Food to Fuel Writing

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This is just about literal food, not a metaphor for books or other writing inspiration. I am doing a photo gallery because it's been five weeks of being a rash zombie who can't sleep. (But I think things are turning around! I managed to fall asleep at 1:30 last night.) 

There are only four ingredients in the salad pictured above. I assembled it at work: cauliflower, sardines, parsley, and pine nuts. 

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This shake has no sugar. I made walnut and cinnamon milk, then followed a Moon Juice recipe to add chocolate, maca, avocado, and stevia. 

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A simple kale salad with avocado and pumpkin seeds. Gotta massage those leaves with oil!

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Lentils, pine nuts, artichokes, sweet potato, and broccoli. 

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Lentils, daikon, wakame, carrots, and pumpkin seeds.

I hope you are eating delicious things when you are taking a break from work. It makes such a difference to have a home cooked meal rather than take out. 

Sugar Withdrawal

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I made this really delicious bean stew last week. Since then, my eating plan has taken a turn for the super strict because I figured out that the only way my skin is going to improve (and therefore my sleep and general sanity) is to cut out all forms of sugar, including things like brown rice, carrots, and lentils. (I watched a vlog where a guy cleared his psorasis by doing this. His skin was perfectly clear. Yes, I've hit rock bottom and I'm open to anything at this point.) This is a Hail Mary play; if I lose another night's sleep I am going to lose my mind.

Diet stories can be really boring, but if you're here and suffering from eczema, I went on a plant-based eating plan for nine days. During that time, my digestion improved a lot. (TMI: The combination of blended green vegetables and good fats has paved the way for smooth bowel movements; I know some of you are struggling with gastrointestinal issues so I figured I'd share. Two tablespoons of soaked flax seeds in your smoothie will make a huge difference.)

Yesterday, I cut out all sugar, fruits, starches, and grains for the next three months. By evening, I was in so much pain from sugar withdrawal, I imagine it was like coming off heroin. I was lying on the couch watching How to Get Away with Murder and shaking while trying not to vomit.  Plus I was so hungry I thought I was going to pass out in the shower. When I got into bed my body felt like a burlap sack of rocks. So today I added meat back into my diet. (No eggs and dairy due to allergies.) The red patch on my neck has already started to clear up overnight. I'm still suffering from brain fog though and I woke up at four a.m. because my legs were so itchy.

Still, I believe that I'm on the verge of being well enough to start writing again. I'm making space to make it happen. 

Learn How to Keep It One Hundred by Reading Toni Morrison's New Yorker Essay

I was talking to a friend about writing and keeping it one hundred. She said, "Did you read Toni Morrison's New Yorker essay about work? Talk about keeping it one hundred."

So when I left the office and got on the train, I pulled my phone out and settled down to read. I was exhausted because we were launching a huge project. My right wrist hurt and my brain was in shutdown mode.

Morrison's words are so uplifting. In the essay, she recounts a job cleaning a woman's house and the misery she was feeling. Then her father sets her right about how to frame one's mindset about work. It boils down to this:

"1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.

3. Your real life is with us, your family.

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are."

"You are the person you are." I love this. We are people, separate from our work, even if that work is writing.

Five Things to Do When You Have a Cold or Flu

I've just recovered from being sick for more than two weeks. It started with sore throat and escalated to a cough, congestion, and a three-day fever. At one point I wondered if I should have gone to the emergency room, but my body burned off whatever infection was plaguing me.

Here are a few things I did that made being sick and foregoing medication more bearable.

1. Gargle with salt water: Gotta kill those germs

2. Drink tons of hot liquids: I had soup, congee, hot water, and herbal tea. Even though I'm trying not to have sugar, I bought a bottle of raw honey to put in my hot water because my throat felt like I'd swallowed a pin cushion. During this time I went without my morning green smoothie.

3. Dry brush your skin: keep the fluid in your lymphatic system moving, especially if you're too sick to take gentle walks. I found this video useful.

4. Up your intake of vitamin C: I was taking 3,000mg a day.

5. Garlic between the toes: Place sliced garlic between your toes, wrap your feet with plastic wrap, and cover with two pairs of old socks. (You really don't want the garlic getting on everything.) For best results, do this overnight. I forgot to do this during this long illness, which may be why I was sick for so long.

I hope you're able to avoid this seasonal change cold or flu. I'm itching to get back to writing after weeks of sleeping.

5 Tips to Make Meditation Easier

I've been trying to meditate on and off over the past seven years, but I've never been able to keep it up. At work, my boss organized mindfulness classes for the team. (My workplace is amazing.) After just one session, I've been able to get past my thoughts of "what am I going to have for lunch?" and "I'm so itchy" to sit still, breathe, and be present.

Here are five tips to make the meditation process a whole lot easier.

1. Start Small

Instead of beginning at ten minutes, start with five minutes.

2. Don't Judge

There's no such thing as a perfect meditation practice. If you show up, that's enough. Don't worry if your mind goes to lunch or pain for a brief second. Just bring your focus back to your breath.

3. Get Comfortable

There's no need to sit on the floor. If you want to lounge on your couch, do it. Make sure you support your back with a cushion or the back of a chair.

4. Use the Right Tools

The mindfulness teacher recommended a great free app called Insight. There are several timers with gentle tones to signal that time's up as well as white noise options. I'm a fan of the continuous waterfall.

5. Send Out Loving Kindness to the World

For me, the Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen is very helpful. If I do this, I don't feel like I'm struggling against my mind.

Pema Chödrön's instructions:

"On the in-breath, you breathe in whatever particular area, group of people, country, or even one particular person... maybe it’s not this more global situation, maybe it’s breathing in the physical discomfort and mental anguish of chemotherapy; of all the people who are undergoing chemotherapy. And if you’ve undergone chemotherapy and come out the other side, it’s very real to you. Or maybe it’s the pain of those who have lost loved ones; suddenly, or recently, unexpectedly or over a long period of time, some dying. But the in-breath is... you find some place on the planet in your personal life or something you know about, and you breathe in with the wish that those human beings or those mistreated animals or whoever it is, that they could be free of that suffering, and you breathe in with the longing to remove their suffering.
And then you send out – just relax out... send enough space so that peoples’ hearts and minds feel big enough to live with their discomfort, their fear, their anger or their despair, or their physical or mental anguish. But you can also breathe out for those who have no food and drink, you can breathe out food and drink. For those who are homeless, you can breathe out/send them shelter. For those who are suffering in any way, you can send out safety, comfort.
So in the in-breath you breathe in with the wish to take away the suffering, and breathe out with the wish to send comfort and happiness to the same people, animals, nations, or whatever it is you decide.
Do this for an individual, or do this for large areas, and if you do this with more than one subject in mind, that’s fine… breathing in as fully as you can, radiating out as widely as you can."

10 Healing Ways to Spend 15 Minutes

Yesterday, I sat in my apartment wondering: what can I do during these turbulent times? How can I contribute and take action from where I am in the world that creates results? I settled on donating money to the ACLU and writing to my member of parliament and to the Prime Minister. This is a start, but I can see that this is going to be a long fight, so we need to take care of ourselves in order to continue kicking ass. 

If you feel like you don't have time, I suggest starting small. Commit to fifteen minutes a day. 

What can you accomplish in fifteen minutes?

1. Journal: Write down all the thoughts you're having. The good things,  the bad things, and the neutral things. List what you're grateful for that day. Let go.

2. Go to Bed Fifteen Minutes Earlier: You'll be surprised how that fifteen extra minutes makes a difference in your sleep quality. Or perhaps you'll get up earlier and suddenly you've created more time in the morning.

3. Meditate: Calming the mind does wonders. If you've never meditated before, I recommend the free sessions on Headspace.

4. Go for a Walk: A short stroll can be a mood changer or energy booster. Instead of having caffeine, I often go for a walk in the afternoon.

5. Read a Book: Do this for pleasure. A hot beverage makes this time even more delightful.

6. Oil Pull: Take a spoonful of oil (I prefer cold pressed sunflower because I'm allergic to coconut) and swish it around in your mouth for fifteen to twenty minutes. After you spit out the oil, scrape your tongue, rinse, and brush your teeth. Your mouth will feel so fresh.

7. Stretch: Yoga or simple stretches keep the body loose and the blood circulating.

8. Listen to Music: Put on headphones and sit on the couch or lie down. Don't multitask. Just listen.

9. Spontaneous Dance Party in the Living Room: This is exactly what it sounds like. Put on some music and bust a move. The sillier you look, the better.

10. Pack a Healthy Lunch: This will save money and give your body the fuel it needs to keep up the fight.

We need to be in top shape if we're going to last through what's ahead. No matter what, you can find fifteen minutes in your day to make your life a tiny bit calmer.

The Number One Secret to Productivity

You're not going to believe this, but the secret to productivity is rest and play.

That's right, I'm telling you to prioritize self care over getting things done. It's counterintuitive, but if you allot time in your schedule to rest and to play, even if you can only manage ten minutes to nap or meditate, you'll be more focused when you're working. This leads to better output. You'll also enjoy your time off more because you'll be present for it instead of thinking you should be doing something else. 

Before I recovered from procrastination, I'd punish myself for taking breaks. But rather than spend quality time on writing, I would binge watch hours of TV and feel bad during every second of this leisure time. This made me hate writing even more. I felt blocked all the time. My days seemed joyless.

Everything changed when I read The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Dr. Neil Fiore. This book taught me how to schedule in meals with family and friends, naps, walks, exercise, films, concerts, therapy, and reading time. Dr. Fiore recommends that we move for at least an hour a day, so sometimes I march in place or dance around while watching Netflix or stretch while listening to a podcast.

For many people, this is a good time of the year to rest and recalibrate. So for this week give this a try: put the fun first. Commit to enjoying that time. Step away from your computer. If it means turning off your phone, do it. If you have to delegate one of your responsibilities to someone else for a week to regain your sanity, figure out a way to do it. I know we all have to hustle so we can survive, but we owe it to ourselves to break the cycle of being exhausted and overwhelmed. No matter how tough our lives may be, we can take ten minutes and choose to rest and be present during this time. We can choose to take ownership of a few minutes of each day to put ourselves first. If we can take this step to bring real joy to our lives, everything else will fall into place.

 

Spilling the Tea on Being One Year Sober

In three days I will hit a milestone: one year sober. Over the past 362 days, I haven't had a single alcoholic beverage. No painkillers, no Diet Coke, no antihistamines. Anyone who follows this up with "no fun" can fuck off to rehab, because I'm not here for that noise. Yes, even sober I'm still working on my anger issues. The difference now is that I'm looking my bullshit in the eye.

What I've Learned While Sober

  • I don't miss drinking. I thought it was going to be hard, but I'm lucky that I wasn't addicted.
  • My real friends are happy to do sober activities with me. Like write! If I surround myself with the right people, nothing is too difficult to take on.
  • It's not selfish to put myself first. Self care for the win.
  • Pain subsides a lot more quickly when I'm not dulling the days with booze.
  • I need to re-establish a better connection between mind and body.

What I've Gained Over the Past Year

  • I don't smell like a rotting sugar cube anymore.
  • I can go more than two days without washing my hair and it still doesn't reek like death.
  • No hay fever, even without antihistamines.
  • I am much calmer. I don't go into an emotional tailspin every other day over dumb stuff like awkward interactions or slow walkers during rush hour.
  • I finally got around to all those repairs I was avoiding and now I'm never leaving my apartment again.
  • My eyes look really clear. I think my liver hated me before.
  • No weekends ruined by hangovers.
  • The spark to make things again. This blog is my way back to storytelling, to fiction. 

The takeaway? I don't need to drink. I'm serving clearheaded realness all the time and I love it.

 

 

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I'm exhausted right now, but I wanted to check in and send my love to everyone. It's dark times right now and it's okay to take a moment to process everything. I've been escaping via episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race.

For this week, as we're trying to claw our way out of the darkness, one way to get out of our heads is to tell the people in our lives how much we appreciate them. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Meet face-to-face. Be love and beauty and joy. Let's take care of ourselves. 

Tomorrow we fight.

A Hack to Manage Your Energy: the #raddesklunch

One of the things that depresses me most is when people say that they're "never not working". From experience, I know that a workplace is toxic when people skip lunch, stay late, and work on weekends. This round the clock productivity is a sick capitalist badge of honour, a red flag of fuck no. 

Somehow, this mentality has spread to our creative endeavours. We fall into the trap of measuring our dedication by the number of hours we sit in front of a computer and we punish ourselves if the sentences don't flow or we don't hit a high word count. This kind of behaviour doesn't get results and makes the work seem like drudgery. Let's be real: there is no reason to suffer while writing. It's not like we're on our hands and knees scrubbing floors for ten hours a day. 

The key question I've been asking myself is: how can I put in the work and get the writing done without putting in extra inefficient hours? 

A few months ago one of my awesome colleagues at my day job mentioned the concept of managing energy rather than time:

"The core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story. Defined in physics as the capacity to work, energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. In each, energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals—behaviors that are intentionally practiced and precisely scheduled, with the goal of making them unconscious and automatic as quickly as possible." 

This can be accomplished without spending money--it's about establishing a system that fosters good habits. 

I came across one way of renewing my energy during the work week: I pack a #raddesklunch. (Check out my Instagram, where I document some of my more successful homemade lunches.) The #raddesklunch is different from a Sad Desk Lunch, which I imagine is eaten very quickly, alone, and out of a plastic container.

My Tips for a Successful #raddesklunch

1. Use real cutlery: I keep a fork, spoon, and a pair of chopsticks at work.

2. Invest in good dinnerware for the office (I know, this requires spending money, but you'll be using it hundreds of time over the course of a year): I have a giant porcelain bowl from Muji that works for every meal.

3. Make lunch dates: Before I discovered that I had a number of food allergies, I went out to eat with colleagues nearly every single day. When I could no longer go out, I started a Slack channel, #raddesklunch, to gather people who had brought their lunches or were getting takeout.

4. Go for variety: Don't eat the same sandwich or leftover pasta every day. This Buzzfeed post about mason jar salads is an excellent place to start. I challenge myself to come up with variations on a simple salad with brown rice. (I'm also a fan of quantity. I need to eat a large amount of food midday or I get really hungry an hour later. Your food needs might be different so take a moment to figure out what your body really wants.)

5. Cook most of your lunches over the weekend and freeze them, so you don't have to do this every morning or night.

Here's one of my lunches broken down into three phases.

This is a simple salad with arame sea vegetable, carrots, cucumbers, and romaine lettuce with a lime juice, sea salt, and sesame oil dressing. I pack nuts in a separate container to keep them crunchy until lunchtime.

This is a simple salad with arame sea vegetable, carrots, cucumbers, and romaine lettuce with a lime juice, sea salt, and sesame oil dressing. I pack nuts in a separate container to keep them crunchy until lunchtime.

When the time comes, I tip the entire container over into my bowl. The dressing gets evenly distributed.

When the time comes, I tip the entire container over into my bowl. The dressing gets evenly distributed.

Then I top with pecans, round up colleagues so I'm not eating alone, and dig in.

Then I top with pecans, round up colleagues so I'm not eating alone, and dig in.

Now after lunch I have the energy to work hard and stay focussed until it's time to go home. On the weekend, I make sure the meal I have at midday comes at a time I need a break from another activity, like writing or cleaning or errands.

No Spoons Left

This week I'm depleted, so I'm directing you to a tremendous interview between Sachiko Murakami and Nikki Reimer. The first time I read it, I was so moved by their insight and bravery and generosity in having this conversation in a public forum that I immediately read it again.

Some highlights from their discussion:

SM: Yes, carving out writing time and energy when I have to day job is, for me, nearly impossible. I’m working a desk job right now, and it uses up nearly every one of my spoons. I need at least two free hours in which I am fed, well-rested, calm, and pain-free to get any kind of writing done, and I am never fed, well-rested, calm, and pain-free for two free hours on a work day. In order to get to a writing-state, I need to put in many hours of self-care. And then the acts of self-care ironically use up the last spoons that I was saving for writing.
NR:  ...I feel a sense of responsibility, particularly in grief and mourning, to be honest, because I think we have a very fucked up attitude towards death and grief in our culture, and I have seen how much it hurts people I know to have their needs in grief dismissed. The death of a central person in your life changes you radically, and you don’t stop having a relationship with them just because they are not with you physically. There is still a mainstream misconception that the healthiest thing is to “get over it,” and “move on,” to stop being, as one friend was told, “a sad widow.” That’s all bullshit. If I can help raise awareness about the realities of significant loss through my posts, than I’m happy to do it. And I will never stop missing my brother, loving my brother, feeling my brother’s presence in my life. Earlier in the process it would wound me deeply to be criticized for my openness about my journey through grief, but I don’t care, anymore, what people might think of me for being outspoken about it. I know my truth. I’m in a much more stable place now, four years and three months after, but the pain doesn’t end. You just learn to fit it into your body and your life.

I'll be back again next week with some preliminary thoughts about trauma and health.

Let's Talk About Exhaustion

A friend posted on Facebook: “Anyone else completely useless on weekends? I know I’ve never really had a proper 9–5 job before but it’s like both my body and mind go into standby mode on Fridays at midnight.”

I feel this so much. I want to write during the weekends, but instead I find myself binge watching TV shows like The Night Of and drinking tall glasses of stevia lemonade to stave off dehydration. Most of my energy goes to laundry (I pretty much have to boil my sheets weekly to lower the chances of an allergy attack) and making large meals to freeze so that I don’t have to cook if I’m ready to pass out at the end of the workday. Being an adult sometimes feels like a long trudge through a blizzard to somewhere I don’t want to be.

A few years ago, when I went to therapy for the first time, I realised that the way I talked to myself contributed to my exhaustion and my aversion to writing. No matter what I did, I never stopped to acknowledge that I was doing a good job of living life. All I saw was the pile of clean clothes I hadn’t had time to put away or the unopened mail or the books I’d bought but hadn’t yet had a chance to read. At work I’d sit at the computer until my forearms burned and my eyes were blurry. Nothing left in reserve. My sense of achievement came from feeling productive and my definition of productivity was shaped by outdated industrial revolution ideas about a set workday and output.

But like any perfectionist, I was all or nothing. Whenever I hit the wall, I had no motivation and I usually caught a cold or developed some kind of debilitating pain that hampered my ability to work until I’d have to quit and cobble together freelance projects until I’d rested long enough to give the office another shot. At most of these jobs where I burned out, if my boss had just stopped to tell me I was doing a good job or that my work was appreciated, I could have lasted longer because who doesn’t feel buoyed up by gratitude?

I was going to have to change if I wanted to be healthy and happy, but the way wellness is sometimes packaged freaked me out, like it was solely the domain of entitled lithe women with trust funds, investment banker husbands, and Instagram accounts where the natural lighting always seems to come from the north. But the thing I’ve discovered the hard way is that you have to take care of yourself before you can contribute in any meaningful way to society. Otherwise you’re just a selfless burden who doesn't understand how to set boundaries. Better to be selfish in the right ways at the right times. This Laurie Penny essay covers all these questions regarding self care: 


The ideology of wellbeing may be exploitative, and the tendency of the left to fetishize despair is understandable, but it is not acceptable—and if we waste energy hating ourselves, nothing’s ever going to change. If hope is too hard to manage, the least we can do is take basic care of ourselves. On my greyest days, I remind myself of the words of the poet and activist Audre Lorde, who knew a thing or two about survival in an inhuman world, and wrote that self care "is not self-indulgence—it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

So what’s the writing take away? In order to love the process again, I started setting a timer for thirty minutes, which I’ve since reduced to twenty-five minutes to follow the Pomodoro technique. During the session, I would do nothing but write. No e-mail, no reading, just writing. At the end of a thirty-minute block, I’d applaud. Yes, I sat in my apartment, alone, madly clapping for myself. I don’t need to do this anymore, but at the time it pulled me out of a spiral and gave me exactly what I needed to complete my short story collection. So go ahead and try it. Be the cheerleader that you need in your life.

***

The environment plays a huge role in our well being, so for readers in Canada, I urge you to consider writing a letter of protest against the Kinder Morgan pipeline and oil tanker proposal before September 30. (Click here for a simple form that will direct your letters to the right place.) Don’t let the fact that Justin Trudeau is pretty and awesome at PR lull you into complacency. Just because he surfs, attends pride parades, and is all-around dreamy doesn’t mean he’ll put our First Nations communities or concerned families first without us putting up a fight. In many ways, a politician of this calibre is much more dangerous than someone who is simply odious, so we have to make ourselves heard. We become well by advocating for ourselves and for our communities and this is an opportunity for us to author our fates together.

It Takes Two to Be Toxic

For years I had a friend who needed me so much I spent more time on her problems than I did on my own. Chatting with her was easier than working on my book because I didn't love the writing process then. My cultish devotion to her well being made me believe that I was a good friend, with the added bonus of an escape from the self doubt that suffocated me during my showdowns with blank pages. She would message me with whatever life or death situation of her own making and get angry if I didn't think someone was out to get her. (Full disclosure: I was pretty mentally ill myself at that time and would also oscillate between the belief that someone was omg the most amazing person I'd ever met or just pure movie villain evil hellbent on making me miserable. I know now that this is some seriously unhealthy bullshit.)

There were times I placated this friend by agreeing with her, even when she was being unreasonable, because she was so wounded and chronically ill I was afraid to hurt her. During the workday I'd receive an onslaught of messages from her, oftentimes talking smack about our mutual friends. Her complaints and criticisms filled my headspace. Twice, she called me right before I went to sleep in a state of agitation, demanding attention, going on about how no one was there for her, laying on the guilt. It was never an emergency, but I always felt bad telling her no, so I always let her have my time. I was a ride-or-die BFF, no matter what, especially if we were drinking together. She needed to be a victim, and I needed to play Captain Save-a-Ho.

Let's be clear: I was not a good friend. I was not offering true kindness that gave her space her to grow. Rather, I was an enabler. My blind support was allowing her self-destructive behaviour to fester. So really, I was aspartame, a slow-acting poison that seems sweet but isn't the real thing. For the longest time I didn't understand why I fell so easily into this dynamic. Why did I feel the need to be responsible for her, to help her fix her life even though I was a raging mess? When I think about it, the first time we met we got along because she seemed familiar. I was so comfortable in her presence. She felt like family, which in hindsight is a problem because my relatives are working through trauma, abuse, mental health issues, and addiction. Some family members mistake meanness for a sense of humour, and sometimes I mistake this cruelty for love.

***

I had lunch with P the other day. We hadn't seen each other in two years because a few weeks after we last met, he was struck by a mystery illness before he was to start a dream job in academia. Like me, he's managing a roster of integrated healthcare professionals, but whatever he's going through has been much more debilitating. Rather than bounding around the front of a classroom with his usual enthusiasm, he's had to deliver his lectures seated. He used to go running, but now even short walks can be taxing.

We met at a cafe where the owner gave us extra food and shared that his daughter was a singer songwriter who had left Canada for Europe because she'd had a rough childhood. We listened to one of her songsit was the only time there was music playing during the three hours we were thereand her voice was at once powerful and vulnerable.

 

While we ate, I discovered that P was also struggling with setting boundaries on helping other people.

"It's hard for me to ask for help. I have a lot of shame around it," he told me. If someone sought his support, he dropped what he was doing to be of service because he imagined it was just as difficult for that person to make the request. I told him this wasn't always the case. Some people go through their lives expecting others to take care of them, to clean up their messes, to bring order to their world.

We had so much to say because we didn't have to edit ourselves. We're aware that health stories bore the shit out of healthy people, so we don't usually detail the systems we've devised to manage each day. He shared that he was able to write for the first time in weeks. I told him what it was like to stop drinking and listed all my strange new food allergies. We're so attuned to our bodies now we didn't shy away from detailing our bowel movements. Whatever shame I had about shitting evaporated the moment I had to produce a fecal sample, collect it in a specimen container that had a tiny built-in scoop, and deliver it via a subway ride within a three-hour window for a lab test. Pretty much every topic we brought up became a source of hilarity.

"What the fuck, I've been doing affirmations," I confessed. "I am healthy! I approve of myself! I am a lottery winner!"         

"This morning, I thanked the sun for shining," he said.

We started laughing so hard. We'd gone full woo and there was nothing to do but embrace this unexpected change in our lives.

Before we left so I could go to my acupuncture appointment, the owner told us we were honourable people. "Why do I know this?" he said. "See that over there?" He pointed to the liquor store across the street and told us that he'd had an alcohol problem for more than thirty years, but that Jesus had released him from all that. He hugged us. I thought of his daughter, living in Europe, singing her songs about love while her husband sang backup.

After this, for the first time ever, I bought a lottery ticket.

***

One day three years ago I decided to do some research on codependency. I'd heard that word before, but I had no idea what it meant. This is how I discovered Melody Beattie's Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, which is the seminal book about the Captain Save-a-Ho Syndrome and how to change.

I have never cried so much while reading than I have as I worked through Codependent No More. Though I've never lived with an alcoholic, I was a textbook codependent because my family was rife with compulsive disorders. Rather than face my own problems and care for myself, I avoided conflicts and life by putting other people first. I'd been trained to believe that this made me a good person.

It became apparent to me that I was responsible for creating the conditions for my unhealthy friendships because I thrived on emergencies. I knew how to calm suicidal and depressed women, but I didn’t know how to find this peace for myself. All of this dramatic bullshit got in the way of writing. What scared me most was the realization that I serially befriended a certain type of woman who reminded me of my mother: I was trying to work out my issues with her through these friendships. This was a pure wtf lightbulb-over-my-head moment.

Last year, I received a text from my wounded friend. She said needed to talk to me very urgently because she'd had a traumatic experience with one of our mutual friends. I told her I was unable to Skype (because I didn't have the emotional energy to speak to her on a work night) but out of guilt I said she could text me.

Why didn't I trust my gut? As soon as she had my attention, she insisted on telling me something I'd specifically told her I did not want to know, a poisonous piece of information relating to the heartbreak I'd suffered a few months earlier. As the messages came through, the subtext was I wasn't so special, that I'd been used, that I should be as angry as she was at our mutual friend. Every text she sent me was designed to be as hurtful as possible under the guise of seeking my advice. All her words sounded just like the demon voices I’d worked so hard to exorcise from my head.

As I read her messages to me, I realized that it takes two to be toxic. I was choosing to engage with her, to allow her to create drama, to let her manipulation cause me to second guess myself. Why was I living like this? Listening to her was no different from cutting myself to divert attention away from my real pain. I stared at my phone, wondering what would be the kindest thing to do. There was a burning feeling in my chest. I was more sad than angry. How could I be kind to both of us? The only solution was to remove myself from the equation. I told her she needed to talk to our mutual friend directly to resolve the issue rather than chat with me about it. I was not going to fix anything for her. Then I ended our conversation. That night, as I lay in bed, I knew it was time for me to work on my relationship with my mother.