That's the physical side of recovery but what about the psychological? Oddly enough that's the hardest part. The treatment is over for the time being and I feel like a marathon runner who after persisting and suffering to reach the finish line, gets there only to discover that there is no trophy, no prize, no cheering crowds. Just a note that says, "Wait here for the next four months and we'll let you know if you "won" or if you have to start running again.
So the challenge right now is to keep myself busy mentally and physically while taking into account certain limitations. Here are a few of the things I've been up to that seem to help. I'm also open to suggestions - I had a pretty bad case of chemo brain so my creativity has been a bit limited.
Writing: In addition to the blog I wrote an editorial that I submitted one of the major papers in the U.S. They did not run it but it was a great exercise. A journalist I met on another site offered to help me and it was the first time I've ever worked with an editor. What an experience. Made me wish I had an editor for the Flophouse because what a difference it made. We have not given up trying to get it published. We'll see what happens.
Recovery: The great thing about being a recovering alcoholic is that at the end of every day, whatever else happened or didn't happen, one can always say, "I didn't drink today." And that's the foundation of everything.
Music: Nothing like a little Bruce Springsteen to clear your head. I also found my classical music CD's during the move and I've been listening to one of my favorite composers, Arcangelo Corelli. I'm particularly fond of his violin sonatas:
Friends: I have friends from the clinic who are going through the same thing though we are all at different stages. We talk and I can unload when I'm feeling low. More importantly I can offer support in return. In Gonzales' Deep Survival he talks about how people in a life threatening situation come out better (have a higher chance of survival) if they can help others. He's right. Gives you purpose and something else to focus on. Perfect example of how altruism is in your best interests and may even save your life.
Two other activities worth noting that are a kind of "two for one": I try to get some exercise every day weather permitting and I go to church. Versailles has a lot of churches and several are within walking distance of my house. During the week I go to mass at the gorgeous chapel of the Soeurs Servantes on the avenue de Paris. Friday and Sunday I can be found at my parish church, Saint Elisabeth de Hongrie.
The decision to start going to a local church and to stop going into Paris for the English-language mass at St. Joseph's was a very hard one for me but it turned out to be the right one. I could not have asked for a more welcoming parish. When I walked in for the first time I was nervous and felt a bit awkward: I didn't know anyone, I didn't look too good, I didn't know the responses in the mass in French and I was conscious of my very heavy American accent. From the very first day I was met with acceptance, firm kindness and discretion - no one asked me what was wrong with me, they just let me know that I was very welcome and that they were there if I needed anything. Since that first day I've gone to see the parish priest (a really amazing fellow - when I went up for Communion last Sunday he recognized me and used the English words "Body of Christ" which put a huge smile on my face). I've also volunteered to do service and am coming to know more people in the parish as a result. What a joy to be walking down the street in Versailles and to meet people I know through the church. We may live in a globalized world but we need the local too - a place where we are recognized, where we can smile at others and have them smile back, where we can experience someone's touch on the elbow or on the shoulder in quiet support.
When I was at that last appointment with my oncologist, I asked her what I should do in the months to come and she replied, "Reprenez votre vie." (Take up your life). I understand what she wants me to do but I would counter that counsel with the great saying about not being able to step into the same river twice. I'm not the person I was a year ago. I don't feel the same way or want the same things. The most radical change I think has been a kind of softening. It's as if, for 47 years, I've had a kind of carapace (shell) around me that I erected for my own protection - to not feel too much or too deeply. These days the shell has a lot of holes in it and that's a Good Thing. If "taking up my life" again means going back to what I was before then I want none of it even if it was more comfortable. I don't even think it's possible. Some mornings I wake up and I wish I knew if I was truly in remission and then I ask myself what in heaven's name would I do with this information? Toughen up? Crawl back into my shell? Un-know everything I have learned about how uncertain life really is? Seems wiser to simply go forward and see where it takes me.
Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. when we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what is happening, we begin to access our inner strength.
Yes it seems reasonable to want some kind of relief. If we can make the situation right or wrong, if we can pin it down in any way, then we are on familiar ground. But something has shaken up our familiar patterns and frequently they no longer work.... The open-ended tender place is called bodhichitta. Staying with it is what heals. It allows us to let go of our self-importance. It's how the warrior learns to love.
The Places that Scare You