Saturday, 24 April 2010

Lola's Troubles

Lola’s eye is looking worse. It is full of pus and about three times the size of the other eye. She cannot close it. Samantha calls the Small Animal Specialist Hospital. ”You’d better bring her in.” We drive back through all the tunnels to Ryde. The vet takes one look at Lola. “That eye will have to go,” he pronounces. Lola will have surgery again tonight and we will collect her tomorrow.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

A Dodgy Digit

On the day of Mandy and Tony’s wedding I rushed to Star Nails in Double Bay for an emergency superglue toenail repair. To my amazement their good work lasted until this morning when my right big toenail finally fell off. I gaze dolefully at the remaining fluorescent pink stump. “Well that’s that,” says Samantha, “Good riddance. Look at it as the end of the chemo.”

I shall.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Commuting Can Be So Much Fun

I will still be attending South Pacific Private for three days a week as an outpatient. Before I went away I gave Nick back his car. Last night I found myself sucked into an internet frenzy, trying to figure out how to get from Watson’s Bay to Curl Curl by public transport. I searched. I looked at maps. I printed out lengthy timetables. Here is the S.P.: If I get on a bus at Watson’s Bay at 6.48 a.m. I can connect with a ferry from Rose Bay to Circular Quay. Then, if I elbow my way through the throng to be the first to leap ashore from that ferry I can leg it down the quay and scramble aboard another ferry departing for Manly. Then it’s one more bus ride to Curl Curl, arriving at 9.04 a.m. Two hours and fifteen minutes. The return journey will be the same thing in reverse only it will take longer.

I am seething with resentment at the very idea of it.

In the soft early morning I walk to the bus stop at Watson’s Bay. The bus departs on time and swings right towards the harbour. I catch my breath as the vista of Sydney opens up before us. The water is smooth and green. The city towers reflect the gold of the rising sun. The Opera House sparkles like a diamond in the early light. The bus meanders down through the leafy streets of Vaucluse. Between ranks of luxury homes I catch glimpses of yachts and water. We progress up the hill to New South Head Road. As we sweep down the S bends towards Rose Bay there are a couple more spectacular panoramas to enjoy. I stand in the sunshine on Rose Bay Wharf for a few minutes. A sea-plane glides elegantly onto the bay and then roars into the terminal beside the ferry wharf. A twin-hulled white ferry approaches and I climb aboard with the early morning commuters.

I take a seat outside on the upper deck. This ferry is fast and sleek. We speed past the grand villas of Point Piper, cut across Double Bay and skirt the expensive high-rise flats of Darling Point. Rushcutters Bay is crammed with yachts. I strain my eyes towards Elizabeth Bay, trying to catch a glimpse of the apartment block where I grew up. We pass close by the Naval base at Garden Island, bristling with grey battleships, and the redeveloped Woolloomooloo docks. In the foreground is Fort Denison, otherwise known as ‘Pinchgut’. This is a tiny fortress-island where unlucky convicts were once sent for a punishment of solitary confinement and starvation. A perfect spot for a rehab, I muse to myself. Finally we skim beneath the soaring white sails of the Opera House. With the magnificent structure of the Harbour Bridge looming on our right, we glide into Circular Quay. I dash for the gangplank.

In minutes I am seated on the front deck of Queenscliff, a fine old, green-and-gold Manly Ferry. The deck seats are of varnished wood. The thrusters thrust and we churn back out onto the harbour, retracing the route to the east and North. Some time later the ferry passes Watsons Bay, where my odyssey began over an hour ago. I can see the hotel, the famous Doyle’s restaurant and the strip of white sand at Camp Cove. We sail right past and onward, the ferry now dipping and rising on a gentle swell that washes through the harbour mouth. I gaze through the Heads at the Pacific Ocean and the distant horizon. We could chug right out there and just keep going. I remember that the Manly ferries of my childhood originally came under their own steam 12,000 miles from Glasgow. They plied the harbour from Circular Quay to Manly for nigh on fifty years. So we could do it. Next stop Santiago, Chile. Will I survive the journey on a soy latte and half a sausage roll?

The ferry turns north and soon we are tying up at Manly wharf. There’s time to buy a pineapple, mango and fresh mint juice before boarding the bus. This route takes me along Manly beach with its boulevard of tall Norfolk pines. We skirt the delightful Freshwater beach and then round the headland to Curl Curl. A sweeping view of surf, sand and spray stretches on for a kilometre. I alight the bus and stroll the last fifty metres to South Pacific Private.

This has to be one of the most glorious commutes on earth.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Poor Little Thing

Whilst I have been away there have been some very sad developments with little Lola the pug puppy. She scratched her eye and it became infected. After seeing the local vet she was taken to the Small Animal Specialist Hospital at Ryde. Today Lyla, Lily, Samantha and I went to collect her. Getting to Ryde involves simply driving through three tunnels. A journey that in the past took at least and hour took us twenty minutes. Samantha, however, has tunnel anxiety so I drove.

Mark the vet ushers us all into a small room. He tells us that Lola has a congenital defect that means she does not produce any tears. Tears are the eyes’ natural anti-bacterial cleanser. So when Lola scratched her eye it became infected straight away. He had operated on her cornea but the infection had spread to the back of her eye. It is likely that Lola will be blind in that eye.

In Treatment

I’ve got so much to tell you. First of all I have to ‘fess up. When I said that I was going to a ‘retreat’ I wasn’t being one hundred percent frank with you. The retreat was a rehab.

I have been in recovery from drugs and alcohol for the many years, so I’ve had experience of rehab in the past. This one was very different though.

I booked myself in to a wonderful place called South Pacific Private (a.k.a S.P.P.) As rehabs go, it is on the swanky side. Set on Curl Curl, one of Sydney’s more beautiful Northern beaches, it has ocean views and good food. The programme there is based on the model developed by Pia Mellody at The Meadows in Arizona. It focuses very much on co-dependency.

Eighteen months ago, my life was on cruise control. I worked. I spent a lot of time with my wonderful friends and family. I enjoyed my home life. I travelled. Then my beautiful cousin Gaby was diagnosed with a cruel and aggressive cancer. She died very quickly. I met Nick. Then my work began to collapse. I lost three major projects in quick succession and with those, all of my income disappeared. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had major surgery, followed by chemotherapy and then radiotherapy. I lost my hair. I became very sick indeed. But I always had hope. Throughout my cancer treatment I looked forward to a blissful time of regeneration with my gorgeous boyfriend. In the midst of so much trauma I had grown to love Nick very much. He was always utterly kind and supportive. He came to every medical appointment with me. He held me as I walked to the operating theatre. He was waiting with flowers and kisses when I came out. He was at my bedside every day. When he had to return to Australia he called me on Skype every morning and evening. It seemed to me that at last I had met a man on whom I could rely absolutely. A man who knew what he wanted and would be by my side in the darkness and in the light.

And I was horribly duped.

When Nick left me, my world became like a mirror that had broken into a thousand shards. Everything that I had trusted and believed now seemed horribly distorted, upside-down and back-to-front.

Nick told me that when I got cancer he felt that he was no longer the centre of my attention. He was compelled to seek solace in another woman’s arms. When Nick cheated and lied to feed his love addiction he degraded himself. In order to justify and redeem his behaviour it was essential for him to convince himself, and anyone else who would listen, that he had never loved me in the first place.

Once Nick had taken up that position it became impossible for our relationship to heal or grow. I do believe that it in times of doubt and crisis we can reach inside ourselves to find the courage, honesty and love that will ultimately create a deeper bond and understanding between two people. But for Nick to admit that he did love me would have shattered his fragile ego.

And I blamed myself. In my head I went back in time and tried to re-shape the past. I became trapped in obsessive thoughts about how I could have done things differently. Could I have focused more on Nick and his needs when I was going through the terror of chemotherapy? Whilst my hair fell out? Whilst I felt sick all the time? Could I have been a stronger person? A better girlfriend? Could I have just loved him a little bit more?

I tortured myself with these questions. I tried to make Nick see that his new ‘love’ - for a woman he had met only three times and who was, by the way, also already in a relationship herself - was in fact textbook romance addiction. I covered up for Nick in many subtle ways. I did not reveal the full extent of his cheating and lying to people who knew him. To others I spoke honestly about what had happened but I concealed Nick’s identity from them. I allowed his shame to become my shame.

For three months I tore myself apart, desperately trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I thought that if only I could find the faulty gene, the broken fibre, the original fatal flaw, I could fix myself. I wanted to fix myself so that I could be sure that this would never happen to me again. Instead, my self-doubt brought me to the brink of despair.

That is co-dependency.

Trying to stand up to it all was in itself a kind of madness. In the end the only sane thing to do was to put myself into the nuthouse.

In a state of high anxiety I arrived at S.P.P. I sat on my dormitory bed surrounded by a blue hospital curtain and burst into tears. I continued to cry for three days. It was a busy time though. Up at 6.30 a.m. A walk on the beach. Breakfast. A community meeting. A lecture. Morning tea. Group therapy. Lunch. Group therapy again. A workshop. Dinner. A 12-step meeting. Supper. Bed. Up at 6.30... In amongst this hectic schedule there were appointments with a GP, a nurse, a therapist and a psychiatrist.

Bella, my therapist, was a truly wonderful person. She had the compassion of Mother Theresa combined with the insight of an MRI scanner.

I had diagnosed myself as being severely depressed. To my surprise the psychiatrist did not offer me anti-depressants. Bella explained: “You are suffering from an enormous amount of grief. The only way to deal with that is to feel your feelings and go through it. It will take as long as it takes. Anti-depressants would only put a lid on your grief and store up trouble for the future.” So much for Dr Lily’s diagnosis. “You need to cry a lot,” she added, “I have never known anybody who has experienced so much loss in such a short space of time.” That helped to put things into perspective for me. I had assumed that I was just being melodramatic and hysterical.

We had lectures about co-dependency; lectures about boundaries; lectures about feelings; lectures about addiction; lectures about open communication; lectures about recovery and therapy, therapy, therapy.

During the second week I went through an intensive programme-within-the-programme called ‘Changes’. This involved being shut up in a room for a week with four other changelings. We all did a lot of screaming at chairs.

After the cathartic shouting I felt more settled and relaxed with the whole thing. Next, I presented my ‘trauma egg’. This is an illustration of all the major traumatic experiences of one’s life from babyhood to now. Mine took quite a long time. As my presentation concluded I looked around at the group. Everybody’s jaws were hanging open.  Bella turned to me with her marshmallow x-ray eyes. “Are you going to write a book?”

Despite the intensive work I still hated myself. I still felt that it was all somehow my fault. In despair I did the only thing left to me. I prayed for a miracle.

Halfway through the third week I was sitting in a workshop listening to a very beautiful young woman named Cecila tell how her older, divorced boyfriend had asked her to marry him. Cecilia accepted. The boyfriend then went abroad. That was three months ago. He had not returned. “What is wrong with me?” she wailed. “I need to fix myself so that I can fix our relationship.” The therapist gave her a kindly look and held out the palm of her left hand. “Here is the evidence that this man has run off and abandoned you,” she held out her right palm, “and here is what you are making up about yourself.” Bam! I leapt to my feet. “I get it! At last!” I cried, “What Nick did was an arsehole thing to do. He is a man who would cheat on his girlfriend when she had cancer and then abandon her. That is simply the kind of arsehole Nick is. His behaviour has nothing to do with me.” The whole room burst into wild applause.

So here is what I learned at S.P.P, in a nutshell: the only thing wrong with me is that I keep thinking that there is something wrong with me.

Could I have done anything differently? Could I have been younger? Could I have been kinder? Meaner? Could I have been more beautiful? Smarter? Less smart? Warmer? Colder? A better cook? Could I have not got cancer? Could I have loved Nick more than I did? NO. And no matter how good I might have tried to be, our relationship would always have ended the same way. Nick’s love addiction is a gaping hole in his soul that cannot be filled. It means that he will endlessly search for the perfect woman in the belief that when he finds her he will be complete. And he will never find her. Because that woman does not exist. The only person who can ever heal Nick is Nick. Until he is prepared to do the painful and courageous work that is required, his addictive patterns will not change. And he will continue to damage every woman that he comes into contact with.

Now I am grateful that I got out of it when I did. I still feel pain at the loss of my dreams. I still feel loneliness when I wake up in the morning. I still love Nick. Love is not something that I am prepared to deny. But I am no longer prepared to be in the orbit of a man who is predestined to hurt me again and again. And in a strange way I feel great sadness for Nick. He has demonstrated to the world and to everybody he knows that - no matter how dire the circumstances, no matter how close the relationship, Nick will always put Nick fist. People pull away from that. It is not his fault. He is an addict. But he is truly alone.


Here is a therapist’s definition of romance addiction, in case you were wondering:
 Romance Addiction
A romance addict may suffer from a long streak of serial short-term relationships, marital infidelity, bingeing and purging in dating, or compulsively seeking an idealized romantic partner. Romance addicts are very skilled at intrigue and fantasy but struggle with commitment to a long-term relationship. The romance addict gets high on the early stages of courtship and usually abandons the other person once they begin to deepen the intimacy of the relationship. Like the sex addict, they are using romance as a way to avoid bonding and intimacy. The romance addict who is married or in a long-term relationship may struggle with intriguing with people other than their partner. They also usually have a hard time adjusting to the loss of the romantic high in their committed relationship. - Paul Ginocchio, M.A