Difficult day

It’s a big day and if I’m brutally honest I’m struggling.

Today is the third anniversary of my mother’s death and for many reasons (probably not the ones you might expect) this is always a difficult time.

In my head there’s been a quiet countdown leading to this moment for a couple of weeks and as a consequence I’ve noticed my mood dip as well as my appetite quietly increase.

As much as I’d like to proclaim ‘I’m cured – it no longer affects me!’ This would be a total lie.

Even though I don’t miss my mom at all this is a time when I’m reminded of what I could or should have had in my childhood (and my relationship with her) but did not.

So – in an effort to exorcise some demons I decided that today was an appropriate time to get rid of the 30-40 odd framed paintings and photos that had I piled into boxes three years ago before hiding them away in a cupboard.

I’ve been holding onto them partly because I didn’t want to throw things away that she had created and partly because I thought my brother or father may want them even if I couldn’t bear to look at them.

Neither seems to be the case – and honestly I’ve never liked 99% of them so the only course of action that seemed to be left to me was to throw them away.

One or two (including all of the photos) I removed from their frames and kept – but everything else is now in a landfill or furnace somewhere.

I was hoping that this would make me feel good – but for the first time in years I’ve been confronted with my mom’s own unique brand of mental illness.

When I cleared her bungalow with my brother after she died it was exhausting (this is all documented in my blogs back when I first started writing).

This was not just because of the bereavement but because contained within each item there was another item, and within that another one.

Each was sellotaped into progressively smaller bags like little Russian dolls.

It took forever to unpack it all – and nothing could be arbitrarily consigned to the bin. There were tiny little caches of money hidden everywhere and I was acutely aware that there was a funeral to pay for.

Occasionally we also found small (or surprisingly large) bags of hair from different periods of her life that were labelled ‘for DNA testing‘.

Her picture frames it seems were no different – and underneath each taped up and nailed shut frame were more photos, scribblings and random (probably false) facts about family members.

Then I found the gut punch.

Hidden within a school photo of me was a draft letter, yellowed with age and dated October 1977.

This photo was taken a few years earlier – but in my mind this is the woman holding the pen.

The page detailed her feelings about her relationship with my father and contained intimate thoughts about their physical moments together.

Then it unexpectedly pivots into a passage regarding the sacrifice of Jesus and the relationship of this to her infant son.

Referring to me she says to my father:

‘He is our oneness. We dwell in him. He is our future on earth. The survival of our line. God will take him back to himself in time when all is fulfilled.’

I’m reminded immediately of her cadence in letters, her muddled allusion to both biblical scripture and other pseudo scientific thought processes.

I’m suddenly confronted with how her fractured and troubled mind worked and it momentarily takes the breath away from my lungs.

I sit on the edge of the bed in the quiet of my spare room.

At the end of the letter there’s a crossed out passage – which she’s noted did not get included in whatever version of the final letter was sent to my father.

Maybe it was too truthful and gave away far more information regarding her mental state than she was willing to share.

‘I am using too much adrenaline and the body I dwell in is suffering. The head aches and the singing in my ears gets worse. A quiet night is no longer a quiet night for me, my ears have their own noises of singing, ringing and bumps. Tonight the singing is a high pitched continuous note with occasional throbbing ever present. I have suffered this on and off since the age of 12.’

She continues – saying that she’s not good at looking after herself and is not eating. She’s losing weight, her bosom is disappearing and she says that she functions better when she has someone to look after.

The whole letter is like a selection of nails being hammered into me.

I’ve told myself many times (maybe to try and make sense of everything) that my mom wasn’t always the same person, and that time had slowly made things worse.

I like to think that when I was small she was a normal and loving mother – but the truth is she was exactly the same woman I had to deal with before she died.

I just never saw it as a child.

Her peculiar thought processes were my normal back then and because I learned early on to just accept her fragmented default state it took me many years to see her for who she really was.

It consequently took a long time to realise that the problems between us weren’t caused by me.

They were generated by her.

There was something profoundly odd about my mother. Although the words she used were English and seemed to link together, when you stood back (metaphorically speaking) the content of her sentences and paragraphs always left you confused or wondering why she had gone down one particular rabbit hole or another.

Usually the pleading side of her (evident in much of the draft letter I was reading) that begged for love (or more typically demanded it be given) came after she had done everything in her power to destroy any chance of it happening naturally.

More often than not letters like this came after significant rows – where her vitriol was at its worst and you were left scared to say anything in case it made things worse.

I’d be called evil, wicked, sick, ‘just like your father’ or ‘my biggest disappointment’.

The only route I had out as a child was to withdraw, go quiet and take it, hoping that it would stop eventually.

It never did though.

It would go on for hours and hours.

Occasionally she would let me go to sleep – thinking that the verbal beating was over.

Then she would wake me in the small hours of the morning stinking of tobacco, shaking with rage, shouting at me ‘…and ANOTHER thing…’ before she launched into the next part of her character assassination.

The following day when I returned home totally shattered from school after having had no sleep and dreading what was to come it was like nothing had happened.

She never referenced or apologised for anything she’d said – and instead expected full contrition from me.

If I mentioned anything about the night before I’d immediately start the whole sorry saga of ‘what I’d done wrong’ all over again.

Sleep was too precious at that point so I just stayed quiet and smiled or pretended.

Then without a word of apology or acknowledgement of the damage she’d caused, would arrive a demand for love.

When I was older and could get away from her afterwards this typically came in the post by letter until I moved and stopped providing her with my address.

When I did she continued to send letter after letter to my father – asking a man she wanted nothing to do with (but then professed undying love for) to pass her profoundly unbalanced thoughts on.

In the case of the letter I was holding the (very familiar) entreaty came written partly as a poem and partly as prose.

For my mother this was quite normal. I remember this kind of stream of consciousness all too well.

It was often stated in passages dripping with pain and symbolism that it was her ‘right‘ to receive love from her sons – that it should be given by her children ‘unconditionally‘ – just like she had given it to her parents before.

Back then I had always assumed that this was true and that as a child and adult she had been slavishly devoted to them. After all – it was what she continually told me was the case.

However after she died I learned from my uncle that the relationship she had with at least one of her parents was instead very different.

Her mother was scared of her and told her other children that she was frightened by her resentful and mercurial moods.

She didn’t know what would happen if she was left alone with her and in later years my grandmother saw my mother as a burden that was to be feared rather than relied upon for support.

As these thoughts flow through my mind I continued to take apart the yellowed picture frames and remove their contents.

In one photo (showing my uncle’s wedding reception) the picture has been trimmed. The background has been cut away, leaving only a collection of torsos and heads from the foreground.

Sealed and hidden away in another picture frame is the rest of the missing photo, depicting a pub wall without any people in front of it.

There’s nothing but wallpaper with cut out silhouettes.

Why keep it?

More to the point why chop it up in the first place?

Maybe it’s a part of the hoarder in her but I’ll never know because both her life and death remain frustratingly unresolved.

I’ll never understand who she was, why she thought the way she did, and why she manipulated and controlled rather than loved and nurtured.

I’m left with no good memories of her that she didn’t pollute over the years and I’ll never get an apology or an acknowledgement of the damage and heartache that she left in her wake.

Nevertheless I am glad of the final unwitting gifts that she left behind.

Firstly she made me want to be so unlike her that I finally found the power within me to break free of the self destructive behavioural loops that she left me with.

I gave up the drinking that I had consciously started to drown out her insults and I lost the weight I had gained through many years of eating away emotional and physical pain.

Secondly there’s practically the last thing she said to me before she died.

Unsurprisingly it wasn’t ‘I’m sorry’ because my mom never said that – and she never regretted anything.

Until that is she lay in A&E on the last day I saw her alive.

She was struggling to draw breath, in great discomfort and drowning slowly from the fluid collecting in her lungs.

Years of smoking had finally taken its toll – for which she was unrepentant. She smoked until the end and refused to acknowledge its impact.

‘I don’t regret ANYTHING.’ She said, and went quiet.

My brother and I looked at the wall.

Neither of us wanted to hear her voice any more. It was like nails being dragged down a chalk board.

‘Actually I DO regret something.’ She said, looking at me.

I turned my head.

This was new.

She’d never said anything like this before.

‘David.’ She said. ‘I regret…’

I listened to her stilted voice as she struggled to talk through her laboured and painful breathing.

‘…I regret that when you left home…’

The room was silent apart from the sounds of nurses passing outside the curtain.

‘… that you didn’t write to me and visit me more.’

I looked at her and then to my brother.

Honestly in that moment she released me.

Not only did she have no concept of what regret meant – but right up until the end she was incapable of recognising why I’d left home in the first place – and she still didn’t feel that she was in the wrong in any way.

I never had a chance.

I could never have understood her or fixed anything.

Right up until her last moments she was the same woman that it seems she was in October 1977 – and it’s most likely that she was well before I was born.

At least now all her paintings are gone.

Their cigarette smoke infused frames and canvases are no longer quietly lingering in my cupboard and I have the space back again – both in my home and (to an extent) my mind.

It’s taken me many many years but I’m slowly moving on. As well as I can I’ve tried to forgive her and hold no anger about our relationship – because there’s no point.

The only thing anger or hatred does is damage and pollute what’s left behind.

I refuse to let that happen because despite the destruction she caused her legacy is ultimately positive.

I’m now a different man to the one I was while she was alive and I hopefully have many many good years ahead of to make things ‘right’.

I feel like I wasted so much time dealing with the fallout of our relationship – but no more.

Despite her I want to life a good life, free from her legacy and (unlike her) being a positive voice in the world.

More than anything I’m glad that I’m capable of saying sorry or admitting that I’m wrong and that I still make mistakes.

To me internet that’s worth it’s weight in gold.

Davey

Three years sober

Anniversaries. They’re funny things.

They can be a cause for celebration, a reason for reflection, moments of triumph – or reminders of sadness.

Some are all of the above and today is definitely one of those days because it’s now (somewhat amazingly) three whole years since I drank any alcohol.

For some this might have always been their day to day reality and it may not mean much, but for me it’s everything.

My alcohol abuse is not something that gets a lot of airtime in my blog – and that’s because while it was always a problem to varying degrees in my life (from the age of 16 to my early 40’s) when I finally decided to end my relationship with it once and for all I always knew deep down that it had ceased to hold any power over me.

I don’t know why – but in many respects I’ve always been quite a binary person and as such I’ve tended to be able to do this kind of thing at various points in my life.

All‘ it takes is for me to start hating who I am or what I do to myself enough to just say ‘that’s it – I’m done.’

That’s been no small moment when it finally arrives though because when these watershed changes in mindset have occurred I’ve barely been able stand my own reflection in a mirror.

Consequently I remember every instance like this in my life – of which there have been four significant ones.

Each of them could have resulted in an untimely death if I hadn’t changed course, so they tend to stick in my mind.

Alcohol was the last but one thing to go.

The final one was (and in many ways still is) my relationship with food and my comfort eating.

Unlike booze though food will always be there.

I can’t just quit that like other substances – but I don’t think I’d have been able to address my eating disorder to the level I have if one by one I hadn’t removed those other crutches from my life.

I needed alcohol to be gone before I ended up on Slimming World’s doorstep.

However unlike food I’d never felt that I was physically dependent on alcohol.

I never shook without it or had any kind of withdrawal period – and I have no idea why – because when I stopped I was easily consuming three bottles strong of wine per night.

To put it in perspective that’s around 10.5 units a day.

If you add that up over a typical week then I was ingesting 220.5 units of alcohol.

According to the NHS health advice you should drink a lot less if you don’t want to not only damage your liver but avoid other health conditions too (link).

They say ‘men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.’

This means that per year I was consuming 11,466 units vs the recommended level of 728.

Oddly though I only ever felt emotionally tied to it rather than being physically addicted.

When I first gave up drinking I referred to my habit as ‘alcohol dependency’ for this very reason – and still don’t really like to think of myself as an alcoholic.

I’ve since come to the conclusion that the terminology I used probably mattered less than I originally thought it did though.

Honestly (although it still makes me feel rather uncomfortable) I’m ok these days with saying I was an alcoholic – because whether I was physically or mentally dependant on its effects is completely immaterial.

Booze didn’t care in the least.

No matter how I viewed my relationship with it or how I categorised its presence alcohol was still actively ruining my health.

I definitely prefer the life that I now have without it around.

In a similar way to my hope that by continually demonstrating what’s possible with regard to healthy eating and exercise I hope that my sobriety does the same.

I know many readers struggle with alcohol and its effects because they’ve reached out to me personally to talk about it over the years.

Some have fared better than others when trying to address their relationship with it and I know only too well that perceived failures in this area can sometimes make things (at least temporarily) worse.

However – as with weight loss there is another way – and as long as there remains breath in you body there exists the capacity for change.

It’s three years without alcohol and I’m still proudly counting each and ever day that I’ve been sober.

While I do I’m busy living a life filled with love and vitality and I know that whatever happens that little counter will just continue to go up and up.

Davey

Learning things

You can learn something new every minute of every day.

Yesterday afternoon for instance I learned that the manmade concrete structures on some beaches (apparently used to prevent erosion caused by weather and longshore drift) are called tetrapods.

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Who knew?!

I’ve always abstractly wondered what they are – and now I know thanks to a knowledgable mine of information who explained what I was looking at as I admired the coastline in Seaford.

This is a wonderful part of the world – and one that I’ve barely scratched the surface of. So far I’ve been to the South Downs and Brighton (link) and I’ve loved both of them.

Seaford is just as charming and not much further down the coast. The character of it is very different though. It’s far less commercialised, a lot sleepier and way more picturesque.

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This town (as nice as it is) wasn’t the purpose of my visit though – because if you park up at it’s seafront, head up and along the nearby chalky cliffs above the tetrapods and take a delightful cliff walk to the nearby estuary you’ll find the seven sisters.

Making your way to Cuckmere Haven (by the arrows on the map) is pretty easy going. It’s only a couple of miles via some grassy and easily navigable paths (there’s a bit of elevation to deal with though) and when you arrive there you’re treated a lovely view.

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This region has some really interesting geological history – and a board at Hope Gap  (as well as my companion) answered a lot of the questions I had about why the landscape looked the way it did before I asked or even knew I had them.

I particularly liked the idea on the board of imagining where the cliffs used to be when the Normans invaded in 1066 and I bet it looked a lot different to he way it does now…

The whole place is filled with warning signs about chalk cliff falls – and the edge of the coastline is roped off to about 12ft back, so it’s clear that it’s eroding pretty quickly. It’s not advisable to get close to the edge, but if you stay well back it’s a great place for a picnic.

You peacefully can sit and admire the wonderful view whilst watching the various seabirds as they casually float past on the breeze along the cliff edge.

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When you’ve finished your healthy snacks and walked back along the cliffs to Seaford there’s also a lovely little snack and coffee shack at the end of the beach huts near a small museum – which was sadly closed when I visited.

This is a perfect place to have a coffee as you watch the sun slowly disappear into the distance. It’s even better if  you can chat with a twalking buddy.

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The whole experience makes for a grand day out and while I was there I learned a lot (much like the last time I visited).

It’s great to feel that there’s always something or somewhere new to suck into your brain – and this morning the theme continued when I learned yet another fun fact.

I discovered that it’s not a good idea to try and top up the oil in your car with the engine running. This results in everything under your bonnet and your lovely orange North Face snowboarding jacket being sprayed liberally with hot, dirty engine oil.

Sigh.

I’m clearly just not that smart.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

This epic personal faux pas was definitely a sub par start to my day. At any other time it may have managed to set the needle of my mood-o-meter to ‘grumpy and expecting the worst’ for the rest of the day.

However things like that only have an impact if your emotional reservoir is dry. Frankly that couldn’t be further from the truth because for the last couple of months I’ve almost constantly been in a great frame of mind.

It seems at times like nothing can dent my positivity and I’m wearing a full suit of emotional armour.

Today I felt particularly resilient though – and that was partially because in the dark of yesterday evening I had a sudden flash of blinding realisation. It hit me like a truck, and moved me profoundly – because suddenly, when faced with how at peace I am at the moment I had to accept something.

I’m no longer running a solitary race.

Something special has arrived and because of this I feel alive.

For the longest time I thought that there was no way out – and that my life would be curtailed early. I thought I’d die before I reached the age of 50 because of my lifestyle choices – and furthermore I actually wanted to.

I’d begun to believe that the only logical conclusion to my life was a huge early heart attack – and instead of working to avoid this I was actively trying to hasten its arrival. I was so low back then that I genuinely just wanted to eat and drink myself to death

Furthermore I had begun to believe that the world would be a better place without me in it because I contributed nothing and consumed everything around me.

I saw myself as a parasite.

Things change though and practically without any warning I suddenly gave up drinking. Then I started going to Slimming World. I focused all that I was and all of the strength that I could muster and funnelled it into turning myself into someone new.

While I was doing this though all I could see was the near horizon – and perched upon it was an award for reaching my target weight.

Maybe because I needed to believe that reaching this milestone this would fix everything in my life (how else do you find the motivation?) I didn’t really think past it.

All I knew was that I had to reach it.

I felt that my life depended on me getting there and if I didn’t then I was sure that it was definitely over. I couldn’t take another gradual climb back up to my previous weight and I couldn’t face yet another failure.

Deep down I knew that this was my last chance.

So I gave it everything – and because of that I made it.

I eventually stood on top of my own personal mountain as Slimming World Man of the Year – having lost almost two thirds of my body weight. I felt fit, alive, vital, strong, independent and successful. I was now a man who accepted awards, appeared in the media and spoke to groups of people who were inspired by his actions.

I’d done it.

I’d fixed everything.

Only I hadn’t.

Not really.

Right up until I hit target (and even for a little while afterwards) my literary brain had been constructing a fantastical narrative. I had always imagined my ‘Cinderella story’ as one that was bookended by a dark start rooted in death and then ended with life.

When I thought of my magical end point on the horizon I abstractly dreamed that reaching my goal weight would open up the world for me like a flower blooming in springtime.

I thought that all of this was happening when against all odds I became Slimming World’s Man of the Year. I thought I’d made it to the end of my journey and that everything good would now come my way.

This was all a delusion though – as anyone that’s lost a significant amount of weight will tell you – because life is still life and it’s still filled with both ups and downs.

When all the dust and hullabaloo settles you’re still left with your (often self critical) thoughts – but now you have removed all of the excuses you previously had for not living a full and complete life.

The ‘problem’ (if you can call it that) is that you then realise very few things around you make sense any more. Almost without warning you’ve woken up in someone else’s life and it appears to belong to someone else.

Your home and its furnishings seem like they were designed for another person.

You don’t know what kind of ‘style’ you have because you never had the ability to choose one before.

You can’t determine for sure what any of your opinions are because your choices in the past were almost all based on mobility and shame rather than personal beliefs of preferences.

Furthermore you’re confronted with the fact that in the past you just accepted a life that slowly grew like fungus around you as you sat inside the protective bubble of compulsive behaviour.

Over and over again after I reached target I looked in the mirror and struggled to determine who I really was.

As I grew bigger and my life shrank so did my aspirations. Before I knew it I’d lost sight of who I was, what I wanted, and how I really felt. I’d slowly closed myself off and all of my real emotions, desires and needs had gone into ‘low power mode’.

I ceased to feel the loss associated with having no-one to love, and I no longer recognised that I felt alone. I didn’t experience isolation or sadness any more though because I had constructed an excuse.

I was huge.

I’d eaten all of my pain away and no-one would want me anymore.

People ceased to ask why I lived alone because it was obvious – and that suited me just fine because I didn’t have to confront reality. My best friend (food) always had an answer to make my pain go away.

It filled emotional gaps for many many things – but it was a false prophet. It promised comfort and love when all it brought with it was destruction and pain.

Continually it told me that it would make everything better – it would soothe me temporarily – yet again and again it lied.

It made everyting worse and worse until there was no-where left to go but an early death.

I managed to turn it around though. I fixed everything.

I won.

Or at least I thought I had.

Suddenly I found myself, standing at the top of my mountain having tasted victory but feeling completely empty. After all what had I really achieved? In reality I’d just levelled the playing field and put myself right back at the start where everyone else was.

Sure – I now looked like everyone else and was anonymous for the first time in my life. I could walk into a room and no-one would pay any attention to me. I wasn’t a freak of nature and I didn’t invite lingering stares or insults.

However it quickly dawned on me that I was still twenty years behind everyone else. I had (what I considered to be) a ruined body, had never been married, had no children and I didn’t know how to begin fixing this problem.

I felt alone.

The realisation of this pushed me lower than I’d felt in a long time – and for quite a while I didn’t know how to get over it.

The universe listens though – and you just have to watch for the signs.

Yesterday I admitted to myself that almost a year after I reached my target weight things have finally changed. I have entered a new chapter of my life and here my whole story begins anew.

There’s hope, and with it comes a tangible sense that things are truly different. I’m beginning to feel long dormant emotions and think in ways that I haven’t for decades. Each day now seems to be fresh and new because of this and I finally feel I can begin move away from the wreckage of the past and live firmly in the future.

It’s better than that though because I don’t just have a future that didn’t exist before.

I have a future that doesn’t have to be lived in solitude.

I may be at the start again but I’m poised on the blocks, ready to run, with hope in my heart and a smile on my face.

The world is out there and I’m reaching out to take it every single day.

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Davey

 

Health outcomes and why you should try

It’s that time of year again. Around about now I’m reminded of the past as well as who I used to be – and for a number of reasons this can prove to be a mentally tricky period.

Firstly it’s time for my semi annual diabetes checks and I always get a bit nervous when these roll around.

This morning I headed off to the first of two appointments that I’ve got to attend over the next week with a nice warm urine sample tucked away discreetly in my bag.

It’s always nice to arrive with a present.

In some ways the checks are always a bit amusing – because each time I go there seems to be a new(ish) nurse. Typically this means that I have to plod through broadly the same suite of queries as they look me up and down and then do a double take on my medical history.

Firstly they think they’re looking at the notes for the wrong person – because lately my test results show no evidence of diabetes whatsoever. Secondly they do a double take when they see the history of my weight.

Then they also make me stand on the scales.

Sometimes twice.

Today it wasn’t so bad, and before the nurse started asking me questions I quickly explained how much weight I’d lost, how much exercise I do, and why my resting heart rate is so low (40 bpm).

She seemed surprised – but also very interested and as she took my blood pressure we chatted about how I viewed the whole process of weight loss – and in particular my opinion of Slimming World vs hers.

She wasn’t so keen on the plan because (she said) it ‘promoted large portions’ and ‘had a lot of carbs in it’ – which (to her) meant that people would inevitably regain the weight that they had originally lost.

It’s not the first time I’ve come across this argument.

I told her that I both agreed and disagreed with some of her points – because in my view whether you regain any weight depends firstly on your mindset and secondly on what you eat in terms of processed food.

I told her that the majority of my syns came from unprocessed natural food (olives or avocado etc) as opposed to things like chocolate.

I then said that I feel though (and always have) that it’s folly to have a diet plan that doesn’t allow for processed food like chocolate to be eaten (who these days would embark upon any plan if it completely denied them?) and occasionally I too eat these things – but in serious moderation.

The vast majority of the time I only have one item of processed food per day – and for around three days out of seven there’s often none at all. However (I told her) I’ve always felt that you can lose weight having processed food as part of your daily intake.

But did I think this was the right approach?

No I didn’t – because I personally feel that if you want a healthier life it’s not as simple as just counting ‘syns’.

Although it works for some people you will never catch me with a ‘syn bag’ full of crisps and chocolate in front of the TV in the evening.

Sure this can still see people lose weight – because ultimately it’s (at least partially but not exclusively) about being mindful of calorie intakes.

But what happens if you fall from grace and you still have a taste for these foods?

This is also why I don’t do ‘fakeaways’. I don’t want to crave these tastes any more and it often irritates the hell out of me that I still have a ‘need’ for cereal or hi-fi bars – which I’d much rather was completely replaced by fruit as a regular craving.

In my view you should aim to take as much processed food out of your life as possible.

At the very least you should diminish it to the point where your fridge is almost exclusively full of raw vegetables and (if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan) a small amount of meat and fish (particularly oily ones).

The nattering about the merits (or otherwise) of my approach to SW soon stopped however, because the first of the two appointments is only a short twenty minute one to gather data.

It’s not until next week that I get the HbA1c (average sugar levels fr the last 2/3 months based on my blood sample) results – which I’m most interested in.

They have recently been so low as to not register even as pre-diabetic, and I’m keen to keep them that way. I see diabetes as a beast waiting to pounce rather than something thats been cured. In my mind it’s always chasing me in the rear view mirror – and if I take my foot off the gas then it could come back at any time.

The one result I could get immediately though is my blood pressure – which irritatingly appears to be somewhat elevated since the last time it was checked – although I did arrive at the appointment after a rather brisk walk.

The last time I looked it was 116/68 – but today it was different.

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Since blood pressure isn’t something that’s typically on my radar I always end up having to google what these readings mean – and according to the NHS website I appear (at least today) to be annoyingly on the cusp of pre-hypertension.

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Their advice states:

Your blood pressure is described as being high-normal and ideally, it should be below 120/80mmHg. Known as the “silent killer”, high blood pressure rarely has obvious symptoms but, left untreated, it increases your risk of heart attack or stroke.

The good news is, it can be brought under control through lifestyle changes such as:

  • Losing weight (if overweight)
  • Reducing the amount of salt in your diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Cutting back on alcohol and caffeine
  • You may also need medication

There’s not really an awful lot left on this list to change other than caffeine which is my one remaining vice.

Truthfully it’s a big one – and I’ve often felt that my willingness to remove other more harmful things from my life has been at the expense of a significant increase in coffee consumption.

It’s my go to drink of choice – and as I type at 11.15 I’m already on my fourth one of the day.

Maybe I’ll have to change this aspect of my lifestyle, because heaven knows I can’t easily lose any more weight, reduce any more salt or do any more exercise (I’m currently burning a total of around 4500-5000 kcal a day).

Sigh.

How annoying.

This brings me to my second reason for remembering the past – because in just over a week’s time I will have been sober for three years.

This (now comfortingly regular) annual milestone is a double edged sword, because whilst it makes me feel no small amount of pride it also carries with it a deep sense of regret.

This is related partially to my inability to control myself in the past – but primarily to the death of my mother, which happened two days after I gave up drinking on the 26th of January 2016.

Although many may view the latter as the more significant of the two anniversaries I only tend remember it because of the former.

This subject came up today when talking to my nurse – because she asked me (as many people do) why it was I suddenly decided to change.

It came up in conversation earlier in the week when I was visiting a friend in Lichfield.

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As we walked around the town and explored the cathedral I chatted about this upcoming event (it’s been on my mind for a while if I’m honest) and how I can never seem to manage to separate my personal triumphs from their associated emotions of guilt and regret.

I feel guilt because (despite the fact that my mother was a continually detrimental influence in my life) I don’t miss my her at all – and I never feel sadness because someone that I loved is gone forever.

Typically I don’t think about my mom at all day to day. The anniversary of her passing (as significant as it should probably be) only provides an overwhelming sense of relief that the abuse I endured at her hands is over.

As well as guilt I also feel regret – because ultimately although she proved to be the catalyst for most of the positive changes that I made I wish I’d been able to do it for more positive reasons.

I ultimately chose to change because I didn’t want to be anything like my mother. I suddenly needed to move away from any possible correlation between me and her at a million miles an hour.

It’s because of that impulse that I am now an infinitely better man than I ever was before.

The annoying thing is though I didn’t do it for love of myself or anyone else.

I did it because I had no love at all for her and I couldn’t stand seeing any element of my mother when I looked in the mirror.

If anything I hated myself way more than I disliked her and it was this personal revulsion that fuelled my actions.

I regret my reasons because I would have been delighted to have suddenly decided without any prompting that I needed to be a better man who deserved a future filled with love and happiness – but I didn’t. Instead it took other (far more negative) emotions to begin the process of becoming the man that I am today.

For some reason I don’t ever seem to let myself escape that fact.

The truth is that it makes it really really hard when people ask me for advice on how to change because I can’t suggest they wait until a parent who has mentally abused them for most of their childhood and adult life passes away before they change.

The truth is I don’t know if I would have ever become a different person without this event – and I might be the one that would have been dead now if she hadn’t beaten me to it.

However – what I do know is that although the even that created the man I am now was predominantly negative, the results were almost exclusively positive – because when the ball started rolling my mindset changed to a fundamentally better one.

I can now see many of the ‘truths’ I subscribed to back then as nothing more than self delusion. My approach to life these days is rooted making choices because they are the right ones – not despite the fact that they are.

choose to be healthier.

choose to be fitter.

choose to invite love and friendships into my life.

I choose to share my failures and successes so that they will help others.

So maybe (just maybe) I will give up caffeine too. Maybe it’s one of the final crutches I’ve been clinging on to, in the mistaken belief that I still need something that’s a ‘vice’ so that I won’t go quietly crazy.

The truth is that I don’t really need any substance to make me feel good any more. All I need is the security of knowing that my choices are the right ones, that I have people in my life that I care deeply about, and that I feel loved.

After all – what other motivation do we really need?

People not motivated by wanting to live longer arguably don’t fully appreciate the life that they have. Maybe this is because it’s never hung in the balance or because nothing has threatened to take it away prematurely.

In my case I nearly threw all of it away on a casual whim because I didn’t care about myself.

Now I do – and I want to do anything and everything that I can to keep feeling the way that I do because I love each and every day of my life. It’s why each morning I get up and start walking, swimming, hiking or making other healthy lifestyle choices.

It’s why YOU should too.

Whatever your reason to do so – choose to be better.

Davey

Something I love.

Occasionally something happens at just the right moment in time – and at precisely the juncture that it’s needed in your life to remind you why it’s worth doing something that you feel passionate about.

Some time ago I was nothing but a consumer – and there was nothing about my life that included an act of creation. I created this blog to understand myself better and in part to document the search for the mythical ‘thing I loved doing’.

It terrified me that not only could I not resolve the question in my mind at the time – but that I didn’t know how to begin the process of finding an answer.

Ironically – whilst searching for this within its posts – I realised that the blog itself was the answer and it’s why I write it so frequently even now.

I love it.

I love writing it with all of my heart and when I click ‘Publish’ it’s like I’ve plucked a little feather from my side and sent it careering out into a strong breeze.

I never know where it will land or what it will do.

I don’t know whether it will come back now, or later – or at all.

It doesn’t matter.

The act of creation is enough.

The world contains just a little more of me trying to be the best version of myself that I can – and I know that printed version of me is trying to be honest, open and human while he does.

I’ve often wondered about the impulse to write though.

Is it borne of the need to explain or the need to be understood?

The difference is subtle – but (at least in my mind) the former is an exercise in eloquently pouring out the why – whereas the latter is a need to be read by others, become relevant and maybe also to be accepted.

I don’t want to write solely because I want other people to read it (the purist in me thinks that is pure vanity) but I’ve come to learn that it has to be part of the process.

After all – if you don’t know whether you provoke feelings in others what’s the point of life?

Touching lives in a positive way is what we should all strive to do. The world is a better place if we try to send good thoughts and actions out into it.

So – the thing I’d found and realised I loved became something I wanted others to love too and then (as I improved my health) morphed into a tool to be a positive force in the world.

It’s only a tiny blog and it hasn’t cracked the atom or discovered a cure for cancer – but occasionally I find that it has changed someone’s life for the better – even just a little bit.

This makes everything worthwhile and actually makes me want to cry a little right now because it’s so far away from who I used to be.

A little while ago I wrote this (slightly angry) post about type two diabetes.

https://daveywankenobie.blog/2018/06/16/the-fast-fix/

In it I talked about a programme I’d been watching and my own struggles (and subsequent success) with reversing the condition in myself.

People occasionally keep coming back to my old posts and leaving comments – and tonight I received this from a wonderful reader.

So – as I lie in bed typing this before I fall asleep I’m reminded that there’s a realpurpose to doing it.

My journey started with trying not to die like my mother.

It began in the midst of pain and loss, and a lack of personal awareness. Now it’s enabled me to make a positive difference in other people’s lives and because of that I’m now crying as I write.

I have tears not of sadness – but absolute joy.

Instead of playing video games whilst drinking myself to death I helped by putting myself out there.

Even if it’s just a little bit.

Maybe that little bit will turn into a lot – maybe others will also make similar changes that will affect their journey through life in a positive way.

Maybe that ripple will become a wave.

I really hope so.

Thanks for reading internet. You’re the absolute best.

Davey

Alive

Although I’ve been in a positive place this week I’ve also been quite reflective as well.

I’ve found myself (unexpectedly) considering ‘what it all means’ and what my place in the world is – and I’ve also been considering how feelings regarding bereavement change over time.

When my mother passed away a couple of years ago I really didn’t want a funeral. She’d been objectionable enough in life to leave me with a rather blunt and bullish approach to what I should do with her body after death.

I’m quite matter of fact about some things and not overly sentimental where perhaps I should be.

At the time I didn’t want a funeral. I really didn’t see the point.  As far as I was concerned the person I knew (who had been almost universally horrible to me for many years) was dead and gone. Wasting money on a coffin and service seemed like something society expected rather than an event I needed.

It was a racket and I didn’t want to get involved.

The decision wasn’t mine alone though – and it was this fact that led me to modify my original stance and lean toward a more accommodating solution.

The truth of it is that whether you realise it or not when someone dies you’re grieving.

That may sound obvious to many – but I don’t think to me at the time it was – because the emotions that I felt were not the ones I’d typically associate with grief or a sense of loss.

I know now that grief is a very flexible concept. For me (regarding my mother) it had no form that I could quantifiably define – and instead of being the stereotypical sadness that I expected was associated with the loss of a significant other (particularly a parent) it was far more complex.

Grief in my case turned out to be a mixture of many emotions I’d have never normally have linked with death. In no particular order these included:

  • Relief
  • Happiness
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Guilt

The funeral we eventually agreed upon was a cremation. It was to be a simple affair with a eulogy read by an non-denominational speaker and a coffin that disappeared after a few songs and empty words into the embrace of a furnace.

At least that’s how I saw it in my mind before I was part of it.

Sitting there I was struck that we were all in the same place remembering the same person for the different reasons. Most of the feelings in the room I suspect were quite negative – but mixed amongst them were also tears – and unexpectedly some of them were my own.

Once the day had passed I didn’t dwell on it too much (at least I don’t think I did) and instead busied myself with other mountains that I had to climb. I had been (up until two days before her death) a highly functioning alcoholic and I was around 35 stone. Real personal change was needed if the next funeral wasn’t going to be my own.

I focused all of my attention on ‘moving on’ and ‘getting better’.

This was worth it – because I definitely achieved what I set out to do. I smashed my goals and successfully turned my life around.

I’m still sober after almost two and a half years) and I’m over twenty stone lighter

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However, while this has been undeniably beneficial from a health perspective maybe it came with a cost in other respects – because now I’ve achieved my target I’ve been left thinking (not all the time – but in more reflective periods) ‘what does it all mean and who am I now?’

I suspect I’m not alone in feeling like this at such a time – because with any kind of radical life change it’s impossible to not consider who you’ve become in relation to the world around you.

How do I fit in with the people and conventions that surround me now?

Things were one way for so long that they defined me as a person.

For all the insights that I can tangibly and quantifiably say I have gained into myself over the last two and a half years there are still certain areas of my life that are frightening when I consider them and because of that I’ve avoided dealing with them.

To a greater or lesser extent I tend to bypass them completely and maybe because of that from time to time rather more acute feelings surface.

That there are definitely elements of me that I consciously or subconsciously put on hold so that I could focus on what I needed to do.

Through necessity I placed them in hibernation whilst I marshalled other more useful aspects of myself and brought them to the forefront.

Maybe now then it’s natural for thoughts regarding love and loss to come back into my mind – because it’s no longer clouded with an obsessive need to lose weight. This week therefore I find myself (both in my dreams and waking thoughts) back at a graveside – faced yet again with the loss of a parent – and quite out of the blue I feel sad.

The complexity of grief is such that I don’t feel this way because I miss her (that’s probably never something that will come to pass) but because it took so much pain and so much heartache over so much time for so much good to happen in my life.

I’m drawn back to her funeral and I think that I now realise its purpose.

It’s a day that can never be undone. It’s a moment that will never fade and it served as a full stop. It was the ultimate punctuation mark that life provides to enable a carriage return and a new paragraph.

Without it I think I would be a poorer person because I’d be left with a gap where an end point should be and I now know how crucial it was to make sure it took place.

A funeral may not offer closure at that moment in time. It may not even do it in the medium term – but feelings are funny things and many of our emotions are complex tapestries woven from years of ever changing memories.

Now, in the warm light of a sunny morning a couple of years later I feel blessed that I attended that day and happy that I congregated with others to remember her.

It doesn’t matter any more how we felt about each other in life – and it doesn’t matter how anyone else there felt about her either.

It was an end point and it had to occur so that the healing could begin and people could start to move on. The truth of it is that we are all linear beings and we define ourselves based on the passage of time and events along the way to the inevitable.

If we choose to hide from or ignore them it doesn’t mean to say that the feelings associated with the event go away – it just means that you don’t deal with them.

So, yes I’ve felt a bit sad this week – and yes I’m sorry that things ended the way that they did – but that’s a good thing because this signposts growth and moving on. It means that my mind is busy spring cleaning itself and continually re-formatting what it needs to be for the tasks ahead.

It means I’m alive internet.

Davey

The truth

It’s a nice morning for a walk – and at least temporarily there is a blue sky to be found if you look upwards.

If you keep your eyes focused in this direction things seem very pleasant – however if you adjust your gaze downward then things on the ground aren’t quite so rosy.

I wasn’t thinking about this subject when I woke up and I certainly wasn’t when I set out for a walk – but at the moment I can’t help but remember the days when every morning held the promise of a hangover.

These days I rarely talk about my past drinking habits because they seem so far away – and maybe because I’m also lucky enough to really not miss either the taste of alcohol or the sensation of being drunk.

I do occasionally miss the ability to shut my mind off however – but the difference is that I now recognise that it was this aspect of my habit that caused me so many problems.

There are others that aren’t so fortunate however – and the private hell they appear to be trapped in is all too apparent when you walk around the bottom of town in Leamington Spa.

Here the pubs open early – and while the nearby shops are still closed some of the people inside these establishments are enjoying the first (maybe even the second or third) pint of the day.

Although for many years I never spent any time in pubs and didn’t usually drink during the day (except maybe sometimes at the weekend) a drinker is a drinker. We can spot one another – and as I pass people smoking on the doorstep of Weatherpoons I immediately recognise the haggard and yellow eyed look of a hangover in their faces.

It typically greeted me every morning when I looked in the mirror – although if I’m honest after many years of heavy drinking I’d ceased to recognise it as such. It was just my face.

I’m mercifully free of this self destructive cycle now and I’m ridiculously thankful that the events of a very dark period of my life eventually resulted in positive change.

They didn’t initially though. In fact they had the opposite effect.

I used to regularly consume 3-4 litres of 5% abv cider every other night – or two bottles of 13% abv wine but when I hit bad times this worsened dramatically.

By the time I stopped I was easily drinking around 5 litres of cider (if I could tolerate the physical volume) or 3+ bottles of wine every single night.

I feel no shame about it any more. It’s in the past – but at the time I felt the need to hide the extent of my habit from everyone.

I took bottles to the recycling centre regularly or dropped flattened cardboard wine boxes off at the nearby collection bins near my local shops. I also squished up all of my empty plastic cider bottles so that they were teeny tiny in my refuse bags.

As I type I find that I remember particularly strongly the smell of stale alcohol as it escaped from the from the plastic cider bottles when I flattened them.

Oddly I came to rather like this smell. It wasn’t pleasant – but it was part of my daily life and it represented a release, comfort, emotional numbness, pain relief, the ability to sleep – and the blessed relief of forgetting (even if just for a moment) the reality of how miserable my existence had become.

I don’t type all this because I’m dwelling – or feeling at all down.

Quite the opposite is true actually.

Honestly I feel a sense of relief and freedom – and that enhances the happy mood that I’m already in.

I’m in control of my destiny once again instead of being controlled by my addictions.

(Author pauses. Looks out of the window of the coffee shop he’s in and takes a sharp intake of breath)

I suppose when it comes down to it that’s really what it was.

An addiction.

I don’t like to admit that about myself. Instead my internal narrative is about a man who was ‘alcohol dependant‘ and for the longest time I’ve only felt comfortable with this self applied label.

I chose to identify with ‘alcohol dependant’ because it enabled me to step away from the reality of what someone drinking to the extent that I did truly was.

That person was an alcoholic – and I guess if I’m absolutely truthful with myself that’s what I was.

Although it hadn’t completely ruined my life or stopped me working it was only a matter of time until it did and when I recognised that fact I finally found it within myself to take action.

There’s no point denying it to myself any more. 774 days ago I was an alcoholic and that was my reality.

I’m not punishing myself with this statement. I’m releasing myself.

There’s nothing to hide from any more. It’s the past and it’s gone. The reality now is very different.

You may one day find me a repentant member of coffeeholics anonymous – but not today internet. I’m on my second large Americano and I very much doubt it will be my last.

This is as drunk as I get. Life is enough now. The sky is still blue outside and I’m clear headed and happy.

I’m also fit and healthy, grateful that I have a second chance and that I stopped with enough time left to begin my life again.

I write this not just because it’s part of my process of coming to terms with my past but because it’s true – and in truth there’s power.

Within it lies the capability to provide understanding to anyone reading and associating with this or similar behaviour that it’s not too late.

In fact it’s never too late – no matter how desperate things may seem. Even if there’s not much time left you can make what remains a better place to be – and live life free from things that control you.

Today is entirely what you want it to be.

Bend it to your will internet. You can do it if you want to.

Davey

Chasing a sunrise

I didn’t have a great night’s sleep last night. I had a lot on my mind and kept turning memories over and over.

However – whilst I think it’s important to take time to feel and process what I was feeling I also think that there’s no mileage in disappearing into a sea of misery for the sake of it.

Dwelling endlessly on things you can’t change isn’t healthy and after a period of introspection you need to get up, dust yourself off and do something positive.

In my case it won’t come as much of a surprise that I chose walking.

I left the house this morning two hours before sunrise (5.45am) in the pitch darkness (there and no streetlights at that time and you have to pray no dogs have left unexpected surprises) and started making my way toward the horizon.

Unsurprisingly (thanks to science proving the world is NOT flat) I didn’t reach it and the beautiful sunrise I was hoping for (it was lovely yesterday but I didn’t get a photo) never materialised.

However – it wasn’t of any consequence. Being outdoors is enough today. Doing anything positive is the right thing when you feel low.

You can’t expect a good mood to come to you.

Just like the horizon and the sunset you have to go looking for it.

You never know what you’ll find if you go hunting and whether once you’ve finished you’ll either feel better or worse – but in my experience it’s rarely the latter.

There’s too much benefit to be had from exercise and getting your pulse up to not feel even just a tiny bit more alive.

I’m also reminded when I spontaneously go exploring that there’s a world out there that’s still turning no-matter how I feel.

It’s full of life that’s continually in a process of renewal. To go outside is to be reminded that nothing is final and everything can change. It’s a positive and healthy thing to do.

Whilst it’s been freezing and miserable for weeks and weeks today it’s warmer – both in a very real ‘the temperature has gone up’ sense and in an allegorical ‘I feel better inside’ sense.

It’s difficult to look at little green shoots of life peeping out from under brown leaves and not feel happy – and to see the return of spring is a blessed relief.

The parklands have been alive with little creatures this morning – and for them too life just goes on. They’re busy pulling worms out of the ground or munching on bits and bobs on the woodland floor.

So far this morning I’ve walked just under nine miles and my legs are flagging a little, but I’m not stopping until I get at least 15.

It’s only 10.30 and I’ve still got a metric ton of cheering up left to do.

I’ve stopped for coffee while my feet cool down – and I can feel the pleasant aching warmth of my thighs as they relax from the exercise.

A few years ago my reaction to moments such as the one I went through yesterday would have been very different – but today I see the wages of a better approach to dealing with problems.

I’m hangover free, there are no fast food wrappers littering the kitchen work surface and I’m still in control of my own destiny.

The past may inform who I am and it’s the foundation upon which I’m built – but it doesn’t define me.

I’m not trapped by it. I’m gifted with the perspective it affords me – and for every negative aspect of my childhood there’s also a corresponding sense of satisfaction that if I haven’t already overcome an issue related to it then I’m actively working towards it.

If you’re having a shitty day internet then put your coat and shoes on and get up. Open your front door, walk through it and just stroll.

There doesn’t have to be a purpose. Do it because it’s pleasurable. Do it because it will change your point of view. Do it because the world’s beautiful.

Do it because life’s a gift and it shouldn’t be wasted on regrets.

Davey

Bendy lights

I was walking home tonight and thinking how much I like passing one particular shop window. Day after day I’ve found myself gazing at the coloured lamps within like a moth faced with a full moon and I can’t help stopping to admire it.

The display has reminded me of a variety of things each time I’ve passed it and tonight it made me stop and think of Christmas – although I don’t imagine that’s it’s intent.

I think they’re just trying to sell nice lamps. The shop doesn’t seem at all seasonal otherwise.

On other evenings the bendy ones have made me think back to the 90’s and a flat I had at university. Their curves are reminiscent of a similar one that I owned back then and it reminds me of happy times.

When I’ve passed on other days the shop window has simply made me think that there’s something missing in my current house – and that I want to buy something similar so I can add a touch of colour to my living room on dark and gloomy days.

I’m rather glad I passed the shop front in a good frame of mind this evening and thought Christmassy thoughts though – because when I strode by in the morning I was in a completely different mood.

I seem to be having quite a lot of vivid dreams lately – and although many just make me wake up and think ‘what the heck?’ there are one or two that have left me feeling quite disturbed.

This morning I awoke very early in the middle of what can only be described as a severe ‘body modification’ dream. It was about as close to horror as it gets – and I can’t quite figure out whether I was a victim or a powerless observer in it.

The protagonist was female – but at times I was her – yet toward the end I was external to the proceedings and watching what was happening.

This woman (who was initially me) hated herself so profoundly that she’d asked someone to surgically rebuild her as he saw fit. To do this he was adding and removing limbs and flesh as the mood took him – and slowly turning her into some kind of doll.

Instead of using flesh in place of flesh however he was choosing synthetic materials to remake her/me and the consequence of this was that she (or I) could feel nothing any more as the layers built up and covered what was real and encased inside.

By the end of the nightmare I awoke fully expecting to be made of plastic and to have only my innards left.

Needless to say it was extremely unsettling and remained with me for much of the morning. I thought about it all the way on my walk to work – and it wasn’t until lunch time that I managed to move away from it.

I’m not quite sure why all of a sudden my imagination is so rampant at night – or indeed why rather out of the blue I seem to be having nightmares instead of dreams.

In my waking life I think I’m quite content – and just getting on with my day to day business – so I’m not entirely sure what to make of these recent pulse pounding white knuckle rides. So far they’ve been (amongst other things) about my mother and now this decidedly odd topic.

Maybe this one’s about what I’m becoming – how I’ve morphed into something new over time – and made my outward appearance change so much.

However I’m not sure I understand the lack of feeling or the relinquished control aspects of the nightmare – as neither are things I either want or think that I suffer from.

Regardless of this internet I’m hoping for better dreams for the rest of the week. Waking up at the crack of dawn sweating has left me feeling like a total zombie for most of today.

Here’s hoping that tonight is instead one of fluffy teddy bears, (sugar free) lollipops and rolling green hillsides!

Fingers crossed x

Davey

Still my mom

I awoke last night half way through a dream about my mother.

I was angry when I woke up because in the dream (in her characteristically bombastic way) my mother had walked into my room while I was undressed and started telling me how awful it was that I’d neglected her feelings.

She ignored my obvious embarrassment and continued complaining about her own hurt feelings and how awful her lot in life was.

She was lonely she said. It had been years since anyone had talked to her and she felt that this was unfair.

I bundled her out of my room – annoyed that she didn’t even try to leave when she realised I was naked more than anything else. I looked out of my bedroom window when she was gone and thought that I was sick of this behaviour, sick of her and sick of the fact that I felt so trapped by her yet couldn’t leave.

When I opened my eyes suddenly at 3am I was still annoyed. I wanted to get up and give her a piece of my mind. This was yet another example of her selfish behaviour – which often overpowered every conversation and continually drove a wedge between us.

I looked around in the dark and realised that the room was different. I wasn’t in a single bed and everything had changed. Where I was lying was in my own house, in my own bed and in my own room.

The house was empty except for me.

I felt different too. As I replayed the events I suddenly noticed in the dream I’d been a younger man. A teen in fact.

I’d been in my childhood room, and was living under her roof instead of my own – and still subject to her endless mood swings.

I then realised that no matter how annoyed and hurt I was I couldn’t tell her how I felt even if I wanted to.

She was gone.

I was angry with a dead woman.

When realised this and my pulse subsided I started thinking about her words. She had been complaining that no one had spoken to her for years.

I remembered thinking in the dream that this was more of her usual behaviour – which typically involved blowing everything out of proportion and turning every discussion around to something about herself – but it took on a new meaning when I lay there at 3am thinking about it.

In a few months it will be two years since she passed away – almost the same length of time that she said she’d been alone…

As her statement took on a new meaning I wondered whether the dream was about me or her.

Maybe it was both.

Although there are some feelings of sadness surrounding her passing I’d be lying if I said I missed her. If anything in place of that emotion is a quiet guilt that I haven’t been able to feel that way.

This guilt exists because I know the truth.

I’m relieved that she’s gone, that finally everything is over between us and that her death finally brought an end to our continual and exhausting conflicts.

I know that this is a state of thinking that’s been largely brought on by years of emotional abuse at her hands – but there’s still a sense that I should somehow react differently to this watershed event in my life.

In my dreams (and by extension my subconscious) I feel she’s still alone, still isolated from others by her behaviour, and wherever she ended up (if there is anywhere else) my instinct is that little will have changed.

All of this just makes me sad. She could have had a much better life with a family that loved her if only she had been capable of change and contrition.

Instead over years she pushed everyone away until no-one was left.

I wish we’d have loved eachother in the way that a mother and son should have – but we didn’t and that still leaves a permanent gap inside me that I don’t think can ever be filled.

Maybe it can be worked around and papered over – even acknowledged and understood – but I don’t think the sense that I missed out on something important in life will ever leave me.

On the bright side though internet even though there’s a gap life goes on.

The absence I feel where her love should be is maybe why I’m so motivated to care about other people – so whilst I feel poor in one respect I feel infinitely rich in another.

I have a good life now, with friends I love and that also clearly care about me. In her own backhanded way my mom probably made that happen.

Maybe that’s all the reason I need to think of her memory with love – which I continually try to do.

She wasn’t perfect but she was still my mom.

Davey

Boiling the ocean

After I wrote yesterday’s blog I started thinking about my early posts. As I’ve said a few times before here, although I love that people enjoy reading my blogs I do (maybe somewhat selfishly) write them primarily for myself.

Lately I’ve also realised that I’ve started to use writing like other people use sudoku – to relax and also stimulate my mind. Initially though my posts were primarily deployed solely as a method of creative therapy. They enabled me to gradually unpick and understand my thought processes as I laid them bare on the page day after day.

By the time I post this I’ll have done that 415 times – which I estimate equates to around 500,000 words.

I’m still not sure quite why I felt so compelled to do this in public – or why I suddenly became so prolific. I’ve certainly never craved the limelight in the past – and instead I’ve often actively avoided it. Oddly though, when I began to present myself in print with absolute honesty I felt less vulnerable when I shared my deepest darkest secrets with the whole world than when I took a picture of myself or looked in a mirror.

The thought of not only taking a snap of myself, but then resisting the urge to immediately delete it, and then even uploading it was very far away back then.

I hated the way I looked. 

That final step took a while to do – but I’m glad that relatively early on I began to include photos in my posts in an attempt to ‘normalise’ my mental image of myself through my blog and my Instagram page (link).

I remember suddenly feeling that it was vitally important to show where I had started and where I was going. I’d hidden for so long from cameras that my mental image of myself was insanely warped and this made a gradual but profound difference to my self esteem.

I feel very different about how I look now.

Instagram comes with a cool partner app called ‘layout’ which allows you to easily make comparison photos (such as the full length mirror one below).

I use it a lot lately to look at myself ‘before and after‘ in side by side shots.

Sometimes though (in a less immediate and more personal way) I can also achieve a similar effect with words – and this usually happens when I re-read a contemporary post that’s written when I’m happy and feel like I’m winning at life before flipping back to the beginning of my blog and picking a post at random.

When I went back to February 2016 this morning and read ‘little kettle’ it took me right back to a period before I joined Slimming World where I could barely move and was still wrestling with the reality of how to manage my time without alcohol.

It’s worth reading it before you continue.

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Don’t worry. I can wait.

Done?

Ok – I’ll carry on.

It’s (unbelievably) almost six hundred days since I last had anything to drink and although there are times I think about it in a whistful way I don’t really miss it at all any more.

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Things have moved on. 

Back then thay hadn’t though. The title of the post had come from a conversation with a work colleague. We’d been chatting about the height of the personal (metaphorical) mountains that we felt we both had to climb – and he had said to me by way of encouragement ‘you can’t boil the ocean’.

He’s right. You can’t fix everything in one go. You just have to start wherever you can and persist. 

It also seemed very apt at the time because it hadn’t been all that long since I’d truly felt like I was drowning. My mother had not long died (that’s why I refer to a bungalow being emptied) and I honestly could have followed her any minute immediately afterwards if I hadn’t take decisive action to change.

My exercise bike was agonising to sit on, and I could barely pedal because of the way my 66 inch waist rested and bounced upon my legs. I managed under five minutes freewheeling with no resistance and I remember it absolutely corpsed me.

As I read that old post it’s quite sobering to re-live how I felt both physically and mentally back then. I was trapped (or at least I thought I was) by circumstance, the literal and figurative weight of my past choices – and for longer than I could remember I’d thought there was no way out.

Before the 26th of January 2016 I was just waiting to die. 

But then just like pasting photos into layout and looking at a time lapse of myself I can now wind the clock forward 20 months to what I write in the present and there’s currently a different person constructing this post.

The list of his scale and non-scale victories is lengthy.

(author takes a deep breath)

His type two diabetes is in full retreat, his back is no longer agonisingly painful every moment of every day, his knees don’t continually hurt, he can stand still without physically shaking from the effort, he no longer suffers from cellulitis, his tendons aren’t torn, his ligaments have repaired, his ankles are not continually swollen with fluid, his rest is not continually interrupted by sleep apnoea, his skin adores sunlight, he smells better, he can breathe lying on his back, he’s not continually sweating, he’s no longer wheezing all the time, he can fit in a bath, his blood pressure is normal, his resting heart rate is around 20 bpm lower than it used to be, he can wear seatbelts in any car, he can sit in any chair – including fixed booth seating, he has dropped 109 kg, he has lost 26 inches from his waistline, he buys clothes for a pittance from charity shops and supermarkets instead of highly priced specialist retailers, he doesn’t wear glasses because his eyesight is sharper, he jogs up stairs instead of taking the escalator, he walks an average of seventy miles a week, he can climb mountains, he has cumulatively crossed continents, his mind is continually aliveand his sense of hope actually exists

In fact I’m almost the me I always wanted to be but never knew how to become.

I was ashamed to be the other man – but I’m proud to be the one I am now – regardless of my scars, stretch marks, loose skin and other assorted battle wounds. Despite all of it I’m still standing and I’m putting one foot in front of the other, day after day, after day after day.

You see – the thing is that my friend was right. You can’t boil the ocean. It’s simply not possible.

You can however drown if you don’t try to swim – but every time you paddle a bit more you edge closer to the shore.

You might not get there in a day internet. You probably won’t get there in a week. It even may take months.

If you’re anything like me it will probably take years – but you CAN get there.

Davey

Pumpkins

I’ve been twalking with a friend after work today  and I feel as if most of the conversation has been about me. I don’t like monopolising time with people and banging on and on just about myself but I’ve been struggling to work though how I feel over the last week.

All day long because of this my thoughts have been quite deep.

I barely noticed that I was standing in a huge pile of sheep sh*t today as I stopped to drink in the wide open sky and lush green fields around me.

I feel like I haven’t been on enough walks like this recently and it was nice to get out and shake off the day in the office. It’s been raining and windy all day and up until this evening not too great for exercise.

I hate it when I can’t go for a spirited walk because when I do it really helps to order my thoughts. I’ve been thinking about my future a lot and I’m really stumped – because when I try to imagine what I will be doing in years to come I realise that I still don’t fully understand my past.

When I recall my life it seems like I’ve spent almost all of it entirely lacking in ambition or drive.

I can’t say that I’ve ever understood the pursuit of material wealth or outward displays of status – and frankly I still don’t.

I mean instead that in the past I’ve been content to drift through the world like a twig on a stream.

I’ve usually waited for moments where the waters I’m propelled by become choppy or even threaten to consume me completely. I’ve used the ‘tides of life’ to inform my decision making process for as long as I can remember and in certain respects I’m aware that this aspect of me still plays a large part in determining my choices.

It would definitely be true to say that it was this lazy brinkmanship that started me on my current path – and that it wasn’t until I saw my own rather dark reflection in the face of my mother (a woman that I had little respect or love for) that I pulled back from the metaphorical edge of my personal precipice.

Most of the time I really don’t care what the reason was that started all this – I’m just glad it happened. However, there are moments (usually when I see elements of my old thought processes resurfacing) where I start to analyse how and why I’ve become who I am now and I keep coming to the conclusion that it isn’t because I’m a go-getter.

I fear it’s because I’m someone who is terrified of the consequences of inactivity rather than someone that’s goal oriented with an ideal future in mind to strive for.

Whenever I start thinking about this I look at things which I feel I’m driven to do and ask what informs that need.

For instance I’m still walking a lot and that hasn’t diminished at all.


Since I started my job almost five weeks ago I’ve maintained an average of 10 miles a day almost exactly and I’ve not let myself drop below this, even in a period where I felt really ill (peeky).

In real terms (bearing in mind that I currently work 37.5 hours a week) I fit in a lot more now than I was doing when I was just focusing on my weight and was unemployed. In the calendar month since I started work I’ve walked over 310 miles and 620,000 steps.

So – what’s causing this behaviour?

I often joke that I’m a bit OCD.

I’m not though really – and that would be doing an injustice to people that genuinely suffer from this problem. I don’t feel the need to turn a light switch on and off repeatedly so I doubt it’s this.

People regularly tell me it’s because I’m determined.

Often I don’t feel determined though. I just carry on and on putting one foot in front of the other because it makes me feel good. It doesn’t seem particularly unusual anymore – nor does it seem to take much in the way of willpower most of the time, so I’m not convinced it’s determination.

People have also (enthusiastically) agreed in the past that I’m at times pretty stubborn – and I’ve wondered if it’s sheer bloody mindedness that’s the root cause of my progress.

I don’t necessarily think this is true either – as a lot of my old behaviour in this respect manifested itself in an inflexibility when faced with change. Nowadays I try to enthusiastically say ‘yes’ to most things and just see what happens rather than my previous default ‘no’.

I guess it’s maybe more accurate to say that a combination of all of these things in larger and smaller measures have combined to enable me to be who I am now – but even then I feel they’re not the whole picture.

The thing is that I’d really like the reason for why I’ve come so far to be more than ‘I hated myself so much that there was no option but to change‘.

If I believe that the sole basis for my metamorphosis is the same behavioural trait that I’ve always had (wait until things are too much to bear and then act) then how do gather the self belief to move forward in other aspects of my life – such as my career and relationships (both of which are still lacking any significant direction or plan).

This brings me back to ambition.

In truth I have always viewed ambition only as aspirational thinking related to employment or wealth.

If I’m honest I’ve also probably had a very negative view of it in others and saw them as very different or even alien to me.

Recently however (around 9-12 months ago) a good friend pointed out to me that although I wasn’t interested in either of these things that I was actually very ambitious.

I just aspired to different things in life. 

Above all else I wanted happiness, health, love, friendship and inner peace.

In truth I have realised recently that I’ve always wanted these things. What I’ve struggled with is not knowing how to obtain them and what they actually meant. In the process of trying to deal with the vacuum that their absence created instead I buried my lack of fulfilment under alcohol and food.

This behaviour continued until paradoxically I ended up creating a situation where I had almost exactly none of what I wanted or needed.

The more I think about this the more I lose sleep.  I don’t want to repeat my mistakes.

I’ve had another night where I’m pondering on what comes next – and what I’m going to do in the coming phases of my life when I reach my goal weight.

In many ways this is a terrifying prospect because getting to the top of a mountain means one of two things. Either you decide to stay on the mountain and make it your home or you end up having to make your way back down.

Personally I plan to live at high altitude (it has a better view) but what I do while I’m up there is still up for debate.

I refuse to believe for a moment that reaching a ‘normal’ (I hate that word) weight will be the end of my forward impetus. When I get there I need to have something waiting there for me. I have to have a goal to do something else – to move forward in another way and to improve another aspect of me.

There has to be more – but at the moment I don’t know what that is or how I start it…

In some respects maybe this is a good thing. To remain in at least partially unfulfilled in some area of your life can only be a plus – because without a hunger for improvement there’s no need to get out of bed.

I feel irritable though.

Like I have an itch I can’t reach.

I can only describe the sensation as a need to search for something but not knowing why or what it is – and because of that is remains just out of reach and intangiable.

One thing is for sure – I’m not going to find the answer in the fields of Warwickshire tonight. There are just sheep and lots of pumpkins.

Sigh.

At the very least I hope I’ve laid the groundwork for some solid sleep.

Davey

Not a single moment wasted

Despite me originally intending to do a new walk today I changed my plans late last night when I was unexpectedly invited out for a bank holiday lunch at the George in the Tree at Balsall Common.

I’ve been here a few times in the past – but not often for good reasons.

Most recently this perfectly nice pub has somehow become completely associated in my mind with meeting relatives after my mom died in January last year – and a sense of personal failure surrounding this already grim event.

Not only did I have to agree funeral details with relatives that I hardly knew – but also I was hovering around 35 stone and visibly not coping very well at all in life.

This was me around three weeks after those events, having not long given up drinking, but still three months away from joining Slimming World.

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It occurred to me when a friend suggested I join them there today that not only I could start to attach more positive memories to this place but that I could kill two birds with one stone and also get my exercise in for the day.

I could probably now walk all the way there from my house –  but then making my way back would probably have been a step too far.

It’s a round trip of 20 miles.

When I wasn’t working if I overdid things then I could just rest up the day after for a bit. However now I don’t have that luxury. I need to be match fit every day to walk back and forth to my job.

I opted instead for the shorter Kenilworth Greenway (about 11 miles round trip), and leaving my car at Crackley Wood – which means I didn’t have to walk along any busy roads and that I also got some nice views too.

The woods looked great just before 10am today, and a wonderful dappled light was playing on the ground everywhere as the canopy above me gently swayed in the breeze.

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Initially this morning was a little overcast, despite being quite warm – but as I moved through the woods and onto the greenway it was clear that any clouds were not going to last long, and they were swiftly clearing to make way for blue skies.

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I didn’t really know exactly how long it would take me to walk to my destination, so I tried to keep exploration and the impulse to photograph everything to a minimum and just keep moving forward.

Although the Greenway is pretty easy going on the way to Balsall Common it has a continuous incline. When I first did this walk (link) back in April I forgot to set a workout programme – but when I checked Apple watch I remember it showed my heart rate as above 100 bpm. My workout today shows an average of 88 on the outward journey, and on the greenway I didn’t once see it go above 95 – which is really cool progress!

I’m definitely getting a lot fitter!

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One of the things that I really love about this particular walk is the bridges.

This is for two reasons.

Firstly (and quite without warning) I’ve become a huge fan of red brick construction. It really boggles my mind that these days we just set steel rods in hundreds of tons of concrete, bolt it all together, and voila!

A bridge!

Sure – they’re strong, light, flexible, resilient and safe – but boy oh boy is concrete UGLY. In contrast railway bridges pieced together, brick by individual brick – now THOSE are things of beauty.

Secondly this Greenway and its bridges are slowly being eaten by nature – and that too is jaw droppingly lovely at times.

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When I finally arrived at the Beefeater I was a lot earlier than expected. The whole walk (almost exactly five miles) had taken around 90 minutes, so I sat outside in the shade and changed my (slightly sweaty) teeshirt for a long sleeved one I’d brought along to look a little more presentable.

Shortly before midday I went in and was led to the table my friends had booked.

It was a booth.

There’s still a part of me that has a complete meltdown when I see fixed seating.

I can’t seem to get it through to my panic subroutines that I fit into them now – but I guess thats because it’s really only been a few months since that’s been the case. Partially because of this I’m still taking evidential pictures to prove to myself that I can do it – which I’m starting to think may be a little daft.

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However I still find it almost as much of a novelty as seatbelts that actually go around me and click into place in other people’s cars.

I may stop taking these kind of pictures one day… but not today!

I’d already decided waaaaay before arriving that I wasn’t going to get into an ‘I’ve done lots of exercise so I can eat what I like’ mentality, and that I was going to avoid things like mixed grills (what I used to choose when I came here previously) and instead have a salad and a baked potato on the side.

I ordered the chicken Caesar.

What arrived was not Caesar salad (not in my eyes anyway) and was clearly deep fried breaded chicken. Normally I wouldn’t go near anything fried in breadcrumbs – but I reasoned that at the very worst this would just use up my syns for the day and negate some of my exercise I’d already done, so I tucked in.

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Honestly – I’m glad I did, because with the (butter free) baked potato I’d ordered on the side this ended up being quite filling and tasty – which was a complete win.

As it’s been a while since I’d seen my friends we sat chatting over drinks for a while after the meal ended. They’re absolutely loving their National Trust memberships at the moment and are using it regularly to go and explore some of the local National Trust estates.

I’d not considered joining before – but they may well have sold the whole thing to me! However – that’s for another day when I have some spare money. In the meantime I’m strictly a cheap walk kinda guy…

A twalker can dream though!

After we said our goodbyes I headed back (a slightly longer way) toward my car. It was now getting a LOT hotter and I’d changed back into my short sleeved top. In retrospect (as I sit scratching my sunburnt upper arms while I type) this may have been a tactical error – but you live and learn.

The way back was at a slightly slower pace, and it gave me the opportunity to look a little closer at the hedgerows and bushes, which were full of butterflies!

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I also just missed a shot of a bird of prey hanging on the breeze over the fields surrounding the walk. As I readied my camera it swooped towards its target and disappeared from view. I can’t say for sure what it was but I think it was a Kestrel.

Since getting any pictures of things in the sky seemed impossible I busied myself instead with the floor, which I ‘d realised was covered with hidden mushroom colonies!

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By the time I arrived home I felt well exercised, satisfied, and like I’d made full use of my Bank Holiday weekend.

There was a time when I’d have bought myself a new video game and many litres of wine for such an occasion – but I think the way I use my free time now is a far better use of my health and happiness.

I’ve managed 35 miles and around 70,000 steps in the last three days.

I feel content, pleasantly tired and I know that when I get back to work tomorrow internet I’ll have a sense of pride that not a single moment has been wasted.

Davey

 

Pegs

When my mother died there were many many things left behind. I hated pretty much all of the time that I spent with my brother sifting through what I viewed at the time as the rubbish and wreckage of a decaying life.

For those who didn’t arrive at the start of my blogging career (which started not coincidentally shortly after her death) there was little love between us towards the end – and even my sense of duty to someone supposedly so close had long since faded. 

My mother was like a magpie – constantly collecting shiny rubbish and nik-naks with little or no value and always seemed supremely adept at burying herself in meaningless trinkets from pound shops. 

From an inheritance perspective (which I didn’t want) she left behind little more than a small sum of money and continual headache that seemed to last for months. 

In some ways it never left me. 

There was no real closure between us except that which I endeavoured to construct in my own mind after the event. However for all the pain it caused the act of emptying her bungalow was in some respects a huge cathartic release. 

My brother and I threw much of its contents away – apart from the dolls, crockery and ornaments that seemed relatively new. They went to charity. 

Most of what I ended up taking home with me I kept because I was too tired to decide what to do with anything any more. It sat filling my spare room for a long time before I eventually gave almost all of it away – in the hope that one day someone else would get some positive use out of it. 

Some small things however I kept. 

Photos for instance are obvious – memories like this are rarely discarded. Those didn’t require much thought. I don’t really want to look at them yet but they’re still in a drawer for a day when I might change my mind. 

The things that meant the least to me at the time – but were silly to throw away were usable items like clothes pegs, washing powder, garden tools, and door hanging tidy pockets. 

It used to endlessly irritate me that she wasted her money on things like this (there were multiples of everything and she didn’t need them) but as I sit in the garden today my clothes are drying on a washing line secured by her pegs. 


On the back of my utility cupboard door there are boot laces, batteries, dusters and light bulbs all neatly arranged in her hanging pockets. 

On the inside handle of my back door is a foam knee pad for weeding. I’ve used that too. It’s useful. 

Below the pad is usually a heavy red pair of suede gardening gloves, which I’ve used over and over again lately to pull nettles and thorny brambles out of my garden. They’ve saved me many an injury. 


I’m struck by the fact (as I watch my washing dry with her pegs in the warm afternoon sunshine) that these items unexpectedly represent something that I loved about her and I feel a little sad. 

She was a practical woman from a working class background who valued tools and items that helped get a job done. When I put my hands into her old gloves I realise that quite unexpectedly they have begun to mean something to me

Her hands used to fit inside them too, and she also used them to weed her garden like I do. All of a sudden we’re connected by such a trivial item and I’m taken aback by the rush of poignancy this brings. 

It’s like I’m somehow holding her hand…

Oddly I’ve realised that this practical side of her – divorced from the emotional closeness that one expects from a mother (but that we never achieved between us in life) is what helps to make my thoughts of her fonder than they otherwise would have been. 


I still can’t understand the complex nature of this troubled lady but I can attempt (every time I fall into the trap of anger about past events) to forgive her and try to remember the good things instead. 

There’s no mileage in bitterness internet. 

All I have to do is put her gloves on to feel some warmth. 

Davey

Spring

I think my mood is being affected by my cold as I’ve no other reason to wake up feeling glum. However for some reason I did.

Oddly today everything seemed grey when I opened my eyes and my enthusiasm for anything and everything was at rock bottom.

Although… now that I think about it – maybe there is something on my mind.

I know I started to deal with my clutter the other day – but I’ve not finished. Doing so has unearthed items I’ve avoided for a quite a while – and some ‘scabs’ are still sitting in drawers and cupboards waiting to be picked.

It’s been over a year since my mother’s death and I’m still seeing things around my house that came from her bungalow or that belonged to her and remind me of times and places I don’t really want to remember.

There was so much of it that it seemed impossible to deal with it at the time. However – now I’m feeling like I want a new start for so many aspects of my life it seems appropriate to try and face up to this.

I’ve not buried any of the feelings I experience about her. It’s quite the opposite actually. I’ve lived them in public as I’ve written them down here – and it’s helped.

There are some things that I ‘inherited’ that are tougher to mentally process and physically deal with though.

I’ve given a lot of the generic stuff away rather than sell it. There were things that could help friends and that I had no need for. Practical stuff – like incontinence pads, cleaning supplies, garden tools, and cans of food.

It made me feel good to see her possessions helping people and re-wrote much of the negative narrative in my mind about the items I was left with. The things she obsessively hoarded could now be used as they were intended to be – in a positive way. 

But then there are her paintings and masses of scribbled (and repetitively duplicated and muddled) notes about the family. All of these are individually wrapped – as if a squirrel inhabited her mind instead of a human being.

It makes pulling the mental puzzles apart that are contained within exhausting.

However the information they hold is useful and relates to the history of my family. I can’t just throw them away – but I also can’t easily order or make sense of them. Up till now it’s been easier to leave them in a cupboard and come back to them at a later date.

‘Later’ is now a year on though and I still haven’t tackled those or the paintings – of which there are a lot – all painted by her.

Although this may sound callous none of them have any emotional attachment for me. With very few exceptions I dislike every single one of them both in style and for what they represent.

The frames and the oil paint she used is discoloured and yellowed by the same cigarettes that killed her and every one of them has lived in the house of a heavy smoker – in some cases for 40+ years.

They smell – and every time I catch a whiff of the odour it brings back a memory of her, attached to oxygen and struggling to breath – but still smoking.

By the same token though they’re paintings and getting rid of them seems almost akin to burning or defacing books in my mind.

On top of that they’re by my mother. She created them. They’re the legacy of her mind and one of the few things she really loved in life.

They’re also one of the few things (now that I reflect upon it) that seemed to make her happy.

It makes me feel nothing but bad that I want to discard them – and I fear that if I do so then later on I’ll regret my decision.

But I don’t want them in my life. 

It’s a conundrum that I don’t have an answer to. Every time I look at them I then immediately look at the loft hatch, which leads to the last totally empty space in my house.

Do I move the problem to yet another location and ‘store’ them there – or is this just avoidance? If I put them in my loft am I deferring the decision or am I sensibly preserving the past? 

I honestly don’t know.

I do know that the only things that make all this go away (at least temporarily) are exercise and going outside.

Doing so gives me a sense of purpose that blows away the cobwebs of the past and reminds me that even if I feel a little low today that tomorrow is a totally new day.

Walking fast and getting out of breath makes me remember that regardless of what’s in my cupboard at home I’m continually moving forward. Even though I’ve yet to deal with this aspect of the past I’m making progress. 

Plus it’s the right time of year to confront the reality of bereavement because the world is suddenly walking up. Nothing truly dies. It’s all just a process of continual rebirth.

As I walked briskly toward my customary coffee shop this morning I noticed that (during the last 48 hours that have passed since I last walked here) spring had arrived.

Hiding in the grass by the path were the first crocus shoots of the year, pushing upwards into the warmth of the Sunday morning sun as it peeked through the cloud cover above.


They look lovely and really cheered me up.

So – after my coffee I’m going to go home and start again.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer. I don’t think that grief (or whatever I was left with when she died) needs to be experienced in any particular way or in any particular timeframe.

I do know one thing though.

It’s important to come out the other side feeling like more than you were and not like you’ve been somehow diminished. A person may be gone but they left a legacy – and I don’t mean in terms of property.

Each and every life that ultimately leaves us lives on in the changes that they prompted or the thoughts they left in our minds – be they good or bad.

Every day is a conscious choice for me about what to do with the memories of her. Each time I think about my mother I consciously choose to be inspired by her failings in life and not buried by the weight of her problems.

Plus she liked crocuses Internet. She’d be happy to see them right about now.

If she was alive she would probably be contentedly watching her own grow from a seat in her back garden. She’d be wearing her well worn and faded slippers and thoughtfully smoking a fag – all the time sipping from a hot, milky, sugary mug of tea with a picture of the queen’s jubilee on it.

Davey

Dream meanings

It was a grey, damp, rainy day yesterday, and the light levels barely rose above ‘early evening’ all day long. It’s slightly brighter today – but not by much.

It’s easy to feel glum on a day like this – especially when you’re faced with a bewildering array of job sites (every time I follow a link to apply for a job I end up signing up to yet another one I’ve never heard of), an inbox full of mails from recruiters with roles that aren’t even vaguely suitable for you, and a bank account that’s reliant on you doing very little that costs money to remain in the black.

However I really don’t feel glum today. I didn’t yesterday either. I feel quite good actually. One might even say liberated.

I woke up the other day having had a rather unsettling dream about staying at a hotel. The plumbing and bathroom in this hotel (one that I was sharing with several friends) was awful. The toilet didn’t work and there was no privacy. By the end of my time in this horrible 70’s decorated environment with green deep polyester carpets the facilities were overflowing and I was desperately trying to clean up an impossible mess of effluence.

It all eventually overflowed in a raging torrent and I was surrounded by a disgusting mess.

I woke up at this point – but realised it wasn’t the first time I’d had this dream and Googled it to see whether there was an explanation that might make sense of why this would recur.

I found this (edited) explanation:

As in waking life, when in the bathroom in a dream you are often dealing with the unpleasant, intimate aspects of life: relieving yourself, elimination of wastes, cleansing yourself, etc. In dreams, additional obstacles or unfortunate circumstances are usually a factor. These might include: being unable to find the bathroom, a lack of privacy, having no toilet paper available, a dirty bathroom or a clogged or overflowing toilet.

Basically, bathroom dreams may be addressing your need to relieve yourself emotionally and/or psychologically. You may be dealing with a dirty, messy, toxic or crappy situation in waking life or are under a lot of stress. A public bathroom or restroom may suggest the dream is dealing with your social or professional life or relationships while the bathroom in a home suggests the issue may be internal or related to your home life or relationships.

The toilet itself may be dealing with your ability or inability to eliminate problems, relationships, emotions, etc. If the toilet won’t flush or is clogged, you may be unwilling or unable to release your emotions or express yourself. An overflowing toilet may represent an emotional outburst or you may be feeling overwhelmed by your emotions and the stresses in life.

The night before I’d told someone something about my relationship with my mother that I’d never mentioned to anyone before. I hadn’t been purposefully hiding it, and had good reason to keep it to myself – as it was something that was profoundly intimate and embarrassing.

It just came out in conversation.

I realised as my friend and I were talking that for a number of reasons I’d been hiding and pushing the thought to the back of my mind every time it came up. I’d hidden it from myself for years – motivated mostly by a sense of personal shame. Each time I’d wanted to vocalise it I’d stopped and pushed it back down – moving on instead to other topics.

For some reason I chose not to this time and instead relayed the story to my friend and then how it made me feel. I was close to tears after letting it go – and realised (based on the look on my friend’s face) that what I was describing was a form of abuse by my mother that designed to maintain control and manipulate me.

Honestly – this kind of thing isn’t anything new to me with regards to her memory, but this particular thing is something I hadn’t openly admitted to anyone before. Unburdening came with a sense of relief and no small degree of fear, but it was extremely liberating – and as I drove home in the dark rainy night afterwards I felt somehow lighter.

My mind was clearly still turning over the consequences of my tale being told however, and the whole night was characterised by restless sleep – and finally this dream.

Sharing this memory (which happened randomly in a very normal conversation) reminded me of a couple of things however – and they’re the root of why I feel so good at the moment.

Firstly, when you hide your true self the only person that you ultimately hurt is yourself.

Sure, you may temporarily save yourself some embarrassment and shame – but you’re only constructing a prison for that part of you in your own mind. It’s as real as any physical cell in a real jail, and the longer that you leave it closed the less likely you are to be able to easily find the key.

Being open and honest is the best gift we can give to ourselves and others – and although if anyone asks me for my pin numbers they can get stuffed, when they ask me how I feel I’ll always do my very best to tell them.

Secondly, people are inherently good.

Some may see this as a naive attitude – but I’m not a stupid man and I like to think I’m a good judge of character. I’ll have alarm bells if someone looks shifty just as much as the next guy.

Often if someone looks insane and you cant quite figure out why that’s evolution whispering in your ear and reminding you of primal reasons why you avoid certain things and move towards others. It’s a good thing to trust your instincts.

What I mean is that when I meet someone (that seems ok) for the first time I prefer my default position to be trust and openness – and I can only think of a few instances in my life where this has been betrayed. In the vast majority of cases people are worth the time you invest in them and they ALL have something to give.

So – my inbox is overflowing with stuff thats misdirecting me left and right, my bank account looks worse than ever, but I’m continually reminded that the yardsticks that I used to judge my old life are no longer as relevant as they once were.

Eventually something good will happen and when it does I’ll be standing there with a smile on my face waiting to shake its hand and say hello.

Finally internet – my soppy side came out whilst writing this – and I was reminded of the song that most parents must have been battered to death with in recent years – ‘Let it go’ from the Disney film Frozen.

It may be corny but people love it for a reason – you should listen to the lyrics and just let it go.

The cold never bothered me anyway.

Davey

Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?

When I look back on 2016 I’m going to have extremely mixed feelings about it.

Most of my blog posts so far have been about personal change and how I’ve been trying to turn my life around – but tonight it’s not.

I never saw Star Wars at the cinema. When it came out my family was living in Orkney. I read about the exploits of what came to be beloved heroes in the occasional comic that my mom bought me from the local newsagent – or that I inherited from friends.

One had a big hole in the cover where my friend had cut out the Millennium Falcon to stick on his wall – but inside the adventures of Princess Leia were untouched. They were different from the film and were flights of fancy being imagined by a Marvel Comics creative team, where she was being taught how to shoot a blaster as a young girl.

Oddly – this is the first real memory I have of what eventually became my favourite film franchise. It wasn’t until years later I actually read the book and discovered what really happened in the 1977 classic.

When I finally came to see a Star Wars film I was in Rhyl, on holiday at my Aunt and Uncle’s house. It was the Empire Strikes back and at the time was probably (for a very young boy) the absolute pinnacle of my cinema going history.

By that time I was familiar with Princess Leia and was amazed at how different she looked without the side buns in her hair. She was jaw-droppingly beautiful with her french plaits – and also a strong, feisty presence that was unusually independent.

Sure – she was rescued rather stereotypically by the male leads in Star Wars, but by the time of Return of the Jedi rolled around she was returning the favour, and rescuing Han whilst strangling Jabba to death (albeit in an alluring gold bikini) instead.

When I heard this evening that Carrie Fisher had died I genuinely had a lump in my throat.

Admittedly I knew little about her as a person. From what I did see of her personal life she often seemed troubled and struggling. I’m not grieving the loss of a close friend that I knew personally – I’m mourning the loss of a media icon, which (as I reflect upon why I feel the way I do) I think is a little odd.

However, for better or worse thanks to film, music and television we let certain famous people into our hearts and lives. Just as if we were seated next to a friend on the sofa we begin (at least in a small way) to care about what happens to them. Often they sing to us when we’re happy and sad, or take us to places of imaginative fantasy that allow us to escape our day to day lives temporarily.

I think that Carrie Fisher’s departure also represents the end of a significant era in my childhood, and I think it’s that which makes me feel so sad. Maybe I feel all of a sudden a little older without her around.

But it’s also reminding me of all the others that seem to have (mostly without any warning) suddenly passed this year.

As I look at the lists online of people that left us in 2016 I can’t help thinking about the happiness that she and they managed to bring to myself and others for brief moments – often despite their own profound fragility.

Whatever demons they faced in real life, the joy that they brought to others has to be a worthwhile legacy, and hopefully their work will still continue to provide the same flights of fancy for generations to come.

In a sense – despite their passing they’re all ‘immortal’ in a way that most of us will never be.

Whilst Carrie (for me at least) is leaving one of the biggest sudden gaps, there are many others that won’t be filled any time soon, and as I think about her as the year draws to a close I can’t help but pay tribute to some of the many more bright lights left behind in the last twelve months as well.

My thoughts are with her family, and the families of everyone missing someone thats no-longer with us as the year draws to a close.

Look after the ones you love internet. We’re only here for a moment.

Davey

 

Silver Linings

I’m sitting at the moment during a mid show intermission in a school hall in Coventry, where I’ve come to see the Silver Linings barbershop chorus. It’s late on a Friday evening and as I type this post on my phone I can hear a large hubbub of people behind a large black theatre curtain to the left of me.

A few minutes ago most of the people chatting behind it were sitting next to me in the audience. Now they’re attacking the buffet that’s been laid on by the singers and their families. I’m weighing in tomorrow and despite the lure of chicken drumsticks and mince pies I’m paranoid about food today. Every ounce counts. I’m not partaking.

I haven’t even peeped behind the curtain. I ate before I came out in preparation. Besides – I don’t really feel hungry because I’m in a really good mood.

There are few things that can lift the spirits more than live singing. When faced with these lovely women belting out songs in four part harmony I found that it was almost almost impossible not to smile broadly – regardless of how I may have felt earlier in the day.

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(Silver Linings are also looking for new ladies to join – so have a look here if you’re interested! Photo used with kind permission)

I have a kind lady at Slimming World to thank for my attendance, who invited me to the family and friends concert she was singing in.

In doing so she’s enabled a change of mood in me tonight – which earlier wasn’t so great after a day wrestling with my self image demons in clothes and charity shops. It’s partially because of the joy that she and the others had so obviously display on stage but also because their choral harmony has been so all encompassing that I can still feel the air in the school hall vibrating around me with their voices.

As well as cheering me up it’s also made me think a bit. The second song ‘I hope you dance’ (chosen it appears by the lady who invited me, and originally sung by Lee Ann Womack) was one I’d never heard before.

It’s all about seizing the moment in life and making sure that whatever you do you don’t look back with regret about what could have been. Sometimes it’s possible to feel really happy and really sad in precisely the same moment.

During this song I think was both and I’m not shy to say I had a tear in my eye toward the end as it (for me at least) was really poignant. I began to randomly think about my mom and what could have been in both of our lives if things had been different.

The message in essence was that you have to live for love, joy and for the moment. Truthfully it’s the essence of what (unknown to her) she indirectly ended up inspiring in me and I wish that it was something that she too had come to understand in life.

Just like the song suggests, I don’t intend to look back when I’m old and wonder where the years went and why I didn’t do the things I could have.

As well as my unexpected moment of reflection the show had some other real standouts – particularly when they covered ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ so perfectly I was almost singing along with them. The whole affair also finished with a wonderful melody of Christmas songs (including a 400 year old Coventry specific one!) that made me feel unusually seasonal when I was driving home in the rain.

This may have also had something to do with the appearance of Santa Claus at the end of the evening clutching a bag full of presents for the children in the audience. I might be wrong but I think it was actually the jovial presenter in a Santa suit, not the real one.

But you never know….

(Time for bed. Author requires large doses of beauty sleep just to get back to vaguely hideous by the morning. He’s stressed as usual about weighing in and probably won’t sleep anyway but he must try.)

Well I’ve now weighed in, and I’ve nailed my eight and a half stone award! The back, front and now inside my book is positively crammed with stickers. 


My weight loss has definitely slowed a little with the reduced exercise over the last couple of weeks – but I’m being pragmatic about this. 

When I was walking myself to death and getting obsessed I just ended up injured, which screwed everything over (including my mood) so at the moment I’m really happy that I’m still loosing what is a very respectable amount of weight. 

That doesn’t mean to say that I’m not going to try really really hard in the coming week mind you!

In fact, immediately after my Slimming World meeting I put my fleece on, pulled on my gloves and headed out into the cold to pick up my new trousers which had been shortened overnight. 

Honestly today I wanted to drive the four miles into town and back. I really really wanted to take the car and sit in the warm listening to my tunes. 

But you know what? Every time In the past where I took the easy choice it cost me money and time. Every instance where I chose the lazy option just meant another day that I had to remain dissatisfied with how I look or feel. 

I want to defer it as little as possible now and do all I can. I’m still thinking of the song from last night and I want to dance not drive. 

Also I’m wearing my cargo trousers today. These were the ones from two weeks ago where I sat down and the button snapped off the waistline. They’re now repaired, in service, comfortable and making me feel great. I’m also wearing a nice warm shirt that (in the same way as my trousers) hasn’t been worn for eight and a half years. 


Sitting on the chair opposite me in the coffee shop however are my new clothes. The contents of this small plastic carrier bag represents two weeks of groceries and I want to feel happy with the contents of it – but I’m still grinding my teeth a little.

I’m going to go home, iron it all, try it on with my (old) smart shoes and determine whether those (almost certainly do) also need replacing. 

I want to feel smart and capable when I walk through a door wearing them and I think I may need to lose another few pounds to make that a reality. 

This will be a week for soups methinks. 

That’s going to be a LOT EASIER thanks to the lovely lady in Slimming World this morning who carved a giant hole in her bay leaf bush at home and brought me in more than enough leaves to see me through the winter. 

This photo of me enjoying the aroma when I got home is just for her 😉. She can rest assured my whole house will be fragrant this evening!


Love and silver linings Internet 🤗

Davey

Counting the pile

I’m having a day of ‘rest’ today. Well at least from walking – it’s not really a day of chilling – but time to tidy my house. It’s become a bit of a mess in my recent prolonged outdoor absences.

It’s no excuse I know but I have been trying not to sit indoors at all lately, so the house has slowly become a bit of a dumping ground. I’ve been putting a lot of domestic stuff off.

Some of it is also because my dining room still has big boxes of crap from my mom’s bungalow and I’ve done everything I can to avoid going anywhere near them. Things have been placed in front of them and on top of them, probably in an unconscious attempt to avoid the task.

However this morning the band aid was not exactly ripped off but I began a gentle (ow!) peeling (ow!!) process (frick!) that is a bit more in tune with what I feel capable of bearing.

I have today added to my huge pile of washed and folded clothes to go to charity – along with a stack of towels (I have LOADS for some reason) and some handbags and things that belonged to my mom.

In the process I’ve also uncovered items that have been hidden in my ‘lalalalala not listening’ places for some time.

I stopped for lunch to read through some them.

My meal while I did so came courtesy of the slow cooker, which was filled with the ingredients for a beef stew last night. It never ceases to amaze me when I go to bed, and close the lid on raw meat and veg, that I then wake up in the morning to see this.

My lunch has been a somber one though – and if I’m honest it’s made me both angry and sad. Don’t get me wrong – the beef stew was lovely. It was the reading material that left me sitting in silence.

This morning I found my old Slimming World books (there are two) which I thought had been destroyed in a fit of pique some years ago.

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It’s all just numbers until I start to look at the dates and weights, and then I see my own reflection staring back at me in-between the lines – and I don’t like it.

I hate it in fact.

No…

I absolutely loathe it.

I’m stopping short of saying I hate myself because I’m trying hard to focus on the fact that the person in these numbers and dates is not me any more.

Although he is. I was him not so long ago.In many ways I’m STILL the same man and it terrifies me that I may one day completely become him again. It’s happened before.

When I originally met Angie and joined in November 2010 I was 33st 4lbs – a stone and a half lighter than I was when I rejoined for a third time in April 2016.

Although many weeks in my first book are concurrent I can see the gaps further on where I didn’t weigh in. They stand out like sore thumbs. I can also remember just walking out of the group after standing on the scales – not wanting to face up to what I had been eating and drinking during the week and instead going home to get drunk. I remember quite often getting a chicken kebab on the way home too.

I had to drive from Slimming World to the chip shop to pick it up, and drive home to eat it because I couldn’t easily walk the distance under my own steam.

How pathetic is that?

I got a few stickers though. I managed to loose two stone before I ran away the first time.

Then in between the 9th March and 23rd of May 2011 (when I made a half hearted second attempt and re-joined) I put on TWO STONE EIGHT AND A HALF POUNDS. That’s around a stone a month.

I lasted four weeks according to my second, sad looking, sticker-less book and then went right back to stuffing my face.

I keep seeing this figure of a stone a month. It was the same when I stopped Weight Watchers. It happened again after the Cambridge Diet – at exactly the same pace.

It scares me to death when I see evidence of what I’m capable of when I’m drepressed and have alcohol and food in unlimited quantities. I haven’t been able to stop myself with either before.

I have now though – and I HAVE to believe that this is permanent.

I genuinely feel like this is my very last chance, because if I do it again I’m 100% sure it will kill me. Maybe not immediately but it will do eventually.

I need to focus on all the positives and not give into recriminations and regrets – or think about the years I’ve lost.

Sometimes it’s really hard though – and on days like today when it’s raining outside and I’m left surrounded by bad memories it can gnaw away at me and make me forget all of the positives.

At the moment I’m working through it by writing and counting clothes. Huge clothes. Clothes I have been forced to wear by my inactivity. Half of them I never liked, some I hated, but wore because the alternative was public nudity.

I looked at the tag in one newish pair of jeans. 64 waist. Sadly this wasn’t the biggest pair I owned. There were bigger ones. They are stretched and deformed at the waistband, pulled out of their original shape by the strain and pressure of holding my gut in.

Some waistbands couldn’t take the pressure and and the buttons literally popped off, sometimes snapping in half and leaving jagged metal behind. I learned over the years that the best way to deal with this was to just sew the waistband together and cover it up with a thick belt.

The belts often also broke. Mostly because of similar metal fatigue in the buckles. I used to keep some string in the boot of my car just in case. True story.

All of it is intensely shameful. But it needs to be remembered.

In this pile on my living room floor are seven pairs of jeans (there are more waiting in the wings upstairs), twelve shirts (at least three more will join soon), one hoodie and five teeshirts (another four are almost too big).

I know I’m putting off taking these to charity  – and I know the reason. In the back of my mind there’s a ‘what if‘.

This pile of cotton and polyester misery represents at least £500 that I no longer have at my disposal to replace them if I backslide.

Taking all of these to Age Concern is the metaphorical and almost literal embodiment of ‘burning my bridges’. It’s a massive step for me.

I’m going for a walk tomorrow and afterwards I’m going to dispose of the lot. Every last single item. I am never ever ever ever ever going to wear any of these ever again.

And internet – you have my permission if you see me slipping or loosing my way to point me at this post and to rub my nose in the excrement of my past to make sure that I go outside and do my business there instead of sitting trapped in my armchair, sleeping upright because I couldn’t breathe when I lay down.

You have my blessing to boot my bottom.

Davey

Twalking

Today I was back at the Arrow Valley Nature reserve in Redditch to meet an old friend.

He had contacted me after a recent blog had resonated with him and had suggested we meet for a walk and a chat. As we did so we discussed some of my recent posts along with the events in his own life, and how similar our experiences and conclusions seemed.

Walking and talking really is the best way to explore thoughts. The endorphins are flowing from the exercise and you feel good. It’s not difficult to be open.

I’m an open person anyway – but things just seem to flow when I’m ‘twalking‘. It’s my new thing. We had 4.5 miles of free flowing twalking today and it makes me feel just as good as the physical exercise. It’s like my brain is working out at the same time as my legs, and conjuring order out of what sometimes starts as chaos.

As we chatted the subject of my recent bereavement came up and I re-affirmed that I feel I’ve found a peace of sorts with the whole affair. I told my friend that I like to try and remember the little things – like a papier-mâché Father Christmas hat my mom helped me make at junior school. It was painted bright red and the fur of his jacket and the hair under his santa hat was made with wads of soft white cotton wool. It won me 2nd place in a contest and made me swell with pride at how good she was at that kind of thing.

I’ve had to work at collecting these good memories though. They are like precious little pearls pulled from tightly shut oysters and are hard to find. They are often present only at great depth.

However as my companion said today (and I practically finished his sentence for him in agreement) memory is not really the truth. It’s something that’s alive and coloured with feelings and perceptions that we layer over it with our thoughts and reminiscences from the past and present as time goes on.

We can choose either consciously or unconsciously to remember things kindly, badly, or even not at all.

I think therefore the very best gift we can give ourselves is positivity. The more we strive to remember things in a good light, the happier our thoughts will be and the happier our lives will be.

Is this self delusion?

Maybe – but what value is there in living with bad memories? What can be gained by focusing on the darkest moments of our past?

Sure – there is definitely insight to be found in adversity and hardship, but when we take a negative moment in time and live with it continuously, holding onto the memory of the pain or sadness it does nothing but diminish our capacity to experience joy in the present and the future.

I’m not so keen on motivational soundbites usually but sometimes I hear one that just clicks with me and hits the spot. Long term readers will have read before that there’s one phrase that I try to live my life by.

There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. 

After our walk my friend and I stopped for a cold drink at the Arrow Valley cafe, on the balcony that overlooks the lake. Today the water below was filled with energetic geese, and their spirited avian chatter seemed like it was all around us.

In order to sit out on the balcony I’d had to ask if the waitress if she minded me taking one of the (stronger) chairs from inside of the cafe outside to the deck with me. The flimsy ones already there just wouldn’t have held my weight.

This would have been a big issue for me in the past – and it’s this kind of ‘problem’ that often stopped me going out altogether. I don’t mind this any more. I’m intent on bending the world to how I want it to be and no longer apologising for existing. It’s only a ‘problem’ if I consider it to be.

In this spirit I asked my companion to take a photo of me, as I was still hot, sweaty and breathless from the walk.

I have a fellow blogging friend for whom this kind of image is something that used to be feared – and for me it was too, but for different reasons. I never liked being seen out of breath or sweaty – or having to ask if I could move furniture around – but who cares?

I’m not going to live my life apologising for being big. I’m just getting on with it, and making my lot in life better day by day.

After taking this photo my companion (in continuation of what we had been discussing around the lake) asked me whether I dreamed about my mother.

I sat for the briefest few seconds and considered the question. I’ve had a couple of random dreams that featured her – but nothing that was particularly upsetting or profound. The honest answer was no – although I still think about her sometimes during the day in quiet moments or when I’m writing.

Actually – when I began to ponder about it I realised that I haven’t had any really bad dreams for a while. Ages in fact.

And then something hit me. Completely out of the blue.

I used to have a recurring dream about my ex. We were together for almost five years and when we split it crushed me emotionally. I can honestly say it felt like the world had stopped revolving for a while and everything I experienced from the point that we went our separate ways felt somehow like it was only 50% of what it could have been – because I could no longer share it with her.

In my recurring dream we would be lying in bed on a Sunday morning. It was aways in a bright room with a warm duvet and we were cuddling, not wanting to get up – just enjoying being close. We’d gotten back together, realised the error of our ways and we were happy. Blissfully happy.

We were going to be together for ever.

I usually woke up crying when the cosy bubble of the dream popped – and even if I didn’t I was still affected sometimes for days afterwards with a sense of loss and sadness. The dream bled into my reality and it kept coming back.

I’d been punishing myself in a variety of ways ever since the relationship ended, despite neither of us really being to blame.

But today, sitting on the balcony of the cafe in the park and looking at the lake I realised the dream had gone.

Then it hit me. The dream hadn’t disappeared because I had replaced the thought of her with someone else. It had gone because I had made a conscious decision to live in the future and not in the past, and followed it up with real and positive actions.

As this has continued I’ve begun to believe more and more in the possibility of the future again – and without even noticing it, I had begun to sleep soundly and peacefully. When I lie in bed I’m thinking about what tomorrow will hold before I close my eyes, and not trying to forget the past.

As I said goodbye to my friend I noticed that the reserve’s car parking spaces were filled with British Gas vans. There were at least twenty of the little blue vehicles, all lined up in two neat rows, looking like they had been recently washed – but without a single driver in sight.

As I drove home I smiled to myself, thinking that somewhere, hidden deep within the nature reserve were legions of gas engineers – all taking a break from boilers, pilot lights and plumbing.

Moving as a herd in overalls and safety boots they were probably also twalking their lunch hours away and would be slowly and surely moving toward an epiphany of their own where something suddenly clicked into place, and they saw things with more clarity.

I laughed as I thought of all the bright eyed and well adjusted engineers attending emergencies that afternoon.

They have the right idea internet. The park is the answer.

Get yourself out there and have a chat with a friend. I dare you not to feel good afterwards.

Davey