Friday, 2 January 2009

Surprised by Joy

Mainly sunny, though light snow falling now, temps minus 10

Michael and I went into Knowlton for breakfast this morning - scrambled eggs with sauteed mushrooms, fruit and toast with spiced blueberry and rhubarb jam. Yum.

Michael's back - which has long been vulnerable - started giving him grief last night. So it was back to the little red pills, a couple of big blue ones, a massage with a special cream and a hot water bottle. This morning he woke up feeling much better, and even did his exercises. Then off to Knowlton.

This is a special day. In fact, when we returned we lit the fire, made a tea and while he got down to writing his book I did more editing on mine. I'd put a special CD into the player. The music from the film, The Piano. An old film, and I can tell you exactly how old. 15 years.

I only listen to it once a year. On january 2nd.

And as I listened to it, I felt the tears come. I sat in the living room, with Michael, and the fireplace and the dogs asleep at our feet, and the cold outside, and cried.

With relief. And gratitude. With amazement. And joy.

This is my anniversary in AA. Fifteen years. Sober. Fifteen years ago, at the age of 35, I knew the best was behind me. I'd staggered to a stop. Not so much weighed down with years of drinking, but hollowed out by it. Empty.

What brought me to my knees wasn't alcohol, but what it did to me. What it stole. My self respect, my laughter, my ability to make and keep friends. Eventually even my desire to have friends.

I was on an island, looking at the mainland. And slowly, the mainland was sinking, like Atlantis. Until there was no hope left. Just me. Alone.

I think I could have sustained the anger, the self-pity, the victimhood, even the pain. What I could no longer sustain was the loneliness.

And finally, on January 2nd, after trying for years to stop drinking on my own, I got help. I went to my first meeting. And a miracle occured. I don't use that word lightly or often. But I know it happened.

I walked out of that meeting no longer needing to drink. I worked hard, and continue to work hard, at AA. Doing the steps, going to meetings. But in that instant I went from wanting to die, to wanting to live.

In my books I write about Clara's painting of Ruth - as the old, embittered, forgotten Virgin Mary. And that Clara painted her in the instant when despair turned to hope. It was just a glimmer in her eye, barely there. But there. Clara captured Grace.

All my books are about that. About despair, yes. But ultimately they're about hope.

Gamache is kind, compassionate, thoughtful - not because he's too innocent, too naive, too stupid to understand how cruel the world is...but exactly because he does know. He knows the worst, and chooses the best.

I learned to do that. The world didn't change - I did. I wanted to die, was going to die. At 35 there seemed nothing but a chasm. And no way to sustain that loneliness for another week never mind 40 years.

Now, 15 years to the day later, I look at my life and marvel. At the love I'm given and the love I give. At the friends, the family. At the people who helped me. At Michael who I met 14 years ago. At the puppies. At our home. At the books I get to write and the people I get to meet.

But mostly I marvel at the inner landscape. At the island that became a mainland, that became a continent, that became a lovely, kind, caring world. Inside.

At 2 years sober we're given a medallion by our sponsors and asked what phrase we'd like engraved on it. I thought about that and chose - Surprised by Joy. A phrase I used deliberately, with gratitude, in Still Life. I keep that medallion with me always. To remember.

Tomorrow I'll be going to an AA meeting - making coffee beforehand, setting up chairs. Someone will give me a 15 year cake. And I'll have the great honour of giving Janet, a woman I sponsor (mentor) a cake celebrating her 10 years of sobriety.

I don't often talk about this. It's called 'Anonymous' for a reason. But once a year I talk about it in case there's someone out there who believes their life is at an end. In case there's someone reading this who feels on that island, yearning for the mainland. In case there's someone staggered by loneliness.

I want you to know, you're not alone.


Bobbie said...

Dear Louise,
Thank you for sharing this with us today. And for showing it in your being, and in your books, to us.

Yes, Surprised By Joy--in Still Life, and in your life. Yes, Gamache is kind and compassionate and thoughtful..not because he doesn't understand the world but because he does understand. So true.

May Michael feel better. And may your special day tomorrow give you joy--and may the joy go on and on, every day.


Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Bobbie,

Thank you for your understanding. And good news - Michael continues to improve. I think the laying on of After Eight mints is doing the trick.

frouch said...

Dear Louise,

I'm really speechless. What can I say? I love you. I thank God for that miracle he made with you, because you are so much spreading it around.

I'll have a special thought for you tomorrow night, and I am sure you will always stay on that path you've chose many years ago, because you don't take it for granted, and you're still working hard to stay there.

Huge hello to Michael, your puppies, and your friends tomorrow night.

With tenderness,

Frouch XXX

Linda said...

Bless you Louise,

My beautiful, beloved daughter is also a "friend of Bill", although her journey has begun much more recently than yours. Your sharing of your story has given me needed hope that she too will arrive at the place of serenity and joy as you have.

God Bless you,

Daniel Brenton said...

This post was highlighted in the January 2nd edition of Gratitude Watch.

Thank you for promoting the value of gratitude.

Louise Penny Author said...

Hi Frouch,

Thank you so much for your generous heart.


Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Linda,

I'm so happy for you and your daughter that she's where she is! The vast majority of people never get through the doors. The great news is she's now giving herself a second chance. Not many people get that in life.

Thank you for writing, and I'll think of you, and her, tonight.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Daniel,

What an interesting thing to have...a Gratitude Watch. Fabulous idea. Thank you.

Wendy said...

Louise, you are a new author I have discovered and I love reading your blog. thank you for sharing, it is brave and I assume therapeutic! I love your books as I am now living in Seattle and long for my homeland, Nova Scotia and for years spent time skiing at Sutton while staying with our friends, Peter and Gussy Turner, do you know them by any chance? I wish you another 15 years of sobriety and peace and health. Congrats!

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Wendy,

Oh, you live in one of my fqavorite cities - I love Seattle!

No, don't know the Turners I'm afraid. But I'm so glad you've discovered the books, and the blog. Thank you for your kind message.