A little while ago, over a wee dram of single malt (Glenfarclas, in honour of my Speyside clan, of course), I thought I might read up a bit on a little family history. Out of a fantastic story about burning mountains and defending ‘The Rock of Alarm’, I was mostly glad, but also mildly irked, to discover that our common motto is ‘Stand Fast’. Glad because it’s a nice familiar phrase that’s long taken up residence in my muscle memory. Irked because I’ve never been very good at it. I’m more a ‘take life at a brisk striding pace’ kind of girl. Places to be, people to see, things to do. There is so much that is interesting, wonderful and important in the world, and I am of the view that we should always be getting on with being part of it. My trouble has never been enthusiasm, but rather the finer points of execution. Because I am me, I fall over A LOT. I’m pretty used to it. And just occasionally, I have lost my footing so completely that I’ve ended up in one of those terrible rolling fiascos that are thoroughly undignified, unprepared for, and leave behind more than a few bumps and bruises. I think maybe I am not alone in this…. Most of us have had ‘That Year’… When without warning we are right in the path of an oncoming storm, and before we know it we are waking up miles from where we started, wrung out, and wondering why the rest of the world looks like nothing has happened.  It’s a bloody messy, disorienting, lonely place to be, and very tough to recover. The obviously sensible solution (and path of least resistance) is to cut and run. Those of us prone to bad luck get very good at that. Packing up, moving on, starting again gets to be a faster and faster process.

The flaw in that plan, I’ve discovered, is that along the way you run into  ‘Geographical Error’. She is a most infuriating acquaintance, kind of like the Ghost of Christmas Future. She shows up just when every fibre of your being is convinced that life is in such an irretrievable and ghastly shambles that the only option is to pack your bags immediately, disappear to the far side of another continent, and assume a whole new identity. She hovers around just behind you with all of the problems you are running away from wrapped up in a nice red polka dot handkerchief, slipping them into your new life at the worst possible moment. The long and the short is that you didn’t escape much of the bad stuff at all, you just lost most of the good stuff that balanced it out.

So what’s to be done, when life has you trapped between a rock and a hard place, about that overwhelming instinct to get the hell out of Dodge? I think, having got this wrong, many many times, that the only real option is to take a deep breath and stand still. Don’t fight, don’t try and hold on, just stand still. It’s hard. Instinct kicks in and you will probably reach for the most precious things in the hope of protecting them from the shock. Don’t. If they are supposed to break, they will, no matter how hard you try to save them. Some people, some occupations, some possibilities were only ever supposed to be in the previous chapter, even if you didn’t realise it at the time. Don’t try to rescue them, just stick to damage control. Some of it turns out to be for the better. After all, that kind of disaster only happens when life really wasn’t working anyway. Ignore the crowd that wants to stand around and gossip about your misfortune. It is the cheap habit of people who want to distract themselves from their own faults and failures. Shake it off, make a cup of tea, salvage a bit of dignity, and save your energy for the people who actually reach in and help you out. You might be surprised at who your real mates turn out to be. You will probably be disappointed to discover a few of your favourites aren’t among them. Try to be gracious about both. Learn to forgive yourself when you can’t be, but don’t allow yourself to be treated poorly by people you have treated well, under any circumstances. It’s a toxic combination when your defences are down – they need to go. The ones worth keeping will survive your bad days, even if you have to make significant amends along the way. Extremely tempting as it is, we do not do ourselves any favours in running from people who have witnessed us at our worst. In facing that reality in the company of people we love and admire, we find the way to face it in ourselves. Yes, it will probably involve uncomfortable levels of humiliation, vulnerability, tears. But proper, deep trust is made of that sort of strong stuff. If nothing else, you will learn hitherto unimagined degrees of patience and perseverance. Have another scotch and learn to apologise properly – genuinely, for the things that have caused harm, but not for your own struggle or suffering, and certainly not for your general existence. Avoid walking the road of self-loathing for too long. Chin up. Learn to like yourself again, and enjoy what is good in the new chapter you find yourself in. Seek advice, but make your own decisions – nobody else knows quite what is right for you. Some days it will feel like all you have left is your integrity. That’s a valuable and rare enough possession in itself. Plenty don’t have it. Stand your ground, and as Maggie Kuhn wisely said, ‘Speak your own truth, even when your voice shakes.’ When the sun comes out (and it always does eventually), you will want to be able to live with the way you weathered the storm.

Tenons Ferme, Craig Elachie….

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