Hope and chocolate-dipped cherries

When I am having a bad day, I am really not a nice person.

I am easily irritated, grumpy, controlling and, I’m sure, give off an energy of “touch me at your own risk”.

As I learn to not numb out using my addictive substance of choice (food), I am also slowly learning to recognize this about myself and try to “head it off at the pass”. With reaching out to friends, going for a walk, journalling. It certainly has given me some compassion for other grumpy people and for times when others might be just having a bad day.

If it gets really bad, I usually stay home and out of the world. It’s a hard line to balance against isolating myself vs. realizing that it’s okay to tell the world to f**k off. But, better the figurative third finger from home than that actual one, I suppose.

Yesterday was such a day. It was bad. I just wanted to curl up on the couch and repeat “I am enough” until my head somehow convinced my heart. To give up on trying to fake wind in my sails and just accept the becalmed, grey fog and trust that it would pass.

Thing is, this weekend is one of my favourite of the year. I have a group of wonderful women friends and we get together for the whole weekend and make chocolates for holiday gift-giving. A lot of chocolates. Usually about 3500 over the weekend.

This group of women in my life is a gift beyond compare. We range in age from our 30s to our 70s. We are married, divorced and single. Some are childless and some have grown kids, teenagers and toddlers. In less that a dozen women, we are the full range of life.

And, the opportunity to share our stories, to learn from the collective life experience of these women who walk their paths with such courage, to share the workload together, to look after each other (more tea, anyone?!) and to support and encourage each other makes me feel incredibly lucky.

So, off I went, hoping I could keep a curb on my irritability and “don’t touch” attitude, and saying a small prayer that my heart could be open to the love and hugs.

I’m not sure how I did. But, as we were wrapping the cherries with fondant to get them ready to be dipped in dark chocolate, we found this little guy. Still with his leaf attached even after a whole year of soaking in brandy.

Somehow, the hope and optimism in that cherry and leaf partnership lifted my spirits. We shared a laugh and marveled at the leaf, keen to see if survives the dipping process.

Hope is such a precious thing. I am grateful for these women in my life, who give me hope that things will be okay. Who help me refill my sails, even when I’m a grumpy chocolatier.

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Casting shadows

I took this picture of some fall flowers the other day. What strikes me is how the beauty of the colours contrasts with the dark of the shadows.

As these days get shorter and the darkness of the winter season settles in, I am feeling the shadows.

While there are the bright moments of times with friends, hard-fought progress at work and time at the torch or behind the camera, there are the still quiet moments of sadness and alone-ness.

I wish I didn’t have to live with the shadows. To feel what lies there. It would be nice to numb out the feelings – with food, with TV, with busy-ness, with whatever.

But, then I don’t get to feel the light, the sunshine and the colour. And, I don’t want to be numb to that.

So, as I head into the darkness of winter, I am going to try to remember to be in the light but also just to let the shadows be. To accept the sadness so that I can also accept the joy. And to be thankful that I am alive in the feeling.

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An attack of the uglies

I was in Los Angeles last week at a conference and I had the worst attack of the uglies I’ve had in years.

It started with the small skirmish of an anxiety attack the morning I left and by the time I got to my hotel and then headed to the conference, it was a full blown battle.

It started on the surface, hating my outfits (all of them), my hair that wouldn’t curl and somehow managed to look frizzy and limp at the same time.

And then the big guns came out. Feeling fat, ugly, out of place, not worthy of notice, nobody’s first choice to be with.

In my head, I know these things are untrue. But, somehow my heart loses touch with that knowledge. And, it just wants to fill that space where self-love used to live with the comfort of isolation and food. King size bed in my little hotel room, warm bread and melted cheese, like a lovers arms surrounding me with safety.

Luckily, being a veteran of these battles, my head knows that won’t work.

And so I slogged through the four longest days I’ve had in many years. I got up, went to the conference, socialized and smiled and met people, tried to keep the food healthy and get some exercise each day.

None of that helped with the uglies. But, I made it. It felt like climbing an emotional Everest followed by a marathon every day. But, I made it.

And, the weird thing is that the minute I saw Vancouver out of the plane window, it all went away. I felt it leave my body and head out the window into the sky (apparently, the uglies can survive at 30,000 feet). And, in came this incredible wave of relief and somehow my self-worth was back. I felt like me again.

People say LA has a weird energy. Too many broken dreams, maybe. I don’t know why the uglies attacked. I suppose that trying to unravel the reason it happened would be worth some time and energy. Maybe something triggered it. Maybe understanding those triggers will leave me better prepared if/when it happens again.

But right now, as the wounds close again and my heart heals, I’m not sure I want to pick at the scabs. Yet.

I do know two things. First, that I am so grateful that I don’t have to do that battle every day. I remember when I used to feel “never good enough” all the time. When I thought that if I could just be perfect enough then I would be worth loving. The days before I knew that there is no such thing as perfect, that I am enough and that love comes from the self.

And second – I never want to go back to LA again.

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Liminal Space

According to Wikipedia, liminality is the ambiguity or disorientation that occurs when you are in the middle of transforming. In ritual, participants “stand at the threshold between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.”

The last few days I have felt that disorientation. Everything is outwardly fine and yet I can feel the sadness and slow colour bleed that marks my depression. I know we all feel depression is similar/different ways. For me, it’s like the world loses all its colour, leaving a grey landscape devoid of hope.

Usually I have tools, like paintbrushes, that I can pick up to recolour my life. Tools like meeting with friends, journalling, texting my sister, going for a walk or just a good night’s sleep.

But the last few days I haven’t quite been able to get the paint on the canvas.

This afternoon I decided to head to a labyrinth ritual down on the beach.  The theme was the autumnal equinox; that liminal space between summer and winter.

It is a lovely day here in Vancouver. Blue sky and sunshine with a light breeze. The labyrinth was constructed way out on the tidal flats. A temporary space, a gift of the earth soon to be washed clean again by the sea.

We each received a walnut and a copy of Rumi’s poem – A Dumb Experiment.

Break open your personal self
to taste the story of the nutmeat soul.
These voices come from that rattling
against the outer shell.
The nut and the oil inside
have voices that can only be heard
with another kind of listening.
If it weren’t for the sweetness of the nut,
the inner talking, who would ever shake a walnut?
We listen to words
so we can silently
reach into the other.
Let the ear and the mouth get quiet,
so this taste can come to the lip.
Too long we have been saying poetry,
talking discourses, explaining the mystery out loud.
Let’s try a dumb experiment.

As I walked the labyrinth and silently listened to what was rattling my shell, I realized that this pent up pressure, this heaviness that prevents my spirit from flying, this weight that keeps me from picking up the paintbrushes, is fear. That’s all. Just fear.

Fear that I will fall into the grey abyss of depression and that I will be unrecoverable. That depression will drag me down and drown me in sadness. I fear I will be lost.

But there by the ocean, in the twists and turns of the labyrinth, I let go of being afraid of the fear. Yes, there may be sadness and anxiety and heartache in my life. But it won’t drag me down. If I can’t always soar above it, that’s okay; I can surf along it, be carried within it and be silent within it. I can learn its mystery and just be in this liminal space. I will surface again.

It’s okay to have a periods of ambiguity and disorientation when I am on the threshold between what is past and what is to come. Between who I was and what I am yet to be. In walking the labyrinth, surrounded by earth, air, fire and water, my spirit was re-balanced into peace.

My deepest gratitude to Les at Walking the Labyrinth for the gift of the equinox labyrinth today in this liminal space.

A solitary happiness

“Because her original pattern was so worn
the last time she flew apart,
she was forced to let the pieces
reattach as they pleased.
Once the shock wore off,
she welcomed the change.”
~Susan Mrosek

A year ago today, my heart got broken.

I’ve been a bit scared leading up to today. Scared that this day would plunge me into feeling exactly like I did last year; that it would send me spiraling into a dark, grey place of depression.

A friend commented to me that I could just treat it as a day like any other day. But to me it isn’t. It feels like a passageway that needs to be marked in some way. But not by bleakness and despair.

So, I got to thinking about what the journey over the past year has meant to me. What do I want to mark? It has been a year of incredible transition and transformation. It led to me starting to share my writing and my photos. It led to me signing up for a glass sculpting class; and then one on glass beads. I started going places and doing things on my own. I learned to stay home with the TV off and enjoy spending time with myself. I started to say “no” to things that I was doing only because they met others expectations of me. I took a deep breath and let go of the people-pleasing and I stepped back and trusted others solve their own problems.

But more importantly, it led to me trying to answer the question “how can I make my life be a happy one”? In this world which tells me that couplehood is the answer to my life’s happiness, what does it mean to be happy and single?

I read a great blog post (which I sadly can no longer find or I would reference it) about why everyone should experience a heartbreak. Certainly it sucks. It really sucks. I still have moments where I can’t catch my breath. Where I feel like a giant hole has opened in my heart and I keep wondering where the missing pieces have gone.

But, looking back over the last year, I now know that this heartbreak taught me valuable and precious things about myself. I realized that I had been pinning my happiness on that magic state of couplehood. Because surely it would cure any loneliness I have and give me status in this world as a successful woman. After all, doesn’t our culture tell us that a happy marriage is crucial to being a successful woman? In the saga of Brangelina, how many tabloids tell us of Jennifer Aniston bravely facing her future of loneliness (and childlessness) while Angelina is blissfully happy with her man (and their children).

Thing is, I thought I was happy with my life. I have friends and family who love me, make me laugh and support me, I have a spiritual community in which I am deeply connected and I have a job that I love and which keeps a roof over my head and allows for some travel money. What right do I have to be unhappy?

But amidst all that there is sadness. There are times of loneliness and tears, of fear and anxiety. Of anger and frustration and failure. Of screw ups and confusion. Of disappointment and grief and despair.

And in the last year of letting go of judgement (mine and others) to explore this landscape of my inner self I realized that the answer to my question was not in how to be happy with my life. It was how to be happy in my life. With who I am and not what I am.

Because life comes with heartbreak and happiness, with laughter and loneliness, with silliness and sorrow. Regardless of whether you are single or in a couple.

Yeah, it sucks that it was a broken heart that sent me on the painful journey into the landscape of myself. And, I am eternally grateful to my friends and family who supported me and held space for me while I slowly put the pieces of my heart back together.

But what a gift to to know – to really know – that I am truly happy with who I am and with how I am in this world.

I’m okay with letting the world see me through my writing, my photos and, maybe, my glass creations. Through words and songs and connections. If you like them, I am touched and pleased. If you don’t, that’s okay too.

In the words of Brené Brown, my hope is to live authentically; to have the courage to tell my story with my whole heart.

And, on the one-year anniversary of my heartbreak, I think that’s worth celebrating.

Morning coffee me-time

For years I have gone for weekend morning coffees with a good friend. But, last summer they started dating someone who lives out-of-town and so our weekend morning trips to the coffee shop have become much less frequent. So, I’ve been “forced” to go on my own. And, while I still do enjoy company, I’ve discovered I quite like going by myself! In fact, it’s now one of my favourite times of the week (and not always limited to the weekend).

I have never really been a “get out of bed and fling myself into the day” kind of a person. When I do that, I kind of resent it and I am grumpy. I like to ease into the day. To slowly piece myself carefully together, reassembling the parts that have dissolved and separated during the unconsciousness of sleep. Constructing myself each day to be who I want to be in the world.

Morning trips to the coffee shop are the perfect way to do that. There is enough bustle and other people to make me feel somewhat part of the world. To offset the emptiness of the apartment where loneliness can lurk, ready to spring on me in the morning like an unwanted house guest. But, the other coffee shop people do their own thing leaving me to do whatever I need to do in order to set my day on the right track.

I often journal, I read the news on my iPad, browsing around to my heart’s content, and I read e-mails and Facebook. Sometimes I update my status. Sometimes I read a book. I text morning hugs to friends and I check in with my sister.

And then, caffeinated and reconstructed, I head out into the world to do what needs to be done that day.

Reigniting the flame …

Today is the first day of participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break – one photo a day each day in August.

Today starts with beauty.  Yesterday, I had the crappiest morning. I was deep in the darkness of hopelessness and just wanted to give up.  But, I reached out. And, two friends were there to catch me; to talk and listen and remind me of the light and beauty.

Later in the day, I saw this wonderful sunflower.  Next to an industrial parking lot.  Lifting its face to the sun.

Thanks to those two friends, I was able to see the beauty of this sunflower. I am grateful every day for the loved ones in my life who reignite my inner flame when it feels like there is nothing left but ashes.