Life’s What You Make It

Most things in life come down to a choice: the choice to focus on the positive or the negative; the choice to go after something you really want or to sit back and let someone else have a go; the choice to try out new experiences or to remain in your comfort zone; the choice to stay in a damaging place or to get out and start afresh.

It’s also possible to choose to see life as a series of choices, not a hand of cards that you are powerless to change. And if you do, there is nothing sitting beyond your reach. This may sound simplistic but I truly believe that it’s the only mind-set to have for living a fulfilling life.

Back in the dark days (when I drank most evenings and hated myself), I had no idea that life could be based on choices. Even down to the most basic of choices – deciding which thoughts I paid attention to and which I let go of – I was under the impression that I was a sitting duck: that whatever terrible episode may land on my doorstep, whichever bit of bad luck might descend upon my world, or however lonely and unloved I felt, I had no control over any of it whatsoever. It felt as though it was all just ‘my lot’.

There are many snippets of wisdom that we pick up during our time on earth but I think that grasping the idea of having choices and living life accordingly can make one of the biggest differences in how happy we are.

I decided that for me to be content and fulfilled, it was necessary for me to not drink alcohol. This was a choice. I could have followed the school of thought that says addiction can’t be beaten, that I am powerless over alcohol, that I had no choice. But I believed in the notion of choice, and I made that choice and stuck to it.

Yesterday I found myself suddenly overcome by negativity. Everything was wrong; I started to flounder in a pit of despair. But then I went for a walk in the nearby woods that are brimming with bright, autumnal colours and I took a few photos of the trees, noticed the beautiful blue sky, and breathed in the cold, fresh air, felt alive, watched my dog trotting amongst the fallen leaves and became aware of how even this mood that had engulfed me moments earlier was, in fact, a choice.

I started to think about all the things in my life that I am grateful for, all the beauty of the earth, the simple pleasures that make it all worthwhile. I stood in front of a tree for a while and observed the way in which the leaves, now littering the ground at the foot of the trunk, appeared as a reflection of the canopy above. It occurred to me that this could all be perceived as the dismal end of summer, a tree moving into a state of hibernation for the winter, or a stunning image of vibrancy, a captivating celebration of change; the beginning of a miraculous new season. I stared at the tree for a long time, and it became a symbol to me of how life is whatever we want to perceive it as.

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Earlier in the week, I had thrown a small Halloween party for my four-year-old and a few of her little friends. The carpet was covered in crisps, toys were strewn all over the lounge, and the kitchen looked like a bomb site. After everyone had left and I’d scrubbed my daughter’s face clean, wiping away every last trace of the ghoulish make-up she’d been wearing, my older daughter shouted down the stairs to me; “Can you help me with that English coursework now please?”

I had a choice in how I perceived all of this; to see the stress, the mess, the chaos, and to focus on my tiredness and how all I wanted to do was go and lie down on my bed. Or I could have chosen to see it as the lovely, hectic, full-on express train journey that is life, with all its demands and busyness.

I took the decision to view it as the latter.

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Big Spiders and Birthdays

Autumn is here, trumpeting its arrival with the mass migration of huge sultana-bodied and hairy-legged spiders from places strictly external to our property, to within every nook and cranny of the house, and with the return of X Factor. Other traditional features of the third season of the year are the arrival of thousands of students to our fine Sheffield streets, the sudden imposition of severe limitations on daylight dog-walking hours (resulting in the necessity to cram daily tasks in to even less time), and ongoing battles between myself and my other half regarding the heating – ten degrees, and he’s still in shorts and a T-shirt whilst I’m cocooned in at least three jumpers, thermal tights and a vest, excogitating the pros and cons of wearing a woolly hat (pros = warm, cons = itchy, makes head look daft, flattens hair).

Autumn also means my birthday is approaching (in two weeks, October 14th, same as Winnie the Pooh’s). Since I was in my mid teens, I have mostly got plastered on my birthday. This means that I now struggle to remember pretty much any of them, and the memories that I can pull together from those drink-fuelled days just blur in to one, creating a hazy montage of shot glasses, rowdy pubs, throwing up and bad hangovers.

Now that I don’t drink, this whole ‘let’s get drunk, it’s my birthday’ idea strikes me as curious – get dressed up, meet some friends, and then get so smashed that you make yourself ill and proceed to forget everything that you did to celebrate your latest coming of age. For my thirtieth, I had a party; a fancy dress bash with the following theme – 1970’s yacht party off the coast of Biarritz. The whole purpose behind this night was to get shitfaced; decorating the house, getting dressed up in silly clothes and a pink wig, fairy lights, carefully chosen music – the entire evening was an excuse for me to get off my head. I succeeded, and was so drunk by 10.30 pm that I was carried upstairs, threw up in to a bucket next to my bed, and then drifted off in to an alcohol-induced coma. Meanwhile, my guests had a lovely time downstairs until the early hours of the following morning, when they let themselves out quietly, leaving their oh-so-attentive hostess passed out in her boudoir.

However, I am not bitter. I have plenty more birthdays to come and I intend to remember each and every one from now on. I also plan to do something cool to celebrate each year that I grow in age and (I hope) wisdom. Sitting in a pub is of no interest to me. Eating a meal in a restaurant is nice, but I do that on many other non-birthday days too. What I’m looking for is an experience – a daytime activity preferably (baby restrictions still in place), something that will really stick in my mind. And something different.

On that note, there are a few followers of this blog now, and so if any of you have a good idea for my fast-approaching 37th birthday, would you send it me on a comment? I promise to do my favourite of any suggestions, blog about it and include photos. Nothing rude, inappropriate, alcohol-related or boring please…thanks all. 🙂