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Finding The Path Of Healing

18 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 18 – Open a book: Choose a book and open it to a random page and point to a phrase. Use that phrase to get you writing today. Free write for 15-20 minutes without stopping.

My random phrase comes from a book called Watermelon, written my Marian Keyes – one of my favourite chick-lit authors. The sentence I pointed to with my eyes closed was strangely appropriate. “I was no longer carrying my humiliation like a weapon.”

I am a natural-born late bloomer. I have done many things in life after most people: I was 24 before I selected a career, my first child was born when I was 33, and I finally got married at the ripe old age of 41.

Now that I am old and wise, it doesn’t bother me that I tend to lag behind other people in some respects, but when I was in high school it was a great source of embarrassment for me. Socially speaking, I was streets behind most of my classmates. I was not exactly ostracized by my peers, but I was definitely not one of the “cool kids” either.

I got invited to parties from time to time, but I always felt so awkward when I got there. While my peers were laughing and chatting effortlessly, or retreating to private corners to snog their boyfriends, I was sitting by myself trying, and failing, to look as if I belonged. I could only really enjoy social gatherings if my best friend was there too. My best friend was the one who stopped me from drowning completely, and bless her heart, she is still my best friend today.

I had a couple of half-hearted boyfriends as a teenager, but compared to my classmates, I was geeky and socially inept. At an age where people are desperate to fit in and be accepted by their peers, it was painful. I was an unhappy teenager, although I never really admitted that to anyone.

When I graduated from high school, I went to a university 1400km away from my hometown. I figured that being among people I didn’t know would allow me to turn myself into the person I thought I wanted to be. I had always felt slightly inadequate and I didn’t like myself very much, and I wanted more than anything to reinvent myself.

Even though I made friends at university and had some kind of reasonable social life, the truth was that I was lonely. Never really a party girl, I tried to shoehorn myself into a party lifestyle because that’s what college students did, and I wanted so badly to fit in. And so I found myself immersed in a social group who were a laugh to be around, but I yearned meaningful contact. In those days before the Internet made the world a smaller place, I was not able to confide in my best friend. When waves of depression hit me, I had to get through them alone, with no-one to talk to.

And so, when a man started paying attention to me in my second year, I was flattered enough to fall for him. I do not want to share the details, but I will say that the whole thing was an absolute disaster from beginning to end. I was immersed in a situation that I had no ability to deal with.

The effect on my life was catastrophic. It was as if my future had been mapped out for me, and then a tsunami had come along and wiped everything away, changing the landscape of my life.

I floundered in the wake of this personal disaster. I completely lost all sense of who I was and what I wanted. I vacillated between depression and anger, and I blamed myself for having allowed my life to veer so far off the course I had planned. I drifted for a while, literally and metaphorically, and eventually washed up in a career, albeit one far away from what I had originally wanted.

One day, after having carried around the baggage of my past experiences for twenty years, I looked around me at all I have today. I have a solid job and my dream to be a paid writer is starting, in small but definite increments, to come true. I can run half-marathons in spite of not having a “typical” runner’s body. I managed to move halfway across the world and establish myself in a place I had never been to. I have a husband and two miraculous children. Although I make my mistakes, I think I’m doing well as the parent of a child with autism.

That tsunami that had swept so much away also created a new landscape with new paths for me to follow and new goals to shoot for.

This realization, when it hit me, was like a breath of fresh air. Although some scarred remained, I was no longer carrying the humiliation like a weapon.

For the first time, I felt that I owed it to myself to try to heal.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kudumomo/3140538425/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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Redemption: Guest Post by Margie Bryant

6 Jan

In October 2002, I experienced the heartbreak of a pregnancy loss in the second trimester. I was not given an explanation as to what had gone wrong, but the pregnancy had been riddled with problems from the start. It was devastating. As devastating as it was, though, that loss paved the way for tremendous blessings. If we had not lost that precious baby, we would not have our son George. And I would not have had my life enriched by the friendship of an incredible woman named Margie Bryant.

When George was born, I suffered from the same angst faced by most women who have had a pregnancy or infant loss. I was paranoid about every single little thing. I feared losing my child like I had feared nothing else, and my mind read every minor problem as a sign of impending disaster. Fortunately, there was an Internet group for people like me – women who are parenting children after a pregnancy or infant loss. It is through this group that I got to know Margie.

A few years ago, Margie went through a major turning point in her life. Today, she tells us about her experiences, and how they motivated her to change her life completely. She is truly one of the strongest, most inspirational people I have ever known. She has turned her life around in a spectacular fashion. If anyone is in doubt that they will be able to improve their lives, they need look no further than Margie to know that the sky is the limit.

I can still remember the exact moment that I exited the white bricked Receiving and Discharge building, wearing commissary purchased gray shorts, short sleeved shirt and white Reeboks. In my arms, I carried the cardboard box taken from my last kitchen shift and it was filled with my possession of the last seven months: a crocheted purple and white blanket, two Bibles, the few paperback books that I didn’t leave behind and the multitude of letters that had sustained my sanity. The sun was already beaming a warm Texas ray on my pale skin and I could feel my face perspiring under the borrowed cosmetics. My thick strawberry blond curls were pulled tightly into a corkscrew bundle with just a tendril framing my face. It felt odd to be “pretty” again after months of a bare face and ponytail existence.

It was surreal that this hell was finally over; the worst experience of my thirty four years had come to an end. There would be no more sleepless nights in the frigid tiny room that contained two sets of metal bunk beds with thin mattresses that made your bones ache, four tall metal lockers, a small desk and chair, a roof that poured rain from eight holes in the ceiling and the lone window that looked over the razor wire fence. I would no longer have to take eighteen steps up the stairs in my black, ten pound steel toe boots, just to get to the cramped space that I shared with three women.

As I walked toward the green sedan where my Dad and step-mom sat waiting to drive the five hundred miles home, it felt almost surreal to be leaving this enormous, overcrowded encampment. A quiet, empty home was waiting for me, with a private bathroom and a large, comfortable queen size sleigh bed. There would be no more monitored phone calls, I would not have to dress in the drab khaki uniforms worn by one thousand others and I had eaten my last bland, overly starched meal served on a heavy plastic tray. I was free to be myself again, not merely a last name and a nine digit number.

After placing the box in the trunk of the car and waving my final goodbye, I climbed into the back of the sedan and my Dad steered us out of the parking lot. I will never be the person I was before I left the Texas federal prison camp on a steamy and humid July day. As we drove past the security gate and onto the street that would take me home, I did not look back. Sinking into the comfort of the seat, I relaxed and allowed the joy of freedom to stream down my face.

Four and a half years later, my redemption has been paved with a loving family and generous friends who never gave up on me.  Prior to my incarceration, my low self esteem and emptiness were filled with drugs, alcohol and numerous worthless men. Literally, I had to learn the truth in the cliché about loving myself first and sobriety made that possible.

Simply, I finally stopped running from myself. I was able to look into the face of my children and know that I had the capability to be an outstanding mother. It still makes me emotional to remember my oldest son, who tried to have the strength of an adult, breaking down and crying on the morning that I left for prison. The constant ache of missing them and not seeing them for seven months is a memory that still causes physical pain. My redemption has not been about me; it is about my children.

It amazes me on an extremely regular basis that my life is full of such joy and pure happiness now. No, things are not always easy (I will be paying a monthly bill to the United States government for the rest of my life. Literally. ) but I have far more than I expected after almost losing everything. In the last four years: I went back to school (will graduate with a Bachelors degree next December), worked my way up to a well paying position in the field of my study, have a closer relationship that ever before with my family and more importantly, my children.

And….

At long last, I found love. True, functional, healthy, romantic, laughter filled, passionate love. I met him two week after I came home from prison and last weekend, on Christmas Eve, in front of my family, he asked me to be his wife. My heart and my home are finally complete.

As I said though, my life isn’t a carefree romp down Easy Street. My self esteem is daily work and something that I must continually improve upon. I wake up every day and have to make a choice to continue in a new and better direction. The problem with old, lifelong habits is that they die painfully slow. However, when times are extremely hard, I think back to those seven months in 2007 and know that very few things could be that dreadful again.

Throughout my journey over the last four and a half years, here is what I have learned to be true: change for the better is extremely difficult and takes constant work. However, once you start making positive changes, life starts to become incredibly astounding.

(Photo credit: Dave Hopton)

No Fixed Destination

30 Nov

Phil looped his camera around his neck and trudged out to his car. The rain was pelting down and the wind was so strong that it was making his eyes burn. For a moment he considered staying home, but he dismissed the thought immediately. Every Sunday for the last twelve years, he had gone driving around the countryside in his battered old Volvo, taking photographs of whatever he happened to see. He was a good photographer, good enough to have acquired a decent following and sold a few pictures.

That’s not why he did it, though. He did it because it gave him a sense of purpose. He had worked so hard to overcome the addictions that had destroyed his life, and he was afraid that if he stopped these Sunday excursions, everything would fall apart again.

Phil pulled out of the driveway and headed north, with no fixed destination in mind. As he drove, he thought of Lily. She had been nine when he had seen her last. His heart ached as he remembered his ex-wife calling him an alcoholic junkie who had no business trying to raise a child. He had begged her not to take his daughter away from him. He had actually fallen on his knees before her, sobbing.

She had stopped yelling then, and looked at him with something approaching sympathy. “I know you love her, Phil, but you’re destroying her,” she had said. He had buried his head in his hands so he wouldn’t have to watch them leave.

After they had gone, Phil had allowed the drugs and alcohol to take over his life completely. Within a year, he had been out on the streets. He had lost his home and been fired from his job, and he had spent a few nights in jail for possession of illegal drugs.

One afternoon as he was staggering down the road with a newly acquired bottle of rum, a woman with a couple of kids had looked at him with thinly veiled disgust before crossing the street in order to avoid him. He stopped walking and stared after her, feeling as if he’d been hit with a sledgehammer. I’ll never see Lily again, he thought.

He slowly started walking again, barely paying attention to where he was going. His head was filled with images of his daughter. He wondered if she still had that pink feather boa that she loved so much. She would wrap it around herself and twirl around so fast that he thought she was going to fall over.

Now, as Phil drove, he remembered how the thoughts of Lily and her boa had stopped him in his tracks, and how the tears suddenly streaming down his face had attracted some curious glances from passersby. If it had not been for the kindly stranger who had offered him help, he did not know where he would be now, or if he would even be alive.

After he had gotten his life cleaned up, Phil had written to his ex-wife.

Tell Lily that I’m clean from the drugs and alcohol,  he wrote. Tell her I that I love her, and that I am more regretful than words can say for the pain I caused her. Let her know that I understand if she doesn’t want to see me, but if and when she is ever ready, I want to be her Dad. And this time I will do it right.

Throughout the years, Phil sent letters to his ex-wife. He told her about the night-course he had gone on, the job he had got, the photos he had sold. He proudly wrote about the modest house he had bought, the quiet, solitary life that he lived, and the handful of friends he had acquired through his AA meetings. He sent birthday cards to Lily.

In twelve years, he had not received a single reply. But he never gave up.

Phil was abruptly pulled out of his reverie when the old Volvo suddenly blew a tire. He pulled over onto the shoulder of the quiet country road and pulled out his cell phone. Damn. Not enough battery life to make a call.

Phil got out of the car and started walking through the pouring rain towards the only building he could see. Maybe they would have a phone. It wasn’t until he got right up to the front door that he realized it was a pub. Instantly his palms started to sweat and he was shaking. He couldn’t go in there. He hadn’t had a drink in well over a decade, but he was still terrified of being in the same room as alcohol. He thought he had enough self-control to avoid drinking – it was the memories he couldn’t face.

He was unbearably torn. He needed to call Roadside Assistance for a new tire, and this place might have the only available phone. But if he went in, the memories of his old life would come flooding back, and he would feel like a ruin in the architecture of humanity. He found himself alarmingly close to tears.

As he stood in the doorway, a young woman ran from her car into the pub. As she was going through the door, she turned and looked back at him curiously.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

Phil stammered. He was not good at talking to strangers.

“Well, you see, my car. It, uh, broke down, just down there, and I need to call for help. But my cell phone died and I cannot go in here because I’m – uh, an alcoholic. That is, I’m dry, but I don’t want to be anywhere near – you know.”

He tapered off and shrugged helplessly.

“You can use my phone,” said the woman, rummaging in her purse. Phil registered random details about her: the scuffed black boots, the flaky nailpolish, the red-gold hair tucked neatly under the hood of her raincoat.

As she handed him the cell phone, she said, “Actually, I’m not from around here and I could use some directions. I’m visiting my dad, only he doesn’t know I’m coming. I haven’t seen him since I was a little girl, and I want to surprise him. But this little town he lives in is impossible to find.”

Phil stared into her eyes, eyes that were exactly the same colour as his. And he knew that the second chance he had been waiting for for so long had finally arrived.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Bewildered Bug, who gave me this prompt: Write about anything you want, but include the following words/phrases:  pink feather boa, Volvo, architecture of humanity, flaky nailpolish.
I challenged floreksa with the prompt: You are at your own 100th birthday party, reflecting back on your life. Tell us about the best day of your life, from the standpoint of your 100-year-old self.