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.

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.

I’m not actually here for the sightseeing

-seen in Westminster Abbey

My father was 50 when he passed away. His family history, his executive career, his musings to be Mayor of Toronto amounted to nothing; he simply died. I’m turning 50 in just under a year and my slithery lizard brain is whispering “Your time is running out… have you done anything at all?”

When a scene hits a high note, or if a scene isn’t working, those are cues for the actors to “sweep” and end it. The lesson here is that we have control over sticking it out or walking away. Recognizing that we can let something go either because it’s already peaked or because it’s no longer serving us is a revelatory lesson.” Maggie Fazeli Fard. “LIFE, UNEDITED: 10 Things I Learned About Life in Improv” experiencelife.com

My mother loved Mexico. Her retirement plan included winters in Mexico. The tech bubble burst broke the back of this vision, reducing it to several weeks each winter in Mexico. She went once, renting a condo and having a lovely time. The next year her as yet undiagnosed neuropathy prevented her from taking much pleasure in the trip and the year after that she was too ill to travel at all. She never saw Mexico again.

And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted -” Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more.”…

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies. -Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

Jonathan Byrd played a house concert in Midland when Morgan was 14. I had just seen him at Eaglewood Folk Festival and brought his CDs home. The concert turned out to be the same night as Morgan’s Academic Awards night for Grade 9. I absolutely wanted to see Byrd and I knew that in a few years Morgan would choose the concert over attending Awards night. But I couldn’t even propose the choice to Morgan then; it would have given the message that I was not much interested or invested in her academic success. I’ve actually never seen Byrd since.

“While I was on the space station, I used Twitter to ask hundreds of thousands of people what they would like me to take a picture of. Resoundingly, the answer was “home.””  – Chris Hadfield. “We Should Treat Earth As Kindly As We Treat Spacecraft”  Wired.com

“In the view from above can you still see Rome, every mother, every child, every street, every home… every god, every devil, every virtue and sin. Everything we know on the head of a pin.” Danny Michel, “Samantha In The Sky With Diamonds”

When you work for a Bank, you spend a lot of time considering and mitigating risk. My days at the Bank involved making financial plans and handling risk. It would be foolish to do this for clients and not to look at your own plan and how the Bank feeds your need for security. There’s the bi-weekly salary, benefits, stock ownership plans and a pension. There’s an annual bonus. If I hadn’t worked at the Bank, I wouldn’t be in Europe right now. But, maybe if I hadn’t worked for the Bank, I wouldn’t have felt the need to go to Europe?

“In India when they train elephants, they’ll take a baby elephant, tie it to a flimsy rope and tie the rope to a flimsy green twig. They’ll do this for a few weeks. When the elephant grows up, their handler can tie the elephant to a tree sapling or small green twig, with a flimsy rope and the animal will not try to get away. Conversely, if you tie the same elephant with a strong chain to a large tree, the animal will break the chain or uproot the tree.” Deepak Chopra, “The New Physics Of Healing”