I can't believe that I have turned 50! I mean where did all that time go!? I remember my 18th birthday vividly...well the early part of the evening anyway. Celebrating in Umhlanga with friends at The Spur with the mandatory sparkler and accompanying birthday song. So much has happened since then, so many memories, so many years, so much laughter, so many tears.
This year I didn't have the best start to my day, with the first call being to let me know that a client of mine was killed in a car accident. It was a strange day of tears, laughter, love, happiness, sadness, and just altogether really quite odd. But then that seems to have been the theme of my life these first 50 years. There are some things I have learned, whether I wanted to or not, and those make me the woman I am today. I feel privileged to have come this far, as I think all too often we take the fragility of life for granted, focusing on the not-so-important and forgetting about what really matters.
My body has been exceptionally kind to me given the stress and strain I have hammered it with in my fifty rotations around the sun. I am a lot nicer to it now that I don't binge drink anymore and haven't for almost 15 years, but I could have been a little more reverent towards it, and being mindful of that is definitely part of the plan for the next 50 years! Inside myself I feel wiser, more knowledgeable and experienced, but it's weird how I don't really feel much older in my mind. My knees which have recently been hauled off to boxing tell a different story, and my body has hurt daily since I got into the ring for the first time about 2 months ago, but otherwise I feel like I could keep going indefinitely.
What I've learned over the years is that there are certain things that bring me untold joy, and there are those that are a constant source of stress. Nothing beats a great cup of coffee, a good laugh, a highveld thunderstorm, or time with the people I love. I've learned that experiences are better than things, although I can't help liking nice things. And I would rather be healthy than wealthy. Of course, I would rather be both, but at the moment I have health, and emotional, mental and spiritual wealth. It would be great to have more of the fiscal type of wealth. That's a work in progress. I know that having meaning and purpose in life is an essential element of wellness, and that consistency, albeit not at all sexy, is the magic bullet to sustainable success, recovery and wellness.
Some people say work smart, rather than hard. I have learned that determination and a gritty attitude will get me to where I need and want to be. Of course, we all need a little luck now and again, and there have been plenty of lucky moments and experiences. Like when I've walked into a room and met someone who is going to have a profound, and lasting, effect on my life! Even some of the unlucky things turned out to be gifts. Like falling in a Taiwanese sewer almost 15 years ago which was the beginning of my recovery and a life for which I am exceedingly grateful. Tumbling unceremoniously into a hole in the ground which contains human sh*t doesn't exactly sound lucky, but the universe clearly knows what she's doing.
I've learned that I can be a very difficult person to be around. You know that's true when sometimes you don't want to be around yourself! And I also know that I love hard and without condition, that I am capable of complete non-judgement and that I hunger for knowledge. Courage and authenticity are two values which constantly rank in my top five, along with knowledge and loyalty, and I will go to war for the people I care about. I don't like hugging very much, and I abhor unfairness and social injustice. People who can't or won't respect others' boundaries piss me off, and I will speak up to protect what is important to me. I work hard to overcome my shortcomings and see into my blind spots, and have had to practice a shitload of patience, acceptance, and tolerance of certain events over the last few years.
Death scares me, sunflowers delight me, and my work ignites me. Alex is the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of finding a life partner who gets me most of the time, although definitely not all of the time. I am grateful to have the mom I do, although I had a very challenging earthly relationship with my father, which has not really been eased by his death. I have wonderful friends, and a solid relationship with my brother, although we don't live on the same continent anymore. One of my key lessons in life is that you don't have to like people just because they are family, or put up with their crap. And I plan to continue taking care of myself in that space as I get even older.
Some days I love my job and some days I question whether I am making an iota of difference, and I am okay feeling like that. It's hard work and yes it's incredibly rewarding, but working with people who are challenged with substance use disorders can be soul destroying and heartbreaking too. No one ever said having meaning and purpose was an easy thing. Too often I don't follow my own work and don't give myself enough time to resource and replenish myself, although I do try really hard to be in integrity with the work that I share. It's all too easy to get caught up in trying to support and empower others, and forget to take care of ourselves. My awareness around this is ever growing, and I am getting better at taking time out...even if it's to play Angry Birds Match 3!
Sometimes I am well(er) than at others. I get overwhelmed and stressed out, and forget to follow the basic practices that I know to be supportive of my recovery and wellness. Trying to be compassionate with myself when I err is an ongoing learning, and I can be as mean as a snake to myself. But I do my best to be okay, and then some days I have to remind myself that it's okay to not be okay. After all, we're all just mere mortals living perfectly imperfect lives, just trying to do what we can. There are days when everything has a big question mark after it...and there are days... A holiday, with a lounger on the beach, and mocktails with little umbrellas, and someone else to make my bed and cook my food would be a dream come true, but there hasn't been capacity for one of those for a very long time, and I am at peace with that (for now) because I remind myself that there are so many people that have never had a holiday of any kind and I am instantly grateful for all the amazing experiences and adventures I have had.
In the last 30ish years I have lived in half a dozen countries, travelled to a multitude of others. Ridden a scooter and driven a car, been taxied about on motorbikes, travelled on trains and flown on airplanes. I've owned and lost a business, and started another - which is doing alright at the moment. I've worked in kitchens, bars, restaurants, offices, classrooms, lecture halls, and a clinic. I have worked for others and for myself - I prefer working for myself. There are so many interesting, amazing people I've met along the way and a few real assholes too. I've had my heart broken, I've lost and gained upwards of 100 kgs, I've had the opportunity to study and learn, and I feel as though there is still soooo much more to do. I've been with people in their moments of sheer joy and utter despair. I've held people while they cry in agony and in ecstasy, and I believe there is much much more that still needs to happen.
I work too hard, I don't travel enough. I'm okay that I am not crushing it financially, and not okay with the uncertainty that brings. There are lots of things I still want to do, even though I have had a chance to do so many amazing things. There are the things on the bucket list, and the things on the fuck it list. The former includes a trip to New York, another island holiday, diving more than I have, riding a lot more rollercoasters, visiting Italy with Alex, and living to be 100. Maybe even riding horses again one day. The fuck it list includes unmentionable things which would be illegal or definitely frowned at, like driving my car very fast into the back of the next luxury sedan or SUV that pushes into a long line of traffic when I have been patiently waiting in the queue for the offramp. That's one of the more mentionable additions to the list. I doubt I'll ever follow through on that but I like the idea of thinking about what can go on the list...
So basically it's been a wonderful 50 years! I wouldn't change too much of it...maybe just being more consistent around exercise and eating. But on the whole it's been a pretty epic adventure, even though it's been more homebased over the last eight years or so. I'm not finished travelling, learning, growing, loving, and laughing. I am also not finished crying, swearing, bumping my head, or failing. There's so many more memories to be made, songs to be sung, lessons to be learned, and delicious meals to be eaten. There are also tears to be spilled, hands to be held and hearts to be consoled. There are people to help and lives to change, and so many more amazing adventures to go on in the next 50 years...