**Please enjoy the following post from local writer, Kristi Hellenbrand. Her website can be accessed here.**
Okay ladies, we all read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Upon reading it, we realized that we all wanted to eat to our hearts content, that we should all be praying more, and that somewhere there is a hot Brazilian guy that would sweep us off our feet if this marriage thing does not work out. That is all fine and good except 1) my twenty year reunion is coming up and I want to fit into my skinny jeans 2) praying is hard no matter what and 3) I kind of like my husband and prefer to keep it that way.
So I have come up with Wine Book Barn, instead. This little cluster of words is far more than just words. They are the things that keep me from stomach ulcers, panic attacks and from ringing my kids’ necks. They are my refuge when I am overwhelmed and my lifeline in case I swim out too far from shore.
I know women who hit the pavement for a ten mile run with a group of their best gal pals, and others who seclude themselves in a quiet room and practice yoga. Moving, breathing, and exhaling our troubles are the general idea, of which most of us humans need to do from time to time. That is, unless we fall into the group of people who deny our troubles and worries and wind up stewing in them until we resemble green beans in a southern buffet: limp and lifeless, tasting only of the salt we have simmered in for the past twelve hours.
In the thick of it, when our stresses feel as though they might just win the battle, we all have methods of trying to find peace again. Some of us eat. A candy bar inhaled when we think no one is looking, a pie bought from the bakery even though we have no one to share it with. The idea, the hope, is that a quick hit of sugar will be just enough to sweeten and soften up the rough edges of our psyche. Or maybe we fight our inner battle by skipping meals that day entirely, thinking that at least we have control over food if we have lost control over everything else.
I find it fascinating the multitude of ways that our species comforts itself. No other species has at its disposal so many various ways to feel better. Canines chew up shoes, felines find something to bat around, our closest known relatives, chimpanzees, eat bugs off of each other. Humans, in contrast, have a host of rituals to bring solace to a crazy day. Some of us get emotional relief from shopping and head to Target the very moment things look rough. The slang term for this habit? Retail therapy. But be careful, because if you head to the casino or river boat instead of the local mall you suffer from an addiction and must seek help. Interesting since both can run up a credit card bill.
For me, comfort comes in many shapes and sizes. I have been known to eat a few too many cookies, drink a tall glass of wine, and disappear into the garden or barn. (Not all in the same afternoon, mind you. Social Services need not worry about who is supervising my children.) Sometimes I want to sweat though, and newly sown ground or a freshly groomed horse is a tangible accomplishment. They are proof that my worries were left behind, if even for a time. Cookies rarely leave me feeling accomplished, unless they are homemade. My cortisol levels can be tricked into submission by cookie dough, warm just-out-of-the-oven cookies, or even day-old cookies if I share them with my always-goofy children.
If I can convince myself to put on running clothes in lieu of something pretty, and tie my hair up into a pony rather than my favorite down-do, walking the dog is a pretty amazing reset button, as well. Three miles around the lake, dragging my lazy pup the last half mile, has the ability to transport me to another mindset. My hip joints might protest if my body is out of practice but my soul feels younger for having done it. My dog’s crazy grin, with her tongue literally hanging to the ground, adds an element of delight to the trip. With my blood coursing smooth and strong through my veins I feel more alive than before the walk. I feel better able to tackle whatever task in on my list for that day. Whatever stress is hiding around the corner.
One of my all-time favorite pastimes is finding a good book and curling up in my screened porch with it. Summertime always brings a few extra hours per day where the kids and I find ourselves lounging around trying to beat the Georgia heat. I have raised avid readers and all three of them know the joy of picking up a new book and being whisked away to another world. If there are a pile of bills to be paid or a pile of laundry to wash, it does not take much for me to get distracted by a new novel sitting on a bookshelf. I have friends who find this same pleasure by picking up their phone and chatting for hours with someone they have not seen in a while. Ultimately, they are the same happiness clothed in different colors.
All of these comforts can be safely utilized to soften our lives and fill us up. Each of them can also be used in excess, to the detriment of ourselves or of our loved ones. Anyone who has literally fallen into a good book, only to come out of the fog thirty six hours later – I am recalling the last Harry Potter book I read – can attest to the chaos those thirty six hours brought to the people we know and love. If we disappear from our lives, or from those of our children and spouse, in order to comfort ourselves, that pleasure is no longer a comfort but an escape.
That glass of wine that I mentioned earlier has been known to simply soften my rough spots, bringing perspective to my life, and on other days has admittedly, served as an escape hatch from responsibilities and overwhelming anxieties. I pride myself in knowing my limits and I do drink responsibly. I never feel as though I physically need a drink, but I do feel that there are times when mommy having a half a glass of wine has saved my children from expletives their tender little ears did not need to hear. Wine gives me the ability to leave my tongue-tied self behind if I am meeting people I do not know well, and allows me to let loose and get a little crazy with the people I do know well and who continue to send invitations. You can see how this is a tightrope walk though. One in which I tread carefully. Comfort is key, and escape must be rare.
If you regularly retreat to the gym in favor of spending a Saturday with your children, the gym may be your escape more than it is your comfort. If you drink your gin or wine alone on the porch, or regularly skip your family’s dinner hour to meet some friends at the bar, your drink may be a diversion from an issue better discussed than run from. Ask your loved one, they know which it is. They know if it is serving the family or severing it. And if you are afraid to ask, then you know too.
So finding my breath, finding my center, finding my calm must be done sensibly, and with care and thought to those around me. My husband is very sensible and has perfected the art of finding his calm. He leaves the house at five in the morning when the children are still asleep and his wife wants peace and quiet and little, if any, conversation. He turns up his mp3 player as loud as he likes it, burns off any adrenaline poisoning that life has dealt him, and goes about his day happier for it.
If I sleep through my quiet hour, miss my cup of coffee, or skip my morning chores in the barn, my morning can be stormy. If my walk with the pup around the pond does not happen, I am a rougher version of myself, a less polished one. So I continue to make time for my routines. I reserve the right to curl up with a book, bake a few too many cookies, saddle up the horse and have that glass of wine. I maintain my right to have comforts that feed my soul and soften my edges. Because then I am closer to being the person I want to be. Then, I am my best self.
Kristi Hellenbrand is the newly published author of –Today is a Good Day for Marshmallows– A mother’s memoir, which received an honorable mention at the New York Book Festival. She is also the mother of three nutty children (whom she loves and adores anyway), is a chiropractor, a backyard gardener, and an animal lover. She is on a personal quest to be the best mother and wife that she can be, but confesses that she is “no Yoda.” She is simply a woman that is willing to share her many successes and failures in the name of her goal. Please join her and her followers on her blog page. She welcomes your comments and emails. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three children, and two dozen pets.
Kristi will be at a ‘meet the author’ function at the Carnegie Library in Newnan on August 23 at 2:30pm. Copies of her book can be purchased at Scotts Bookstore (across from the library) before or after the event. Please come out and support Kristi!