Pandora’s Box

Back in the dark ages, in the dim, distant past when I was married, my husband bought me a very luxurious black leather briefcase to celebrate my birthday the year I got a big promotion.

Thirty years later I still have that briefcase and while I no longer carry it around with my sales catalogues and business cards, it does hold some very special papers.

These days I call it Pandora’s Box. It’s filled with old journals and copies of letters and emails between my ex and I when we were going through the meaty part of the break up. All the gnashing and wailing. All the justifications and arguments. All the pitiful pleading.

An open briefcase filled with papers.
Emails, letters and journals chronicle this difficult time of my life.

Declarations of love on Sunday where superseded by obscenities by Wednesday. I have trawled through it a few times with different effects on my psyche. In the Wine and Wedges days, (circa 2012) when things were fresh and we were still in each others lives, I would dissolve into a heap of misery and have yet another glass of wine!  I would look for clues as to when and where I could have ‘fixed things”. In more recent times, I have vowed to create a big bonfire on the beach and dance around the burning ashes with glee.

Recently, I went through the stack of double sided sheets again.  I started to put them back into chronological order to make better sense of them, thinking to myself there must be some blog-able gold in here somewhere! I could write a very murky expose about the demise of a relationship over a long period of time with all the indelicacies that would conjure up. But no, I am not that type. This post is about as tacky as I am prepared to get.

I was pleased I could read all the wretchedness and despair with a dispassionate eye. I came away feeling vaguely amused and not at all sad. I did however tsk-tsk  at the time it took us to take the final plunge. The time we both wasted trying to patch the hull of our Titanic. But still we came out the other side and I for one am stronger.

Much of the writing is over the top emotional dribble. Streaming consciousness on overload!   But some is gold. Of course, most is contextual and obviously a reply to  now forgotten conversations. The papers cover the time from November 2006 – late 2008. At that time,  I was in the middle of completing a Masters degree and I must say my vocabulary was much wider than it is now. I seem to have gotten less eloquent!

Now, when I talk about my divorce and my ex, I report that it was a relatively amicable separation and that we can still talk to each other in a civil tone. Reading back over this huge body of work, reminds me that it was really a death by a thousand cuts but some of those were bloody big gashes.

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A briefcase full of memories.

I am not going to spill the proverbial beans. I am not going to write that  tell-all expose, but here are a few of my favourite lines, some of the passages that amused me. They are all from my words not his.

...I had other things in my head but they are like shadows now and I keep losing them…

…as I read back over this, it is only part of what I wanted to say and I feel like I can never explain. It’s all the chicken and the egg story. I am not sure where the seed came from but our life has been covered in lantana. We are still underneath it somewhere but now it’s too late to clear it away. I stand here knocking on the door of your heart with the weed killer! …[oh dear!]

…I can not explain… once you get caught in the turning lane you just end up going with the flow….

Ten reasons why I like you…

….  10. You like watching the same daggy TV shows, you don’t like John Howard, you have a compatible outlook on world politics, religion, the relative merits of free range chickens and social justice. [chickens were a theme even back then!]

….

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I used to know what all this meant! And be able to joke about it!

Maybe one day I will get around to that bonfire. But for now I think I‘ll keep Pandora’s Box with it’s oversized memories to remind me of a once passionate time of my life. One that I don’t want to relive, but a time that  changed the course of my life irrevocably.

You never know, when I am ninety I might just write that steamy expose!

The changing soundtrack of my life

My ex was a musician. Not professional and certainly not full time, he was in a few pub bands doing OzRock covers. He played drums and guitar, wrote songs and we would sit around and sing. I enjoyed being the musician’s wife and lugging drums and the vicarious fame. When a little chickkybabe in the crowd once asked me if I knew the drummer’s phone number I laughed and said “Yeah sure, it’s the same as mine!”

My one and only public singing performance at a school concert
Teachers band at the the school concert. The one and only time I have sung in public. Image by David Croft

 

The music was a happy place. We had a vast record/CD collection. Our house was never silent with some form of music either being played or performed.

We went to lots of concerts, Elton John (twice), Bruce Springsteen (x3), Cold Chisel (at least 3 times if not more), Steely Dan, Dire Straits (x2) Mark Knoffler, Bowie (x2). The Eagles (x2) to name a few. We went to see Bob Dylan when my daughter was just 6 weeks old. We had a few hours on a “pass out” and had to co-ordinate everything between feeds including an hour drive there and back. I slept right through it! Bliss for a new mum!

Snowy Mountains Country Music Festival

The only day I jigged school was in Year 11 when we went to Rockarena, one of the first of the all day music festivals at the Sydney Showground back in November, 1977. I still remember the sun setting as Santana played Black Magic Woman – it was magic. They, along with Japan, Kevin Borich Express, and the Little River Band were back up for headliners, Fleetwood Mac.

One of the first items we purchased for our home after we got married in 1984 was a CD player with a remote! Imagine that! It was around $900 and the most expensive thing we owned. We progressed to a surround sound Bose system with the subwoofer under the lounge and the little speakers mounted on the ceiling 25 years later.

Illawarra Folk Festival
From the Illawarra Folk Festival

When we split, he took the physical artefacts of the music. I had already copied what I thought I wanted to my iTunes account. I had the music, the problem was it wasn’t my music. It was his. Every time I played something it would bring back memories of him. I needed to find my own playlist. My own music that didn’t come with memories.

Ruby Boots - Illawarra Folk Festival
Ruby Boots

In the raw days of the wine and wedges phase (see my previous post) I had a list I called “single girl anthems” which consisted tunes like Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough”; Dixie Chicks – “Not Ready to Make Nice” and a favourite “If I could turn back time” by Cher. You know, the one where she wore the gown-less evening strap on the battleship.

I would crank it up on my little iphone dock and belt out the songs in my finest style. It was a combination of angry, strident songs of independence and weepy wailers. By the end of the 2 hours and 32 minutes (if I made it till the end) I would be either crying or punching the air depending on how it got shuffled.

But still it was mostly stuff we had had in the “ours” collection.

After giving it some thought and analyzing my favourite tunes, I came to the shocking conclusion that I liked country rock. Shocking because this was a genre essentially ignored and at times even vilified by my ex.

I borrowed CDs when I could and added Johnny Cash and downloaded the likes of Morgan Evans to the collection. OMG I even bookmarked all of Keith Urban’s anthology on Spotify. Now I sing and dance along to Kasey Chambers or Catherine Brit while I am cooking and on road trips Busby Marou and John Mayer keep me company. I have since moved on and I have expanded into other genres enjoying some new talent like Fanny Lumsden, The Audreys and Aoife O’Donovan.

Now that I am more settled and confident and “have my shit together” I have been able to return to my old favourites without the tears and regrets. The memories are still there but I have come to terms with them and they have a different edge. No longer so sharp or harsh, they are like glass that’s been washed up on the beach. The edges have been polished and worn by time and I can hold them in my hand without them hurting.

While my guitar gently weeps....

Wine and Wedges – getting out of the hole

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My fridge on moving day – no food but plenty of booze. A sign of things to come?

A few years ago, I went through a reasonably civilised divorce. On reflection, it wasn’t so civilised but I am not going into details here. The part leading up to the divorce was harrowing. Broken promises, lost dreams and plenty of regret. It was civilised because by the time we got to the signing of the papers part, things were settled and we didn’t squabble over the stuff, we settled things up evenly; our only daughter was a trainee adult and we had stopped yelling at each other.

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I have included this series of images from the Illawarra Vintage Car Expo because they are taken at the start of my photographic journey in 2012. I tried to find something to photograph every weekend.

I moved into my own place and I had some good friends help me and I unpacked with not much food but about five bottles of champagne in the fridge; given to me by said friends as  ‘happy divorce’ gifts.

I had been on that track for nearly 3 years. Not much food and too much wine.  I like to call it my wine and wedges phase (wedges being thick potato chips). I survived on pretty much nothing else as I grappled with the slow and torturous end to my marriage, the fact that my daughter had chosen to move overseas and the crushing reality that I was on the other side of 50 and alone.

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Thankfully, I had a good job, the financial resources and the wit to carry on normally during the daylight hours but come 5 o’clock, I self-medicated and drank more wine than I should. Often. Everyday! Nothing new…I know lots of people, both men and women who have been through this same self-destructive phase. That’s not what I want to share. The road to recovery and the return to all five food groups is the real story.

I think the journey is  transferable so if you are trawling the internet looking for confirmation that things will get better; hang on they will!!

Here are a few suggestions on what I did to “get my shit together”.

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  1. Never refuse an invitation.

You never know who you will meet and what might happen. I heard this advice on the radio. A young widower was outlining his struggle and said he met his current wife at a dinner party he had intended to avoid. Of course, this comes with the caveat of not accepting invitations that don’t align with your values, morals or bank account. But don’t not accept invitations because you think it might be boring. You can find interest in any situation even if you treat it as an anthropological investigation. Getting out and socializing and building relationships; especially platonic ones will build your sense of worth.

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I took a liking to the hood ornaments.
  1. Keep a three good things journal.

When I first read about this in Martin Seligman’s Flourish, a self-help book based in positive psychology, I thought it was a gimmick. How could this help? Regardless, I gave it a go and I am now a real fan! It helped me get out of a heavy “woe-is-me” phase. Your job is to write down three good things that happened during your day before you go to sleep. Sometimes it may just be you have the skill to write or you spent some time with friends; saw an interesting movie;  or your enjoyed 5 minutes in the sun. The good things don’t have to be big, but you must be consistent. I noticed a significant change in my mood and enthusiasm after only 10 days and looked forward to writing in the journal. I would end up writing out six good things. My life was good and I should remember that. Sure, I might be alone but come to think of it I like that! I enjoy the freedom it gives me.

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  1. Eat healthy, sleep at least 8 hours a day and get some exercise.

You will also of course have to cut back on the booze! Sounds like pretty sensible advice doesn’t it, but I know it can be hard to get it happening. Maybe start with one of those dry fund raising months. In Australia, we have Dry July (Cancer Council) and Ocsober (Life Education for Kids). Even if you don’t end up raising money it is a good way to appease those helpful friends who question why you may have gone from good-time-party-girl to teetotaler. Volunteering to drive is also a good way to keep you on track.

There is a direct link between gut bacteria and mood. (see my other blog post here: https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/09/01/good-mood-food/). The bacteria in your gut send good mood chemicals to your brain. Changing your diet to include more fibre, less refined carbohydrates and probiotics such as fermented foods helps.

My new food mantras is summed up in a few words from Michael Pollan (www.michaelpollan.com)

Eat food, not too much. Mostly plants.

The eat food part confuses people sometimes…of course we eat food… but he means eat whole food. Things made BY plants not IN plants. Foods that your “great grandmother would recognize as food” and without all the long lists of ingredients that sounds more like a chem lab than something you’d want to eat. My original degree was in food technology and I worked in food plants and labs in the late ’80s. I remember rows and rows of artificial flavoring  we used to test. I try and cook everything from scratch and while I would not call myself vegetarian, I have cut right back on the meat I eat and now generally only order it if I am eating out. The bonus of this is I am saving a lot on my grocery bills!

Sleeping too much or too little will mess with your moods. So practice good sleep hygiene. (see my blog post here: https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/07/03/sleep-app-nea/) This website also has lots of good information. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/

If you keep your body moving it will pay you back. You will sleep better, feel better and cope better with life’s challenges. Endorphins do wonders! Research shows that even small amounts of exercise can make a difference, both physically and mentally.  There are plenty of websites that back this up:  https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/exercise-and-mental-health

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Just driving around in this gorgeous Chevvy would make you feel better!
  1. JFDI

I borrow this one from fitness guru Michelle Bridges. Just frickin’ do it! Just get out of bed; just go for that run/walk/exercise class. On those days when it seems too much of an effort do any of the things on this list, just shout at yourself – JFDI! And do it! You will feel better when you have.

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  1. Take up a new hobby or rekindle an old one.

Give yourself something to do other than sit in front to the telly, moping. Start something new. Learn. Immerse yourself. Become a fanatic. Practice! I took up photography and took photos every minute I could. I used it as an excuse for planning photo safaris where I would plan a weekend or day trip to somewhere new and practice new techniques. Sign up for some courses if you can afford it otherwise there are plenty of free resources online. Seriously, think of any topic/hobby and there is bound to be a thousand YouTube videos.

Make you own videos and share them!

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Hobbies are a great way to connect with like minded people as well. Join groups that specialize in your chosen field. Look out for meet-ups in your area.
  1. Do something for someone else

Become a volunteer.  Practice random acts of kindness. If you start thinking about other people you will have less time to wallow in your own self-pity. Taking yourself out of the house and doing volunteer work for people other than your family will give you a real sense of accomplishment.

I love the idea of these Kindness Cards. http://wakeupproject.com.au/kindness-cards/ a variation on the pay it forward theme.

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I obviously did not take this one. The owner was very happy for me to sit inside and get a photo. He spent a long time explaining how he looked after his car!

If you try these things and you still feel stuck, you may need some medical interventions. How long you take to make that decision will depend on you. I am no expert but I would think if you have tried three of four the things on this list and you still feel low, get professional help.

If you feel worse than low get help quick. https://www.lifeline.org.au/

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My first blog – a countdown to 50

Back in November 2010, I started writing my first blog. 200daystill50. It was all about my 200-day countdown to my 50th birthday. It’s archived and private now but when I go back and read it over, it makes me laugh and I feel grateful for my plucky spirit.  I am aware I have many failings but I also know I have a few good qualities. One of them is optimism and another is stick-to-it-ness. I had made a grand plan for my birthday – to drink champagne on the upper deck of the Eiffel Tower with my 20 year old daughter.

Sick of the wine and wedges[i] diet I had been sticking to for the past year, I decided it was time to quit wallowing in the self-pity that had consumed me after (semi)separating from my husband of 27 years and get my life back on track. I knew I needed to break the shackles of the past by doing new things; meeting new people and going to different places. So, I challenged myself to do something new every day for next 200 days. The blog was my accountability partner.

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So (nearly) every day I posted about the new things I had done. Sometimes the new things were very small, like trying a new brand of breakfast cereal. Other days they were substantial like flying to France and crashing the hire car within the first 10 minutes of picking it up. The blog challenged me! Some days I hated it. I couldn’t think of anything new I had done. I pressured myself to do something new – anything – so I could write a post!

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By the third day, Day 197[1]  I was already scratching around for new things! I settled on having lunch with different people. But by Day 183 I was  reporting feeling more positive about life.

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My musings where usually matter-of-fact. Did this – did that.  Other times I got deep and meaningful:

 

Day 97: More than half way through the challenge – probably more than half way through my life. I think that’s the difference between being old and young. When you’re young you have lived for less time than you have left to live. As you get older there comes a time when you realise you are not going to double your age. That you have had more time than you are going to get.

 

During the time I kept the blog I wrote about 5 natural disasters including floods and cyclones in Australia, an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand and a tsunami in Japan. I went to Bateman’s Bay; Bellingen; Armidale and Western Australia. I watched several movies; completed three subjects for a law degree. The Americans killed Osama bin Laden. I ruminated on my own thoughtlessness and the thoughtfulness of my friends. My Ex moved in and out of my life.

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My posts got a few comments every now and then and at times it got over 100 views. I don’t think that mattered. The point was to push through. To keep myself sane in my own mind. When a failing relationship was being kept afloat with equal measures regret and hope. When even though a thousand times before I had slammed the door, and declared it was over, I hoped it wasn’t. When he lived in two places. When life seemed like a revolving door. The blog let me think out loud in the noisy space of the internet. Even if no-one did read it they could…it was possible.

 

I love reading the last few entries. Too busy to post properly as we drove (in the smashed car) from Bordeaux to Reims via the Loire Valley and back to Paris, staying in castles and ordinary hotels; my daughter’s high school French helping us along the way. The sense of joy in my (written ) voice still buoys me now. The Ex ended up meeting us in Paris on his way to a conference in Stockholm, two days after my birthday. A massive fail in the independence stakes perhaps but it seemed right at the time.

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It would take another three years till I finally changed my name and really lived my own life.

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That blog was a stepping stone. This blog? We’ll see where it takes me.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] I was counting backwards

[i] Big chunky potato chips or oven baked fires.