Advent is not officially upon us, but the shitty greyness of November sure is.
We are smack in the middle of the time of year when everything is bare, grey, and tired.
Not quite officially Advent, the season of mystery, of waiting, of germinating in the darkness so that we may blossom in the light is definitely upon us.
What better way to embrace it all than to try some new stuff?
This year, it’s all new to me; my home, my relationship status, and most significantly, my role as a mother. Whatever you call your celebration of light in the darkness that you celebrate, the reality is November is often a month of feeling less than sparkly.
As always, I’m embracing it. All of it. Well, at least I’m trying to. Trying ‘new stuff’ may help ease the doldrums, but is it the solution? I’m not so sure about that.
Being able to be still in the darkness takes incredible strength of mind and spirit. Allowing yourself to feel it deeply without running from the discomfort may be the secret to rising into the light refreshed and enriched. It may also send you to the psych-ward for a few weeks. Chacun son gout.
I try to remember the significance of the tiny lights twinkling in the cold and the darkness. They are the symbols of hope when we are not sure of our place and where we belong, and sometimes that’s all we have.
My Mumster suggested to me that I just flow through what she calls, “The Once Every Six Week Crap Out”. Being a ‘crap-out’, it’d kinda tough. Being in the middle of the bleak mid-winter makes it even tougher.
Tears have been a companion off and on for a few days, and I’m sure, given the shit way the morning started out, they will be again today. But that’s ok. I have tissue.
Focus is something I grasp at during these days of sacrifice. I say sacrifice as I believe that after a holiday filled with indulgence and excess, our bottoms and our bottom lines need some reigning in.
My tendency is to withdraw into myself and hibernate a bit, keeping my energy for planning wonderful things like Winterlicious dinners, allowing the characters I’m writing about to come out and play, and choosing something to accomplish.
To my gal pal who spent her birthday alone yesterday, I want to let you know you were in my heart. Been there, done that, and trust me, you’ll be better for it next year.
To my other gal pal who is working very hard at her profession, feeling guilty about money and family time, I am so very proud of you.
To a few of my pals, don’t feel alone in your intimate relationship. I’m with ya, and coffee and a good talk with a friend go a long, long, way. Call me.
To my Mumster who normalized the every-six-week-crap-out, thank you ever so much. It helps me in my practice to never forget the temporary nature of all things. It helps me just let go of all of the insignificant crap that interferes with the incredible woman I’ve worked so hard to become.
To my dear friends, I hope that your once-every-six-wee-crap-out is a catharsis of sorts, leaving you feeling purged of your demons and ready to step back onto the road of fabulousness.
Fear is a slippery little fella. Sometimes you need to hang on to it so you don’t get damaged, and other times, you need to set it adrift on a flaming raft with an over-zealous shove and a one-fingered salute.
This past weekend, fear crept in and tried to snuggle up in my heart. Good thing I can be a cold-hearted, logical gal when I need to be. Good thing I have friends who remind me not to let my imagination get the best of me and conjure up all sorts of possible ways that my happiness can be sabotaged. Good thing I didn’t turn tail and run. Good thing.
Regardless of what we identify as being bountiful or lacking in our lives, we live within the comfort zone of the known. We live rooted in the identities that we have crafted for ourselves. We cling to our wounds until they no longer serve as shields.
The truth is, we often cling to our wounds long past their expiry date, and we do this because that is the only way we know how to go on living. We do this often without knowing we’re doing it. We fear leaving what is known and comfortable to seek what is meaningful.
During the past 48 hours I have received calls, and had coffee with friends who have all experienced some sort of crisis rooted in fear. I was an addict. I’m drinking too much. I keep winding up in toxic relationships. Today I heard all of these symptoms, and I offered as much compassion and humour as I could. After all, being fearful is normal. We need to tell and re-tell our stories. We need to be the storyteller, and we need to be the witness to the life-stories woven by others. Change is scary, and we need our friends to walk beside us when we don’t know if we have the courage to take another step on a path that leads to goodness-only-knows-where-but-there-had-better-be-margaritas-and-a-bed.
Fear of feeling, dealing with the here and now, or not having someone to prop up an ego seem to have been served up a la carte over the weekend. It’s a menu everyone eventually gets served; long in the planning and very bitter. It keeps popping up on the menu until you get tired of the bitter aftertaste and are inspired to take over the kitchen.
The most curious of fears is the fear of getting what you want. It means letting go of an identity that was defined by lack of the thing itself; career success, loving relationship, independence, you name it. You have to be brave enough to break down the walls protecting your own kingdom of fear.
While trying to shake off the snug embrace of a well-known-and-outlived-it’s-usefulness-fear-of intimacy which had slithered it’s way into my mind, I had a rather synchronistic encounter.
After zenning out and treating myself to some self-care paraphernalia at an over-incensed and herbal-tea’d hippie hang-out, I wandered back to my car completely and utterly distracted. Rationalizing with oneself can be very engrossing, and I was neck deep. I was not going to half-ass this one. I was going to face this thing down even if it meant a haze of incense, tantra-drumming, and Buddhist-throat-singing loud enough to scare the bejeezus out of the neighbours. While I was getting all bad-assed and spiritual with this fear, I was being watched.
Two men of questionable intent approached my car, one wedged between the driver’s side door and the car next to me, pulled on my door handle and banged on my window while the other stood at the right side.
Thanks to good habits, my door was locked, and the car was started. Thanks to a friend who was texting an invitation for a drinky-poo, I was head-down-distracted, allowing these two men to target me.
Hours after I had safely pulled away and caught my breath from the initial shock, I sank into the corner of my couch and cried. I sobbed and relived those few seconds of that man’s face just inches from my own.
But why? I was safe in my own space now. I was ok.
I cried because the threat of harm pulled me back into the rational fear I had developed throughout years of abuse and assault. It was like someone tossed me back into the arena to face another hungry beast after I thought I’d finally made it out alive.
What I did next was remarkable. I reached out. Well, I reached out the best I could. Via text of course, because I couldn’t bear to speak and have anyone hear my voice tremble. My pride wouldn’t hear of it. “I kinda need you.”
It’s rather ironic that my fear of letting someone in was challenged head on by someone literally trying to get in.
Part of healing and kicking fear in the ass is learning that it’s ok to be vulnerable sometimes. It’s a lesson that I have found extremely challenging. But with true self-compassion, vulnerability can be the greatest warrior in the battle on the front-line of fear.
There is a spiritual alchemy exchanged every time we offer support or receive it. This alchemy is grace in action, mercy in motion, the very human breath of compassionate and spiritual living. It is the greatest enemy of fear. It’s ok to kinda need someone, they kinda need you too. Trust me, if you show them yours, they’ll show you theirs.
It seems that single people are the great catch-basin of sympathy for those friends negotiating marriages or the equivalent.
Our relationship troubles get us a pat on the head, and the standard, simple advice of, ‘If you don’t like it leave’.
A lot of coupled folks live their courage vicariously through us singletons. Common platitudes include; You don’t need anyone, you’re independent, it’s time for you to focus on your career (interchange that with a hobby, parenting, or some other such bullcrap), you don’t need a man/woman.
It’s easy for these folks to casually waive their ringed-fingers in the air and brush away our trite singleton emotional pain when, at the end of a hard day, they have someone to come home to, someone to snuggle up with, and someone to help negotiate the financial waters.
Yah, we get it. Relationships are not easy, and they take work. Why do you think it’s taken us so damn long to find someone we can live with? We understand why your spouse irritates the hell out of you. We really do. That’s why we didn’t marry them. We also understand why you irritate the hell out of them too.
There is an understood law of friendship that unless it is a true emergency, you don’t call after or before certain, civilized hours. Oh wait, that’s for coupled folks only. Single people stay up partying all night and writing their manuscripts. I wish. This long-weekend alone, I have been woken up every single morning with a text or call from a married pal in crisis, been needed (in person) for emergency advice out-of-town, and in my own living room.
Last night, I had a chance to put my feet up and enjoy a simple, quiet evening watching the ball game. By that time, My Go-Juice(you know, the fun energy that keeps you going) had run out, and I was in need of recharge time. I’ve been in need of recharge time for six months, but have neglected it too long.
I’m already counting down to my next holiday, and have narrowed down my escape destination to two options.
During the past few weeks I’ve come to realize just how burnt out, in need of nurturing and good company I am.
If you are single, and find yourself constantly being asked for energy and time, it may be time to re-evaluate. Are you the one always organizing dinners, lunches or trips? Do your pals give you the brush off when you talk about your relationship struggles, but expect a kind ear when they bitch about their partners lip-smacking appreciation of anyone other than them, their messy habits, inability to communicate, lazy or alternately hyper libido?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then it’s time to recharge and re-fill your Go-Juice.
It’s ok to say no when you have nothing left to offer. God forbid us singletons get so cozy in ourselves that we’re happy handing out the candy-equivalent of peanuts for apathetic advice; If you don’t like it, leave.
It’s not that simple now, is it folks?
No, relationships are complex, fluid, wonderful things. Especially our friendships.
I do most of my socializing via phone while I’m driving. Hands-free of course.
More and more I’ve been doing less and less talking, and that suits me just fine.
Coming off of an energy-sucking few months, I find most people exhausting and barely tolerable. My overworked bullshit detector has become antiquated, and I’m left to depend on my quick wit and lack of patience. A deadly combination at best.
The conversation I had this morning with one of the few people I find tolerable began with our shared disdain for small-talk, and the necessity for sobriety.
We talked about my latest therapy session, and the ridiculous need to quantify the human experience for the sole requirement of doing business. What a tragedy of ignorance.
As it happens, this therapy session of which we were speaking, ended with the therapist saying a pat congratulations for being so resilient and the required, “Goals have been met”.
What? Goals have been met? Like not raising my own jugular vein and making a tidy incision? Like not overdosing on a sweet bedtime concoction of prescription pharmaceuticals, vintage wine and over the counter cough syrup? If that’s the case, then, Yay me! Goals met indeed! Someone decant the wine and pass the Nyquil.
Our conversation veered to the more spiritually enlightened, something about taking an on-line course about Quakers. Which, struck me as something akin to Amish On-Line, or AshleyMennoniteMadison.com.
Our world, if you have the right sense of humour, can be wildly interesting and engaging. It can also be anxiety provoking and lonely. It seems that the more empathetic someone is, and the more spiritually engaged, that the more difficult it is to tolerate the thick curtain of bullshit that pervades our public lives.
Two men across from me at a café hold a business meeting so that their review of employee performance (including the employee names) is now public. An annoying bald-headed athlete-wanna-be in tear away pants has a phone conversation on highest volume speaker phone while he waits for what I can only imagine is a coffee beverage as pretentious as himself. A couple get up , leaving a pile of unpurchased and carelessly thumbed through books for someone else to clean up. Pages wrinkled and now wasted, as no one wants to pay full price for a dirty book.
In a world we all share so intimately, I am astounded at the variety of perspectives about what is acceptable, and what makes someone a complete social write-off. For instance, the gentleman who just tried unsuccessfully to attend the café washroom with a copy of the Globe & Mail tucked under his arm. He just made haste for the washroom at the back. Note to self: wait until you get home, do not touch the public copy of the newspaper.
As absurd as taking a course about Quaker spirituality on-line may sound, it is no more absurd than the life you can witness around you at any given time. Keep your eyes peeled, your phone on silent, and your sense of humour well-maintained.
I’ve tried pilates balls, running, meditation, hard work and hard partying.
Last night an old pal asked me what was on my Fall To-Do List. After I told him, it felt kind of mediocre. A little pathetic even. They were simple, fun things, with nothing that really deserved a blue ribbon or a mug shot on a trade magazine.
But those simple things do matter. It’s the little things that string together moments which define a life.
Wandering off the beaten path at the McMichael gallery last week, a dear pal and I talked about the year we’ve had. When I discussed my summer and autumn to-do lists, his remark was a chuckle, “It’s like faking it ’til you make it“. And he was right.
Hardworking, intelligent, emotionally capable folks, (like moi) tend to be good at isolating themselves when they feel vulnerable. I have learned through experience just how important it is to call out for a lifeline and grab hold.
My friends have answered that call as best they can, given their own chaos and capabilities.
A relatively new pal suited up at the last-minute and humoured my desire to participate in Nuit Blanche. Others have shared coffee, baseball games, girl talks and gone shopping with me ( I hate shopping).
My seasonal to-do lists may seem forced, but so far so good. Each day my heart mends a bit more.
So far each item on my simple lists have provided me with connection to other wonderful human beings, and that my darlings, is what life is all about.
Someone I love dearly, a best friend and wonderful person is suffering so deeply that the only caring I can offer is to hope that he knows he is loved as he suffers through what is, I’m sure, one of his ‘Dark Nights of the Soul’.
What my heart tells me to do is to keep reminding him of that, but what I know I have to do is let him find his own way, and hope that during the darkest of times, he knows that he is loved.
I want to call, text, send emails, books, quotes, stories, cards and carrier pigeons. I want to wrap him up and protect him from the demons only he can face and conquer.
I want to stomp my feet and shake my fist at the sky and….
To be honest, I’m not sure, as I’ve been having what I like to describe as, “The Dark Night of the Whateveryoucallit”. In other words, I don’t like to admit that I’m sad, depressed, angry, frightened or broken-hearted.
I like to breathe deeply and remember that whether or not I like it, I will wake up tomorrow and slog through the difficult emotions.
I like to remind myself that it’s ok to come home, cry myself to sleep and let this sadness snake its way through my body until I’m strangled by it.
I like to remember that ignoring it, or raging against it will not make it less painful or faster to go away.
Although it is painful to experience the ‘darker emotions’, the more you allow yourself to feel these in their gruesome fullness, the more cathartic it is. It’s scary as hell, but why use your energy fighting something you must face?
That’s been my experience anyway. Instead of running away from it, I just let it wash over me, seep into my bones, and tumble as tears from my eyes. Whenever we emerge from these darker times, we are a changed person, often with more capacity for love, compassion and empathy. The storms polish us like sea glass that has been worn smooth from being tossed ruthlessly against the rocks, and then gently brought to shore.
I’ll share with you some of the things that I’ve learned about not resisting painful emotions;
1)You have to reach out to people. Don’t roll your eyes and stop reading. Everyone has their own life, but friends are always willing to listen and do what they can.
2) There is alchemy in every human encounter; each person is at the same time giver and recipient. Helpers are gifted the opportunity to help, by those in need.
3) No emotion is permanent, so there’s no point running away from the hard stuff. It stays there until you’re too exhausted from chasing the next item of retail therapy, cigarette, joint, drink, lay or thrill-seeking adventure. Then you’re just left worn out and having to deal with what you spent all of your energy running away from
4)We all screw up. We all stumble backward once in a while when we need to be reminded of why we didn’t stay there in the first place ( bad relationships, addictions, habits…you get the gist of what I’m saying here…).
5)Life goes on, even when you don’t ever want to wake up, it goes on. See #1 and #8 when you really are suffering.
6)Guilt and shame are chosen emotions. They’re tough ones to overcome because they whisper evil things to our ego, and ego is a ruthless critic. Looking deeply and compassionately at guilt and shame can ease a lot of internal suffering.
7)When you are able to, offering your compassion and love to another human being may be emotionally risky, but it’s totally worth it.
8) Talking does help. Language helps us process, but it also invites different perspectives and the occasionally necessary reality check.
For those barely able to take the next step through the dark night of their own soul, I wish you peace.
For those of you who care about someone who is going through this, I also wish you peace.
Be kind to yourself and be kind to one another. Be gentle…and stock up on tissue ’cause you’re gonna need it.