That’s a Gift

She is wise, my friend Lady Berocca. So is my friend Pants-Over-Tights.

Life continues to be a journey of lessons and my lessons continue to land on me like manna from heaven. That’s what those lessons truly are – precious gifts – even if it sometimes feels like it’s bricks crashing into me in a not very manna-like manner at all.

Well, this lesson is around friendship. And I have realised I can probably be a very scary friend, simply because when I love people (and I love easily and freely), I am pretty quick to place them on pedestals. I mean, come on, that’s not a place to be AT ALL. Imagine being my friend and the recipient of this, the unbearable pressure of being labelled PERFECT. For a while I thought “oh hell NO!” and gasped in horror at the possibility that I may subject those I hold dear to the devastatingly high standards my Inner Tyrant has me failing against all the time. What if this is what I do to those I love? Setting them up to fail every time? Now, that’s a terrifying thought.

I guess this lesson landed on me with the impact of aforementioned brick crashing down on me from a great height. Someone fell off their pedestal, let me down and I’ve been so ANGRY. I’ve felt used, taken advantage of and actually mistreated. Oh yes, I’ve been a black ball of resentment.

Can I not accept friends as humans every bit as flawed as I am? Am I collecting perfect, faultless, godlike robots?

No, I’m not. I don’t consider the two friends mentioned above as perfect. I absolutely accept they have flaws and shortcomings as part of who they are, and I wouldn’t have them any other way. And that’s what I’ve been pondering and I think the answer is the one I keep coming back to again and again: boundaries.

On Anna Island there is a drawbridge and I’m in charge of it. But the likes of Lady Berocca, Pants-Over-Tights, Lopez, Cherokee, Sunbeam and those other souls don’t just NOT wreak havoc once they’ve trundled across the drawbridge, they usually bring a gift. It’s a two-way street. None of them have to arrive with gifts, obviously. They can rock up and be shitty and moody and grumpy or whatever state they may be in. The point is, I can rock up at their islands in the same way – just as I am and whatever it is I’m feeling. That’s friendship, no? Good days and bad days. For better and for worse. Solid.

Therein lies the difference. And that’s where what felt like a brick turned into manna.

Lady Berocca described it so well and I think it’s actually a skill: “I am careful with where I place my trust and know how far I’m willing to go“. Pants-Over-Tights drew my attention to how it’s not me who has to change (except for bloody letting this go!) and how … yes, the street analogy again … my side of the street is clean and that’s a good thing.

And so the manna that fell from heaven: not my circus, not my monkeys. Once bitten, twice shy. Can I look at how I navigated what set this lesson in motion with a sense of integrity and knowing I did what was right? Yes, absolutely. Is it my responsibility to harbour anger because of someone else’s choices? Nah.

Oh hell no!

Hand on heart, I’m still pissed off. I’m still pissed off because it hurt. But as I emerge from my slowly dissipating ball of resentment (it’s kind of grey-is now), I am an experience richer and that’s a gift.

Today I’m not going to drink.

This was Everest

Well, here we are – we didn’t die again. Please make a note, Brain, because my hope is you’ll cling on to this simple fact and thereby making the next time just a smidge easier for me to get through. Yep, workshop presentation is over with. Yep, it was every bit as hard to do as I knew it would be. Did I back down? No. Hand on heart though, I very nearly buckled and had this gone on for a sustained length of time – and I am not being dramatic or exaggerating here – I would have got ill. This was about as much as I was able to take, but I went into it knowing this and did all I could to mitigate and unleash damage control in terms of my mental health and well being.

I guess I focused on the things in this cluster-fuck situation that I had some level of control over. I began studying the subject in goddamn January and read five books cover to cover. I spent time researching and endless hours thinking about what exercises and examples might help bring the theory to life so that I wouldn’t bore my peers stupid. I was open with my partner – even apologetic as I felt like a burden, that she’d been lumbered with someone who is as terrified of speaking in front of people as I am. I was apologetic because in no way, shape or form did I underestimate how much this required of me. With hindsight, I’m annoyed that I did because I wasn’t a burden. I was the bloody opposite but that’s all I’ll say on that.

Oh, I know the whole group is in the same boat. For that reason I feel bad even saying I feel this terrible about all this. I appreciate most of us get nervous to some degree. For me, this was Everest. It took me until the evening of the following day to begin to feel human again and the palpitations finally began to subside.

Bear with me, there is an upside! No, really, a big one too!

FOUR huge take-aways and things I’ve learnt…

First off, I did this thing I’ve avoided my entire life. I’ve said no to jobs because of this. I was quite prepared to walk away from my degree and later on also my Masters, had the tutors not caved in to me begging to submit a written piece of work instead. Oh yes, all the way to here I’ve managed to wiggle out of this. And then found my path with the counselling and there was no more running and hiding. So really, I had a total of 19 minutes of presenting experience accumulated over the past year from two mini-presentations going in this time! Hah! And as we have already established: I didn’t die. Don’t get me wrong, I did freeze and I did splutter and forgot to say half the things I’d wanted to say. But this fucker was two and a half hours and I talked solidly for the first half. The presentation won’t win any awards, but I did it, I survived and it was good enough. That’s all it needed to be. Victory. Oh, and I didn’t throw up OR faint. Double victory.

Secondly, look how recovery delivers again and again – make no mistake, this is ONLY possible because I’m sober. Pursuing counselling is only possible because I’m sober. And so many other things. My 10k run yesterday and my normal 5k loop today – I mean, back during the Dark Years I could barely leave the house. Everything I have, I have because I got out of hell. (And no, I don’t consider myself “cured” or “safe” or any of those things – my recovery will always be a work in progress. Just sayin’).

Thirdly, my modus operandi worked as well as I could have hoped. I knew my stuff inside out and when I realised I was so panicked I couldn’t read my notes, I was able to improvise and just speak looking at the bullet point slides. I can’t control the panic much beyond grounding and breathing techniques, but I could at least make sure I wasn’t going to struggle with what to say.

And fourth – huge lesson. My father has throughout my life said “you have to stop being so blue-eyed“. Well, I am blue-eyed, but by this he’s referring to my naivety. I trust very readily and expect the best of everyone until they literally stab me in the back, but even then I’m quite willing to consider it might have been an accident. Or rather, feel bad that my back is making a mess of their knife. You get the drift. Being too trusting/naive ties in with some of what we presented but I won’t bore you with that here except to say that I am. And so it has happened many times that I get used, taken advantage of, chewed up and spit out. Lesson: that’s on me. It doesn’t make it OK but it’s not the job of others to babysit me and ensure I only agree to give what I am able to without being shortchanged. So this has left me reviewing the drawbridge policy for Anna Island. I can’t bloody well get annoyed with it becoming a shit place to be if I willingly lower the drawbridge at all times. My bad. My side of the street is clean but I will think twice before I cross to sweep up on the other side in the future. That’s a perfect petri dish for resentment to grow and multiply, which will only hurt others as well as me. It serves no one. I’m kind and I’m honest and I care about others. That’s all well and good. The problem arises when I then stand there on my island and find it’s been looted and all the flowerbeds have been trampled. My bad. So I am checking over the drawbridge and the ol’ boundaries.

With all that in mind, and knowing there’ll be another workshop in the second year, I feel quite hopeful for what’s ahead.

So after a bit of a cleaning-up effort here on Anna Island, things are well in the world again.

Very ready for the summer break and looking forward to those summer evenings by the west wall of Falla when the sun barely sets.

Today I’m not going to drink.

Before and since

I would imagine most of us who are in recovery from addiction have heard this little phrase bandied about:

The best thing about recovery is that all your feelings come back. The worst thing about recovery is that all your feelings come back“.

You know, I do believe that there is a greater design, a greater power, a force bigger than we are that nudges us in the right direction at the right time. I do feel that way right now. This 45-yearold woman can face what a little girl could not and it seems to me that how the pieces are falling into place one by one like a giant jigsaw puzzle is happening for a reason.

And so recently I reached out to my beautiful mother because there is a part of the story that I needed her input to untangle. Or rather, I needed to know if what I’ve carried with me all of my life was only something borne out of my own imagination somehow. I have agonised over this for many, many years. Well, not the years I fended off pain by drowning it in a sea of Sauvignon Blanc, but all others before and since.

She stepped up. I don’t know why I even hesitated now, because it seems so obvious that of course that’s what she’d immediately do. Perhaps I worried it’d be too much, too hurtful, too harrowing. I’d do anything for Bambino. I would go to my own death for him. I guess what I for some insane reason totally missed is that mum is my mum. I’m her child. She would do anything for me. Probably go to her own death, so of course she’d make a goddamn phone call. I texted her and within 10 seconds she rang. I specifically said to have a think about it but 10 seconds is all it took.

And then there was peace. Now I know. Well, I think for now I know all I need to know. That hole in my heart makes sense and things can be put to rest. Simply because a mother’s intuition was in tune with what I knew in my bones. And again that thing happened. That thing that happened in recovery. When you speak your truth and suddenly there are other voices: “me too”. Once again, I’m not alone.

Don’t you just hate it when you read something that seems really cryptic and think to yourself “goddamn it, just spit it out! What are you saying?” – I get it. But here’s the deal: there is nothing to spit out. There is just something I know in my soul and in every fibre of my being, but where memories would normally be there is a blank space. Nothing. Not even a fragment. At 45, however, I think I may have found peace simply because I now know I wasn’t alone and that what I knew to be true wasn’t just in my head because I’m weird or bad somehow. And whilst that still leaves that blank space, I can make my peace with that.

Other than that, I have hit my usual “spring slump” that I always got at school and university, and now during these studies too. I’m just DONE and need a break. It does take a lot out of me, mostly so the actual course and getting together as a group every Friday. I’m not a fan of groups on a good day, but here there’s 20 of us and this counselling journey is pretty intense, so whilst there isn’t actually a single person I dislike – there’s a handful of people who have become good friends, another handful I kinda like, a sprinkling of people I don’t mind and yet another few I don’t have any view of at all – it takes more energy from me than I like. But that’s something else to figure out I suppose. Or do I need to? Do I need to iron out why I’m not that much of a flock animal? Is this something to fix? Or is it absolutely OK to be a solitary soul who likes the quiet life? If it ain’t broken…

What possibly needs fixing is how I let things follow me around stay in my head rent free in some situations. Why? Pointless. Sometimes it just comes down to asking myself “is this someone who is important to me?” and if the answer is no, then why in God’s name do I allow myself to feel bad?

As for the course though, We have five more sessions before the summer break. Then 35 more over the second year. 40 more occasions. Absolutely fine. I can do 40 more. One at a time. And then – all being well – I’ll have a diploma saying I can do this thing that I love for a living. In exchange for 40 hits of dread and the jitters? That doesn’t seem so bad.

Because that’s the thing. Anxiety – or FEAR, more accurately – has been my companion for all these 45 years. Everything I do, I do in a state of varying degrees of being scared. I remember a few months into the pandemic, Hubby turned to me and said no one he knows was as calm about the whole thing as I was. At the time it struck me as strange, that I – Miss Scared All the Time – not only could be perceived that way, but more so, that I actually was. Am.

I’ve thought about this quite a lot lately, actually. And it dawned on me that if you really think about it, it makes perfect fucking sense! Of course I’m better equipped than non-anxious, non-scared people to deal with a pandemic and all these lockdowns. I BLOODY KNOW THIS! This is how I have lived my entire goddamn life! A constant threat, impending doom just around the corner, the never absent feeling (that feels like premonition) that something really terrible is about to happen to me or, most of the time, to the people I love. And now there’s a threat called Covid. Hey, first of all it’s a freaking relief to know what the threat IS! That alone is a huge bonus. And then, to put to this solitary, introverted creature to stay in my house? Perfect! And don’t get me started on strict rules and restrictions (everything tightly controlled and ordered)…

I love it when things make sense and this does. An actual threat isn’t all that troublesome for me because I’ve operated under threat my whole life.

And that’s not to minimise the pandemic and all the terrible things that have happened in its wake. I’m just saying I now understand that it’s not that I’m weirdly stronger than I thought – I’m just doing what I’ve been doing all along. I know this. I’ve got this. I can handle this. But OK, as for strong – that I am. You can’t survive under threat for as long as I have unless you’re pretty robust. Funny how I used to see myself as weak. Stupid, really, because I’m anything but.

In other news we are selling our apartment and have our eye on a lovely house that is literally across the road. We are waiting for news as we speak. Maybe visualisation is a powerful thing, in my mind our morning coffee in the garden there is so vivid I feel like it’s real. If it falls through, there’ll be another garden. And having morning coffee here, in our beautiful home that I love so much, sitting on our bright turquoise sofa, isn’t anything short of fantastic either. So what will be, will be.

Today I’m not going to drink.