Today I Met A Lighthouse

birch-2The silver birches, white trunks gleaming against the blue grey sky, stand in a sea of daffodils. They are early this year, the daffodils. But everything is. Our winter has been unseasonably warm. The magnolias have bloomed. The irises are unfolding. We are barely in August and already it feels like Spring. I noticed them today because I was out walking. I was out walking because an earlier accident had rendered my car undriveable.

I’d been leaving to meet a friend for coffee when perfect alignment occurred. Somehow, while reversing down the driveway, a garden light became lodged between my front wheel and the bumper. I did not realise this at first, subsequently dismantling the front bumper, the fog light, parking sensor and associated electricals. But the incident did not negate my requirement for coffee, only increased it, so after making the necessary arrangements for repair, I set out on foot.

park-2Our acreage is several kilometers out of town and in order to shorten the journey, I took a path through the park. A shirtless, tattooed man was playing a didgeridoo. Two teens were skateboarding in the amphitheater. Four youths were swaggering towards me, scowling. I could have created narratives about all these people. Imagined who they might be, how they might hurt me. It would have been easy, particularly considering I had already had “something go wrong”. A self-destructive, anxiety-inducing spiral could have eventuated. And in the past, would have.

sky-2

Instead, I noticed that the sky above the bare trees was a thick blanket of grey. But parts of it were glowing, lit from behind, where the cloud cover was thinner. The air was cool and still, a perfect walking temperature. The water in the creek was flowing gently, rippling as leaves fell to become little boats, floating to a new port of call.

trees and sky-2

I arrived for coffee with Crystal. We ate, drank. Wandered around. I bought some tops I had spotted earlier in the week, and vowed not to purchase until I finished the book. We parted, heading for home in opposite directions. At the corner of the highway, a woman wheeling a walking frame stopped me.

“Excuse me,” she said, “do you know where Pat’s Sewing and Alterations is? I’m sure it used to be around here somewhere.”

“Oh, um. I’m not sure, do they sell sewing machines as well? I think there is a sewing store on the next block over.”

“Yes,” she said, “they do.”

“Ah, ok. I think it’s on Post Office Place around the corner.”

“Thank you,” she said and went to walk away. She turned back towards me and said “you know, I was out walking the other day and a lady approached me. She pointed at my walking frame and said ‘I’m supposed to use one of those. But I don’t, I don’t like the look of them, even though when I was walking a while ago, I rolled my ankle and broke it.'”

She paused for a moment, leaned closer, then said “She wanted sympathy from me. But I said ‘Oh, well. That’s your problem.'” She laughed. “It’s not my problem. And I didn’t need to make it my problem.”

“It sure isn’t your problem!” I chuckled as she shifted her walking frame forward and went back to her day. Here was a woman who was not creating narratives around other people or their problems. In all likelihood, she wasn’t creating them around herself, either. It was a much-needed reminder that other people’s problems are not mine and I do not need to make them mine. I don’t even need to make my problems “problems.”

A long-time favourite web comic Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand recently posted this:

my-problems

A debunked urban legend does the rounds occasionally, billed as an ACTUAL transcript of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995.

Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Canadians: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Canadians: “No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.”

Americans: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.”

Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

The thing is, lighthouses can only shine the way, they cannot make you follow the course.

He’ll light your way but that is all
Steer your own ship back to shore

Humans love to create stories. We are masters of narrative. But who would we be without our stories?

Without your story, you’re perfectly fine.

Byron Katie has a process called The Work which teaches us how to question the stressful thoughts that cause suffering. I won’t pretend it’s easy. We are often far too into our own stories to want to give them up. But it is simple, and anyone with an open mind can do it.

It consists of four questions and what she calls a turnaround which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. You put these questions up against a stressful thought, such as “I’m too fat” or “My husband should listen to me” or “Life is unfair.” The questions are:

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?

I could have created a story about my accident. About the money it will cost me for the repair. About the inconvenience it will be to have my car off the road. About how I’m going to get to work for the next few weeks. But would those thoughts be true? How would I react if I believed them? And who am I, without those thoughts?

An invented narrative is not worth my energy or my sanity.

lit from within-2

Because without the accident today, I’d not have met my lighthouse. And without my story, I am perfectly fine.

Music Monday | Hunger – Florence + The Machine

“At seventeen, I started to starve myself
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness
And at least I understood then the hunger I felt
And I didn’t have to call it loneliness”

Songwriters: Tobias Jesso / Thomas Wayland Bartlett / Emile Haynie / Florence Welch

I was fourteen. But felt the same. So for the next 20 years, I filled the loneliness with many things. Hunger, food, marriage, alcohol, sex.

One day, I filled the emptiness with myself, and found I’d been whole all along.

Music Monday | Someone You’d Admire – Fleet Foxes

“If the heart is a muscle,” I said to my psychologist, “and it atrophies without use, can it be built back up again, like any other muscle, with exercise?”

“Yes,” she replied. “I believe it can. Is that something you want to do?”

I nodded.

Although I had experienced physical heart problems as a consequence of anorexia, that wasn’t what I was worried about. As I had become weight restored, I’d started to notice that people around me felt things. And not just sad things but a whole range of emotions. They felt joy. And grief. And anger. And heartbreak. They felt gratitude. Amusement. Disappointment. And hope.

But the thing they felt that I coveted most was love. Love was not something I had a lot of experience with. Marriage, well, I had experience with that. But that was different to love.

Those early days of recovery were hard. My heart was a mess. I had no idea how to use it. Sometimes, I’d spill it everywhere. Sometimes, it would jam shut and I’d be unable to prise it open.

But slowly, and with practice, my heart became stronger. More resilient. And softer.

And it was in that softness, the same softness I’d always believed to be weakness, that I found strength. Courage. Compassion. And love.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written publicly about my struggle with anorexia. But then again, it’s been a long time since I’ve been ill. And while occasionally there are still days where I feel a bit unhappy with how I look, there are no days where I feel so worthless that anorexia has any hold over me.

Years ago, on the edges of recovery and still nostalgic about my eating disorder, I wrote the below poem and posted it here with the song “Someone You’d Admire” by Fleet Foxes. Today, I’m remembering my old self. This is today’s Music Monday.

 

Nostalgia

And in the distance
As barren hills are touched by black-tipped fingers
The fading light reminisces about the days it lingered
Over pots of tea with toast
Whispering sweet nothings to its only ghost
Then the moon rolls across the inky sky
With a gut full of ache and his upside down smile
And he stops to rest in the furthest corner
Heaves in gasps as the solitary mourner
Closes his eyes just for a minute and
Imagines the days when he was thinner.

 

After all is said and done I feel the same
All that I hoped would change within me stayed
Like a huddled moonlit exile on the shore
Warming his hands, a thousand years ago
I walk with others in the yearning to get out
Claw at my skin and gnash their teeth and shout
One of them wants only to be someone you’d admire
One would as soon just throw you on the fire
After all is said and after all is done
God only knows which of them I’ll become
Songwriter: Robin Pecknold

Blur

Two thousand and seventeen evaporated in front of me. Between April and November, I remember little. An intensive training course meant that my days started at 5am; consisted of work, study after work, household duties and more study. Sleep, if I could find the time. The end result makes it worthwhile; shift work with an advantageous roster pattern. But the last year flew by in a fog.

There is no merit badge for busyness, I reminded a friend today — and myself. No-one is handing out medals to those who pack every day full of activities that are “important” but which suck the life out of us — and our kids. Yes, we all have responsibilities we don’t find thrilling. But there are also things we pop into the “must do” category that, quite often, aren’t. Is it possible, instead, to let go of things that don’t energise us? To make sure that anything we commit to gives as much to us as we offer up?

To take a sharp photograph, we must be still. If we are moving, the image will blur and we won’t be able to see it clearly.

Life and love work the same.

Music Monday | Castle – Slum Sociable

At the end of a year, people like to make resolutions, create goals or define ambitions for the next year. These can be helpful but they can also make life overwhelming, so they tend to fall by the wayside as the year goes on.

What if, instead of adding responsibilities and commitments to our lives, we set an intention to let some things go? Things that no longer serve us. Things that take up time, create stress but don’t add a lot of value to our lives. What if we stopped sending our energy into those things, instead, directing it towards what is really important to us? I’ve let go of many things in the last few years. I’ve become better at trimming the trappings of my life that do not add meaning. But I need to do more.

Letting some things go will be difficult. But energy flows where your attention goes. And focusing on some things, even though they would be good, isn’t beneficial. I need to save my energy and say good bye to some dreams.

So in 2018, I am choosing to invest my energy into those things — mostly people — that really matter to me and whose love and support can always be relied upon.

Music Monday | I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – Jon Bon Jovi

Until I’m six feet under
Baby I don’t need a bed
Gonna live while I’m alive
I’ll sleep when I’m dead
‘Til they roll me over
And lay my bones to rest
Gonna live while I’m alive
I’ll sleep when I’m dead

I used to be proud of how little I slept.

“Only three hours?” others would stare and squint at me suspiciously. But it was amazing — I had so many more hours in the day than “normal people”.

Developing healthy sleep habits was a large part of my treatment; building a routine, sleeping even when I didn’t want to, shifting my thoughts about what needing sleep meant (turns out, it doesn’t make you weak). Now I’m regularly able to sleep for five to six hours — which may not seem like much but is double what I was getting several years ago.

Recently, I’ve moved to permanent shift work involving a pattern of night shifts and I’m in the process of converting my sleep rhythms so that I sleep during the day. I’ve always slept better during the day than at night…except when I am woken up.

Music Monday | Waves – Dean Lewis

When I left Queensland a few years ago, I sold the piano I’d had since I was 10.

There is a swelling storm
And I’m caught up in the middle of it all
And it takes control
Of the person that I thought I was

Music had been one of the keys to my recovery — my piano, instrumental to the re-connection with my heart.

Memories, of a stolen place
Caught in the silence
An echo lost in space

A couple of years ago, my partner bought me a piano for my birthday.

Moments of magic and wonder
It seems so hard to find

It is the best present I’ve ever been given and is much more than 88 keys in a wooden box. Right now, I’m learning to play this.