Category: addiction

The birth of my fourth decade

I’ve been thinking about my thirties. About how they started, and how they’re about to end. Ten years ago at my thirtieth birthday party, I was bloated from massive doses of steroids I’d had to have earlier in the year due to a serious respiratory virus. I was puffy faced and swollen, and going into my third decade, I was fat (for me, anyway. Or at least my face looked like a puffer fish).

For what it’s worth, I haven’t exactly loved my thirties. They started off on a bad note when I had to be treated for the early stages of vulvar cancer. My oncology team and I tried  to keep the cancer at bay with a topical chemotherapy, which would leave my vagina looking like I’d sat on a cheese grater and ridden it like a champ. I know – so glam.

In November 2007, I underwent surgery so the cancer didn’t travel into my lymph nodes and metastasise, which would have afforded me protracted suffering and death, and while the surgery saved my life, it left me teetering on the brink of death. I had a poo bag and a broken vagina pieced together with skin grafts, and I honestly don’t know how I got through three months of non-stop shit explosions and blistered skin from a stoma that refused to stick, but I did (thanks for all the late night laundry, Mum).

When I was 31, I got myself into a destructive relationship, and my boundaries with men were still pretty woeful when in my mid-thirties, a person I was seeing got into a fight and called me for help. I cleaned and dressed his wounds, after which he pissed in my bed. The next morning, he helped me move the mattress out onto my balcony, but left before I had to bring it in myself. I was on home IV’s at the time, and nearly popped my CV line out of my jugular.

My response was an almost ethereal calm, simply because not much fazes me. I thought, ‘hey, that’s ok – mattresses can be replaced.’ WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK, CARLY?! My response now would be entirely different, and for all intents and purposes, he should have bought me a new mattress (he didn’t). Now, I’d kick him to the kerb without a second thought, block his number, and never connect with him again. It was only then that a close friend began to teach me about boundaries, self-worth and self-respect. This friend has also helped me plug in to my intuition – something I’d struggled to get in tune with before. There was other stuff. My sister’s divorce and its ongoing aftermath has been confounding in its cruelty and acrimony.

All in all, I’ve learned my most powerful and empowering lessons in my third decade. Yes, my thirties saw its share of death, but through this came unexpected gifts. I discovered my true purpose and passion with wanting to care and advocate for the dying. I went to my first Spiritual Care Australia conference which opened up the world of hospital chaplaincy (I call it spiritual care), and in 2015, I graduated from my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. My CPE training was one of the most rewarding learning experiences of my life, and I’m now working at the city’s biggest trauma centre as their only non-religious spiritual carer – such a privilege and so incredibly humbling (if you ever want a lesson in humility, go and sit with people at the bedside, and listen). In 2016, I was asked to be on the organising committee for the 2017 Spiritual Care Australia conference, and I’ve been made to feel welcome by all faith groups.

In 2014, I was invited to speak at TEDx Brisbane where I  shared my story and my hopes for how we can do death differently and how we must do death differently. After seventeen years, I discovered who my donor is/was after realising that I needed to know about her, even though I’ve had information about her since just after my transplant.

I have been lucky enough to work and learn with the best people in the death care industry, I did my first Vipassana, let go of my survivors guilt, and got clean. I’ve been clean for three years, and honestly can’t think of anything worse than taking opiates again. In fact, you’d have to render me unconscious to get any narcotic into my system.

On Christmas Eve, I was accepted into the Karuna Hospice Palliative Care Support Volunteer training program – an intensive I’ve been dreaming of doing for many years. It’s as though the world is opening up for me, and for that I sit in a space of deep gratitude. Transplanniversaries came and went, but never without much introspection and indebtedness.

I discovered what I needed to keep and what I needed to let go. I realised that just because I have a history with a person, that it doesn’t mean I have a present or a future with them. I know what ingredients help make me my best self, and I’m clear in my purpose. I’m settled, happy, and in love with giving zero fucks about what anyone may or may not think of me.

So why is that? It’s because I’m done with not being and living as my authentic, no-bullshit self. I was done with that a time ago, but as 2016 and this decade comes to a close, having lived with so much uncertainty, I am certain of one thing – life is beautiful, and all that matters in the end is the love you share and the love you get.

My wish for you, going into 2017, is that you embrace the simple things, because these too have been my greatest lessons. Go and hug trees, howl at the moon naked, walk in the rain (naked again), take less and give more, love yourself, treat others with kindness and suspend your judgment. Own your shit, be accountable, tread lightly upon the earth, and as my dear friend Andy who died last month waiting for a transplant would say, ‘don’t be a cunt’. Life is short – paint it your shade of spectacular.

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Chaaaaaanges

Someone I’ve known just shy of twenty years said something to me back in September, and I’ve been ruminating over it as I approach my fortieth birthday. We were talking about our inner voice. You know, about what we say to our selves in the quiet of our hearts; the things we think, but keep to ourselves – that internal existential screaming (I know I’m not the only one). I’ve always had a contentious relationship with this person for various reasons, but we’re older now. Time has passed and there are children, and far bigger things than just us. She said she hadn’t changed much at all – that she still just blurts what comes out of her mouth without too much thought.

‘I have no inner voice,’ she laughed. ‘You never had one, but you’ve changed,’ she said. ‘You’re not like you were at all.’

‘I should hope not,’ I replied, smiling as I bounced her beautifully chubby baby in my lap.

I laughed it off with some friends later, although a couple of them were a little affronted on my behalf. Being offended was the last thing I felt. For me, it was like the linchpin of this year, because it anchored and grounded me in both spirit and purpose. I’m really fucking relieved I’m not the same person I was eighteen years ago, although …

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No pants. So nothing has really changed.
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Two Frenchman. Now, that’s not trite.
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Who doesn’t wear a string bikini and stilettos to a party?

From the outside, I’m so far removed from ‘who’ I was, or what I embodied. Certainly, I’m not as loud or as shut the fuck up ready to roll at any given moment, as is evidenced by the photos above. I was never one to take no for an answer, I would introspect and rage in equal measure, I’d rarely walk away from a situation without a fight, and if someone said I couldn’t do something, I damn well did it. It was never about ‘winning’ – it was about being heard. I learned from a very young age that growing up with a terminal illness like Cystic Fibrosis, I was either going to sink or swim.

I’m talking about what us old skool CFer’s call the ‘good old days’, when we had no mother to keep us safe at night in hospital when things like IV’s and naso-gastric tubes failed. Where any old doctor could waltz in in the middle of the night and have you held down with excessive force as they tried to access a vein. It was brutal. Parents couldn’t just decide to stay the night beside their child because it was never an option. It’s only very recently made sense that my first visual memories are of steel bars, as if looking through a jail cell. That’s how hospital cots were designed, but that’s a story for another time. So sink or swim, I found my voice very early and was quite the ham (conservative statement).

You see, the voice I was born with – my literal voice – was a gift, a weapon and my currency. It was how I steered myself in the world and was often my greatest ally. It was always with me. It didn’t matter where I was – I could use it, and use it I did. I could sing delicately and brutally, create incredible sounds and boom over all and sundry. I had twenty-one years with that voice, and when I woke up after my transplant, it was laying paralysed across my larynx in a state of eternal dysphonia.

I’d lost my gift, my weapon, my currency, and what I believed was my essence. Who was this squeaky woman so afraid to speak in case the wrong noise slipped out? Over the years I’ve buttressed myself against the world without it, and while I could say it’s taken me time to realise that my fractured voice was just a metaphor for life, that seems so trite and platitudinous, because we are all so much bigger than that.

I still sing every day. Some days I squeak like a pre-pubescent boy, and some days I can belt out a sound akin to a finalist on The Voice for very brief periods of time. I’ve learned to embrace the mystery, because singing with one vocal cord can be tricky.

Every year, my best friend and I go and see Deva Premal, Miten and Manose, where we sing, chant, laugh, cry, hold hands with people we don’t know, and connect. In February, I joined Deva Premal and a room full of strangers on a three day chanting retreat – all of whom I ended up praying with, hugging, eating with, and singing to. I re-engaged with my voice and felt connected to something tangible from what actually is a lifetime ago. On the first afternoon, my mind was filled with picture perfect captures of my pre-transplant life. It was like a Vipassana of my voice, where every moment played on a loop in my head.

I remembered competing and winning eisteddfods for primary school choir and vocal group, winning drama prizes in high school, and when I sang in the school musicals. The fun I had, the friends I made and still have, and the music director of one of Brisbane’s best GPS boys’ schools stopping me mid-song to ask if I’d sing in his jazz band. His well known jazz band, at that. I wish I could have, but in senior year, I was in survival mode with study and sickness and death.

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Not-so-sweet 16, and a semi-formal. Semi, indeed.
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Sixteen and sun kissed.

I thought about when I was offered a coveted place in the acting strand straight after my audition for my drama degree, but was in full possession of the knowledge that my health was declining and was never going to get better. The acting strand was voice and movement oriented, and the physicality it would have demanded in such a small collective of students meant that I would have needed to not be sick. I didn’t want to let anyone down, so I politely declined and instead enrolled in the ‘open’ strand with most of the other drama students. I declined not because I couldn’t do it, but because I made a conscious choice not to start something I couldn’t finish. Did I ever resent my illness? Did I ever look at that elite group of actors and think ‘that could have been me?’ Of course I did, but I’ve never had a case of terminal pissed-off ness. I focused on what I could do, instead of what I couldn’t. In some strange, yet pernicious way, I turned my attention to more academic pursuits and did very well.

So while I meditated and seemingly went back in time on the first day of the retreat, I felt a towering shift where I was able to finally let go of my voice. I cried, my body moving like a metronome, ticking from side to side, and for the next two days, I was immersed in a space of love, support and devotion (and vegan food – nothing’s perfect, after all).

Was this a broken piece of me on it’s way to healing? It was not. As I’ve already alluded to, by the time my left vocal cord was paralysed, my life as I had known it was already over, and another that had been waiting for me was busy being born. A person is not and cannot ever be the same when they’ve experienced something as profound as a transplant. It’s like a one-sided exchange and a permanent declaration of gratitude. A debt you can never repay, except in compassionate actions, kindness and love.

I used to think that there was a redundant, unloveable, unusable piece of me that would be strung across my throat forever, taunting me. Like a silent bell that won’t peal when it’s rung. I now find comfort that there’s a fleshy piece of the ‘old’ me that sits there dead, making me brittle of voice. When I speak (or squeak), I have to think about how I’m going to hold my head so the sound comes out. A lot of people think I’m down with the lurgy, so that’s something that’s never changed – it’s just not my lungs anymore, thankfully.

Was losing my voice a blessing? Oh, yes. But more than anything, it was a powerful lesson in economy and expansion. Economy of words, sound, emotion, and so many other things. Expansion in compassion, empathy, love, self-awareness, and purpose.

Most of my fellow chanters said they’d be back next year, but I knew that I wouldn’t be. I walked into that hall with no expectations, but left with what I needed and more. Three days of memory tripping, chanting and emerging into the quiet heart of my mind, and I was full. This year has been one hell of a lesson – an awakening, if you will. I perhaps Some people have called it a fucked year, but with what I’ve learned about myself and other humans – the good and not so good – I wouldn’t swap that for anything. Three years drug-free, one year off opiate-antagonist therapy, and I am FLYING.

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Riding on elephants and other shit I haven’t done

Shot a gun ✔ I did my firearms safety training in January, and shot my first pest roo in a string bikini Be afraid. Very afraid.

Gone on a blind date ✔ Oh, the horror.

Skipped school ✔

Watched someone give birth ✔✔ My eldest and youngest nephews, now 14 and 9 respectively. It was an absolute honour.

Watched someone die ✔✔✔✔ I think I’ve got this one covered.

Visited Canada ✔ It was lovely. I spent most of it inebriated, writing by a fire, and sledding with huskies.

Visited Hawaii ✔ Does the airport count?

Visited Europe

Visited Las Vegas ⊗ I couldn’t think of anywhere worse.

Visited Asia  India is in my future!

Visited Africa ⊗ I’ve long had visions of dancing on a beach in Zanzibar in a string bikini drinking sangria. Seriously. Except I don’t drink – make the requisite sangria an iced tea, thanks.

Visited Egypt

Seen the Grand Canyon in person 

Flown in a helicopter 

Served on a jury 

(as a point of reference, my mother has done all three ^^)

Cried yourself to sleep ✔✔✔✔✔✔✔

Recently coloured with pencils ✔ I didn’t colour as a child – I read and wrote. Taking the time to colour within the lines is fun, yet meditative gives me fucking anxiety. Not joking.

Sang karaoke ✔ 
With gusto. With my native lungs, I was in tune. Not so much after my transplant.

Paid for a meal with coins only ✔

Made prank phone calls ✔ Hey, I was young …

Been honoured with fireworks ✔ Yes! I was born on New Year’s Eve, so for my 21st I had a huge party because I’d survived twenty-one years with CF. My folks organised the crew who do the Brisbane city fireworks to stop at our place (we were living on the Brissie River) around 9.30pm. They left a whole lot for my Dad and our neighbour to detonate at midnight, and being absolutely hammered, they nearly blew themselves up (that alone was worth seeing – two old blokes jumping around like frogs was fucking hilarious). It was epic and I found out afterwards that people saw them all across the city.

Laughed so much you cried ✔✔✔✔

Caught a snowflake on your tongue ✔

Had children  I found out when I was 16 that I couldn’t have children (severe endometriosis, cystic fibrosis and eventual vulva cancer), so I’ve never had a big ‘oh, fuck I can’t have babies’ moment. It’s just something that’s never been on the table, which doesn’t mean I’ve never been sad about it. My ovaries explode like an atom bomb, and I melt when nursing a baby. Just quietly, I would have been a fucking rad mum. Exhausted, but rad.

Executed successful skinny-dipping *and* nudie runs ✔✔✔✔✔✔✔✔✔✔ Yep. I’ve got those covered, too. In fact, I very nearly got arrested with my bestie’s husband doing a nudie run on a beach.

Abseiled down a building  Would LOVE to. Heights and speed are my thing.

Been camping in a tent ✔

Driven a motorcycle ✔ ⊗ Does being on the back of one count?

Been bungee-jumping  I went sky diving instead. I’ll jump out of a plane, but won’t tie a cord to my legs and then jump. Nup. Not a chance in HELL.

Gone to a drive-in MOVIE ✔ The last time was to see ‘Herbie Goes Bananas’. I would have been around four and remember a human sized banana dancing out the front as we drove in. I was wearing my pyjamas, too.

Done something that could have killed you ✔ Let me count the ways … drugs, for one. I am still genuinely shocked that I am not dead.

Done something that you will regret for the rest of your life  No regrets, just lessons.

Rode an elephant  I don’t know if I could because I love elephants SO hard.

Rode a camel 

Eaten just biscuits, cake or ice cream for dinner ✔ Is this some sort of trick question?

Been on TV ✔ Quite a lot as a kid with the whole CF thing.

Been in a newspaper ✔ Again, quite a lot as a kid and as an adult with CF, transplant, my poetry, and now my deathie work.

Stolen any traffic signs  I suddenly feel cheated. And now I can’t afford to get a conviction because I work for the government.

Been in a car crash ✔✔
 Both were minor, but here’s the kicker – the second was with an unmarked police car the day I found out I had to have a transplant. Top day that was …

Stayed in hospital ✔✔✔✔ WHERE DO I EVEN START WITH THIS.

Donated blood  I can’t because of all the mad medication I’m on for transplant. I so wish I could.

Had to pay a fine in the past 12 months ✔ Fuck you, Brisbane Shitty Council. Better signage would go a long way.

Gotten a piercing ✔ My nose when I was 19, not long after I got my first tattoo.
 Hey, I was in Byron Bay.

Gotten a Tattoo ✔ ✔ I’ve never felt regretsy about either of them.

Ever driven an automatic car ✔ Yep, but I’m a manual maven. Real chicks drive sticks, or something.

Ever owned your dream car ✔

Been Married 

Been divorced  I feel as though I have …
 See also.

Fell in love ✔ Oh my giddy aunt. Madly, passionately and all consuming love? Oh, yes.

Fell out of love ✔ It was awful, for both of us. The guilt was almost insurmountable.

Paid for a stranger’s meal ⊗ I can’t believe I’ve never done this #2016goals

Driven over 100kph ✔ If there’s anyone who has access to a track, I can bring a ’71 E-Type to the table. And yes, it’s a V12.

Worked in a pub ⊗ I’m guessing drinking one out of whiskey and being *asked to leave* doesn’t count?

Been scuba diving  I’m claustrophobic. But I’ve snorkeled in Vanuatu and I loved it because I could, you know, GET UP FOR AIR. Scuba diving would terrify me.

Walked on burning coals  I have no desire to have skin grafts on my feet. I’ve already had them taken from my inner thigh when I had my cuntostomy, so NO.

Eaten snails  Clearly, I haven’t lived.

Swam with dolphins ⊗ ⊗ ⊗  ACHTUNG and fuck to the NO. It’s called animal cruelty, unless they swim up to you in the wild. Go and watch Blackfish.

Swam with sharks  See above.

Lived on your own ✔ Yes. It’s called HEAVEN.

Performed on a stage ✔ I used to. All. The. Fucking. Time. I miss it. I mourn it.

Where in the world are you, Carmen Sandiego?

Life. It gets in the way. That’s why I haven’t blogged for three months because there’s been a lot going on. For the last month or so, I’ve been down with the lurgy (the flu), but after two courses of antibiotics, probiotics, lots of vitamins, good food and rest, I’m on my way to being back to full steam ahead with my year.

Exciting stuff is happening. I’ve been asked to be on the organising committee for next years Spiritual Care Australia conference which will be on the Gold Coast. As a pastoral carer who identifies as ‘spiritual’ but doesn’t belong to a specific faith group, I was so heartened to be invited. I am yet to make it to a meeting because I’ve been unwell, but I’ll make up for it in the months to come.

I cut my hair off last week. It’d been falling out at a rate of knots (ha), and having had it cut shorter, I seem to have stopped shedding. Just like that. It feels strange to be so short (yeah, I know it’s still long, but it was ridiculously long). I’m feeling … fresher. Yeah, that’s it. Fresher. Younger too, which is interesting considering I’m forty this year. I took this this photo after I rolled out of bed for my hairdresser. I know I’m looking a little grey.

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So, here is what’s been happening with me …

Making: Crocheting my first blanket. There will be crying Nicolas Cage style, fist pumping and gallons of tea. My maternal grandmother who taught me how to crochet when I was a little girl would be chuffed.

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Cooking: Chicken soup and green smoothies.

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Drinking: Tea. Endless cups of tea. And kefir. I cannot get enough kefir with a generous dash of honey and cinnamon.

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Wanting: A cabin in the woods/hinterland.

Looking: At cabin porn (there’s a theme emerging, yes?). Clouds at sunset, too.

Dreaming: About toasting marshmallows on the burn pile at the farm.

Playing: Diabetic Wheel of Fortune.

Deciding: What the fuck to have for dinner.

Craving: Sweet milky tea, liquorice and normal blood glucose levels (which are incompatible with liquorice)

Wishing: I was living in northern NSW. I feel between worlds. Or like I need a bridging visa or something.

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Pissed: That I caught the flu and it’s still affecting me a month later … Get the fucking fluvax, people.

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Enjoying: My growing collection of minerals. Or crystals, if you want to call them that.

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Waiting: On more words to come. I know they’re there.

Liking: The unfurling of cooler climes. It was a long, hot summer.

Wondering: If I will ever get this novel finished … #yesiwill

Loving: My new balcony chairs. They are epically comfy.

Considering: Spinning wool, falconry and starting my own religion. The latter would be far more lucrative.

Reading: ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Lars Mytting, ‘Gathering Moss’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer; ‘Konmari’ by Maree Kondo; ‘A Ted Hughes Bestiary’ and ‘Hildegard of Bingen’s Medicine’ by Doctors Strehlow and Hertzka.

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Buying: Nothing. I’m Konmari-ing the fuck out of my life. If it doesn’t bring me joy, it goes to charity.

Watching: I just watched ‘Dear Zachary’ and it made me want to cry forever and ever. It’s the most powerful film I’ve seen for some time and will leave you reeling (and needing therapy).

Hoping: That my friends Andrew* and Chief get donor lungs soon. They both have CF and  have had way too many false alarms which is cruel, disheartening and emotionally exhausting. IT’S A GOER FOR CHIEF ON THE SIXTH CALL UP! He’s doing *incredibly* well 🙂

Pondering: How amazing life is being clean. I never thought I could feel this happy. Seriously – have I EVER felt this way? Halcyon days 🙂

Marvelling: At how music makes me feel ALL THE THINGS.

Cringing: That my Jeep needs a new gearbox. Oh, the horror.

Needing: A capsule wardrobe.

Puzzled: That I don’t ever drink coffee in winter.

Questioning: Why so many crap writers get published. I guess mediocrity is on trend.

Smelling: Not much. Since having the flu, my sinuses have been blocked, but today my olfactory senses happily returned and oh! The smell of toast, freshly laundered sheets and chai simmering on the hob – glorious.

Following: My gut. And Marie Kondo. She’s rad.

Wearing: Mecca lip balm. I cannot get enough on my mouth.

Noticing: That I really need to clean my windows.

Knowing: My purpose.

Thinking: I have SO much to do.

Seeing: An overabundance of cranes across the city. All very phallic.

Believing: In fairies and the little people we can’t always see.

Admiring: Anyone who lives with a poo bag.

Believing: In karma. Because I have to.

Sorting: Through my possessions and giving a lot of stuff away. Liberating much?

Getting: Organised to launch a big community project that I can’t tell you about. It is super exciting and slightly terrifying knowing that a friend and I are putting ourselves on the line for what we feel is for the greater good.

Gathering: Resources and support for said project.

Cultivating: Kindness, candida (sexy, right? Thanks antibiotics!), and garden ideas.

Bookmarking: Where do I start? Psychedelics in dying, extreme knitting, cob houses and the small house movement, India, birds of prey & falconry, granny squares, aromatherapy, epigenetics.

Disliking: Where my neighbourhood is heading. Think big corporates moving in, mass gentrification and hideous high-rises that hopefully no one will want to buy. I foresee a glut.

Coveting: A spell that makes me write 10,000 words a day, knowing full well that no such thing exists. The only way is ass glue and a warm teapot within reach.

Opening: Bottles of kefir like they’re going out of fashion.

Giggling: At finding feathers at the most serendipitous of times. My mantra of ‘look up, look down’ has been serving me well.

Feeling: Ready to replant my garden with the help of Mum’s green thumbs.

Snacking: I wish it was medicinal liquorice, but it’s raw veggies with cottage cheese. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

Helping: Shit stir the big developers who are trying to ruin my community and create change by lobbying, petitioning, opposing etc.

Hearing: Fleet Foxes and the noble chatter of crows.

Trying: To spend more time offline and in nature.

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(image from https://nostalgichobo.wordpress.com)

Thanks to Pip at Meet Me at Mikes for such a cool list 🙂

*Sadly Andy died a few months after I wrote this. He will be eternally missed.

When you get punched in the face

A couple of years after my transplant, I was assaulted. Had the shit beaten out of me. What made it even more shameful, was that I was beaten up by a girl. Of course this rationale has evolved with the gradual unfurling of my life and hard won wisdom, so I know that it doesn’t matter who hits you. Girl, boy, woman, man – it’s violence and it should never be tolerated.

So here’s some back story: I had been at a Cystic Fibrosis luncheon (as was tradition) and I admit that I was intoxicated during the day, but stopped drinking early afternoon. Around dusk, my friends and I hopped on a ferry from Southbank to go to a friends place at New Farm. I was feeling clear headed and had been drinking water for quite a few hours.

When we arrived, there were quite a few people we didn’t know, so we sat around in a circle (old hippie habits die hard), and I got to talking to a guy about where we had been. He seemed friendly – long red dreads, not quite a hippie, but more of what we would call a ‘feral’ (terrible term, I know, but it was a term nonetheless). I explained that I had CF, to which he responded, ‘you look really well,’ so I told him that I had had a transplant and he commented that I probably had some wicked scars.

We engaged for about twenty minutes, but things started to get a little strange and off topic, so I excused myself and walked away. This man’s wife who I thought looked really friendly, for she too had long dreads and was wearing Doc Martens which transported me back to my youth – had seen us talking, and as she turned towards me, a storm rose in her face and she asked me what I was looking at. I replied, ‘absolutely nothing’, picked up some grated cheese that was on a table with some other snacks, and threw it behind me as I walked away. I wasn’t aiming for her, but it was her perception that I was.

The next thing I remember, she was on me and I was up against an old car; punching me in the chest and ribs, and then grabbing my head and smashing it into the car window. My first thought was to protect my face – I was wearing glasses after all. Then a horrific thought crossed my mind – that my head was going to be smashed through the glass (old glass that shatters, NOT safety glass that sticks together), so I just took it.

She smashed my head into the window so hard that my glasses flew off, she lifted me up against the car so that I lost my shoes, and my friends were behind her screaming to leave me be. The thing is, she was Amazonian when I am not, and she just kept the blows coming. Her husband eventually dragged her off, but she was trying kick me in the face. I copped a boot to the chest which took the wind out of me, and I stumbled away while they got in their car and took off. Then they came back. After about fifteen minutes (we were still waiting for a taxi at this point to go to the police station), I saw her get out of the car, light a cigarette and walk back to the party as though nothing had happened. She was so oddly blissed out and mellow, and my educated guess was that she had had a hit of heroin or something similar which had calmed her down.

I don’t fight dirty. Never have, never will. When I was going in high school, my Dad taught me how to box; how to protect myself even though (or because of) I was going to an all girls school. And so that night, I didn’t fight back. I went into protection mode. If I threw some grated cheese behind me that she mistook for deliberate hostility, making her believe it was ok to beat me up, then that’s on her.

My dear friend M (who happened to be a lawyer at the time) and I went to Police Headquarters and I wrote down a preliminary statement. My memory was pretty fresh, but I was in shock, so the statement was brought up in court as being ‘contradictory’ to my official statement that I made about later that week.

When I got home, my Mum took photographs of the bloodied scratches and bruises across my chest and neck. Even more concerning was that I had had a central line removed just two days before and she had scratched the scab off it and drawn blood with her fingernails. Later that night, I struggled to sleep because the attack kept playing like movie reel in my head – a punch here, a kick there.

When I tried to get out of bed the next day, my whole body ached like I had a really bad flu, so I called the transplant unit and they said to come in straight away – I needed to be checked out, x-rayed and have bloods taken. I could barely move and because this girl was possibly a drug addict, I had to be tested for HIV and Hepatitis because as I mentioned earlier, she had scratched the scab off my CV line and drawn blood. I had fourteen x-rays, was checked out by a physiotherapist and then I went home to rest.

It felt like an age waiting for my blood results to come back, and I admit that I was feeling pretty distressed. When they came back clear, my doctor, family and I were relieved to say the least.

The worst thing about the whole situation was that the woman who assaulted me was in the care industry. She was an occupational therapist at a major metropolitan hospital and  she knew that I had had a transplant and therefore was a ‘soft’ and vulnerable target. My transplant consultant wanted her struck off immediately, but somehow that didn’t transpire.

Court was brutal and unforgiving. I felt so terribly guilty that my friends had to testify, but I was determined that this person was to be accountable for her actions. Her husband arrived at court wearing no shoes and repeatedly walked up to the courtroom to listen to proceedings when he shouldn’t have. The lovely detective who took my official statement didn’t think this was right, so he was given a warning to stay away or go elsewhere.

When I had to get up on the stand, I had strips torn off me by her lawyer (I still remember his name), and he manipulated what had happened on the night, where I was a cheese-throwing bitch who provoked the attack. I know that’s what lawyers are supposed to do, but a few minutes into the cross-examination, I was a bawling mess. In fact, he was very capable at making me feel like shit, but I was lucky enough to have the states top DPP who representing me. I also had a wonderful and compassionate detective who actually gave a shit about what had happened. My lawyer made a very strong argument that she was a violent offender, and after an arduous day of court, Mum and I hopped on a train, but as we were nearing home, we were called back.

I had to get on the stand again, and to cut a long story short, the woman who assaulted me was found guilty of grievous bodily harm which meant that she had to pay me a reasonable sum of money and complete 200 hours of community service. What upset and disappointed me the most, was that there was no conviction recorded. In fact, I would have happily done away with the money in place of a conviction. The fact that this person was an occupational therapist working with vulnerable people and who possibly had a drug problem disturbed me greatly.

For the first few months after the attack, I was constantly checking my back, especially when I was at uni. I didn’t feel safe and that really grated me. It lowered my self-confidence and even though I was already hyper-aware of my surroundings after being with my Mum when two piss poor excuses of men who mugged her tried to run her over in a carpark when I was fourteen, I became a little paranoid for a few months and was always at the ready to fight. My nerves were shot, and even someone running behind me was enough to set me off and put me into fight or flight mode – mostly fight mode where my  fists would curl instinctively until the perceived threat had passed.

Looking back, I was so incredibly naive to think that these people were good people. I’ve always looked for the positive in everyone I meet, and while it was a hard lesson to learn, I refused to let my assault dictate who I engaged with, and soon I was feeling more positive about interacting with humans I did not know – I was just a little more selective.

The entire process, from the assault to the court case, exhausted me and my only real escape was studying for my creating writing degree, which ripped me back to my youth where study was my escape from all of the death and suffering that was all around me on an almost daily basis when I was in hospital. Friends deteriorating before my eyes, friends dying, trying to help said dying friends die a more comfortable death, seeing kids pinned down so doctors could shove in an IV or a nasal-gastric tube for feeding. The word brutal  comes to mind again.

I rarely think about my assault, but something a couple of days ago triggered a surge of memories, and I wanted to write about (and share) what happened. Violence is never the answer, and instead of being embarrassed about not fighting back, I’m proud that I protected myself as best I could and that I walked away with grace and my dignity intact.

You may ask why I didn’t just let it go and not report it to the police. I was always going to report it to police because I  was raised to believe that everyone needs to be responsible and accountable for their actions. I found out a few years later that her marriage ended. Did that make me feel good? Temporarily, yes. Now? Not so much. Did I want something awful to happen to her after she assaulted me? Yes. But then I learned that when you dig a grave for one person, you need to dig another for yourself, and that held no appeal for me. Do I hope that she’s now ok? After my own addiction issues, yes. More than ever. I forgave her a long ago, but I will never forget the physical, emotional and spiritual pain she put me through. Spiritual pain? Well, that’s another blog post entirely …

 

 

My new normal

I’m just about jumping out of my skin. I had my first good night’s sleep in eleven days, so I’m feeling rested. I’ve been waking up around 4-5am, which is not the norm for me. I’ve never been a morning person, though when I first moved into my beloved flat I became one of those morning people. I’d brew a coffee, take it out onto my balcony and look out on the morning. I’d managed to draw a line between happiness and appreciation – a thickly painted line, slapped on with a wide, bristly brush and broad, unsteady strokes. I’d fill my lungs with air, celebrating the beauty and freedom of breath.

Every Saturday, I’d walk to the bakery where I’d treat myself to one or three of these great big, hunking German doughnuts called Berliners. I’d have a chat to the bakery dude and toddle off home to warm my doughnut (not a euphemism), then I’d sit down with the weekend papers and a cuppa. I’ll admit it – I’m a girl who respects ritual.

For the two years or so I was high, I slept and became a shadow of myself. I sliced myself thin as I burrowed my way further down the rabbit hole. I wasn’t achieving anything because being high precludes you from being productive in any way, shape or form. They were wasted years, and years I didn’t have the right to waste. I’ve been on borrowed time since I had my transplant. I know that. But now that I’m off the gear, I’ve been wondering if this is what my life will be like now. Is this what my life would have been like had I not been addicted to drugs? Early mornings full of joy instead of the dread of where my next hit was coming from, believing that the drugs were somehow helping me? The drugs did help for a time when I was using them for legitimate pain, but before I knew it they owned me and it was like taking out a loan I could never repay.

My pleasure senses were dulled to the point where I just wanted to take my next pill, and I was suffering – truly suffering – from anhedonia, which is when your pleasure receptors basically switch off. My brain wanted what my brain wanted, and that was more of the same. There was littlejoy, no moments of natural euphoria and I was constantly exhausted. I couldn’t write. I had trouble reading.

When I was rationing tablets in Barcaldine in 2013 and getting restless limbs/akathisia, I knew I needed help. I started researching what drugs do to your brain. After all, I was already well aware what they had done to my spirit. I looked at Narcotics Anonymous, and worked out it wasn’t for me. I found my addiction therapy doctor, started opiate antagonist therapy, and the rest is history.

I’ve mentioned this before, but when I did my TEDx talk last year, I was unable to memorise my twenty minute speech. For someone with a near photographic memory, that was quite distressing. My brain was recovering from drug abuse, and I still don’t know how much they have impacted my brain function. I had some pretty hairy moments when I’d taken too much oxycodone and my respiratory system became depressed. I’d have heart palpitations, and one day I had to give myself CPR for about twenty minutes after I had overdosed. I was in acute tachycardia and I didn’t know if my heart had been damaged. It still shocks me that I’m not an overdose statistic.

For me, having a terminal illness gave me an acute absence of fear. I grew up fearless, loud and fierce, and I took more risks because a terminal illness is like having permission slip to engage in risk taking behaviours. It’s well documented that people with a life-limiting illness take more risks than people who don’t have a closer ‘use by date’. There’s a sub-culture of the fearless; tattoos, collecting exotic pets, dangerous friends and dangerous habits. I know a lot of people with illness who favour driving fast cars and adrenalin sports. But you also seek your own truth and authenticity, which is far more admirable. It’s that whole, ‘do no harm but take no shit’ dictum.

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Image courtesy of Laura Lwin

I’ve been asking and answering a lot of questions about myself of late – a little introspection, if you will. Ruminating over what my life would or could have been like had my addiction not consumed me. But it did, and I’ve never been one for having regrets. For me, they’re lessons. Regrets stifle your present and paralyse your future.

And another lesson – age is a privilege. I turn 39 tomorrow. Every extra year has been such a gift, and I’m revelling in moving on with life armed with respect, gratitude, boundaries and a sense of responsibility to NOT FUCK THIS UP. The good news is that I can’t see that happening because I’m in the midst of a passionate and fervid affair with my life, my friends and family, my writing and my work. Speaking of friends, on Sunday night, I went out with three of my nearest and dearest – one friend I went to both primary and high school with. It was pretty bloody special.

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Leg show.

Tomorrow I’m driving down to my friend’s farm in northern New South Wales where we will celebrate my birthday and turn the sod for the new year. The silence, being in nature, that grasp of acuity, the cattle, and the trees embroidered with birdlife seem to be a panacea for city life. And just so you know, I’m not into resolutions – I’m into revolutions. At the end of the day, we are the product of our choices.

Have a Happy New Year, one and all. Big, BIG love. Oh, and here’s a little poem I wrote back in 2004 on the day I left Canada to travel to see my friend artist George Bleich in Carmel-By-The-Sea. Here we are back in 2004 and here is my tree, The Lone Cypress. Now that’s another story …

 

Firs only sleep

when branches draped in white

fall with  frigid arms, then pitch upward like an angry child

when the sun passes through them like a mood;

never knowing to swing a bitter heat to pat down the ground below

 

Firs only sleep

when concrete skies close over like a skullcap.

The sky yields to a day hue,

leading to kingfisher blue skies

peppered with stars and Luna

until the spring, when they are free.

The bitter taste of defeat and failure

Always expect the unexpected. Be prepared like a girl scout without the rules (but with the cookies). That’s always been one of my life’s mottos. After taking my last ever dose of opiate antagonist therapy last Friday, I was relieved when I only had some minor restless limbs when I turned in for bed that evening. I had been on the lowest dose possible, so I couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen next. On Saturday night, I drove up the coast for a prawn fest and I lay awake all night. I only had a couple of ‘punches’, in that my arms went a little haywire and my legs were sore, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

I’ve always adhered to the adage that our hell is here on earth, and on Sunday night, that was very much the case. My legs were kicking uncontrollably, my arms were punching like I was in the ring with Danny Green (I would’ve been half a chance, too). Good old akathisia (restless legs) had consumed my muscles and seemingly, my bones. Even my chest was doing the pop and drop. At first I read about what I could do to alleviate the symptoms, but after a few hours I was in a really bad place. In fact, I was actually quite stricken. So much so that I nearly called paramedics.

I tried laying on the floor. I tried massaging my legs. I tried star jumps and jogging on the spot – which worked – until I stopped moving. I tried stretching. I swore – a lot – and then I cried. I cried with fear and frustration. Basically, if I had ben a crab I would have kicked my flesh out of my shell. Instead, I took a dose of buprenorphine, the very stuff I had just stopped taking, hoping it would calm my body and I’d stop kicking like a cocky prize fighter. Thankfully it did, but these decisions carry a cost. I felt like an abject failure. The last thing I was expecting (or wanting) to do was to ‘dose’ again, but it was all I could do after a few hours of kicking the shit out of the air and blankets and becoming increasingly distressed to the point where I actually thought it was going to kill me. I nearly called paramedics. I guess panic and great suffering will do that. Ah, the bitter taste of defeat.

After discussing some options with one of the pharmacists from the transplant team the next morning, I went to see my GP who was happy to prescribe me with a muscle relaxant, but we were also keen to try a more conservative approach of tonic water (for the quinine), epsom salts baths, magnesium therapy and then the muscle relaxants. A bath, coupled with Nina Simone soothed me greatly, and the quadruple therapy approach worked a treat. I slept. Not a single twitch. In fact, I woke up smiling.

But before I slept, I had to get the fuck over myself and my feelings of worthlessness and failure. My doctor laid my feelings of failure to rest after assuring me that I’d done incredibly well and that these things happen. They may be unexpected, but they happen.

I wish I could be far more noble and say that the suffering was worth it, but I can’t. Last night I managed to drop my dose of muscle relaxant which I see as a win, so I’ll aim to decrease the dose again this evening.

It’s awfully liberating having a full bottle of diazepam in my possession, and not feel at all inclined to abuse it. I actually couldn’t think of anything worse; those feelings of failure simply aren’t worth it. But I’ll tell you what IS.

Today I walked into the chemist I’ve been going to for just over two years where I saw my favourite pharm-boy for the last time at the ‘junkie counter’. Let’s call him D. D was so bloody happy that I’d been able to stop taking the medication and didn’t need any more for the rest of the year. I was officially off the books. Another lovely pharmacist who had dosed me a couple of weeks ago also passed on her congrats. D and I shared a big hug and we had a chat about Christmas. Hugs are better than drugs, people! I thought they’d be glad to see the back of me, but they asked me to pop in and say hello when I’m passing by. Here’s hoping the hugs are requisite with each visit.

I must extend my gratitude for being treated with respect and not as a person of failure and inadequacy who didn’t deserve kindness because of my addiction issues. The pharmacy I go to treats everyone with the respect they deserve, and I’ll never forget that kindness, compassion and how they never brought my dignity into question.

This evening I’m feeling less of a failure and more like a warrior; a survivor. I managed to do 95% of my Christmas shopping in record time yesterday and right now I’m working on a elegiac poem for a fellow poet and friend who died last year. I miss him. I miss his humour, his spirit and his ability to turn a few words into masterpieces. The tug of death was too strong for Matthew, and the world is a poorer place without his presence.

So I guess this is where I wish you all a Merry Christmas even though Christmas can be an incredibly challenging time of year for so many. My hope is that whatever you choose to do – or not do – makes you happy and settles your soul. This cover of The Boss’s ‘I’m on fire’ by Matt Andersen always moves me. Big love to all.