A week on from our various disasters and Mr Litlove is pretty much healed. Now the only actions that bother his shoulder occur in front of the computer, when too much mouse-work can make his arm sore. It was a revelation, watching his recovery process, however. He simply stopped, until the aches and pains from his trapped nerve had gone away, and then he gradually started moving again, easy household tasks to begin with – January’s been a washout work-wise but we’ve done a lot of de-cluttering – and then starting to exercise and return to his workshop. I am forced to realise I have never been that patient and accepting of my lot in my life. As for me, the optician was delighted with how much my eye had improved, and I don’t need to go back unless it flares up again. But ever since, I’ve had gritty, uncomfortable eyes, made worse by reading and looking at the computer screen. I’m typing quite fast here, hoping I can get through a post before the discomfort kicks in. I should be more like Mr Litlove, I suppose, content to stop until the problem has gone away, but I am not like him, alas.

the outrunBut the topic of recovery has been in my mind since reading Amy Liptrot’s memoir of alcohol addiction and tentative recovery, The Outrun. This is an exquisitely written first book that marries degradation and disgrace in London with a growing love of nature and its healing powers in Orkney. Liptrot comes from Orkney originally, where her mismatched parents went in search of a good life. Her father is a manic-depressive, her mother, since their divorce, a born-again Christian. Liptrot wanted nothing more than to escape the islands when she grew up, and moved south to London to pursue a university degree and a career in journalism. But the demon drink got a hold of her too. A self-confessed sensation-seeker, she fell so easily into the ready excesses of life in an isolating city, and her unflinching memoir gives a clear account of the humiliations consequent to too much booze. She loses the man she loves – which gives her even more reason to drink – gets chucked out of many a house share, is nearly raped by a stranger one drunken night, can’t hold down a job. London can do that to you, I think; the combination of opportunity and loneliness is a difficult one to negotiate.

If London can be a place of downfall, then the obvious thing to do is find a place of healing. After a course in rehab, Amy heads home, not for any better reason that she has nothing much else to do, and staying sober is hard, treacherous work. The cravings of the alcoholic never really go away, no matter how much damage is done to the self, and so the fight for sobriety is one that has to be fought daily. But the Orkney islands turn out to offer more solace than she at first imagines. She finds a job with the RSPB tracking the remaining corncrakes on Orkney – a tiny brown bird with a distinctive call that has almost become extinct due to modern farming practices. And this proves such an improving thing to do that she takes on a tiny cottage in the small island of Papa Westray for the winter. One thing about the Orkney islands: they are very windy. On one of her walks, Amy describes how: ‘I ascend the hill in a crouched position, probably watched by amused islanders in the houses below.  I lie forward into the wind, like a mattress of air: it takes my breath and exhausts me –  a full-body experience. It’s loud enough to hide in.’ She describes another windy day – one noted in Orkney history no less, when ‘tethered cows had been flying in the air like kites.’ It seems clear that this sort of wildness is congruent with Liptrot’s inner wildness, one that could not be appeased by alcohol, although it looked like it would suit the task, but can be calmed in a weather system that’s powerfully bigger than she is.

I wonder how often it is that we do not want what we think we want. I wonder how often we live in circumstances that do us damage in the long-run because we can’t think beyond our immediate solutions, and lack the courage or the motivation to try something else. I remember reading somewhere that humans tend to shy away from change because it’s so hard to do, and unless we’re really up against it, we’ll bumble on as we are.

The book has two rhythms. The first half is a rapid, forceful descent into the darkness of alcoholism, and it’s immensely gripping. The second part is a much more languid and dilatory affair, with chapters exploring different aspects of life on Orkney and Amy’s slow rehabilitation. It makes for a slightly uneven book, but I actually appreciated the honesty of this. Recovery does not happen in linear fashion. It goes back and forth, picks up new hitches and secondary issues, returns us time and again to things we thought we were done with. ‘I still have nervousness around other people,’ Liptrot writes. ‘When you’ve spent so long messing up, covering up and apologising, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’ve done something wrong and default to the secretive and even sneaky behaviour that addiction involves. I often have a flickering sense that I must have said or done something terribly misjudged.’ Although Amy Liptrot is, in theory, not my kind of person at all – an extrovert, a sensation-seeker, a louder-than-life person, I found myself relating effortlessly to her situation, her determination to recover and her courageous honesty. Only the truth will save us, they say, and that’s about right. This is a very truthful book, searingly so, and all the better for it. I wanted to tell her at the end: stay sober, Amy, so you can keep writing.

And in the hope of furthering my own recovery, I’ve signed up for an online course with the Optimum Health Clinic, the specialist chronic fatigue centre. ‘Conscious Transformation’ it’s called, and is about finding the right mindset to get through the illness and out the other side. I know what a long, slow process recovery can be, and I do hope that this will make a difference. It starts in February and I don’t doubt I’ll tell you about it as I go through the tasks.


A P.S. – I love your comments and appreciate them so much, but staying away from computer screens has put me behind in replying. I will catch up as soon as possible.


15 thoughts on “Recovery

  1. Don’t catch up on replying to us if it means itchy eyes (or anything else not-good). Reading what you write is enough (and please, if writing here gets too much don’t do that either).

    I heard Amy Liptrot’s book serialised on R4 this week and was very moved by it, even in such an edited version … and your signing up with Optimum Health Clinic moves me equally because of your eloquent descriptions of recovery and its serpentine nature. I wish you well in every sense.

  2. So glad that Mr. Litlove is recovering and that you are making your way back to health. The eye thing just sounds awful, and we use them constantly so it’s hard to rest them. Fingers crossed that the online course is a good one! x

  3. I wonder when (I expect it exists!) I will read about someone making the healing journey the other way round. Leaving the bleak and lonely (if beautiful) remoteness and finding warmth, companionship and a positive new life in the “evil city”.

    I remember still how many people said I would find London a cold and lonely place where no one would be courteous, or talk to you, or even notice your existence and it would be dangerous. It hasn’t been my experience at all.

  4. Like Kaggsy, I am glad to hear that both you and Mr Litlove are on the road to recovery, long may it continue.

    Your commentary on Liptrot’s memoir reminds me very much of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, especially the sense of healing that can come from engaging with nature/the natural world. I can’t recall if you’ve read the Macdonald, but it’s in a similar vein.

  5. I’m glad you both seem to be on the mend. I have found Boots Lubricating Eye Ointment very comforting for gritty eyes. It blurs things for ten minutes or so but after that everything is very much better.

    I have been listening to Liptrot’s memoirs on the radio this week and also heard her interviewed on Wednesday. She seems to be very aware of how fragile any recovery from addiction is. I hope she manages to keep going forward.

  6. Mr Litlove should give courses. His recovery sounds like masterclass. I do hope your own course helps and that your eyes will be feeling much better before we get as far as February.

    I’ve heard so much about this book and had my usual sceptical reaction when a title pops up everywhere but your review has persuaded me to add it to my list.

  7. Oh my, I look away for a few days during the exam period and it seems that the Four Horses have been racing through Litlove Towers. I’m SO sorry that you’ve both been having such a horrible time. I am glad that you’re both heading towards recovery, and I hope that continues. Also that the course is helpful.

    I’ve also enjoyed your reviews and I think I might have to read ‘Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner’ as it sounds fascinating. But I do hope you don’t wear yourself and your eye out again writing here, and hope you feel no obligation at all to reply to this comment.

  8. Very apposite that you have read this book while thinking about your own recovery. Hope the Optimum Health Clinic gives you something to work with.
    I’m enjoying your new weekly post format, I think it works well.

  9. This sounds like a good book I might just have to find! The cover is also quite pretty. Glad to hear Mr. Litlove has mended and your eye is getting better. I hope the class you signed up for is really good. I look forward to hearing more about it and hearing how much it is helping you 🙂

  10. I am so glad to hear about this book. This is the first that it’s come to my attention.

    I sympathize with you because I have what’s known in the U.S. as fibromyalgia (it has another name in the UK), but at times I have bone-crushing exhaustion, extreme muscle pain, and loads of eye problems, so I feel I completely understand your challenges, though no one can ever truly know another’s pain. I find myself very frustrated at times when I so want to move forward with my projects and work and am unable to.

    I’ve had this problem since I was 25 years old and now I’m 62, so I’m used to it, but I wish there were something that really helps.
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

  11. This sort of memoir seems quite popular these days–a combination of memoir and nature and rehabilitation through it–I quite like books like this. I’m glad to hear you are both mostly over the sprains and illnesses–what a stressful way to begin the year–especially when you have high hopes for making some real changes. A step backwards, but hopefully now moving forward, but I guess life is like that it seems. You’re right that the movies always make it look so easy–that five minute–get in shape or whatever–and then the character is a whole new person. Hah. If only, right? Take good care and I hope you are enjoying books from your shelves–I am now another book in–since I really want this book, too! 🙂

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