Sober Curious

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“Sobriety is the capacity to savour.” ~ Russ Hudson

In western society, alcohol is a symbol of sophistication, adulthood and relaxation. It represents having fun and letting loose. Consuming alcohol is often the centre point of many social gatherings, especially for young adults. Familiar sayings include: “I deserve a glass of wine” and “I need a drink to unwind.”

Cultural forces also fuel consumption. Since the mid-1990s, there’s been a ‘pinking’ of the alcohol market, with skinny cocktails and berry-flavored vodkas. Alcohol is packaged as an essential tool to “surviving” motherhood. Funny memes circulate the internet and wine companies brand their product as “mommy juice.” Women are sold the idea that parenthood is a burden that only alcohol can soothe: it is presented as the ultimate way for a woman to relax and reward herself. As a result, there is a growing number of alcohol dependent women.

“The pace at which most women live is punishing,” says Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. “You race home from a busy day at the office and have emails from work waiting for you and food to prepare and laundry piling up. The easiest thing to do when you’re standing at the cutting board making dinner is pour yourself a glass of wine. It’s the ultimate decompression tool.”

More women are drinking and the amount that they are drinking is increasing. A 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism laid it out in stark terms. From 2001 to 2013, the prevalence of alcohol use among women in the U.S. rose nearly 16 percent. And during the same time frame, the percentage of women who have four or more drinks on a given day, on a weekly basis, rose by 58 percent. “Drinking has a tendency to escalate—one glass turns into two and then three,” says psychologist Joseph Nowinski, PhD, author of Almost Alcoholic. “That doesn’t mean you’re an addict, but you should be aware that you’ve moved from low-risk drinking to a level that’s more dangerous.” A 2017 study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that problem drinking, defined as drinking to the point where it interferes with your life or you are unable to stop, jumped by more than 80% among American women between 2002 and 2013.

Women are also more likely than men to experience long-term negative health effects from alcohol use. A study from the University of Oxford found that many serious illnesses and chronic health conditions are linked to drinking, even at low levels. Long-term alcohol use can increase the risk of at least eight types of cancer (mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, colon, rectum) and numerous other serious conditions (e.g. epilepsy, stroke, pancreatitis, dysrythmias, and hypertension).

In my own life, I have had close relationships with more than one alcoholic. I have witnessed how addiction destroys a person’s health and ability to connect with others. It is a slow and painful loss. This experience led me to be more mindful and reflective of my own drinking habits. And after struggling to maintain balance and moderation with alcohol over time, I finally looked in the mirror and I asked myself a question. What kind of person do I want to be? One who chooses to numb myself or one who chooses to be fully present? As Brené Brown says in the Gifts of Imperfection, “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” I wanted to feel strong in my body and model healthy choices for my daughter. This ultimately led me to make the decision to give up drinking, and learn to lean on alternate supports for stress management and relaxation (e.g exercise, meditation, yoga).

At first, it was not easy being one of the only sober people in the room, as it runs against the grain of what everyone else is doing. There were constant questions about why I was drinking sparking water instead of a glass of wine. When I answered that it was in support of my health and wellbeing, I generally received a blank stare in return. Many people could not wrap their head around the concept; and some viewed my sobriety as a personal criticism of their choice to drink. Is it not. It is a gift that I am giving to myself. Over the years, this tension has eased: or maybe I am not so worried about what other people think anymore. The people who initially had the most issue with my decision, faded out of my life, and those that still remain are very supportive. I cherish each opportunity to spend time with the people I love, with a clear head, and wake up in the morning, with no regrets.

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety but connection.”

~ Jessica Lahey, The Addiction Inoculation

Whatever you decide is best for you, it is important for women to speak to one another about the risks of alcohol consumption, and acknowledge how easy it is to cross the line into dependency. We need to share our experiences without shame and provide support to one another. Many people rely on some form of substance to ease from the pressures of daily life. Alcohol is readily available and consumption is openly encouraged by both society and the media but it can easily spin out of control. This leads to a decline in overall levels of mental and physical health.

There is a growing movement of “sober curious” women seeking to have a different relationship with alcohol and a range of support options available to them. This includes programs and resources that offer assistance with everything from moderating alcohol intake to choosing abstinence. Here are a few that I have come across. I hope that you find them helpful. Let me know if you discover any new ones to highlight.

Club Soda Club helps people live well by being more mindful about drinking. Whether you want to cut down, take a break from alcohol, or stop drinking all together, you are welcome to join them.

Moderation Management (moderation.org) is a free program that starts with 30 days of abstinence and includes a “mutual-help” environment with meetings that you can attend in person or dial into by phone as you work on changing your habits.

Hello Sunday Morning recognizes that you don’t need to have a clinical addiction in order to change your drinking habits. Whether you just want to learn how to limit your drinking, take a break or just better understand alcohol use, Hello Sunday Morning can help. 

The Luckiest Club is a web-based, online information-sharing and connection platform which seeks to provide opportunities for like-minded people to find each other and form connections. It facilitates the sharing of information that improves understanding of addiction, sobriety, sober living, and related information.  

Tempest provides a mobile, self-directed yet supported method to get and stay sober. The course includes weekly live sessions, weekly recorded lectures, Q&A sessions, daily guided meditations, intention-setting and more. 

Reversing Alzheimer’s Disease

Photo by Elle Hughes on Pexels.com

Neurologists, Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, created the Healthy Minds Initiative in response to the helplessness that they felt working within the traditional “sick care” model. After watching all the latest drugs and treatments fail to stop dementia, they set out to discover a better preventative approach.

Currently, approximately six million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. and 500,000 in Canada. It is the most common type of dementia. Every 64 seconds someone is diagnosed. This number is likely an underestimation of its true prevalence, as many people consider cognitive impairment to be a normal part of aging, and therefore never report it.

Two-thirds of individuals diagnosed are women. The likelihood of a woman developing Alzheimer’s disease during her lifetime is 1 in 6, compared to a man, which is 1 in 11. It is projected that if we do not take measure to slow the current trajectory, the number of people living with this disease will triple by 2050.

The good news is that Alzheimer’s is not a genetic inevitability and a diagnosis does not have to result in a death sentence. In fact, according to these two doctors, 90% of all Alzheimer’s cases can be prevented; and for the 10% with a strong genetic risk for cognitive decline, the disease can be delayed for ten to fifteen years.

Based upon their extensive research, the Sherzai’s have formed the following conclusions:

  • Physical exercise increases both the number of brain cells and the connections between them.
  • Chronic stress puts the brain in a state of high inflammation, causing structural damage.
  • Restorative sleep is essential for cognitive and overall health.
  • Meat and animal products are degenerative for your brain.
  • Education, learning and other complex cognitive activities protect your brain against decline.
  • Social support has an undeniable influence on the way your brain ages.

They developed a plan to promote the necessary lifestyle changes. They call the plan, “NEURO.”  It includes:

  • Nutrition: A whole-food, plant-based diet low in sugar, salt, and processed foods.
  • Exercise: An active lifestyle that incorporates movement every hour.
  • Unwind: Stress management in the form of meditation, yoga, mindful breathing exercises.
  • Restore: Seven to eight hours of regular, detoxifying sleep.
  • Optimize: Multimodal activities that challenge many of the brain’s capacities.

I have included two great interviews with the Sherzai’s below, with Rich Roll, where you can gain a solid understanding of their work. They have also written two books, The Alzheimer’s Solution, and The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution, as well as produce a regular blog and podcast on the subject.

Embracing Anxiety

Anxiety has been my constant companion since I was a young teen. It is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worry and physical changes like a racing heart. It is a feeling of being in danger, without knowing exactly why. People who experience anxiety tend to have recurring, intrusive thoughts and concerns. They may avoid certain situations or experiences. Anxiety can be debilitating: convincing you that hiding in bed is preferable to facing the outside world.

Over the years, I have learned that being a highly-sensitive person is a super-power. It allows you to see, feel and experience the world around you more deeply and in technicolour. You tend to notice details, make subtle connections, and understand complexity. You also empathize deeply. All of this goodness also lends itself to anxiety. The gift is also the curse.

In order to live at peace with my anxiety, I have cultivated some tactics, and I thought I would share them with you.

Movement

I move my body every day. Whether it be yoga, walking, or a high-intensity strength class, it is essential to regularly sweat and stretch. Movement helps to break the anxiety loop and grounds me in the moment. It connects me to my heart and breath. Whether I want to do it or not, I move every day, often several times a day. It is always worth it.

Nourishment

What you fuel your body with is really important. Over the years, I have given up caffeine, as it makes my heart race and anxiety soar. Sugar is another ingredient to be avoided. Many major diseases that plague us—including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, anxiety and Alzheimer’s—are linked to chronic inflammation. My naturopath recommends following a low-inflammation diet as a preventative measure and I have found it to be a very useful approach.

Routine

Creating a daily routine is a way to keep small promises to yourself. When you consistently show up, and follow through on your commitments, you provide yourself with a steady and reliable source of internal support. For some strange reason, I often experience resistance to doing the things that I love the most (exercise, meditation, writing, practising French) but if I scheduled time for the activity, and I follow through, I never ever regret it. Even if it is only for five minutes, it still counts, and it fills me up. The important thing is to be consistent.

Acceptance

Anxiety wants to be in charge. It tries to protect you by imagining every possible scenario: often the most negative and scary. This is futile. The reality is no one knows what is going to happen and it almost never unfolds in the way we think it will. It is important, instead, to sit with the discomfort caused by the unknown and create space for it to just be. Anxiety needs to be thanked for its service and offered appreciation for what it is trying to do, which is keep you safe; but it also needs to be taken out of the driver’s seat, and moved into the back of the bus, where it can relax, look out the window, and enjoy the view.

Support

Aside from all of the personal practices that I have put into place, I am also fortunate enough to have the support of medical professionals. I have access to a skilled therapist. The amount of time that I spend with her varies, depending on what is going on in my life, but I am grateful to have her there as a reliable resource. Having a someone to talk to about my anxiety, and a safe place to share, is incredibly helpful. In addition, I take a low daily dose of anxiety medication, under the guidance of my doctor. Although it does not remove the anxiety, it provides me with a stable internal base, and it supports my overall capacity to cope and take care of myself.

Privilege

This discussion would not be complete without acknowledging the incredible privilege that I possess to make these choices for myself, and access these resources, as a white middle-class woman. I do not face the trauma, systemic racism, poverty and abuse that many Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) do each and every day. The anxiety that they experience is not even comparable.

Resources

Here are a few resources that I came across and thought worth sharing. The first is a short Instagram video from Mel Robbins. The second is a podcast from Rob Bell, with his wife Kristen, who experiences anxiety. Both women share a thoughtful perspective and some tangible tactics.

Holding Pattern

Photo by Leonardo Yip on Unsplash

Life these days reminds me of the film, Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character becomes stuck in a time-loop, and he is forced to live the same day over and over again. There is so little variance in daily life under COVID; it all feels the same. Our social circles are tiny, if not non-existent; we meet with colleagues via Zoom or Teams and rarely see people in person. Many of our activities occur within the walls of our own homes. I sometimes feel like a passenger gazing out of the window of a plane, circling above the airport, waiting for permission to land: waiting for “life” to start again.

We recently marked one year of living under COVID restrictions, and despite the many challenges, I have been reflecting upon the unexpected benefits. I can take my daughter to school in the morning and I am here when she arrives home. I no longer make the commute twice a day; and it is an easy transition from ending work to beginning our evening routine. My workplace has fully adapted to online collaboration, something which normally would have taken another decade, or more, to come to fruition. Our lives generally move at a slower pace. Less driving. Less commitment. Less rushing.

My main source of joy at the moment is spending time outside with friends and family in nature. We cannot currently do any of the things that we would normally do, such as travel, gather for dinner, or attend events, so the outdoors has become our playground. There is something so nourishing about being outside together. We hike and explore in sun, rain and snow. All it requires is a pair of waterproof hiking boots, a warm jacket and a trail app. My daughter has also become quite the little walker, so it is something we now look forward to doing together. There is so much beauty to discover in our local area, surrounded by trees, water and sky.

I have also discovered the joy of cold swimming. This global phenomenon gained traction at the start of the pandemic when people sought new ways to connect and combat depression. Coldwater therapy is known to support a range of health benefits, such as promoting good mental health, boosting the immune system, enhancing circulation, reducing stress and inflammation. I am hooked. I regularly meet with my friend for a weekly plunge in the ocean and it is always a fun and memorable experience. Not only is it a wonderful opportunity to catch up but my body feels electric all day after a swim.

Although “regular life” currently feels like it is on hold, I am grateful for the opportunity to discover new ways of spending time with loved ones, despite the restrictions. Nature is a remarkable phenomenon that should not be taken for grated. This pandemic has taught me to appreciate each and every day and to seek joy in unexpected places. I have also been reminded of how precious our natural surroundings are and how we all need to work together to actively protect these gifts: both for ourselves and for generations to come.

Returning Home

When I was eight years old, I fell off of a jungle gym backwards. I was resting against a rope, at the top of a ten-foot gangplank, and it suddenly gave way. I dropped to the ground, like a rag doll, and I hit the back of my head on the concrete below. After the initial shock of impact, I caught my breath, and I stood up in a daze. There was no one around. I was completely alone. I stumbled four or five feet forward and then I dropped to the ground.

I was surrounded by a warm, all encompassing bright, white light. I was the light and the light was me. I had no body. I was fully immersed in a gentle and loving embrace and filled with an overwhelming sense of peace and joy. It felt like returning home. I was exactly where I needed to be; and I never wanted to leave. There was no sense of “I”, or a life before, just an indescribable happiness. After a period of time, an awareness grew that I could not stay, and I had to go back. I was then jolted into my body. Everything went black and I was filled with pain. I woke up on the ground and I crawled towards the house for help. It took many years for me to realize that I had not fainted that day. I had experienced a brush with death.

As described in this Scientific American article, near-death experiences, or NDEs, are triggered during singular life-threatening episodes when the body is injured by blunt trauma, a heart attack, asphyxia or shock. Approximately one in ten patients with cardiac arrest in a hospital setting undergoes such an episode. Thousands of survivors of these harrowing touch-and-go situations report of leaving their bodies, and experiencing a realm beyond everyday existence, unconstrained by the usual boundaries of space and time.

NDEs share broad commonalities: becoming pain-free; seeing a bright light at the end of a tunnel and other visual phenomena; detaching from one’s body and floating above it; or even flying off into space (out-of-body experiences). They might include meeting loved ones, living or dead, or spiritual beings. A jarring disconnect separates the massive trauma to the body and the peacefulness and feeling of oneness with the universe. 

Death requires irreversible loss of brain function. When the brain is starved of blood flow and oxygen, the patient faints in a fraction of a minute and the electroencephalogram, or EEG, becomes isoelectric, or flat. This implies that large-scale, spatially distributed electrical activity within the cortex, the outermost layer of the brain, has broken down. Like a town that loses power one neighbourhood at a time, local regions of the brain go offline, one after another.

Given these power outages, this experience produces the rather strange and idiosyncratic stories that make up the majority of NDE reports. To the person undergoing it, the NDE is as real as anything the mind produces during normal waking. When the entire brain has shut down because of complete power loss, the mind is extinguished, along with consciousness. When oxygen and blood flow are restored, and the brain boots up, the narrative flow of experience resumes.

Until this point in my life. I have not shared my NDE story with many people; and from those I have told to date, I have generally received one of two responses, open and curious or utterly dismissive. In the end, I share my experience in the hope that it will be of service to others. I know what took place that day and it was real. I can clearly remember it now, even thirty-seven years later. It is beyond logical explanation. It was an expansive, spiritual encounter: not a simple trick of a traumatized brain. Having recently lost a friend to cancer, and facing the imminent death of two family members, this conviction provides me with a lot of comfort. “Life” continues on after a physical death occurs.

I recently watched the Surviving Death series on Netflix. The first episode explores NDEs and I think that they did an excellent job investigating the concept. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend that you check it out.

New Year’s Nourishment

My thoughtful friend Elise gifted me a five-day, self-led virtual retreat for Christmas. It is offered by Jennifer Doheney of Welloga. I am already on day three of the course and I am enjoying it a lot. It includes a range of high quality videos and educational handouts on topics such as meditation, healthy cooking, mindfulness and yoga. Each day of the retreat is broken into small learning units, with a total time commitment of approximately 1.5 hrs, so it is very manageable.

As many of us are stuck inside at the moment, due to the pandemic, it is a great opportunity to do something nourishing for yourself. The retreat is also currently on sale, so it is financially accessible. Jennifer is offering it a very affordable price of $37 (USD). Please note: I am not affiliated with Welloga or receiving any financial benefit from this post. I am just loving the experience and I want to share it with you, as I think it is a valuable resource. I hope that you enjoy it!

Click here for more info: https://offers.welloga.space/finding-your-middle-ground-offer

Messy Mindfulness

“It is like this now.” ~ Ajahn Chah

I practice and study Buddhist Insight (Vipassana) meditation with a small local group of practitioners once a week. I discovered this form of Buddhism when my daughter was three years old and it has become an important anchor in my life. Vipassana can be translated as “insight,” a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. It is a direct and gradual cultivation of mindfulness or awareness. 

Through the process of mindfulness, you slowly becomes aware of what exists below the ego image. Vipassana is a form of mental training that teaches you to experience the world in an entirely new way. It is a process of self-discovery, an investigation in which you observe your own experiences, while participating in them as they occur.

Most of the members of my sangha are seasoned meditators, who have developed a committed and consistent daily practice over many years: sitting for lengthy periods of time, several times a day. They are all older than me, and they are either retired, single, or have grown children, so they are at a different stage and place in their lives. As an independent parent, working full-time, and caring for my aging parents, it can be challenging to fit in a formal sitting period once a day, let alone multiple times. It is easy to beat myself up about it and feel like a failure; or it is an invitation to recognize that this is the place I am at currently in my life. Mindfulness still provides me with refuge. It just shows up in a different form.

At the moment, I am allowed to visit my mom once a week in her assisted living facility. In addition her late stage Alzheimer’s Disease, we are also facing COVID-19 restrictions, so the visiting conditions are very limited. Our allotted half an hour is spent together in a small, boardroom with a large wooden table at its centre. I wear a surgical mask and I cannot hug my mom. We are allowed to hold hands, and as she needs to constantly move her body, we walk in circles around the perimeter of the table. My mom has lost her ability to use language. She talks with a nervous, non-stop energy, and the words tumbling out her mouth are mostly unrecognizable. We cannot carry on a conversation. She stoops and she cannot look me in the eyes. I listen and nod along to her monologue. I rub her back and I provide her with comforting responses and assurances when I think she needs them.

What I am noticing about our time together is that we are firmly rooted in the moment. There is no ability to escape and wander away from where we are with small talk or distractions. We are in this moment together, and then the next one, and the next, until the time in our proverbial hourglass elapses. It is a walking meditation, one which demands that I pay attention to my surroundings, and the subtle changes in my mother’s tone and demeanour. I notice the rhythm of my own breath and the pattern of our steps. We are learning relate to relate to one another in a new and unfamiliar way. There are no recognizable protocols. We make it up as we go. All that is constant is the love that connects us together.

As the parent of a young adolescent, I bear witness on a daily basis to the rapid physical and emotional changes taking place within my child. She is often flailing in deep waters of intense emotions and it is hard not to get pulled under with her. My daughter knows just what to say to evoke a response from me; she is smart and she never misses her target. It is easy to get caught up in an automatic response: a knee-jerk reaction, where I lose my temper and perspective, along with her. It is in these moments that I am being provided with an invitation to take a step back and pause for just a beat: to bear witness to the intense triggering that is occurring. To feel the anger and agitation that arises from deep inside and let it wash over me. To choose not to respond and instead take a moment to breathe in deeply and seek ways to regulate my own body. Once I find my centre, I can then try to locate my child, and pull her into shore. This is my practice in motion.

During a busy day, it is easy to feel like there is no time for meditation, and so rather than doing a little bit, I do nothing. One of the members of my group, who used to be an emergency room nurse, provided me with some good advice, which has helped me to find a path forward. She shared that when she was working full-time she would fit in her daily practice in five minute increments. Much like getting up from your desk and stretching, or taking a short walk, a five-minute meditation is a mental break which can be easily fit in almost anywhere. I do not need a cushion or a quiet space: I only need awareness, the ability to scan my body, and my breath. This can be done while driving, walking or washing dishes. It can be achieved through generating thoughts of love and gratitude. These moments of conscious reflection are like mini-calisthenics for the brain: every little one helps to make it stronger and more receptive. Slowly but surely my capacity for holding this mental space increases over time.

Although I still enjoy the idea of going on a ten-day silent meditation retreat, or finding a way to cultivate a solid daily practice, I also accept that this is where I am in my life at the moment. It is messy and unpredictable and I need to be flexible and adaptive in my approach. Mindfulness provides value in all of its many forms and holding on to a set idea of what it needs to look like, in order to be successful, is unhelpful. Providing myself with love and acceptance is part of my work, because without the ability to extend this to myself, I will not be able to offer it to others.

Rest and Play

Last weekend, my daughter and I woke up to a grey and rainy Saturday. We lounged around in our pajamas, reading books for most of the morning. As we neared lunch time, my child was struck by the idea to build a fort in the living room. We pulled out every blanket and pillow in the house, constructing a cosy rabbit warren of cushions and comfort. We drank tea under the cover of darkness, faces lit by the camping light.

After enjoying our new ‘home’ together, we pulled on some clothes and took our dog out into the wind and rain for a blustery walk on the beach. Returning home to warm mugs of hot chocolate, I prepared dinner, and we watched “The Sound of Music” on tv trays, tucked up on the couch. We pulled out the sleeping bags and spent the night sleeping in the fort.

This day was the first in a long time that I allowed myself to be completely and fully at ease with doing ‘nothing’ on the weekend; my focus was simply on allowing myself to steep in the enjoyment of the moment and be fully present with my loved one. I let my child lead the way. This is her natural habitat. I simply had to follow.

As a busy, independent parent, I normally have a long list of chores and activities to attend to on the weekend; I rush around in a desperate attempt to get it all done before I start back to work again on Monday. It has recently started to dawn on me that the work is never really done and there is very little satisfaction in spending my precious free time ticking things off a list. I need to prioritize rest and play as much as duty.

While it is essential to tend to the immediate and pressing needs of your family, there is a real risk of missing out on the life happening around you, if you push yourself too far in the pursuit of perfection. Endless doing and busyness is more often driven by anxiety, rather than necessity.

There is boundless joy to be found in exploring opportunities to rest and play: and no better teacher than a child to demonstrate how to do this well. Before every weekend task I undertake, I am now trying to ask myself, “Is this really necessary? Can I let this go for now?” Although I cannot always dedicate a whole day to rest, I can purposefully choose to build in pockets of time. It is a dance to find ways to let things go while also achieving what needs to be done to keep my family running; but I am finding it to be well worth the effort.

Life in this Moment

I have been at home with my daughter for four weeks now due to COVID-19. School is cancelled for the foreseeable future and I am working remotely. It is a very strange existence: one in which human contact is limited to the phone and internet. There is almost a complete lack of physical interaction with the outside world: except when I venture to the grocery store once a week. Even that could be ending soon, as some local stores are starting to limit shopping to online orders and delivery.

My ten year old child has not seen her friends for over a month. She is celebrating her birthday on Monday with a Zoom party. I cannot even imagine what this strange reality is like for her. Children thrive on play, exploration and imagination. As she does not currently have access to her peers, I am attempting to fill the void. We are enjoying daily games of hide and seek and impromptu dance parties.

That being said, I am struggling with trying to work full time and also support my child’s learning and emotional needs. It is hard for her to understand why she needs to spend so much time on her own, with self-directed activities, and we have been butting heads more than usual. It is easy to fall into a familiar pattern of feeling like a failure but I have been trying to remember to be realistic and kind. There is no right way to get through the current situation. I just need to do my best and apologize when I lose my temper.

As we navigate forward together in this “new normal”, I am taking note of certain things:

A Slowing of Time: In our house, we have shifted from living a busy, frantic schedule, to adopting a slow and even daily rhythm. There is no more commute or rushing to activities. There is just pockets of time unfolding within the small space of our home. I am finding it easier to transition between work and home activities with much less effort than usual.

Heightened Awareness and Gratitude: I have a deeper understanding of the contribution and sacrifice that our front line workers make every day. Not only the amazing health care and emergency services professionals but the grocery store clerks, garbage collectors, delivery truck drivers and mail carriers. Each of them is integral to the success and functioning of our society, both during this crisis, and every other day. Every night, when we show up at 7pm to applaud and make noise across the province, I do it for all of them.

Global Interconnectivity: There is nothing that we have in our society that is not reliant upon contributions from other parts of the world. From the medicine in our pharmacies, to our food supply, and manufactured products, we need each other. No country is an island. We are a global community.

Importance of Movement: Taking the time to move my body each morning is essential for my mental and physical well being, especially right now. It clears my mind and provides me with fuel for the day ahead. There are a number of free resources and trials available online that you can do at home. Some of the ones that I am enjoying include: Beach Body and Do Yoga With Me. My favourite trainer is Autumn Calabrese and yoga teacher is Fiji McAlpine.

Time in Nature: Despite COVID-19, spring continues to unfold around us. Crocuses, tulips and daffodils are pushing their bright heads through the ground. Delicate pink buds are appearing on the trees. Hummingbirds are trilling their mating calls to one another. Life is teeming. It is now warm enough to return to the garden and put my hands in the soil. I am enjoying the gift of the outdoors and feeling the sun on my face.

Time with Loved Ones: Although I miss seeing my friends and family in person, I have noticed an increase in connectivity since the crisis started. I have been using FaceTime and Zoom to call people that I have not talked to in months. We host Friday and Saturday night group gatherings. We make impromptu calls. With more time at home, and a lack of distractions, it is bringing people together more than ever. There is a renewed appreciation for those we love and a desire to express it.

Kindness and Love: Despite all of the frightening things that are happening right now, there are so many stories of hope and love and resilience. From the stories of postal workers in Ireland volunteering to check in on the elderly, to the hundreds of thousands of retired health care workers returning to work to help, and the citizens of Italy serenading to one another from their balconies: people are showing up for one another. As Mr. Rogers always told his young viewers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Hope for a Different Future: Humans can achieve extraordinary things when they put their mind to it. COVID-19 is shining the spotlight on a very broken global economic system and its vast inequities. The drastic changes that have occurred within the last month demonstrates how quickly it is possible for us to shift gears when we are motivated to do so. Perhaps this is our opportunity to start over. To reimagine what is possible if we were to do things differently going forward. This can be our moment.

Living with Uncertainty

“Present moment, perfect moment.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I have not been able to bring myself to post onto the blog for a month now. Every time I sit down to write, I have been at a loss for words. All I can think is: “What can I possibly contribute at this moment?” A virus threatens the health and security of millions of people across the globe. Many of us are quarantined at home and physically separated from one another, with no end in sight. The world is in turmoil. Why does my one little voice matter?

As I have struggled with these doubts, readers continue to visit my site, despite there being a lack of new content. I am humbled to imagine a person sitting in Australia, India, Russia and Israel taking the time to read my words; and it reminds me that love, community and connection are the lights that will guide us through this this dark time. It gives me the courage to show up again on the page. I want you to know that I am here for you. You are not alone.

As a naturally anxious person, the last few weeks have been difficult. The human brain is wired to project itself into the future; it prefers to imagine the worst case scenario, and anticipate what is coming, rather than sit with the discomfort of uncertainty. The truth is that I do not know what will happen next or when this current situation will end. I do not know what life will look like on the other side. All I know for sure is what I am experiencing in this very moment; and it is hard.

The child-like part of myself desperately wishes for things to be “fixed” and to go “back to normal”. The wise part knows that life is complex and messy: not just now, but always. It is important for me to meet life on its own terms. I must make space for the difficult and uncomfortable emotions that I feel about our new reality: grief, sadness, fear and anger. They are all valid and true. They each need the opportunity to show up and to be heard.

In her recent podcast, Brené Brown speaks to the damage caused by comparative suffering in a catastrophic situation such as COVID-19. This is the belief that you are not allowed to feel upset and afraid, when many others face much worse: the front line workers; marginalized and vulnerable populations; countries with no infrastructure. The reality is that pushing your own emotions away only results in guilt and shame. Shame is the opposite of empathy. It is constricted, self-focused and finite, whereas empathy is boundless. You can hold emphatic space for your own difficult emotions, as well as for the suffering of others; and it is important to create space for both. This provides us with the strength that we require to make it through a time of crisis: both as an individual and as a part of the collective.

Right now, my daily work is to bring my mind back into the present moment. The wonderful writer, Liz Gilbert, recently shared a technique that she uses to ground herself, and I am finding it to be very helpful. It is called Five, Four, Three, Two, One. First, you look around and identify five things that you can physically see in your immediate surroundings (e.g. green grass, street lamp, red shoes, mail box, flower pot). Then move onto identifying four things that you can hear (e.g. garbage truck, robin chirping, person talking on their phone, wind in the trees). Again, it can be even the smallest thing, but it needs to be something happening in the here and now. Then move onto naming three things that you can feel (e.g. woollen scarf, cold fingertips, watch). Follow it with two things that you can smell (e.g. fresh cut grass, a daffodil). And lastly, one thing you can taste (e.g. remnants of morning coffee).

In a time of great uncertainty, this simple exercise will help to ground you in your body, as it brings the mind back to the present moment. This is our work right now: to feel; to notice; to show up for ourselves and each other; to keep putting one foot in front of the other; to take it one day at a time. As a wise woman once said to me: “The only way out is through.” I have always held this close to my heart and it has served me well. Take my hand and let’s keep going. We can do hard things together.

Slipping Away

As my mother slowly slips away into the unknown abyss of Alzheimer’s disease, I am helpless to stop it. As she walks deeper into the dark and dense forest of her mind, I have to let her go. The entry is barred. I cannot follow her in or bring her back. My role is to bear witness and to nurse my broken heart. To tend to those of us left behind. To be strong. I am familiar with this uncomfortable territory. I have been here before. I long for things to return to how they once were. I yearn for the past.

When I look into her eyes, I do not know where she has gone. There is a glimmer of the woman that I once knew. She smiles in recognition of my face. She kisses my lips with love. But there is a dullness in her gaze and a slowness to her gait. We walk in familiar circles along linoleum lined hallways. She talks about everything and nothing: words crashing together, landing in a tangled pile on the floor.

The fiercely independent woman who once forged her own path in life is now reliant on the help of others to complete the most basic of tasks. A life that was once large and colourful is now contained and beige. I am grateful for the people that help us. They are our community. We lean on one another; but I am sad for a loss that is not yet fully a loss. Her memory is breaking into little crumbs. She is leaving pieces behind her: trying to remember her way home.

I am mourning my mother while she still stands before me. It is a strange and confusing time; and I carry a sadness deep in my heart. It is a weight heavy in my pocket. I try to stay in the moment and appreciate the small things, without looking forward or gazing back, “How are you now?…and now?…and now? What do you need? How can I ease your pain?”

It is hard to allow space for heart break. The discomfort is easy to push against and resist; but it needs to breathe and express itself or it will take up permanent residence inside of the body. This is my work at the moment. Allowing the pain to just be. Feeling it and letting it burn. Knowing that it will eventually pass. Everything is transitory. Remaining grateful for the opportunity to love so deeply in my life that my heart can be broken open, and come back together, time and time again.

As Glennon Doyle summarizes it beautifully in her book Untamed: “…I learned that there is a type of pain in life that I want to feel. It’s the inevitable, excruciating, necessary pain of losing beautiful things: trust, dreams, health, animals, relationships, people. This kind of pain is the price of love, the cost of living a brave, open-hearted life – and I’ll pay for it.”