one of the purposes of this blog is to record insights that have come to me: new ways of thinking about things, whether hard-fought for or bolts from the blue. (my erratic typing just wrote that as ‘bolts from the blur’ which is often nearer the truth.)

one such insight came on a recent weekend when I was cycling along a canal tow-path, considerably to the rear of my children with their teenaged legs. the inland waterways of this country are a wonder of the Industrial Revolution. this map shows how comprehensive is their spread. even today there are 2,200 miles of navigable canals, which is almost as much as the 2,300 miles of motorways in the United Kingdom.

Map showing canals of the British Isles. Canals in orange, rivers in blue. image credit: Wikipedia

spurred on by the potential profits and un-encumbered by today’s worker safety legislation, those original engineers dug, blasted and constructed their way through the British landscape to make the impassable routes passable for a horse drawn vessel.

when the option was to build a tunnel, it became necessary to power the progress of a barge. one way was to use manpower in the form of hired ‘leggers’, who lay on their backs, tied onto boards on the sides of the barge, and physically walked the narrowboat through the tunnel. it was menial, arduous and dangerous work – there were cases of leggers drowning after falling from the boat.

Legging through the Butterley Tunnel on the Erewash Canal, Derbyshire, 1895.

Legging through the Butterley Tunnel on the Erewash Canal, Derbyshire, 1895.

for me the early days of recovery felt very much like legging through that tunnel – deeply uncomfortable, repetitive, and not sure if I would ever come out of it. and those phases still happen in my day to day life, too, however sober I am – days when the only option is to keep going and trust that I will see daylight soon.

what kept me going in those days was the promises of others that it gets easier, as in this wonderful post from Carrie which I read in November 2013 when I was less than a month sober.

the hope that eventually we will come to a sunlit towpath, and we will progress through life as effortlessly as a barge floating upon still waters drawn by a carthorse guided by a photogenic bandanna’d bargee with accompanying dog .


image credit:

and yes, that happens, for a while at least – and thank goodness! but it is by no means the end of the story…

sometimes to get where we need to go, a level path is not going to get us there. floating along cannot change our elevation dramatically. for that, we need to navigate the locks in our lives.

the 5 Rise Locks at Bingley, Yorkshire

it is then we need to stop struggling, and just wait. allow something to flood into our lives. that thing is often just that priceless commodity: time, or something that comes with time, such as the returning trust of others. some might say that thing could be grace. others will experience a new, unsought for opportunity that appears to come from nowhere to change our lives, but in fact is in itself a function of our continuing to live according to our new principles.

for me sitting still and allowing change to work in me can be the hardest path of all.

when legging it is getting me precisely nowhere, it often turns out that I am not in a tunnel, after all, but in a lock. and vice versa: there is no point just sitting there hoping I am in a lock, when actually I need to put my hobnailed boots on and get going.

where are you, today? tunnel, towpath or lock? I’d love to hear. Prim xx