Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Not just another celebrity death.

My name is Fiona, and I'm an alcoholic.

I say these words a few times every week at my AA meeting. It's a term I finally had to admit to myself almost 7 years ago when I relapsed after the suicide of a dear friend. It's also a term I could only fully comprehend after I woke up one morning - having drunk the week away - and realized that for the first time in my life, I had to ask for help. The bottle was my safe haven, my escape from the evils of the world, my oversized comforter. Nothing could penetrate my skin if it was filled to the brim with my perfect elixir. I had been through far more than anyone should ever go through in their life and still be expected to remain sane: my best friend's murder, bullying all throughout my school years, a rape at 14, suicide attempts and breakdowns, a decade-long failed marriage, other friends taking their own lives, and sadly, someone killing themselves right in front of me. And all of these happened before the age of 30.

Dealing with more than I could handle, my mind turned on me in my early teens . The voices in my head told me on an endless loop that I was no good and deserved everything that happened to me. Alcohol numbed me from the pain that was all too real, and carried me away to a place where I didn't have a care in the world. The only way I could help myself, was to not think about getting help.

I heard the news of Robin Williams' death only 5 minutes before my meeting was to start tonight, and it shook my entire foundation to the core. I cried for the entire hour, but felt grateful that I was at a meeting when I found out. In that safe room, I would not be judged for the way I reacted. I'd be able to take part in a discussion about addiction, and hear the other people in the room share the same thoughts and feelings. Once I got home, I scrolled through Facebook posts, and articles on IMDB, Variety, and Huffington Post. Everyone was in a state of shock, but a lot of the comments I saw were criticizing people being so emotional over "someone they didn't even know". Those comments made me realize I had to write about why I had the reaction I did. What it comes down to is this:

He was not just a celebrity, he was another member of my fellowship. It is our duty in the program to "carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers". We are all in this together, and I'm not just talking about AA. We're all in this world together, and must rely on each other to help get through both good times and bad. I speak openly today about everything that I've been through, because not only does it help me shed myself of the shame and horror I carried for decades, but it also helps others who are suffering realize that they are not alone. The preamble at the start of our meetings lays it out pretty clear:

"AA is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism."

I'm doing my best to not to have this come across in a preachy way. I'm just trying to help you understand how the mind of one person in recovery works, and that it is a long, hard journey that requires working on it. Every. Single. Day. I may be sober now, but the voices still pop into my head. The only difference is that today I tackle my demons head-on by breaking down problems piece by piece, instead of drowning them away temporarily with alcohol.

The last thing I want to do tomorrow is go to work. I just want to hide in the apartment and cry all day. Every fibre of my being just wants to be left alone and grieve for the beautiful soul known as Robin. His pain was too much to bear, and as sad as it is that he is no longer with us, I hope with all my heart that he has found peace at last. That's why I have to get out of bed tomorrow and go out and face the world. I have to keep living ... and laughing. He brought joy to so many of us through laughter. It's the greatest lesson I learned in those early years. Though there were many years of turmoil still to come, I found temporary salvation from the pain. From my transistor radio hidden in my pillow every Sunday night in the 80s, I discovered the Dr. Demento show and from that, Weird Al Yankovic.

Just like the AA fellowship I'm a part of today, I understood the term "You are not alone" when I listened to Weird Al's songs. They made sense to me and helped me immensely. As fate would have it, just over 7 years ago, I got a chance to call CHUM FM here in Toronto one morning when he was in town promoting his concert. I didn't go into details, but I was able to tell Weird Al one-on-one how his songs helped me get through depression and difficult times as a teenager, and that I just wanted to say "thank you." He was deeply touched, and it's one of the most precious memories and moments I cherish in my life. Once again, this was about "someone I didn't even know". Knowing that we were in this together helped me more than I could dream possible, and being someone he didn't even know didn't matter either: there was still a connection.

Maybe my post here can help someone I don't even know realize that they are not alone. So please don't judge me for mourning the loss of someone who still mattered to me in my own personal way.

Thank you.

Monday, January 6, 2014

My 2014 reading list.

Books really liven up my life. Sadly, the past few years I haven't been reading as much as I used to.
It's hard to balance time between reading all the books you've been meaning to get to, and doing puzzles year-round as practice for your tournament. The puzzles have won in a triumphant manner lately, and though that's not a *bad* thing, I've sincerely missed falling under the spell of a great book.

My friend Aliyyah lent me "Dry" by Augusten Burroughs, and it took me to many interesting places. His superbly-detailed descriptions of what it was like when he was drunk (which was all of the time) made me both laugh out loud and feel pain at remembering my own personal bouts with alcohol. She kindly lent me another of his books, "Possible Side Effects" and I'm plowing right through it. This made me think about what I'd like to read next, and that led to a mountain of books I had taken off both my own shelves, and my best friend Shaun's next door. I've scaled it down to mere 16 titles (17 if you include the one I'm reading now).

I'm not a fiction reader anymore (with the exception of the Harry Potter series and Nick Hornby novels), and love learning about people's lives or adventures, or historical events. I'm excited about this selection of books for the year, and can't wait to begin each and every one!
In case you can't read the titles properly in the picture, I'll list them all here for you.


"Possible Side Effects" by Augusten Burroughs (currently reading)
"The Longest Winter" by Meredith Hooper
"A Man on the Moon" by Andrew Chaikin
"Sharon and My Mother-In-Law: Ramallah Diaries" by Suad Amiry
"Work As a Spiritual Practice" by Lewis Richmond 
"My Life as a Traitor: An Iranian Memoir" by Zarah Ghahramani
"39 Years of Short-Term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL from Someone Who Was There" 
by Tom Davis
"Just a Geek" by Will Wheaton
"Stupid White Men" by Michael Moore


"Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety" by Daniel Smith
"From The Sahara to Samarkand: Selected Travel Writings of Rosita Forbes 1919-1937"
"Full Catastrophe Living" by Jon Kabat-Zinn  (rereading after a few years)
"My Prison, My Home: One Woman's Story of Captivity in Iran" by Haleh Esfandiari
"Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope" by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly
"Extreme Frontiers: Riding Across Canada" by Charlie Boorman
"Lucky Man" by Michael J. Fox (rereading after a few years)
"Johnny Cash: The Life" by Robert Hilburn

They're all waiting for me to get to them on this beautiful new table given to me by my dear friend Ron!

I wasn't sure where I was going to put it or what I was going to use it for, but stacking all the books on the top made perfect sense, and thus a new official Book Table was born!  :)

Happy reading to you all this year! Let me know if there are any books that wow you at all (or even put you to sleep and don't recommend in any way)!.

31 Days of organizing is ... postponed. :)

I had a horrible feeling that by being behind right from the get-go, I wouldn't be able to keep up with Peter Walsh's 31 Days of Organizing, and I was right. It's such a great idea, but working full days non-stop from the 31st to the 2nd kept me busy enough, so when I had my first day off on the 3rd, the last thing I wanted to do was tidy up.

That's not to say I won't get back at it. There are a lot of areas in our place that are in dire need of organizing, but there's a lot more to tackle on top of that. I have made the decision then to move this 31 Days of cleaning project from January to July. That's the next month that has 31 days in it where I have the time to focus on the task. March doesn't work as I'm going for my annual trip to New York for the crossword tournament, and May also doesn't work as it's festival time at my theatre! The 2014 Hot Docs Film Festival goes from April 24th to May 4th, so I will be exhausted as all get out come May 5th.

And I actually like the thought of starting this in the middle of the year. Nobody does Summer cleaning (like Spring and Winter cleaning) so it's a fresh time to take care of making things neat in here. The air conditioning will be a blessing too. Sometimes on my day off in a heat wave I won't even leave the apartment. Since I'll know what each day's task is from looking at all of January, I could even take care of a few on one day (if possible).

If you're interested in seeing what the daily cleaning tasks are now, you can find it all on Peter's Facebook page and follow along. I hope some of you will join me in the Summer cleaning though, so let me know if you'd like to be on board for that! Or if you've started now! Let's help each other out!  :)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Favourite Films of 2013

I wasn't sure if I'd end up doing a list this year, but caved when it hit me that I wouldn't have a list. I also always name it Favourite Films, and not Best Films. These were the films that I loved this year. They made me smile, think, cry, laugh, and find inspiration. I didn't get out to a lot of major films, so this will be a list that's very different from everyone's Top 10s. Lots of docs, of course - 12 of them out of 20! Found that I couldn't surmise how I felt about each one, so there's no snippet of info on why I chose these. Feel free to leave a comment and I'll gladly talk about it, though! Hope you enjoy it!  :)

My Favourite Films of 2013

 1. Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington
 2. I Am Divine
 3. Shepard and Dark
 4. Before Midnight
 5. Museum Hours
 6. After Tiller
 7. Twenty Feet From Stardom
 8. Much Ado About Nothing
 9. The Last Stand
10. The Dog

11. Spring and Arnaud
12. White House Down
13. Of Two Minds
14. Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
15. Maidentrip
16. Beware of Mr. Baker
17. Kon-Tiki
18. Bad Words
19. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
20. Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

Honourable Mentions (alphabetically)

Casting By
Star Trek Into Darkness
The Unknown Known
The Waiting Room
The Way, Way Back

Best non-theatrical release 

Behind the Candelabra

Thursday, January 2, 2014

31 Days To Get Organized: New Month-Long Project

Hello 2014!!!

I was wondering how I was going to feel on the first day of the new year with no daily writing prompt. Being really busy at work the last week of 2013 kept me away from being able to find time for writing, but I'm glad I've finally caught up and finished all of the blog-a-thon posts. Yay me!  :)

Now as I skim through my notifications on Facebook, I see that there's another month-long daily task project I can take part in, so it looks like there won't be any withdrawl for me!

A couple of years ago my friend Dani introduced me to a book called "It's All Too Much" by Peter Walsh (the amazing clutter organizer).

The book helped me realize that it wasn't just about the clutter itself, but really got down to what my relationship with the clutter was, and why I felt the way I did towards it. Pretty cool stuff. I wrote about my decluttering for a few days in 2011 and even gave it a cool name: Depletapalooza!

Anyhoo, this January Peter is repeating something he did at the start of last year. Every day of the month is a new organizing challenge. I'm a day behind already, but with a day off tomorrow (Friday), I'll be able to do get up to speed with the challenges so far. I was having trouble attaching the YouTube video from Peter giving a brief synopsis on what lies ahead, so here's the link below:

I'll let you all know what my first organizing tasks ended up being. I won't mind if it's a bit of hard work as the temperature outside right now is -27 degrees with the wind chill. Holy cow! Organizing will keep me warm, for sure.  :)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Day 30 & 31: Congratulations! You Kicked it Old Skool!

We've reached the end of the Blog-a-Thon! I'm equally happy and sad that it has come to an end. I'm amazed at how much I wrote this past month, but since I've gotten into a nice rhythm, I feel that I can keep writing here on the blog on a regular basis.

I decided to combine Days 30 and 31 for this post because I honestly didn't have an answer for Day 30, but can talk about it in the summary for Day 31. I love it when things work out like that.  :)

Day 30 asked us to share our favourite recipes.
Day 31 congratulated all of us for finishing the month of writing, and wondering what we'd like to celebrate about it.

Well .... I don't cook or bake, so there's your first post right there. Ba-DUM-cha!
Looking back on what I shared for an entire month, I'm surprised (enthusiastically, at that!) at what poured out of me. I feel like celebrating that fact alone. It made me realize that there is a way to get out of my head, and I'm able to express myself in way I never could have dreamed of before this year. Another surprise I had was being able to type all these posts non-stop on the keyboard. I've always written long-hand, so finally reaching a point where I can zoom through an article in front of the computer was quite a revelation. It all came down to this statement:

It doesn't matter how I write the words down, but that I get them out in the first place.

It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, and I can't see it becoming the Phrase of the Year, but it's something that popped into my head tonight as I typed this up. And most importantly, it makes me feel great. I'm writing, and that's the greatest gift I could ever give to myself.

I hope you have all enjoyed reading everything I've posted this past month, and hope that you continue to check in every once in a while to see what else I've been up to. The comments you all left - both here and on Facebook - really touched me.

May this year bring you more creative inspiration, happiness and laughter! Hugs to you all!  xo

Day 29: Sunday Selfie - Future You

"Share with us who you aspire to be. Share a selfie that tells us something about the person you're becoming."

I took this picture of myself once my weekend crossword tournament was all done a couple of years ago in New York. Even though it was March, the weather was absolutely gorgeous, so I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and enjoy the view. When I was nearing the halfway point, I suddenly felt this calm wave flow through me.and pulled out my camera. I took the picture immediately and the expression on my face reveals exactly how I was feeling. I wish I could say that I look at this shot a lot, especially on days when I might not feel as great or as confident as I should. Sitting here now makes me realize I need to start doing just that. 

This is how I would like to be on a daily basis: calm, happy, and carefree. I believe that I've truly begun my journey in becoming this person, and that makes me feel ... well, just take a gander at that picture again!

There will be more bridges to cross in my life, but I know in my gut that this beautiful memory will help me get over them. And every time, it will make me stronger.