I started writing this post a week ago and then left it alone to simmer for a while.
Some blogs begin to touch painful nerves and occasionally I decide to pull back from where they appear to be leading me. Although I might start writing them in a happy place, I realise occasionally that my train of thought is leading me elsewhere.
There are some things that quickly remind me of the past – and when I began clearing items from my home recently I was reminded of the catharsis that came with shedding baggage and it’s history when my mother died.
For quite a while I felt that I was very similar to her because years passed when items and possessions in my life seemed to only flow in one direction.
Into my house.
Rarely did they leave again.
I purchased and accumulated many things – but I almost never let go of them.
This was partly because I had been conditioned early on in life to never throw items away that may one day have a use.
Gradually this attitude shifted – and after a while I was able to see that if something hadn’t been used (or read) for years then it was irrelevant to my life.
Occasionally I began to place things in this category on eBay, took them to the recycling centre or (later on) donated them to charity.
It wasn’t until I returned to my mother’s orbit (after many years estranged from her and barely a year before she passed away) that I saw where things could have gone.
She had continued to live in the three bedroomed house of my childhood until ill health and long term hoarding (making carer support and repairs impossible) had led the council to push her out of it and into a bungalow.
This had been inevitable for a long time.
Her three bedroomed semi-detached house had been crammed for decades with masses items that were now faded, rotten, saturated with decades of tobacco smoke or that had become simply too old to be of any use at all.
Much of it just fell apart when you touched it.
Nevertheless my brother, his wife and my father tried to help make sense of it when she needed to move by putting as much of her items as they could into boxes and onto a van.
There were simply too many things though.
Much of her hoard was ‘saved’ but the rest had to be left where it was.
Ultimately the council authorities turned up with a skip and emptied over half of her material possessions into it without a second thought.
A lot of things that she could never let go of were just taken from her against her will through simple necessity.
Despite her protests there was nothing she could do and no amount of ranting, bargaining or arguing saved any of it.
Here was a stark life lesson – because eventually everything is impermanent. Ownership of property or possessions is a nothing more than a temporary illusion.
At her new bungalow my (now desperately ill) mother found herself surrounded by mountains of anonymous boxes that she was far too unwell to unpack.
She also hadn’t been capable of filling them herself and therefore had no idea what they contained.
Swinging regularly between accusations of theft or other fantasies she accused everyone of stealing or moving her things whenever the opportunity arose.
She couldn’t let go of her stuff even when most of it was already gone – and ironically appeared to me more trapped than ever by the reduced amount left behind.
Although her possessions were greatly diminished by then there were still more than enough of them packed and stacked to form imposing cardboard walls throughout her one bedroomed bungalow that restricted her ability to move as well as blocking out natural light.
Even if she had managed to open them and sort through the contents there was nowhere to put the items they contained, so until she died (always tantalisingly near to all of her things) she was completely unable to use or see any of it.
Then one day she left the house in an ambulance for the final time, and a few days later the weight of her hoarding passed to mine and my brother’s shoulders.
We had no compelling reasons to keep any of it.
In fact the exact opposite was true.
What it represented to both of us was a woman that had abused us both for many years.
We resented every last item and ended up throwing almost all of it into bin liners and then into an anonymous landfill.
When we did I felt a massive weight lifting that felt like it had been upon my shoulders for my entire life.
The mountains of nothing were finally gone and I vowed that they would never ever return.
Although I am still by no means a Zen living kind of guy (I still have stuff) I no longer live with clutter – and lately I’ve been trying to get rid of yet more of it.
It’s no bad thing though because I’m not the only one doing it and there’s a good reason.
Now my house is becoming a home.
After many years when I thought I would die within its walls – alone, huge and unable to cope with life now it’s going to be filled with happiness.
Soon I’m going to be living with my partner.
She has secured a new job locally, has agreed to move in with me – and we’ve already begun the gradual progress of shedding our duplicate or useless items.
It’s a wonderful time of my life.
In a couple of months when we finally combine our living spaces we will move forward with only the best of our previous lives in tow.
By then it will be almost exactly a year to the day since we first met – which is amazing because I already can’t imagine how it’s possible to be happy and content without her being near me.
Therefore shedding items and throwing things away or recycling them has taken on a new meaning.
This activity is no longer exclusively associated with the pain of my childhood or the death of my mother – but instead is now intertwined with thoughts of my partner’s smiles and the laughter we’ve already shared within the walls of my home.
Bit by bit bad memories are being replaced with good ones and I feel that baggage (both literal and metaphorical) is being shed.
She makes me laugh, smile, feel warm inside and I know that the feelings I have are reciprocated.
There’s not a single thing I own that I wouldn’t throw away tomorrow to make space for her in my life.
And there it is.
Human beings don’t need things.
None of it is ultimately worth anything without people, friendship and love.
Even if you don’t have a partner you’re rich if you’re surrounded by good people – and in this respect I count myself amongst some of the wealthiest people on the planet.
Somehow – against all odds – I chose not to slide into oblivion in January 2016 and instead to change my life for the better.
Now it’s wonderful.
I’ve achieved more than I ever thought possible – but one part in particular is soon drawing to a close.
In early July I hand over my man of the year title to the next worthy recipient for 2019 – and I’m actually looking forward to it.
I was immensely proud to accept the accolade when it was offered and it will always be a defining moment in my life.
Now however it’s time to move on because my life needs to be about far more than how big and out of control I became.
After far far too long I’m truly living my life the way I always should have.
I want the rest of it to be a new adventure that’s defined not by who I was – but by who I can be.
Who knows what that man looks like or what he will accomplish?
I certainly don’t.
There are still plenty of things to fix but despite them the guy looking back at me in the mirror this morning just keeps grinning and smiling.
He has no idea what’s coming tomorrow or the day after and he doesn’t care.
He just knows that when he returns to bed and puts his head on his pillow in the early morning light of the day there will be the gentle breathing of someone else sleeping beside him.
It’s all been worth it.
All of the pain and hardship of every self inflicted or endured abuse.
It all brought me here – to a place I never expected to be.
I’m wiser, older, more confident, more capable, more contented, more understanding, more patient and more alive than I’ve ever been.
I’m truly happy.