Count Your Blessings

gratitude

I cannot lie. This has been a difficult year in many ways.

For starters, I quit anesthetising and got stone-cold sober. And that was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life, because once I stopped numbing, all those emotions I had tried so hard to escape for so many years came flooding in like a tsunami. Maybe it’s different for everyone, but that’s how it was for me. I had a lot of feelings about a lot of things and, suddenly, no way to avoid them. I had to stop running away from my demons and start to face them. I’m still working on that.

Then, I lost my closest friend of twenty-five years to cancer. My heart is still broken, and, to be frank, I’m not sure the wound will ever fully heal. But that’s okay. Glennon Doyle says, “Grief is love’s souvenir. It is our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.”

Well, I paid that price, and I’d pay it again and again given the choice. Because, as difficult as it was to say goodbye to Cameron, I wouldn’t trade one second of the time we had together for anything. The grief I carry is my souvenir of the love we shared.

There were other things, too, of course. Other ways I found this year to be really tough. But I’m not here to talk about all the things that went wrong or caused me countless sleepless nights. In fact, just the opposite.

I’m writing because, despite all the pain and heartache, fear and frustration, there is still much I’ve got to be grateful for. And so, without further ado, here is my list of blessings for 2017:

  1. Sobriety.
  2. Life.
  3. Love given and received.
  4. Four healthy, happy, well-adjusted children, who love and accept me as I am: eldest, my firstborn son, a gentle giant, who is respectful, smart as a whip, and kind to everyone; middle son, who reminds me so much of me at his age, and always has some interesting tidbit to share; youngest son, who is honest and authentic, funny as hell, and always up for trying new things; and my daughter, a little spitfire, who is deeply sensitive, intuitive, and wise beyond her years.
  5. Shelter, food, clean water, electricity… all those things taken for granted that not everybody has.
  6. My mom and dad and family and friends-like-family.
  7. Alaska, Story, and George, my goofy pets.
  8. The opportunity to thank my beloved, Cameron, for a lifetime of true friendship before he passed away from leukaemia in the spring (God, I miss you, kindred).
  9. Every moment Cam and I spent together. And there have been many.
  10. Visiting with old friends at Cameron’s memorial/Celebration of Life.
  11. All the new friends I’ve made this year through my recovery program, who inspire, encourage, and uplift me on a regular basis, and help me to stay sober.
  12. Online friends who, although we’ve yet to meet in person, always have kind words, gentle wisdom, humour, love, and support to offer when I need it most.
  13. Writing (has saved me more times than I can count).
  14. Sunset walks at the beach.
  15. Counting stars on clear nights.
  16. Morning runs under blue skies.
  17. Spring rain, bright summer sunshine, fiery autumn leaves, and the snow of winter’s wonderland.
  18. A few good laughs.
  19. Other sexual abuse survivors, who share their stories and work hard to shine a bright light in the darkest of all dark places, which makes me feel less alone. Every single #metoo matters.
  20. Solitude—because being alone is balm for the soul.
  21. Companionship—because being together is soul food.
  22. Flashes of inspiration.
  23. Poetry.
  24. Hot baths: essential oils, flower petals, and crystals.
  25. Cleansing tears.
  26. Naps.
  27. Difficult people who challenge me (even though I don’t always feel grateful at the time).
  28. Great books.
  29. Being alone without being lonely.
  30. Perspectacles (perspective).
  31. Change and transformation because, while it’s often uncomfortable, there are always blessings.
  32. My cousin’s safety while in the Dominican Republic during Hurricane Irma.
  33. Renewed faith and a deeper connection to Spirit, the Soul of the Universe, God.
  34. The gifts of acceptance/surrender.
  35. A family trip gifted by my parents.
  36. Synchronicity (meaningful coincidences).
  37. Serendipity (making fortunate discoveries by accident).
  38. One extraordinary essay written by my dear friend, Laura Parrot Perry, which ended up being the catalyst for a major transformation in my life.
  39. A set of gorgeous collages by Canadian writer, Diane Schoemperlen, that found their way to me.
  40. Courage in the face of the Unknown.
  41. Wisdom gleaned in hindsight.
  42. Divine intervention.
  43. Lessons in radical self-care.
  44. Progress (not perfection).
  45. Time alone at the end of this year to reflect and write a Gratitude List.

I hope that wherever today, the last day of 2017, finds you, you find a little time to reflect on the abundance in your own life and what you are most thankful for.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2018, friends!

All Good Things,

Arwen

 

 

 

 

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Love Makes the World Go ‘Round

love makes the world

Twelve years ago, this month, I moved into a shelter for abused women and children.

Pregnant and scared, already the single mom of a three-year-old boy, it was hands down one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Making the decision to leave behind our home, the city we lived in, friends and family, and pretty much all our belongings was extremely difficult, but it was also necessary. I wanted my children (and myself) to live a life free of violence and I knew that wasn’t possible if we stayed.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Father Mike, my Poppa’s priest, for helping us to escape what was a very, very bad situation. I couldn’t have done it without him. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to tell him as much, and to thank him from the bottom of my heart, at Poppa’s funeral a few years ago.

I have not considered myself Catholic (or religious) in many years, despite my upbringing and love for my creator, but I will never forget the kindness I received that early December morning when I turned up with my son at Father Mike’s office, significantly underweight, broke and broken down, belly full of fear and guilt and shame. After making sure my boy was happily occupied with some paper and a pack of crayons, Father Mike sat across from me silently, and listened intently as I poured out the whole awful story.

When I had finished, he gazed into my eyes with a depth of compassion I was convinced at the time I didn’t deserve, and spoke words I never thought I’d hear from the mouth of a holy man:

“You have to get the fuck outta dodge.”

As I contemplated what he’d said, Father Mike excused himself for a moment. When he returned, he handed me an envelope with two hundred dollars or so inside. Then he told me to book the train tickets I needed, and return to his office the next day, so he could give me enough money to cover the fare.

Three days later, as streetlights illuminated the falling snow that shimmered like diamonds in the sky, my young son and I stood on the doorstep of Maison D’ Amitié in Ottawa.

I rang the bell.

Once inside, we were ushered into the small but cozy office at the back of the home to complete some paperwork. Finally, we were led to the room that would be ours for the foreseeable future, where I was given a Welcome basket containing a pair of slippers, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a few other basic necessities. After the on-call counsellor had explained that I could come to speak with her at any time, she left us alone, closing the door softly behind her. I sat on the bed and looked over at my son, who looked back up at me with absolute trust, and for the first time in a long time, I smiled. He toddled over to me for a hug. I buried my face in his blonde curls and sighed.

We were safe.

It wasn’t easy. Many nights, after I’d tucked my little one into bed, I went back downstairs to talk (and cry) with one of the on-call counsellors. Or I’d sit in the tiny Smoking Room with some of the other moms and chain-smoke, one after the other, as we shared our war stories and tried to figure out what the hell came next. We had chores to do every day and took turns cooking dinner. Some nights, we had group meetings, where we could air any grievances or make requests. Occasionally, we played games.

Every Wednesday evening, after the kids were settled down for the night, we would gather in the main room for Donations. Big, black garbage bags would be brought in from the garage, opened and dumped on the floor, and we would rustle through them for the items we required as we started our new lives: blankets, bedding, pots and pans, cooking utensils, second-hand clothing and toys, for example.

The holidays were tough that year. It was hard to be away from the familiar, and I was traumatised, drowning in fear (of the future), shame, and guilt. Luckily, we were able to spend Christmas Eve at my parent’s house, so my son was surrounded by people who loved and cherished him on Christmas morning.

I spent the next several weeks running around, going to appointments and getting things organised and, by Valentine’s Day, we had moved into our new, government subsidised townhouse.

A dozen years have passed since those days. A lot has changed. But I have never forgotten the kindness shown to my son and I, nor the generosity of spirit of the women who worked tirelessly to keep that shelter running smoothly on a tight budget, who navigated conflicts between various residents, and who provided wise, gentle, honest counsel for those of us who felt so afraid, so lost and alone, so ashamed.

This morning, as I loaded up the car of one of the shelter workers with bags of donations for the women who are currently in the same position I was in all those years ago, I felt incredibly blessed to finally be able to express my most sincere gratitude, and to pay forward the love I received when I needed it most.

Sometimes, in life, we are Givers. Other times, we are Receivers. I believe that it is an honour, a true blessing, a gift, to be on either end. Give when you have something to give and be open to receive when there is something you need. This is the circle of life. Love makes the world go ‘round.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!

All good things.

Much love,

Arwen