I’ve just returned from a week by the sea where I got to recharge my almost-depleted battery and read a whole book all to myself. I’ll share the title with you as I do believe it is a good ‘un. The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams is beautifully written and was clearly painstakingly researched as the story is informed by the making of the actual Oxford English Dictionary. It is a thought-provoking journey into England at the turn of the 20th century during a time when women were seen as inferior in a male-dominated world. It is a story that will humble you as you learn about the struggles of women back then but will, at the same time, inspire you as you witness the courage of the women who fought hard for the freedoms we enjoy today. And yet, that’s only a small part of the story. Over 420 pages of words create a world into which the reader can be absorbed for a while. I spent just under a week in that world and loved every minute of it. And words are the focus of this book as the title would imply. According to the protagonist, Esme: ‘A word can change its meaning depending on who uses it’ and she captures this so tenderly in how she treasures certain words for their hidden meanings.
From small beginnings
Which brings me to the subject of my own words that I have written every Monday for the past year. How time has flown since my very first one, Coming Out, on September 30th last year. I feel deep gratitude to you my readers for the encouragement you’ve given me to keep going every Monday since. Thanks to a sense of accountability to myself and to you, I haven’t missed a single week. A rough word-count today revealed that I have written close to the length of a novel if you add all 51 blogs together. So, today I feel a summary might be in order to mark this, my 52nd entry. After the euphoria of coming out about my problem drinking and all the praise that came with it, the hard work of facing the truth about myself began. I likened it at the time to what I imagined being released from prison might feel like. That initial feeling of freedom soon followed by a sense of being vulnerable and frightened. There is a very clear common thread running through nearly all of my blogs which can be summarised in the following sentence: When we reconnect with our inner self and find it in our hearts to be compassionate and forgiving towards ourselves, we are better able to connect and empathise with others. Connection is the opposite of addiction as it allows us to feel valued and worthy and in turn, to value others and see their worth.
Finding my truth
It’s coming up to 17 months since I addressed my problem drinking and yielded to the curiosity that had been burrowing its way into my psyche. In one of my more recent posts, Cynical & Drunk, I wrote that if I hadn’t been curious about how I might think and live differently without alcohol, I would still be using it as a crutch and would not have discovered this whole new world. Curiosity is crucial. The whole new world I was referring to is one in which vulnerability is a good thing and allows us to thrive rather than force us to hide away in shame. It is, after all, the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change according to Dr Brené Brown, because it pulls the walls down from around us and allows us to be our authentic selves. For me, this meant I had permission to explore all that I believe to be important. In my post The Right to Have Rights, I revealed the part of me that empathises deeply with the disenfranchised. I questioned why it is even necessary that someone should feel the need to abuse the rights of others in order to feel better about themselves. I have a niggling feeling that abusers are up to their necks in shame which is the very thing that has killed their empathy – the foundation of love and justice. In blog number 35, The Book Cover, I stated that tolerance and empathy will set us free. I admitted to not always being as tolerant and suggested that we all need to scrutinise our biases. Because I believe that we are all connected, we will not be able to live in harmony until each person on the planet is afforded equal rights. In Gender Kind, I delved into the painful struggle of young people who are unsure of who or what they are, and I reiterated this point when I quoted Jacinda Ardern as saying: ‘The true measure of leadership is the ability to confront the anxiety of the people of their time.’ She is the perfect example of someone who leads with kindness and understanding. As parents, we would do well to follow this example so that we instil a sense of security in our children and equip them to make the choices that are right for them. My curiosity extended to my spiritual life which had been very much stifled by alcohol. I came to realise that my spiritual well-being is something I mustn’t ignore. It ties in with my views about allowing the heart to open more. In blog number 21, Love Is…, I wrote that the true purpose of all religions must be to encourage people to be more loving towards one another and to live peacefully together.
In December I wrote Time for Christmas and I talked about how it’s our presence, not our presents, that matters because when we engage fully with someone and are attentive to their needs, we make them feel worthy, loved and respected. After experiencing my first ever sober Christmas since my drinking days began, I enjoyed all the benefits that this brought. In No Gain, No Pain I brought to bear all my research into healthy living and concluded that my days of carefree drinking, eating animal products and processed foods are over because I know too much. I continued with this theme in the first quarter of 2020 by emphasising the importance of questioning everything. Just because loads of people drink alcohol and eat barbecued and processed meats does not mean they are good for you. I continue to encourage people to question everything and make informed choices.
Healthy body, healthy mind
As the toxic clouds caused by alcohol started to lift, I ruminated over how well my mind was adjusting to a healthier body. My mental health improved dramatically and with it my self-belief started to grow too. In blog number 16 I wrote that being able to give up something as addictive and culturally pervasive as alcohol allowed my belief in myself to grow from a dry seed gasping for water into a young plant that was slowly sprouting leaves and that would one day blossom. Today I feel as though there are now delicate buds on the plant, and I need to ensure I feed it all that it needs to thrive. The clarity that comes with sobriety allowed me to tackle apathy and a misguided mindset. I love the quote from Henry Ford that I included in blog number 40, Brain In Focus: ‘If you think you can do a thing, or think that you can’t, you are right.’ That is powerful.
Another word that is common to many of my blogs is gratitude and the incredible ability it has to escalate to feelings of satisfaction with one’s life, a sense of peace, happiness, elation and connectedness. That right there is a medicine that can heal apathy and depression.
A few of my blogs share a common thread about goals and the importance of setting them in order to ensure we are living a life of purpose. As Pablo Picasso said: ‘Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.’
Of course, none of the above is possible without first accepting responsibility for how we perceive our lives. In Leap of Faith, I spelt it out by breaking out the word into our ‘ability’ to ‘respond’ to what happens to us. As Viktor Frankl so aptly said: ‘Between stimulus and response is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ That is how I would sum up emotional intelligence (EQ) and as I surmised in Testing Times, it is more valuable than IQ. If we are willing to tackle our thinking and change it when it isn’t working in our favour, we are better placed to dare greatly and chase our dreams. Fueled by a healthy dose of passion and determination, combined with a handful of goals, the sky is the limit. Just watch out for the enemy, doubt! Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.
By the time I had reached blog number 24, we were beginning to feel the rumblings of a storm brewing. I was on a high from my family reunion in Ireland to celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday. In The Wild Geese, as though tempting fate, I had written about how we took our ability to travel for granted when compared to the challenges of previous generations. All eight family members managed to come together in celebration after flying in from far flung places. It wasn’t long after we each arrived back in our respective lands that we were all confined in lock-down. In Silver Linings I attempted to flag the positive aspects of the pandemic such as the shared realisation that we are all in this together. It was a time for us to reflect on what’s important and how we are each able to make a difference in little ways that can impact on our climate, our soils and earth’s protective layers. I upped the ante on advocating for plant-based eating, going back to basics by buying local but reducing our consumption of non-essential stuff and voting for justice. Once restrictions were lifted, for a time anyway, we were mainly bolstered by a renewed appreciation of our togetherness. Isolation taught us that we value connection and we realise that intimacy with others can prevent disease by improving our mental and physical well-being.
Staying on top
In my more recent blogs I’ve focused on maintaining good habits. I wrote about the importance of clearing out the clutter because it can be the cause of feeling discombobulated. I feel this word comes to life when used in the context of a cluttered environment. Being able to let go of things that no longer serve us is a valuable skill to learn. Another good habit which I reminded you of in blog number 43, Who Cares, is the practice of setting goals and never faltering in our faith that we can achieve them. Our goals are there to remind us that we all have a place in this crazy world, that each of us matter. Mindset is everything as I pointed out in Cheques & Balances, especially when it comes to money. It’s worth asking yourself whether you are of the scarcity or abundance mindset and learning about how each can impact on your happiness. As long as we are living a life that is driven by love, kindness and integrity, we are less likely to hoard or waste money.
In blog number 41, Labelled With Love, I talked about the stigma of labels and how we should be careful not to let them weigh us, or our kids, down. I labelled myself an alcoholic at one point along this journey and I have since turned that on its head. I am what I want to be. I am a clean-living aspiring author. I feel Esme in The Dictionary of Lost Words would have agreed with me when I wrote the line: ‘The words we use to describe a person will determine what we see in them.’ We ought to choose our words with care and deliberation.
A note of gratitude
In keeping with one of the themes of the book I read last week, it would be remiss not to finish this post with a reference to blog number 23, Girl Power, which contains the words of the song I Am Woman by Helen Reddy, the talented Australian singer who sadly passed away in Los Angeles just last week and is a timely reminder to us ladies to remember how far we have come since the Suffragette Movement. I am eternally grateful for the bravery and courage of women throughout history who were agents of change. I am inspired to be the change I want to see in the world today and in the future. Are you with me?
I would also like to acknowledge someone who has consistently given me encouraging feedback each week for the past 12 months, the same person who gave me life… Thanks Mum♥
Thanks for taking the time to read this far, it’s been a year’s worth!