Homesteading. The phrase conjures up images of “clean” living: home-grown organic fruits, vegetables and herbs; hand-spun yarns and woven fabrics; beekeeping; permaculture gardens; wildlife habitats; green energies; zero waste; compost–the list is endless but, again, it typically equals “clean” in most people’s minds. Alcoholism–or any kind of addiction, really–typically conjures up that stereotypical waif with the rheumy eyes living in a doorway. What our society doesn’t see is the priest/clergy, the school teacher, the lonely old woman, the star athlete, the average Joe working the deli counter in the supermarket. In short, it is an insidious disease that affects millions of people, either directly or indirectly–people who still manage to lead productive lives, who still manage to make meaningful contributions to their community. My paternal grandfather was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize while being an active alcoholic; not exactly the rheumy-eyed waif. There’s no cookie cutter definition or description.
That’s actually true for homesteading, too. I’ve read numerous newspaper and magazine articles that typically define it as simply growing your own food yet they miss the myriad goals of reducing one’s carbon footprint; the utilization of antiquated farming methods; raising animals for fiber, as well as eggs, dairy and, in many cases, meat. As a pescetarian, my homestead will never be used for raising meat and that actually raises some eyebrows because of the goats, chickens and ducks that grace the land. To me, the dairy, eggs, pest-control (chickens love bugs; slugs are duck delicacies), and rich, free fertilizer are enough.
As for alcoholism, I’m in the latter category with being indirectly affected by alcoholism. Though I enjoy a glass of mead on rare occasions, maybe a glass of wine at a toast, or, on even rarer occasions, a shot of Sambucca, overall, I’m pretty much a teetotaler. I can sit with friends who are enjoying a glass or two of Guinness or an Irish coffee after dinner and not be nervous or uncomfortable, while sipping a glass of pineapple juice or a cup of Salada tea. But as soon as the blurry-eyed stare, the loud voices, etc. rise to the occasion, I’d rather be anywhere else but. Too many frightening memories get triggered.
Growing up, the violent temper tantrums were only part of the picture. Dinner came out of a box labeled Rice-a-Roni, Noodle Roni, or Hamburger Helper; in leaner times, it was white gravy on toast (gravy made with flour, water and a little bacon grease). Dinner was often paid for with food stamps after a touching story was given that the step-father had left us high and dry. He hadn’t; he had simply lost another job due to too much time missed. Shut-off notices and bill collectors knocking on the door to which we pretended we weren’t home were part of the picture; name changes to the accounts often followed as if a new tenant had moved in–once, the electric bill was even in my name though I was only 13 or 14. Winters were always toughest. When we could get heating assistance, it was a little better. And one apartment actually had a working fireplace + a separate chimney that we were able to install a woodstove; a neighbor allowed the use of an old garage for storing wood. When my step-father was working, things were also better. But poor money management meant they didn’t stay that way. A steady paycheck meant we shopped every weekend for more “stuff” we really didn’t need. We treated every kid in the neighborhood to a trip to the zoo, an ice cream cone when the truck came down our street, or the amusement park. In many ways, as a kid, these aspects were fun and I encouraged these rare treats; I was suddenly a popular kid. I didn’t realize it for the poor management it was until many years later. And, of course, there was always money spent on beer. All of it would’ve been better spent in saving for leaner times or getting out of debt. We moved a lot. Beloved pets were disposable at the local pound, as were the endless litters of puppies and kittens because spaying and neutering was either too expensive or we could “always” find homes for them so why bother(??!?); cherished possessions were tossed or left behind for someone else to clean out–if they didn’t get destroyed during one of those temper tantrums. Beloved pets sometimes went hungry during the leaner times and were abused along with their humans when the temper tantrums started. The sound of a pop-top opening still sends me into shivers.
As a kid, I was always eligible for free lunches at school. In high school, we actually had a salad bar and I frequented it as my body craved the vitamins and minerals these fresh foods provided. I confess to often feeling guilty as I enjoyed these salads because I knew everyone at home was living on something much poorer. We often received baskets of food from local charities but it was almost always more of the same–packaged, processed foods because they retain a longer shelf life. This poor diet, as well as the stress that went with it, has led to some digestive health issues: Irritable Bowel Syndrome, gluten-sensitivity, lactose-intolerance and, in more recent years, some acid reflux. In learning about these health conditions, I’ve also learned how important a healthy, balanced diet really is. I’ve learned about food additives like High Fructose Corn Syrup and Monosodium Glutamate and how really bad they are for the body; the former being a leading culprit in the development of IBS. I learned about artificial sweeteners like Sweet N Low, which is saccharine and a leading carcinogen; Equal, which is aspartame and has its own health issues; Splenda, a by-product of the pesticide industry. In short, I learned the difference between organic foods that are grown without the use of chemical pesticides/herbicides, without any Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) vs. the Franken foods that dominate most supermarket shelves. The desire to grow my own food, for homesteading, was born.
Of course, once you get started down that road to homesteading, if the itch takes hold, food production is only part of the picture. Yes, growing that food in a manner that conserves water, builds up the soil and maximizes space is a major part; canning and preserving, making everything from scratch, making one’s own bread and condiments. From there, as an herbalist, I’ve branched off into making my own medicines, health and beauty products, and even some natural cleaners. Because of all those lean years, there is also a deep desire to become more self-sufficient, to not be dependent upon the grid, to minimize the cost of living as much as possible while also taking better care of the planet. Because of the neglectful animal care, the desire to implement more humane practices–well, this is at the heart of it all because I owe it to the memories of so many pets to make sure current and future generations don’t suffer similar fates. Spaying and neutering, regular check-ups, adopting rather than breeding, and simply seeing these animals as the living, sentient beings they are complete the homesteading package. In many ways, homesteading has been the vehicle for curing the hurt and the ills created by that alcoholic upbringing. With each new skill, with each new and positive practice, with the care that goes into a homestead, my confidence and self-esteem rises. Therein lies the link.
When I started this blog, I was determined that it would only be about homesteading endeavors. Many false starts, and years of dormancy, led me to simply start writing whatever came to mind–even if it didn’t have much to do with homesteading at all. I’m finally finding my voice and the direction I’d like to take it. And, oftentimes, as I write, I find that blogging has become a sort of therapy. It is a hope that, by sharing my own experiences with alcoholism–and abuse–that I might help others to heal; knowing you’re not alone can be the most liberating experience. I have considered creating a separate blog, one that deals only with the alcoholism and abuse, and leaving this one to homesteading, animal stories, and faith-based postings but they are all part of the same world and I fear I might neglect one over the other. Besides, homesteading brings about its own liberation.
As I read back over this post, and realize where I’ve been, and how far I’ve come in life, suddenly the over-grown yard; the fact that this homestead has a long way to go before becoming a “working” homestead; the fixer-upper status; the less-than-perfect conditions that I often bemoan or shy away from fall away. Both homesteading and recovery from addiction/the affects and/or abuse from someone else’s addictions are journeys. You’re never quite done; there’s always room for improvement, always room for more growth. And as I plant those seeds for more growth, I also plant a few seeds of faith because, above all else, homesteading and recovery need a daily dose of that.
May God bless you & keep you!