I’m not generally someone who does new year resolutions other than picking a word for the year (2020 word is intuition). However, I’m turning 39 this year and that means I’m one year away from 40. As you’d predict – this is giving me the extra push to spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of life I want to live. Am I living in line with my values? What sort of contributions do I want to make? What truly matters to me?
With this in mind – I decided to do monthly challenges. For January I decided to stop drinking alcohol and watching TV.
Alcohol was definitely not a stranger during my teenage years. I was known to chug a mickey of vodka with a couple of pals right before going to a house party or stumbling around Beacon Hill Park with a 40s in my hand. As I entered adulthood – I developed chronic heartburn to the point where I was tasting putrid bile every single day. Eventually I had to take the purple pill and cut off quite a lot of things out of my diet for a few years. Alcohol was one of them.
Fun fact: my ex-husband never saw me consume alcohol the entire time we were together except at our wedding and one year later for our anniversary when we drank a single glass of champagne.
After I asked for a divorce, I left Pennsylvania and went straight to Texas where a handful of my close livejournal friends lived along with a new online romance. Keep in mind, I met my husband through livejournal so it wasn’t exactly that “out there” for me to go to Texas simply because I knew some people on the internet.
In Texas, I did two things I hadn’t done in a long time: I got drunk a lot and I ate massive amounts of meat.
Upon my return to Canada two years later – my drinking habits reduced to the occasional night. Most of my friends and ex-partners have never seen me truly drunk. I had enough of that experience when I was a teenager and when I re-lived my teenage years… in Texas. It’s a side of me that I do not care to repeat.
I went to Europe last summer with a group of Deaf buddies. It was my first time travelling oversea – France & Greece was our destination. I was especially looking forward to France because a part of my family is French. My grandpa, pulling the classic grandpa move, was obsessed with tracing our family tree. I got pretty into it too and it was one of the few things grandpa and I bonded over together. He didn’t know how to sign so there was always this wall between us until the internet broke it down.
My French family came over in the 1500s and my Scottish family came over in 1801 on a vessel called The Dove. My family history is, without a doubt, full of colonization. We also had large families back then – evidence: check out Amélia’s family portrait with her husband & children (Amélia’s grandpa Jean-Paul was my great great great grandpa).
Paris was both surreal and a shock. I had long forgotten the sensation of smelling cigarette smoke while eating my meal at a restaurant. We were there during a record-breaking heat wave and I developed a large painful blister on the base of my foot after walking around on my first day. My most favourite thing about France? The cute wee chimneys – I’d marvel over them everyday and made a point to purchase a postcard about them.
As to be expected – we drank because hey! We are in Europe! We are travelling! We are having a great time! I only got drunk twice but overall – I drank every single night on my trip which was about a month long. By the time I came back home, it became routine to have at least a drink every night. I kept this up for most of autumn. By the time I entered December, I was ready to stop drinking but alas I was to attend an actual class full of people for a couple weels… for the first time since I dropped out of high school. So this meant anxiety to the max which also meant self medicating with wine every night.
As 2020 rolled in, I was more than ready to stop drinking. I didn’t like how it felt as if I was disassociating a little bit when I drank. I also didn’t like spending all this money even if it’s just a drink or two each night. It didn’t feel hard to stop – I think the hardest part was really not drinking socially. But I’m mostly a hermit so there’s that.
I’ll spare you my life story when it comes to TV but overall I developed quite the habit of watching netflix every night. Stopping my TV intake felt more challenging than stopping drinking as it was how I’d relax.
I’m happy to say that instead of watching TV, I read five books in January! On top of that – I’ve noticed my creative juices returning which is something I’ve been missing for a good while. I’ve identified as an artist and maker for most of my life. A lot of things have come and gone in this life of mine but one thing that has remained constant is art in one form or another. So when that goes away for a while, it’s as if I lose a part of myself.
Another fun fact: a few years after stating that I wanted to be an elf when I grew up, I declared that I wanted to be a struggling comic artist, and not just any comic artist but very specifically an underground comic artist.
In January, I read Split Tooth (amazing), This Is How You Lose Her, Wild, Thirst, and Fall On Your Knees. I cried as I finished reading Fall On Your Knees and continued to cry as I fell asleep. Something about Ann-Marie MacDonald’s work really reminds me of my family – it’s not quite our story but it is in some ways. Especially the idea of family secrets. The way we guard and dance around it to our last breath.
I really appreciate how the writer doesn’t simply cast someone as the villain – its left to us readers to figure out how we feel about it. From my experience – relationships are so multi-layered and our feelings for these people are complex at best. This book especially made me think about my grandma – who grew up on Cape Breton Island (the story is set there as well). My relationship with her was fucked up. We adored each other when I was a child but she hurt me in ways that I have been processing for the past 20 years. Despite this – I can still look back fondly to times with her.
Last year I started to panic about dying one day. Which I guess makes sense when you start feeling as if you’re potentially approaching the halfway mark of your life. I wasn’t sure why but I felt this deep conviction that I would die in a way that felt unbearably lonely.
As I talked about this book to my bestie over tea the other day – the wires started to connect. One theme of this book is the effects that family secrets have on people, relationships, and how we die.
My grandpa was eventually told by my mom that grandma, his wife, did not save us – she in fact tore us apart. With painful clarity, he told my mom that he made his bed and would lie in it. He couldn’t abandon his wife. But as a result, he lived the last years of his life with a wife he knew was festering in her world of delusions and paranoia. He was so sorry, he told us as he spent his last few weeks at the hospital – so sorry for everything that happened to us.
As he took his last breath, he had us all surrounding him. His wife, his daughter, and his two granddaughters, and the elephant in the room. Afterwards – we went to White Spot and quietly ate dinner. Each one of us disassociating in our own way.
Ann-Marie MacDonald has this amazing ability of describing how memory works with trauma. Moments of crystal clear clarity sandwiched by years of fog.
Grandma never really absorbed the reality of things. I tried telling her once when I was around sixteen years old – I called her on the TTY as there was no way I’d be able to do this in person. I blurted out that it wasn’t true, it was all her fault, and that we never wanted to see her again. I remember her responding with confusion but beyond that, I remember nothing. Shortly afterwards, grandpa convinced her that they should move back to Nova Scotia. They stopped by on their way – I have a memory of us all sitting in the kitchen having a goodbye chat but not acknowledging what was actually happening.
A decade later, they moved back to Victoria because they wanted to spend the last years of life with us. We returned to pretending that all was well and disconnecting from our feelings.
Grandma spent the last few weeks of her life at the hospital. I didn’t visit – I couldn’t deal with it anymore. My mom and sister would visit but grandma died alone. It feels sad when I think about how she loved me and wanted to protect me from everything bad out there. But the truth was that she was so sick that she couldn’t see that she was psychologically abusing me. She likely was molested as a child and was never able to process it. The fact that I was deaf too probably triggered an urge to protect me as she saw herself in me. I can feel that truth in my very gut but we will never know.
As I cried in my bed after finishing Fall On Your Knees – I thought about my family. I thought about death. I thought about trauma. I thought about grief. I thought about healing and what that looks like.
As I talked to my bestie – I realized that I don’t have a healthy model of family members dying. I haven’t experienced people dying being geniunely loved and connected to the people around them. So of course, I’d associate the years following up to death and dying itself with… very bad feelings. Ha.
It’s really good for me to process this stuff though. It brings me back to how I want to live my life. I want to continue to be in touch with my feelings. To share and connect with others. To listen to my intuition. To reject scarcity and embrace abundance even though my trigger response is to assume doomsday. To believe in the power of creating a future I want.
My greatest lesson of 2019 was how people truly do have my back. As I struggled coming to terms with my break up early on in the year – my sister and friends held space for me. They kept me company as I cried my eyes out. They showed up for me in many different ways and I learned the power of been seen and held. I feel deeply commited to show the same kind of love and support to people around me until my last breath. That’s all I can do really – live by my values and hope for the best.
With that said – on Feb 1st, the first thing I did was have brunch and mimosas with some of my most favourite people. Which means I’ve clearly started drinking again but I plan to only drink socially. Drinking alone at home isn’t something I want to start up again. As for TV – I’ll only occassionally watch educational TV such as The Nature of Things – Takaya: Lone Wolf (which my brother-in-law filmed!) for now.
I’m overall stoked on the changes January brought and am looking forward to how I feel by the end of this month.