There are few better places to reflect on things than a graveyard.
I started writing this post in the middle of an early morning walk, sitting in the shade of a nearby church with my flask of coffee and thinking about why I felt so down yesterday.
Just in case my current setting may appear to be a reflection of my state of mind – I’m not feeling morbid or down.
It’s quite the opposite actually. I awoke this morning (after spending the majority of yesterday experiencing anger or upset about one thing or another) feeling quite refreshed. As I write I can’t help but ponder upon what factors (in the 10-11 hours that have passed since then) have conspired to produce in me such a profoundly different state of mind.
I’ve slept really well – which helped a lot – but I think that yesterday the big thing that allowed me to recover was that I allowed myself to feel a lot of negative emotion rather than brushing it aside and just trying to be happy.
Before I went to bed last night I’d (possibly self indulgently) experienced anger, sadness, loneliness, felt lost, frustrated, tearful and finally just numb. At the culmination of this orgy of negative feelings I fell asleep fully expecting more of the same the following day.
You know what though?
It never materialised.
I wrote a while back (link) about a book that someone had lent me (Living like you mean it – Ronald J Frederick) which talked about the valuable power of feeing pain and sadness rather than burying it – and that doing so enabled a much much faster return to equilibrium. Ever since I found this particular insight it’s been slowly cementing itself as one of my life mantras and so far it’s proven very useful.
While speaking to a friend last night I casually commented that 18 months or so ago the thoughts and feelings I was then experiencing would have produced a very different reaction in me.
For one thing I’d have gotten drunk.
Very drunk indeed.
I didn’t acknowledge it back then but I drank the way I did (which was regularly and to excess) to avoid feeling lots of things in life. I’d done it for so long that truthfully I no longer understood or even cared to notice the causal relationship between my emotional highs or lows and my tendency to reach for alcohol.
My focus has been on food and losing weight almost exclusively since last April – but honestly this morning I’m setting that obsession temporarily aside to just say thanks for the fact that I stopped drinking on the 26th of January 2016 and it’s now been 522 days since I last self medicated with alcohol.
This is a horrible way of describing what I used to do. When I have the courage to phrase it in this way it makes me feel somehow diminished by what I still perceive was the manifestation of ‘weakness’ in my character.
Sadly however that’s the reality of it.
It was part of my life in a way that it never should have been. I eventually came to use it not to socialise, but instead to change my moods and day to day outlook on situations. I employed it for all the wrong reasons – and because of this honestly I can’t imagine ever going back to including it in my life.
Feeling pain and dealing with it is so much harder than covering it up though.
Today however (because yesterday I did just that) instead of experiencing the underlying regret of another night I can’t remember very well and the dull, familiar thick headed sensation of a hangover (which was so familiar to me back then that I no longer recognised it as such) I’m clean, sober, dealing with whatever feelings may land on my emotional doorstep and moving on with life.
My graveyard setting is not by design. I didn’t come here wth a moody need to be around the dead. I just chose to sit for a moment in the middle of my journey because it’s shady, quite peaceful and there was a lot of really lovely birdsong all around it.
However – as I write I can’t help but read the headstones as I pause between paragraphs.
Directly in front of me is one commemorating a man who lived from 1918 to 2014. His headstone simply reads ‘remembered with a smile‘.
It has some ivy in a small pot with little sparrrows either side of it that slightly obscures the engraving. It was this that caught my eye as my mind tried to fill in the blanks in the words before me. Once I’d followed the text I noticed a small jar with some very bold white sunglasses in it.
Their inclusion and the motto above them speaks volumes about how this man touched other people’s lives. As I contemplate the existence of a person I can only imagine I find myself momentarily consumed with thoughts about the kind of life that needs to be lived in order to cause a 96 year old man to be remembered with white sunglasses.
Was he blind? Did he like holidays in the sun? Maybe he did Elvis impressions?
Whatever he did it made people smile.
I can’t help feeling as I take a photo of the glasses that I’d like to be remembered the same way as him.
Then, as I turn to go back to my seat, I notice another headstone further down the row. This one details a much shorter life – lived between 1972 and 2016. Jarringly I realise that this is someone who died at an age almost exactly the same as my own.
This person (reads the motto) was ‘courageous‘ – and instantly I connect this in my mind with a drawn out end full of pain. People that die ‘courageously’ have suffered rather than passed away quietly. The use of this word (maybe rather selfishly) makes me think that this could have been my headstone not too long ago if I’d carried on eating and drinking to forget my problems.
Yet here I am 522 days later on a different path.
I look up from my phone to see that a man is now standing at the grave. He’s tidied the dead flowers away from it and is watering the ones that remain from a small can. Once this is done he stands quietly at the foot of the mound in silent contemplation. His hands are now both in the pockets of his dark blue jacket and his greying head is bowed as he looks, with his back to me, at the headstone.
I can’t see emotion – but there’s a sense of dignified loss surrounding him. He also watered the flowers and tidied the graves either side – and I find myself wanting to put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
I don’t though. It’s a private moment – and not for me to intrude.
After a while he leaves.
My train of thought as I watch him make his way through the headstones is disrupted. My phone has vibrated. I’ve received a text and am suddenly jolted back into the moment. My brother is in town earlier than I expected him to be and wants to know if I feel like meeting for a coffee earlier than we’d originally planned.
I smile, and reply that I’ll make my way to where he is as soon as I can.
In doing so I get up and move onwards, with the gift of a future and health that others don’t have. As I walk through the nearby field to the road ahead the sky is blue, the sun is shining, and I can feel its warmth on my arms – which are covered in suncream to make sure I don’t burn.
Yesterday (and for a few days before) I was out of sorts – but now I know that those moments are useful sometimes – because after them comes a sense of perspective.
I appreciated feeling well slept and rested this morning – and I relished the prospect of doing some exercise, without a hangover – and without the added burden of all the weight I’ve lost.
Occasionally I have bad days internet – but today I am reminded that 99% of them are really really good.