when we're on our own. Because of the personal relationship she is in with one of the senior management she is effectively unaccountable which makes my position vulnerable. I have no leverage except my powers of persuasion.
Complaints against her tend to result in the person concerned being sacked, demoted or moved. One of my colleagues has just had this happen to him. Due to continuing unresolved issues between us I have put in formal complaints. Usually this results in her putting in a counter complaint. It is then put to me quite plainly that unless I drop my complaint I'll be subjected to the disciplinary procedure myself. The guys in my company play hard ball, no mistake. Usually there is a "cooling off" of her attitude for a while but eventually it all kicks off and escalates again until I put in a new complaint.
Our financial position is precarious as Trev has been mostly unemployed for 2 years now, making me the breadwinner. I can't afford to lose my job in these increasingly uncertain times. I am actively seeking other employment but the industrial sector I am in is slow and shrinking in size. I don't have the financial resources to re-train. Some days I fantasise about winning the lottery ... that or her falling prey to some spectacular demise. Mostly I just do my job, try to avoid her wherever possible ... and where that isn't possible I deal with her myself in order to buffer my team from her toxicity. I would like to find a better solution.
She is my all time best friend. We are only 15 months apart in age so we've been close pretty much all of our lives. We are total opposites, she is blond, blue eyed, tall, slim, fit, outgoing, party loving, disastrously disorganised, spontaneous, socially graceful, loving, laughing, fun to be with. Her strengths are too many to list and her weaknesses are outshone completely by everything else. I love her to the moon and back and always have.
She shares her life with me in an extraordinarily unselfish way. She lets me in and tells me stuff that's hidden in her heart. We have shared many of life's joys and sorrows together. When we were young we promised to always help each other and that is exactly what we've done. She asks for help when she needs it and trusts in me to be there. I honour that trust and cherish it. It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I do the same with her, but that is not due to any fault on her part.
Only once have we argued to the point of falling out completely. For over a year we hardly spoke. I think it broke both our hearts to a degree. We both learnt a lot from that. Her daughter is a woman now with a home and man of her own. She calls me her second mum and sends me gifts on mother's day. My sister's youngest children are Oliver & William. They light my life in ways I can't describe. Her gentle man is next only to mine in my estimation. He helped to heal a deep hurt in my sister and I never forget that. He welcomes me at every visit with a hug and kiss. Our friendship is deeper than almost any other in my life.
Some years ago my sister was in need of refuge and came to live with us with her daughter. At the time we lived in a two and a half bedroom small terrace. It was quite an upheaval to re-arrange the place and our lives to make space for them. They stayed for nearly two years. Never once in that time did my gentle man ever utter a word of complaint which tells you a lot about this man of mine.
My very own gentle man Trevor.
He is also my best friend but in a different way. He is so english that he could act as the template for english-ness. That makes me smile. He gladdens my heart. Always. His hugs are the best medicine in the whole world ... and they are free! Over the years he has learnt to understand how important hugs are just in and of themselves. He is decent to the core of his being, a totally loyal lover & friend. He is honest and true. He loves so many things in life and often tells me new things of interest. Nature, music and science/technology are his main interests so you can imagine that he is rarely dull to chat with.
He is so smart that it's astonishing to me still, and he has the most amazing powers of concentration. He can absorb stupendous amounts of technical information and is often to be found buried in technical bulletins/books. He has learnt not to overwhelm me with with too much detail in one go! He is a mad professor cunningly disguised as my husband. In his next life he is going to rival Richard Feynman or Isaac Newton ... perhaps even DaVinci, who knows.
He plays lots of rock / folk instruments so our home is often filled with music ... sometimes friends and music together which is just the best thing out. We have hard times just like anyone else. Distance grows between us sometimes but we find our way home in the end. Over time I have learnt that mind reading is an impossible thing to expect of anyone which makes things a lot simpler between us. I love Trev to the moon and back and always will.
Even after so many years together there are still some things I will tell my sister that I won't tell Trev. But the same is true vice versa so that is fair I guess.
There are many other people in my life that I love and cherish. These two though ... well these two make my life worth living and I will not choose between them.
Oh my ... so many things spring to mind here. On a purely selfish note above all else I hope I never have to cope with a long / painful / debilitating illness. There are so many other lesser things that I hope never to have to do but I really don't care to list them. None compare anyway.
I hesitated to write this here today. Seems kind of funny maybe after writing some of the stuff I have over the last few weeks. It can be quite a challenge to open ones heart that's for sure.
The thing is I have some truly lovely people in my life both here through blogging and elsewhere who are going through illnesses of both a serious and less serious nature. It seems insensitive to say I dread having to cope with the very things they are having to face up to. Only this week a good friend of mine heard that she has ovarian cancer. The start of a new and uncertain journey for her. One where I will try to walk by her side as much as she will let me. How I hate cancer.
This serves to remind me yet again to be thankful, to live in the moment as fully as I can ... and to laugh more at my good fortune. I am so lucky.
Speaking of gratitude ...
This morning I was awake well before 5am listening to the cricket on the radio. I am a massive cricket fan. The Ashes series is on at the moment. For me this is the Wimbledon of the cricket season. Anyway someone on the commentary team said something quick and witty. There I was curled up under my duvet giggling like no-ones business at this guys humour. When was the last time I laughed first thing in the morning? I can't remember. Such a simple pleasure and yet it didn't feel simple at all. It felt profound ... like an internal shift is really under way again and I am so grateful for that.
I've never been one to look forward much. I get scared I think. But that aside there are things I want to do.
I want to learn at least one of the instruments I play properly. To orchestral-ish standard ideally. I can't decide whether to pursue the violin, the piano, or the classical guitar, but it will be one of these three as I already play them at a very basic level. It is an area of my life that gives me a lot of pleasure.
I want to go to London and have tea at the Ritz. I know ... I live only 2 hours drive from London, so I could do this one easily ... and yet I haven't. I will set a date to do this in the Spring so I can do something else fun that day, like go to a gallery or meet a friend for lunch.
I want to expand on my voluntary activities. I used to volunteer a lot but lately I've been letting work dominate. No more. My life is no longer going to be work centered beyond the point necessary to keep a level of income to support us both.
I want to learn to work with wood. I can work in metal but I like the less predictable nature of wood. Last year a walnut tree fell down in our back yard. I have set some pieces aside and will look for some classes when our finances improve.
The thing that I would like to do most though is developing my spiritual life. I am not yet sure how this will happen or where I need to start on that one. I will start and see where it takes me.
I do not have to forgive the monster man but I can choose to. When someone sets out to cause such a deep hurt without any regard for the person whatsoever, why should it be down to me to forgive him? Because it is better for me? Because the broken-ness he inflicted might in itself be a product of his own broken-ness?
Some questions are totally beyond me. I can't fathom the depths of my own mind let alone his. Anyway it changes nothing. This was not something aimed at me as a person, I was just very unlucky to be one of the wrong children in the wrong place at that time. What's done is done.
What constitutes forgiveness? The man is dead. There is no restitution, there is no way I can know if he had any kind of contrition over his actions. So what purpose is there in my act of forgiving? I have read that there is healing in forgiveness and also that bitterness eats into your soul and destroys it. I'm not sure I believe that. I'm not sure I believe in souls either.
I look at Oliver and William now. I see the fragility behind their apparent robustness. I see how easy it would be to hurt them. It gladdens my heart every day that they have no real inkling of any threat to their well-being from the adults currently present in their young lives. I love that they are carefree in that way. It is a blessing. Children are ill equipped to defend themselves against those intent on harm.
My monster man was a boy once too. As defenceless as any child. I feel sad at the thought that maybe he was very badly hurt too. I can imagine that pain. At the same time it makes it easier for me to think that way ... I can almost understand how it might be then that he grew into someone capable of doing what he did.
In some ways I can see that I am more inclined to forgive purely on the basis of hurt done to him ... in other words conditional on his actions being attributable to some deep inner pain of his own. But what if there was a warp in his personality and absolutely no childhood trauma, what then? Well then forgiveness becomes an act of will, not something born of compassion. I find that harder to think through.
If someone has a personality defect are they any less responsible for their actions? Perhaps. It depends. Again these questions are beyond me. To answer them I must in effect act as judge and jury in an area in which I have no expertise whatsoever. And anyway, this can only ever lead towards conditional forgiveness. That just feels like cheating.
How do you forgive a dead man for something done years ago. I guess you make a choice to do so. Perhaps forgiveness is an act of letting go. Simply that. So yes, I forgive him.
I have sat here for ages looking at that last sentence and trying to find meaning in it. It wasn't easy to write. It hasn't been easy thinking this through. To be honest I don't feel that I know enough about what forgiveness means to be able to act on it yet. I might come back to this exercise later.
So many facets of essentially this same mis-guided drive for perfection. It pervades so much of what I do and feel. I want to do better. I want to be a better person. Surely there's nothing wrong in that? It seems almost perverse to me that in order to progress I must learn to accept and love my imperfections first, and then go on to forgive myself for them. Where is the logic in that? It seems contradictory to me. It is imperfection that I am trying to overcome.
Yet I do see that this logic of mine has it's own inherent flaws. Since it is impossible to be perfect should I then never love myself? Where does that leave me? In a life-long state of being unfulfilled and unloved ... and all because I find it so difficult to reconcile myself to the fact that it is perfectly OK to be imperfect.
Why then do I entertain this idea that I must strive for perfection in all that I am and do? Is it arrogance? Stupidity? I think perhaps it is another consequence of the same rigidity of thought that I talked about in exercise two. It's hard to break out of certain kinds of thought patterns, particularly when they are the product of life-long beliefs. I can see that.
I do not expect perfection in others. Far from it. I am forgiving of others in a way I find almost impossible to be towards myself and I'm not sure how to unravel the reasons for that. My best guess is that it stems from my childhood belief that if I had been a good girl then the bad stuff wouldn't have happened.
In the chaotic environment of violence and abuse of those early years it was hard to see any sense. Hard to see why ... any kind of cause and effect. I couldn't figure out the rules on how to act so as to stay safe from all that. Children often only view events with themselves in the center ... it is the nature of a child to think this way. So as a girl I thought I must be the cause. My badness made the bad things happen. Perhaps then I need to forgive that little girl who didn't know any better.
It feels so odd doing this exercise. It seems in many ways as if I have to forgive myself just for being me. Perhaps that's the whole point. It just makes me feel sad that's all ... like I'm having to give up on something I've wished so hard for and worked so hard for in my life ... and for what?
At the same time it is a relief. However much time I've wasted trying trying trying, I can learn a different path. I guess what it comes down to is that I need to forgive myself for not seeking answers to these deeper questions sooner. Nobody is perfect.
Just as exercise one was easy peasy so today's is trickier. This learning to be gentler with oneself and becoming more self accepting is a difficult art to master.
Conversely after yesterdays exploration one thing I am learning to love about myself is that I am able to confront uncomfortable truths in a way I would never have thought possible even a couple of years ago. Not only to confront them but to work towards overcoming / improving / accepting them as well. I can see that some courage is involved in this process.
By learning to open my heart more freely I am increasingly becoming more self accepting. It is a slow process but one where I am able to see progress even so. I have had to be willing to explore my flaws and get used to the fact that whilst I might aspire to perfection I am never actually going to be perfect this side of eternity ... and possibly not even then!
There is something in the rigidity of my thinking that makes me incredibly resistant to this truth. It is one of those things I am having to force myself to accept, and learn to love myself regardless of these imperfections as I see them. I accept these things on a rational level, of course I do ... but emotionally accepting them is a different matter entirely. It grates.
I suppose I love the fact that at least I keep on trying. I am not passively waiting to be rescued but am paddling my own little boat through the choppy seas of life. Effort is never enough on it's own though ... something again I have had to learn to accept more fully. That along with having the humility to seek help with navigational skills. After all, it's pretty pointless paddling like crazy if we're just going around in circles.
Physically I love the fact that I look a lot like my mother. She looks good. She is a very direct and forthright person and it shows. She looks strict and stern because that is what runs through her core. She has had to be so strong in order to survive the knocks life has thrown her way. I admire that in her, even whilst wishing there was more softness in her character. I look at her and see myself years from now. In looks she has aged gracefully and I hope to emulate that.
Shamelessly lifted from Christine's wonderful blog which you can find here
Almost identical exercise to one I've been recommended to undertake as part of my ongoing recovery but this one has slightly more questions so here goes ...
30 Days of Truth
Day 01 → Something you hate about yourself. Day 02 → Something you love about yourself. Day 03 → Something you have to forgive yourself for. Day 04 → Something you have to forgive someone for. Day 05 → Something you hope to do in your life. Day 06 → Something you hope you never have to do. Day 07 → Someone who has made your life worth living for. Day 08 → Someone who made your life hell, or treated you like shit. Day 09 → Someone you didn’t want to let go, but just drifted. Day 10 → Someone you need to let go, or wish you didn’t know. Day 11 → Something people seem to compliment you the most on. Day 12 → Something you never get compliments on. Day 13 → A band or artist that has gotten you through some tough ass days. (write a letter.) Day 14 → A hero that has let you down. (letter) Day 15 → Something or someone you couldn’t live without, because you’ve tried living without it. Day 16 → Someone or something you definitely could live without. Day 17 → A book you’ve read that changed your views on something. Day 18 → Your views on gay marriage. Day 19 → What do you think of religion? Or what do you think of politics? Day 20 → Your views on drugs and alcohol. Day 21 → (scenario) Your best friend is in a car accident and you two got into a fight an hour before. What do you do? Day 22 → Something you wish you hadn’t done in your life. Day 23 → Something you wish you had done in your life. Day 24 → Make a playlist to someone, and explain why you chose all the songs. (Just post the titles and artists and letter) Day 25 → The reason you believe you’re still alive today. Day 26 → Have you ever thought about giving up on life? If so, when and why? Day 27 → What’s the best thing going for you right now? Day 28 → What if you were pregnant or got someone pregnant, what would you do? Day 29 → Something you hope to change about yourself. And why. Day 30 → A letter to yourself, tell yourself EVERYTHING you love about yourself
Day one: Something you hate about yourself.
Well, quite honestly I could write a whole book on this, but summarising; > attention seeking > lying > self pitying > cowardly > playing the victim > fantasising ridiculous scenarios in my head > problem drinking > laziness > procrastination
Of these I believe two are fundamental to the rest. It seems like my propensity for attention seeking leads on to me fantasising, playing the victim, self pitying and lying.
This might start off with a real event that I exaggerate out of all proportion ... creating a complete fantasy out of relatively minor events, or out of some throw away comment made either towards me or in my presence. These lies start to take on a life of their own as I pile embellishments onto untruths, often shifting them through time and amalgamating them and interweaving them with other truths. Quite a tangled web.
It would be fair to say that in life generally there are times when I find it quite difficult to unpick things to segregate fact from fiction, and this is partly an extension of that difficulty. Having a vivid imagination and a love of stories feeds into it as well ... a trait I inherited from my father who to this day still tells very tall tales.
It would be all too easy to point to self esteem issues and other "mitigating" circumstances but in the end I think I am searching for comfort in any way possible. This does not excuse what I do, but goes some way to explain it. On the whole I do not hurt others with this aspect of my character and it is never my intention to do so in any way. I hate hurting people. I think it is generally just a very immature aspect of my personality that I have so far largely failed to even try to address.
The second is problem drinking. This has it's roots to some degree in the same drive for comfort. It is also in part an attempt to break out of my own head ... to rebel against my own best interest and to block out the dissonance I feel at doing things that are at odds with my own moral code. For various reasons my head fills with thoughts and feelings which I find hard to tolerate. To escape these I have used various means the latest being to return to drinking in an addictive way. I can see that escapism is at the root of this which in itself is an extension of fantasising. The two are thus inextricably linked.
Basically I find it hard to deal with the real world. I see this as a fundamental weakness in my character which manifests itself in all the ways I've described above.
Strangely it never occurred to me when doing this exercise to focus on something I hate about my appearance ... ha! Lucky really since there is in fact a super long list of those!
Lately I have been seeking silence a quiet place to think things through not to dwell just to rest awhile re-group after recent upheavals change change comes around the corner and even when it wears a friendly face still it frightens me so much to learn so much it still surprises me that I can spend years learning little and yet moments learning much it would be so useful if these moments lasted longer and happened more often but I'm not altogether sure my heart could take it
Over the last few months Oliver and I have taken to spending a couple of hours a week on our own doing "stuff". My sister and her husband have been taking their youngest son for speech therapy. Sitting in the waiting room is tedious for anyone but excruciating for a 7 year old. So instead we do our own thing.
A lot of the time it's simply a walk to the playground with our football and kite, or doing some Wii game if it's raining outside. We also cook, chat, practise juggling, magic tricks, make up jokes ... the list goes on but basically we hang out.
Maths. Oliver is stunningly good at maths. When we go for walks we start out with a mathematical problem that we can only use our heads to solve. No writing things down. Oliver loves to do mental gymnastics and I love to show him the shortcuts and tricks for helping to remember where we've got to in the process of finding the solution. Cool (his word).
And words. We try to think of the hardest word to rhyme anything with, and then try to find one that does. We do allow compound words and hyphenated ones because otherwise it's not fair (or so I've been informed). There are times when we must look quite mad as we bellow out that the word that rhymes with science is alliance ... we are still looking for a satisfactory rhyme for the word elephant.
On my fridge at home I have one of Oliver's first poems. When I look at it now I see that in his orderly manner he has noted the fact that this was in fact his third poem. Time passes so quickly don't you find? By keeping these reminders where I can see them I try to keep in mind that life is happening NOW. There is much to enjoy.
As some of you might have guessed, I am working through some things in my life at the moment. Even so, I am also finding time to have fun. Whenever I make a mental list of my blessings my family and friends come right up there at the top of my list. It is only recently that I have started to learn to rank myself up there too. Life is a journey.
Taking stock of my life to date is an odd experience. How did I ever manage to get this far? I’m on the threshold of half a century of living but with very little idea beyond chronological aging of how I got here.
We have always had major difficulties in our intimate life despite nearly two decades having passed in our lives together. My gentle man is often at a loss as to how to help matters and this serves only to heighten my sense of total inadequacy in this most personal aspect of our relationship.
There are times when my body seems unable to distinguish between what lies in my memory and the reality of what is happening now. Between danger and safety. It is so tangled up and confusing that I don’t know how to describe it really. Other than to say that because of this there are times when I feel unable to endure being touched at all.
Sometimes this happens when my gentle man is “well under way”. This is the most difficult part of all for me. Whilst I enjoy the closeness of the initial stages and build up towards intimacy, I do not enjoy the sensations of the act itself, the movement inside of me. My body sends out distress signals that I sometimes find impossible to ignore. I do try to though. There are occasions when these signals are of sufficient magnitude to bring things to a halt and other times not. I have neither the will nor the courage to be more graphic but I’m sure you get the gist.
We are both aware that most of the problems stem from within me and from the past. And yet I can’t help feeling that on those occasions when he decides not to respond to my distress by stopping he is in some ways reinforcing the violation perpetrated by the monster man from so long ago.
I know that it’s not fair on either of us that this shadow hangs over us still. And I know that it is grossly unfair to characterise my loving gentle man as in any way similar to the one who did the damage all those years ago.
I suggested that we get some help. As it turns out though, I am not the only intensely private person in this relationship. In many ways I was relieved because in this as in so many areas of my life, I lack courage.
So we have soldiered on through the years. We talk about it now and then, but not much. When we broach the subject the conversation is usually short as this is not something either of us finds easy to discuss. Despite this, over time things have improved somewhat to the extent that we both find some enjoyment these days. At least sometimes. We are mostly happy.
I come now to a period in my life that I find difficult to comprehend even in retrospect. I've always assumed that I am by nature a faithful person. Hardly surprising really given what I’ve just relayed. Even so, I believe strongly in commitment and the value of a promise given and kept.
And yet I have been unfaithful. There are all sorts of things I could say about this but none of them are more relevant than my deep contrition and confusion over the way I behaved. I found I was capable of acting in a way I never dreamt possible.
I will not describe how this came about other than to say that I'd never experienced anything like the level of desire I felt in those moments with her. I won't deny it. In some ways I think this was partly due to the unreality of the situation. Drinking has that effect.
It was just so incredibly freeing to be close without being burdened by the anticipation of sensations I‘ve learned to dread. Having said that, this was two short lived episodes.
So … a few hours of delight weighed against nearly two decades of loving faithfulness. Which justifies nothing. I know that. It is impossible in the real world to undo what has been done.
Would I undo it though? Yes I would. In an instant.
It’s simple. I did the wrong thing, there is no doubt in my mind about that. I broke trust with my gentle man. I thought I was incapable of doing that. I acknowledge that I learnt something about myself even so. I'd long ago reconciled myself to the idea that I mightn't have the capacity to feel such intense physical desire at all.
But the cost has been higher than I could have imagined. Nearly two years have passed and still I’m trying to find a way past it. To tell my gentle man is not an option. Not only would it cause untold hurt but I think with our history it might break our relationship beyond repair.
Anyway, why should he suffer for my mistake? So if I can't or won't disclose this then I continue to break trust on one level in order to preserve it on another. This is my deepest regret of all.
It’s quite something when you come across symmetry where you least expect to find it.
Nearly twenty years passed between the comings and goings of the monster man present in my early childhood until the time that my gentle man first appeared. And nearly twenty years have passed from that day to this.
With the departure of the monster man and not coincidentally our father from our lives, childhood turned in turn into adolescence and then on into adulthood. Time moved on outwardly but something inside me remained trapped in the past.
To deal with the pain of that early trauma I tried many avenues. I tried faith and prayer. Faith is capricious though. Not unlike handfuls of sand the harder you grip the more it runs through your fingers. When you open your hands it’s gone, leaving only fine grains clinging on, the grit a reminder of those early aspirations to believe.
I tried smoking it out as if a colony of hornets had taken to nest building under the eves of my mind. The smoke billowed and blotted out the world, but it did not diminish the pain left in it’s wake. I tried pills and potions that had my mind whirling in every direction skewing my perceptions of reality and not. I tried submerging it under a lake of fire water to little effect beyond drowning myself in the process.
Building a virtual box of lead in my mind, I poured my memories into it, hoping that the radioactive waste would be sealed beneath the weight of this heavy mental metal. Then I built walls around it until wall building itself became a habit, a rite, crafting ever thicker layers to separate myself from the whirlwind within.
It was in this state that my gentle man found me. I can’t explain to you why it was that he persevered in the face of my determined resistance, but he did. Initially he lay siege in what might be described as the usual fashion, but to no avail. Quite some time passed but still he persisted.
Eventually he appealed for a truce and I walked out from behind the walls under the protection of a white flag. We talked long into the night and through the dawn of a new day. He whispered of the fears that lay in his heart and in turn I tried to explain some of the reasons for the walls I‘d built. I mentioned something of the dark taint that lay within. I can’t explain to you where I found the courage to do that.
This man of mine has the kindest eyes. They reflect something of the soul that lies within. With a wisdom I still find quite breath-taking he explained that whilst the monster man might have taken my innocence, he hadn’t taken me. The way he described his love for the person he saw in me was my undoing. And so it was that he became my gentle man.
In the real world there is no happily ever after. Even so we have built a life together. By making himself vulnerable to me, my gentle man shows a strength I’m not sure I will ever match. Fundamentally it is this willingness that underpins our relationship. Without it, I would always feel like the weaker one.
There are times when he is washed out into the sea of his own foreboding. Long periods when he is lost to me in all but name. Other times he shuts himself away behind his own walls. When this happens I carry a beacon onto the shore to light a path homewards. So far it has always worked in the end, although there have been times when I've despaired of his despair. In constancy I show my own kind of strength.
In a similar vein there have been periods when I too have retreated behind my old walls, falling prey to the need for self protection in uncertain times. I forget that real trust is built on an ever firmer foundation in times of trouble.
A while long ago I breached that trust in a way I never thought possible. I need not burden you with the whys and wherefores. Suffice to say that despite being crippled with self doubt on so many fronts I’d always believed that once I made a promise I would keep to it no matter what. It has been hard to learn to live with this failing. I would undo it if I could, but I will not disown my actions all the same. Contrition and sorrow have gradually eroded guilt. But still it remains.
Somehow over the years my gentle man and I have found ourselves taking up self destructive habits with an ever increasing frequency. For him this has largely been a matter of recreational relief from the stresses and strains of life. For me though, these habits are of a more compulsive and dangerous bent. They threaten to drive me back behind those walls of total isolation. I have much to lose and little to gain by such practices whatever their allure. In these last years in particular I have fallen under their spell more and more.
And so finally we have come full circle. In order to progress from here I must once again make myself vulnerable to my gentle man by telling him in a more forthright manner the sinister effect these habits have upon me. How they undermine my sense of myself. Ultimately this impacts us both, damages us both. I have already sought outside help, but now I must seek it within our relationship too. In this way trust is built. I know that.
You might think I show strength by such actions, but not really. You see despite the ups and downs of the last twenty years I have been learning to trust a small step at a time. How strange. It seems that I have found faith where I least expected to.
I am an engineer. Not a particularly good or smart one, but one of quite long standing now. It doesn't completely define who I am obviously, but nevertheless it suits me. From an early age I loved to build and fix things, but most particularly I loved to take pretty much anything apart to see how it works. In the painful, chaotic and confusing environment of my childhood I found much comfort in the solidity and constancy of gadgets, construction toys and the domestic machines we had dotted around the place.
In my work there are days where I do nothing but carry out a repetitive sequence of relatively complex calculations to ensure that the parts we are planning to make will actually work. I love those days. I shut everything and everyone out for a while and lose myself in the numbers.
Calculating and manipulating the various formulae is kind of like playing with toy soldiers in a way. I arrange and re-arrange the numbers and symbols. I order them about. I line them up this way and that until a pattern emerges that looks stable. I know then that the design part concerned will withstand the working conditions in which it must function. Numbers consistently obey the rules just as machines are designed to. They are friendly in that way.
I know that probably sounds a bit odd. But the thing with numbers is that I know that as long as I'm careful ... if I can just work through each stage methodically in a focused manner and not miss anything off ... well then I can get it right.
I mean right right, not nearly or almost, but bang on perfect.
There are no other areas in my life where this is possible. But there is much in my inherent nature that wants it to be. I want to be able to figure everything out ... to shake all the variables out onto the table and then line them up and if necessary modify them so that they behave consistently ... or at least more consistently.
I find change and uncertainty frightening. Always have. Social stuff scares me stiff most of the time. Have I mentioned that I stammer? Also I blush like a small girl over the stupidest things. I go blotchy red and hot. There's often no cause that I can pinpoint other than the fact that I feel anxious a lot when I'm with people generally. I can't figure out why or how to stop it happening.
I hate being this way and yet at the same time I know it's chicken feed in the overall scheme of things. There are worse things than being a nervous wreck. But it stops me wanting to mix with people who don't already know me ... and sometimes even the ones that do. Close friendships are few, but they light my life all the same. They are deep and solid. I believe in them and I trust as much as I can. I am lucky in many ways, I know that. Through my friends I am learning to lighten up ... kind of.
I see people around me embracing change all the time, welcoming it for the excitement it brings. I wonder at their courage. I wonder at my lack of it. If I knock all the toy soldiers over they won't just get up and re-group by themselves.
I can't conjure. I can't change things to be the way I want them to be. But I can learn to accept things the way they are.
My younger sister has always been frightened of things. Nothing in any way unusual, just the normal childhood fears. Thunder, lightning, fireworks, wasps, spiders, creepy crawlies in general and snakes. As she's grown the list has lengthened to include heights and anything that might endanger her children. She is still the bravest person I've ever known, a fierce lioness in the protection of her cubs, but with the gentlest of natures in loving and nurturing them.
When we were small Kath really hated thunder storms, and the flash of lightning in particular. For some reason nearly all of my childhood memories of these storms are of the ones that happened at night time. Perhaps that's because at the first sign of distant rumbling she would scoot across our bedroom and crawl under the blankets with me. I would then turn on my little torch flashlight for her to see. Already frightened by storm sounds the dark spooked her, so we'd hunker down and watch the bulb fiz and crackle in the night. Small low voltage light bulbs did that sort of thing back then.
Anyway, I would wait until I thought she'd dropped off to sleep before turning off the torch to save the batteries. Sometimes the click would re-awaken her because on some level she was attuned to this noise despite the background of crashes and rumbles. So I'd switch it back on, and wait her out again. However dim the remaining light was as the battery faded that little light never failed to bring some measure of comfort to her. I like to think my presence helped a bit as well though.
It's funny though isn't it? What light does in the darkness I mean. Even the tiniest candle flame can be seen in the night from miles away in clear conditions. Such is the power of light against the immensity of even the deepest darkness. In fact it is this contrast that makes light such a beacon in the gloom. Little wonder then that light is synonymous with hope. Where faith might falter or even fail, some small element of hope remains.
Earlier today I was writing to a dear friend of mine. Someone who keeps reminding me of the steadfastness of hope and friendship in hard times. I was trying to find some way of conveying to her where I am just now, which is in a far better place than even a few days ago. I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel, it's there ... and while it might still be some miles off, it's there. Hope is like that.
History itself is irreversible it's true no I mean it's really really true beyond dispute or the power of wishing even if you yearn with your entire being the past remains resolutely unalterable
Remember it or not it matters not a jot
So then it's not a matter of undoing or re-hashing it over and over again it is over, to be filed away in the archive the only thing that can change now is how we choose to think of it
For some reason I've always thought that true healing meant undoing and re-making over again but whole because I wished it so, so much I wanted the done to be undone
I didn't want a papering over of the cracks I wanted the cracks to be mended the parts fused without scar tissue I wanted it to look better than this smoother, cleaner, more complete
Clinging on to impossible wishes only serves to encourage us to shelter from the truth on all sorts of fronts we indulge in our hopeless fantasies rather than engage in the reality of living
But life refuses to lay down passively beneath the insubstantial blanket we fashion to insulate ourselves from the cold winds of a reality we're unwilling to face instead it continually rises up to confront us
And in doing so we turn to rail against it this injustice of not getting our hearts desire feeds into the general frustration within us calling from inside us in increasingly strident tones this is not right, this is not how it should be
But the fact of the matter is, that it just is and whether that be right or wrong is immaterial for when what is now is caused by what was then then transformation to what should have been is impossible and so learning to let go starts with accepting what is
I love the story of Chicken Licken (sometimes called Chicken Little). At the beginning of the story an acorn falls on her head. She looks up and all she can see is the sky. Now being a somewhat scientifically minded, and literal rather than lateral thinking kind of chicken, Licken concludes that the sky is falling in. So she sets off to warn the king.
It's so tempting to hide behind verse. One of the reasons I started writing verse in the first place is because there are so many things I am not brave enough to talk about. So instead I say it in a roundabout fashion. But not today.
I guess Licken decided the sky was falling in because she couldn't think of any other explanation for the knock to her head. She'd looked upwards, but not down or around. She just didn't gather enough evidence to adequately support her hypothesis.
Even so, you have to give Licken some credit here ... despite her mistaken conclusions she did at least act in good faith. I have every sympathy because I too suffer from a similar kind of blinkered vision. Even so, like Licken I act in good faith most of the time despite my many regrets and mistakes.
I am humbled by the loving support and kindness you have shown towards me, particularly over the last few weeks. I am getting help. There are better ways to deal with emotional pain than drowning it out. The nature of addiction is that there are often many false dawns before the reality of a true sunrise ocurrs. However harsh the sun seems, I am determined to walk in the light.
I am not sure how my blog will evolve from this point. It may become part journal part verse, I'm not sure yet. I'm so sorry not to have been popping by to visit you all with anything like the frequency I'd like over the last little while. I will make more of an effort over the next few weeks.