To Have or To Hold?

This morning I read an article about clutter that really resonates with me. The link follows my piece here and the writer left me questioning my relationship to my own “clutter.” As a keeper of many things, including friendships well past their expiry dates, I have been doing a mental inventory of what I really need in life.

It’s not that I adore clutter. I don’t. But I do adore my collections of sentimental treasures and have been thinking for some time about ways to “pare down.”

I figure if I can pare down from a three bedroom house to a one bedroom suite and most recently to a bachelor apartment, l can pare down some more. The trade off for paring down to my bachelor apartment is that the sea is down the hill at the end of my street and I feel blessed to see it every day. Paring down my things will yield a lesser intangible trade off yet bears considering.

Paring down now is simply about living with less and the idea that I live with so many things I really don’t need. But what if I do need them? What if purging again means gifts from loving hands are no longer there to remind me of their love when my eyes land on them each day? What if favorite books collected since my twenties are never printed in the same way with the same covers and I can never get them again? Worse, what if I give something meaningful away and the giver dies, leaving me feeling eternally guilty (Yes I am a self confessed empath).

Do we humans assign too much value to “things?” Yes. But not without reason. Love’s symbolism has a powerful hold on our psyche. The sentimental angel gifts received since my twenties are largely untouchable while some books collected since my twenties have been passed along for others to enjoy. I cannot part with a still working radio from my father or bring myself to break up my family of angels. Angel books, angel ornaments, glass angels, wood angels, sculptured angels and paper angels made decades ago by tiny hands of love.

it didn’t take a pandemic for me to realize the comfort things can provide. We grew up with a mother who liked a clean house but our homes always had a well lived-in look. I’ve always known the value of a good sofa, a cozy throw or two, a beautiful painting and a home set up in a totally functional way in the midst of my organized “pretties.” I have also come to realize the greater value of things as I’ve grown older because, like those we love, some things are irreplaceable.

The minimalist movement was never for me. It looked tempting in magazines but that was it.  I could never reconcile myself to feeling I was living in a characterless hotel meant to accommodate a revolving door of travellers. And that’s what stopped me from pursuing minimalism. Home to me means warm, familiar comforts and my heart just couldn’t commit to minimalism sterility. So I will carry on keeping my things until I feel a need to pass them on to loved ones or grow incapable of caring for them.

My home has never been a slobby place because of my clutter. Just prettier. And in a world currently rife with so much that isn’t, who doesn’t need a lot more pretty? Turns out I do need everything I have after all.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/the-triumph-of-the-slob/612232/

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/the-triumph-of-the-slob/612232/

Scared or Overwhelmed? Both Are Normal

Today I saw more posts about people contracting Covid19 or dying from it. We are living in frightening times. This, I believe, is why I am also seeing a lot more sharing about emotional health, depression and suicidal feelings. These times are challenging for the heartiest of souls nevermind those who were already struggling.

It is so hard not to put the fear pedal to the metal in the midst of all this. It is especially overwhelming for those who no longer have their regular supports to lean on. Where once we could rely on simple daily routines of getting ready for work or running Saturday errands, we flounder as we try to find our place, make sense of how the world was fine one day and upside down the next.  Personally I miss grocery shopping. I have always enjoyed it, even done it free for others over the years and of my routine outings it is the one I miss the most.

So many of our regular tasks are suspended as are our social touch stones. All our usual meeting places are closed. Those who celebrate Easter are unable to get together for services, egg hunts or turkey dinners with every chair possible squished around the table. It is not safe to shop for birthday or other celebratory gifts. For most of us this is manageable. But for some this means spending an inordinate amount of time alone. More time alone than usual with nothing to look forward to or lift their spirits.

it’s hard to stay strong when we are so scared so much of the time especially for those we love who are still out there providing essential services.  But we have been here before and most of us made it through. Let me share some past storms we’ve weathered:

In no way am I saying we should dismiss our current fears. Letting ourselves feel our feelings is okay. Finding ways to remind ourselves that this is all temporary is helpful, I find, and sharing this chart is part of realizing that perspective.

Many are already terrified about whether they will even have a job when this is all over. Others are panicking because they can’t even see where next weeks groceries will come from. I don’t have answers for those situations beyond hope. When everything else is gone, hope is all we have left. It is so important to hold onto hope because looking at the list of all we’ve survived is a reminder that following the path of hope is helpful. Whenever I thought there was no hope left, a human Angel proved me wrong.

When H1N1 struck I caught it on an airplane  Three days into what was to be my last visit with my mother I was banned from seeing her because she was too frail to risk giving her H1N1. I was delirious for two weeks, thought my long dead father was in the room with me and that I was still babysitting “the little ones,” my four younger siblings . I even told an adult sister she couldn’t see a brother without my permission  I cannot remember any of it.

Wheel chaired onto and off of the plane home, I was sick for three months, coughing blood and generally unable to shake the virus that had set off my asthma and compromised immune system. Doctors kept stepping up my antibiotics until they could go no further.  But I finally started getting better in the third month.  I really thought I was going to die. But I didn’t. I never lost hope and will always believe that’s what saved me, helped me survive.

Most of us are going to make it through Covid19 just as we made it through the list of world challenges  I shared above. Please note this  is not my list but I felt it worth sharing because when fear threatens to swallow me whole, it helps me to maintain perspective.

And perspective is what we need. Fear is normal. We’ve never been here before. Staying in fear keeps us physiologically and psychologically revved up. Trust me, I get it because all fears and anxieties trigger my PTSD into the relentless nightmare zone. I can’t stay there  because I can’t let fear choke me out of my own life

Each day I try to “normalize” myself by doing routine tasks. At first I fell into not caring if I got dressed until I realized dressing helped me feel better. Whatever the little things are, hold fast to those. These are our anchors.  Fixing meals, doing laundry, normalizing as much as possible. I have discovered I can actually forget we are still in this Covid19 crisis. In the midst of doing chores or getting absorbed in a movie or documentary, I forgot about the world out there.  In fact, watching a series to the final episode saw me forget everything in the world until it was over. Then when it struck me that we are in the Covid19 crisis, I felt my muscles tighten, my stomach went queasy and I felt tears rising again. .

So I told myself, if you can do this, if you can feel better just by being distracted for watching a series, doing chores or reading, you can practise “mind relief.” Which is what led me to writing this.

Seeing this list of all we have survived in the past may not be much help but it is if we use it to maintain a healthy perspective. Knowing we are not powerless to help ourselves is also proving helpful for me right now. It means I don’t have to succumb to the fear mongering. It means I can do something to distract from staying in a constant flight or fight mode. It means I can still try to help others which is an innate desire  I was born with.

That’s what compelled me to write this today. If just one person sees this and it helps at all, then mission accomplished. We may not be able to do much but whatever we can do, let’s just keep doing it. This  is how we will make it through to the other side of this challenging time. We really are in this together and just knowing this is comforting, too.

Being scared is okay. Staying there can be costly. Staying strong is wiser. And staying safe is a must. We may make more phone calls, send more texts, play more on or offline games, video chat more, post more, read more on social media, paint, draw, write, Garden or clean every closet in the house. Whatever it takes, I have to believe we will make it, a minute at a time, an hour at a time, a day at a time, whatever we can manage. I am scared sometimes too but I look forward to the day when we can add covid19 to the above list. And, in the meantime, if you are struggling and need to reach out for help, here are some helpful links:

CANADA

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/mental-health-services/mental-health-get-help.html

https://www.foodbankscanada.ca/utility-pages/find-a-food-bank.aspx

https://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en/

US

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml

https://www.usa.gov/food-help#item-214625

 

Lifeline Chat

(c) Janni Styles

 

Donning Fox Gloves


In our lives so many moments are pivotal and yet it is often only in hindsight that we realize moving forward led us there. The human ability to move forward fascinates me because, as a PTSD survivor who still endures triggering episodes that can last a week or longer, I wonder how some make moving on look so easy when tomorrow can be a challenge for me depending on today.

Humans are all so different and nothing illustrates this more than our stress responses. Some work best under stress. Some cannot work under any stress at all. Even trauma responses are so varied it leaves me wondering how nothing bothers some and everything bothers others. My mother used to say I was like the princess and the pea, I could feel anything anytime. “If there’s something wrong, Janice will feel it.” She was right and it’s still true.

I read some years ago about a couple who witnessed the same car accident and nearly two decades after witnessing that tragic scene, the woman was still having nightmares while the man was able to process it and never looked back. And before you go thinking this may be a male or female matter, it is not. I know of first responder men with PTSD who cannot get out of their homes while some women who were working alongside them are doing just fine.

For me this may come down to being another nature versus nurture matter. It seems some are born with an innate resilience that carries them through all life challenges big or small while others are born naturally more sensitive to the slightest speed bump in life. Of course I wonder if parenting/nurturing contributes to how we cope in life. Yet, my parents were both survivors who lived through much which, as role models, should have prepared all of us kids with a survivor’s coping mechanism. Yet, some of us are as hardened as they come while the slightest negative tone of voice can still hurt the rest of us as old as we now are. Some are good at “putting the gloves on” for battle while the rest of us don’t even want any gloves.

My own “dream time” defeats me when under stress in that I can nightmare for weeks. The source of stress that triggers this can be anything at all. From my own physical health challenges to worrying about a loved one, from financial stress to social stress of having to be in a large group for several hours running. Some days the daily routine of self care is all it takes to overwhelm and paralyze me. Other fortunate days I think to myself, oh wow, I don’t think I have PTSD anymore. Then, after being triggered yet again (usually by mean, rude or abusive people), I realize I may never be free of PTSD.

What prepares us to react better to trauma or challenges? It could be said that the more we survive and cope with life challenges, the better we grow at coping. To some extent there is a learning curve to life that means we naturally develop and refine our life skills as we go along which is my experience. Yet an unforeseen life changing event can alter everything as it did for me, out foxing all my coping abilities when I was physically assaulted into PTSD.

Perhaps we are all like foxglove blossoms born of one stalk yet our internal freckling so different there may never be a complete answer to any of this. Happen there may be greater peace in simply accepting and supporting one another however we are, wherever we are.

(c) Janni Styles

 

Humble Sandwiches

Sandwiches don’t get a fair break in this world. What led me to think this was reading a morning piece about two women on corona virus lock down in their Tenerife hotel room with no food and only four bottles of water between them. How I wish I could take them some sandwiches was my first thought because sandwiches were the first easy to make and transport meal that flew into my head.

From there I thought of a conversation I had with my mother in her latter years where we shared our love of sandwiches. “I could eat sandwiches for every meal!” my mother announced. “Oh so could I!” I said. We then launched into all the kinds of sandwiches we favored with egg salad at the top of each of our lists. My mother made the best egg salad sandwiches ever. Obviously growing up in a household where sandwiches were so revered and where home made bread was once the norm has left me forever imprinted by “the sandwich.”

if you have bread and most any other ingredient, you have a sandwich. Of course most think of meat or fish or cheese or peanut butter or jam or molasses or honey or mashed beans or eggs or…see what I mean?

Sandwiches as comfort food go back a long way. In my twenties I was down because I didn’t get a job I wanted. I felt flattened because I thought the interview went really well. I went to see a friend and share my disappointment. My friend said, let me make you a nice sandwich. It didn’t totally erase the sting of not getting the job but it sure tasted good.

An in-law in his eighties still shares stories of stomping over to a great auntie’s home whenever he was upset  or angry at an older sibling. There in her kitchen his auntie sat with him sharing tea and jam sandwiches she’d made for him which likely served to heal his emotions just as much as being in her safe, warm kitchen.

Sandwiches are the perfect traveler pack and carry food from working in the fields to a Sunday family picnic. My father used to pack peanut butter or baloney sandwiches for us all whenever we took a ferry to or from the mainland. Initially a cost saving measure, those ferry sandwiches live among my best childhood family memories.

Apart from being so portable sandwiches are quick and easy to make. If you have a baguette and cheese, you have an instant breakfast. If you have bread and meat, you have a meal, no butter or mayo needed.  You can use veggies, avocado, sprouts, chicken salad, tuna salad, whatever you please between two pieces of bread and away you go.

Another sandwich story I will never forget was shared by another senior in law . This “auntie” often tells the story of her wedding day by mentioning first “we had sandwiches.” “I love sandwiches,” I said, “nothing wrong with sandwiches!” She goes on to say they’d had very little money for their wedding and that was all they could afford. Everyone gets that with some weddings these days happening as a tea rather than a meal or as a potluck where closest relations do all the cooking. Most of us don’t even care what we eat, we are just happy to be included whether there is a tea, a meal or a humble sandwich. Her wedding photos are so beautiful, they live forever as testament that sandwiches are a wonderful food fit for any occasion

One of my own aunties is now ninety and still in her own home doing all her own baking and cleaning. On our last phone call together after Christmas she said she’d just baked some bread and was having some for supper. Oh shut up! I said and we laughed. Her key to health and longevity might just be in that toasted tomato sandwich she has every morning for breakfast. Whatever her secret is to aging well, I want the recipe and something tells me it will likely be a sandwich.

So my hope today is that someone near that hotel in Tenerife will take those two women sandwiches every day until they are able to go home. I know I would if I were near enough. Since reading about those women I’ve learned there are 1,000 hotel guests on lock down. My hunch is a humble sandwich wouldn’t be unwelcome while they all wait to get back home.

(c) Janni Styles

 

 

 

 

The Bike Series: No Name

tidy orchard rows

decades ago

planted in true love

 

no room for flyers

with mismatched wings

on a solitary dove

 

many stop to partake

rescuing the bruised

from shifting ground

 

overcome with heady fragrance

never hearing the quiet

lonesome sound

 

of one brave tree

rooting apart

breaking straight lines

 

the inner rings

and outer calls

resisting all confines

 

against the sturdy trunk

stands a rusted

two spirit ride

 

wood arms cradling steel

love has no name

hearts will abide

 

 

(c) Janni Styles

 

 

 

Old Groves

somewhere between

ocean fragrant breezes

and flexing

whispering trees

my own language

faltered

altered

triggering unease

 

all that pain

she fired at me

because she hurts

too much to see

all that pain

she won’t let near

so Invested in serving

her anger muffled ear

pain never mine

misplaced wrath hers to heal

her peace will come only

when she lets herself feel

 

still learning

me too

how to gratefully

bow away

to write only on sea winds

words I vowed

never again

to say

 

(c) Janni Styles

 

 

 

 

Day 18 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge

Day 18 is: Post 30 Facts about yourself. Well, well, well. Wouldn’t that be giving up on being mysterious? Hah! As if. Not one to mince words nor do I care for mystery, bullocks to that, let’s just keep it real, lol, so here goes.

  1. My love of dogs once gave me nightmares when I worked to rescue them from vivisection and could not raise enough funds to save them all.
  2. Since I was a little girl I have yelled about injustice or unfairness, at parents, teachers, whoever, I think it’s in my blood because I cannot seem to stop lol
  3. If I could be a fictional character I would be Lisbeth Salander, love her strength, intelligence and sense of justice.
  4. I love strong spirited women who are honorable, no two faced gossip crap, just straight up loyally supportive as humans should be.
  5. I love strong spirited men who are honorable, no two faced gossip crap, just straight up loyally supportive as humans should be.
  6. I detest people who are rude, wishy washy or who engage in “gang think” to justify their malarky I can’t help calling them out on.
  7. I love vegetables. You may take away the meat or dairy or whatever but I would just die without vegetables.
  8. Ditto for fruit.
  9. People have told me I look like a movie star more than once in my life. (most often these three: Kidman, Streisand, Marilyn)
  10. Climate change is really scaring me. Really scaring me. I do what I can and wish everyone would hurry up and do what they can, too.
  11. I have Fibromyalgia, it runs in my family and is a physically grueling task master.
  12. I have PTSD from a brutal physical assault in 2012, something I never knew much about until I was struck with it.
  13. I don’t believe the number 13 is unlucky at all.
  14. I have a beautiful loving family and long time friends who I would do anything for, their steadfast love and loyalty for me moves me to tears.
  15. I am trying to write another book I think women of all ages will relate to but my energy and pain levels mean this is very slow going. Very slow.
  16. Simple is best, in food, in home, in life, it really is the simple things that make life worth living. Especially simple kindness.
  17. My musical tastes are eclectic.
  18. I like to drive at night time, it is quieter, there is far less traffic, the moody moon and glimmering stars my guides.
  19. I no longer own a car so number 18 may not happen anymore lol
  20. I hold an Interior Design Diploma I never really used because encouraging people to buy new when old still works sticks it to the climate.
  21. I am not afraid of anyone or anything. Not even of death. I will be dead so I won’t care lol
  22. The world is in such chaos at the moment, I take sanctuary whenever I can by the sea, church of all churches in my opinion.
  23. I once worked with victims of violence but did not think I was one myself. Violence takes many, many forms.
  24. I believe if we are constantly seeking peace we will never find it, being at peace wherever we are is where peace lives.
  25. Many have mocked my writing but were very pleased to know me when I was published or won awards for it. Art changes lives, writing is art.
  26. Baths are one of my favorite ways to ease my stresses, even watching the water go down the drain, taking away all that stress.
  27. Sleep is something I often struggle for but, if pain allows, I can sleep 11 or 12 hours straight, catching up on those “short” sleeps I guess, lol
  28. My favorite color is white. Then pink. Then blue. No my wardrobe and home do not resemble a nursery lol
  29. Walking is one of my favorite things to do. With the right shoes on my rare good day I feel like I could just walk forever and ever.
  30. My ideal life would be in a humble, pretty home near the sea with energy enough to write out all these books living in my head.

Day 15

Day 15 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge: Bullet Point Your Whole Day

  1. awoke
  2. opened blinds
  3. opened balcony door to welcome cool, fresh morning air
  4. made a coffee, drank it while reading bits from “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  5. had to rest for a bit
  6. checked social media accounts, shared hopeful posts of “impeachment”
  7. sent message to someone struggling
  8. rested again
  9. answered unusual knock on door (buzzer in apt building)
  10. see RCMP
  11. started shaking, thought they were here to tell me someone else has died
  12. couldn’t stop shaking for a long time after, thank you PTSD (NOT)
  13. they were looking for my neighbour, hmmmm, should I be nervous
  14. answered text messages from loved ones to calm my trembling
  15. rested again
  16. emptied dishwasher and put dirty dishes in, wait, there were no dirty dishes, yet, lol
  17. washed face with beautiful gift of handmade soap, applied sunscreen and told myself I will go walk for a bit, if I have the energy
  18. opened blog to do this challenge and first answered kind commenters on prior posts
  19. rested again
  20. niece needs help, answered her request
  21. sitting with nephews for two hours, rather, they will “sit” me, lol, big boys they are now, good thing because my “littles” skills are no longer lol
  22. trying to get this post done before I fade away altogether, can rest the whole two hours boys are here
  23. haven’t eaten yet, that may help with the energy but what do you eat when you feel like nothing? Somebody cook for me please lol
  24. brought dried tops in from balcony drier, put damp things out to finish drying
  25. rested again
  26. thought about book I am trying to write but so overwhelming just had to say as Aria said “not today”
  27. thought about going down to fetch mail but legs are just too wobbly right now and vertigo is not helping, maybe later
  28. only half way through the day and I need to rest again
  29. opting to bullet point only half of my day here, no point boring you further
  30. That’s it, day 15 done, off to rest, hope you are having a pleasant day!

Day 10 of 30 Day Writing Challenge

Another one that opens up endless possibilities: Write about something for which you feel strongly.

Since I was recently asked to write about the plight of abused children being used by sex traffickers and pedophiles, I will say I feel strongly about protecting children. My voice may not amount to much out there but since I agreed to do this a while back I recently started a series on here toward that goal, and will be sharing more as time progresses. It is my firm belief that “turning away,” “excusing” and “shame blaming” have held many abused people emotional hostage to these crimes right through their adulthood. If we can raise awareness not just in practical terms of educating children to what “danger” may look like but also in sharing what parents should keep an eye out for, I think that would be of service. And what are we here for if not to be of service. A dear long time friend says humans have a tendency to put most tough topics in the “too hard basket” and leave them there. I hope that won’t be the case for my series. I hope it will help or save at least one child somewhere from a nightmarish existence. Watch for my next piece in this series, it is based on a powerful real life situation and I hope my friend’s piece will be a warning bell for everyone using social media.

 

 

Salad Matters

you look out the

window

of your life

a summer supper of endive salad

with tomatoes

plucked fresh

from patio planters

the daily exchange

of health hurdles

with neighbors

semi annual visits

from duty bound kids

pictures on the computer

of grandchildren

you once met

no more big houses

no more car

no more travelling

no more work

you ask yourself

am I?

Was I?

the weather

watching

a daily event

too hot

too cold

too much rain

not enough rain

am I

the stretching of pennies

never matching the rising

groceries

the watering

of hanging

flower baskets

between

plucking spent leaves

where did I go?

Was I just an

extension

a fringe benefit

in other’s lives

Was I?

Was I ever?

You grab your jacket

and head out

to run errands

on foot

because you

still can

I am!

This is all

that really matters

(c) Janni Styles

The Alchemy of Noise deserves to be on your summer reading list!

“The Alchemy of Noise” by Lorraine Devon-Wilke is a timely story I hope screen writers and movie makers will discover and develop. In the pages of this literary work the ride you embark on will make you stop and think more than once.  The “Alchemy of Noise” is a heart wrenching yet inspirational read as the characters inner lives leave us questioning our own role in dividing or unifying human beings.

Almost poetic in some passages, Devon-Wilke weaves “The Alchemy of Noise” with an intelligent pen of compassion and soulfulness. Her characters are all relatable as you find yourself transported inside the torn social fabric of our contemporary world to first person perspectives of family matters, addiction, police brutality and racism.

https://www.amazon.com/Alchemy-Noise-Lorraine-Devon-Wilke/dp/163152559X

While reading I felt such frustration on Chris’s behalf I yelled out loud just as I have been known to do at a movie where I felt the story so strongly. Overcome with anger or utter sadness just as in real life when witnessing injustice, I was so hopefully invested I finished the book in a mere two days. As a woman I relate to protagonist Sidonie in a thousand ways:  her work life, her love life, her family, her human needs. As a life-long activist I relate to Vanessa’s passion for justice and grew to love her for her fighting spirit alone. As a human witnessing racial injustice in the world, I hurt for her, her family, her “sisters” in the trenches, her brother and so many others in the world suffering the injustice of “white privilege.”Chris is such an easy man to love, he is a shining example for men and women alike in my opinion because his way of walking in balance, not anger, is so admirable, so honourable. No more spoilers here, you have to read for yourself to see exactly who I am talking about and what ultimately happens to each of them.

The day I finished reading “The Alchemy of Noise” a post appeared in my social media feed that shocked me: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/white-campground-manager-fired-after-pulling-a-gun-on-a-black-couple/  The gun toting woman was fired from her job, thankfully. Still, this incident is one of many similar injustices still happening daily in 2019. Yes, I said 2019, not 1920. Devon-Wilke poignantly brings this social crisis of racism to light with even-handed examples of human disconnection and the quiet, enduring power of love.

From the challenge of loving narrow minded relations to finding love without trust impossible no matter your race or level of privilege, this book is rich with raw human experience.  Deftly executed with grace and the author’s own keen sensibilities, the story left me wishing it would never end. It is well-paced with moments of epiphany that had me feeling I was not just a reader but part of the story. In some way, we all are.  Every single one of us can take responsibility for changing history for the better, lessons of yesterday are a chance to improve, to hate less, love more and a chance to be at peace with all people.

In my mind Devon-Wilke’s work is right up there with the movie “Crash.” My hunch is “The Alchemy of Noise” would make a block buster movie or a most deserving series with the much needed reminder that we are not separate as human beings, we are one huge “human race.”

https://www.amazon.com/Alchemy-Noise-Lorraine-Devon-Wilke/dp/163152559X

(c) Janni Styles

#summerreading #summerbooks #books #summer #worthreading #brilliantbook

Downsizing, Decluttering and Doing Better With Less

A decade ago when I walked away from my more than three decades of marriage I found it challenging to down size my belongings and wound up leaving a lot of things behind. I left him all the house equity, the new truck, most of the three bedroom house full of furniture and many other joint belongings. I didn’t care about many of those things because they represented a life I wanted to leave behind. What got to me were the sentimental things, the photo albums, the family keepsakes collected over the years and my beloved books. How was I ever going to part with my hundreds of books?

Well, I will tell you. I parted with many of them book by book. When storing many of these things at my former marriage home was no longer an option, I took what I could stuff into my one bedroom apartment and drove the rest to the thrift store. Book by book. Ornament by ornament.

My years of dabbling in Interior Design after earning my Interior Design Diploma saw me building collections of textiles from zippered cushion covers to draperies and bedding, cabinet hardware as well as scads of different styles of art. It wasn’t hard to find storage for these items while living in a house. There was always a spare room, a large shed or garage and ample crawl space. Condensing a house full of memories and things I loved down to a one bedroom apartment didn’t happen overnight. It took me quite a few years to get it right.

The funny thing is I didn’t plan it, I just inched into it as changes in my life occurred and decisions had to be made. Like many of the jobs I have held in my life, I just seemed to land in the situation I needed to, learning to declutter by coming into it all sideways. That was how downsizing and decluttering happened for me. It was little by little and as I went along, I really began to see just how much mental, emotional and physical real estate these things were costing me to keep.

At first I was a bit angry that I had to even consider getting rid of so many things I had collected over the years. Then as I drove car load after car load to the thrift store, it seemed I could see clearer and clearer with each trek. What had befuddled me and torn me in half to think of parting with became an easy call as I realized what really mattered to me. The more I had to do it, the easier it became.

For a few years I lived in a two bedroom apartment but the square footage was actually less than my previous one bedroom suite. Recently I had to move again, not by choice but a serendipitous move for me it was. You see, I had to downsize again because I am now in a studio suite that simply will not contain all the things I once owned.

My photo albums matter to me so I have all twenty of those with me. Some books I know I can never part with including all those with my mother’s hand writing in them when she gifted them to me and a collection of literary classics she gave me in my thirties. I was able to pass on to beloved young family members some treasures and gifted other young loved ones with some books and furniture they could use or sell if they wished. It felt a bit like coming full circle to be giving these things away and  not feeling badly about it in any way. My emotional ties were not severed, they just weren’t involved in the practicalities of it all. It was as if my higher self knew this was the right thing to do for all concerned.

My clothes closet was another story altogether. I had hundreds of hangers, over a hundred pairs of shoes and I bet you I had 20 black dresses. When I knew I was moving to a studio apartment near the sea, I knew I would no longer have two closets. My new apartment has very little storage. Off to the thrift store again I went with bags and bags of clothes and shoes I had not worn in years. I whittled it down each week until I was left with 15 hangers not including coats or jackets. This was a massive downsize for me. Gone were the desert boots I hardly wore, the spiky silver sandals I bought for a wedding and never wore again. Gone were all the black dresses save one because, I now know, one is all I really need. Same for my drawers. I had three dressers and am down to one with only what I need in it. And, oddly enough,  some days that still feels like too much.

I think it feels like too much because it is still needy, still needs care, maintenance, cleaning and still takes up valuable real estate. This is the way I view “things” in my life now. I have to really really love it. Or need it. Or I can live without it. I know this now because I am doing it and happily so. Having too many things can absorb a lot of time and that doesn’t make me feel happy. I know many who declutter talk about the sense of freedom. I don’t know that I would call it freeing but it certainly frees up a lot of valuable time. I remember a friend who was downsizing years ago saying “If I have to dust it, I can live without it.” At the time I couldn’t understand her thinking. Now, some twenty odd years later, I get it. She was right. If I have to dust it, clean it, maintain it, store it or otherwise spend my valuable time on it, I don’t need it.

Doing better with less wasn’t something I planned but I am grateful for it because I now look for ways to continue living minimally. Have you ever had to downsize or declutter? How did you handle it and what did you learn about yourself in the process?

When Home Is Not Where the Heart Is

Where we live can make us very, very ill. High pollution areas are treacherous for those with asthma or any other breathing disorder. And nobody will ever forget Julia Roberts in the movie “Erin Brokovich.” Many “Erin Brokovich” folks are working hard daily to improve living conditions for many around the world. But what about not knowing that where you are living is making you sick until after you move? This is exactly what happened to me.

When I first found my last place to live I was excited because it meant I would be moving back to an area I had once lived in for 15 years so I knew it well and was looking forward to living closer to people I love. Living near those I love worked well for those four plus years because it meant no long drives for dear ones to visit me daily or on weekends, easy access for getting together for errands or outings and celebrations. But the joy stopped there unbeknownst to me until my recent move to a new above ground apartment near the sea.

The suite I rented for over four years was in a mansion, around the side gate, along a walk to the back of the house with a pretty yard to a staircase 15 steps down into the ground. No problem, I told myself, I am able so the walk and stairs are no biggie and not seeing any trees or green would force me into going out more. Or so I thought. The windows looked out on a 15 foot high concrete wall. No problem, I told myself, as I gathered “fake greenery” and fashioned a “drape” of it to hang on the concrete wall outside my main (and only) window in the kitchen/living room. The area had only one park nearby and it was not a proper park, just a play pad for tiny tots, really. No problem, I told myself, I have a car, I will drive to parks and green space more often. A dear friend came to see my last suite when I rented it and said, “I just wish you had more windows.” No problem, I told myself, I will just “whiten, lighten and brighten” up the space with paint and fabrics.

As life would have it the area had “devolved” into what I said it would eventually, a ghetto, if the city did not control the negative growth and high influx of criminal elements. They didn’t. In time, I realized with all the deaths of innocent people due to stray bullets of gang violence, the daily crime and the accompanying drug addicts and other unseemly traffic in the area, the area was nothing like it once was when I had lived there for 15 years in the first home I ever owned. No problem, I told myself, I won’t go out at night alone anymore. The problem with that idea was that I was soon too nervous to go out in the day anymore either with the high crime in the area, the addicts dogging you for money or trying to steal your purse as happens almost daily near the bus exchange now, the stray bullets causing almost monthly elementary school lock downs and crack heads tweaking out crazily in broad daylight on the street right outside my house. It was no longer the peaceful, pretty and safe community I had left all those years ago and likely never will be again.

Staying home more was okay. At first. No problem, I told myself, I will just write more. I had no way of knowing that the stresses were already taking their tole with such force that I would soon be in far too much pain and much too ill to write let alone do my own self care. I even stopped writing altogether as the physical side of me started deteriorating so rapidly.

One month into my new apartment I was surprised to see my nails were returning to their former pink glory from the grey, whitish look they’d had and the fragility of rice paper was diminishing. As I type this I can feel my nails which I could not for the past couple of years because they simply would not grow or what tiny growth they had was quickly torn away by the merest of task. This has ceased. I also noticed my hair was dulling in color, looking very unhealthy and falling out a lot at the old place. Aging, I told myself, just aging, soon you will need to buy a hair dye from the drug store, that’s all. Just over a month in my new place and my hair is lustrous, the hairbrush is back to normal instead of enough hair to build a blanket every time I use it and the color has returned. Yes returned. Best of all, I am no longer living in the bathroom. I spent over a year being so ill with my intestinal disorder that doctors recently found has naturally worsened with age. Little did I know that all the stresses of adjusting to my former neighborhood were the greatest triggers for worsening this disorder which resulted in losing over 50 pounds last year. I no longer have to stay home near a bathroom. The only sad thing about it the weight is I could stand not to gain it all back but it is slowly creeping it’s way up. Still, it is a good news situation.

I did nothing extraordinary. I was under no new treatment from any source. I simply moved away from the place that was making me so sick. I am getting better and better every single day. Once when I lived where there was black mold my asthma railed daily and I had to buy very expensive air purifiers just to breathe. That, however, was far more obvious. “Black mold” to me now is any place that does not contribute to our well being. If we are in a job or living in a place that is “black mold” to the heart, soul and mind, we need to address that as best we can to put ourselves in a position of joy. Not everyone can instantly change where they live or their work but we can do small things to improve the situation for ourselves until we can make the big changes that will nourish our soul once again.

If someone had told me that where I live was making me so sick, I had to get out of there, I would have argued with them and said no, it’s just aging, it’s just my body, it’s just life. Nobody did. Nobody ever asked me if where I lived might be affecting my psyche and therefore, my physical health. Nobody knew. I didn’t even know. Until I moved.

For me, it has been like getting my whole life back, having a new chance to live again instead of slowly die as my mind, spirit and body were obviously doing where I was. They say we should never say never but I know one thing for sure: I will never willingly live down in a cave or bunker style home in a crime ridden area again. It nearly killed me the first time and I’m not going to assist in that if I can help it. Each day as I gain back more strength and feel less pain, I realize how much where we live can deeply and even gravely affect us.

Painting all my furniture white and using light fabrics did absolutely nothing to “lift” the heaviness of living in such oppressive darkness where now in my new apartment with a view and the sea right out the front door, my pretty fabrics and white furnishings fairly glow. Just before Christmas when I was watching the children of a young thirty something woman I used to provide daycare for myself, her two sons entered my old place and the six year old said, “How can you live here, you can’t even see when the sun is shining!” Indeed, wise child, indeed.

Have you ever lived where it was not good for your well being? How did you cope until you could move?

(c) Janni Styles

Voices are Vital: Silence Changes Nothing

Many of you already know my story and while it is not the prettiest, I am one of the lucky ones and I know it.

I have a nice, peaceful life filled with many people who love me and appreciate me just exactly as I am which is just exactly how it should be for all of us. Sadly, it too often isn’t so for many. A recent spate of young women dying at the hands of their partners has me talking about these matters again and I know you’ve heard this before, too, but with that innate sense of justice I can never seem to shake since childhood I am compelled to share yet again:

“Once you witness an injustice, you are no longer an observer but a participant.” ~ June Callwood

A dear friend recently interviewed me for her blog and I would like to share that interview with you. So many angels lifted me through those awful years after the assault and Lisa was one of those kind souls who was a bright guiding light on some of my darkest nights. I failed to mention in that interview that I am working on a book I hope to have published by 2020 at the latest, please God and the Angels who watch over me. If it seems I am meandering a bit, I am but not without intent. I mention my story again as a trigger warning because in this interview I talk about what happened to me again.

Recently I stated this “If we stop talking about what must stop happening, it will never stop happening.” This is why we must never stop voicing the truth and keeping it front and center.

Facts can be hard for some to take but for others, they are a sign of hope, a sign of strength and a sign that they, too, can have a better life. On that note, I will say goodnight and share with you my recent interview, enjoy:

Celebrating Women: Janni

 

 

The Travelers

I am not a well traveled person

Unless you count human hearts

Those I’ve traversed in numbers

Proved loving among fine arts

 

So many electric connections

So many eclectic perfections

 

Time building loyal bonds

Over miles of emotions’ dark night

Down back roads of human minds

Shared relief in laughter’s early light

 

So many winding paths to wander

So many heart seasons to ponder

 

Entire mountain ranges undone

Stone by vast heavy stone

When wearied hearts thought

Themselves battling all alone

 

So much love from so many

How can some not have any?

 

My stories aren’t of destinations

No photos of grand places I’ve been

I’ve been to the heavens of hearts

To places that are felt not seen

 

If tomorrow should I fall

I’ve done the best travel of all

 

My stories are of navigating souls

Who loved me pure as I they

Souvenirs will never line my shelves

Our hearts is where they stay

 

© Janni Styles

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rose Series: Hearts

some roses are born to love

some live just to poke holes

they are the misery dwellers

you must stay away from those

some roses are born for the love

they won’t let their thorns prick

hurting other roses so foreign

mere thought leaves them feeling sick

some roses were born of pure love

giving safety, protection and lift

they know all roses can live out this love

you just have to give away your gift

(c) Janni Styles

 

The Bike Series: Tilda

Matilda was born to a dirt poor clan in the great depression. She survived it all to tell of times when she finally “made it,” of not having to scrape for every bite of food anymore and of those times when she was without a man. “Of course,” she’d say, “back then you were nothing without a man.” In as many words she explained why so many women had “settled,” including herself. There was no one or nothing to fault. It was just the way in those times. Oh well, she’d say,  I burned three men out, they all died on me so that’s enough of that for me. Tilda, as those of us fond of her liked to call her, danced every Saturday night at the dance hall right up to the weekend before she peacefully passed in her pretty bed in the little two bedroom bungalow she had lived in for fourty years, the last twenty of those years happily on her own.  My memory of her always goes immediately to a pair of red leather lace up almost knee-high boots. She just had to have them when she saw them in a store despite the hefty price tag. She was already seventy by then. Even in her eighties she tied those boots on as often as she could. Tilda with her walker to stabilize herself, prancing through the mall showing off her red boots as if she wasn’t a minute over twenty. I still think of her from time to time, how she started life on such a rickety bike but by God, she knew how to ride.

(c) Janni Styles

Not Allowed to Have PTSD

Yes you read that right. I was not “allowed” to have PTSD.  When I was struck by PTSD I could no longer be there for people I had emotionally supported all of my life. It was all I could do for a few years just to take care of my own basic needs. Thus I broke out of my “usual role” in their lives by needing instead of always being the giver, the problem solver and the peacemaker. When I tried to share what I was going through they answered by sharing something about themselves. It was challenging to have my feelings and angst so negated. People I had believed safe were proving to be not just unkind but dangerous. Our roles were long defined with me as caregiver and PTSD or not, they did not know how to support me through my own crisis. They would not “allow” me to have PTSD.

Some were so incapable of reciprocating with the kindness and emotional support I had given them over the decades, they made excuses to blame me for what had happened to me, revictimizing the victim as it is known. Some even invented lies to excuse their own utter cruelty, sharing stories about me that were never even true. These heartless choices others made only added to the shock of PTSD. It was a harrowing awakening to who some people really are and I have come to realize their limitations reflect only that. Still, nobody needs that kind of abuse when they are already struggling with PTSD.

What many are incapable of understanding unless they have lived through it is that everything hurt. Every single thing. Even accepting financial help for my minimal functioning couple of years bothered me because I have never been one for hand outs. I wanted to do more but all I seemed capable of was crying every day almost all day long.  I spent two years in classes for trauma survivors and saw a trauma counselor for a year. In one of those classes a participant touched my arm one day to say “do you realize you are rocking?” Apparently I burst into tears and could not stop sobbing. I can’t remember. She told me later as well as many other things that happened in those courses that I still can’t recall including a lot of crying. We are good friends to this day. Meeting in a trauma class is not a place you equate with relationship bonding but we have a strong foundation of deep compassion and understanding some relationships never see.

All I remember is it felt like my mind was scalded and anything rude or unkind that was said to me could trigger tears. I couldn’t take the slightest criticism from anyone on social media without breaking down crying and trying to understand why they, too, would want to hurt me like that. Non-sensical I know but that is the nature of PTSD, it is nonsensical and brutally exacting. It is also invisible so people see you on social media and think you look just fine when you may have spent the day with the blinds drawn, startling at every noise and shaking so violently you can barely type.

My writing was harsh through that period of time, so dark, when I could even write that is. Yet I only discovered this in looking back. At the time it seemed just fine to me. I couldn’t see the darkness or the jagged rawness of emotional pain. I could only feel the pain inside and try to purge it from my mind.

Life was so different for me from what it once was. My brain would do what the counselor called “flooding,” a physiological response to brain overwhelm or overload that often rendered me unable to do much of anything at all. Emotional paralysis is the best way I can describe it. The counselor said it was a form of protection when our minds just can’t handle the horrors of what happened to us.

This wasn’t the only way my life changed. I couldn’t go anywhere alone. I had to have safe “anchor” people around me who could keep me out of harm’s way and get me home quickly if need be. I could dress up and look fine which I did for my stepmother’s Christmas dinner and to see a cousin’s band playing the local arts Centre. Two friends accompanied me to that concert and I have photos of me with my cousins band. I also have Christmas photos of me with my stepmother and I look fine. My stepmother knew I had PTSD but I don’t  think my cousins grasped what it took for me to just get myself to that concert. I pushed myself all along to try and get back in the swim of things and to try and have some much needed fun

Fortunately I am blessed to have many loving, loyal friends who were and are still there for me. Many of us met in our teens and have seen one another through much over the years. Between them, some loving family and the work I did to heal myself, my life is pretty great these days. I no longer own homes or have money, my ex kept the money, the last house we owned and new vehicles because he threatened war and I was too exhausted for war. My mother was dying, I was sick with H1N1 for three months and I just wanted my freedom from his addictions and resulting abuse. I didn’t fight for anything, he had it all. I left with only a bit of furniture from our three bedroom house and a few thousand dollars which dried up in no time.

Fast forward to today. My pensions cover my living costs and I am happy to say many years have passed since needing those life saving much appreciated  hand outs. My life is almost one hundred percent back to normal. I can go out alone again and what I most enjoy are long walks in my pretty neighbourhood.  My rental apartment is just a ten minute walk from the sea and I have never felt more peaceful or content about where I live in my life.

After being a caregiver and minder for others since I was eight years old, I have come to adore living alone with only myself to please and take care of. This quiet joy is showing up in my writing, too.  Some might attribute it to a man I love and that is also partially true. We met nearly eight years ago and have been together ever since. He came into my life when I was still healing and he never judged me. When he stayed overnight on weekends my nightmares woke him and he would just awaken me because I sounded so distressed, crying and calling out in my sleep. Before him, I screamed my landlords household awake several times and have massive scars on both shoulders from clawing my way out of nightmares for two years. My guy’s steady way of being was so safe, so solid that I was able to let my guard down, relax the hyper-vigilant state of PTSD and the nightmares slowly subsided. Still, much as I love him I joke that when we finally live together it better be a big house so we can have our separate wings.

My sleep is nearly back to normal, too. I love 10 hours sleep a night and not just because I read that Sophia Loren said this. I just feel better and am averaging 8-9 decent hours a night unless Fibromyalgia pain keeps me from sleeping. Fitful broken nightmare ridden sleep is something I don’t experience much anymore and I seldom have those terrifying nightmares either. I can still be triggered but it only happens if people are mean to me. Cruel people may always be a trigger. Cruelty just shocks me, never mind having PTSD, because I can never understand why some want to be so mean in the first place. And PTSD isn’t something that just goes away but it can ease over time. My guy and his deep love for me is a rock I know I can lean on, something else I have never had in my entire life.

Now that I am in a better place, I am keen to write and have 30 chapters of a book I began writing in 2018. I hope to have it published in 2021. At the moment the rewrites are daunting but I press on to the finish line. I may not have been “allowed” to have PTSD but I am allowed to tell my story in any way I choose and that is exciting, something healthy to look forward to every single day.

i figure if I can get two books out there in the midst of such debilitating PTSD, I can get this one done. Though I must credit internet angels for helping me get those books out there. They aren’t the best writing but writing was all I had in the world to hold onto at that time in my life. Many have enjoyed my short stories and wrote reviews for which I will be forever grateful. The book I am working on follows below, it is my latest work in progress so wish me luck.

Finally, please know if anyone out there has PTSD and no safe person to talk to, feel free to contact me. I can keep our conversation private and I may not change much for you but I have been told over the years that I am a very good listener.

 

 

Is There Freedom In Death?

Is there freedom in death? Whenever I hear people say there is freedom in death, I wonder how they can know this without first dying themselves. What poses a greater mystery to me, especially now, is the question of whether we are freed when those who hurt us die.

On Mother’s Day Weekend I learned that a friend of over twenty years had died on my mother’s birthday. In no way am I saying my mother caused the death.  The timing just seems to say my mother is watching over me and wanted me to know it. Maybe, maybe not. Either way I did not find the death freeing. When those who wronged them die some feel relief. I felt none.

Coincidentally or perhaps not at all, the week before Mother’s Day and the news of this friend’s passing, I happened over cards from her, one a lovely handmade card and the other a card with an angel on it that says “Abundance.” I thought I had disposed of everything she ever gave me so it felt strange when I saw the cards among my papers. It was an odd remoteness though the cards were fully tangible in my hands, the smoothness of the glossy cover of the angel card and the roughness of the paper used to make the handmade card, yet both so distant from me they meant nothing at all.

A few years ago my reaction might have been to tear the cards to shreds or garbage them immediately. Something inside me had shifted. The cards could not hurt me anymore. I felt so at peace with the past I didn’t even mind seeing them. At the time I even thought how pretty they were, how her hands had made these just for me and what a shame it was we ended so sourly. My friend wrote notes of love, friendship and caring in each card. Both cards were given to me while she was secretly sleeping with my ex husband.

My ex and I were then separated for two years and I did not care who he was with. I did, however, figure I deserved better than a 20 year friend spying on me to carry tales to my ex in efforts to stop him from loving me. While visiting me at my apartment she and I walked the beach, went out for lunch, stayed up into the wee hours just to get the right photograph of the moon and shared my bed on sleepover weekends. All the normal things good friends do together. I had no idea I was being spied on and scrutinized for an agenda she could never fulfill. She never had the decency to say a word about what she was doing, nary a mention of ‘he and I are thinking of going for coffee’ as one would normally do out of sheer respect. She knew all the reasons why I had to leave the marriage. She also knew I left with virtually nothing while he kept the house, brand new vehicle, most of the furniture, savings and a ton of home equity. It wasn’t even her who told me they were together all that time but my ex. I didn’t believe him, I said he was just trying to hurt me with his lies because I knew she would never do that to me.

Later, I returned to that former marital home to collect more of my stored belongings under assurances she would not be present. Instead, she kicked me so brutally a doctor said one inch over would have burst my bladder and killed me on the spot.  She hated me purely because she could not make him hate me. A year’s worth of lies and deceit capped off by a near fatal kick constituted what my trauma counselor deemed physical, emotional and mental rape.

For nearly two years after all of this happened the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I was left with saw me speak of little else. My scalded mind kept shocking over and over and over that this had happened to me. Whether a familiar’s ears or a stranger’s didn’t matter, I just couldn’t stop sharing my life that then felt like being trapped in a horrific movie I wanted out of. I just wanted the pain to stop. I didn’t realize it at the time but talking about it was getting it all out of my head, helping me heal though I suspect a few people wished I would fall silent.  I was utterly traumatized and hoped someday I would wake up out of the nightmare that kept revisiting my broken heart and psyche.

A sister asked, ‘couldn’t you see what was going on?’ No, I said at the time and I felt badly for being so stupid, so gullible at my age. I later came to understand I couldn’t see it because of who I am. Even suspecting it was not in my innately trusting nature. The trauma counselor said the reason I could never understand what my friend did to me is because I could never do it. That, to me, is a good thing and something that has anchored me through the years since all of this happened.

What hit me almost as hard as the physical injury that lasted over a year until I healed fully from the kick was that some relatives I had supported over the years, been there for through thick and thin and helped for decades with their own or their children’s issues were suddenly nowhere to be found. I later learned they were siding with my ex yet none of them even knew the abuses I endured in that marriage. I was trying to exit quietly until my friend’s betrayal blew everything wide open. My closest oldest friends along with new friends I made in trauma support groups and here online saw me through. It was a lesson in who cares when you really need them as well as a lesson in who cannot be trusted to keep you safe or provide comfort.

People say we should not speak ill of the dead. I get that. Calling people down is juvenile in the first place, dead or not, but speaking ill of the dead has absolutely nothing to do with speaking the truth. The truth is often ugly, cold and traumatizing. Voicing that truth is not speaking ill, it is removing heavy chains that bind us in sorrow to events we had no control over. Healing is in the telling as a psychologist colleague once said of the inmates she worked with. At that time I was working with victims of violence and never thought I’d see myself requiring the very resources I had provided for others.  Many I served trusted me to keep them safe, shared their painful stories and thanked me for supporting them as they navigated the legal process. Yet, two decades later I was doing the “leaning” and the judicial system I had worked in was helping me heal. Social workers and victim support workers I had worked alongside for years stood by me during the court proceedings and much more.

The most difficult challenge for me was separating the anger, abuse, despondency and mourning from the facts of what had happened to me. I was often  in another place, barely coping and lost days of time to the nothingness that was apparently my refuge. There are entire sections of lost time, days and days I cannot remember a thing about. The awful hurting would not stop so I think my mind just took me to the safety of not remembering. It was better than the nights of sleeplessness, days of constant crying or feeling angry about having my entire world so upended.

Some assume you stay angry all of your life after something bad like this happens to you. That is not true for all of us who do the healing work. My anger over injustices of childhood or this traumatic adulthood event is long resolved. It is not anger I write out of, only my always brimming with questions writer mind. It was not anger propelling me to press on, to ask questions, to examine why or how certain things happened to me. It was always a quest for understanding.  I sought to understand and be understood. While we can never expect other humans to be compassionate even if they are the ones who caused the harm, the answers are the keys to healing past the pain. Even if the answer is no answer or proves abusive beyond the initial transgression as in an adult who finally musters the courage to share childhood stepfather abuses with a parent who replies “Well how do you think this makes me feel, why can’t you just let sleeping dogs lie.”  For me in this situation with my friend, I accepted that there could never be an answer from someone so mentally disturbed they still blamed me for what they had done to me. Accepting these human limitations is freeing. Telling our stories and asking questions is normal, far more normal than suppressing them is what I have learned from all of this.

Sharing is how we heal and how we help others going through similar experiences on their healing journey. Not asking questions or not pressing for answers often becomes ‘stuffing’ and we’ve all seen the ways stuffing our feelings does not work: addiction to food so severe it results in morbid obesity, drugs, alcohol, repetition of unhealthy relationship patterns, obsessions, shopaholic behaviors, dark legacies of intergenerational abuse, yelling people shut in anger, anything to avoid dealing with truth and realities. People die, we are all assured of that but covering up the truth or trying to silence anyone who tells it is a toxic move indicative only of the unhealed source of the squelching.

When the news of this former friend’s death arrived I was not overjoyed. I did not jump up and do a happy dance. I did not feel a sense of closure at all. It was a bit startling but that’s about it save for reflection on some joyful memories we shared long before her mission to destroy me. And this, to me, was a true sign of healing past our wounds so well that there is no longer any anger, there is literally no feeling at all. It’s like reviewing photos of people you no longer have contact with. They lose their value as time heals and you come to understand why people toss entire old photo albums away. There is no point in keeping or caring for that which no longer means anything.  I already had the closure I needed mentally and spiritually so her physical death meant almost nothing to me save for a fleeting sadness that she never lived the life she wanted.

She was always angry at someone or something and I hope she finds the peace in death she could never find in this realm. It was no surprise she and my ex only lasted a couple of on again off again years since the relationship was founded on serving him, ferrying him to casinos, delivering him alcohol, buying groceries for him and even signing the credit note for a brand new car for him. I never understood why she thought servicing his needs was a relationship but there was a lot about her I will never understand. She once told me he just needs the right woman. A couple of years later she called to ask me for help, said he has very serious addictions. My sharp tongue reminded her what she had said to me. How is that right woman business working for you, I asked before adding, if you ever call me again for any reason I will get a restraining order. That 2016 call was the last time I ever heard her voice.

I  never understood her constant anger or her stubborn nature and when I gave her feedback, she’d often say “Oh! I never even saw it like that!” or “I didn’t think of that!”I have to believe, no matter our roots, we humans are meant to cross paths for some reason though I hope I never comprehend why some humans are so compelled to leave pain in their path they spend their lives blaming others for glaring facts they refuse to see.  Even in court this friend was still trying to blame me for what she had done to me until the Judge said to her, “I am striking everything you have said from the record!”  It never made sense to me and still doesn’t that the night she kicked me she was yelling at me “I love you! You don’t understand!” It was painfully clear talking to her or asking her any questions would prove fruitless.

While working in the justice system a program called “restorative justice” was launched where victims meet with criminals who apologize for their wrong doing. To me that just assuaged a guilty conscience and would do little, if anything, for all the hurt left in the wake of the harm. I decided to do what my wonderful aunt advised:  “Just forget about them and go on with your life.”  A long time sister-friend recently said: “Myself, I come from a long line of grudge bearers.” We laughed but sadly this holds true of many families, entire life sentences willingly served nurturing grudges just as my friend had done and that has never been at all appealing to me.

The cards from her I found the week before Mother’s Day still sit on my desk. Gifted to me just before I learned her secretive doings, I could still feel angry that she was so duplicitous. But I don’t. Nor am I glad she is dead.  I am glad I am in such a peaceful place in my life that I can look at these greeting cards and hold them without being triggered to a puddle of tears as I once was by gifts she had given me over the years. When I found the two cards I set a paper weight on them, a rectangle of clear crystal with a pink cherub inside. The paper weight was a Christmas gift from another dear friend who would likely rather die than ever do what this deceased former friend did to me.

Was it a coincidence that I found the cards a week before I learned of her passing? Was it a further coincidence that I chose to set a heavy angel cherub on them instead of hurling them into the trash bin? Was that cherub a foretelling, a foreshadowing of  her death or was it spiritually symbolic in that I had physically laid her to rest before I even knew she had passed? Was she wishing me love and abundance from beyond, the love and abundance she resented me for while here? Was this encased cherub a symbol of her life on earth, trapped in a realm she was never truly at peace with? Was it a coincidence she passed on my mother’s birthday, I learned of it on Mother’s Day weekend and my mother so cherished angels, angels both in the cherub paper weight and one of the cards I ran across? We will probably never truly know.

Some of my family and loved ones say this was karma in motion. Maybe so. There was a time I wanted to ask her why she did what she did to me, how she could do all that to me. As with all crimes against us, sometimes there are no answers, only endings. I am at peace with who I am and where I am in my life. In the midst of emotional turmoil, multiple losses and grieving, writing buoyed me and I managed to get two books out there, nothing great by any stretch but those and writing here on my blog are gifts that stopped me from pitching right over the edge. There is another less tangible gift in my healing journey: the need to ask questions of anyone who was cruel to me stopped mattering a long time ago.

What will I do with these cards?  I don’t know. Somehow the cherub balances out the deceptive vein of these two cards.  I am now left appreciating the beauty of the handmade birthday card and the red haired angel of abundance looking up at me from the other. I’m not at all sure what I mean to do with the cards. That doesn’t seem to matter anymore either.

So, is there freedom in death? Maybe.

If I weren’t already free.

© JT Styles