Addiction Recovery Story #34, Blue Vervain: Small Comforts for a Blue Lady

I can weather the elements. I can bloom after winter darkness. I can seek beauty and light, and small creature comforts —fashion, makeup, flowers and coffee — can help me along the way. This is #34 in the story series I started 1/31/21.

Straight from her Nature Journal: Blue Vervain, watercolor, Annie Hurley, July 2020. Proud of our daughter — biologist, botanist, artist and good person — headed to University of North Florida in August for a two-year cyanobacteria research fellowship. This art brings beauty. It was not always that way. As I do, our beloved Annie has faced dark times.

could fall flat on my face now, or curl up in donut position (a term I coined when our white Sugar furball curled up into a tight, tucked round on the sofa).

My heart is heavy over some sad realities in my life #atthismomentintime. They are a burden to hold.

But rather than retreating, I am sitting at a small, round wood Starbucks table in The Mills at Jersey Gardens, the Elizabeth, New Jersey mall with a fancy name. It is eight minutes by car from the program our Brunetti attends every weekday. Rather than barrel along the Turnpike on the 35-minute trek back home, when it’s my turn to drive, I pack lunch and my Rose Gold laptop, zipped in its neoprene Lilly Pulitzer case.

I come to the mall to write.

I have always enjoyed working with other people, in an office. I thrive on personal connections. For today, I sit with my back to the glass Starbucks storefront, where the friendly, helpful young women work. For today, they are my co-workers, scanning my rewards bar code, asking if that’s enough half and half. They and the travelers with rolling suitcases, like the ones sold here at Tumi and Kipling—they are my colleagues for today. Many speak languages I do not understand.

I hear canned music. I see shops and kiosks: Japanese QL, Swarovski, Torrid, Banter by Piercing Pagoda, Flying Fantasy II balloons, Helzberg Diamonds Outlet and Candy Dream. We are so close to Newark Airport that in the parking lot, we can see planes soaring loftily, like toy plastic jets.

nnie (blog name Figgy) must have seen Blue Vervain somewhere. I think I’ve had it in our hit-or-miss garden. Fig has her eyes to the ground for plants to sketch and paint, and her ears to the sky to listen for birdsong and the tiny feathered friend on our neighbors’ tall tree trunk.

I think I have Pink Vervain in our back garden. But I can’t verify that. What I can report, according to OrganicFacts.net, is:

Blue vervain has purple flowers and simple leaves with double-serrate margins. It is also known as simpler’s joy and swamp verbena. According to Wikipedia, it is called holy herb. Another source says it has been used for headaches, increasing breast milk and as a nerve tonic.

impler’s joy? Swamp verbena? Holy herb?

Sounds pretty powerful to me, not just to look at, but as a survivor.

Beauty that survives in tough, swampy conditions.

Simple, joyful beauty that survives cold winters.

Perennial, holy beauty that springs forth, a remedy for the weary body and soul.

ad and Mom listened to “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” on the stereo when I was a girl. The images enchanted me. I saw something magical, something that belonged on the Sunday-night TV show, “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

I figured the lady had blue skin, or at least a blue dress. I didn’t understand blue meant sad.

I want some red roses for a blue lady
Mister florist take my order please
We had a silly quarrel the other day
I hope these pretty flowers chase her blues away

I want some red roses for a blue lady
Send them to the sweetest gal in town
And if they do the trick, I’ll hurry back to pick
Your best white orchid for her wedding gown

— “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” recorded by Vaughn Monroe and his orchestra, 1948. Songwriters Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett.

verspending on our budget is as unhealthy for me as tearing through a dozen sugar-laden donuts. But I can and do find small comforts that help ease my road when I feel blue:

  1. Writing this story. It brings great relief to put fingertips to keyboard and tell this story, to see my own hope, to share it with you. I have a paying essay to get to, but I had to do this first, for my own steady footing.
  2. Seeing that roller skate. I love fashion details, and the one in Fig’s watercolor, above, counts. My Fig and I have long studied nature on vacations— slugs, seals, birds, fish — but also, in between, we keep an active eye on nail polish shades (and how they look, on our nails, when held against beach sand for contrast), shoes, dresses. That is part of my influence as a mother.
  3. Iced Venti Cold Brew with one Equal and half and half. I nurse it from 9:30 a.m. until I leave the mall to get Brunetti at 1.
  4. L.L. Bean Signature Wicked Good Bean Boots, nabbed in Vermont two weeks ago with Meg, Greg and Sis. Only one pair left on sale rack — my big size! — $249 reduced to $159 and no sales tax. Finally ready for winter freeze. Don’t have to wobble in lace-up boots with heels or share boots with Dan (yes, I have) to shovel the driveway. Haven’t fully unpacked from Vermont trip, so the boots are by my bed. Strange comfort.
So excited for winter 2021. I finally have the right gear.

4. The silky blue eye shadow with sponge-tip wand that my friend Rach gave me for my 60th birthday.

5. Glass bottle of Diptyque Paris lavender soap that I will use in the shower, not just for my hands. It is refillable, and I like that.

6. Mother’s Day garden pots of flowers from Dan and from Fig.

7. Tiny pot of crafted flowers Brunetti brought home. “Those are pretty. Are they for me?” I asked. “No, I made them for myself,” she said. I understand. Birth mom, paternal grandma, legal guardian. Friends’ moms, grandmother’s friends, aunties. That’s a lot of would-be mothers. I’m sure she feels conflicted.

8. The humble sandwich I made and brought for lunch.

9. The gladiolus bulbs I planted this week in our front and back gardens. I couldn’t coax strong Brunetti to dig holes for me, so I did it myself. The package is a grab bag of colors. I can’t wait to see what emerges.

10. This size XL floral ruffled midi skirt I ordered during the pandemic, April 7, 2020. I had it shipped from a local independent fashion store, to help keep their doors open. It fits much better now.

Today’s lesson: We can be like good Annie/Figgy Hurley, scanning the grass and the ground as we walk, looking for moss and wildflowers, not cracks and potholes, and for tiny birds on dark tree trunks. We can look for beauty on our path to addiction/overeating recovery.

I published my first story about sugar addiction/recovery, “#1, Buttercup: I Know an Addict When I See One,” on January 31, 2021. My next will be “#35, Wildflower Bouquet.” I’m giving the stories flower names, from the tiniest bright yellow bloom I saw as a girl on a summer night in Bedford Park to big, wide-open garden varieties, which I hope will signify my journey to self-knowledge on this sweet and sour road.

Alice Garbarini Hurley lives in Montclair, New Jersey. She worked at Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Sesame Street Parents magazines, and freelanced at Cigar Aficionado. She has blogged daily at her website, Truth and Beauty, since 2010, and is a Contributing Writer for aspire design and home. Alice is in a recovery program.

Annie Hurley is Research Assistant, New Jersey Center for Water Science and Technology, Montclair State University. Instagram: @hurleyarts.

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

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