Not my circus, not my monkeys – something I often have to tell myself by way of hoping God will grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. But what happens when you’re born into the damn circus and you’d do anything for any of those monkeys even though they can drive you to the brink of your sanity? When it’s so close to home there’s no way you can escape it? Once again, within the space of a week, I find myself in this spot: unable to sleep and sitting by my laptop in the hope that pouring my thoughts out will help me find some peace. It’s 2.10am and I’m sitting by the kitchen table in Falla. Bambino and his friend were still awake and on their phones but lights are now out. Hubby is asleep upstairs and outside, down by the little guest house (which has no beds, sort of defeating its very purpose), my brother, sister-in-law and three nephews are sleeping in the caravan they have just been on holiday in. And me, wide awake and alone with my thoughts. A-fucking-gain. I sincerely hope this isn’t going to turn into a regular gig because I love sleep.
Living in another country, I can see how I view not only Sweden but also my family through rose tinted glasses. When I’m not in the midst of it, they appear to me to be the best bunch that ever lived. And so when I got here, one person tells me how they are about to cut all ties with another and how they just “want to shoot him“. There I am, unable to respond and my chin on the floor, when someone I love spews such hatred towards someone else I love. Part of me wanted to gently ask whether it might have occurred to them that the person they expressed a wish to cut ties with and/or shoot (it was unclear if only one would suffice) is someone I love and, oh, should it perhaps have crossed their mind that this might be slightly shitty for me to sit and listen to?
As my colleague Rio once said, warmly and with a smile, the people who wind us up are often the people who display the qualities we dislike in ourselves. He was referring to how he and I can drive each other up the wall: we are both bossy, like things our way and always think we know best. Which I do, by the way – I’m always right, just so we’re clear. So these two people I love who rub each other up the wrong way are frighteningly similar, to the point where I sometimes struggle to conceal an amused little smile (oh, how I have to bite into my lip to stop it spreading!). They both like to state their opinions and those are presented as facts. Everyone else is an idiot. They are judgemental and they are astonishingly oblivious to the hurt their words might cause when they spew their venom. They can say the harshest things and I sometimes wonder are you aware that it’s my [loved one] you’re talking about?
Grant me the serenity…
It’s probably natural, this process I’m going through. HOLY CANNOLI – I just realised!! I’m 18 months sober today! Just 2.38am but we’re into 23rd of July! Congratulations to me! Yay! So anyway, I am piecing together what I can in my quest to learn what caused the hole in my heart that I tried so hard to fill with Sauvignon Blanc, and the picture is emerging little by little. Someone else I love carries the same pain, only he tried to escape it by over achieving. If he did everything not just really, really well but over and beyond brilliant, then he’d have proven his point. And then there was me, who knew I’d never be able to so I didn’t even try – I ran away instead. Moving to London 24 years ago was just meant to be a gap year. I never intended to stay there, but I quickly discovered something: when I come back for a visit everyone is really happy to see me. Isn’t that just so sad? Of course I love my life in London – always did – but there are so many things that drowned in all that wine and now that I’m all dried out it’s all exposed. No longer a sparkling sea of soda and wine, but instead the dry sea bed littered with the ship wreckages from another time. Two people who both tried to fix the same problem but in different ways.
So what happens when old ghosts inflict fresh wounds? What happens now that I no longer reach for the bottle? I have to feel it all, that’s what – there’s no escape. How can one little patch on this planet simultaneously be the most glorious and the most hurtful? How can the lawn west of Falla strike me as the place where I’d want my ashes scattered at the same time as standing there barefoot looking out over the fields fills me with such sorrow it makes me choke? What happens when all that pain around me gets sucked into my heart even when it doesn’t belong to me?
“Let sleeping dogs lie“, the saying goes. Here in Sweden we say “don’t wake a hibernating bear” – I’m nothing if not prone to drama so I prefer the bear. Also, it illustrates my family better, or at least these two people in it who don’t seem to like each other very much and both of whom fail to see how much it hurts me to hear them talk unkindly about the other. One more ill thought through word blurted out at the wrong moment could send the whole family into crisis and that’s another thing these two fools I love just don’t seem to understand – their failure to let sleeping dogs lie is what’s going to wake that grizzly. Hell, here’s where I’m now balancing. It was partly their damn shit I spoke up about four years ago, and that little act of intended goodness became something so awful it’s a wonder we can still call ourselves family. I am not exaggerating when I say that it’s a miracle there are no empty chairs around our table.
I find it hard to live by the same rules now that I’m in recovery. When something shitty happens or the air feels spiky, I address it. Problem is though, that on this particular side of the family we don’t talk openly about Tricky Stuff. In this family we don’t address the elephant – or grizzly bear – in the room. We pretend it isn’t there and we go about our business, and when I can’t bear it I pour wine on it and drown it in that glittering spritzer sea. Only now I don’t. There’s just that ghostly sea bed with all the shipwrecks. Drinking was my way of managing this, and here I am now 18 months sober trying to figure out how to go it au naturel.
Fanfuckingtastic – forever hold your peace, darling.
I don’t like it, but I also don’t like the potential cost of refusing to stick my head in the sand. The two fools I love don’t take kindly to home truths, but at the same time I can’t bloody make their problems mine to solve. That’d be ridiculous, I know that, and I don’t know if we’d all survive another explosion of that magnitude. Let them fucking kill each other if that’s what they want to do. As much as the solution may seem clear to me, they’re not receptive to it or else they wouldn’t be where they are in the first place. All I can do is determine how I allow their nonsense to affect me and how I want to live. But how do I do that? Oh, my list of possible solutions is almost as long as the list of things I tried to control my drinking and all are probably just as fruitless.
Accepting the things I cannot change means I have to make my peace with the fact that Falla will always hold equal measures joy and sorrow. No amount of wishing things could be different will change the past and whether I try to be over and beyond brilliant or drink myself to death will make no difference. It is what it is and I guess I’m possibly better off alive and doing my best as opposed to what I may believe someone else’s idea of brilliance may be.
I think I know what the right thing is. I repeat the serenity prayer like a mantra over and over and whilst I shouldn’t make it my business to sort out other people’s shit, I can choose how long I stand around to smell it for. Walk away. Focus on wiping my own arse and flushing too. I can say “hey, I find it hurtful to hear you talk about my [loved one] that way – I love you both so I’m gonna go sit over there until you’re finished, call me back over when you’re done“. If these two fools I love freak out at how I now try to live my life – in absolute truth and honesty – then that’s their crap to figure out.
The resentment I feel probably springs from how this rubbish further exacerbates how painful some of these things already are. It does my head in to not address it but I fear all I can do is keep a distance. If they want me closer I’ll make sure everyone’s clear on where my boundaries are and if those are crossed then tough. I have enough with my own ghosts to perform other people’s exorcisms. Funnily enough, I’ve slept really well this time here apart from tonight, and I did wonder if perhaps I’m getting the hang of this inner peace thing, whether recovery’s countless rewards includes healing even at this deep level. Since I got sober, I’ve slept really badly when we’ve been here, but not this time. Yes, the sense of sorrow mixed in with the happiness I feel being here was there like it is every time, but it seemed easier to bear somehow. And then – boom! Fools did what fools do and I – the biggest fool of them all – just had to go and absorb other fools’ foolishness. Thanks, but no thanks. Or rather, given we’re in Sweden: tack, men nej tack.
The little red house at the foot of the mountain. The place where I always thought I’d grow old. Life changed course and I have to change with it. Besides, the world is a big place, plenty of other places to spend my golden years. Crazy fools I’m bound to, but would I change them? OK, twist my arm, perhaps a little here and there, but the truth is I can’t. I have to accept them all they way they are, as they have to accept me. All I can control is my own response and I’m going to do my best to stop myself attempting to wipe anyone’s arse but my own. Obviously I only do tiny little poos that smell of roses.
For all the things I cannot change, this I know in my heart at 18 months sober and 546 glorious days of recovery:
Today I’m not going to drink.