Giving up

Every time I have visited this forest I have climbed the path up the hill.  It is clearly a path – russet and spongy with fallen pine needles – but it is a path that doesn’t make itself easily known.  The trail winds upwards, flanked by bracken and bramble, surrounded by fallen trees.  There are small patches of colour depending on the season: a lone rhododendron, a clump of foxgloves, fruits of fly agaric.  At its peak, it opens out onto a marshy cleft strung with telegraph wires.  Then, the path moves on, straight ahead, deeper into the forest.

Sometimes the forest enfolds and comforts.  Sometimes the forest is everything you fear.  I have always feared the path ahead.  It looks no different to any other path, but when I set foot on it I find myself breathing quietly and moving with caution.  There is a low buzzing in my ears, as though swarms of wasps lie in wait.  Gnarled tree trunks hunch at the edge of the trail.  You might ask why I always seek out this path, when I never feel welcome here, and I can’t answer that.  But I never travel far along it before I turn back.

It has been a couple of years since I was here and on this visit something is different.  The path up the hill is now blocked by two fallen trees.  Yet it doesn’t feel like a barrier, it feels playful.  An invitation to climb over and under.  Telegraph hill is more overgrown than I remember it, but there is a lightness up here that is new.  I walk to the path ahead and suddenly a tan body stumbles onto the trail.  A roe deer.  She stops, sees me and bolts forward into the trees.  I don’t wander any further than the spot where her hooves have grazed the path, but not because I’m afraid.  There is no longer any sense of foreboding here.

The meadows are bursting with wildflowers: buttercups, ragged robin, marsh thistle and orchids, like jewels in the sun.  I see the deer again, grazing on the meadow flowers.  She lifts her head occasionally to look at me, then carries on feeding.  The season of metamorphosis is over.  Flowers are blooming, caterpillars have become butterflies, eggs have hatched.

Almost three months ago, I gave up smoking.  When you give up an addiction, you get through the physical withdrawal and work on breaking the habit of doing that thing when you would usually do it.  And that’s hard.  But you must also confront the reason you have the addiction in the first place.  That empty space that demands something to fill it.  Life becomes flat because you can’t do the thing you want to do; you become restless because that thing is gone; but you are also raw from not having the addiction to cover up what was hidden.

In the weeks since I gave up, I’ve felt positive and motivated, bored and depressed, despairing and emotional.  I could tell you about a hundred vivid dreams but not a single creative thought.  I could tell you about anger, disconnection and fits of uncontrollable crying in the middle of town.  At one particularly dark point, I decided to give up on the constant effort of writing and to destroy everything that I had ever created.  Spring passed into summer without my attention, because the world seemed lacklustre and I was too focused on wrestling with what is inside me.

I didn’t destroy everything I had created.  Instead, I stepped away to avoid doing something I couldn’t undo.   I stopped writing, but I didn’t give up on it.  The forest is a full stop to that withdrawal.  And the forbidden path somehow doesn’t feel forbidding anymore.  Next time I follow it I take a different turning on the trail.  Just beyond is an enormous fallen tree tangled with branches.  After a moment I notice that there is something there that isn’t quite right.  A juvenile owl.  Completely still.  She doesn’t move, not even as the path leads me closer to her.  She’s not a pretty creature.  Not yet.  She looks plucked and a little angry.  She’s still becoming what she’s meant to be.

The solstice dawn contains a breath of winter within it.  The chill clouds my breath.  A cock pheasant is curled like a cat on the edge of the meadow, sleeping.  Like many other midsummer dawns, this one is grey and unspectacular.  In the forest, a chorus of wood pigeons fills the trees, accompanied by a discordant chiff chaff solo.  I walk the trail, until I emerge from pines to the point where the stream begins to curve.  I’m familiar with this landscape, but it has changed irrevocably.  The plantation has been harvested, scythed into an apocalyptic vision, strewn with limbs and stumps as white as bones.  A pair of dead trees still stand in the distance, as though in a doomed embrace.  On my other side, a huge pine has toppled over the stream, needles still feathery and green.  In the pooling water, a staff sticks out of the silt.  It looks like a small figure, arms outstretched in despair or welcome.

She is there when I emerge from the trees.  The roe deer.  Spirit of the woods.  This morning she is not expecting me.  It’s too early for humans to be up.  I walk on past, leaving her to her business.  And there is the pheasant, still sleeping, this time stretched out on his side.  I didn’t know pheasants slept like cats, but this one certainly does.  He startles as I pass and stalks grumpily into the grass.

Any butterfly will tell you that change isn’t easy. There’s a price to be paid for those wings.  And when they’re unfurled, you’re transformed, but you’re also the same creature you were before.  I’m trying to find out who I am without something I’ve done for more than twenty years.  I can feel a twitch at my shoulders where wings might grow.  After all these years, I’m still becoming what I’m meant to be.  Giving up shouldn’t fundamentally change me, but maybe it will reveal things that have been hidden all along.

 

116 thoughts on “Giving up

  1. First of all, I am thrilled to see a new post from you! There are so many levels to this. Addiction, change, letting go, healing (definitely healing) and perspective. The images of the juvenile owl and the butterfly say it all, I think – change is an inevitable part of life and often not pretty or easy or comfortable. And the transition from an addiction is one of the most difficult changes in part because yes, you have to examine the root of the addiction to successfully shed it in order to become that full-feathered owl, that butterfly escaped from the cocoon. Well done! And welcome back, my friend! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Andrea, you never fail to amaze me with the beauty of your words. Also with how you draw me into the scene, no matter what the setting. I could hear the whisper of the breeze in the pines, hear twigs crunch beneath my feet.
    Congratulations on three months. That’s truly an achievement. Yes, you are still becoming. If we can manage to get it right, then so are the rest of us. Hugs on the wing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congratulations on beating your nicotine addiction. We missed you. Welcome back. I love this posting with it’s magic and mysticism. Hope the summer fines you inspired.

    Pat

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  4. Goodness gracious. This is exactly what I needed to read, and I didn’t even know it yet. Gorgeous writing as always. It resonates deep in my soul and gives me much to think about. Thank you for not giving up and for sharing that with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I panicked for a bit thinking you’d given up writing! Change is hard, especially breaking a life long habit that, as you say, was probably self-soothing for something missing. I hope you continue to awaken through the summer, Andrea. Be kind to yourself.

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  6. Wow. I’ve never been a smoker but I am sure it’s harder than most of us know. Good for you–not only for the health choice but also for confronting what that void leaves. Not easy.

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  7. And five, ten years on you wonder why you ever did smoke. But while the craving goes, and a reversal brings horrible sickness, the smell still delights. Or at least, it does me (fresh, active, not the lingering reek on addicts stale clothes).
    I read with interest, as much as a fellow ex-smoker, as a fellow lover and rambler of the trails … different environment, but not entirely. Butterflies, roe deer (though more often seen are the muntjac) … and last week a barn owl still active in midmorning.
    A lovely account, restful.

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  8. Andrea!! So so s great to hear from you…your writing silence was greatly greatly missed. To me this is one of the most vivid and engaging Pieces of yours I have read. I am with you on your physical and emotional journey, I could relate to your process of becoming as I am going through my.own butterfly metamorphosis…wow I’m blown away by your very eloquent writing skills. I’m so glad u didn’t give up giving up smoking, you persevered through. Though you explained your struggles I can’t even imagine how difficult it was giving up something that was a part.of.your life for 2 decades. I have been going through some personal development, consciously working on being more in control of my emotions, and thoughts.

    So glad to hear from you Andrea and can’t wait to read more about your nature walks and life journey

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  9. This is a remarkable post, Andrea, in that you perfectly describe metamorphosis, yours, the forest and the butterfly. Becoming is never easy, but you seem well on your way…

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  10. I love this piece, Andrea, for so many reasons. For your wordsmithing and the photographs of course but also for your honesty and your courage, and for the message that it offers to each of us if we are sensitively open to the sights and sounds of nature. I am so pleased that you did not destroy your writing. Hopefully you will find it increasingly easier to pick up where you left off. Take good care 🙂

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  11. I was completely drawn in by this–it’s beautiful and wrenching, both. I was with my mom when she gave up smoking, after 40-plus years of it being at the center of her existence, so I have a sense of how hard it is. Your descriptions are so honest and revealing, and I hope your wings grow lovely and large!

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  12. Andrea, I have missed you. I feel your journey on the path of withdrawal from smoking and moving on to who you were/are in the first place is sacred territory. Thank you for sharing with us.

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  13. Good to have you back with another beautiful post, Andrea. Well done for giving up the smoking and for being so open about it. No doubt like those felled trees in the plantation new and better things will grow up in its place. I think it’s going to be a good year for butterflies! One thing you must definitely not give up is your inspiring writing which we all so much enjoy.

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  14. Becoming what we are meant to be…these beautiful words and haunting images are a balm to my soul and the baring of your own soul a gift to us all…there are no words to describe the beauty of this brave post that would do it justice, just know, that it is needed in this world as we all struggle to become what we are meant to be.

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  15. You are courageous to keep entering that trail. Congratulations on trying life without smoking. May you find inspiration in words and nature and something new about yourself. Nice to find your post and that you are writing again. Thanks for sharing your forest with great photos.

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  16. «You might ask why I always seek out this path, when I never feel welcome here, and I can’t answer that. » I know this path so well- dark and scary, but so very alluring. A path that leads to the missing pieces of our deepest selves. Having wandered down so many of these, I no longer judge those who turn back. Entering the shadowlands is not for the faint of heart. For those brave enough to continue, the obstacles and darkness eventually turn into beautifully intricate puzzles, as you so perfectly illustrated with your words. It is always worth it. Sending love your way, Andrea.

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  17. Despite the difficulty, your writing is still so well done and soothing to read.

    My heart goes out to you in quitting this addiction. Your body is addicted to a chemical, and it can make it feel like a bad mood, PMS and menopause all in one. I’m on a detox diet that my doctor put me on in hopes it will help with my chronic pain. “Detox” is an understatement. My body revolted for ten days, and giving up my favorite foods is torture (I’m craving popcorn something fierce). So I understand how unpleasant this can be, but I encourage you to keep going. You’re doing great, and I wish you the very best.

    BTW, do you take your photos with a camera or your phone? They are so lovely. I just love photography. It captures the eye and the heart of the picture taker. Also, is there a difference between a roe deer and any other? I see deer here on occasion, and I don’t know if there are different kinds.

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    • Thanks Lori, it certainly has felt that way! But your detox also sounds very challenging – I hope it’s worth it in the end. I generally take photos with a camera for the blog. We have 6 different species of deer in the UK, our ‘native’ ones are the roe deer and red deer. I believe you have a couple of species – white-tail and mule deer, plus caribou, elk and moose.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought those beautiful photos had to be taken with a camera and not a phone. Thanks for explaining about the deer. We have a town here called Elk Grove for the very reason of the Elk. I haven’t seen caribou or moose in our area, but they are in other parts of the country, for sure. I know very little about animal names and plant names, so it’s good to learn. Thanks for teaching. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Nice to see a post from you, Andrea.
    You’ve done well to beat your addiction. I imagine it was a very tough thing to do, but your body and health is utmost, so you and your loved ones will benefit from a healthier you. Your woodland walk sounds soothing and therapeutic, and your photos add to that feeling.
    Except the clear cut, which always feels devastating when I’ve come upon them. The feeling of death is palpable, like a scene where a terrible crime has been committed. To all the residents that lived there, it is just that.

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  19. When I started reading, I was taken by the beautiful writing and images of a walk in the woods. At the time, little did I know this would be a metaphor for a personal journey. Yes – change is difficult – but so is life. Seems life is a series of steps – some forward, some backward – but as long as the forwards outnumber the backwards, the result is progress. Thanks for sharing – and good luck with the rest of your journey.

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  20. Congratulations, Andrea. It’s a real challenge to give up an addiction of any kind, and yes, the physical withdrawal is always just the beginning. I send you every strength in finding what’s beneath, and in taking that light or darkness to ultimately nurture a new and more wonderful creativity. Thank you for the walk along the path. (I wouldn’t imagine a pheasant would sleep that way either!) I wonder if that path was once foreboding because the woodland residents/spirits made it so, or if it was your own personal challenge for some reason.

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    • Thanks Jeanne – interesting thoughts about that path, I’ll have to ponder on it…the pheasant was really quite funny – there was an actual cat curled up asleep just down the track and there was the pheasant curled up in exactly the same way.

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  21. Someone recently told me a similar tale, about a place she knew which suddenly seemed freed from the bad feeling that usually hung around it.

    Great and well-observed post as usual Andrea and a big ‘well done’ on kicking the smoking – your body will thank you, it already will have done so actually.

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  22. Congrats on your victory, Andrea. It is 22 years since I quit and never looked back.
    Thank you for sharing ‘the upward path’ and your adventures. Nothing really stops changing, ever.
    Your pictures of the owlet and deer are delightful. I have never seen an owl in the wild 🙂

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  23. It’s great to see you back and what a worthy absence it has been for. Congratulations! I am sure your words and thoughts will be enhanced and subtly different, but for the better. Great to see you back writing again!

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  24. Well, I can’t wait for the next instalment! What has been hidden all these years?! It’s so exciting.
    And what a wonderful piece reflecting your journey both physically and emotionally.
    Thank you for sharing so deeply.

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  25. Congratulations on quitting smoking, Andrea. Looks as if a whole new world is revealing itself to you. So wonderful to explore and wander around. I sense you’re experiencing a lot as it slowly unfolds. It’s beautiful and thank you for including us on your journey. Love and hugs.

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  26. Your writing is almost hypnotic—so beautiful and melodious, and yet so clear. That’s not an easy feat for a writer to pull off, but you manage superbly. Kudos for kicking the habit. I’ve never smoked but I hear it is mighty difficult to quit. So yay!! Transformation is quite uncomfortable at times. I feel like I’m on the verge of a big change now. I wish I knew what it was. I always enjoy your posts, Andrea. Thank you for writing them.

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  27. Oh, there are so many things quitting will reveal and continue to reveal for years to come. I love your description of how it feels in the first few months of quitting smoking. “Life becomes flat…” Yes, yes it does. I learned later, after a loved one died, that it is very similar to grieving. That makes sense as it is a loss. I quit in 2001 and was just telling someone the other day that quitting is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself (because you cannot do it for anyone else or it won’t stick). Congratulations on your quit. In case no one has mentioned it, it really does take a full year, a passing through all the seasons, to break the habit (so to speak), and each new experience with what was the old habit makes you stronger as you get through it.

    And what a wonderful walk on your forbidden path. 🙂

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    • Thanks for your thoughts and your experience Robin! I know there are still quite a few experiences I need to get through without the cigarettes before the habit really feels gone, and yes, it is a bit like grieving, because that ‘friend’ that wasn’t really a friend, isn’t there anymore.

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  28. I’ve never smoked but my characters in my crime novels certainly did and did from the moment I created them. Beautiful post and needless to say I identify very strongly with the juvenile owl!

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  29. Hello Andrea, so you’re walking the path of temptation aye, where the Ghouls of temptation, hiding in the shadow that flank your way taunt your mind, looking for weakness. But, look at what lies at the end of that path, the open space and clear skies of success, in all its sereneness. Never give up trying to give up.
    To move as you do, noticed but accepted amongst the timid creatures that usually flee and hide, is one of life’s greatest pleasure’s and privileges. You have achieved so much on your walks, but, natures supreme accolade still awaits you.
    Anyway, Andrea, the Song Thrush is about to sing, and it’s time to loose the chickens out.
    I look forward to your next post until then take care.

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  30. Andrea, a beautiful post as you commune with nature along your walks; the deer a companion along the way. As the wood around you changes, so do you, finding your strength and deeper understanding of yourself there. Your final sentence sums it up perfectly: ‘Giving up shouldn’t fundamentally change me, but maybe it will reveal things that have been hidden all along.’

    So glad you didn’t destroy your writings, can’t wait to see the new directions you take now on. 😀🌺

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  31. I like every post you write, Andrea, and they’re never alike. This one was truly lovely. Really appreciate the difficulty, agony even, of giving up the nicotine addiction, and your insights on how it has been a part of your thoughts and body for these two decades. Enjoyed the hike, the beauty (owl and deer) and the disappointment (the new clearing), and all that threads through your thoughts in this thoughtful walk. My warmest wishes to you, dear Andrea.

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  32. Congratulations on giving up smoking, Andrea! I smoked briefly as a ‘youngster’ and gave up after just two years, but that was hard enough and still remember it, so I take my hat off to you. I have felt the same about my work, destroying it all. More than once for my entire memoir. Always in those darkest of hours. And as with you, a walk and a sighting, a sign of – something – always brings me back to my senses. How wonderful to see your beautiful owl, inspiring that twitch at your shoulders once more. Sometimes, that’s all we need, isn’t it? Beautiful, Andea…keep writing 🙂 ❤

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