At the start of 2019, I bought myself a new planner. I do this every year, relishing the opportunity to outline my short-term and long-term goals for the 12 months ahead.
Under the headline of ‘Family and Social’ goals, I had written “Spend more time with Granny”. I had been so unwell for so long, you see, and addiction can steal many things from you — money, health, friends — but one of the greatest things it steals from you is time.
When I was in the throes of my eating disorder, I found it difficult to be around other people for extended periods. I could maintain the mask of normalcy for only so long before I would need to be alone, slaking my thirst in the dark.
The itching would begin, the ferocious restlessness would shudder through me, and I would have to leave. It was like a burn that needed to be put under cold water for relief, it was impossible to be present and connect with those around me until I had done so. The family gatherings that had been such an important part of my childhood and adolescence became something to endure. I was standing at the edge, unable to settle, only wishing to be gone.
After a major relapse in 2016, I had spent the last two years focusing on recovery and that became the most important thing in my life, slotting my work commitments in around that. This Christmas, I could finally see all of the hard work paying off. I felt the most relaxed I had in years, sitting with my grandmother and sister in front of the fire at my aunt’s house on Christmas Day, the box of Celebrations thrown between us. I wasn’t distracted by the chocolate as I would have been before, oscillating between wanting to eat all of them and throwing the entire box on the fire, watching the temptation burn. Instead, I had one or two, and listened while Granny told us stories about her own childhood Christmases, stories I couldn’t remember hearing before.
I had fought so hard to recover, I thought, and this was the prize — peace, calm, a gentle stillness. The ability to sit by a fire and listen to my grandmother tell a story and to really hear her. I had come back to her. I had come back to myself.
My goal to spend more time with my grandmother in 2019 cannot be fulfilled now, unfortunately. She died almost a month later. But, as always, she left me a gift, for I can’t stop thinking about the importance of family.
Yet I don’t remember feeling this way after my other grandparents died. Maybe it’s because I’m older now or maybe it’s because, in recovery, I feel as if I have been given a second chance, but suddenly, life feels like something that should be treasured. As the poet Mary Oliver wrote in The Summer Day, “Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I have many things that I want to do with my one wild and precious life and I always have, but for now, spending more time with my family seems the most important thing that I can do.
I’m someone who has always given a lot of emotional energy to my friendships but seen my family as something that doesn’t require the same investment because they’re basically stuck with me. Under the guise of ‘unconditional love’ I haven’t gone to birthdays or Sunday lunches because of work that needed to be finished up, I’ve spoken with a sharper tone to my parents than I ever would to anyone else, I’ve allowed myself to become irrationally annoyed over the tiniest of matters and taken their love for granted, all because I could. I assumed they would always be there and of course, they won’t. It feels morbid to even consider this, but I can’t help but ask now — if my mother or father or sister died tomorrow, would I have regrets?
I know some people reading this today will have an extremely fraught relationship with their family. Maybe they are unable to have certain family members in their lives because it’s not safe for them to do so, and it’s important for others to respect that. When abuse, whether physical or emotional, is involved, estrangement is often the only solution.
But I know too that there will be many readers who are involved in disagreements or arguments, oftentimes forgetting what the reason for the dispute was in the first place because the need to be ‘right’ is so paramount. But would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy? Life is so devastatingly short, even if you live to be a hundred years. Hug your loved ones. Hold them close. Tell them you love them.
You never know what the future has in store for you. The ability to sit by a fire and listen to my grandmother tell a story and to really hear her. I had come back to her. I had come back to myself.
Read: Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, feeling as if I had read all the feminist dystopian/zombie novels I could read for a lifetime, but this novel is a triumph. I was awake until 2am promising myself ‘just one more chapter’. It’s a confident, assured debut from one of the most exciting new voices on the Irish literary scene. Buy it immediately.
Register: The Kerry Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre is one of the six main beneficiary charities for the 175km Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle this year. With places limited to 8,000 to ensure the safety of everyone involved, make sure and register today by visiting