Savouring the little holiday things

A long while ago I wrote this blog [] which talked about how you find the good in the things that are happening – realistically facing life as it is – good bits and ugly bits and all. There is a therapeutic approach called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) which highlights how life is like a double sided coin – you have to take the tough bits with the good bits as they are two sides of the same coin. So, on the holiday theme, here’s just an example about what this might look like.

You book lovely house on a helpful website that you can rent people’s houses out. The house is abroad so you only have the maps and photos to go on. The house looks great and the location was the thing that drew you to it. It was close to a lovely park for the children and really near the beach. It is a mid-range price too – not too expensive and not too cheap. You booked it before it is snapped up and feel pleased you got it. Then you work really hard at saving and miss your daily coffee/treat very much in the process.

When you arrived at the house it was bigger than you had anticipated. It had 5 bedrooms which was masses more than you needed, but gives you room to spread out and even have one room just for our clothes and bags. What a treat (you’ve always wanted a dressing room!) You are really pleased. There is a veranda and a BBQ and you anticipate good times ahead. That night in your good-things diary you write how pleased you are that the house had turned out to be a good one.

The next morning, you discovered what looked to be droppings and dirt in one of the children’s bedrooms and are slightly dismayed. Actually you are more than dismayed.  You are pretty annoyed as you didn’t come on holiday to clean up but that’s what you spend an hour doing when you could have been relaxing. But then you all go out to the beach and you are glad that you’d booked the place so near the beach. It was a lot of fun and you came back very sandy and happy. In the middle of the night you wake up to find an ENORMOUS cockroach on the floor just outside your bedroom. I’m talking size-of-a-bus enormous (although your other half claims it was only about the size of a large mouse!) You try to catch it in a bowl you got from the kitchen. You miss and it runs into the bedroom. Your other half is woken up by you turning the light on and trying to catch it again in the bowl – at which point it ran under the bed. Someone helpfully points out that cockroaches don’t eat people and you go back to bed, as short of moving all the furniture there was little else you could do at 1am. You sleep badly which always makes you grumpy. In the morning you laugh a lot about how you were throwing crockery around in the middle of the night and bantered about the general size of the beast. It becomes a gentle in-joke of the holiday.

The next morning you look under the bed to see if you can see it (but you can’t) and you see a layer of dirt and dust years thick under the bed. You wonder if your standards are unreasonably high or if actually it’s a bit much to rent out a place in this state. The bed dirt, cockroach and the droppings prompts you to email the owner, who is actually really nice, apologises and offers to refund the cleaning fee. It restores your faith in people who can actually sometimes surprise you and be pretty reasonable. Then you meet up with an old friend you’ve not seen for years and being able to sit and chat uninterrupted (expect for the waiter bringing you a delicious lunch) is just wonderful. It makes the whole trip (cockroach included) completely worthwhile. To touch base with a brilliant friend who knows you well and trusts you as you trust them is a very precious thing and you are grateful for her time and company and her friendship.

On the third evening you discover that some chocolate you had left on the counter had been nibbled, through the packet and into the actual chocolate. Could cockroaches do that you wonder? On night numbers 2 and 3 you could hear things in the walls although it was pretty hard to tell if your over-active brain was actually just inventing noises to match your anxiety about cockroaches and all things creepy and crawly.

On the 4th night there was a sound and your other half bravely lets you investigate. You discover a mouse in the kitchen, which made you at least feel validated that you weren’t making up the noises in the walls. But it does also make you pretty nervous about going to the loo in the dark and you don’t sleep brilliantly again that night. It also led to many more jokes about the mice and the cockroaches and the plan they had to put you off the house so much you’d leave.

Oh, and that’s the other thing you then have to face. The toilet breaks and for more than 2 days you don’t have a functioning toilet. Eventually a plumber arrived and he shows you an outdoor toilet you can use in a different part of the property, but you are left with a festering toilet which doesn’t flush for an un-relaxing 48 hours. That is a real pain – and you are at the point of booking a hotel room (and bulking at the expense) because there’s only so long you can go without having a wee. However, the plumber was professional and kind, thoughtful and efficient and again you can see that people wanted to help and were prepared to put themselves out for you. Plus, the owner gives you a decent rebate for all the trouble you have been put to, which made the holiday a bit cheaper and was much appreciated.

And all through this you have days out which were awesome and only punctuated by lots of toilet trips in preparation for returning to the house with the broken toilet. You see many many beautiful things. Lovely sea scapes and beautiful sunsets and new creatures. You eat plenty of ice cream and ride a ferris wheel and eat cake, minus the chocolate which was going to go on top but had sadly been eaten by the mouse/cockroach. And you have free bus rides and days in museums and walks in markets and ties with friends. It wasn’t all smooth but it was a least balanced – good and bad.

Part of this is about life experiences (I used an example of a holiday in a nice place, and being lucky enough to even have a break away). But it’s more than that. The place booked in this story turned out to be a bit of a disaster and you could have let it ruin our holiday. Part of it is about looking for the good even in the midst of difficult things. The nice plumber or the calories saved by a chocolate-free cake. The refund or the jokes about the cockroach and certainly it was a holiday you would never forget. Good things don’t always come up and bite you on the nose (neither do cockroaches) but they are there if you look for them. Good people, beautiful backdrops, lovely company, nice food, time spent outside. All these things help. They don’t take away pain or ameliorate the difficult experiences, but they are a way through them and noticing the other side of the coin is a way of being as you walk with your burden.

So next time disaster strikes (and I sincerely hope it isn’t a bus-sized cockroach) take what you can from it. One step at a time can built a new way of looking at the world, warts (or cockroaches/blocked toilets) and all.

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