Monday, 14 April 2014

Round 2, Day 98: Magnolias, mysteries, and carrillada feasts

I am loving this mid-April sunshine. They grey drear of winter is gone, and the trees are lined with cherry blossoms in frothy bloom, toothy pink and white magnolias pointing tat the sun, and tree after tree with tiny green shoots that promise summer, soon. It's sunny today and I am heading out for a long walk in those trees. But I realized I hadn't written in over a week, so I'm jotting a few notes before I go outdoors.

The past couple of weeks have been very up and down, filled with joy as well as some serious difficulty. I finished my classes and successfully defended my thesis, so hooray for that! Now I have some unscheduled time to read and walk and think a bit, and that's sure welcome. The semester was a hard one for me, and I don't really know whether that nasty pit of depression was because I quit drinking or whether it would have happened anyway, It doesn't matter. It happened, and it's done, and I know I had best be careful with not running myself into the ground in the future. OK, got it. On that score, I feel a lot better now.

But the not drinking thing continues to be difficult. Not all the time. But when it is, it's grisly. Last week after my defence, I was so tired, just hollowed out. I came home and sat in my living room trying to read, because reading is my great escape when I can't cope, but I could hardly even do that. I wanted to toast my success with a glass of wine, and I wasn't having one, and yes I know all the reasons but getting through those periods of wanting is just plain hard to do. Last night was another roller-coaster: I was very tired after two rough days at work, and I wanted some wine, and I knew I wasn't getting any and that was my choice and all that, but I still wanted some and getting through those few hours was tough. Last week we went to a play that was filled with film noir style, all great suits and hats and snappy dialogue and straight double shots of whisky, and afterwards I very much wanted to sit with a glass of brandy and sip it very slowly. That's all I mean by hard: nothing in particular, but lots of that sort of thing. I'm not going to drink. (Should I put that in all caps? No. I don't think I need to yell it now. It's a calm statement. No drama there.) But there is no easy answer to getting through some of those times when having a drink seemed the perfect thing to do. In those moments, there is a big difference between knowing what I am planning to do and why, and getting past the strong emotional pull of that want. Joan at The Wren wrote a great post today about embracing discomfort. I'm not embracing it yet, but I know it will come and come and come and I will have to ride it out when it does. I'm doing that, but holy mother of god, is it ever hard to do sometimes.

I'm not writing about this to romanticize drinking. But I can be inclined to minimize difficulty--once something is over, all I remember is, "It wasn't that hard" or "It was mostly fun and interesting." Once (on a psych ward, no less!) a psychiatrist told me I was the most optimistic depressed person he'd ever met. It confused him, and it confuses me. What I learned, eventually, is I need to be accurate, to remember the hard as well as the beautiful moments. Being accurate helps me keep reality pinned down. As long as it stays still, I can deal. It's only when things start slipping around that I get into serious trouble over here. So here's to all those hard and beautiful moments, to looking them straight in the eye and accepting them all as they come.

And there have been lots of beautiful moments. Those magnolias! Oh my god, they are my favourite, and I'm not especially given to having favourites. They're just so improbable, huge pointy flowers on grey branches that don't even look like they plan to grow leaves any time soon. There are flowers everywhere, on lawns and street gardens and in parks and window boxes and all over the trees, they're just shooting up all over the place whispering spring spring spring, and I can't walk or bike a block without breaking into a huge grin at the wonder of it all.

And I have some time. Usually, as soon as classes are done I book myself into full-time work, just to catch up on finances for the next semester. That leaves me trying to squeeze all the postponed housecleaning and relaxation and social engagements into a few evenings and scattered days off, all while also trying to catch up on some academic reading I've been looking forward to. This time I'm taking time off. Today is the first of five days unscheduled time, and I'm welcoming that. I need to burrow into some meditative space, walk around under those blossoms and make sure I'm OK all the way through. I'm planning lots of walking and bike riding and reading reading reading! And eating some good, slow meals.

One of the slow foods I've discovered is carrillada! It's just a Spanish word for braised cheeks (I think), but it sounds a bit more gourmet in the Spanish, doesn't it? I've made braised sumac-coated beef cheeks with beets and celeriac, so tender the meat cuts like butter. (Mmmmm! butter!!!) Then I tried pork cheeks with apples, using some jerk spices (a made-up combination of anise, nutmeg, hot chile pepper, ginger, paprika, coriander, and thyme). The key seems to be using stock, cooking wine, and several hours of low heat. Very tasty stuff! It sounds like winter cooking, not spring, but I don't actually care. There's something about the big hit of yumminess that comes from a good slow meal that I find deeply satisfying. It's better than wine, but it replaces it somehow too, giving me the sensual pleasure of great big taste that I used to enjoy without the stuff that goes wrong when that taste comes from wine. (I did halibut cheeks in tomato garlic sauce to round out the week. I'm not sure they count as carrillada, but they sure were tasty!)

Other than that, I've been reading mysteries. Lots and lots of mysteries. One recent favourite author is Charles Todd, a mother and son writing team who write mysteries set just after WWI. I abhor war books, so I avoided these for a long time, but the characters are complex and the social upheaval of after-war Britain is an interesting context. For all the great advice I've head about not trying to escape from myself, I think reading mysteries allows me to do just that. It's like travelling, and that's the kind of escape that allows me to step outside of myself for a while and then come back with new perspectives. I think that's healthy, and a welcome relief.

OK, now for a different escape: a walk in the park! Through all the ups and downs, I'm doing well here. Fourteen weeks today without drinking, and it's a good way to live. I'm sticking with it-- partly because I know it's better, partly, when I'm not sure, because I can look to those who are doing it too and showing it's better, and I'm letting their belief carry me until mine comes back, as it does, sooner or later. Thanks for reading and commenting and being sober or trying to be along with me here. Here's wishing you peace and joy, and sunshine and flowers, too!


  1. oh, the optimism of magnolias! we had a car journey through local villages, towns and suburbs recently and began magnolia-spotting. they lifted their white and pink heads in front gardens and above back garden walls all along the way along our route. glorious!

    I'm glad you're recording those moments of wanting here. I completely agree that there is such value in pinning these thoughts down so we can revisit them later. and I hope the writing helps in the self-comprehension, too.

    Congratulations on your fourteen weeks! I always relish reading your posts.

  2. I'm so cheered that you love the magnolias, too! Aren't they optimistic? And yes, writing down the tough parts to see what's going on, I think that works, because at the time you can't see it and later it's easier to just set it aside. I think the writing helps a lot, and reading other people's writing does, too.

    Thanks so much for your kind words and good wishes! It's really lovely to hear that you like reading here! Hooray for you, reading! xo

  3. Hi Thirsty, I used to have a favourite magnolia out at the botanic gardens at UBC. The petals were like huge pink handkerchiefs. I've been looking a bit more closely at what's really going on in those "I really want a drink" moments. It's just stress of a particular kind. There's a featured video on Tara Brach's website that talks about stress being a super important message -- by not shutting it down (by drinking, numbing, lashing out), but instead giving it kind attention, we can get into some growth and blossoming of our own. Glad to hear you've got some time off. And I loved reading about your cheek week of meals. What a great food theme. XX

    1. Hi Sue. I'm in Vancouver--maybe I've biked past your tree! If you're ever at UBC again, let me know and we can do a real life visit. Wouldn't that be marvellous!!!

      I agree with you, it's what 's behind the cravings that matters, not the cravings themselves. And really it has very little to do with alcohol. I've been thinking about this. I really am planning to sit with that discomfort more, not just run from it. I just listened to Tara Brach talking about desire. She really is good. I will look for the stress video, too. Thanks for directing me to it. And yes, time off and eating good food and relaxing into the joys of life, that's my project for this week. I like it. Hope you're doing well. Thanks for your comments. It's always a treat to hear from you! xo

  4. Your descriptions of the food sounds so good. :) Yay to spring and magnolias and life with all of its ups and downs. So nice to hear from you as usual. xx

    1. Thanks, Jen. Hooray for all of it, yes indeed! Lovely to hear from you, too. xo