I Feel The Island Breathing…

 

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I feel the island breathing… Bobby Watt

Our lives are constantly evolving; friends come and go, we may live in many cities in our lifetime, career paths change, parents die, jobs end, children grow up and move away, illnesses rob you of health and strength, a husband – the man you thought was your soulmate – discards you.

But today, driving off the ferry onto the Isle of Arran, I felt my soul gladden and ease. Arran has been the one, dependable, constant in my life since I was seven years-old. As my daughter and I walked along the shore this evening, we discussed how, barring a few exceptions,  I have memories from this island for every single year of my life.

My mum and I were never supposed to come to Arran at all, but that summer of 1962, I had my tonsils out.  Even after a family holiday in Rothesay, I was still looking a bit ‘peely-wally’ – as they say in Scotland – and my mum decided to give me an extra week by the seaside before I went back to school.  We stayed in a B&B in Lamlash, and I can still remember the branches from the bush outside our window tapping on the glass at night.  It felt so comforting to have my mum to cuddle up to.

A few years later, Mum rented a house for a month, and from then on, that was our family holiday – two weeks with my mum and various friends and family, then Dad would come down for the last two weeks of July. He golfed most mornings – even when it rained – but then we’d all do something in the afternoon.  One of those ‘somethings’ was him taking me out fishing in a rowing boat where all we caught were the ‘stingers’ from big brown jellyfish.  Ugh. The thought of it still makes me shudder.

So many memories.

Bursting out the door in the morning, my holiday friends and I free to roam wherever we wanted and only coming home when we were hungry. Having a fish supper, still in its newspaper wrapping, bought from the van on the front, for dinner. Playing on the beach for hours and hours and hours, and not being allowed to wear trousers but only shorts and flip-flops for the whole month – no matter the weather – because there wasn’t a washing machine in the house and Mum didn’t want to spend her days doing unnecessary laundry.  If my legs got wet, I simply dried them off with a towel! Driving up into the hills to watch the deer gather at dusk.  The Christian Children’s Seaside Mission on the beach every weekday – a service and singing in the morning, games in the afternoon, and sausage sizzles in the evening. It was idyllic.

And then, after Mum and Dad decided to buy a holiday house on the island, we’d visit for weekends throughout the year as well as the summer months.  Monday morning found us up before dawn, having breakfast on the ferry, and Dad dropping me off at school before he went in to work.

I climbed the island’s highest mountain, Goatfell, with a schoolfriend and her family when I was 15, and cycled round the island with other friends when I was 19. We were so exhausted when we arrived at the Lochranza Youth Hostel that we were in bed and asleep at 7pm.

A few years later I brought my soon to be husband to visit, and my mum was shocked when he bought me a floaty boho top – her father would never have approved.

More years – more memories, both happy and sad.

My dad’s funeral.

Visiting Mum when I was heavily pregnant with my son, then introducing both him and my daughter to the island. Listening to my mum laugh with joy as my nephew twirled my daughter around in that huge garden which overlooked the bay.  Taking the kids to the beach, then visiting the island with my daughter and her friend when they were about 10 – at the height of the Spice Girls mania – and the pair of them dancing down the main street singing ‘Stop right there, thank you very much…” at 6am when we were all jet-lagged out of our minds.

My mum’s funeral.

My daughter and I spending 5 months in mum’s house.  My daughter went to High School and I worked in the island hospital where the nursing care the patients receive has to be the best in the world. The bonfire on the beach at Guy Fawkes and seeing the pinpricks of coloured lights from rockets being shot into the sky miles away on the mainland.

Visiting my daughter, who was spending a year working on the island, and the pair of us deciding to buy a time-share here  Her meeting her husband a few years later when she worked for a summer at one of the island’s hotels.  Our whole family – including my husband, our son, his wife and their six-month-old daughter – spending a week, all together, before our daughter’s wedding.

Bringing friends who’d never been to Scotland to the time share, and watching them fall in love with the island too.  Another friend and I making a wish about a special project at the ancient standing stones… and it coming true!  Spending time with my husband, sitting on the balcony, sipping a glass of wine while he smoked on a cigar, just relaxing and chatting while we stared out at the most amazing view.

Being in Edinburgh with a friend four years ago, planning to meet my husband at the airport a few days later so we could travel to Arran together, then getting a call from Canada to say he was too sick to travel. I should go to Arran on my own, he insisted.  But of course I went back to Canada. I loved him. I couldn’t leave him if he was sick.  But, as I discovered, the only kind of ‘sick’ he was, was sick of me. He’d wanted to spend time with his ‘office wife’.  He’d had no intention of coming on holiday with me. He was already in love with ‘her’ – although I didn’t know that at the time.  Two weeks later she gave him an ultimatum and he left me.

Coming back to the island that first year after he left, when things were still raw and memories all too fresh, was hard.  What if he had come over the year before?  Might we still be married? All the horrors, all the pain, a nervous breakdown and thoughts of suicide would never have happened.  But they had, so I went out alone for walks in the evening and sobbed.

Returning the following year with a friend, seeing the island again through fresh eyes while recalling all my experiences over the decades, helped me heal and create more new, happy memories.

I’m back once more, this time with my daughter, her husband and their two children. That’s four generations of my family that now love this place.  And I will be back, yet again, in less than a month, sharing my love of the island with another friend who has never been to Scotland before.

I hope to be coming to Arran for many more years.

While I was still married, I asked my husband what he wanted me to do with his ashes, should he die first.  His response was that he wanted to be wherever I was, which meant our ashes being mixed and scattered on the Brodick beach in Arran.

Now, when the time comes, I will be on my own.  But I won’t be alone. Half my ashes will be spread on my parents’ graves and the other half on the beach.  I’ll be in my magic place.  The home of my memories and my soul. The place that has been a constant love throughout my life.

And I know my kids and grandkids will continue to visit the island when they can.

How lucky I am.

Can’t get you out of my head…

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It’s the way it sometimes catches you by surprise, isn’t it?  You’re living your life, getting on with things, and then you get an e-mail or hear word from your ex.  Your chest constricts, your head starts reeling, all those thoughts and feelings of pain wash in and you wonder… will I ever get him out of my head?

Wouldn’t it be great if – a la Harry Potter – I could just put a wand to my temple, extract all the painful memories and feelings my ex has left me with, and put them in a jar,  which I could revisit only if and when I wanted to? (Which would be rarely, if ever!!)

I’ve felt things building the past week, so I decided to make an appointment with the counsellor I saw back in 2016, when I was at my lowest. Kind of catch things before they got too bad.

I wrote to him beforehand – told him that on the outside of my life I’m doing fine, but sometimes the inside hurts really badly – and asked him for some strategies to help on days I find things really really hard.

This is what he suggested.

(Please remember I was in an upset state when I met with him, so I might not have remembered everything 100% as he said it.  This is my interpretation of his advice.)

The first thing he suggested was to actively stop when a thought about my ex comes into my head. He says some of his clients will actually raise their hand in a stopping gesture.  Stop and turn your thoughts around.

For example, think about the good things in your life now.  Things that you couldn’t do when you were married to him. For me, that includes the amount of travel I’m able to do now.

But…it still makes me think about ‘him’.  (He’s currently on a holiday with ‘her’.  A holiday he refused to take with me.  So this suggestion doesn’t work for me.)

The second thing he suggested, was to find a quote you like; something inspiring which speaks to you.  Write it down and carry it in your wallet, so it’s there if/when you need it.

Not long after my ex left me, I was talking to a friend I’ve known for over 30 years, but whom I only see occasionally.  He never liked my ex – the feeling was mutual – and his advice was to not to look back.  Keep looking forward.  Always keep looking forward.

I read recently that you feel sad when you look back and anxious when you look forward, so I’m going to try and stop doing both.  But the most important thing is not looking back into the past. Don’t look back.  Don’t you ever look back!

Which is ironic given that…

The third thing my counsellor suggested was something that really calmed me down.  He told me to think about walking into a house  Upstairs, there’s a corridor with four doors; two on the left and two on the right.

Go through the first door, and step into the room.  It’s a lovely room.  In that room, think of all the good things people have ever said about you in your life. Times when people have enjoyed being with you.  All things that are personal.

Then go into the second beautiful room.  This room holds all your ‘professional’ achievements; things like your high school diploma, badges from scouts or guides, music exams, university or college degree, professional qualifications.  Things you have achieved through hard work.

From there, cross the hall and go into the third room. This space contains your positive dreams for the person you want to be.  Do you want to be compassionate?  Brave?  A good friend?  A good grandparent? A painter? Climb a mountain? Run a mile in 10 minutes?

The fourth door opens into the bathroom.  This is where you get rid of all the s–t that you are still carrying around.

This is the strategy that I think will be most effective for me, and it got me thinking about a project my daughter did for my 60th birthday, just a few months after my husband walked out.  She contacted various friends, asked them what their memories were of me, and collected them in a box.

Here’s one from a friend from my nursing days.  Memories include the terrified look on our faces when we found ourselves sharing a bedroom for four having never shared a room with anyone in our lives on January 8th, 1973. Sitting in our tiny flat in the sunshine listening  to Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks. Being able to pick up  where we left off without any difficulty no matter how long we have been apart.

I think I’m going to add to that ‘birthday’ box.  I’m going to make a second one of all my ‘achievements’;  my nursing diploma, my university degree, a speech award, my army ‘pips’, photos of my kids as babies, etc.

In a third box, I’m going to fill it with words like compassion, courage, laughter, love, sunshine, mother,  travel, music, grandmother, reading, rainbows, etc.  All things that bring joy into my life.

And then when those bad days come – as they do – when I can’t get my ex and his new wife out of my head, I will open those boxes and think of the people who mean so much to me, the things I have achieved in my life, and the person I want to become.

So yes, even though I’ve chosen my quote as  – ‘Don’t look back.  Don’t you ever look back.’  – I am going to look back.  But only at the good stuff.  Because who I was then is who I am now.

But I am going to look forward too. Because forward is where I’m going.

Where we’re going.

When The Pain Comes…

It all started last week with one of those stupid quizzes: Based on your star sign, how many times will you fall in love?

Of course, I checked out my ex’s first – his sign is before mine, astrologically speaking. His said 3. So he’s on course.

Mine? One. Because you when you love, it’s forever.

Great!

And then I had a conversation with yet another friend in this situation. There are so many of us around, aren’t there; women who’ve been married for 30+ years whose husbands move on to a younger version.

Maggie voiced something I’ve been holding secret in my head for so long, scared that if I said it aloud, people would think I was even more foolish than I usually feel. She admitted that her ex was the love of her life. That she will never – could never – love anyone the way she loved him.   Wasn’t that stupid? Wasn’t that crazy? Doesn’t that make her a grade A loser?

Well, I guess that makes two of us, because that’s exactly how I feel too. I loved my husband and I still love him. They say that hate isn’t the opposite of love. Indifference is. On the one hand, I’m mad with him, furious at him, I want to strike back and hurt him the way he hurt me.  On the other, I worry about his health and the damage he has done to our family and his relationships with our kids. So, I’m still feeling something.

He however… remains indifferent.

Over the weekend, things continued to build. Just little things; not feeling 100% physically, putting up with winter in the minus 20C range for days on end, not being able to get out the house for some fresh air because it’s so icy out, having to figure out some major financial decisions that could have long term ramifications, learning that one very dear friend has cancer while another has MS, the relentless cheery Valentine movies on TV…

…so I booked an appointment to see a counsellor later this week. I haven’t felt the need to see one for more than 2 years. I’m moving ahead. I’m travelling, teaching, doing things I never dreamt I was capable of. And yet, inside… Deep inside…  I wanted to get on top of things before I felt myself sinking under again.

And then, this morning, my ex informed me he is now off on yet another holiday with his new wife. In four years, they’ve now had more holidays than we ever had – either as a couple, or as a family – in almost 40 years. We couldn’t travel because work always came first, or the chronic illness that he had couldn’t be ‘dealt with’ anywhere else outside our home city. Forty years ago, he couldn’t even be bothered organizing a honeymoon and was back at work well within a week of our wedding.

And so I cried.

And cried.

All those doubts, all those feelings of worthlessness just hammered back down on me. I know, I know… the way a person treats you says everything about them and nothing about you, but when you’re at the receiving end of betrayal and rejection, you can’t help but wonder what was so wrong with you that he left you for someone else. What is so wonderful about her and so awful about you?

Last year I kept a jar to which I added a dime when I had a really – really – bad day, feeling upset over my ex. I’ll be honest, I seriously considered adding my first dime of the year today. But I didn’t.

These days will continue to come and go over the years. They don’t hit as often as they did, but they still hit hard. I’ve asked my counsellor for some tools and strategies to help me on days like this. Things I can do to help me get through that darkness until I step back out into the light again.  I’ll share what he says with you.

I will step out into the light again.

And so will you.

It’s That Time of Year Again!

(This post should have gone up at the end of 2018, but better late than never, right?)

Yes, it’s that time of year again when we look back at the year slipping out of sight in our rearview mirror, and view the approaching year with – hopefully – optimism.

Last year we wrote an end-of-year post entitled  Moving forward into the New Year. In it, we decided we would measure, in a tangible way, the frequency of our good and bad days by putting one dime in one of two jars.  The bad days couldn’t be run-of-the-mill bad days – like losing keys, the car not starting or falling down on your a-s  and looking like an idiot while trying to take a photograph.  (True story.)  They had to be bad days specifically connected to our divorce/ex-husbands/feelings of loss and/or failure.

DSC_0390Very quickly, we discovered that we were running out of dimes for our ‘good’ days, so we decided to put dimes in the jars only on our bad days.  And for me personally, although my ex remains inside my head much more than I would like, I was pleasantly surprised to realise I only had eight dimes in my bad day jar.  Some of those days were really bad days.  One involved a visit to my doctor where I just cried my eyes out.  But he was great.  He’s suffered loss himself and advised me that it’s not wrong to grieve.  We only grieve when we lose things that matter.  And my marriage mattered – to me.  The way my husband left me, says everything about him and nothing about me.

Would there have been only eight dimes in the first two years after my husband left me?  Absolutely not.  The jar would have been full to overflowing – and it’s not an exercise we would recommend until you are well into the healing process.  DO NOT DO THIS WHILE YOU ARE FEELING FRAGILE AND LOST.

I can’t promise that there won’t be more than eight dimes next year.  2018 was a really good – and busy – year for me, with lots of travelling and the birth of a granddaughter to fill my life with joy. But looking at those eight dimes laid out on the table in front of me, offers reassurance that I am healing. That I am getting back on my feet.  That life is worth living.

May 2019 bring us all blessings and peace.

Happy New Year.

 

It’s Never Too Late – Weeks 11/12 – Vhairi

Week Eleven – Reigniting a Sense of Adventure  –  Week Twelve- Reigniting a Sense of Faith

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You are never too old to set another goal or to dream another dream – Aristotle.

I can’t believe it’s Christmas Eve and here I am trying to catch up on the final two chapters of Julia Cameron’s book It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again.  I actually finished the book a few weeks ago, but it’s taken until now to pull my thoughts together.

I’m not going into the details of the final two chapters, but instead will give an overview of how I found making my way through the book worked for me over the past few months. Continue reading

It’s Never Too Late – Week 10 – Vhairi

REIGNITING A SENSE OF VITALITY

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.  JRR Tolkien

Healing

This week there was a lot of productive writing about health, finding balance, self-protection etc., but it was Julia’s section at the end of the chapter that had the most impact on me – using pain as energy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about pain and grief over the past few months.  There’s so much of it going on around me –  not just friends and family who have lost their spouses, but their jobs, financial and family related issues too.

It made me think back to those horrible two years after my husband left me.  How I floundered and wondered if I would ever find stability – let alone contentment – again. Continue reading