Good to see you back.
A real cold spell here, it was 3 degrees Fahrenheit when I left West Virginia yesterday morning. And I seemed to have caught a cold, taking zinc and drinking tea.
Strange how memory works. It was the phrase "just ripened pears." My aunt and uncle had a pear tree on their farm in southern Ontario. I remember exactly where it was - on the right side of the house about 30 feet from the back gate on the path to the barn - just outside the fence around the yard. I don't remember ever having a ripe pear and certainly never a pear galette - though we did have spiced pears at Thanksgiving. What I do remember is being ambushed by one of my cousins as we walked out to the barn and being hit in the back of the head with a really overripe, rotten pear - the juice of the cold squishy pear falling down under your collar and on to your chest and back - and the hysterical laughter of the cousin who threw it. This was more the 60 years ago and I can't remember the last time I thought of it - great to get these old memories back.
So visceral, aren't they, those old memories? I once climbed a peach tree in a garden somewhere in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe and was stung by a wasp. The smell of ripe peaches, the fuzz on the peaches, the smooth branches and the sudden piercing pain in my hand all add up to something unforgettable. That memory triggered of course by your story of the rotten pear!
I've always been intrigued by Proust's sudden and profound recollection of his forgotten childhood stimulated by tasting a madeleine dipped in a limeflower tisane (A la recherche du temps perdu). I do think memories are aroused by chance and sensory impressions, long-forgotten pieces of music, colours and fragrances. As if the memories are all buried deep down within us, intact but quiescent, patiently waiting to be woken up.
Take care with that cold, zinc sounds good. I'm getting better, slowly.
My fifth anniversary came and went this week. I felt like it was something I ought to be celebrating, but I'm in a bit of a slump right now. Just 7 more afternoons to do at school then I leave, which I'm hoping will pick me up.
Heard someone on the radio talking about her sister's diaries- her sister who I assume took her own life although I didn't catch the whole item. Anyway, she had her sister's diaries and had been reluctant to read them, but when she did she was surprised that they were a little more upbeat than expected- and said that she thought her sister probably couldn't write when she was really low. I get that. All the stuff we hear about 'reaching out', expressing our feelings to others etc. but to be honest when it strikes we - or certainly I- want just to shut down and withdraw. Not that I feel at all suicidal but I'm having to force myself to do stuff out of the house. I'm happy to engage with my immediate family but beyond that I'd mostly rather not. But I'm not numb, which is really something. Usually I feel really numb when I'm low. And usually I can't take an interest in anything- and at the moment I am still interested. Heard another thing on the radio about a new book called The Joy of Missing Out. There seem to be a couple of other books by the same name. Apparently JOMO is the new FOMO. That definitely strikes a chord. That resistance to the onwards and upwards approach to self improvement, the modern urge to be permanently occupied and endlessly productive. The new text by a Danish professor of psychology- who has apparently been studying self-help literature and felt that contrary to their intention a lot of them make us less rather than more happy. I may well get hold of a copy.
My therapist feels I have consistently run away from my more painful feelings and have forced myself to be cheerful/ busy/ pursued any number of new hobbies to try to move away from long repressed sadness. She may be right, and it does rather make me want to run away from her and go on a shopping spree or something. But instead I'm trying to plod along with my sadness is tow. Dragged myself out to see John Grant two nights ago. It was standing only and I got really hot and bothered down in the mosh- I'm only 5ft and there was a bloke stood next to me who must have been 6ft 8" and broad into the bargain (maybe this is why he likes John Grant) Anyway, I moved to the bar area which is on a platform and got quite a good view of him. I'm not that familiar with his music, but Glacier definitely speaks to me.
It is a glacier moving through you
And carving out deep valleys
And creating spectacular landscapes
And nourishing the ground
With precious minerals and other stuff
So, don't you become paralyzed with fear
When things seem particularly rough.
Well, that's the idea anyway. Just hoping I'm not on some wild goose chase with all this.
Hope everyone is well and recovering from ailments.
Congrats again on the five years! I'm sorry though to hear about the depression.
I'm all for the Joy of Missing Out. When I worked in media my life was like a crowded house, endless events and crises and travel opportunities and I hated it most of the time. I like solitude, I like quiet bookshops and libraries, a comfy sofa and a book, a hammock under trees in the garden. Many things interest me but they're mostly quiet or solitary things -- writing fiction, doing research, garden pottering, cooking for close friends, walking in vineyards or mountains with dogs. I wouldn't want to do many of the things self-help literature and tabloid advice columnists think we should want or do.
E, there are things I've 'felt' and faced and endured. And there are certain Pandora's boxes inside the psyche that may always remain closed. There are times I do stay numb and frozen in loss. On the whole my emotional range has deepened, I am able to contain more, feel and express more -- I suspect this is true for many of us as we get older. Your therapist may be right, but these shifts take time. Go gently and take your time.
Spring is around the corner... I like your Glacier lyrics.
It's a long time since I checked in. I had to do without my laptop for a while as my daughter's had a fault- v impressed that Acer managed to fix it for a mere £30 even though it was out of warranty (electrical problem with charging dock)
The bloody low level depression continues and seems to have transformed into depression about our environment. It's been high on the agenda here everywhere you look with the extinction Rebellion protests and the visit of Greta Thunberg. Our plans to build our house are shaping up to be as near passifhaus as we can manage- without going for full certification which we have worked out makes it much harder and more expensive without actually delivering any material benefit. I don't fancy getting arrested in London but I'm willing to take on the local authority to allow us to install solar panels in a conservation area. I can only do what is within my reach to help the plight of our planet. I might drive myself insane otherwise.
In other news I have just finished reading Edward St Aubyn's quintet about Patrick Melrose- about himself really. However posh and well-heeled the characters and settings are, I found it truly fascinating from the point of view of childhood, addiction, the challenge of recovery. My own childhood troubles were pretty inconsequential in comparison, but of course I didn't know that when I was three. what I related to was the idea that at times Patrick functions highly as an intellectual and yet that belies the total chaos and darkness behind the facade. Not that it's quite such a stark contrast for me. I probably said here ( or I definitely thought) that I was really frustrated by the teacher training person at the school I worked at when she presented us with a diagram of the hierarchy of needs. 'We are aiming to get them working at the higher levels' said she. Err, it's quite possible to work at the higher levels whilst there's some bloody great problem lurking at the lower level somewhere which will f*** everything up nicely at some point. Certain people still think it's ok to be unkind to children in the interests of getting them to the 'higher levels.' Does my head in.
I enjoyed the Melrose novels partly because they are beautifully written and witty, but mainly because they take the idea of childhood adversity and subsequent problems seriously. Lots of people really don't take it seriously- or do in theory but not in practice- if general attitudes towards addiction are anything to go by. I reached the end of the five books feeling in a way understood as a person because I understood the books, if that makes sense. Watching Benedict Cumberbatch as Melrose in the sky Tv series based on the novels- very good and BC is perfect for the role, but I am so glad I read them first.
I read about St Aubyn's life and it seems very very close to the books. I had a momentary intake of breath to learn that he now manages to drink sociably- at my own still existing wish I could do this. I still have moments when I think about drinking, although it can be easily quelled by having a rest. I have an avenue left to explore- exercise. Obviously I'm out walking the dog daily but I'm talking proper endorphin producing exercise. I've never much liked getting sweaty. But I feel I really need to get going. But I don't! Getting out on the garden is something I can manage though, and getting back to playing some music feels like an actual option but I'm even reluctant there- when I don't play I get really rusty and it takes time to get back to where I was.
Nice to get all this written down. Hope everyone is well.
So good to hear from you! I've been watching Extinction Rebellion and hoping it has a lasting impact of some kind. Right now I'm looking at images of another cyclone hammering the coast of Mozambique and reading that these cyclones are unprecedented, inexplicable. So much more hard research and investigation is needed to work out what has to happen as a preventive measure. And as with the floods in Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal coast, deforestation plays a terribly destructive role, nothing to hold back or channel or absorb floodwaters.
I've read two of the Edward St Aubyn quintet of novels and wish I could get more. Brilliant, isn't it? His family -- thinly disguised autobiography of course -- are monstrous, a horror story, but not too far from many dysfunctional families that crash and burn from one crisis to another. I know little about the author as an addict and I have often noticed that there is a crucial but tricky difference between people who are substance abusers and substance-dependent. Some of the most chaotic and headlong drinkers I know have evolved into abstemious people who have a glass of wine with supper in the evenings.
Not for you or me though, (sadly). My patterns are what they are.
Hi Mary, yes you are right. I revisited my drinking enough times over the three years it took me to stop to realise that I was never going to be able to drink moderately.
Trying to eat healthily at the moment and it is HARD not to eat sugary foods. I was thinking, St Aubyn's relationship with alcohol is probably more akin to my relationship with chocolate biscuits, whereas my relationship with alcohol is more akin to St Aubyn's relationship with heroin...
We all have a top addiction! x
Yes, bowls of pasta (cacio e pepe!) are my carb sin. Though I don't think of myself as prone to addiction in most respects -- I am more avoidant or phobic than addictive since I never smoked, never abused any kind of medication, like sugary sweets or chocolate without needing to eat it all up in one go, don't have too many food issues or compulsive habits. I am more likely to procrastinate or 'not do' something than do too much of it. Drinking to excess was the anomaly. I do seem to be getting more anti-social as I age, prefer evenings alone with a book than going out to supper or entertaining. That could be the depression of the last year too, being with others can be such an effort.
I was relieved, reading St Aubyn, that I have never tried heroin because it sounds so repellent but must have some deep allure in those altered states. He describes his binges and excesses so lucidly and brutally, so much beauty in the writing.
I learned a great deal from you as regards dealing with recovery and doing therapy in conjunction because my experience had been that I couldn't really benefit from therapy until I was sober. I remembering disagreeing with you on that in an early conversation and now I think I was wrong. Not as regards my own experience perhaps -- therapy was wasted on me while I was drinking between sessions -- but it isn't true for everyone and some might be encouraged to stop by having therapy for underlying issues like depression.
I think there were aspects of therapy that did help me when I was still drinking. But it never really helped with the drinking. I expressed my drinking concerns to one therapist and she suggested I get a really lovely wine glass and have one glass a night, to sip and savour. I realise now she had no understanding of alcohol addiction and the red lights associated with it. Bizarrely, she even discouraged me from meditating at the time I would normally start drinking, because meditation means withdrawal from contact with others, means you are isolating. She was wrong. She wasn't a great therapist. I then had a therapist on the national health- he was good, and I learnt a few things I now know are true about me. The therapy I am still having now (four years- I'm starting to worry about how much I've spent!) has built on some of that but has definitely been the most beneficial. But alcohol has only ever been one very strong thread in a bigger tapestry, and actually we rarely talk about it now at all.
I guess I just didn't want to feel I had been wasting my time and money, that my past was all negated because I had still been drinking.
Have a good week
That was my experience too, E. I began seeing therapists very early on in my 20s and I always expressed concern that my drinking was a problem. Very few seemed to think I was alcoholic because I didn't fit their private image of someone out-of-control, chaotic, coming to sessions drunk, getting arrested, having emergency admissions to hospitals in alcoholic withdrawal. I was just drinking a bit too much and not all the time. I was being honest about it which meant i wasn't in denial. They saw it as a bad habit and not much more. The compulsion I tried to describe, the weird patterns of secret drinking and not knowing why I would drink so much at times made little sense to them. And of course I would drink the feelings away after therapy, a numbing I didn't see as blocking insights but it did.
One therapist i saw was alcoholic herself and attending AA and she didn't see her binging or bender pattern in me so my drinking wasn't 'alcoholic' in her terms. That has to do with the idea of a monolithic alcoholic personality: self-destructive, a liar, selfish, immature, anti-social, flawed and with moral defects. I was involved with social activism, had a close circle of friends, was able to study and work well, was in good health, ate and slept well, could talk about my problems without making excuses for them, turned up promptly for sessions and paid on time.
I agree that drinking may be only one thread in a tapestry, but it is rarely minor, in the same way that insomnia or little phobias or childhood memories of death are no longer big problems in our lives but somehow go on affecting us in ways we may not recognise. I get distressed on significant anniversaries or traumas or death without realising the date of the anniversary consciously.
Dreams have always been a clue to underlying obsessions or fears or wishes I can't admit openly, to the preoccupation with certain themes and people in my inner life, archetypes and projections, both hostile and beloved. It isn't that rational but it forms a large part of what is happening in me below the surface and darkening moods or leading to feelings of stuckness. I do agree with Freud on the importance of what we have forgotten or disregarded as a factor shaping our most powerful motivations and with Winnicott on play objects and transitional objects that 'hold' our terrors and desires until we are ready to look at them or let go of them. I do feel the 'liberation' of drinking showed me that I was not who I seemed to myself to be, and that it released a great deal of repetition compulsions, reenactment daydreams, thanatos death desires, a way to disconnect from what felt unbearable deep down.. It is now no longer operating actively but some dreams I have now are extended and transformed 'drunk' dreams, not about alcohol but about a complete disorientation and search for a space of mindless dazzling euphoria.