An unexpected comfort

I’ve been in pain this week. Over the weekend, someone I trusted said many hurtful things, including unkind words about my writing.

I’ve noticed the days going by – a reluctance to post on my blog, even though it has provided me with such astonishing satisfaction. It’s a great pleasure to have been read these last few months. Friends and family do their bit, but the fact that people I’ve never met – who live on a different continent – have been visiting my posts with an unexpected loyalty, makes me buzz with happiness. Thank you. This is why I can sit down now and continue.

Pain can be elusive: we might tell the osteopath  that we’ve got a weird sort of buzzing sensation in our shoulder; my wrist hurts, but only when I do that, or this; I keep getting these headaches, but they’re not really headaches – sometimes they’re in my eye, sometimes in my neck; I can’t sleep, but I don’t know why; I hate my job for some reason; I think maybe I’m unhappy.

It can be a signal, a caution – a shot through the arm might mean you’re about to have a heart attack. A twinge in the knee says, stop running – you’re going to do yourself some real damage. The heat of fire keeps us from getting too close.

But sometimes pain comes at you headlong, without warning, and there’s nothing elusive about it. A betrayal can happen as fast as lightning, and the result is as though you have been struck a sudden, unmitigated, searing blow.

Several months ago, Dan and I argued. I woke the following morning with a great need to heal, but his presence made me so angry and defensive that all the parts I needed to repair were shut up tight. I took myself off for a few days.

The first night, I had this dream: I’m lying in a camp bed – that sensation of dampness, salt on the skin. I’m drowsy, unable to open my eyes, but I know I’m back in the house where I grew up.  I hear my dad, arriving with people. They are talking on the stairs – somehow they know about my argument. My dad comes to the door of the room. I’m wrapped in a sheet – self conscious about being in bed so late in the day.

We’ve disturbed your precious writing peace, my dad says, and his empathy and understanding bring a prickly sense of tears behind my eyes. He tells me something about hulling, or hoeing. It’s nothing he’s ever said to me before, but in the dream I know he means doing something that will rekindle my inspiration. I begin to cry because I’m in pain over Dan. My father leans towards me and kisses my forehead. This is nothing he has ever done in real life: such a show of sympathy could only exist in my dreams. Because this tender act is so unexpected I feel a great rush – like a profound answer to a question that, although I’ve never asked, has sat inside me, wanting.

I remembered that dream this week, and I asked myself what it was telling me – what I was trying to show to myself: my father’s tenderness and compassion? These are things he does not reveal in life – not because he’s a cruel man, but because they’re demonstrations he’s not capable of making. The dream was my offering to myself, perhaps something I’d always wanted, which I decided to give in a moment of real need.

And then it happened in real life: comfort from the last person I expected.

After the dream, Dan and I met to talk. Our words were disjointed. The silences were painful, frustrating. At one point Dan said that he would leave – it seemed we’d got as far as we were going to that day, which wasn’t anywhere. But he didn’t get up. We both sat there for some time, looking out of the window. The garden was very still beyond.

Dan asked if I wanted to go for a walk.

Okay, I said.

We headed to Whytam woods. It had been raining and the long grass soaked our shoes and trousers. I spotted a deer in the trees, springing through the undergrowth. Later, it was standing in the path ahead, watching us. The butter-coloured fields, which I glimpsed through the woods, had patches of weeds growing, their almost translucent tops reaching above the wheat so that it looked like clouds of gnats hovering.

Dan asked if I was going to eat later. I’d mentioned earlier that I was finding it hard.

I said I really fancied bolognaise, but I wasn’t sure if I had the energy.

I told him I’d been to the supermarket twice and it had been impossible – I’d wanted to yell at people for getting in my way; when I couldn’t separate the plastic bag to put my shopping in, I’d almost cried.

Dan went to get the things from the shop. Then we cooked together.

This is surreal, I said as we stood side by side, adding things to the pan.

When we were eating, I gave an impression of how my meditation had been that morning. I sat with my eyes closed for a moment and then mimed sobbing, stopping for a moment, sitting in stillness, and then sobbing once more. It was weird that it was funny, but it was a relief to share the experience with him – perhaps because he had been the cause of the pain.

The bolognaise lasted a few days. Each evening, we would meet and eat some more of it together, and gradually we found our way back.

As each day went on this week, I was surprised I hadn’t cried. I came close a few times – especially when I summoned the courage to look at my blog, which had gathered a rancid air about it because of what my friend had said. I read the comments people had left for me. Such kindness. Such generosity.

I made notes for a new post – something about my experiences, finding an agent – but my friend’s words rang loud in my head and I couldn’t gather my ideas together. A few days later, I sat down to write something about where stories begin. Again, I faltered.

Today, I was standing in my sitting room. The low winter sun was coming in bright through the blinds. I was putting some books away, and then I stood for a moment, glancing through the titles. I picked up The Prophet.

I’m going to open this, I thought. There is a message, waiting for me.

I let the pages fall apart.

And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.

I went upstairs, sat down on the cushions in my spare room where I like to work and read on.

And he said: your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.

And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self chosen.

It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.

Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:

For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen.

And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

Once more, comfort from a source I had not expected, especially as this book had been lent to me by the friend who had betrayed me.


In this quiet week that I’ve spent moving carefully between tasks, I’ve been watching over myself in a way that’s new. I’ve not always been an obedient patient – often getting out of bed too soon in my convalescence. But these last few days, I’ve told myself to rest. I even thought to question my lack of tears, looking beyond the part of me that was proud at my strength, determined to move forward at a decent pace. I stood in my bedroom and began to shake myself – at first starting gently in my hands, then following the movement into my arms, then my chest, and finally my whole self: wriggling, trembling, shivering. From far down I sensed the grief rising, until at the last moment I felt a tingling sensation in my cheeks and I began to sob. Several deep, unbroken sounds came. It was enough.

Sometimes, that unexpected source of comfort can come from ourselves.

I crept onto the bed, knelt down, flopped the top half of my torso over a pile of cushions, and watched my breathing. My whole body came back to me – for days it had felt distanced, shunned almost, and I’ve been walking around feeling like a kernel of popcorn, so very hard and small. But now I had burst open.

About gabrielablandy

Some history, a bit of fiction, with me in there somewhere.
This entry was posted in Essay, Memoir and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

56 Responses to An unexpected comfort

  1. So sorry that you’re in pain. I’ll tell you my favourite quote, it’s one which I am reminding myself of at the moment too, and which I have passed on to at least half a dozen other bloggers over the last six months – ‘When the road of life makes you weary of walking, remember your wings.’

  2. Judy Darby says:

    Such profound honesty, Gabriela, and such courage to reveal so much about yourself. And, as always, such lyrical writing. Once I start to read something you have written I can’t stop until I have finished it.

  3. annewoodman says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your pain and the betrayal. I have found myself weepy lately, too, and it’s not a place I like to linger. I like Vanessa’s quote–so good. Sometimes I find that when I am already at a vulnerable place, things that I might have brushed off in any other moment seem filled with betrayal and hurt. I am trying to get myself back to comfortable happiness.. and I hope you find your way back, too. I enjoy your writing so much!

    • Anne – you’re so deliciously lovely! Ugh, that weepy place. For getting back to comfortable happiness I suggest that position with the cushions that I mention at the end of my blog. It is the ultimate in soothing. If that fails, invite your girlfriend over and bake, which is what I did last night – after posting this piece. We ate hot-pot chocolate pudding fresh from the oven. I feel brand new 😉 Thanks for your comment, and being such a wonderful reader/friend.

      • annewoodman says:

        Yum! I am very jealous of the hot-pot chocolate pudding. Sounds divine.

        I am working on getting back to normal. Slowly but surely. And chocolate helps. ; )

  4. Another layer peels away and we grow towards the person we were always meant to be. Kahlil Gibran – my favourite poet and that is the best of all his books.

    • Lovely analogy with the peeling layers. Makes me think that even if it feels raw for a while, those exposed surfaces will toughen up. Yes, that book is gorgeous, and caught my attention at just the right moment. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Rosie Lubbock says:

    Beautiful blog Gabs, just sorry it’s coming from such a sad place. Am hugging you in my mind. Xx

  6. I was wondering if I’d somehow missed your post this week. I’ve got used to knowing where you are, in body and in spirit. I look forward to seeing what you will juxtapose, the ideas you will deliberately collide or delicately interweave to make something new.

    You chose a brave way of processing this situation. But I can’t help wondering about your friend. The motivation behind saying things it must have been obvious would be hurtful. Why do we ever say cruel things? Seldom when we’re feeling great about ourselves…

    Vanessa’s thought is lovely. I’m going to borrow it, if I may, and place it alongside Neil Gaiman’s mantra which I love for its simplicity. When you’re not sure what you’re up to as a writer, he says, remember the aim is to Make Good Art.

    • Alison, to think you were noticing my absence this week gives me a real flutter of pleasure. Thanks for your kind words on my writing and the wisdom in that second paragraph. I’m being given a lot of gems – yes that quote Vanessa gave is great. I love that one of Neil’s too.

  7. May I share these quotes with you?

    Washington Irving
    Some minds seem almost to create themselves, springing up under every disadvantage and working their solitary but irresistible way through a thousand obstacles.
    Jeffrey Gitomer
    Obstacles can’t stop you. Problems can’t stop you. Most of all other people can’t stop you. Only you can stop you.

    By sharing your words with so much honesty with those that follow and admire you, hopefully will give you strength and courage to continue writing. I too have cried when plastic bags don’t come apart, or when I try and close a cupboard door..small things yet insurmountable annoyances that have brought me to tears.. I think we have all been there and experienced what you are right now.

    Supposed friends can say words that cut like a knife ..for reasons they only will know.
    I am truly sorry that someone whom you thought was a friend made cruel and unkind comments to you about your writing..I can only say perhaps jealousy?

    I like many others admire your writing skills, your openness, your love of the written word, your imagination. I have followed and read your pieces for some time now and cherish seeing your posts..please never give them up.

    Find yourself again and take time if you need, for all of us unknown souls in different continents would sadly miss your amazing skill. Continue to share and open your heart and creative talent with us.

    Take a deep breath Gabriela know that “sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt me” and share more bolognaise with the people you love and care about..
    Thinking of you

    • Gorgeous – just gorgeous. Your support has made a few tears roll down my cheeks – I think it was when you talked about how those ‘small yet insurmountable annoyances’ get you too. It’s impossible to feel lonely with such wonderful support – those quotes are great, and your kindness has made me feel lucky. Thank you – in the biggest way possible. xx

  8. Diana says:

    With you in spirit. Keep going. 🙂

    Love the Prophet. 🙂

  9. lilyboat says:

    I admire you for opening up your works to your friends and family! I rarely do that. I think you are a brave writer!

  10. onestreetshy says:

    Write, write and write some more….. I look forward to reading your words.

  11. It’s better to feel something… anything… even pain… than nothing at all. Wonderfully written.

    • Oh, that’s a great way to look at it. Yes, I am grateful to be feeling something. And actually, it’s deep feeling like, this which inspires me to write and that makes me happy – especially when someone shows appreciation and uses words like wonderful. Thanks for your comment.

  12. I would not have found you if not for ramblingsfromamum. We’ve only just met and I think she’s wonderful. I am so glad I stopped by. You write like music. I couldn’t stop reading, until I got to the very end and all the while, I wondered how anyone could say hurtful, cruel things about your writing. I am so sorry this person envied you so much that his/her negative energy was projected on to you, this person is not really a friend anymore. Don’t let anyone bring you down. I am realizing this just now. As long as you have faith, that is all that matters.

    • That’s the wonderful thing about the blogging community and how we are introduced to new writers and readers. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a message: it’s truly amazing that in a time of trouble, a new visitor would offer such comfort. I love that you say I write like music, and that I kept you interested enough to read to the end.

  13. Of course you know that I think everything you write is beautiful- I say that every time I read your posts and I know it’s not very original! 🙂 But what I’d really like to say to you this time is that I believe that it really was your father and others reaching out to you through the dream. I believe the veil that separates us from our loved ones who have passed is very thin at times, especially in times of sorrow. I believe they are there with us when we grieve and with us in our triumphs…and a dream is a just a gentle way of staying in touch. I also believe that when the weight of this life is lifted, people become their best selves and that you saw your father as the man he truly is. Forgive me if that was presumptuous, I just thought it might bring you some comfort.

    • I have to say – if someone keeps telling me my writing is beautiful, the last thing that I would think is, how unoriginal. I’m too busy grinning and bouncing in my chair! That’s really interesting about what you say in the rest of your comment. I think you thought my dad was dead – which he isn’t (this is one flaw of my writing in that, because it jumps around a bit, it can be a little hard to follow!). Your words still made me think that the dreamworld can also be a place where living intentions can be met, in the same way that you talk of the weight of this life being lifted (stunning!), so the dream world can offer the same arena. You have brought me some comfort with your lovely ideas.

  14. Sorry to find you are feeling down, hope it passes soon and is replaced by something really good.

    • Since posting and having such wonderful thoughts come from my readers, it has been hard to stay sad for long! A long walk at the weekend has inspired me and I should be back to posting more cheerful stories!!

  15. gotasté says:

    There are people who watch the movie “Titanic” for 13 times and there are those who hates it. We can’t make everyone happy. And here i am, always looking forward to read your next post and to have you around. So don’t keep me waiting again.

  16. I find it hard sometimes to read other’s work because it bores me. This was not the case for this post (: You really opened up. And I think that your findings are really wonderful. I hope your relationship with Dan has mended and become stronger after going through this!

  17. I think your writing is amazing, and for me to say that is rare because there is alot of pretentious shite out there – some of it written by me…haha. Don’t let others bring you down, sometimes people can be so spiteful and it’s usually a defence mechanism to take their minds off their own shortcomings. If they’re going to be like that then they don’t deserve you as a friend anyway.
    My advice, invest in a punchbag, hang it from your ceiling and knock the stuffing out of it, your frustrations will melt away.

  18. I’m so sorry to hear about your sorrow. It can be a challenge to move forward when things are not going our way. Your writing is beautiful. 🙂

    P.S. I love Kahlil Gibran.

  19. diannegray says:

    I really hope the pain goes soon 😦 The betrayal is harder to shake off…

    Please don’t ever let anyone get you down through unkind words about your writing. You write for YOU not THEM and you can let them know that 😀

  20. killkaties says:

    I’ve been away for a while with limited internet connection but came by to read your blog . Your writing resonated with something inside me and made me realise how much hurt I’ve been denying. Your writing is so honest and open that it allowed me to release a lot of it and reevaluate my life. It has helped me to gain another level of self awareness and to move on. Truly, I thank you for this.

    • Comments like this make everything worthwhile – especially when there are moments when I wonder: now, did you really need to blog about such a personal crisis?! When my writing hits something in another, it’s wonderful validation: it is important for me to be clear about what I mean, so that other people can have as easy time as possible relating to my pieces.

  21. Wow. I found some time to spend on your blog, and you write beautifully. I’m so flattered that you read and appreciate my writing. Thank you so much. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been stung and am glad to experience your perseverance.

    • What a lovely message! thanks. Yes, perseverance – I’ve certainly reached a point in my life and writing, where I have enough belief to keep going (or perhaps it’s stubbornness…). Writing also makes me happy – so when I write, even if it’s about a hard time – I always feel euphoric afterwards.

  22. I admire you for confronting your issues and not avoiding them (like I tend to do!). You are better off for processing your feelings.

    • I actually find it more uncomfortable to avoid how I’m feeling – I’m not fond of that ‘niggle’. I prefer to turn around and look at it and ask what it’s trying to say. That way I know I’m stronger than whatever it is that’s bothering me.

  23. Pingback: It All Started With A Kiss « life lived now

  24. Laurel says:

    What a post. “Several months ago, Dan and I argued. I woke the following morning with a great need to heal, but his presence made me so angry and defensive that all the parts I needed to repair were shut up tight. I took myself off for a few days.”

    I think I was supposed to read this T O D A Y so thank you for sharing.
    And then you mentioned The Prophet-a book I keep by me at all times in my home office, my writing room, my second home.

    Re your friend. It’s a hard thing and the human spirit can be very complicated. It can be uplifting, needed and more and at the same time, can be just the opposite.
    It’s nice to know I am not alone in some of my struggles, as a writer and a human being.

    • Laurel, I’m so happy that you found this post useful. None of us are alone in our struggles! I often find it strange how the impulse is to wrap up tightly when we are in trouble, when sharing our woes leads us out of the dark much better. Thanks for your hugs!!

  25. Liana says:

    I seriously needed to read this today… and reread it tomorrow, too. Probably the next day as well.

  26. Wow! You’re the second person that came here today and found the timing very apt. I love that you think it’s worth coming back tomorrow and the day after!! Thanks for your wonderful comment.

  27. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words says:

    each person has a story, told with different words and colors
    it is a gift of magickal art to share the sadness within us…but I believe
    we come to a thought scripted upon a page that is what we need to hear….
    maybe feel it for ourselves….you never know when your words are exactly what someone needs to hear…see how it looks if they had said it out loud instead of keeping the hurt inside…
    maybe not the exact words, but the emotional energy within those words….
    I empathize with betrayal….I am wearing it in bold colors these days with no words to say out loud…
    Thank you for sharing yours….
    Take Care….You Matter…

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