Secrets

I believe it was 7th grade. Maybe 8th. They all blend together into one mess. One struggle. One fight. One fight I arguably lost.

I was in french immersion from preschool until grade 9, which meant I was with the same 20~ kids for 10 years. You would think that amount of time would result in lifelong friendships, and many of them. The truth is that they did, just not for me.

I imagine anyone reading this has a chance of being somewhat like me. Never quite understood, often mocked, and never envied. I had friends, and only one I felt I would be close with for the rest of my life. I don’t know how you can know something like that at 5 years old, but it felt like I did. I won’t go into that friendship right now, as it hurts me to even think about.

What I will talk about is one CAPP class in what I now believe to be 8th grade, as I went into 7th grade hopeful. I was not hopeful during that class. “Career and Personal Planning”. Was this a common class? I’d honestly never heard of it before. Then again, I’d never had to really think about my career, or personal plans. The class intrigued me, as it was one of the only ones that I didn’t feel like I could fail in. Who fails that kind of class? If anyone, it would have been me.

The teacher was a bubbly spirit who we’ll name Mrs. R. Her spirit would be temporarily crushed by my rambunctious classmates over the 3 years we spent at that school. Along with CAPP, she taught Science as well as a couple elective classes (sewing and food, both of which I also enjoyed).

And after the day I’m writing about, I couldn’t stand her.

I wish I could describe how the day actually began. That would make a better narrative. All I can remember is the moment leading up to a very dangerous confession that could have ended my pathetic existence.

She took out a cardboard box and placed it on her desk in front of us. She then handed out a piece of paper to everyone and told us to write down a secret that we wouldn’t mind being read aloud, but completely anonymous. Being the gossip fiends 13 year olds can be, nearly every one of us ooooooh-ed with anticipation. Some began writing furiously, others stared at the paper for a few minutes. I began to write the beginning of my “secret” but paused half way through.

I wondered if anyone else’s secret would be as bad as mine. Was anyone else as frustrated and lonely as I was? As it turns out, no. No one in that room was, or at least they weren’t ready to admit it.

I wrote my secret down and put it into the box. Mrs. R shook the box dramatically and everyone laughed nervously. I had goosebumps as she reached in to read the first one.

“I didn’t shower today.”

Mrs. R laughed and we all eewww-ed despite the fact that I guarantee 75% of the class didn’t shower daily. Someone across the room pushed on the boy sitting in front of him and said “That’s gotta be you, S****!” The boy laughed but shook his head. Mrs. R looked around the room, then back to the paper. She raised her eyes and said “This isn’t a secret. Who wrote this?”

The room went silent. My heart started to pound. She wasn’t serious, was she?

Another boy raised his hand. Everyone laughed.

Mrs. R reached in and took out another slip of paper. I can’t remember any of the other secrets, as all I was thinking about was whether or not she expected us to admit what we wrote. That’s exactly what she did. One by one, a secret was read and another hand went up. My breath would catch as she began to read the next one, and I’d exhale deeply when it wasn’t mine.

She got to the end, and there were only 3 slips left. She took one out, read it, and then closed it. “I’m not reading that one.” She shook her head and put it in her pocket. Was my secret that repulsive that she had the grace to not out me? I hoped it was, and wasn’t at the same time.

She pulled out the second to last paper and seemed to pause before reading it. She glanced around the room, perhaps knowing that this particular secret could destroy someone, and yet knowing only 3 people could be responsible for the secret, she read it anyway.

“Sometimes I hate my friends.”

Silence. Deafening silence. Soon chairs squeaked as faces turned to look at someone else. They were trying to figure out who hadn’t confessed yet. I prayed they weren’t keeping track, but I know a few were.

Mrs. R looked around the room as well and her eyes landed on me. She narrowed her eyes and quietly asked “Was that you?” and I shook my head immediately. She knew it was me. I waited. I waited for everyone to look in my direction. I waited for the whispers. I waited to be shoved in the hallway. I waited to be cast out by my minuscule circle of friends. I waited and waited and waited.

Nothing ever happened. It was as if it never happened. No one mentioned it, and I’ll never know if anyone actually cared. Perhaps everyone shared that secret. At 13, emotions are wild. There was very little grey area in my mind at that time. Either I liked someone or I hated them.  A number of people undoubtedly hated me. Perhaps it was all par for the course.

I really wish I understood her motive for doing this. Perhaps she thought it would bring us closer. Maybe she did bring some closer. Just not for me.

P.S The last secret was “I wish I hadn’t failed science class.” It was written by the one person who was held back from the grade above ours. Some secret.

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Yes, this is loss.

Jeez. You must think I’m the saddest little girl to ever roam the planet. You wouldn’t be far off to think so. Life has thrown me a number of curve balls in the past few months, but it seems that we all reach a place in our lives where all we seem to know is loss.

We lose a love. We lose our car. We lose our keys. We lose our family. We lose our friends. We lose our pets. All things we will lose one day, whether we like it or not.

I have lost a lot, and gained half as much. That’s just my nature. My past has been… not without consequences. As you may have ready from my past entries, I am a recovering addict and alcoholic. I’ve lost more than you can count, including all the aforementioned items, as well as countless brain cells. My brain is not what it used to be. My writing has suffered noticeably. I’ve lost pretty much all my “artistic” talent, as well as a good chunk of my imagination.

Now, get ready for this horrible cliche: I haven’t lost my hope.

Hope came to life the day I found out I was having a baby that I was all but guaranteed I would never have. Hope wakes up to me every morning. Hope hugs me before I go to sleep every night. Hope lives.

Today I needed that hope. I needed that unwavering smile and that tiny hand wrapped around my arm. Because today I lost.

My uncle came to visit at the end of my last relapse. During my last relapse, I should say. I wish I remembered more of it, but what I do remember, I will remember for the rest of my life. We had walked down many of the same paths, and fought many of the same battles. My peers in the rooms warned against sharing “war stories” from our pasts, but I’ve always enjoyed them. Even more interesting, speaking to him about our pasts wasn’t a competition with him. I’ve spoken to countless addicts who upon hearing of my latest relapse would go on about how they’d put me to shame in their “primes”. Not with uncle. He listened. He laughed. He asked questions.

I remember telling him things I’d never told another soul in my life, with confidence that those words would never leave his mouth.

Maybe they’ll leave mine one day.

I’ll remember his laugh. I’ll remember him dancing with a mop in Tim Hortons at 6AM after staying up all night drinking scotch with my family. I’ll remember his dog, Puddles. I’ll remember what I can, and make memories for us both.

Is this loss?

A few days ago, there was a tragic and fatal accident that shook the small (yet large at the same time, some how) hockey community in Canada. 16 lives were lost, and an impossible amount of lives and hearts are left empty.

The Humboldt Broncos have been in the whole country’s thoughts since the accident occurred on April 6th. My Facebook feed was consumed by posts of sympathy and the heart of this country was shown. The last time I checked their GoFundMe they had collected over $8 million in donations towards the families affected by the accident.

The last time I remember feeling like this is when a 3/4 year old girl was missing, then found in a ditch. I can’t even look up the details to link in this post because just thinking about it is making me extremely anxious.

If I try to imagine the pain of losing a child, it renders me so hopeless and almost too destroyed to function. My second biggest fear has always been dying in the same bed as my toddler, then having her try to wake me up. My biggest fear is losing my daughter. Just typing that brings me to tears.

That burning in your chest. That twist of your stomach. The pounding in your head. That is all excruciating, but it doesn’t compare to where your mind goes when you’re faced with the idea of losing the most important thing in the world to you.

I couldn’t survive if I actually did lose her.

There’s no real point to this post. I just wanted to put this out there because it hurts too much to keep it in.

Sid/Alex, Part II, and a note on sympathy

Imagine my surprise to wake up to hundreds of notifications about a blog post I made days before, thinking that no one else would ever read it. Not only was I shocked that anyone had bothered to read it, I was floored by the amazing comments left on the post.

A trend I noticed when reading through the comments (for which I’m extremely grateful for!) was a sense of camaraderie between other sympathetic people and myself. We all seem to be aware that not everyone loves every living creature as much as we do, which I believe is fine. I can’t judge anyone on anything. That’s not to say the majority of people have no regard for life, just that they probably wouldn’t cry after stepping on a snail but would most definitely mourn a treasured pet.

So, if you read my Sid/Alex post and felt a kindred spirit in me, you are my people and I am so glad to have met you.

I also feel I should expound on just how amazing Sid, Alex and all their other brothers and sisters were. Each of those fish lived their lives very loved, despite my not knowing how to properly care for them. I went into the position of goldfish minder knowing that most of their lives would be short. I will admit that. That knowledge did lessen the blow of being faced with yet another tiny little life lost every morning, but I did feel like a failure. It also made me feel terrible for the other 80% of the fish in that crowded tank at the pet store, destined for the same sucked-against-a-grate fate.

During their first summer, we had a very intense heatwave. The temperature inside my house reached the 40s (the 100s for all my American friends). I stared at the little floating thermometer I’d bought every few minutes, as it had a “happy zone” with a “sad zone” on either side of it. It began to teeter into the sad zone, and I panicked. I replaced a bit of their water with slightly cooler water, but it warmed up so quickly. So, being a silly kid, I came up with an extremely harebrained plan. I decided to put popsicles in their tank. Looking back, that probably wasn’t the best plan of action, but I felt like a genius at the time. I would check on the popsicles after a while and when they were thawed out, I’d replace them with frozen ones and put the thawed ones back in the freezer. In case you were wondering, I did indeed have designated fish popsicles.

There’s a sentence I’m sure you’ve never read.

That’s obviously a tale I haven’t shared with anyone, but I feel like I can tell you all.

I’ve doubted my sanity when it comes to my love for animals, and I’m sure my family has too. If you all sympathize with my experience with Sid and Alex, I have got some doozies for you. Some quick examples, rated on a scale from Completely Acceptable Human Behavior to What the Hell is Wrong with this Girl:

  • The aforementioned cringe when my dad made fresh crabs, usually cracking them in half (I believe as to spare them the pain of being boiled alive). I think a lot of people would feel somewhat bad for having to deliver the fatal blow to their dinner, but as someone especially sensitive, it had a pretty intense effect on me just to watch.
  • The had I had when I lived in Vancouver was a serious street cat. He lived strictly outdoors for years before we took him in. As if to show his appreciation (not really, probably, but I like to think so) he was very good at bringing us half alive presents. One night he caught a tiny little mouse, and my boyfriend, being extremely squeamish about animals, insisted I take the mouse from the cat and “get rid of it”. I asked how the hell he wanted me to do it, and his suggestion was to take it into a safe yard a few houses down. Now, I was pretty intoxicated at the time, so I just picked the poor thing up, cradled it in my hands and walked it down the alley and into a neighbors yard. It was raining, fittingly. Water beat down on him, robbing him of any comfort and warmth as he died in my hands. But at least he didn’t die alone.
  • Another rodent story, unfortunately. A rat made its way in through our cat door a couple weeks ago. It settled in under our fridge for a few nights until my father decided to get a rat trap. I suggested trapping and releasing it, but he was sure it would just come back. This isn’t my house, so I only have so much say in what he does. I did make my discomfort clear. Somehow, that rat managed to get the little nugget of Kraft Single cheese out of the trap the first night without the trap going off. That lead me to believe he was either extremely smart, or extremely lucky. His luck ran out the next night, however. My father accidentally engaged the trap as he was trying to load it and it was violent. I wish I hadn’t seen how they work. I won’t even explain it. I was laying in bed that night, unable to sleep, when I heard the snap, followed by a split second of scuttling, then silence. I had to walk into the kitchen to refill my daughter’s milk shortly after and I was T-E-R-R-I-F-I-E-D. I did my best not to look down, but I had to make sure I didn’t step on him. Awful.
  • Once, I was at the beach with my boyfriend at the time. We sat down on a bench, out of the sun, and a crow flew down from the tree that was shading us and he had something in his mouth. Now, crows are notoriously crafty. This crow was especially ingenious. In his little beak was a large clam. He was obviously having trouble opening it. He stared at us for a long time, picking the clam up and dropping it a few times. I knew he wanted me to open it for him, which opened up a very difficult decision to be made. Do I kill the clam to feed the crow? In the long run, the crow would get it open some how, such as the food chain is. I began to wonder if he was starving. How long had he been dropping that clam from great heights? And more importantly, how long has that poor clam been tortured, knowing his death was imminent? I tried to walk away, hoping he’d move on and task someone else with that uncomfortable decision, but as I left the park, he flew close and dropped it in front of me. It was as if he could sense my inner turmoil. He could feel my conflict, and the bugger knew just how to coerce me. I stared at the clam and saw that it was already broken, and likely already dead. So I stepped on the thing, partly to ensure its demise, and partly to feed that damn crow. But I still think of that often, wondering if I made the right decision.

That’s all I have time for tonight, and perhaps I’ll spare you all any more “cheerful” animal experiences I’ve had.

I will say, these stories are outnumbered by the amount of truly amazing memories I’ve had with all animals I’ve come across. There isn’t enough time to talk about the every day joy my two cats bring me, nor the other 3 I’ve had the privilege of caring for, as well has Sid, Alex and the 8 other nameless fish.

The bad memories do tend to stick out, but the good ones keep us going.

The One Minute Rule

I read an article about the “One Minute Rule”, which essentially is if there’s something you need to do and it takes less than a minute to accomplish, just do it right then.

At first this seems like a wonderful way to get a handle on chronic procrastination, which I suffer from. Greatly. It’s a simple enough rule to follow… Until you think about it.

As a chronic procrastinator, there are naturally a million and one things on my to-do list, and that list grows every single day. So imagine waking up, intent on following this miracle rule, only to be faced with an existential crisis before you even have a sip of coffee.

Not fun.

Do you realize how many things you need to do in a day? Do you realize how many things you want to do in a day? I’d suggest you make a list, but I value your sanity as much as my own.

It starts off simply enough. When I wake up, the first thing I try to do is take my meds, as they’re sublingual and take 10-15 minutes to dissolve and kick in. More often than not, I’d plunk down at my desk, growing more and more uncomfortable due to not having taken them, stuck in the inner turmoil of needing something to make me feel better and not having the energy to actually get the hell up and take them. I started making a point of taking them as soon as I woke up, and that honestly makes the beginning of my day a lot less bleary.

So, One Minute Rule  – 1, Stef – 0

The problem with all that is that without the fog in my brain, that leaves space to think. I suppose people without anxiety and depression issues find thinking… normal, I guess. But to me, all that thinking can be downright dangerous.

I have a small business that I run out of my home. It’s a very broad niche, and I have dozens of products to design and create at any given moment. Thinking about the rule and applying it to my day is a terribly daunting task. Where to begin? Usually I move between projects all day until I have perhaps one completed product and a dozen half formed ideas. I still haven’t found a good way to tackle this while keeping the rule in mind, as most projects require more than a minute to complete.

So that brings forth a dilemma in the rule. A minute, though a definite measure of time, is subjective in a way. Some things that take me a minute to finish would take you 10 seconds, but if we’re in a race to find weird and scary video clips, I’ve got you beat. For example, throwing a load of laundry in would normally be a quick task, but when you’ve got a toddler hell bent on eating the strangest thing she can find in the house, it takes a bit longer to get her sufficiently distracted enough to not consume the crumbs from between the couch cushions that have been there since 2010. So, do I add that task to my growing list, or would that mean that putting the load of laundry in no longer qualifies for the One Minute Rule?

This is why I literally got nothing done today.

One Minute Rule – 1, Stef – 1

The match will resume tomorrow.

In Memory of Sid or Alex

Did you know that goldfish can live for over 10 years in a decent tank?

When I was 16 and working at Walmart, they had this employee appreciation sale and I had no idea what to buy, so I bought an aquarium. I think I had dreams of having pretty exotic fish since I bought a heater and everything.

I went to the pet store and asked for 2 fish. The woman said something along the lines of “No, you’ll want more. About 80% of them will die within a week, so I’ll give you 10.” They were literally like $.25c each, so I went along with it, but it was pretty morbid to think that the majority of them would die.

But die they did. I was a kid. I had no clue that pH balance was a thing. I’d wake up with a new fish sucked against the filter grate every morning until there were just 2 left. And they were the runts of the troubling (a group of goldfish is called a “troubling”, look it up.) They were less than an inch long.

I didn’t name them all at first because apparently they were going to die pretty quick anyway. But after a while, those two fish thrived and began to grow. They’d bump into each other constantly, almost like one was always bugging the other. So I named them Sid and Alex, as this was at the height of the Crosby and Ovechken rivalry.

Fast forward many years, to when I was living in Vancouver. I got an e-mail one morning from my dad saying one of the fish was dead. I asked what he did with the body. He flushed it. I got unreasonably angry. The fish was at least 6-7 at the time, and in my eyes was a constant in our every day lives. But that was just me, the hopeless animal sympathizer who will likely worry about an animal every day for the rest of my life.

I never really decided which one died and which one was alive. I honestly could never tell them apart.

A few days ago I noticed the fish was at the bottom of the tank, and he was extremely lethargic to the point where I thought he had already died. But he twitched his gills when I looked right at him and slowly swam away.

The next few days he got worse and worse. At first he was swimming aimlessly on his side, then the next day he was at the bottom of the tank, burrowed into the rocks, his gills moving intermittently.

Like any crazy person would do, I began to look into humane ways to kill a goldfish. Turns out there’s only really 3 ways to do so. The first is to take it to a vet to be put to sleep, and I’ll be 100% honest that I considered it. If it weren’t a weekend, I probably would have spent +$75 to put a $0.25 fish to sleep. That’s the extent of my pathetic love for animals.

The second is to put the fish in a clove oil bath, which would put the fish to sleep and eventually it would kill him. Of course, I had no access to clove oil at the time.

The last, which to me isn’t “humane” at all, is to physically kill the fish. People suggested putting the fish in a plastic bag and bashing it onto a table. Others said decapitation was the way to go. Those options made my stomach turn. I cringed when my dad cracked live crabs in half before boiling them. I felt depressed for days after accidentally stepping on a snail. I can’t physically assault and murder my fish.

There were arguments that the best way for a fish to die is to let it die naturally. I looked at him and although you can’t tell what a fish is thinking or feeling, I knew it had to be painful. But it was nearing midnight on a Friday and I was out of options. I said goodnight to him before bringing Peyton to bed.

The tank is still. The filter is off. The automatic feeder is still turning. The fish is gone.

This time my dad asked what we should do with him. I said I’d like to bury him. Dad joked that we should bury him on top of where my first cat, Galileo, is buried under the pear tree in the backyard. Forever chasing that fish.

I realize I’ve just spent almost half an hour typing up the life story of a damn goldfish, but I believe every animal deserves to have its story heard. So this has been the memoir of Sid or Alex, the 14 year old goldfish who died on February 24th, 2018.

He was a good fish.

Whatever Light You Shine

Whatever light you shine will illuminate the path for others.

-Gabor Mate

I went to a seminar recently, and the speaker was Gabor Mate. It was last minute for me, and I wasn’t even sure what to expect. He’s such an inspiration, and I’m so glad I went. I took pages of notes; things to help give me hope when I feel like I’m drowning.

I’m the type of addict who likes to know where my addictive behavior stems from. It used to baffle me that a craving would seem to come out of nowhere. When asked why I drank or used, I couldn’t think of a reason other than “I wanted to.” Maybe I was emotional, maybe a boy hurt me, maybe I was bored, or maybe my body was lacking a chemical it was used to thriving on.

He mentioned that people tend to get addicted to different types of drugs depending on what mental disorder they suffer from. People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder lean towards opiates, such as heroin and morphine. Others with depression go for Crystal Meth or Cocaine to boost their mood. That made me wonder about myself, because I suffer from severe depression but rarely touched any stimulant drugs like coke. Perhaps I was content in depression and numbness, which is why my drugs of choice are benzodiazepines, alcohol and heroin.

With that new information, I was glad that I went to my doctor to have my medications looked at the previous week. All I can do now is move forward, and try something different.

I wish you all another great 24 hours, and thank you for being a part of my recovery.

Into the water.

Sometimes we jump out of the canoe just to see if the water is still cold. The important thing is to get back in that canoe, and not get used to the chill.

I relapsed on Monday night with a cheap bottle of cider that left me so hungover, I only left my bed to throw up or go to a meeting. So, in case you’re wondering, drinking didn’t become fun since the last time I sobered up. Five hours after I woke up, I planted my queasy ass in a well-deserved chair at my home AA meeting and I was welcomed back. Usually after “coming back”, I feel a wave of shame and guilt and the tears start flowing. Maybe I was just turning off my emotions again to protect myself, but I just sat and listened to the wisdom of the group. This particular meeting has a few old timers with amazing messages and quality sobriety. To be accepted and loved by those people is powerful and encouraging for me. I’ve spent a lot of time with partners and friends who have given up on me or walked away due to my addictions. I realize that those relationships ended in the best interest of everyone. I have the support of people who understand this disease and can help me through it now. For that, I remain extremely grateful. I am also grateful for the strength given to me by my Higher Power.

I won’t be defined by this slip. I will learn from it and use it as proof that I am truly powerless over my addiction.

I wish you all another good 24 hours, and thank you for being a part of my recovery.

Show Me How To Live

This is rough.

On January 22nd, I sat down with my brand new sponsor and she asked how I was. In an attempt to work an honest program for the first time in 6 years, I told her I was fucked up. She asked why.

“I’m dope sick.” I admitted.
“What does that mean?” She asked uneasily.
“I haven’t used heroin in 2 days.”
She raised her small but strong hand and punched me on the arm. “Don’t do that!”

In the rooms, I’ve heard time and time again that if you want to get sober and stay sober, do exactly what your sponsor tells you to. I’m happy to say that since that tiny assault, I haven’t used.

In the past 2 weeks, I’ve gone through a number of emotional experiences. My partner left for a 28 day treatment program, and I had to tell my parents the true extent of my addiction. Needless to say, I broke their hearts. In the first few days, I battled physical and psychological hardships. I barely slept for 72 hours after my last fix; unmanageable body aches and intense cravings kept me pinned to my bed where I felt safe.

Somewhere in there, I surrendered my will and my life to a power greater than myself. I’m not going to get religious on you, so fear not. My higher power is a number of things, including God. It’s my support network. It’s people in AA and NA who have what I want in sobriety. It’s the 12 steps.

We’re on a whole new adventure to a better life, guys… And we’re going to do it one day at a time.

Just an update.

I know I’ve been slacking. I’m sorry. I’m having some motivational problems when it comes to blogging. My recovery is still going well! I take my 30 day AA chip at noon, and my 30 day NA keychain at 7pm on Monday. A lot of people from my very first meetings will be in attendance, and that means the world to me. So many of these people shaped and built the foundation for my sobriety. I wish I could break up my rewards and share them with them… And you. Yes, you. This blog has also helped me be able to go back and think “I remember that meeting. I loved that meeting.” Or “god, that seemed so long ago. Look at me now.”

I’ve officially started working my NA steps. There’s a shortage of women in my AA group who can take on the role of sponsor. I was extremely lucky to get an NA sponsor.

The steps are overwhelming, as I’m sure you know if you’ve ever worked them. I’m being asked questions that I never even thought to ask myself about addiction. I’m happy to begin my journey into getting to the root of it. Understanding it will help me deal with it.

That’s all I have for now, guys. Thank you for being a part of my recovery and I wish you another happy 24.