And so, goodbye…

fieldRosie and I leave tomorrow evening. Each time I close my eyes, I try to visualise my home in London: the narrow stairwell, the cramped landing, the avocado painted kitchen, the one bedroom and one living room, the sun filled bathroom.

I am preparing myself for the spacial oppression. There will be no echoey hallways or obscenely large (by London standards) front and back gardens. There will be a kitchen and living room overlooking a dual carriageway. There will be cobwebs spun by carefree daddy longlegs. And there will be rats in the back yard.

If I think back to the first 10 days of my trip here in Canada, I remember the anxiety most – the long distance phone calls to London, the anguished failed attempts at reaching Ben, the desperate clawing at anyone who would listen, trying to get Ben into detox and then rehab. In between, there was the edit I’d agreed to do on a document for work. So, I was working while on leave, too, in between panicked phone calls and bouts of rage.

My holiday started the day after those first 10 days (+/- a couple of days). It really began when I took Rosie and left for the mountains in the back of my friend’s car. As we left the city behind us, as the ground rose up beneath us, I felt the tension in my head do a downward dog and simply fizzle away. We were free.

Where did the rest of my holiday go, I wonder? I can’t quite remember, but there were plenty of bike rides and visits with friends, meals with family, days out with my niece and Rosie, and a lot of thinking about what I will do when I return.

cycling 1

Yesterday, I took my bike out. Friends ask me how I’ve coped with Ben’s drinking over the past few years and my answer is always the same: running. But if I wasn’t running, I’d be cycling.

Yesterday, I cycled through woods and along a river, avoiding highways and rail lines. The route went from mediocre to stunning. My mind emptied and my lungs were full. It was one of those rides where I beat the rain, keeping dry by outpacing the clouds.

by the canal

The view from the bike path along the canal.

I could have kept going. I wanted to keep going. But the last time I went cycling like that, my mum rang my brother in a blind panic, fearing I’d died or was lying in a ditch somewhere just because I’d been gone an hour. (Yes, my mother is one of those types of mums – the type you love, appreciate and have to live 5,000km away from to maintain your sanity and your relationship with her). So, back I went.

On Monday, I went out with two of my oldest friends. One of them, I’ve known for nearly 30 years. We did what we always do when the three of us meet: we  ate cake. And talked. All of us are in a sad place right now, some of us sadder than others. But as my oldest friend told me when we finally hugged goodbye: “We’re going to make it. We are. I can feel it.”

about to take off

Tomorrow evening, Rosie and I will take off into the night sky. We will hang in the air, as the earth turns beneath us, winging our way through time. And when we wake up, we will be in London. Back home. Just the two of us.

The work will really begin then. My bags will be unpacked. My lists will be transcribed from memory to paper. And things will change.

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Once more to the moon and back

He’s gone. Neil Armstrong, one of the first Americans to put a boot on the moon, died yesterday. While news of this was still emerging, I was busy treading my own boot marks on pristine territory (for me, that is).

My old friend and best lady took me out to the Goods, a soul-funk night remarkably devoid of pretension. There was very little preening, a lot of hardcore dancing, and just enough flirting to make it worth the crick in my knees.

It’s been a long time since I went out like this. The last time was my hen night, which was high-jacked by one of my friends who insisted on taking me to a club where I was handled outrageously by a lady. She kept asking me why I was there and whether I really meant to get married. In hindsight, she may well have had a point.

This time, I was at the opposite end of things, dancing out my frustrations, dancing into something else – a state of near-bliss – powered by nothing more than water and a veggie burger. Around me, people ducked, dove, spun or just plain flailed. There was a lot of laughter, some of it my own.

And not once did I think of Ben. I didn’t even think of Rosie, much as I adore her. Last night was just for me and I don’t feel guilty about that.

Months ago, I was talking to my therapist about the old days, when I used to go out clubbing with friends, and the sheer ecstasy music can bring. I told her I was desperate to feel that again – to stand outside myself and feel nothing but beats moving through me.

Thanks to my best lady, that’s just what I managed to achieve. If dancing is a form of meditation, then I achieved a brief form of enlightenment. Some people call it entering the zone. I guess I was there last night, hot-footing it with the best of them, strutting my way to the moon and back.

Of course, it all came to an end somewhere around 2 o’clock in the morning. The floor was heaving, but our age got the better of us and we left (me, reluctantly). On the way back home, we scoffed chocolate doughnuts – yet another thing I haven’t done in years. I didn’t feel guilty about that either.

Last night (or, more precisely, early this morning), I dreamt that Ben had come out of rehab and had found a place of his own to stay. As soon as he moved out, a weight slid right out of my spine, and I felt myself blowing up with contentment, floating away, I don’t know where. Maybe to the moon.


Understanding my umbrella

No, this isn’t a riff on an old Rhianna hit, though I suppose it could work that way, too. What this is, is an ode of sorts, long overdue…

Once upon a time, before Ben and before I had any notion of what my life would become, I took a year out between degrees to go travelling. I spent several months on an island on the other side of the world, an island fraught with trouble yet continuing to trade on its reputation as a paradise on earth.

One day, a cousin and I were talking about the peculiarities of the English spoken there. This cousin, who happened to grow up on the island and whose English is rather good, was sharing a somewhat derisory joke at the expense of his less accomplished compatriots.

‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘It was raining and I heard this man say to a girl, “Come, come – come over here and understand my umbrella.”‘

I admit, I laughed – in a friendly and non-judgemental way, I assure you. But there is something sweetly apropos about this syntactical accident. You see, when I got freshly pressed at the beginning of this month, and a torrent of support welled up in my notifications window, this was the phrase that kept bobbing up in my mind.

Before then, I’d been writing my posts, throwing my torment onto the screen because I had nowhere else to put it, and hoping that someone might some day be comforted by the knowledge that she or he was not alone. The first person who really made contact with me was Stronger Me. In sharing her experiences with me, in showing me she had been through the same thing, I felt buttressed. I felt like someone sort of had my back.

And then I got freshly pressed. Suddenly there were scores of comments flooding in – so many of you with similar stories to tell, so many of you reaching out to me. After feeling so alone for so long, I felt like I had (have) a community out there keeping me afloat – a community actually interested in seeing me succeed without judging me. A community of people standing under my umbrella and bolstering me with their understanding.

Does that make sense?

On Saturday, the detox centre let Ben out for a few hours on condition that he would be breathalysed on his return – and chucked out if he tested positive. He went back to our flat, cleaned out the fridge, checked the gas, water and electrics, packed some extra clothes and his drums so he could practise in rehab – and mowed the lawn.

On Sunday, he used his free time to visit the Imperial War Museum.

On Monday, he completed detox and lugged his gear to the rehab centre where he was successfully admitted. He is now in rehab and will remain there until the end of November.

How does it feel? Bloody marvellous, really. Although, me being me, I’m already thinking of November and what that will mean. On the other hand, I’ve got you, my good people, following me, talking to me, keeping me a bit saner than I would have been had I been doing this entirely on my own.

A few months back, my therapist suggested I check out Al-Anon. I said that I’d wanted to, but that given I have no childcare during the evenings, attending a group was next to impossible. I said I’d started a blog instead and that I had made contact with a few people, which I’d found helpful. I said this was the best way for me to get the support I needed, because I could do it any time, without having to leave my daughter with someone.

So, everyone, I want to thank you. I hope you will stay with me as the months go by. I hope you will keep sharing your thoughts and offering your support. And I hope I can do the same for you.

Thank you for taking precious time out of your days to check in on me and my little family. Thank you for being candid and caring at the same time.

Thank you for understanding my umbrella.

Brakes on, still falling

I am a body in free fall. I am like Wile E Coyote in those first deluded moments, treading the air like it was earth, unaware of the chasm beneath me. This is the point I was at a few days ago – stage 1 of the fall. Call it bliss.

But now that I’m officially halfway through my holiday, I’ve entered stage 2 – realisation. I know that this suspension of woe is temporary. In a few weeks, Rosie and I will return to our home in London, back to our tiny flat on the western bank of a dual carriageway, back to school for her and work for me. Back to a whole cauldron full of trouble.

You see, now that Ben is in detox, I have enough head space to devote to the other major worry in my life. In a few months, I am going to be made redundant. This might not have been such a big deal if times had been less straitened. But this is no time to be losing my job. I am the sole earner in our household – I’ve got a mortgage to pay, mouths to feed, bodies to clothe. If I think too much about the disaster awaiting me, I go into paralysis. I claw my way back up to that first airborne moment. I cloak myself in delusion. And when that doesn’t work, I panic.

The truth is, each time I pass a homeless person on the street, I think, that will be me in a few months. I know I’m prone to melodrama, but who amongst us isn’t a few steps removed from a cardboard box? Few of us are so financially secure that we can comfortably weather a few months without an income.

I know I have options. In fact, I probably have quite a few. But right now, they seem rather fantastical and foolish. I’m not one for believing in fate and luck, but I keep telling myself that something has to change for the better – at some point, something good, and I mean really good, has to happen.

Perhaps I need to look at my impending joblessness as a sign (even though I don’t really believe in those either). Maybe it’s telling me that my time in London is over, that it’s time to move on and make a home somewhere else.

The world is big – really big. And somewhere in it is the right place for Rosie and me. I just hope it doesn’t take too much longer to find it.



Escape to the country

Rosie and me

Rosie and I are visiting an old friend of mine, out in mountain country. She lives in a rambling, two-floor property, with lacquered pine floors and a covered veranda. The garden drops away below the house and ends in a wall of trees. The night sky is filled with stars – millions of them – staring down at us like tiny gods.

This is the first time I`ve slept in weeks. I mean really slept. I`ve had 10, 11,  even 12 hours of unbroken sleep per night. So has Rosie. Must be the mountain air. And the fact that Ben is locked away safely in detox.

The other day, my friend and her little girl took us out trekking. We wandered through wooded paths, negotiating mud, wobbly logs and startled frogs. Below us, the rapids foamed.

We were intrigued by the variety of fungus scalloping up trees or springing out from the undergrowth. Tiny bright green mushrooms stood up pert in the soil, made all the tinier by giant beige toadstools. And then there were the shiny carnelian and yellow mushrooms, catching the light and ornamenting the landscape like poppies.

Later that night I sat on my friend`s front porch, watching the stars and listening to the ubiquitous call of the crickets. Still later, she and I sat on the covered veranda, chatting by candlelight, calmly dissecting the conundrum that is Ben and me. In the end, the solutions we came up with were familiar. But the fact that they were said out loud makes them more real, more demanding of some kind of accountability.

Meanwhile, I have been emailing Ben, feeding him news of Rosie`s and my exploits. Once he enters rehab, there will be no e-contact. For 28 days, he will have no outside contact at all, aside from the occasional phone call. So, I suppose I shouldn`t have been surprised when I received an email yesterday in which he said that once he was off his meds, he would be allowed to go out for a few hours. He said he might go back to the flat to collect some things for rehab.

Within moments of reading that email, my calm was shattered, if temporarily. I guess I don`t have much energy left to put in to his recovery any more. I still managed to get about 8 hours of sleep. And while I am a bit worried, I can`t help feeling it is really out of my hands.

Outside the window – outside my friend`s home office – the crickets are still singing and the trees – firs and birches – fill the window. Beyond, the view is long and open.

Flight of the monarch

Yesterday, I was walking with Rosie through the small field that runs along the rail tracks at the end of my mother’s road. It was late morning, the crickets were buzzing and the grass was alive with monarch butterflies.

Flitting in shivery circles, they loped about at mid-height, some pausing on the footpath, others parabola-ing off and away from one another like non-commital lovers. “11… 12!” cried Rosie. In the end, we counted 15.

The monarchs are on their way to Mexico, preparing for their great migration south, when they will fill the sky with their ecstatic, frenetic flight. Like them, Ben is on a frenetic path right now, his movements as circuitous and uncertain as an individual butterfly’s – the shaky flight, the indecisive wing-beats flicking him one way and then another.

But now – now – he is on the path to something more certain, like the millions of monarchs that have yet to take off. At 4:40 this morning, my friend Sarita rang me to ask whether she should drive down to Ben to take him to the detox centre. The centre had arranged for Ben to be admitted today, because Ben’s GP – the one who has been following his case for the last two years and who has made every effort for him (unlike the one Ben saw some days back) – faxed the referral form the centre needed to make the admission. Needless to say, our local drug and alcohol service were rather useless on that front.

I spoke to Ben this morning, before he left, and he sounded resigned. He hates that so much money is being spent on him because it forces him to be accountable for his actions. He is tied up in shame and guilt, but as everyone, including the detox centre manager, has told him, it’s time to accept the help he is being offered. It is time to accept it and assume the responsibility that comes with that acceptance.

The detox centre manager, Patrick, who has also made all kinds of effort to get Ben in, emailed me a few hours ago to say that Ben had been admitted and was safe. The centre will arrange Ben’s transfer to rehab in 10 days. Ben is now out of the flat and somewhere safe and I can now start my holiday.

I feel unaccountably sad. I now lie awake wondering what my next step will be. I have achieved the first thing I wanted, which was to get Ben out of the flat – for his sake, for Rosie’s and mine. But there are many more steps for me, too.

And so, there will be many more nights of wondering, fear and hope, before I, too, take off. We are all on our individual migrations – taking flight to that place of safety where we can feed and grow a new life for ourselves and those we love.

And…. contact

I finally managed to reach Ben yesterday. Or, I should say, he finally decided to pick up the phone. My friend, Sarita, went down to the flat to see him, and took him to the GP so he could get a referral to the private detox centre we’ve settled on. The GP was rude and abrupt and refused to follow the centre’s procedure. She simply wrote out a generic letter and printed out his case history. I think she takes a dim view of alcoholics, which is fine for her as an individual, but not fine as a doctor. Is this really how severely depressed people should be treated when they visit their doctor?

I’m really hoping that the centre will accept her letter and print-outs as a referral, because we are running out of time. Meanwhile, Ben has insisted that he can manufacture something that will allow him to be detoxed in hospital. None of us thinks this is a good idea. He isn’t thinking clearly and is only doing this because he feels guilty about the added expenditure.

Thing is, if he had taken responsibility in the first place, and stayed off the booze for those last crucial days, he would be in rehab now and we would not be in a position where we have to fork out an additional 2 grand for a detox.

When I spoke to him today, he said he was going down to A&E this morning. I asked him to make sure he tells Sarita once he goes, so she knows where he is, and so she can tell me. He said he would.

I went out with Rosie after speaking to him. I took her to the Biodome where we saw a two-toed sloth, sturgeon, pink spoonbills, macaws, penguins, an otter and much more. For a few hours, I forgot all about Ben and London. I was engrossed in Rosie’s excitement at seeing a caiman, or splashing through a water installation.

When I got back, I tried ringing Ben. There was no answer. Sarita told me he wasn’t answering her calls either. He probably never made it to the hospital.

So tomorrow, I’m back on the phone, ringing London, trying to sort things, trying to get that all-important referral, trying to buy myself some peace of mind.