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On the cusp of my fiftieth birthday, different friends would ask me how it felt to turn fifty. I gave the same answer to all, it feels the same as 49. Imagine my dismay on the eve of said birthday when I started to reflect back on the last 49 years and realize that indeed it did seem like a milestone had been reached and that I might feel slightly overwhelmed by the scope of those years.
I was born in 1967 in a small rural Nova Scotia village. The fourth child born to a 23-year-old woman (who now I would consider a girl). Life in those days was very much a dichotomy, simple but hard. In my household we didn't have electricity, running water. Four siblings shared one bedroom, our parents shared a bedroom and there was one main living/cooking area. Certainly no telephone or internet. We played outside every day, rain or shine, all four seasons; it was not a choice.
There were stirrings of the feminist movement in the 70's but they were no more than distant echoes in my small corner of the world. Girls were to grow up, find a husband and have children, take care of a household. Young men were to find jobs, get wives and be masters of their families.
Education was not at the top of my priorities until after I had my first child at 16. With a sense of urgency, I acquired my grade 12 equivalent and went to the local community college. With a crisp white diploma in bookkeeping, I entered the workforce, where I discovered the empowerment of earning my own living. This was a short-lived accomplishment as my partner and I decided to have a second child when I was 24. After that time I worked sporadically at a variety of jobs as a second income while raising the children.
The years passed all too quickly, the children grew, I said goodbye to my long-term relationship. At this point in my life, my mother passed away shortly followed by my stepdad, and within another year my brother took his life due to medical/mental ailments. I was diagnosed with a rare disease that would eventually start to take my eyesight. I also suffered a not so rare disease, alcoholism. There were many dark days during this period of my life, mostly brought on by my own hand.
I had had a brief but intense love affair with alcohol in my early twenties and had quit drinking for 6 years and had attended AA for 10 years with a few minor relapses. After my relationship ended and my mom had passed away I gave up the desire to fight addiction and ran straight into the eye of the storm. I spent 13 years dancing with the devil before I had had enough.
It has not been an easy road, these last fifty years. I am slowly growing up emotionally; stunted from years of addiction and addictive behaviour. Over three years into sobriety and I have to be vigilant for negative behaviours and habits. I've had to learn how to act, not react, pause before responding, and sit in uncomfortable emotions.
Technology has come so far so fast, I can still recall the amazement I felt at toasting bread in a toaster for the first time at the age of 7. We couldn't have imagined things like the internet or cell phones back then. Nor could I have imagined that someday I would look at my life more as a matter of perspective than the culmination of events that I had no control over, that I would "let go," find acceptance in the past and look to the future with the hope of a better legacy.
When I look in the mirror I see a woman who has lived; she has character in all her angles and lines, there is a keen awareness in her gaze. She feels the years in her body and heart. I have fallen and made my fair share of mistakes, but I've also had some great moments. There are frown lines on my forehead and smile lines around my mouth so there is the balance. I have forgiven me.
After much quiet reflection regarding turning fifty, I would say I'm most grateful just to have the gift of another day to try to be a little better than I was yesterday, maybe be more humble. As the saying goes, "But for the grace of God, there go I."