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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

My Father

     Today is November 11th, Remembrance Day, and a fitting day to write about my father, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 31 years. Every year, I watch the Remembrance Day ceremony on tv on CBC, and though I think of current events and past veterans, it is my father who takes center stage for me in my mind on that day. He is the main character, the principal hero in his crisply pressed military uniform, with his stripes and medals, standing proudly, representing his country and all those values that he held and continues to hold dearly.

    My father was born on October 13th, 1945 in Sudbury, Ontario to a French-Canadian mother and father. I don't know a lot about my father's childhood, but I do know things weren't always easy, that money was sometimes tight, that his father had a problem with drinking, and that his mother worked long hours to pay the bills. My dad doesn't talk much about his childhood. I know that at a young age, he was hustling in a local pool hall, finding a way to earn his own much-needed money. I know also that he wasn't successful at school, despite his obvious smarts, dropping out in grade 9. The act of joining the military at 17 years of age I think was, in many ways, a ticket out of the limitations he was facing at the time. Joining up revealed a few other things about his personality as well: the ability to make radical changes and take on big challenges, the desire to defend core values by serving his country, and a deep-seated urge to grow into his potential and spread his wings. 

    As I think of my father today, through the lens of the army brat I once was, I have many vivid memories of him as a military man. There he is, spit-shining his boots at 9pm, getting them ready for work the next morning, cigarette dangling from his lips, face tense in concentration. There he is again, standing in front of an ironing board as the early evening spread itself across the living room, turning his shirts into perfectly perfect fabrics, getting ready for the next day. Always getting ready for the next day. And always happy to get ready for the next day, never miserable about it. As a child, I understood that my father loved his job, and found meaning in it. As proof of this, in the mornings, my father would whistle and hum as he went about his rituals before work.

    In another memory, there he is, walking around in the Officer's Mess one night, the place he was in charge of running. We lived in Lahr, Germany at the time and my dad, who had begun his career in the infantry as a cook, had risen in the ranks and was now a Master Warrant Officer whose job it was to take care of all manner of events and goings on in the Officer's Mess-- a position of significant responsibility. He had gotten me a job that night as a "cigarette girl" (I was 16 so I guess old enough to carry out such duties), someone who walked around with small elegant trays of cigarettes, offering them to the officers and officers' wives. I remember for the first time, looking at my father through different eyes as I watched him work, and witnessing the respect and genuine liking his subordinates showed him as the night went on. I saw that not only did he like his job, the people he worked with seemed to like him. A lot. I had a newfound respect for my father and his work after that night.

    I have a few other memories of my father, sitting on the edge of my bed the morning after an argument that happened the night before during my late turbulent teen years (this occurred more than once), lightly waking me up with his hand and saying, "Sorry about last night. We're okay, right?"  In this memory, he sits there, in his ever perfect uniform, ready for work, his kind eyes looking into my own sleepy ones as I struggled to wake up. Looking back, I understand that it bothered him to leave things messy and unfixed and so made the effort before going to work to fix things with me. I cherish this memory of my father because it says so much about him as a man, and as a parent.

    When I left Winnipeg at 20 to move to Vancouver, it was my father who drove me to the airport, again in his military uniform because it was in the morning, before work. We had a coffee together in the airport lounge. We sat across from each other, he in his usual outfit and I in mine. I don't remember what I was wearing at the time but it was probably something black, being the deep-thinking artsy wanna-be that I was. We didn't say much to each other beyond talk of weather and travel details, yet the space between us was heavy with feeling. I remember there was so much I wanted to say to my father in those moments before I left, and I'm sure there were things he wanted to say to me too, but it was hard to say them, and so we didn't. To this day, I remember the jumble of feelings I felt as I waved goodbye to him, holding back tears. I remember his eyes were dry as well, but I could see in his expression that his tears were closer than they had ever been with me before. In this memory, he stands there waving back, crisp and efficient in his uniform, and I love him fiercely. 

    My father served 31 years in the Military. He began as a private and ended as a Chief Warrant Officer, the highest level one can attain as a non-commissioned officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. When I think of my father and how successful he was in his career, I am filled with awe, respect and admiration for him. His career achievements made him a success story, triumphing over humble and shaky beginnings, and leading him to a life of meaning and satisfaction. He loved his work, and was good at it. He showed unwavering commitment to the values of order, peace and freedom. The military was a huge part of his life. So today, on Remembrance Day especially, my father holds a special place in my heart, and in my mind's eye standing there at attention, in his perfect military uniform, ready for work. 

    

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Going for Year Two

    I've decided to go for year two of my Onewinelesswoman experiment, and have been surprised at how difficult it has been so far. I think I thought it would be easier than this, mostly because I already had a year under my belt, so wouldn't the second year just be more of the same? Wasn't I now a pro of sorts, an expert at navigating sparkly water drinking in a world where the cups runneth over with all things alcohol? Wouldn't I just get better and better at this way of doing things? Wouldn't I forget about the wine? Wouldn't the moderation fantasy disappear, replaced by a healthy, vibrant, centered me who didn't need fantasies?

    I didn't plan to go for year two. The goal was originally one year, and then I would reassess things. Beneath the one year goal was another goal though: To begin drinking moderately again after going one year alcohol-free. So as I went about the business of living without my pinot grigio and merlot buddies, I had that other goal, tucked somewhere deeply in my back pocket. It went wherever I did, comforting me on the tough days. Perhaps it was this other goal that allowed me to accomplish the first one. I don't know. What I do know is that I needed it, and maybe I still do. I needed to know that in future, if I wanted to accompany my delicious dinner with a glass of equally delicious wine, that I'd be able to, no questions asked. 

    Not that there would be any questions asked anyway. I live in a world and in a time when wine is a cherished thing indeed. And beer. And vodka. And other spirits. People love this stuff. They love how it makes them feel (while it's going down anyway!), how it takes the edge off a rough week. They love how it connects people, how uncorking a bottle and pouring it into glasses around a table is a lovely shared thing. They love how it makes things seem somehow more manageable. And fun. They love the fun that alcohol brings. So if I were to uncork my own bottle again, I doubt anyone I know would say anything, or wonder why I decided to do that. It would be a normal thing, just as their doing it is a normal thing.

    I think that's one of the reasons why year 2 has been a challenge-- I'm tired of going against the grain of normal. I'm tired of being the perrier-with-ice woman, while everyone else fills their glasses with the other stuff, the fun stuff. I'm tired of being the abnormal one in the room, the lone wolf on the sidelines. Even though I chose it, I'm tired of it. Sometimes. And I guess that's the key word... sometimes. Because I don't feel like this every day. Most days, actually, I'm ok with following my own path, as odd and not-normal as it may be. Most days, I'm aware of how much I've grown in the past 15 months, and how the fact that I've been wineless has played a big part in that. Most days I agree with my son who told me one night when I asked him why he likes me better as a nondrinker, "I don't know, you're just a better person". So, with that in mind, I guess I'll crack open another bottle of sparkly water and raise a glass to Year 2!

Monday, October 12, 2020

On Gratitude

     Thanksgiving is the one day of the year where the idea of Gratitude takes center stage. We mark it on our calendars, we have a day off work, we gather with our friends and family to stuff our faces and be thankful for what we have. It is a fabulous holiday. We need more of those. 

    In recent years, there has been much interest in the topic of gratitude. Google the word and you will be flooded by information on its benefits-- everything from increased immune systems and improved sleep to positive emotional and mental wellbeing. Merriam Webster defines gratitude as "the state of being grateful: thankfulness". This simple definition is easy to understand, but for some reason sometimes difficult to do. It is one of those things in life that most of us know we should be doing more of, but sometimes default to its opposite: the state of being thankless. I don't think we set out to be thankless; I think it is more that we just forget to be thankful. It is all too easy some days to focus on what is not working in our lives, or on what is missing, rather than remembering what is there and beautiful right in front of us.

    I have the unfortunate predisposition to be one of those people who, for much of her life has looked toward the other side of the fence and its pastures, always thinking they are greener than the greenest green, and often wondering how I can jump over the fence and quickly get there to do some frolicking. Although it is nice to be able to envision better things for oneself occasionally, the problem with this activity (especially if it becomes a regular habit) is you miss out on so many things. You miss out on the joy of being in the present moment, in feeling yourself grounded in the now. You miss out on recognizing and valuing what you already do have. You miss out on the experience of savouring what is. Again, this concept is not new at all. It has been written about over and over again by philosophers, psychologists, writers and musicians. It continues to be written about. People are talking. 

    We all have our things that we are thankful for, big and small, and they are unique to each of us. What is important is that we remember them. Regularly. Daily ideally. Doing that is medicine for the soul. So in no particular order, here is a list of things that I am grateful for today: When my sixteen year old reaches over to give me a hug- not a short fleeting hug but a long meaningful one, and then says, "I love you, mom" in his almost-man voice. When the sky is a vibrant canvas for the stunning fall colours of the leaves on the trees on my walk. When I slip my tired body between clean sheets at the end of the day. When I look down at my stomach and remember there was a colostomy bag there at one point in my life for 9 months, and that has now been replaced by a few scars, which I greatly prefer. When I share an intimate moment with a friend or family member. When I am filled with laughter to the point of bursting, and have a fully satisfying belly laugh (even better when I do this with someone else who is doing the same thing-- shared laughter can't be beat). When I sit on my couch in my living room by the window with a good book that makes my brain either relax or think, with tea in hand, looking at the shadows and shapes that the sun makes on the walls, and realize, "I am content right now". 

    I could add many more things to my list, and to do so would only enhance my life I am sure. Just writing the short list above did something cool to my heart. It warmed it up in all the right places, reminding me that Gratitude should indeed be a daily thing, and what a better day to reflect on this than on Thanksgiving. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Scars

     I have these two scars. I've had them for over 3 years now. One runs from slightly above my navel to just above my pubic bone. The other hangs out mid-abdomen, below my belly button, on the left side, about 3 inches long, perpendicular to the first one. The first one was the result of an emergency surgery brought on by a perforated bowel from a diverticulitis attack. The second one was the closure of the temporary stoma they had to create because of the perforated bowel. They are permanent reminders of what happened to me physically; there is no forgetting. But they are also symbols of healing and compassion.

    Today, September 20th, is the anniversary of my first surgery. It all started the night before, September 19th, 2016, when I was hit with excruciating pains in my lower abdomen around 9:00 pm. The pain was unlike anything I had experienced before, and I knew it was serious, and beyond troubling. It wouldn't abate. All night, I lay in bed moaning. My son was 12 at the time and could hear me from across the hall. He kept telling me to stop making the sounds. Thinking back on it, I'm filled with a rush of sympathy for the boy he was. Nobody wants to hear a parent in pain like that. Nobody. But I was stuck because I didn't want to go to the hospital and leave him alone during the night, so I was determined to stick it out. My plan was that I would drive him to school in the morning, then drive myself to the hospital. Ever the independent woman. Needless to say, my plan never happened.

    Around 4 am, unable to stand the pain any longer, I texted a former boyfriend who I knew would be awake as he worked at a golf course. I texted him because I knew in my gut I would be hospitalized and I needed someone to look after my dog, Licorice. He had always liked Licorice, didn't have a dog of his own, was single, and likely able to help. He answered right away that he could take her. More texting resulted in him coming to pick not only the dog up, but me as well to take me to the hospital. So at 5:00 am, he arrived at my place. I will forever be grateful to this man for his help when I needed it most. I woke up my son to tell him I had to go to the hospital, texted his father to tell him what was happening and to make arrangements for him to come and get him in a few hours. Then we left.

    The rest of this story is a surreal nightmare of sorts. Although I was given attention at the hospital fairly quickly, the next parts of the trip weren't so quick at all. I was placed on a bed in the back somewhere and lay there moaning (although a bit less with the morphine drip) for over 12 hours. Fast forward to 5:30 pm when I got up from my bed, dragged my ass and the IV pole to the nursing station and made an announcement to about 5 nurses laughing and chatting that I had had enough. They had been telling me all day that I was going to get a CT scan, even made me drink a bunch of water 2 hours prior in preparation for it. Yet it wasn't happening. In a voice that shocked me with its calmness, considering the state I was in, I told them that I didn't understand why this was taking so long, that over 10 hours had passed, that I had a known intestinal condition, that I had already been hospitalized for 4 days for this same condition 3 months prior, that I was probably sitting here with a perforated bowel. I advocated for myself with all the strength I could muster. It worked. The silence at the desk was deafening as I spoke. They all listened to me, and within 5 minutes someone came to take me for the CT scan.

    After the scan, the 5 minute thing happened again. Although they told me I would likely get my results from the scan in about an hour, within 5 minutes a doctor was at my bedside informing me that they were indeed going to have to admit me because I had a perforated bowel. Fear met reality at that point for me. They wheeled me somewhere else where I waited another 5 hours to see an emergency surgeon. She told me that I had 2 options: 1. have surgery to remove my problematic sigmoid colon and have a temporary colostomy bag or, 2. wait out the night and see if the IV antibiotics would kill the infection, with the hopes that I could then have elective surgery at a later date and therefore spare me the joy of living with a colostomy bag. I chose the latter. It sounded nicer.

    Over the next 24 hours, I waited to get better. My friend and her husband came to the hospital to be with me that evening, and I am forever grateful to them as well for doing that. A few friends came to see me the next afternoon, and I am forever thankful to these wonderful women too. I was starting to learn, unfortunately, that laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV, being sick and scared and vulnerable is a really shitty thing. Seeing a few familiar, caring faces was a soothing balm to my fragile state. 

    Around 3:30 the next afternoon, a nurse came to check my temperature, and she told me it had spiked to 38.5 degrees. The 5 minute thing happened again. A group of doctors appeared at my bedside, and the surgeon that I had decided I didn't like during my previous hospitalization, looked down at me with the kindest eyes, and in the gentlest voice said, "I think you need to have surgery". I still think about and am grateful for his compassionate delivery of the news. I asked when this would happen, and he said "In about an hour". I'll never forget the panic and temporary madness that filled me as this news sunk in. Everything seemed concentrated into one point in that moment: my son. I had to text him, had to tell him I loved him, had to tell him without showing how terrified I was that I had to have surgery. I was filled with horrifying thoughts that hijacked my brain. There were many hijackers, but the most frightening of course were the ones concerning my actual life on this planet: What if I didn't make it? What if I actually died on the operating table? What would happen to my son? How would he cope? I let the thoughts do their thing for a bit, but then I decided to shut them down and go with Faith, something I don't have a lot of normally, but in that moment, I grabbed onto it like it was the biggest of life rafts in a turbulent sea. It got me through.

    By 10:30 that evening, September 20th, I was back in my hospital room. This time was of course radically different, for a few reasons. For starters, I had a transparent colostomy bag attached to my abdomen and could see my actual colon ("stomie" as I would later come to know and call it intimately) resting there, swollen and pert, looking up at me. Then there were the tubes coming out of almost every orifice of my body: a catheter drained urine into a bag attached to the bed below me, an epidural and other drugs ran into the pick line they had done earlier that day, the NG tube ran from my nose to stomach (this would eventually almost drive me mental), and finally, a tube running from my abdomen into a small pouch attached to my hospital gown that collected what appeared to be blood and pus from my stomach. I was a mess. I definitely had had better days. But, on the bright side, I knew that the offending agent- my sigmoid colon that housed the diverticula that had caused me such grief off and on for years- had been removed. I would later learn that I now had 13 cm less of my colon. But I also had 13 cm less of problematic body parts, so I decided to focus on that.

    There is much more that I could write about all of this (because of course the story doesn't end with my first surgery) and maybe someday I will. It was in many ways a harrowing journey, and harrowing journeys, despite their awfulness, often make for great stories. Today though, I decided to start with my "scars", and so I will end there. 

    As I sit here and reflect on the 4th year anniversary of my first surgery, I am filled with many feelings about my scars. When I stand in front of a mirror and look at my body, my scars look back at me and tell me things. Every time. Things about strength, courage, determination, humility, grace, suffering, pain, and yes, even love. My scars are a reminder of what I have been through, but more importantly of what I have survived. Although I think of physical pain sometimes when I look at my scars, what I mostly think about is healing and compassion. I think of the ways my body has physically healed (the human body is indeed a miracle), but I also think about the emotional healing I have gone through since then, my own personal journey to match the physical one. Another thing that happens though when I see my scars is I am suddenly filled with compassion. I can't look at my scars anymore without feeling compassion... for myself, for others, for all of the suffering that humans sometimes endure while being alive. My surgery changed me in many ways, but the opening of my heart, ironically, was one of the biggest ones. 

    

    

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Be Your Own Best Friend

       It is dawning on me more and more as I get older that one of the most important things in life is to be your own best friend. This is not a new concept to me, and I am not the first person to write about this by any means, but it isn't any less significant. What is interesting is that, for many people, this idea is easier to think about than to do. I've been one of those people.

    Although I have known for a long time about the magic in this kernel of wisdom, I can honestly say I wasn't my own best friend. I was other people's best friend, or good friend, while I lagged behind somewhere. I don't even know, come to think of it, if I was even a good friend to myself on most days, never mind a best one. 

    For some reason, as I grew up and then became an adult, and then did all the adulting required of me, I found it much easier to critique and pick myself apart than to build myself up, as best friends do. I've written before of the anxiety that has traveled alongside of me my whole life, but there has been another companion too, although a much more sinister one. I will call her the "Critic", for want of a better word. 

    The Critic isn't nice, far from it. Nor is she a friend in any way. She might disguise herself as a friend in the way she offers me "advice" on how I can improve various aspects of my life, personality, character, physical self... on and on it goes. The Critic is relentless. With her, things are never good enough as they are. There is always something that can be improved. I can always be a better version of myself, and the Critic tells me I should strive to be that. Underneath all of that is the understanding that I am somehow not good enough. The Critic never says this directly... she just implies it, but she always delivers her message. 

    For most of my life, I listened to the Critic. I trusted her. I believed her. I thought she was right, that she had the right view of me, of my life, my choices, of anything really. I would do what she told me to do, thinking that this latest morsel of advice was finally the crumb I needed in order to be that better version of myself, that thing that I coveted so much. The problem was, the Critic never went away, not permanently anyway. Just when I thought we were done, she would show up again.

    Over time though, I started to see the Critic differently. She was a meanie disguised as a nice girl. She was never happy. There was no pleasing her. Her intentions were never good ones deep down. The objective with her was to tear things apart in order to build something new. She believed that things needed to be torn apart, that they weren't good enough as they were. There was no celebration of my uniqueness, of the miracle of my life, of me, just by the very nature of being lucky enough to have been born.

    I'd like to be able to say here that I one day just kicked the Critic to the curb, said, "I've had enough, you silly b----! Be gone!", and that was that. But, it of course hasn't been that easy; the tough lessons in life never are. I haven't yet been able to make her disappear completely. No, she still shows up beside me, but there are some things that are different these days, because I've grown, evolved, come into myself a bit more. For starters, she doesn't come around as much. I can breathe more fully. One result of this is too... dare I say it?... I am starting to think I might be good enough exactly as I am. This is indeed a very cool and comforting thing. 

    The other thing that is different though, and the one that has been the most powerful agent of change has been the relationship I have been cultivating with myself over the past year since I quit drinking. I have become my own best friend finally, and this has made all the difference. Although the Critic can still deliver her acidic barbs (and this still happens), because I am my own best friend, I am much better able to withstand the onslaught. I have myself in my corner, for the most part, and this is a precious and beautiful thing. It has led me to conclude that being your own best friend is not overrated at all. It is crucial. In fact, it starts there. 

    

Friday, August 28, 2020

Do What You Love

    It is becoming more and more important as I wander through this land of middle age that I do things that bring me joy, or as Joseph Campbell said, "follow your bliss". There is a sense of urgency about it though sometimes, which I have to keep in check so I don't dive into panic mode as I contemplate all of the things I have yet to do, discover, experience, but not the required time anymore to do them. Perhaps this means I am smack in the middle of a midlife crisis? In any case, the idea of the midlife crisis is no longer a distant, comical thing for me... it is no longer an idea... it is a reality. 

    Crisis might be too strong a word for what I am describing. This is not a dangerous thing. It isn't a calamity. It doesn't involve catastrophic events that have me taxed beyond my abilities to cope. It isn't a loud thing. And it isn't a totally obvious thing either. It is more of a quiet thing. Quiet but persistent. More of a whisper in my ear when I wake in the morning, or as I go about my day, or at 3:00 am when I can't sleep and the stories of my life are swirling in my mind with a vengeance. It is quiet but it is there, and I can't help but hear it.

    It tells me things I always knew but never acted on. It jolts me, pulling me out of the humdrum and the routines and the bills and the automatic ways I do things in this life. It tells me a bunch of things that aren't new at all: life is short, time is precious, it all goes so fast. It asks me questions like, "What are you waiting for?" and "Who are you, apart from all of the things you have to do to live in the world every day?" The most pressing questions these days are also the most frequent: What is it that you love to do? What is that thing, or those things that transport you out of the ordinary, and into a realm that can only be defined as special? What is it that makes you lose your sense of time and space, that pulls you totally out of the moment but yet keeps you in it all at once? What is that thing that makes you feel connected to the deepest, happiest, most authentic part of yourself? 

    These questions have surfaced in my life often, from a young age, so I am pretty familiar with them. I've always been a person who asks big questions. What I am not familiar with though is the immediacy, the sense that I must act NOW... or else! What I am not familiar with is these questions no longer having an airy, theoretical slant to them, an intellectual pondering, something I could think about but keep safely at a distance. No, these questions have pulled me firmly to the ground and are keeping me there. They are loaded with feelings, hopes and dreams. These questions can't be just thought about or ignored anymore. My 52 year old self won't allow it.

    Although my 50-plus status has contributed to the state in which I now find myself, it involves more than just aging for me. I know deep down that one of the main reasons I am now thinking more regularly about how I want to spend the rest of my life is that I removed the wine from it. My lounge visits and tipsy lunches with friends had become like one of my hobbies really. It was something to do to fill the time between work, chores and parenting, and to take the stress off of work, chores and parenting. It was a hobby I liked, but it did take up a lot of time, and sometimes too much time was spent recovering from said hobby. It was also a hobby that took over other hobbies and interests... the other things I used to do just faded into the background.

    But lately, these other things have been reappearing into my life, one by one. I am rediscovering my love of writing, and am actually not just thinking about writing but am actually doing it. I took the plunge yesterday and treated myself to a beautiful guitar, one with a smaller body than the guitar I've had for the past 25 years, and playing it last night for 3 hours was heavenly. I am thinking about possibly singing/performing again. Basically, I am starting to remember what it is I love to do, what makes me tick, what makes me connected to who I am, deep down. 

    I've decided that it is okay to feel this sense of urgency and that it is okay to have the pressing questions come and visit me regularly. It is only in listening and accepting the questions that I will know what it is I need to do next, the next place to put my feet, or what direction to place them. I know now at a feeling level (not just a thinking level) that life is indeed way too short to waste it doing things that do not bring me joy, and that do not reflect my truest self. It really is. Everything that has been said about the passage of time being much too fast is completely true. There is nothing partially true about it. In the end, we owe it to ourselves to do what we love.

    

Monday, August 17, 2020

What One Year With No Wine Has Taught Me

     Recently, I celebrated achieving my goal of reaching one year without alcohol. I decided to give up the wine (my beverage of choice) on July 30th, 2019, mostly out of curiosity, but partly out of a sense of becoming aware that, for me, the benefits of wine consumption were becoming more and more overshadowed by the lousy parts of it. I wanted to find out what it would feel like- physically, emotionally and mentally- to not have any alcohol in my system for a year. So last summer, I began the journey...    

    There are so many things I could write about, as I reflect on what it has been like for me, but something that stands out for me is how giving up the booze has presented the opportunity for me to come face to face with myself, demons and all, and to handle things differently. I'm reading a fabulous book right now by Pema Chodron, "When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times" that is resonating so much with me because she talks about how we often react to "discomfort" in our lives (and I am taking this to mean mostly "emotional discomfort") when we encounter uncomfortable situations:

"Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape-- all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can't stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain...There are so many ways that have been dreamt up to entertain us away from the moment, soften its hard edge..." (14).

    When I think of what much of the past year has been for me, it has been a meeting of my edge, as Pema calls it. I love that description. I'm not saying the past year has been awful, or miserable, because I gave up the wine. But it has definitely been "edgier". Without a doubt. And by choosing to not blunt that edge with a luscious red or crispy white, this meant I've often rubbed up against the hard spots, and as a result, felt uncomfortable. So the biggest task of this past year has been learning how to handle discomfort, instead of running from or trying to manipulate it in some way. 

    I was partly prepared for this kind of thing because I've been meditating fairly regularly for over 20 years now. Meditating has provided me often with the opportunity to come face to face with my discomfort while I am sitting, and thoughts and feelings arise, as they will. Meditation is in many ways the opposite of running, or numbing, or distracting, or manipulating. In those moments, when you experience discomfort while meditating, you simply acknowledge what is happening, breathe, and notice things. I say simply, but this is probably the wrong word to use because there is nothing simple about just sitting there while you are being bombarded with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings (which is why many people hate meditating, and why of course, they probably should do it regularly, but this is another blog entry entirely)... But I digress... My point is that meditation helped me greatly this past year.

    I've been thinking a lot of this discomfort idea, and have come to the conclusion that it is at the heart of many problems people face. Although some people on the planet grew up learning how to deal with discomfort in healthy ways, I think many of us did not. Many of us grew up thinking it wasn't desirable to feel intensely negative emotions at all and the best thing to do when experiencing them was to run, distract, ignore, etc. In fact, many of us came to think that extreme emotional discomfort was to be avoided at all costs, and that it might actually destroy us somehow should we allow ourselves to experience it fully. So we grew up believing all of that, when actually, there is a whole other story that can be told about discomfort. The truth is that discomfort is normal, okay, that we won't be destroyed by it, that it doesn't last, that we can handle it, and so on. But we only discover that truth when we sit still and stop running long enough.

    So if I had to say what my biggest lesson has been this past year going alcohol-free, it would be that I can sit with emotional discomfort now more than before without freaking out about it and without telling myself stories that only make the discomfort worse. I can meet my edge without obsessing over the wounds that the edge might cause. I can do this, and when I do this, I become stronger, more resilient emotionally. Although I could do this before I quit drinking, I couldn't and didn't do it consistently. It was only after giving up the vino that this happened on a more regular basis. So in following through with my goal, a whole new way of living has been opened up to me, and it's pretty cool.

    I still haven't poured myself a glass of wine, even though my year-long experiment is now over, and I'm not sure when and if I ever will again. When I set out to do this, it wasn't for forever, as I know that I am not a forever type of woman, but I do know that some of the gifts that have been born out of this past year have indeed been priceless to me, and so for now, that is motivation enough to continue on this path.

    

    

    

    

My Father

      Today is November 11th, Remembrance Day, and a fitting day to write about my father, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 31 ye...