|This is a sample from the last meeting. The author, Geoff Morgan, couldn’t resist a little delve into history on the theme: ‘Life’s Little Mysteries . . .’Just over one hundred years ago, the Palace of Versailles played host to several groups of diplomats whose purpose was to create a Treaty that would bring an end to the Great War. The British contingent had been allocated a suite that included a salon where they would sit discuss elements of the treaty as it began to take shape, a long tedious period of endless revision as phrases and paragraphs were beaten into an acceptable form.It was late-January 1919 and they were glad of the roaring fire set in a huge hearth, and of the surprisingly comfortable chairs set in a semi-circle around. The majority of the Palace was furnished with fine Louis XIV pieces. The chairs, with their gold-leafed frames, elegant fluted-legs, and sumptuously embroidered cushions were separated by an equally elegant table – slim cabriole legs and an exquisite delicate inlayed top supported by all the intricate scrolls and acanthus leaves that the French called their own. An exhibition of French style, wasted on the Americans perhaps, but there to impress the British.It was in the middle of the third week, as the British team returned from the main conference rooms, when it happened.An administrative-assistant whose job it was to carry the ever increasing weight of paperwork generated by all the parties, dropped his burden onto the table, perhaps a little carelessly.It swayed and gracefully collapsed to one side under the sheer bulk of documents. The crash caused two reactions. The assistant was not pleased when he realised he would miss dinner while he restored the documents to their correct order so that further work could continue; the Head of Mission looked in horror at the antique table, now part-buried in papers, but clearly wrecked. After 300 years of elegance, this table, in moments, had been reduced to mere splinters of wood.Now, if negotiations had been going well with the French, perhaps there would have been an option to say, ‘Sorry, old chaps, but we’ve had a bit of an accident’, but they had left the afternoon session fuming at the unreasonable manner of the French delegates. They were demanding greater and greater compensation from Germany, while the British, Italian and American staff warned such numbers would not be accepted.The Head of Mission demanded silence. He telephoned the Ambassador, stood nodding for a few moments and ended with ‘Thank you, Sir. I agree.’Under his instructions, the pieces of the table were extracted from beneath the papers, and broken into smaller pieces, the legs each pulled off, the sides ripped away and the top split into two with the aid of a manly-sized boot. Each part was diligently placed on the roaring fire, along with splinters from the carpet, its cremation overseen by all.In minutes, the table was no more.The Head of Mission engaged each of his team, and calmly stated, ‘You know nothing of this. From this moment, the absence of the table is just one of life’s little mysteries.’|
|This is another narrative piece from the same meeting. The author, Jo Malone, wrote a short story of just under 2,500 words. It is an edited excerpt from a work in progress. The short story has been included in full here to enjoy its powerful writing and imagery. Handbag (EDIT)|
Jonathan ran out of the school gates as though he had somewhere really important to go. The arms of his faded grey jumper were loosely tied around his neck and trailed behind him like the cloak of a superhero. He ran past all of the parents who were congregating in their usual place in the playground around the grotto of Our Lady and out through the heavy wrought iron gates, his lungs straining against the heavy weight of the hot polluted air from the noisy main road.
No-one was waiting by the fake brick and plaster replica of Lourdes for Jonathan. No-one ever came for him at home time but he didn’t mind that. He just minded the sympathetic stares and ran quickly so that he didn’t have to see them. To be fair to the parents, not all of the staring was out of pity for this eight year old, slightly scruffy boy with a too small jumper. Most people stared because Jonathan was carrying, as he did every afternoon, a big black ladies leather bag.
The bag, although large, a cross between a handbag and a shopping bag; wasn’t heavy, as it was now nearly empty apart from a plastic lunchbox. It didn’t hinder Jonathan’s flight through the dirty litter strewn streets and in fact, as he swung it alongside him, provided some momentum for his quick get-away.
It belonged to Sister Joseph. She was the Head Teacher at Sacred Heart Primary School and she was a nun. A proper nun. Not one of these modern nuns who dress in a dark navy suits with short hair and fool you into thinking they could be an office worker or a normal person. No she was a like a nun you’d see in films. She wore a long dark navy blue almost black coloured habit, a head dress and the most awful flat black lace up shoes. They were like lumps of black dough peeking out from under her hem, just waiting to be kneaded into shape.
It was difficult to describe Sister Joseph as so much of her was covered up and when she walked along the toffee coloured wooden corridors of the Victorian primary school, hands tucked inside her habit, it seemed like she could have been on wheels. Everything about her was round and her roundness was exaggerated by the folds of her clothes. Her round shiny face, pale as paper, peeked out through her wimple, wrinkled and worn with light grey, almost colourless eyes providing the only hint of who she really was. The person before she was swallowed up by all of these clothes and given a name that was a mix of a girls name – a sister; and a boys name – Joseph, Jesus’ dad.
“God It’s hot,” thought Jonathan suddenly stopping dead in his tracks half way down Ayresome Street. It was a sunny afternoon, the type you often get just after the summer holidays and before autumn properly begins. He stood on the pavement, panting slightly. Sweat dripped from his hairline onto his face. He pushed his hand through his hair using the wet sweat slick to try and flatten down his fringe that sprang back defiantly as ever. Pulling the jumper from his neck, he tied the ragged and frayed sleeves around his waist, balancing the bag between his knees as he did so. He looked down at the bag. It was zipped as usual and as usual he resisted the urge to open it. He was stood outside what was obviously a group of flats, he could smell garlic and hear a television set from a large wooden window, open on the top floor. These large old Victorian houses that had probably housed Middlesbrough’s wealthier families in spacious splendour but now provided small flats and bed sits for the town’s immigrant and student population.
He picked up the bag with his other hand and ran the few hundred yards to the hardware store corner and slowed down to a walk as he approached the crossing. The lollipop man was just stood there, as usual watching the traffic and waiting. He didn’t care what the weather was like. It didn’t matter to him if it was raining, snowing or blazing sun. He wore the same uniform. A white thick plastic coat and peaked flat cap, gloves that disappeared half way up into his sleeves and of course, the ubiquitous fluorescent metal lollipop.
One day last term when Jonathan got home from school, his dad, after hearing on the news that it was hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement, had actually tried it on the garden path. He’d had a drink, of course, but was funny drunk not mean drunk. Jonathan remembered that the egg had actually cooked a little, the white had gone opaque although the yellow still had that gloopy eyeball look. Even on that day, the hottest for ten years it said on the news, the lollipop man had worn his hat and his plastic coat. Jonathan now stood next to the lollipop man who didn’t actually look at him but acknowledged his presence by grasping his lollipop more firmly and staring straight ahead with concentration at the traffic whizzing by. A few years ago a pedestrian crossing had been installed at this junction but it seemed as though the lollipop man resented having to use it, feeling that the traffic should stop, as it used to by the power invested in him and his lollipop alone.
Jonathan’s fingers itched to press the button as he did when sometimes the lollipop man wasn’t there or when he was late for school. Instead he just stared at the hair growing out of the ears of the lollipop man. So much hair, Jonathan wondered how he could hear anything. And hairs grew out of his nose too. A big red bulbous nose with broken veins like a road map, that always seemed to have a small drop of water balancing of the edge of his nostril. Like a stalactite or was it a stalagmite? Jonathan couldn’t quite remember even though they’d only done them a few weeks ago.
Although he used this crossing twice a day every day since he started the school he couldn’t really tell you much more about the lollipop man. He couldn’t have picked him out in a police line up. He never spoke and you couldn’t see very much of him because of his peaked hat that he wore low over his face, shielding his eyes that were half hidden anyway under his huge bushy eyebrows. Jonathan knew where he lived though. He had seen him come out of a wooden door at the side of the Museum. It didn’t look to be a very big place but then, Jonathan supposed, there was only him and his lollipop, Jonathan reached the other side of the road while the lollipop man stayed in the centre holding back the traffic like King Canute. He picked up speed and ran towards the Cenotaph, running up and down the steps on each of the four sides until he finished opposite Albert Park Gates. Crossing the road he entered the park and made his way to the monkey puzzle tree. Keeping his eyes firmly on the ground he looked for conkers. He knew it was too early for conkers but he looked just in case. He loved it when conkers came. He’d walk to school filling his pockets full of the shiny brown nuggets of pure concentrated autumn, knowing he would be so popular at break time, giving them out to the kids who weren’t lucky enough to have a park to walk through every day. Of course he always kept the biggest and best for himself.
At the tree with its crazy twisted branches he untied his jumper from around his waist and plonked himself down onto the grass. He lay down for a moment to get his breath back and stared up at the sky not thinking of anything, just looking. This was a quieter part of the park. The path alongside the tree led to the side gates and was nowhere near the playground so only dog walkers and people passing through to the main gates really used this bit.
It was time to open the bag.
He sat up and placed the bag between his knees and opened the zip as he did every afternoon. He didn’t always open the bag here, sometimes he went into the walled garden sometimes he went further up the path as far as the ice cream coloured fountain and sometimes he sat on a bench near the tennis courts. He never knew before he entered the park where he would go but he always waited until he got to the park and was alone and could enjoy it.
As he pulled back the zip he could smell the familiar bag smell, it smelled of bananas and leather. Often it was a banana that she’d leave in the bag for him and sometimes it was a cake or a biscuit. Not one from a shop though like the ones he had at home on a Friday when they’d done the big shop at Fine Fayre and he was allowed to get a packet of Blue Ribbands or Wagon Wheels. No these were home made. Jonathan imagined that one of the nuns was in charge of cooking. He didn’t know which one it was but she was very good at it, Jonathan thought.
He reached into the bag and his hands felt the familiar white plastic lunchbox, slightly scratched. He opened the bag up wider. There were some papers at the bottom of the bag but Jonathan ignored these and kept feeling around. For a moment he felt a little bit sick.
“What if she hadn’t left anything today? What if she’d been so hungry she’d eaten all of her lunch?”
Then his hand felt a round hard object. It wasn’t an orange. He knew that straight away. It was different skin, smooth and rough and a bit thick. He pulled it out of the bag, the irregular globe topped with a small dusty crown filled his hand and he felt something sharp prick his thumb. It was a pin was his first thought. His next was that it was a pomegranate. Jonathan grinned and felt something like a lurch in between his ribs. She’d left him a pomegranate and a pin to eat it with! He felt something warm for Sister Joseph, something special that he couldn’t put into words, couldn’t even put into thoughts. He’d had a pomegranate once before. His dad had bought it when he mum was still at home and he’d cut it in half giving Jonathan half and his friend, Colin, from next door but one, the other half. He gave them both a pin which they used to poke out every single one of the tiny deep crimson jewels from the honeycombed binding. He remembered the sweetness bursting in his mouth and getting told off by his mother because his clothes were all stained bright pink by the juice. Like a bloodbath, his Dad had laughed.
This was too nice to rush and eat it under the monkey puzzle tree, he’d save it for later Jonathan pushed the pin deeper into the skin, pricking his finger slightly and put the pomegranate into his trouser pocket. Now he had to deliver the bag to the convent and get home in time for Grange Hill.
He ran across the grass and along the path that ran alongside the museum and big old private houses with large gardens that looked out onto the park. There in front of him was the convent. Another large house with a park view, the convent stood at the top of his road with its much more ordinary council houses. Jonathan pushed open the big wooden gate and walked along the stone path, bordered with rose bushes that grew in abundance in the front garden. Although Jonathan didn’t really notice the garden, it’s unstructured, slightly bedraggled appearance would have left a grown up remarking that none of the nuns seemed to have particularly green fingers. Jonathan pushed open the big black outer door to the house and stepped into the porch with its multicoloured tiles, a crucifix on the wall and a picture of Jesus with his heart bursting out of his chest and his hands in an open gesture raised to the heavens. But he didn’t look in pain, he was kind of smiling. Jonathan had clocked this picture the first time he’d come and thought it was a bit gruesome. Mind you with a religion whose main icon was a myriad of replicas of a half naked man nailed to a cross, that was to be expected.
Now the routine was that Jonathan would ring the bell and leave the bag in the porch. Often he was half way down the path before one of the sisters answered shouting, “God Bless”, at him. This time he rang the bell and waited. One of the sisters answered. To be honest they all looked very similar so he wasn’t sure which one she was. “Oh hello Jonathan my son”, she said. Her Irish lilt making the phrase sound extra kind. “Hello Sister”, Jonathan answered, looking down at his scuffed shoes that stood out, so ugly against the muted colours of the tiled floor. He pushed the bag towards her. “Thank You!”, he said, a half smile breaking on his face and at that turned and half ran, half skipped down the steps. “God bless you my son”, she shouted after him, closing the door. Jonathan didn’t know. Jonathan would never know until he was much older why Sister Joseph asked him to carry her bag home from school. She herself got a lift home from school from one of the other nuns so she could have easily brought her bag with her. But the other nuns did. They knew it was a way to look out for Jonathan, to have an excuse to give him something to eat, when he had forgotten his dinner money, as he often did, particularly in the middle of the week before his dad got paid on Friday; and provide a check point on the journey home from school for this eight year old boy, that would help keep him safe as walked home alone. Jonathan ran down the back alley. He’d soon be home. In his imagination the TV cameras from Grange Hill were filming his every move from behind the bins while the pomegranate in his pocket bounced rhythmically against his thigh.
It was a bright morning, small white wisps of cloud breaking up the expanse of a clear blue sky.
People walking along the seafront, enjoying the end of the winter, white gulls shrieking and soaring, that salty freshness in the air.
Pete was gazing out to sea from the lounge window.
He seemed miles away.
Jan picked her moment –
“How about a trip up to Holy Island for a long weekend? Get rid of the winter cobwebs. I´ve checked the weather forecast for you; it was good for the weekend, It couldn´t be better for a trip up the coast. If we left Thursday night we could be at anchor by early Friday morning.”
She knew the trip under sail with favorable winds and tides normally took between 8 and 10 hrs.
She looked at Pete – he didn´t ask for much did he? And she had to do something to get their marriage of 25 years back on track. The thought of just the two of them without distractions was a pleasing one – even though she knew a 10 hour trip up to the Island could turn into a slog… but they would be together.
He seemed transfixed on some faraway subject – eventually he turned, looking perplexed, shrugging his shoulders.
“Are you sure?” Came the reply, “You know it´s been a while since you’ve been out on the boat. You don´t have to do it just because of me.”
“No sweetheart, I really do fancy the trip, you can take me out for dinner when we get there.”
“Well then, that’s fine, OK by me.” He sighed, “I wonder if anybody else is thinking of going up from the Yacht club?”
“Oh, come on Pete, let´s not involve anyone else, I thought it would be nice just to have the 2 of us – like it used to be . . . “
—Alright then, as you wish. That´s fine.” A slight frown showing.
On the Thursday of leaving, Pete and Jan were on board by 9pm. Pete took the helm and they slowly motored off their moorings, lights flickering from fishing boats tied up along the quayside, laughter and loud conversations could be heard coming from the Yacht club.
Once past the piers by about a quarter of a mile, Jan took over the helm and headed their boat up into the gentle night breeze.
Pete hauled up the sails and Jan steered onto their course.
Jan could appreciate his love of being on the boat – he told her long ago about the groan of the sheets straining on the winches, the geometry of the sails to the rigging, he was always checking those small strips on the sails called tell tales – so he could see that the sails were perfectly trimmed.
The sun was well gone, a subdued light down below from the chart table, the gimbaled compass swinging quietly in the cockpit; its gentle red light confirming their passage. A full moon was showing, lighting up the sails in the eerie night, the boat was gently heeled over as the easterly wind gave them a comfortable ride on a silver dappled sea up the darkened shoreline, only broken with the scattered twinkling lights from the coastal farms. The bow wave of broken white water was tumbling alongside the sleek pale blue hull disappearing into the darkness. In their wake, the light of the moon illuminated the phosphorescence, glittering like diamonds being emptied into the deep dark waters below.
He had been down below and made two large mugs of hot Oxo, they sat close together for some extra warmth, inhaling the beefy flavour and keeping a watch.
“This is the way it should be,” she thought to herself.
She was feeling good about the trip, glad she had suggested it. Maybe she should do this more often, she had forgotten how romantic night sailing can be. Might even improve their sex life.
“You alright sweetheart?” squeezing his hand.
“I’m fine, I’m fine…now get yourself below for some shut eye, I’ll catch up with some sleep when we’re at anchor”.
Jan went down below to her berth, content . . . a feeling she had almost forgotten.
She quickly drifted off to the rhythmic motion of the boat easing gently through the night sea, the smells of the boat – paraffin from the oil lamps, always a trace of diesel and the secure sounds of the sheets tensing and easing on the sails.
Jan awoke to dawn breaking, a weak watery sun slowly emerging above the horizon – chasing away the darkness of the night.
They were now entering the approach to Holy Island, a tricky entrance – lining up the leading land marks that were critical to a safe entry, but they were pleased with their progress and looking forward to having a good breakfast.
It was 8 o clock when they dropped the anchor. The ground was good and sandy, ideal for holding.
Following a very welcome breakfast Jan was in the galley washing their breakfast pots, Pete stretched out in the saloon, reading, the boat started to swing in the opposite direction.
“That’s not the tide causing us to swing”, said Pete, “Not that fast.”
Looking out on deck he could feel that the wind had changed – it was backing from East to West. This wasn´t expected. The anchorage was always safe – except when the wind came from the West – but even then, they had to be strong Westerly’s.
“Let´s give it some time and we´ll check the 12. 0 clock shipping forecast.”
By midday, the wind had increased steadily up to 30 knots. In these conditions they had no shelter. Even with a good holding ground, dragging the anchor became a real possibility.
The radio forecast was poor. The wind had backed unexpectedly and was due to increase to Gale Force 8 in the next 24 hrs. seas increasing.
“Listen, Jan, stopping is not an option; we really should leave now and head for open water. Staying here is bad news – Look, I’ll get the storm jib out and you check the tide tables. We can either get ourselves back to Blyth in one hop or put into Amble. They´ve good shelter there – as long as we can get in over that damned Sand Bar.– AND don’t forget to add the hour on your tidal calculation.” He disappeared up through the hatch.
Dressed now in full Oilskins, Jan started the engine and Pete, standing on a pitching foredeck hauled by hand the heavy 40 kg anchor and the 20 metres of chain that in normal conditions would have kept them safe.
They motored out of the sound, keeping a careful eye on the depth meter. For an instant they both felt the boat shudder – briefly, but it was a shudder.
“We must have hit something or there is less water here than we anticipated. I think we have just scuffed the bottom . . . You are steering the correct course, Jan?”
“I’m steering exactly what you told me to!”
The sea was no longer moderate, but lumpy and confused, with breaking crests spilling off the ever increasing peaks; grey masses of icy cold water.
“So much for my dinner on the Island” Jan shouted. She was careful to smile – only to be met with the spray of a cascading wave travelling the length of the boat, as the bow, rising into the air landed flatly in the hollow of the trough – like some giant belly flop.
The wind backed even further, they now had wind against tide, making for a hard, wet sail back down to Blyth.
The hours passed slowly, the weather unabating and unforgiving, the sky overcast, grey and dismal. The sea, cold and dark, white horses running from the crests. The land about 3 miles to the west could just be made out. They were heading virtually due south.
Pete went down below to make some hot drinks. He was met with the cooker swinging wildly, cups and cutlery crashing. Berth cushions fallen to the cabin floor were sliding back and forward.
The door of the forward cabin was clashing as it swung to and fro – it hadn´t been secured…a cacophony of noise.
“We’re going to head into Amble” said Pete “I’ve had enough of this, we can get some rest and shelter there.”
“Well at least we can have a comfortable night in the Marina – and have dinner somewhere special.”
“ Jesus, is that all you can think of, I’ve hardly had any sleep, I’m cold I’m wet, I’ve never stopped since you said “How about going up to Holy Island” And the weather forecast you gave me couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, are you sure that was our area forecast?”
“It´s not what I wanted either, you know, I was hoping that a weekend away would be good for you. I was only thinking of you.” Salt water was dripping off her hood, her eyelashes caked with salt. Smile well and truly gone.
The wind was demonic, howling and screaming through the rigging, the noise was incessant.
White broken sea water rearing up from the bows came racing down the length of the boat crashing into the cockpit.
Their small 30 ft. sloop, Antares, was sailing as best she could with a storm jib and 3 reefs in the main. Her side decks were awash as large powerful seas dwarfed them, steering to slide down the back of one wave and rise up to the crest of the next towering mass.
In the midst of a raging gale a familiar silence had settled between them . . .
They had had 5 hours of hard sailing when Coquet Island came into sight; the safety of Amble Harbour was only about a mile away from that.
As they neared land and shallower water, large rollers breaking offshore could clearly be seen, spindrift tumbling and streaking from the crests of these powerful surging waves.
Pete crawled up forward from the cockpit, clinging to the lifelines – his one focus, on getting the sails down and secured, then back to the relative safety of the cockpit to start the single cylinder diesel engine which would enable them to enter the small narrow harbour at Amble opposite the island.
Pete took over the tiller from Jan as they made their way slowly towards the Harbour entrance, both keeping a watchful eye for the Marker showing the depth of water at the entrance over the Bar.
At the same moment they looked at each other incredulously, Pete swore. They could both see the Harbour marker – which meant there was less than 2 metres on the sand bar – they drew 2 metres.
The calculations were wrong.
Going about in these conditions was a massive risk, as the chance of being knocked down was just too great. They would never survive the icy waters.
Without warning a large roller broke onto the hull, the impact throwing the boat in a sideways motion, they grabbed at the lifelines, hauling themselves upward looking down from the crest of the breaking wave.
Pete grabbed the tiller bringing the stern around to the oncoming seas, the boat reared up as the surging mass of water lifted Antares, he pulled the helm over, causing the boat to surf along the front of this breaking wave – carrying them into the harbor… and over the bar.
The yacht still surged on – but now on a decreasing swell. They were safe, now in deep water and approaching the jetty.
The relief of tension overtook both of them.
“Let’s get the lines ashore, and sort ourselves out,” said Pete – looking about the decks, the moment of madness gone.
The boat now secured, they sat safely in the cockpit – their oilskins removed and hanging up to dry – there was a break in the sky.
Jan sighed. They were safe.
Furling the sheets on deck Pete quipped – “So who lost an hour on their tide table calculations?… You could have lost my bloody boat!”
Jan let it pass. “Yes, I know I know, I should have realized something wasn´t right when we were leaving and we touched bottom. You’re right, I’m sorry.”
“Yes, alright then . . . look, I´ll see to everything down below and you go ashore and book the Quay restaurant for tonight – OK?”
Jan was relieved he wasn´t going to go on and on, they might still have a good weekend she thought, as she stepped off the boat.
She had just got ashore and was thinking of buying a nice bottle of wine when she realized, “Damn, I’ve left my purse on the boat.”
She slipped back aboard, looking down below from the main hatch, she was about to call for Pete to pass her purse up.
He was on his mobile.
Jan stood listening – Who´s he talking to? Who´s he talking to like that? Who is that?
She felt her knees weaken; a nauseous pain erupted in her stomach.
Her head started to reel.
This was why.
“God – what a fool I´ve been” she thought
She was staring at him.
Pete turned his head, he saw her standing, staring, listening.
He closed his phone.
His eyes widened, he went pale, the blood drained from his face, his mouth fell open.
Jan had recovered.
Life was raging back into her body – she could feel her heart pounding.
All these years, blaming herself, blaming anything, anything but him.
“Jan, it´s not what you…”
“Shut up, you pathetic, selfish, bastard. All these years,” she said, shaking her head.
“A lost hour! A lost boat! I can promise you this Peter bloody Thomson, you’ve just lost everything!”
Writing Club Theme September 2018 –
‘It Really Was Quite Something’ Approx 500 words
There it was, hidden away amongst the other free adverts under ‘miscellaneous’. Dog Sitter wanted five days live in. I saved the mobile into my contacts and Whatsapped my availability. A quick phone call led to FaceTime and a swift check of my references – then the gig was mine.
I met my new charge and felt an instant bond. It was a water dog, panting out the rhythm of his heart as he wagged his tail and licked my hand. I was invited into the house, nestled in the heart of the countryside near the river, and was shown to the guest room.
Already by day two I had established a routine of walking to the river where the weir was and crossing over to the other side.
On day three I took a curious looking piece of pottery along to photograph – that being my profession.
I sat it carefully on a smoothed boulder an arm’s length from the weir and took a few shots.
As I leant over to get it, the water dog decided to help and lunged energetically into the air, hurling the ceramic objet d’art and all its contents into the river. I charged in after it. Luck was on my side – kind of – apart from losing the contents. Anyhow, I scrambled back up the bank with unchipped vase and lid.
Once back ‘home’ I became super friendly with the neighbours – desperate to find out what it was all about.
Once I knew, I did what any courteous person would do and held a barbecue for them all. It was great, lots to eat and drink and next day I didn’t even have a hangover.
That left me with just one more day before the owner came back and I set to, cleaning up the home and leaving everything as I’d found it.
The owner, Angela, came back and made such a fuss of the dog and hugged me so tight that it felt I belonged. She knew my profession and asked to see the photos. I obliged with a select few. Then I tried to leave but she would not hear of it.
She invited me to the river with her friends for a special ceremony and would explain no more. I scrutinised her skin for tattoos or anything else which could prepare me for whatever it was she had in mind. She had two earrings in her left ear and one in her right, but apart from that I was clueless.
Pipers piped and dancers danced as we made our way to the weir. Once there she unpackaged something very familiar, incanted a few poems or charms, gave others their moment to speak and walked half way across the weir, stopping near the very boulder I had used.
Placing the objet d’art upon it she spoke some more. I made a great show of photographing it and the congregation. Then she lifted the lid and poured ashes from my party into the swirling mass below. It really was quite something.
How Writing Can Help in Recovery from Drug Addiction
Recovering from addiction presents you with challenges to say the least. You have to give up your drug of choice, which can be scary, literally painful, and sometimes, even sad. It’s the sadness, or rather the emotional side of addiction that I want to address here.
All addicts have underlying emotions that they suppress: Their drugs often act as a form of self-medication to dull the pain. Once the drug goes away, the pain and sadness that they’ve held back for so long comes rushing back. Dealing with this requires the addict to address these long-entrenched behaviors and to develop new skill sets so that he/ she doesn’t relapse.
That’s where writing, particularly journaling can be a huge help. It was for me. It literally helped me write out my pain, my confusion, all the things that caused me to turn to my drug of choice in the first place.
In this post, I want to talk a bit more in depth about how writing and journaling can help you cope with all the new things coming your way.
Emotion Management: 101
According to Thai Nguyen, writing for The Huffington Post, you’re emotionally intelligent when you can perceive and manage your own emotions and perceive the emotions of others. However, as I’ve already mentioned above, emotions can be tricky for the addict. It’s probably fair to say that we don’t often know how we feel. Or we’ve learned that it isn’t safe to express our emotions, even if we do know how we feel. Journaling can help this by helping us manage our emotions. Here’s how.
For the sake of example, imagine that you’ve decided to keep a reflection journal – that’s a journal where you record what happened and how you felt about what happened at the end of the day. For example, if you lose your keys and blame your wife for it, only later to find out that you had your keys all along, you’d write about that incident in your journal. You’d write your response – Did you get sarcastic? Did you yell? Did you apologize when you discovered your mistake?
Once you know what your response was to your feelings of frustration, you could use your journal to decide how you might approach a similar incident in the future. This allows you to do some role-playing so that you can learn what emotions trigger you and what you’ll do to change your behavior once they do. I used this technique quite a bit during my recovery. Still do.
Getting to Know You
Often, our emotional triggers are not immediately obvious to us. These are the triggers that put us in a tailspin and keep us tied to our addictions. However, as the University of Rochester points out, keeping a journal shows you who you are and how you react over a long period of time. Write down your feelings and responses long enough, and a pattern of your triggers will begin to emerge. Once you can see this pattern, you can take steps to change how you respond to these triggers.
For example, if your interactions with a certain friend always leave you feeling upset and stressed, this will eventually come out in your journal. From this starting point, you can then address how each incident triggered you. Did your friend say something negative? Did he/ she call you names? Once you can identify these issues, you can reflect how you can respond differently in the future. However, first, you need to know how you routinely respond before you can do something about your feelings.
There is a corollary to the passage above. Stress can make you act in ways that are not conducive to recovery if you don’t know how to handle it. And it’s typically those negative emotions we’re experiencing when we do stress out. These emotions can cause us to use if we get too overloaded.
Journaling can help with that, too. According to Psych Central, writing out your emotions can help you work through them and reduce and release the intensity of them. This allows you to lower your stress levels, which in turn, can help you manage the emotions that come up during addiction recovery.
Putting It Together
Writing and journaling about drug and alcohol addiction can be a huge help to the addict, no matter where he/ she is on the path to recovery. This blog post gives you some ideas about how to manage the situations and feelings that inevitably crop up during the process.
Paige Taylor is a life coach from Orlando, Florida, specializing in addiction. She strives to help those who battle with substance use disorder, and she occasionally writes about recovery.
She also works as an Awareness Advocate at The Recovery Village