When I Said

Ashes to ashes

I intended to go from Summer Solstice 2019 to Autumn Equinox 2020 without consuming alcohol. I believed I could do this on will alone. Perhaps will is sufficient for quitting a habit – but will is not inexhaustible. I wake up and enter the morning and each day is different when it comes to how much available will I seem to have. Each day holds its surprises for how you will be taxed. I cunningly plan out my will allotment across the day’s known challenges and then the day sneaks in unexpected curveballs and suddenly it’s 4PM, I’ve already borrowed into tomorrow’s will supply and a friend is saying “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a drink?” and I am no longer sure at all.

My reasons for trying to not drink keep changing. I always know it causes cancer. That is reason enough on the days when I want to live long and prosper and keep this body as healthy as I can for as long as I can. True too though are the days when I might prefer to not live too overly long, and think years of living later for days of pleasure now is a fine trade. I’m keenly aware of my mortality and limited number of days, moments, experiences remaining to me and I don’t want to miss out on anything because I was drunk or hungover. Neither though do I want to be alive but essentially bored for however many moments I have left.

I’m wary of the times I say -to myself or right outloud – “Oh god I need a drink.” Those are the moments when we need to remember our breathing and our lessons from mindfulness and welcome the feeling and acknowledge it and sit with it, and then move past it. Those are the times when we process the feeling, and the underlying feelings and beliefs and perceptions and yearnings and come to a place where we are OK in ourselves just as we are. That is how those moments are best handled. This is not always how the script plays out.

Occasionally a social vignette presents itself where it’s not even a case where “a drink would augment this moment” but more “not having a drink would take away from this moment.” I suspect this is not actually true as I know people who are loving life and enjoying those moments but not drinking, even though they used to drink. I kind of have to surmise that I’m just not there yet.

There is such a dichotomy in drinking socially! It can bring people together when done in moderation, and drive them apart when taken to excess. When people partake in marijuana or harder drugs, there is usually a point in time where they cross an unseen threshold into a world that the not-stoned cannot access. It can make me sad; it’s like they’ve left the room without saying goodbye. But in these weeks of relative sobriety, I’ve learned that the same is true for alcohol. I didn’t notice before because I slid into the tipsy reality with the others, instead of watching them go and being left behind.

In the six weeks there have been 14 social occasions that prominently featured alcohol, as well as a music festival. I’d say that summer is the wrong time to have tried this but each season brings its own temptations. Of the 15 events, I elected to have a drink at 4 despite wanting to drink at all 15. I’d say that’s gotta count for something, but what would that even mean? None of it really matters, either way, in the longest of long runs.

I think it’s an experiment. I’m learning about why and how I drink or don’t. To be honest, I don’t like everything about what I’ve learned about myself. But there’s learning there, too. If I’m going to be a therapist (and I am), there’s no cringing away from this stuff.
I wrote a poem in Kingston recently about wanting a drink after opening the box of my Mother’s ashes. The box had been mailed to me by the crematorium 11 months prior and had sat, unopened, in my storage closet.

When I Said

When I said I wouldn’t drink from Solstice to Equinox (so dramatic)
I meant I wouldn’t apart from when I did.
“So Libra,” laughs Polly, taking a sip from her lipsticked glass.
But it takes me a couple of shots of lilac gin before I can
invite Polly to my bed.
And there are times when cracking a beer
is akin to breaking bread.

And also! And also and also –
I just finally opened the box from the crematorium and in the box was another box with a certificate bearing my mother’s name and in that box was a plastic box and in that there was a plastic bag tied with a twist tie and in that there was my mother.
I tucked the end of the bag back into the box
and out puffed a very small cloud and I thought:
ohmygodthatismymother.
And then I drank some scotch.
I am sorry I didn’t ask first Greg. You know, it was delicious.

Summer Solstice to Autumnal Equinox

I had it in my mind that I would stop drinking on my birthday, for one full year. Not that I drink to any great degree, not that it impedes my living. But my mom did just die from her alcoholism. And it does run down every branch of my family tree.

But it’s more than that. You ever meet people who have heard “the word of god” and they thirst for it, they long for it, they yearn? That’s kind of how I feel about sobriety. I actually really like drinking, though. I don’t like being drunk and I loathe being hungover but otherwise I like everything about drinking. I like smokey scotches and hoppy beers and charcoal porters. I love full bodied red wines and the liquid Christmas tree kiss of gin. I’m into the ceremony of champagne and the ritual of patio beers. I like drinking.

But it is inescapably true that alcohol causes cancer and that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. It’s a Group One carcinogen – so it’s like saying there is no safe level of asbestos consumption. I mean, obviously. And alcohol robs you of your awareness. It’s also fattening and expensive.

I am loving life so much. I’m having honestly So. Much. Fun. I’m excited for school. I love my job. I’m proud of my kids and am looking forward to watching their adventures. I don’t want to miss a thing. I’m acutely aware of my mortality and of time ticktickticking away. I don’t want to lose anymore time to the fog of drink, or the pain of hangover. And I don’t want to consume something that I know has a proven ability to cause cancer.

So tomorrow – no, later today – I’m drinking my last drinks, for a year and a quarter at least. I said I wanted to quit on my birthday, but the weekend after my birthday I’m attending an event that is marked by copious amounts of free alcohol (I don’t know about you but honestly, free alcohol seems to be everywhere). If I’m going to do a thing, I like to set myself up for success. By my birthday, I want all the effects of alcohol to be gone, so it’s a truly clean year. I read this book called Sober Curious and I like the idea of being sober curious. Not “sober sober” as she calls it. I mean, I’ll be sober sober until Fall 2020 but then, whatever, it’s my life. I expect though I won’t return.

I miss being just naturally weird, you know? I miss sliding along a natural high, blissing out on the colours of the sunset or perfect harmonies or cool lake water. I’m lucky in that my brain naturally likes to take those routes. If I just let it, my brain goes places that some other people use substances to find. If I give it enough fresh food and sunshine, it piques those peaks with no side effects.

I think it’s going to be an interesting summer.

 

 

Memory Book

Tonight we are gathering in Midland in memory of my Mother. It occurred to me recently that I would need photos of her, as well as a Memory Book for people to write in.

She didn’t want a service and insisted that if we do anything, it was to be small. She didn’t want people to make a fuss about her. But she also did not like to be overlooked or ignored. It’s a fine line to walk.

So we’re seeing a play in her honour at our community theatre home, Huronia Players. We’ll toast her with red wine – truly her poison, as it killed her in the end.

It’ll be nice to see people and to hear stories but it’s also bittersweet, fraught, too tangled to be parsed in a short blog post.

In any case, two days ago I went through all my photos to find ones she would deem acceptable to put on display. I could hear her denigrating herself “I’m too fat in that one, too old, too stern” and her pride “Yes, that one, it shows off my ankles.” When illness made her ankles swell, she mourned them.

So many photos – up until digital cameras and Facebook. Photos of friends from two decades ago, and some of those friends we will see tonight. Some people in the photos are dead, some have moved out of our lives, some I can’t recall who they are. Photos of my mom with her ex-lovers, and photos of me with mine. I can hear my kids on some unknown future day “Oh, nice shot of mom, too bad he’s in it,” when they look for images to put on display for my memorial.

The older you get, the more every experience loops back to past experiences until every present moment has echoes and somehow the process loops forwards as well and every death forecasts our own.

The Write Thing


“Sometimes the right thing, that’s hard to do”

I’m walking around my apartment singing listening to Danny Michel’s album White and Gold and cussing at myself for not updating my little vanity blog. Then I had to laugh, because I starting reinterpreting The Right Thing as the write thing, and yeah, man. It’s hard to do.

I have two post drafts sitting around from a few months ago. Geewhillikers Kate, just vomit up some words and hit publish. As a side note, I’m trying to find an exclamation that really suits me. I don’t like Geez or other ones derived from Jesus. They don’t offend me personally but I know they likely make Christians wince, and I would rather be more “do not harm” with my interjections.

When I was working I would daydream about all the writing I would do if I could only have time off. And reading! And fitness, by golly (by golly, maybe?) I would be the fittest of the fit! But here I am with time off achieving so close to nothing on a daily basis and only just managing to not gain weight.

I think part of it is when you’re working you just don’t have time to sit around staring at the pointlessness of everything.

Holy Mackerel (ugh, no) – that makes me sound so down! I think it’s really just the sound of anyone middle-aged if they stop spinning for a minute. There’s not much chance of that for the sandwich generation. Huh, I just realised I’m an open-faced sandwich now! Delicious. Less carbs.

One of the posts I haven’t finished is about that almost a month of not drinking. I wanted to write what I thought about it but I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Still and all and nonetheless, I have nothing to finish that sentence with.

The other is a post about my not really resolutions from New Years but first I have to teach myself how to turn my first ever power point (not a historical thing, it’s from this year) into a YouTube video. But up there ^^ I figured out inserting a link, so that’s something.

Oh, and I want to do a DIY video on how I fix/broke my alarm clock! Really, I could generate blog ideas like a machine, like some ideas generation app where you just click and it spits out new ideas. I just need to somehow install a “seeing the idea through” app into my (barely) operating system.

I know there’s a balance point between being harsh with myself, and being self-indulgent; between being self-critical and having self-compassion. Later in the song, Danny sings “let’s forgive and forget.” Dealio, I’ll try it with myself.

I gotta go flip the record.

Familiar ennui

Ennui? Angst? Weightiness? I don’t have the word for this.

My dog has butt problems. Little dogs tend to; it’s just that his aren’t resolving. He’s a senior rescue – maybe around 12 years old – and his medical past is unknown.

It’s been eight vet visits now, three types of steroid and around $1000. I’m putting him back on the food he was on mid-summer. Yes, I know about canned pumpkin. Yes, he gets regular exercise and always has fresh water. Apart from the discomfort of basically walking around with two large pebbles up his butt, exhaustion from fighting infection, and personality changes from steroids, he seems to be OK.

It might be cancer. Or his anal glands might have simply given up due to age. The fact is they aren’t working right and without steroids, his butt gets infected and swollen and risks exploding, doing him terrible and possibly fatal harm.

On steroids he’s aggressive and not his bright, cuddly self most of the time.

So I’m googling and weighing options and attending appointments and basically suffering the weight of sole responsibility for another being’s life. It’s taking whatever wind I had managed to manufacture out of my sails.

I’m inescapably noting similarities to my last few years of being my mother’s decision maker. Not knowing what I’m dealing with, being unable to ascertain how serious the situation is. Weighing costs and benefits. Contingency planning.

The main difference isn’t really that this is a dog and my mother was human. It’s more that I chose to adopt a dog whereas the responsibility of my mother was put on me.  The similarity is the despondent weariness in my core. That and the endlessly echoing sense of being alone. I have many good friends and a bit of family I can talk to and request support from. But like with my mother, it comes down to me, my choices and actions and beliefs and values and personal needs.

I know the calendar is simply a human construct to try to manage our concept of time, but I think I believed 2019 would contain only good news and successes. Maybe I should have crossed my fingers or wished on a star. Well, there’s plenty of stars – better late than never.

Parked dog at Timportance

The kids used to call Tim Hortons “Timportance”. I’ve always like that.

Being the unemployed recipient of a Tim’s card for Christmas and owing to the fact that I got up at 9:15, I got take-out coffee and a breakfast sandwich to punctuate the dog’s walk this morning. Can I just add a shout out to my small dog’s bladder? Way to adapt to changing definitions of “morning walk.”

There were five tables occupied at the Timmys. The staff were super quick throwing together the food so I didn’t get a good look at the table occupants. And it’s impolite to stare they say, yadayada.

Table one: a man and a woman in animated discussion. Papers strewn on tabletop being shuffled and referred to. Some with letterhead, some without. Some appeared to be reports. She’s smiling; I can’t see his face. Maybe numbers are up? Maybe they’re in the planning stages of their Big Idea? Maybe these are the papers they stole to finally bring down the Company, after a quick coffee break?

Table two: a woman sitting alone, reading. She has a hot beverage cup – maybe it’s a coffee, maybe it’s a Caramel Fudge Hot Chocolate – and is eating a Timbit. She gazes out the window at my parked dog, scans the room and then smiles kindly at me. Her book is called “Stop Eating Your Feelings.”

Table Three: a man by the fire. There are four comfortable looking chairs by the fire-feature and he is by himself in one of them. His phone is held aloft as he is immersed in a video chat. I don’t see earphones but I can’t hear the person on the phone, either. Maybe there are Bluetooth earphones under the man’s hat. I can’t hear him really either so maybe he’s using those earphones that turn your jaw movements into sound. Whatever silent thing is said makes him scowl and he pauses to stretch and to look around but not see anyone. It’s like he’s not really there at all.

Table Four: a man in dirty, worn-out clothes. He’s in layers, mismatched, rumpled, with greasy, hat-head hair. His coffee is done or forgotten. He’s playing a scratch ticket with enviable intensity.

Table Five: two older men. No phones on this table. Two disposable hot beverage cups and two sets of old hands. They hold eye contact while they talk. There doesn’t seem to be any tension between them, but also no expansive, heavily-gestured, shoot-the-shit energy. Two older men in companionable conversation. Past co-workers? Old friends? Ex-husband and widower of the same long gone woman?

And me. Me at the counter at 10AM getting breakfast to go. With my warm winter coat and cute pink hat to hide my bed-head. My adorable little dog waiting patiently outside. Smiling, looking at my phone, saying thank-you. Does the woman with the book wonder if I feel bad to be eating breakfast so late? Because I do, I feel guilty for sleeping in until 9:15. I have no routine and it’s overcast so I slept. Does she wonder if I eat out all the time? I don’t – I’m not working and eating out makes me feel guilty apart from this because I have a Tim’s card. I think I must look confident and put together on the outside most of the time but really I’m at a loss.

I didn’t go to Europe to find myself. I did go in part because I got married during University so I never did the run away to Europe thing. I did it like a middle-aged person – I went to lose myself. And I was famously successful. But now I need to pay bills and I can’t look for a career-type job because I want to start my Masters in the Autumn. And having been weightlessly nothing for an extended period of time, I don’t really want to stop. But “Sleeps in if it’s Cloudy” is not a title that pays the bills.

What self am I creating? Big ideas self? Lonely self-improvement self? Not really there at all self? Fervent scratch ticket self? Comfortable chat self?

For now I guess I’ll focus on becoming “makes enough to pay the bills” self and take it from there.

Piri Piri Tourtiere Debate

I’m sitting in my car watching the snow fall in Victoria Park. When I was in Portugal I regarded Christmas displays depicting pine trees and snow-covered hills. It’s strange to be in a foreign country and realise that their images of Christmas are your home country’s reality. We live in a Christmas card; why is this the dominant Christmas picture?

I’m drinking coffee and eating a nata tart. I don’t think I liked nata before I went to Portugal and now I find myself daydreaming about them. At  Farm Boy there were four tarts in the bakery. The smiling staff member put them in a box for me – it seemed a lucky omen; four tarts, four kids coming for Christmas! But as I took a couple of steps away and sampled a chocolate croissant, it occurred to me that I hadn’t purchased myself a tart.  There were no more in the display but luckily two steps further there packages of six. One extra tart is a much more easily solved problem.

I had been to Fairview Mall, Kitchener to set up WiFi for my apartment now that I’m moving back there. The staff member who sold me my cell phone plan at Virgin Mobile had offered to let me know when WiFi deals came up, which she did a few days ago. I ran it by my son just to make sure, and then told her I’d be there Christmas Eve in the morning to set it up. It went smoothly and it’s a great deal – if you’re looking for a cell phone package or wireless plan I totally recommend Lisa at the Fairview Mall Virgin Mobile kiosk. Now I’ve got to think of a witty name for my WiFi network. Previously it was called folkiekitten, but things have changed. Things have shifted. I just don’t identify with that network name anymore. If you have any suggestions let me know.

So I found myself down by Fairview Mall which is kitty-corner to Farm Boy. Last night I had looked unsuccessfully for two different food items in three different stores: brussel sprouts and a cottage roll. There’s a good chance that cottage roll just doesn’t exist in Southern Ontario. I picked up a piri-piri chicken last night though, thinking it might be a nice Christmas Eve dinner tie in to my time in Portugal. So anyway after signing for the WiFi, I drove my sleigh over to the Farm Boy to see if they had either cottage roll or brussel sprouts. This was overall a Christmas spending tactical error. I really like Farm Boy and want everything they sell (apart from the seafood, gross, sea-bugs). I didn’t need that hot chocolate. I definitely don’t need eggnog fudge for dessert. I’m just not very good at resisting things that please me. The brussel sprouts were terribly expensive. I stood there in the bright light of Farm Boy googling “brussel sprouts shortage 2018”, and sure enough it’s the reality. I quickly posted about this telling the kids that they’ll be having kale. It’s okay. They like kale. Wandering along to the deli area I was transfixed by their homemade tourtiere. Tourtieres are Christmas food. I picked one up to ascertain the heft of it, and then stood there amongst all the happy Farm Boy customers just pondering tourtiere. It would be delicious; you could tell because they also had half-pies sealed in plastic where you could see the meaty insides. Maybe we should have tourtiere for Christmas Eve dinner. But I already have piri-piri chicken. On the other hand, sweet potato casserole would go much better with tourtiere, though kale could go with either. And if we’re going to have tourtiere and go with a Canadian Christmas, why do I have nata tarts for dessert? Will we just have eggnog fudge for dessert without the tarts? Why do I even have tarts, fudge, a tourtiere AND a chicken? That’s a lot of food, I already spent over $100 last night and now I’m going to spend another $50? It’s a luxury to even consider the possibility of having two Christmas dinners available. It’s a luxury to be indecisive as to what to eat this evening. Trying to decide between two expensive proteins for a whimsical dinner on the holidays it’s definitely a sign of privilege. I’m really lucky that I can afford this. On second thought, CAN I afford this? I have no income at the moment – I can’t really afford anything. My sense of abundance, my sense of being able to afford tourtiere or piri-piri chicken or tarts or fudge – it’s all an illusion. Mind you, when I felt I could afford nothing and so I tried to do without anything – that was also an illusion. Scarcity is an illusion. Abundance is an illusion. All things are allusion but arguably  also very, very real. Is our reality an illusion? These are heavy thoughts, heavier even than the tourtiere I was still holding standing motionless in the deli section.

I watched a happy couple experience a Christmas miracle. The Farm Boy employee (all the Farm Boy employees are always smiling what is with this place) was presenting to them their Christmas dinner in a box. I cannot begin to describe the pure joy and delight on the faces of this man and this woman as the box containing turkey dinner complete with every trimming including directions for assembly was revealed. I decided right then and there that regardless of what this year’s Christmas dinner was going to be, next year I was giving myself the gift of a Christmas dinner box from Farm Boy – providing I’ve worked out the conundrum of abundance and scarcity, or maybe just found a job.