Tuesday, April 28, 2020

One Good Reason

One Good Reason: A Memoir of Addiction and Recovery, Music and Love

Written by Séan McCann and Andrea Aragon, © 2019, Nimbus Publishing

One Good Reason

"I carried my heavy secret around for thirty years because I was ashamed of myself and afraid to tell my parents what happened. Over time this shame grew into anger and eventually into a sense of immense betrayal. Each year it took more and more booze and drugs to keep my hidden suffering at bay. My dark secret was slowly eating away at me from the inside, like a caged animal trying to get out." 

Séan McCann was sexually abused by a priest—a trusted member of his community and personal friend of his family—when he was 15 years old. He told no one, until standing in front of an audience in London, Ontario on September 26, 2014. That was nearly three years after he got sober, but was preceded by thirty years of hard drinking, excessive drug use, and the mental struggle to keep those memories at bay. It almost killed him. 

Andrea Aragon met him along the voyage, as Séan rocked out the tunes of Great Big Sea on a twenty-year-long party tour. She had her own demons, but the two of them clicked. Together, they made a life, but that life didn't erase the secrets or stop the drugs and alcohol from flowing. Somehow Andrea held onto the love that brought her and Séan together throughout many dark and confusing years. That love and a tribe of support buoyed her up and helped her remember the reason why she was there in the first place. Sometimes all it takes is one good reason.

And together they share their journey through addiction, abuse, music, recovery, and love with us.

My Reasons

Full disclosure. I have always been a big fan of Great Big Sea and love their rollicking party tunes. I saw them more than once on their constant tours and was always excited to be part of the joyous event. The energy in their music is intense, and their live shows never disappointed.

I even met Séan one evening during the Home County Music & Art Festival in London, shortly after he left Great Big Sea. He had just played a solo set on the main stage and was now part of the audience enjoying the next musicians to hit the stage. I noticed him standing behind my children and I.

"Do you know who this is?" I asked them excitedly. "It's Séan McCann. He was just onstage. And he was one of the lead singers of Great Big Sea!"

He smiled and said hello. We chatted briefly and then I thanked him for sharing his music with us. He was gracious and real, in a way I always appreciate in celebrities. Musicians might hold epic rock and roll status, but they are people with lives of their own, and stories that mirror anyone's.

Those stories are often the power behind their lyrics. The words get inside you and make you feel like the musician knows your intimate details. Ordinary Day was one such song for me after my husband's death.

"In this beautiful life, there's always some sorrow
And it's a double-edged knife, but there's always tomorrow
It's up to you now if you sink or swim,
Just keep the faith that your ship will come in.
It's not so bad...

I say way-hey-hey, it's just an ordinary day
And it's all your state of mind
At the end of the day,
You've just got to say... it's all right, it's all right"

~ lyrics form Ordinary Day by Great Big Sea

Yes, there was always tomorrow. And I learned to live with that double-edged knife, as awful as it felt in the moment. What I didn't realize though, was how double-edged that party was for Séan or how his story would mirror mine again later.

Séan was trying to drown his past; to forget it in a haze of drink and drugs. But life doesn't work that way. You can try to ignore past hurts, but they have a way of integrating themselves into every fibre of your being, and shaping everything. A friend recently revealed to me that he was sexually abused as a child. That revelation clarified and changed everything I knew about him. He too hid in plain sight, his pain so obvious to see, now that the secrets were cleared away. I am beginning to understand the many bad decisions he made—drinking, drugs, poor relationships, emotional detachment—in light of the trauma he went through. The journey to heal has only just begun and, in light of our current pandemic, seems harder to navigate. But as I turned the last few pages in One Good Reason, I have hope that like Séan, hopefully my friend too can heal.

Even more than that, I see a message to the wider world. Séan found healing through the power of music, but more importantly, through honest human connection. The journey isn't always easy. Sod that, it is damned hard! The whole world needs healing and connection right now. But hold faith that our ship will come in. It's not so bad...

But the book... Would I recommend it? Yes. I loved the reflection between Andrea and Séan. You see both sides of a life lived. We are offered more understanding in how the hurt and harm of secrets buried can radiate. But you also see the pure strength that can come from holding those secrets out and letting them go. It is far from easy and the road stretches farther than from where you can see. But you don't need to be alone. And that is reason enough to carry on.

Thank you for sharing your words, your music, and your love Séan and Andrea.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Conversations with Grace

Conversations with Grace by Julianne Haycox, ©2020, Köehlerbooks

Conversations with Grace

An Awakening

"We GO, GO, GO—chasing after the day, the night and the 'list'. The lists are all around us.

They are stuck to our planners, refrigerators, dashboards, phones and computers. They are everywhere. These lists take up prime, front-row space in our daily lives and keep us working into the night. Keep working out at the gym more than the next person. Keep buying everything that the 'it girl' is obsessing over. Keep doing what everyone else is doing and what others want us to do so we don't miss out. The words YOU ARE MISSING OUT should be stamped in bold, black ink across every list out there.

I realized that I was missing out when my life took a sharp turn..."
~ Julianne Haycox

Start the Conversation

Anyone relate to this? That you were missing out? That you needed to do more? That you weren't enough? This was so many of us a mere few weeks ago. Chasing lists. Running after our days. Feeling like we could never get ahead because there was always something to do, someone to impress, some task yet to master.

Well guess what? Life has definitely taken a sharp turn for everyone. Shopping malls are closed, as are gyms. The only place to go is the grocery store, but that now feels like a game of Russian roulette—has anyone touched these bananas, picked up this box, or coughed in my vicinity? You might welcome the change in scenery, but find yourself scampering back to the relative safety of your home to resume a vigil on what new drama the world is grappling with this hour. It is a scary time. And no one is immune to it.

But take heart.

There are others who have faced challenging times before, including Julianne Haycox. She is the author of Conversations with Grace and has learned a thing or two over the years. She has dealt with death, loss, and upheaval more than once, and has found grace through the process. And she shares some of that hope in her newest book.

How did she do that? Mostly through letting go of old constructs that no longer served her. She surrounded herself with people who sought to ease her suffering, and in this way found love once more. Love of self, love of life, and an embracing of the miracles that can be found each day, if we but only look for them. It is not necessarily an easy process, but Julianne understands the power found through the journey.

Right now we are all on a journey. Life looks different for each and every one of us across the globe. People are being asked to physically isolate themselves from others in order to protect our collective society. The beautiful part is that so many are going beyond to show their love for others in big and little ways. Governments are working together on all levels to coordinate responses, actions, and relief support. Businesses are changing their production to fill needs on local and nation-wide levels. And everyday people are checking in with friends, family, and neighbours in careful ways (video chats and phone calls help!) to make sure that we are all coping the best we can. It is heartening in a huge way and a reminder that we will all get through this together.

Life is always a journey, but today's course feels more powerful than most. If you find yourself struggling, don't be afraid to reach out to others for a little support. Turn to whatever means of solace helps you through this time, whether that be books, your favourite television shows, or hobbies you can do at home. Maybe now is the time to pick up your own pen and write the story of your journey through this difficult time? Sharing how you cope can be a balm and looking to those who have found a way through to grace in the past—like Julianne Haycox—serves as inspiration for us all.

Stay safe and healthy friends. 


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