touching

As you grow older, you will discover you have 2 hands

One for helping yourself

One for helping others

-Audrey Hepburn

A blog that started in one direction and took a wee detour…

My request for photos to add to a blog, turned into an avalanche of photos, each of which told a personal story. Made me rethink where my blog was headed….

As you know, I belong to an online support group. The #RecoveryPosse is open to anyone identifying as being in Recovery. Recovery from Mental Health Issues; addiction; alcoholism or just life in general. It’s based in Twitter and is an amorphous group of people from all parts of the world, who need support and who support other. Some are in AA; some are in other addiction fellowships; others like me are doing the work alone. But those like me find that the 12 steps hold many keys for living a whole and healthy life. They all put out their Hands to help..

And, of course, over time these Hands have evolved into friendships that span the world.

I asked people in the group, and other people in my life to send me photos of their hands. I wanted to make a picture of “Hands that Help”, for the blog I had in my head… but the process took over the narrative….I expanded the brief to include the “paws that help”, because we are also a group all about the support we get from our pawed and hoofed friends… 

And I have been floored by the response

I love hands. If the eyes are our windows to our souls, then hands are the record logs of our lives. We carry the history of our lives in our hands. They sometimes tell an even stronger story than our faces. We all wear masks; or present a face we think others want to see… but our hands carry our very lives etched onto them. From our scars – mine are all cooking related lol; to our choices of nail polish; manicure or no manicure; jewellery; callouses; blisters; ingrained dirt; softly hand creamed and cared for. Old hands that have tended a couple or generations of babies; young hands that are smooth and silky… Hands are beautiful History books…

I asked for hands, because none of us can start to heal from MH problems or addiction by ourselves. In fact, for most of us our journey only began when we accepted a hand offered to us. Begrudgingly for some; desperately; willingly; and even unconsciously. At some point in our lives – that infamous Rock Bottom; or just when we had had enough; we reached out, and the miracle was someone was there, Hand outstretched..

My Mental Health recovery began with 2 sets of Hands.

Strangers.

Sometimes it is easier to tell a stranger how things are in your life. I can distinctly remember thinking “what the hell, I don’t know these people, it doesn’t matter if I tell them…”. Strangers don’t know you; they may judge you, but a stranger’s judgement hurts less than someone who knows you. And with strangers, you can give an unedited account. You have no link to them, so you don’t redact the bits you don’t want friends or whanau to hear. And with strangers if the reaction isn’t positive; you can turn and walk away. Your secrets’ safe, your life better for having said your thoughts out loud; but in any case your disguise, the face your friends and whanau see, remains intact.

I hate pity; am crap at accepting sympathy. I feel like I need to maintain my rigid back bone; it kept me going through the hard years. I am learning over time that while it was good for crisis management, it may not be that useful as I grieve and recover from the hard stuff. I’m slowly learning; but ceding control is not easy – “progress, not perfection”, is one of our themes – so, baby steps it is for me. And I somehow thought, my depression was a personal failing- and that if people knew, they would think less of me.

I was lucky. Neither set of Hands showered with me with pity; they showed sympathy, but in a way that I didn’t shy away from.. And they utterly poo-pooed any notion that I was somehow a failure because I was having mental health and self esteem issues… their help included gentle encouragement, a smidge of swearing,  a tonne of patience and practical advice.

I decided I would listen to their advice; give myself 3 months* and then  I would go back to life on my terms…….

“What do you look like? I’d like to see who I’m chatting to..”

 Such a biggie for me, Me who HATED photos of myself. All I could see was the weight I’d gained – the outward symptom of depression. I searched my phone until I found the only selfie I had – 1 with my favourite Rugby player; kept, because he was in it and it had been an awesome night…

“What a fabulous smile!!!!” “You have nothing to hide”…

So, I started the challenge of taking a selfie a day. Always with makeup; and always always at least 10 attempts… Some I hid; some I shared and then 1 day I posted one, I thought it wasn’t too bad… People were very kind lol.. And then I took a few on my walks, without make up. Peeling back those layers of damaged self esteem as I went. The Hands continued to help and hold and encourage…

“You have to tell people, Chris”

These seemed like bridges too far…. By now I had officially “joined” the #RecoveryPosse (I tweeted I needed help, and all the Hands and words and encouragement appeared out of the ether). I wrote a blog for their website, about “being Fine”; and I used this as an opening to start telling people in my life how things were for me… More Hands, these ones in RL (real life); I discovered that they had all been there all the time; waiting; knowing and loving me despite my stubbornness and what I thought was my secret struggle.  

“Can I stop now? I’ve told so many people”…

“No. You have to tell everyone; this doesn’t have be to be a secret”

I discovered that once I opened up, others opened up too. I learnt about other’s struggles that I had no idea about; things that they kept hidden.. And I discovered that now mine were the Hands encouraging and supporting – not in the usual emotional draining way, but more a symbiotic arrangement. I have learned a valuable lesson that I can be someone’s Hands, without taking on all their problems, or trying to find solutions; just being there, so they no longer felt alone was enough. It is enough…

The Hands I was sent were candid shots; or thoughtfully arranged. Some touched the things that were important to them. Some were just a gesture that represented the person they are. Some were poignant. Some were funny. Some were instantly recognisable as dear Hands from friends. I was so moved by the response that I’ve been thinking of some way to celebrate all the photos… so watch this space…

Sometimes, if you offer a Hand to someone, you both get something out of it…By helping others, doing Service, we learn to put others’ needs ahead of our own. And it puts our lives into perspective.

My Mum, who hates how old her hands have become, was reluctant.. but her Hands are some of my dearest. Those Hands held me as a newborn; they soothed my brow when I was sick. They held my hair out of my face when I was throwing up. They are the Hands that sewed and knitted my clothing. They were the Hands that punished. They were the Hands that taught… and then they became the Hands that held and adored my bairns just as much as I did….. My favourite ever Hand photo is her Hand holding the feet of my precious Premmie son on the day he finally came home.

And as with all things in life. All connections must sometimes come to an end… And one of the saddest things I have learned is sometimes we have to let go of the Hands. Either when someone passes. Or they just move on in life. I jokingly told a friend recently that I like to “collect people”. Not entirely untrue. And for me, saying goodbye, letting go is one of the hardest things I have to do. I have a tendency to hold on way longer than I should. Particularly with people. But am learning when and how to let go of Hands. Both those that helped me, and sometimes those of people I have helped. Am learning that letting go, doesn’t mean forgetting; it just means its time….

It’s simply time..

Ironically, I love my Hands. As I age, I know the story of my life is written on them. My “girlie” side in the nails and the rings. My “Kia Kaha, Inner strength” ring, reminds me of the steps I am taking now.. The bracelets around my wrists remind me of people and times. The scars – pretty much all cooking related, I am a Klutz in the kitchen!; remind me to go slower, take my time, breathe… As I get older I see my Babcia’s hands in mine. Not a bad person to have guiding when kneading bread, baking, gardening, writing, or creating Art. Her story was amazing, I’m stoked I am reminded of it daily..

And my Hands are the ones that held my Bairns; wiped their bums and their tears; taught them to write; comforted, cajoled, wrapped their pressies; ironed on their clothing labels; folded their laundry.. And, am proud to say, pretty much never touched them in anger or as punishment…

*So 20 months into my “3 month” recovery I want to thank all the Hands that have held/ still hold me. Thank you to those who trusted me enough to grab my outstretched Hand, I hope you found comfort and shared my strength – even if it was for just a moment

And thank you to all the beautiful hands that people sent me… .You moved me to tears…

“Waiho i te toipoto,

kaua i te toiroa

Let us keep close together,

not far apart

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