Reflections, Wellness

September 27, 2020

Oops, nobody packed me a chute, was that my job?!

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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“This might not be an easy time
There’s rivers to cross and hills to climb
Some days we might fall apart
And some nights might feel cold and dark
When nobody wins afraid of losing
And the hard roads are the ones worth choosing
Someday we’ll look back and smile
And know it was worth every mile..”

Chris Stapleton, 2020, “Starting Over”

Hey y’all! I am humbled to be here reading incredibly brave, inspiring stories (and to be honest, I’m feeling a little intimidated…I mean, people are changing lives around here and some weeks, I am lucky to remember to change the sheets…). Nevertheless, I’m here, so let me introduce myself….

My path is a long trail of toe-drag marks in the dirt. I’m like a dog trying to avoid getting put in the shower, when it comes to change. In 2016, after 35 years of marriage, I found myself unexpectedly, reluctantly single, and alone in the world, for the first time since university. We were everyone’s poster children for an awesome marriage…what? We were just heading into “the gravy years”…retirement, grandbabies, travel, time….what?! Adult kids up and out of the house. How did I get HERE?! Yeah, we struggled sometimes, but didn’t everyone? In my world, marriage was for life and you always worked your shit out.


Now don’t assume my shock and fear came from being a Stepford Wife unable to look after myself. I was raised in a family of boys and was treated equally in terms of what I was expected to do, and was always encouraged to “git ‘er done” and look after my own shit. I have my own tools, can run a chainsaw and a snow blower, cut a proper mitre, troubleshoot a well pump and have a list of peeps I can call for all the stuff beyond that. Within my marriage, I was very much independent and able to deal with most anything that came along, even if my spouse was away. We were an equal opportunity team.

However…for all my independence, I was still totally unprepared for the emotional tsunami that separation struck me with. Me, the always self-sufficient woman, landed literally and emotionally flat on my back, sick, bawling, (probably unwashed) and a heaping hot mess after my husband walked out. I was totally blindsided by the swirling stew of shame, self-doubt, fear and hopelessness that crippled my mind and still often occupies too much real estate in my brain these last four years.

Talk about a “new normal”… Covid ain’t nothin’ compared to divorce, in my world.

But, there I was – bedridden with pneumonia brought on by exhaustion, depression and stress; living alone and terrified by crippling hyper-vigilance of what fresh hell each new day might bring, with a moving date in three weeks in the dead-asschap of winter, a giant 5 bedroom house to run and pack up, and three dogs and two cats to manage (of which only two of said animals were actually mine). I’ve always been the one who said “I’ll do that”, and always could. The picker upper of all slack. Large and in charge mama bear.

I never dreamed that when it really mattered…I physically, and emotionally, couldn’t.

I was flying blind, free-falling, with barely the energy to get down some soup and Gatorade, and make one or two trips to the bathroom a day, let alone pack up a house. Who the hell WAS this chick? I sure didn’t know her. And I really didn’t like her. The toe dragging comes in here…I waited until it was impossible NOT to, to ask for help.

But as it always goes…one dog got returned to the child, two kids’ cats got rehomed (THAT was misery), and friends and my oldest daughter just showed up. Almost unbidden, thank God for my stubborn ass since I sure wasn’t asking. Some from as far away as London. To finish the pack up of my house (with hilarious commentary on my hoarder-like collection of rocks, sticks and candles), to make me food, to give me daily acupuncture, to walk my dogs, to plow my driveway, and to supply me with an endless supply of Netflix lists, books, company, and LOVE. I hated asking for help. I was never that girl either…but I had no choice. It was that or have the movers show up and just roll me and the couch into a blanket.

Lesson: Taking offered help is a blessing to both sides. So just shut the f* up and take it, woman. It doesn’t make you a failure or weak, it makes you HUMAN.

My move was a hard one. I’m a family person. I left behind my dream house and with it, I felt, my family as well as my marriage. The house I dreamed of since I was 12, that we designed/built from the ground up on my dream piece of land. The only home my children had ever lived in. The center of life for both of our extended families, the place where every Sunday dinner, holiday and birthday came with lavish decoration, loud raucous conversation over a giant table, champagne bubbles and glitter, and a LOT of food (Irish-Italian…leaving my home hungry is a mortal sin). My sacred woods and stream that were the source of my zen, centering and joy for 32 years, now someone else’s. The place where my daughter wrote her first songs, and first rehearsed with her band, empty. The places where all the dogs, hamsters and cats were buried would be lost forever. The skin that bound my family’s life together was peeling off.

But legalities being what they are, it closed and off I went, dragging my feet up the driveway all the way…just me, and three dogs, to a funky old rental house in tiny Orono, Ontario. It took two days to move me in during a crappy January storm. The first night I slept there was Robbie Burns day. I remember this, because the movers left at 7pm finally, and utterly exhausted, I went in search of food. I quickly learned that you can’t get food after 2pm on a Monday in Orono. That everything in Newcastle was closed that day for a pre-booked event. I couldn’t bear the thought of going back one more time to Bowmanville. I almost stopped at the Subway on Hwy 115 as a last resort, but it was closed too. So I went home, climbed into bed and cried myself to sleep wondering how long it could be before I could just die and not live this life anymore. While the hand painted wall plaque my friend had just given me of Emerson’s quote “What lies before us, and what lies behind us, are tiny compared to what lies within us” stubbornly declared what I refused to see in myself from the wall next to the bed. I turned the other way in the bed that night.

Lesson: Friends know you better than you know yourself. So pay attention, ya fool, when they’re talking to you. And let them love you.

The next morning, the sun came out. My kitchen was suddenly full of winter sparkle from the big window. I found two more friends at my door to help me set up my kitchen. Things started to take shape and a path was made through the boxes.  We laughed. The internet guy showed up. Later that day I discovered Sunny’s Chinese, a mecca ever since for a great meal and company, right across the street. Where Shelley behind the counter said “OH! You’re the new girl! We watched them bring in all your stuff, you have cool furniture. Welcome to Orono”.

After I got over myself for feeling creeped out at being peeped at, and shocked at being noticed…I realized that this was the perfect place for me to land. Where you were SEEN. Little did I know just how badly being seen was exactly what my soul needed, more than anything.

I went home, found a really crappy bottle of wine leftover from Christmas cooking with a screw-top (thank heaven, because the corkscrew was still AWOL), set up Netflix on my laptop on top of a few boxes, made space on the couch and ate Chinese from the box and drank wine from the bottle. Watched Suits. Looked at the husky and two chis (aka “the pack o’ bitches”) laying on the couch beside me and said “dogs, I think we got this!”

It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t my big old beautiful house…but this, I did it. Me. Stumbled reluctantly into something I could bear, and live with. That might even be better than where I had been.

Lesson: Just because tonight sucks the big one….doesn’t mean that tomorrow will too. So pack it in, say your prayers and just go to sleep, ‘cuz tomorrow might just rock your socks off and not suck at all.

And so it has been ever since. Usually there are the crying night(s), the pleading with Jesus, and angst and misery and thinking the hell-of-the-day will never be over. And me being stubborn, disbelieving that “this too shall pass” staunchly insisting that whatever the current misery is will last forever. . And then, as always, some perfectly imperfect path always reveals itself as my way forward, and I stumble onto it…or someone has to push me. But on I go.

May your days be full of people to love you, people to push you, people to make you laugh, and people to remind you of how far you’ve come…and a lot of champagne to remind you to not take it all too seriously.  I’ll tell you some stories and hope you might see yourself in them and we can all be better together. Music always seems to speak what’s in my heart, so I’ll always include some. Here’s today’s feels, I hope you enjoy….. <3

Deb P.

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Hi, I'm Stacey.
Welcome to the
Willowjak Blog 

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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