The Life I Found That Was Never Lost

I was recently diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, an autoimmune deficiency when the adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol.  You probably have never heard of that because it is a rare condition affecting about 1-5 in 100 000.  The past six months have been unlike the previous six, and the six before that that.  My life became a little unfamiliar as my usual energetic and active self struggled at times to climb a set of stairs or stand to prepare a meal.  Your adrenal glands give you the boost of adrenaline you need to get out of bed in the mornings and to recover from minor things like falling or tripping.  During my illness, I often felt quite dizzy, almost to the point of fainting, just rising from a chair.  More serious are the implications on your flight or fight response.  If I were to fall and break a bone, for example, or get in a car accident, or need the superhuman strength to lift something or run from danger because my life depended on it, my adrenal glands no longer automatically give me the adrenaline for that.  As a result, in such a situation I could experience an adrenal crisis which can be fatal if my condition remained untreated.

I am now medicated on a low dose steroid that I will take twice a day for the rest of my life.  I have to wear a medic alert bracelet so paramedics would know to give me an immediate injection of hydrocortisone in the event I am unconscious or unable to communicate after a traumatic occurrence.  I also carry my own injection.  Unlike an EpiPen, I would have to insert the syringe in a little vile of clear fluid and inject it intramuscularly into my thigh if I were to get injured or experience any kind of trauma.  If I get sick to the point of vomiting or diarrhea I have to go the nearest ER and receive my medication intravenously.  Needless to say, I have learned a lot about why our adrenal glands are so darned important.

Luckily, my condition is treatable and surprisingly, the meds worked almost immediately. Within a day or two I felt I could get through the day and not feel like I needed to rest.  I could plan to go out in the evening without cancelling due to extreme fatigue.  It’s like I am getting my life back!

After listening to the needle scratch, please reread the last line and imagine that sound immediately following it.  Ready?

It’s like I am getting my life back!  (needle scratch)

That’s the sound that sentence elicits in my head.  I said it on two occasions during this ordeal, mainly because I have heard it said in similar situations and thought that was what you are supposed to say when your day-to-day life is altered.  Each time I said it something felt wrong or untrue.  Those words simply do not resonate with me at all.

“I want to get my life back.”  “It’s like I am getting my life back!”

That completely discredits the past six months of my life.  It makes them not matter.  It implies that whatever I have been doing I might as well stop now because, damn it, I have my life back.  

Except for one very important detail…I never lost it.  

This has been a life experience for me.  I have remained present in it.  When I needed to rest, I did.  Without guilt or shame.  I often examined my level or worry and fear and it was quite low.  I trusted that whatever was happening to me would be resolved one way or another, and not in a dogmatic way that believed some greater force would save me.  I quite accepted the resolution could have meant terminal illness or death.  I am ecstatically proud of that!  I never let this illness or the fact that I was uncharacteristically off work for an undetermined amount of time redefine me.  It was and is my life.  

I am thankful for that time.  My husband’s retirement earlier this year allowed him to be with me every day and help when I needed it.  The love for me I saw in his eyes and actions is nothing less that whole.  Our usual playful banter was plentiful and we laughed a lot, together, over the past six months.  I had time to reflect on my life and what works for me and what doesn’t anymore.  As I get my energy back I plan to continue through life at a slower pace, no longer by force, but by choice.  This time has allowed me to recognize and face some truths that I wish no longer to be.   I had time to further nurture my spiritual being.  Yoga and meditation has played a prominent role in my care and rehabilitation.  The messages of love and support from my family and friends will never again permit me to feel alone in this world.  This blog has surfaced from just having time to sit and wonder and consider how scary it would actually be to write a blog.  Truth be told, it’s scarier for me now to refrain from taking a chance at something that inspires me to write and find creative expression.  When our son moved out I converted his small bedroom into a walk-in closet/wrapping room.  I am in the process of converting it more into a creative space for me to write, paint, sculpt, wonder, and imagine.  I am literally carving out a space in my home for me to create.  

So never mind getting my life back for it was never lost.  Having been given the gift of time to reflect has made my life a little more abundant.  

Today is New Year’s Day 2018.  Last night my husband and I stayed home alone, prepared a nice meal together, and wrote a list of what we were grateful for in 2017.  There was no shortage of items for which we consider ourselves to be quite fortunate.  I also wrote a list titled “What I Lovingly Release in 2017…” and I burnt it in our wood stove.  I was surprised at how long that list was, full of beliefs and habits that were preventing me from being my most authentic self.  I like to believe I would have arrived to this level of consciousness without the past 6 months, but it helped to accelerate the process.

The last list I wrote was my outlook for 2018 which I share below.  I am infinitely proud of this list.  I see me in it in a way I haven’t seen me in a long time.  

I thank our medical system for diagnosing my illness and for the creation of a small pill that fills me with energy.   I am no longer the Energizer Bunny.  More now like a wind-up toy that once released propels itself in whatever direction it wants until it needs to be rewound.  My pills wind me up when I need it and in between, I play.   And that’s just fine with me.  I have found something but not because something was lost.  I has just been rediscovered.

As you go through unexpected events in your life, and you will, please acknowledge that is your life.  Every moment of every day plots your story.  Take the liberty to write the current chapter that is most truthful for you.  If it’s been a tragic novel so far, you have the power the rewrite it.  You absolutely do.  You have nothing to lose.

Cheers to life in 2018!

outlook2018

All That Remains

553564_10152000498420512_1169368306_nReilly was our first family pet.  Not the first of my childhood, but the first of my family as ‘dad’s girlfriend’, and eventual wife; stepmother, and eventual adoptive mother.   Reilly entered our lives not long after the kids knew about me.  I loved how they loved her.  I hoped that if they could love her presence in the house, then maybe they could love mine too.  Like they might equate the joy of a new perfect little puppy with a new mother figure.  Or at least that the joy would make it easier for me to find my place in their family.  Having our Reilly, Reilly Roo, the Roo, helped me to feel like I wasn’t alone; like I wasn’t the only outsider in their house.  If she belonged here, could I?  It also meant that at the end of every day, there was a living creature under this roof that I could rely on to love me unconditionally.  Not that they didn’t.  It’s just finding your place in a family is difficult.  Reilly was a guarantee.

She truly was the most perfect dog.  We always walked her off leash and she never strayed from our side.  People used to think we had one of those electrical boundaries in our yard because she never left the property, except for when she wandered next door, scratched at the neighbour’s back door then at the cupboard door that housed her treats.  Yes, her treats.  They didn’t have a dog but bought treats for Reilly.  That is how cool of a dog she was.  She even wore a bowtie that they gave her when we got married.   

Heart murmurs are common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  I always told her, “Give me 10.’  She only gave me 8.  But they were 8 years of pure love.  

The final night of her life in July of 2012 I will never forget.  She was dying and it was killing me.  I helplessly witnessed her struggle to get comfortable, panting all the while, her next shallow breath never certain.  She went back and forth from the couch to the floor and I followed.  Lying on a hard floor with no blanket after hours of no sleep, not stroking her for the fear of making her more uncomfortable yet close enough so she didn’t doubt I was there, I desperately wished for her to peacefully fall into eternal sleep.  She looked at me in a way that she never had before; telling me it was time.  I found comfort in that and played my supporting role, as hard as it was.  I brought her to the vet the next morning as soon as they opened.  We didn’t have an appointment but the staff were quite gracious.

I had no idea how hard it was to lose a pet.  Especially this one.  I wondered why we choose to set ourselves up for such pain.  I didn’t want to look at our other two dogs when we got home that day.  It felt like I was being unfaithful to the Roo somehow.  

They say time is a healer.  Over time I realized it was true.  Passionately, I could talk about her without crying.  Guiltless, I embraced our living dogs.  Reverently, I spread her ashes in her favourite places.

But not all her ashes.

***

I was quite curious when the key to the adjoining big box reserved for larger parcels unexpectedly appeared in our mail at the super mailbox recently. It was for the B box, meaning whatever it was couldn’t fit in the smaller A box.  My curiosity heightened.  The childlike wonder increased as I impatiently struggled to open the box with the old, rusty key.  Finally, box B squeaked open wide and there was a rather large box inside that almost filled the entire chamber, wrapped in brown paper and totally secured with tape.  Lots of it.  Necessitating two hands, I eagerly pulled it forward.  My eyes searched for the sender.  In that moment, everything went still.  For in my hands I knew what I held.  It was precious and sacred and deserved nothing less than the most delicate transport to my house.  

Upon entering the house I hollered for my husband to come quick.  “Roo’s here!  Roo is here!”  unnamedYou see, inside the box was her urn.  Some time ago, maybe a few of years now, I sent some of Reilly’s ashes to Karen, a very dear friend who is an exceptionally talented multidisciplinary artist.  In this case, I called on her pottery skills.  I asked her to make an urn for all that remained of Reilly’s ashes and to incorporate what I sent her into the clay.  I collect pottery and this would be a welcomed and prized addition.  She graciously accepted the request.  Understandably, a time line was not discussed.  She is quite busy and told me she really wanted to put her soul into this project.  I trust her entirely and left it to her capable heart and creative hands.   Hence the surprise at the mailbox.

If you read my previous post, you know that boxes have become very important to me.  Up until now, they have been immaterial; emotional boxes that were welded shut inside me, full to the brim with memories and experiences that I chose to bury temporarily until I was softly encouraged to open them by people I trust and who trusted me to be able to deal with an opened box.  It was not lost on me that in this moment, in my hands and in my home, I held a physical box that also housed a great deal of emotion.  Masterfully crafted art infused with the remains of a deceased canine body that loved me in a way that I didn’t know I even deserved at the time, or at the very least, thought I had to work hard for.  On this particular day, the interconnectedness between me, my dog, my friend was revitalizing.  The love I felt was too real to feel anything less than effortlessly merited.  

The concept of death is something I have struggled with my entire life.  Having released Reilly’s ashes in her favourite places and sending some to Karen, it’s helped to define what death is to me.  Indisputable is the fact that every living being will die one day.  However, I believe we all seek an acceptable understanding of death that helps us to live and more importantly, feel alive.  That’s exactly how I felt from the moment I opened the mailbox to eventually pouring Reilly’s remaining ashes into the urn made with remnants of her physical body by a soul friend with whom I have spent many memorable experiences.  Alive.

She also included some extra surprises that I share with you here.  It may seem a little creepy to some of you, but we love them!

From left to right: a cup for my husband, a mug for me, a Christmas ornament, and beads to make a necklace.  While the finest particles of her remains were used in the urn, you can see bone fragments in these pieces.  Now, much more of her remains.

Our entire collection:
20171116_112519

My Boxes

This initially was to be a post about something I mentioned in my previous entry.  But My Boxes happened.  That story will follow.  For now…

IMG_0091
This was taken months prior, but doesn’t it go well with the story???

Last weekend I attended a spiritual retreat.  My randomly assigned roommate was a woman who remembered me from last year when, during our final session, I commented on my ‘boxes’ and how I know they are there, that I will open them someday; a day when I am ready and feel safe enough to do that.  This stayed with her and helped to reveal a little more deeply what was going on inside her.  I was touched by the knowledge that I had helped someone.  We instantly connected and our weekend was full of sharing our own personal journeys, without judgement.  

This year during my final session, she was not with me.  Unexpectedly, one of my boxes was pried open;  a box I had been quite unwilling to open.  The facilitator was a naturotherapist whom I have worked with in the past.  I trust her entirely.  Gentle guidance and support gave me the courage to blast the cover right off.  As when any box initially opens, the feelings inside are difficult to endure.  The guilt, shame, and anger that erupted brought my now cold and shivering body to uncontrollable tears.  Truthfully, in that moment I regretted opening it.

Following the session I took a walk around a nearby nature trail.  I felt awful.  Abandoned.  Alone.  Unworthy.  I decided to go straight home to avoid our farewell sharing circle.  I was an imposter, I didn’t belong there.  I hoped for my roommate to be in the parking lot upon my return so I could say goodbye and craft an excuse for my early departure.

Seconds later someone was walking towards me.  The only other person on the trail that day was her.  We came face-to-face and I tried so hard to stick to my plan.  One look in her eyes and my raw truth came spewing out.  She held me tightly as I sobbed, giving her shoulder a good watering.  Among the many words of encouragement, she reminded me of my boxes.  That was all I needed to hear!  In my darkness I couldn’t see it.  She explained that this was just another box.  It didn’t define me.  I was ready for it.  I can’t express enough how badly I needed to hear that.  Arm in arm, she led me to the closing circle.  As the group of beautiful women I shared the weekend with sang, there was a single fleeting moment when I felt I belonged.  It felt real, reassuring, and restorative.  Enough.  

After walking me to my car, my roommate and I embraced for our final farewell.  She whispered, “We left that box by the river.”  I knew I could.  I knew I would.  I knew I did.  

During the drive home I grieved the loss of the box, all the while welcoming this void inside me that I now had the power to replenish with forgiveness and compassion.  That emotional freedom wouldn’t have happened so quickly if not for my own words being spoken at me when I needed them most.

We are our own saviours.  We all have our own courage to open our boxes, and our own wisdom to console the inner self as the emotions surface.  But like any work in progress, we also need a toolbox.  The most effective tool is the love that surrounds us.  Before our boxes, we need to open our hearts first to trust those who are there for us, those who will not judge, those who will hold us when we least feel we deserve it.  Last weekend, mine was someone I had known for days.  

This reminds of a scene from the movie Apollo 13. (click for video)  “Well I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole.  Rapidly.”  Followed by one of the engineers emptying a box will all the contents accessible to the endangered astronauts.  And they got to work.  Sometimes our own rescue can feel that insurmountable, but with the support of those who care most, it is absolutely achievable.  

What about you?  Do you have a toolbox?  You may find some tools are rusty and others are brand new, ready to be used.  Do you have a box to open? If so, you may want to meditate, sit in silence, go for a long walk, seek the help of a professional, write recklessly, or talk to a trusted friend.  I promise you the experience is difficult, all-encompassing, and down right easy to avoid.  But if your heart is beating a little faster right now, if your thoughts are circling, if you want to stop reading, it may mean that a box really wants to open. I send you, whoever you are, the love you need to just try.

 

There’s a Box By The River

There’s a box by the river

The lid has long disappeared

Unexpectedly pushed open from the inside

Shaken until it popped

 

It’s empty now

Contents released by the river,

carried by a cool westward wind

towards a setting sun

 

I didn’t want to leave it there

by the river

She told me to

I trusted her

 

Gentle thoughts I have of the box

by the river

Tenderly

cradling it from afar

 

Its colour will change over time

tones of umber

Eventually it will rust away

by the river

 

Maybe one day I will forget about the box

by the river

Maybe I won’t

Either way I am forgiven

 

– Paula Courage

     November 2017

Today I Give Myself Permission

This is the first entry of my first blog.  I write this with a deep sense of gratitude for even being here in the first place.  When I look back I see how I had been trying to arrive for a while now, but as with life sometimes, I took the long way.

I am quite dreamy by nature and things constantly come and go in my mind.  Some go for good, a passing thought.  Others stick around and poke me intermittently until I can’t ignore them any longer.  I have journaled for years and figured the covers of those journals would perpetually house my most inner truths.  Until I finally fully embraced a truth about me – I like an audience.   I like to teach, learn, inspire, get inspired, and connect with people.  This is a perfect place for that.  So here I am, nervous that maybe no one will want to read my blog, excited that maybe someone will.

All too often we manage to talk ourselves out of our true desires.  But three things happened today that brought me here.

The first was in yoga class.  I was the last person in the room and as I walked back towards my mat, the sole one now left in the room, I saw where I practiced today.  It was the place I held during that class.  “Carve out a place for yourself everyday,” I thought.

On the way home, number two ensued after I checked the mailbox.  Pure excitement and curiosity bubbled up inside when I saw the key to the larger mailbox.  I wasn’t expecting anything.  It was a fairly large box to boot!  A peaceful smile warmed my heart when the return address revealed the sender was a dear friend and artist, Karen C.  The two minute drive to our house was full of anticipation for I knew what was inside.  After anxiously opening it with my husband I said, “I am full. It’s not even noon yet, and this day is full.”  I yearned to share that experience with everyone I know.  It was a life moment.  It deserves its own blog and that will be my second entry.  Stay tuned:)

I recently discovered the online meditations of Tara Brach.  That led me to her book True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart.  While reading that today, the third and final push occurred.  I was reading about the importance of allowing and observing all our emotions without judgement.  One of those simple, hard truths.  As a good student does, I practiced in that moment and asked myself what the root of the anxiety was that overcame me as I read that part.   For me personally, I have that reaction when I am doing something other than what I truly want to do in that moment.  But how could reading this book be the ‘wrong’ thing to do?  I was confused.  Instead of walking away and ignoring the feeling, I sat with it.   What I wanted was to tell my story about the box I received.  I wanted to start a blog.  Immediately, I told myself I couldn’t.  I went a step further and wrote down what was preventing me from having a blog:

  1. I don’t have time.
  2. I don’t have the money.
  3. I don’t want what inspires me to become a chore.

Wow.  Once on paper I rewrote them:

  1. I will have a blog with a free schedule and write when I can.
  2. I will start a free blog; I paid $60 for this one, but I am worth $60.
  3. What truly inspires me is always a pleasure to write about.

With that, I dove in without delay.  I figured out enough to get this far and to publish my first blog.

What I genuinely experienced today was the power of getting out of my own way.  I learned in yoga to carve a place for myself, the arrival of the box gave me a story to tell, and the anxiety I felt told me to do what my heart was asking me to do.  I gave myself permission to do what made me feel alive.  By reading this entry, you honour my courage to do that.  Thank you.

There is a lamp behind a chair in our living room.  About a month ago my husband set a timer on that lamp to come on in the early evening and to go off around midnight.   That light became an invitation, drawing me to the chair in that corner that I have ignored for a while.  I have been reading here, writing here, enjoying this space.  Today I create and write my first blog from this chair.  I saw an invitation in that light and accepted it.

May you recognize and accept the next invitation that comes your way.

In the meantime, I invite you to join me as I get the hang of how to write a blog, how to customize this site, and learn all that lies ahead of me.  I believe that when we are on the right path things will naturally fall in place.  A special person, who didn’t know I was writing this, happened to send me this video on the same day I started this blog.  I’ll never say it as eloquently, but, this video encapsulates everything I feel and write about today.   It intensifies my desire to be here.   I have a vision, I have a dream, it starts here.

Warm Wishes,                                                                                                                                  Paula