The Moderation Contemplation

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Winds of Freedom – Mona Davis

Are you trying to decide whether or not moderating your alcohol intake is the preferable option to giving it up entirely? Hugs and love to you. I know this is hard.

If I may, I’d like to ask you two questions:

1. Do you believe that being able to drink moderately makes you better or more whole as a person?
2. Do you know the reasons why you want the escape that drinking “promises”?

If you’re struggling to answer these two questions honestly, perhaps abstinence is the way to go. Of course the decision is yours but I’ll share my story:

I was a binge drinker which means that I could go days or weeks without drinking but when I did drink, anything could happen. Back then, if I was upset or angry the first couple of drinks felt good because all the pleasure centers in my brain were tickled, tricking me into believing that the high meant I was happy. But the warning bells would already be going off by the end of glass two. I would choose to ignore them and the switch would be flipped. Deep down I knew I had a problem with limits and believing it was a question of willpower, I had tried quitting or at least moderating my drinking many times. Especially after particularly embarrassing episodes or near misses. I tried “not drinking during the week” or limiting my consumption, you know, with the “three drinks minimum”. I changed what I drank and who I hung out with. I “had it under control.”

But the truth was, I didn’t want to give it up, or to be more honest, I didn’t want to be the girl who had to give it up. So no amount of rules or agendas would’ve worked. Years later, when I finally got fed up enough with myself and all the blackouts, and with hurting people I loved, knew I had no choice. I knew that this time, I didn’t want to be the girl who couldn’t give it up. In my heart I believe that perspective made all the difference.

Early on in my sobriety I was afraid that I’d always feel broken, and inadequate, defective or abnormal because I couldn’t drink the way other people did. As time went on, I came to realize that choosing to figure out why I wanted to drink in the first place, and understanding that it was not about will power but instead about goodwill toward myself, made me proud not be a drinker. It became a source of strength and confidence.

Today, I know for a fact that alcohol never made anything better.  In terms of moderation, if you are already at the point where you are telling yourself that you should be moderating your alcohol intake, it usually means that alcohol simply isn’t for you. You are either safely unaffected by it or a stronger, better you without it.

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Walk of Gratitude

427199_10151249525300578_1412222256_nThere is a large park close to my home. It’s perimeter is 3.5km long and many people walk or run its length to keep fit. I haven’t had an exercise regimen since my late teens which was almost two decades ago. So I’ve decided to walk the 3.5km a few times per week and hopefully build up to running.

There was a national holiday in my country this week so I was at the park that day by 7:00am. It was cool and overcast on account of a passing tropical wave so the morning dew was hanging around just a little longer than usual. The air was crisp and clean. I inhaled deeply as I started out and out of habit, began mentally listing the things I wanted to get done that day: article review, emails to clients, clean bathroom, edit poems etc. I passed by a father and his young son and smiled to overhear him gently explaining why stretching is always better to do before exercising. It made me happy to think of the memories they were both making, and that I got a chance to witness their exchange.

So of course that got me thinking about all the things I was witnessing on my walk: the “good morning” greetings from fellow walkers and runners; the coconut vendors getting their carts ready for customers; the small flock of protective blackbirds chasing a model airplane that was flying too close to their nests; the architect sitting in his car with paper and ink, drawing inspiration from the row of palatial, Victorian-era mansions that line the western side of the park; the confused chirp of a Big-Eyed Grieve who’s lengthy earthworm was stolen by an opportunistic Kiskadee; the rising sun, finding a way to peep through the clouds and rapidly warm up the right side of my face. It was a beautiful feeling. I decided right then and there that every time I walk the park, instead of creating a To-Do list in my mind, I would spend that time listing all the things I was grateful for:

The fresh air; my health; being able to whatsapp chat with my Mum (who is 2637km away) because she finally got a smartphone; my new job which allows me two extra hours on mornings to walk, or paint or write; my new job which surrounds me with art, creativity and real human connections; my ability to pay my bills even if things are tight for now; the extra dollars in my pocket to buy detergent, body soap, bread, sausages, potato chips and fruits for the homeless guy who asked me if I had any soap in my car that he could use to wash his clothes, and the smile he gave me when I asked his name.

I am grateful for my life.

Healthy Change Is Nurtured Into Being

Changing habits takes time. Gentleness, kindness and nurturing. There’s a reason for that. It’s so that change can be permanent. Think of your recovery, or any major life change as a tree. It starts as a seed – small, hard, seemingly unimportant in the grand scheme of things. That us, we’re seeds. Waiting to grow up.

If we’re rushed, we grow up stunted unable to be fruitful or to blossom. If we’re nurtured, fed nourishment and given everything that helps us to evolve we grow in strength and beauty. Granted, for most of us who struggle with limits or addiction or self-inflicting pain, we want to be better now – we want our lives to be different now. We judge ourselves harshly for not healing or growing or developing quickly enough. That kind of judgment hurts us and can be debilitating.

Healing and growing takes nurturing and kindness. Healthy change is nurtured into being. Be gentle with yourself dear one.

Hugs and love, Phoenix.

The Girl In The Mirror

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I love the madness that is the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. The creativity, the fast-paced induced adrenaline rush of posting every 24 hours, the community spirit, and at times, the frustrating but glorious intensity.

This year I chose to write poems inspired by movies about addiction and absolution. I write often about the importance of honouring our emotions, about allowing ourselves to sit with the darkness, kicking at it until it bleeds light, but every now and then I resist the complete vulnerability and surrender that any sort of healing needs. So as April approached I took stock of my progress so far: two years of sobriety; an understanding and acceptance of my triggers; the warmth and affection that had grown in key relationships with loved ones; and the knowledge of what I felt I still needed to work on.

It was my intention to reach deep down to the dark, murky, frightening depths with both hands and pull hard against what needed to be uprooted, clearing away the weeds and plastic debris that were stunting my growth. I hoped to reveal, better understand, and become more accepting and appreciative of the dark emotions I keep at bay. I was ready, or so I thought.

Don’t get me wrong, all in all, this year’s challenge exceeded all expectations. For one, I reached the depths I wanted to and spent more time there than I cared to in the end. Even though I’ve come away with several poems that are worth shaping and rewriting, my plan to use movies about addiction as triggers worked better that I’d anticipated.

The shift was gradual and I did not notice it at first. But by the time I’d reached the middle of the alphabet I was staying in bed longer on mornings, wide-eyed with the covers to my chin, unsure and a little afraid of what the day would bring. My meditative morning habit – a cup of ginger tea on my front porch with an inspiring book – had been replaced with reviewing the difficult poem I’d written the night before, and I was no longer jumping out of bed looking forward to my day. I had underestimated my vulnerabilities. The writing challenge theme I’d set for myself, together with two unexpected life events, affected me adversely. I won’t be doing something like this again. At least not without setting some boundaries and safe zones first.

There were breakthroughs as well, which I am grateful for, with poems like The Quiet, which makes me so uncomfortable to read even though I wrote it, and Thirteen, which I wrote when I came to an understanding about my relationship with my mother. I think if there is anything I am truly happy about is turning that corner with my Mom. It was my last important relationship to heal and I believe that now I can begin doing just that.

In the end, and today I am grateful for the opportunity to learn. I am not invincible. I cannot, ever, underestimate my triggers nor the importance of boundaries. I am grateful for loved ones (online and IRL) who supported me through this “mad experiment” and never judged me for it. It has helped me to be gentler with myself and keep my own Judge in check. I even have to send a nod to the Universe for crashing my laptop two weeks into the challenge. I chuckle to myself now when I think about it. Perhaps the Universe was sending me a message after all.

Love and light,

Phoenix

Ikiru (1956)

Ikiru (meaning: to live; to be alive)

Ikiru (meaning: to live; to be alive)

“Life is brief / Fall in love, maidens / before the crimson bloom fades from your lips / before the tides of passion cool within you / for those of you who know no tomorrow.”

2nd February 2014 to 11th April 2016:
1 new hat, one healthier liver
2 clear eyes, two lungs more pink than grey
3 new career paths with ladybirds on sunflowers
4 loves given a reboot
5 community projects that bring the sunshine
7 writing partners with Mad Hatter hats
8 dear friendships strengthened and deepened
17 pounds of excess weight lost
27 articles published, with blushes (did I write that?)
43 new poems I’ve grown so fond of
91 sober blogging friends I could not do this without
100 revealing blogposts
216 times I chose not to drink
324 packs of cigarettes I chose not to buy
800 life-changing days of sobriety
48,600 TT dollars I did not spend on alcohol
69,120,000 seconds of hard truths and lessons, of learning self-care and self-respect.
1,152,000 minutes of healing and hope, with growth, gifts and gratitude.
19,200 hours and me, here now with a newborn lust for life, embracing joy, passion and pride.
800 days of being in love with living.

~*~

My 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge Theme:

Pieces They Left Behind: Poems inspired by Movies about Addiction & Absolution

Copyright © 2016 by Phoenix, author of Shadow. Ash. Spirit. Flame. All rights reserved. This poem or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author.

Ghosts

“Ghosts of the pasts have power over us. Even if we truly want to move on, it’s not easy.” – Abbie Gale, Sleepy Hollow

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Video still from Passion Pit’s “Cry Like a Ghost”

I’ve been struggling with ghosts lately, ghosts of relationships past, and ghosts of Phoenix past.

My ex is having a hard time with our breakup and has been sending me letters. I have asked him repeatedly to take some space to heal and made it very clear (kindly/ firmly / angrily / calmly) that I do not want to be in a relationship with him. His gestures of affection are not welcome as we are not a couple and he is not courting me. There are several emotions I go through whenever I receive something from him: fear that it will be another letter saying how much he is hurting; indignation because I am reminded that these professions of love were missing when we were dating; frustration because he’s not respecting my boundaries now; and sadness and guilt for my part to play in his hurt.

My girlfriends have suggested I adjust the way I feel about his overtures, to choose to react differently and to just ignore him, as he will probably take a hint. They remind me that he is not a bad person and is just going through a difficult time. But I think that to try to change how I feel because he has issues and needs to get it out, seems like stepping back from what I need (distance, peace of mind, a chance to move on). Seems like the relationship all over again where his needs and issues came first and I’m making allowances again. It has been six months and I want to give up the ghost. It is difficult making room for new possibilities when there is harmful clutter from the past.

Then, last night I found out that the current girlfriend of an ex I dated ten years ago, has an issue with me. I have no idea why. He and I have remained on respectful, friendly terms without even a hint of emotional intimacy or closeness. We are not each other’s confidantes and do not share personal stories with one another. Apparently her issue with me is so large that he is not supposed to come to my apartment, where our writing group of meets. Why am I a ghost in her relationship, when she does not know me?

On a personal level, the ghosts of my demons have been apparating. Yes, I used a Harry Potter reference. I have been feeling trapped and backed into a corner and those demons who used to squirm and bang on doors demanding an escape, have been sitting quietly in the rooms of my mind, watching, waiting and making their presence known. I’m not worried about them because I know I won’t use alcohol as an escape, but I am concerned that they are there at all. They nod when I acknowledge that they’re there, sort of like a roll call: doubt, insecurity, fear, shame, victim, people-pleaser, judge. Over the past two years I’ve been able to handle and dismiss them, but now they’re sort of hanging about, and making them go away is becoming more difficult.

I read once that pain has an evolutionary purpose. It provides information from the environment that a particular behaviour isn’t good for us. I try to pay attention to situations and stimuli that make me uncomfortable or cause me emotional, physical or spiritual pain. I feel better about myself and have a lighter attitude when I honour the way I feel. When I fight against or resist making the changes I need to because I’m afraid or failure, or too worried about someone else’s well being before my own, I am not honouring myself. And when I do that for too long, little by little, I stop functioning: I have restless nights and don’t sleep well, I have constant pain beneath my shoulder blades, my eating habits change for the worse (I’m a stress eater), I get heartburn, I don’t clean my apartment or take care of my plant, I feel nervous before checking emails or answering phone calls, I avoid people. This timidity and lack of self care is against my true nature so I have to change my behaviour to remove that which is not helpful or uplifting to me. I must start somewhere and I can only start with me.

Pieces They Left Behind

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Last April, I participated in the scintillating madness that is the April A to Z. I accepted the challenge to write 26 posts, each corresponding with a letter of the alphabet and now I’m going back for more. For my A to Z 2016 Challenge I am combining my love for visual and musical storytelling with my passion for words.

I’ve been experimenting with poetry for a little over two years and while the adventure has been wonderful and reviews have been encouraging, I know that many of my poems don’t reach the emotional depths I would like them too.

Here in this space I write a lot about honouring our emotions, about allowing ourselves to sit with the darkness, kicking at it until it bleeds light, but truth be told, the complete vulnerability and surrender that any sort of healing needs, is still difficult for me to give in to.

It is my intention with this year’s A to Z to reach deep down to the dark, murky, frightening depths with both hands and pull hard against what needs to be uprooted, clearing away the weeds and plastic debris that are stunting my growth. It is my hope that by April 30th, I would have come to a greater understanding and acceptance of the dark emotions I keep at bay and become more welcoming and appreciative of them.

My A to Z Blogging Challenge Theme:

Pieces They Left Behind: Poems inspired by Movies about Addiction & Absolution

Phoenix From The Ashes

Shadow.Ash.Spirit.Flame. - Gabriel García Márquez

Last November I finally told my Dad about my decision to give up alcohol. He’d never really known about my binge drinking or about everything that had happened because of it, mostly because we were not really close for most of my adult life and did not see each other that often. There were a couple of times when in desperate need for peace I asked him to take me to see healers or guides but I never really told him why and he did not ask. So, last November I explained to him that February 2nd, 2016 would be the anniversary of a life-altering decision I made in 2014. I asked him if he would have a thanksgiving hawan (prayer) for me. He said yes, simply and quietly.

Two weeks before Christmas Dad fell sick with pneumonia. It was really bad and on the fourth day the doctor told him there was nothing more he could do. Now, my father is very stubborn and may have decided to fight his illness just to prove the doctor wrong. For whatever reason, he pulled through and even though extremely weakened and still on oxygen and drips twice per week, he was up on Christmas Day, enough to have a few pieces of fruit on the family lunch table. As the days in January rolled by I had decided that I would not burden him with having the hawan for me, so when he called a week ago to ask if I would still like to have it, I was surprised and very moved. I asked him if he was sure he was up to the task and he said that he believed it would be good for him too. It would be a thanksgiving for both of us.

A hawan is a sacred purifying ritual, in which a sacrificial fire is built in a kund, and specific ingredients are burned according to Ayurvedic tradition. These fire ceremonies are performed for all types of occasions: to let go of patterns and obstacles in our lives, for healing, purification of the environment and ourselves, to pray for success with a particular venture, or to express gratitude. Before we began my father welcomed our guests and started to explain why we had gathered together. But the only words he managed to get out were “my daughter” before he was overwhelmed with emotion. I think it moved him that I’d struggled and ‘come home’, perhaps proving him wrong in believing that he failed as a father by never providing a “home” for his daughters to return to. I spoke up and explained that I’d made a choice two years ago which turned my life around and that I felt it best to honour what I’d been given. With my second chance and Dad’s health, our ceremony was a thanksgiving for my life and for his.

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Having not been brought up in the Hindu faith, even though my father is Hindu, I don’t remember much from my childhood in terms of the significance of the ingredients used and of the meaning of the mantras (prayers in Sanskrit) but my stepsister sat right next to me and guided me along.

The mango tree is a symbol of love, prosperity and fertility, and on Sunday it provided the kindling for our fire. Ghee (purified butter) was used to feed the fire and signified light being brought into our lives. Several little blocks of camphor was burned throughout the ritual. Camphor represents the negative qualities in us and when camphor burns, it leaves no trace. Guggul is a resin formed from the sap of the guggul tree, and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over two thousand years. It too, shrinks and removes negative energies. Sweet rice was added to the kund too as rice is symbolic of wealth and success.

Samagri is a mixture of spices and each item of the samagri is significant. Ashoka, considered to be sacred tree, is also a herb that fights disease. Loban (frankincense) creates positive energies, creating a seal locking out the inflow of negative. Harmal seeds crackle on being heated, acting like grenades and explosives in the energy field, and drive away the negative astral energies in the environment. Specific Sanskrit mantras were chanted and sung too and these, together with the offerings to the fire create purifying vibrations that are beneficial to all present.

As the fire burned, the fragrant aromas triggered happy childhood memories of running through bamboo arches with deyas full of light, of delicious food and lots of family.

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Can you see the Phoenix? 🙂

I stared at the flames as they danced in the kund, charring the mango wood black then white. Dad spooned ghee over the ingredients yet to burn and pushed the camphor into unlit corners to ignite. There was forgiveness in those flames and hope in the heat I felt on my face. It is said that the smoke that rises from the kund contains a powerful healing energy, and as it rises to the heavens it purifies the atmosphere, both physically and subtly, encouraging peace.

For the last mantras (the ones I am the most fond of because they resonate with me, reminding me of a forgotten time) we rose to our feet. As the others sang I was very quiet, focused on the kund and what was left of the fire. I felt all my mistakes and my shame, guilt and remorse about them, reduced to black ash. I felt a surge of gratitude for all I have learned, for the courage and strength I was given, for all the new blogging friends I’ve made and the relationships with loved ones I was given the chance to deepen. I looked across at my father and he smiled at me. I am so thankful for this second chance. Late morning breezes began to blow, stirring the coconut and fruit trees in our garden into action. I felt love and reassurances all around me, from family, friends, the sky and sunshine, from myself.  Through tears I watched as the wind swirled, picking up the ash and carrying away everything I no longer needed.

“Happy New Year Phoenix, Year 3 is going to be even better.”

Love and light to you all, Phoenix

An Extraordinary Life

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“You have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to lead an ordinary life?” ~ Marmee, Little Women

Difficult experiences are our teachers. They help us to learn about ourselves and to grow. Overcoming them and moving on helps us to bloom.

I was a curious and precocious child, always wanting to know why and how people worked. Why they did what they did. Why the universe is the way it is. I wanted answers. So much so my father once said he was worried for my future state of mind because one day I would learn that there were no definitive answers, and that if I was not prepared for it, that knowledge would ruin me. I still ask questions but I am less afraid of not knowing with certainty my place in the big picture. Maybe I had my wake up call already. Maybe I have had a few.

As far back at 2007 I’ve wanted to leave my job. I am very unhappy about many things: the way I am valued yet unappreciated; the way I am told to temper my frustration with inefficiency in production and with sub-par contractors; and the way my grievances have been ignored as much as my suggestions for improvements in key areas that could help the business grow and become sustainable. Even though I want out, I stayed for multiple reasons: a sense of loyalty; a passion for the creative side of the business; and being good at what I do. But there are other reasons too: fear of the unknown; doubt that I could be valued elsewhere; fear of no longer having job security; self-conscious worry about what people would say; and yes, complacency.

When I quit drinking I never imagined that this journey would give me so much more than a sober head: an opportunity to heal, a stronger sense of self, a direct line to reserves of strength I never knew I had, resilience, courage, confidence and belief in myself. A year after giving up alcohol and cigarettes I had welcomed more creative endeavours into my life. I was writing and painting more than ever before and beginning to freelance creative work. Now, in my heart I know that I am ready to move on. It was the time to do so a long time ago but now, armed with everything that has been given to me in the last two years, I am ready for new possibilities.

I’m happy to report that on Friday I finally handed in my notice at the place I’ve worked for the past fifteen years. It was an incredible feeling. My boss is not happy about it but I expected that. I did not waiver. I felt years of stress rolling down my back and falling away. I was whatsapping with my sister minutes after and she asked me what I was feeling in that moment. I took stock and replied: relief, gratitude, peace and joy.

“You’re ready to go out and find a good use for your talent. Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it.” ~ Marmee, Little Women.

In terms of what’s next I have only a simple plan: Follow my heart and be very wise about spending in the meantime. Haha.

“I want to do something different. I don’t know what it is yet but I’m on the watch for it.” Jo, Little Women

 Love and light, Phoenix

~*~

On February 6th 2014, four days after I stopped drinking alcohol, I started this blog. My two-year soberversary is fast approaching and my January posts, inspired by fictional philosophers who’ve inspired me with their bad-ass thoughts, is a way of celebrating my journey. I hope, in turn, to inspire you on yours.

The Universe In My Mouth

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Hannibal Lecter: “I’ve always found the idea of death comforting. The thought that my life could end at any moment frees me to fully appreciate the beauty, and art, and horror of everything this world has to offer.”

While somewhat morbid I actually understand what Hannibal meant. About a year after I gave up drinking and smoking, after the months of self-analysis and clarity that hit me square in the face, after the dizzying euphoria of my body healing and beginning to function well, and after the initial sadness and subsequent mourning period for a decade lost, I developed a marked lust for life.

While I’ve always loved so many aspects of life, I found my appetite for wanting more growing. I truly felt, and still do feel, like I’ve been given a second chance and the happiness I feel about that is made even sweeter because of the role I played in being rewarded with this second chance.

I’m proud of myself for recognizing that to successfully stop drinking was not only go to be about abstaining but also about having the courage to dig deep down to find and understand the reasons for wanting a numbing escape. I am grateful that I endeavoured to be compassionate with myself, to see myself as worth fighting for, and for making a commitment to do what needs to be done.

I have been releasing what does not work for me and what I no longer need. It takes time though, months in some cases, changing habits, de-cluttering my apartment, my computer (tablet and phone), sorting through clothes to donate, healing or letting go of unhealthy relationships. But for every item, bad habit, toxic relationship I get rid of, the clearer and wider the way opens for all the good stuff to find its way to me. I get nervous and excited at the thought of new good things heading my way, and sometimes I can’t wait!

I want to fling my arms wide open, reach out and wrap my arms around ALL of it – the whole Earth, around everyone. I want to talk to people and cry and laugh with them as they tell me their stories, I want to travel. I’ve never been more than 5000 km from my home (and that was only once). I’ve never crossed the Atlantic. The urge I had as a teenager to study ancient cities is now stronger than ever fueled by some underlying sense that I am destined to walk those historical streets. I am pushing my creative boundaries and finding new ways to express myself. And I want more. I want to learn more, create more, say more, do more. For the first time in a really long time I honestly believe I can make a difference in this world. I feel like the Hindu god Krishna, with the whole universe in my mouth. I have so much to offer. So do you my friend. It is time to get to work.

From my second chance to yours,
Phoenix

~*~

On February 6th 2014, four days after I stopped drinking alcohol, I started this blog. My two-year soberversary is fast approaching and my January posts, inspired by fictional philosophers who’ve inspired me with their bad-ass thoughts, is a way of celebrating my journey. I hope, in turn, to inspire you on yours.