Who needs a gag reflex when you have macchiato-toned foundation?

I remember the first time I heard her in the bathroom, fifteen minutes after we had dinner when I had finished all the dishes. I went to find her in her bedroom to ask her if she wanted me to do anything else before I got back to my homework. The ensuite door was closed, but there was no lock and I could have just gone in. I stopped when my hand reached the handle though, because I could hear her vomiting and started to panic. We were the ones who got sick, not Mum.

I knocked on the door, asked her if she was okay and if she wanted me to get her anything. All she said was that she was fine, and that she wanted me to go and make sure the others were getting ready for bed. I should have gone when she asked, but I didn’t. I stayed outside the bathroom door and listened to my mother upheave the dinner she just made us all. She didn’t stop for ages, and the smell that rose up from the gap under the door was the most retched thing imaginable. I thought I was going to vomit myself, so quietly crept out to the other bathroom, careful not to let her hear that I was there the whole time. I doubt she would have heard though, over all her dry reaching.

This went on for years. Seth soon learned about it, too, and joined forced with me in trying to help her stop. We would come up with excuses to keep her from having time to go to the bathroom straight after dinner, like fake our own sicknesses, or start an argument, or need urgent help with homework due the next day. It never worked.

Soon enough, there was hardly a time when the lingering smell of half-digested food and stomach bile didn’t saturate the air like a foul air freshener. It was revolting, and I recognised the smell instantly when I walked into Camden’s bathroom after dinner one night. Everything seemed to follow the same pattern in my life, where whatever bullshit happened at home apparently needed to be replicated in my relationship with Camden.

Unrealistic expectations of beauty and attraction were just one those things, alongside the alcoholism and violence, which usually went hand-in-hand.

My mother and I were both artists it would seem. As a young child I had always wondered why any woman so naturally beautiful would feel the need to wear as much make-up as she did. Everyday she’d have wide, bold lines of black encircling her whole eyes which blended into her dark eyeshadow, and a thick layer of foundation smeared all over her perfectly olive skin. There was a time when I couldn’t even remember what she looked like underneath it all, like it had all been permanently tattooed onto her skin.

I didn’t know why, but I always hated the smell of her make-up. A part of me just instinctively knew it meant nothing good, and my fears were clarified one day as I watched my mother through the crack in the bathroom door as she painted her face to cover the bruises I previously didn’t know lay hidden there underneath. I couldn’t un-see them, despite all her many, expertly applied layers of make-up, and I could barely walk down the make-up aisles in shops from then on without feeling nauseated.

I never hid the fact that I hated my stepfather, but it got so much harder after seeing the blackness underneath my mother’s paintings. One time Seth and I had been dragged to the local shopping centre with him and he stumbled into some people he knew. He introduced us to these people as his children, but Seth and I were both so mortified by the insinuation that we might be likened to him through shared DNA that we both rejected his claim, clarifying that he was only our stepfather and that we were not at all his children. We had no idea what these people thought of what we said, as the immediate fury in our stepfather’s glare down at us was enough to scare us out of ever looking away from him to check.

We copped it when we got home for allegedly “embarrassing him in front of his work colleagues,” and I remember so clearly the sound of the cracking timber when the wooden spoon broke over my ass. Seth and I laughed later on that I’d never be able to bake cookies again without feeling that same sting across my ass cheeks, which, as it turned out, wasn’t untrue. From then on, chocolate chips were never the only bittersweet things occupying the mixing bowl anymore.

Excerpt from my novel Rise and Fall, published on Wattpad here: https://my.w.tt/Mm6qIEBcbR

There’s a deep shame in knowing you just aren’t well enough to deal with your own shit. (Excerpt)

There’s a deep shame in knowing you just aren’t well enough to deal with your own shit, and that you actually need help to get better. The irony of this was definitely not lost on me. I expect the kids I work with to come to me if they need help and to ask for that help freely whenever they need it.

But I have never once asked for help with anything in my life, up until now. 

Excerpt from my novel Rise and Fall, published on Wattpad here: https://my.w.tt/Mm6qIEBcbR

Every night, without fail. (Excerpt)

“And your mother as well? She was a heavy drinker, too?”

“Oh, she definitely drank more than he did most nights. But where he got outwardly aggressive and violent, she just withdrew into herself and numbed herself to the emotional and physical pain she experienced every day.

“She would pass out most nights on the couch, having drank herself into complete oblivion. Sometimes the glass of wine or whiskey would slip out of her hand and spill onto the floor, and I would need to clean it up before my stepfather saw it and had a go at her for the mess she had made. Sometimes she would even burn a hole in the fabric covering the couch because she’d passed out or fallen asleep with a cigarette still lit in her hand. It’s a wonder she never went up in flames with how much flammable liquid had seeped into the fabric by then and how often she dropped her lit smokes,” I laughed. Again, I was fully aware that this was not at all funny.

“Most nights before I went to sleep myself I would go check on her in the lounge. Those horrible late night TV shows were always playing loudly in background when I got there, but I’d still have to shake her awake and tell her it was time to go to bed. I’d carry her into her bedroom and into bed, trying not to wake my stepfather in the process. When I went back to the lounge to turn the TV off, I’d collect all the bottles of wine, beer and whiskey they’d drank that night and put them away, so I never knew if they were actually aware of just how much they would drink each night.

“Emptying all those bottles into the recycling bin in the morning was always a shit time. The chiming and crashing of glass on glass was always a reminder of everything said, done and seen from the night before, even though it was a brand new day, so I never actually felt like I had a clean slate to start fresh.”

Excerpt from my novel Rise and Fall, published on Wattpad.

You can find the rest here: https://my.w.tt/Bpgh2ulcbR

Can’t live with them, can’t live without them, can’t kill them. (Excerpt)


According to Karen, my new counsellor, the only thing to do when your reality crashes in around you is to go back to the beginning.

So that’s what we do. We make the long trek back to my earliest memories to try to make sense of where it all went wrong and start mending everything there that’s broken; and apparently, there is a significant amount of irregular and asymmetrical pieces making up the unstable picture that is twenty-six-year-old, Sadie Blake.

I had barely even touched the surface when I gave her the Shmoop summary of my life to date before my recent, text-book anxiety attack exemplar I just presented, so Karen asks me to talk about my family, starting with my parents.

Try as I might—and I really have tried—I find it exceptionally challenging to explain their relationship because I cannot understand how they ever ended up together in the first place. I could not imagine two more different people if I tried for a million years, but who knows; maybe there’s something to the cliché saying ‘opposites attract’ after all.

My parents, Mary and Ray, met at the bank my mum worked at when my dad came in to do some banking for his electrician boss. After hitting it off over some banter about cheque books and interest rates—riveting conversation, I’m sure—Mary the Bank Teller and Ray the Sparky started dating. They married young and, from what I can gather, fairly quickly. I turned up roughly forty weeks later, and my little brother Seth two years after that.

Could I tell you any more about them being together? Nope. Not really. I really don’t remember much from that time in my life. If I had known how things were going to turn out, I probably would have tried a little harder to hold onto those memories. I would have been nice to have some that I could look back on fondly.

They divorced when I was four years old. I didn’t find out until very recently that one of the reasons leading to their decision to separate was that my mum had lost a baby. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard that must have been for them both. Nothing like unexpected tragedy to tear apart a well-functioning family.

I have no recollection of how I handled their divorce back then, but I do distinctly remember every second Sunday following sitting with my little brother behind the heavy peach curtains at the front of our house, faces pressed up against the dirty toddler-fingerprinted windows, waving goodbye to Dad as he drove away to his new house on the other side of town. Seth was always crying in my lap. When he got older, we would run out to the end of the court with Dad driving alongside us, until he turned the corner and we couldn’t keep up with the faster pace of the car and had to turn back and go home. I never knew that Dad was crying in the car, too. I only learned about that part recently as well.

My dad didn’t date much after he and my mum separated. But my mum found a new partner almost instantly, though I have no idea where from. I’ve never asked. To say that I despised his very existence would be the understatement of the century. Perhaps even the millennium, or whatever larger measurement of time follows that.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my mother dearly, I really do. I just look at my dad, who is single-handedly the most kind, generous and hilarious person I could ever hope to know, and then I look at my stepfather, who was the opposite in every way—a violent, ex-army drunkard—and I simply can’t understand the appeal. With everything that happened afterwards, I’m sure she knows how badly she screwed up when she first got together with him. I don’t need to make her feel any worse by explaining how much her poor relationship choices impacted us kids. She already knows, and I’m sure she feels guilty enough as it is without me rubbing more salt into those still-gaping and festering wounds . . .

Excerpt from my novel Rise and Fall, published on Wattpad.

Find the rest here: https://my.w.tt/hJ1y8Yrl5Q

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Rise and Fall.

Chapter 1 – The flaming pits of hell.


She’s still waiting for an answer, but I don’t have one. At least not one that makes any sense. Even if I did, it wouldn’t make any difference anyway. I genuinely couldn’t say anything even if I tried. All words have been washed from my vocabulary by an unexpected, vicious wave of anxiety, leaving me sitting in this awfully uncomfortable, burgundy chair with fraying armrests, in this overheated, stuffy counselling room with its hideous, canary yellow walls—nice try, Karen; but a cheap paint job isn’t ever going to make anyone feel chirpier about sharing their worst experiences with a stranger—unable to imagine finding enough oxygen to fill my starving lungs, let alone verbalise a reply.

Had I really never thought of my life at all in the way she just described? It seems so glaringly obvious now I think about it, but it never occurred to me to even consider it until she just so astutely pointed it out. I feel ashamed for being so stupid and not realising it for myself. Yet another oversight to add to my long list of failures and regrets. Yet another one I honestly have no fucking clue how to deal with.

Anyone would think she had planned her observation with the family of kookaburras outside because I can hear them out there now, cackling away, laughing at me and rubbing my stupidity in my face with their iconic song. I used to love the sound of kookaburras. Now it’s just a reminder of how fucked up my life is.

She was still waiting. Her patience was infuriating, and I was already boiling, so my current anxiety really wasn’t helping my overheating body temperature any. Can you not, just this once, cursed and useless body, actually work with me instead of against me? Is that really so much to ask for?

Panic was well and truly choking the life out of my self-control. Underneath my white knuckles, seemingly clenched tighter than ever before, warm, salty droplets were assembling in my palms creating a pool of grossness that I already wanted to reach for the hand soap to wash away. My breathing was short and shallow, but my heart was pounding frantically, forcing me to stay alive and face this—whatever the hell this is. No matter how much I tried to breathe slower and deeper, none of it seemed able to get past my throat; like my oesophagus was suffering from some kind of allergic reaction to peanuts or something, closing over and blocking all movement in and out of my lungs. As if all that wasn’t awful enough, now I had the added bonus of some invisible asshole stabbing me with an non-existent knife down into my chest at the same time, rotating the blade for good measure just to make sure I remained aware of how not in control I was in this moment.

My body just didn’t feel mine anymore.

I want her to say something. I need her to say something to break me out of this flaming pit of hell she had just roundhouse kicked me into. This is all her fault.

I can’t stand the sight of her any longer. I can’t stand being in this room with more paintings than is necessary in such a small space another second. The very minute I walked into this office I felt more uncomfortable here than anywhere that I can remember, and it’s been growing worse every minute I’ve stayed. All fifteen of them according to the minute hand on the clock to my left, next to a paining of a calm ocean on a sunny day—god, how unoriginal. How the hell have I only been here for fifteen minutes? How has my world disintegrated into this much of a mess in fifteen-measly-minutes?

My eyes settle on the window across the room and the gentle sway of the Bottlebrush trees I can see outside. That’s where I need to be—outside, where there is real oxygen that licks my skin and cools me down naturally, not like this recycled garbage spewing forth from the overworked split-system above my head.

“Are you okay, Sadie?”

Are you fucking serious? You’re a trained professional watching me—your client—in full melt-down mode and all you have to say is ‘are you okay?’

She was out of her chair and walking to the window I must have be staring longingly at. She slid open the window and the gust of air that burst into the room was the most perfect wind ever known to humankind. It smelled like warm rain and moulding earth; tall, Mountain Ash trees wrapped tightly in ivy and surrounded by ferns, where the air is lighter fresher and filtered by nature. The scent of home—of a long overdue Melbourne autumnal storm high on the mountains in the Dandenong Ranges after weeks of drought—cleared away the blockage in my throat and I felt like I was breathing again for the first time ever. The weight that was crushing my chest lifted, and the stabbing pains that were penetrating my heart before seemed but a vague echo of what they once were. The vice-grip my hands formed around the arms of the chair relaxed, and they instead moved to hold my forehead up as my long, auburn hair created a convenient curtain of unruly curls around the rest of my head, giving me what I wanted—the space to not have to look at her anymore.

It’s terrifying how quickly you can become lost to yourself. How with a few simple words you no longer know who you are or your place in the world. Everything you had thought, everything you believed, simply undone, floating without an anchor on the whims of an ocean of uncertainty, while you swim behind, desperately trying to catch up and re-establish some kind of control. And to think, at one point I actually thought I was an accomplished swimmer.

Despite the breeze and my now somewhat-relaxing anxiety, there is still something about this counselling room that makes me feel uneasy. Like that feeling you get when you’re walking back to your car in the dark and you feel like someone is following you so you need to grip your keys a little tighter in your hand and be on constant alert. Being in this room makes me feel like I’m being watched, but there’s no one here except Karen, and she doesn’t count because I know for a fact that she’s watching me very closely.

I sat back in the chair after a few minutes, brushing my hair away from face and leaning back into the backrest, defeated.

“No, Karen. I had never, until this very moment, ever considered any of that to be remotely traumatic.”

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So, I finally bit the bullet and published my first novel Rise and Fall on Wattpad. This is the first chapter.

You can find the rest here https://my.w.tt/jUAc1DcSNQ

Rise and Fall

By Ashleigh Maree

Life has reinvented the definition of rock bottom so many times for twenty-six year old Sadie Blake. With each revised edition, Sadie believes herself strong enough to bury those rocks a fraction deeper in her memory.

Sadie Blake is not as good a hole digger as she thought.

That, or life is really just intent on kicking her ass.

Having navigated a childhood minefield of addiction and abuse – one of the most effective trauma-inducing cocktails known to mankind – Sadie also found herself the guardian of her baby nephew Madden at the age of sixteen, sending her life even further into disarray. Stressed and lacking the time to properly process the experiences she endured throughout adolescence, Sadie continues to find herself haunted by all the memories she’d rather just forget.

With everything she’s been through, Sadie finds it hard to trust anyone nowadays; but she’s going to have to learn quickly if she wants to work effectively with Karen – her new counsellor, and find a way to move forward with Madden.

Welcome home.

I wish I could remember the first time I felt the cool chill of the ocean tickle at my feet.

I wonder whether I loved it then as I do now;

Whether I felt the lulling calm wash over me and hold me transfixed on the sand, motionless;

Whether the smell of salt and seaweed and wet decay sunk deep into my lungs and allowed clearer breaths than I can find anywhere else;

Whether the breeze on my cheeks and the sun glaring off the surface brought tears to my eyes that no shame could hide or erase;

Whether every repressed memory flooded back to me and dwelled cruelly at the surface of my mind;

Whether I found myself surrounded by answers to questions I didn’t even know existed yet;

Whether the rumbling and crashing swell sounded like silence;

Whether the icy depths felt warm and welcoming;

Whether the rhythmic motion felt stable and grounding.

I wonder whether the isolation still felt like home.

Mad rabbit.

I think you are quite possibly the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.

The way you smile when you say goodbye,
Even if we haven’t said a word to each other.
It’s always real and it’s always kind,
And I want to wrap it up and carry it with me,
For those moments when I forget what it feels like to be looked at like that.

I long to hear your voice again –
It’s delicate, but deeply masculine, and absolutely heavenly.
I would listen to it speak any language under the sun for days,
And wouldn’t even mind for a second that I couldn’t understand a single word.
I get too tranfixed on your mouth when you talk anyway.

My eyes wander the stubble on your face,
Which I imagine feels like silk
Even though it always looks about three-day old,
And rest on the mustache above your top lip.
Odd, usually-creepy facial hair never suited anyone more perfectly than it does you.

Your dark brown eyes match your hair so completely,
Framed entirely by long and full and reaching lashes.
I find myself wishing I were close enough to count each individual one.
Every time I feel them on me I forget how to breathe.
And my face flushes deeper than should be humanly possible.

My coffee intake has quadrupled since I first saw you,
As has my gold flaked, cocoa dusted, chocolate chip vegan brownie consumption –
My deliciously socially acceptable excuse to see you again.
The additional caffeine really hasn’t helped my lack of sleep though,
And I should probably switch back to decaf.

But you really are beautiful.

I wish I knew your name.

‘You know, just life.’

I lost count of the number of people today that
Asked me if I was okay;
Told me I didn’t look myself;
Said I looked sad;
Thought I must be tired;
Wanted me to talk to them about what was wrong.

Some I answered.
Some I didn’t, but I’m sure they guessed all the same.

‘Haven’t slept properly in, like, 6 weeks. Just want to be in bed. Can’t concentrate. No motivation to do anything. Zoning out. No care. No interest. Super emotional. Crying all the time at nothing. More irritable than usual. Raging at everything. Want to fight everyone. Too much going on. Constantly stressed. Really grim – more grim than usual. Anxious chest pain. Probably a little depressed. So, you know, just life.’

‘That’s not life – it’s just a part of life.’

I learned a long time ago that there’s no point hiding my feelings and pretending I’m okay when I’m not. I’m an open book – an open book with obnoxiously oversized print that even young, vision impaired children with very basic literacy skills can read and comprehend from a mile away.

Maybe one day I’ll stop trying.

Not today.

The slow creep of old mate D.

I don’t remember the first time I found myself feeling envious of the dead.
I don’t remember it, but I can’t forget it.
I can’t unfeel it.
I can’t unknow it.

It shadows my every feeling.
And it weighs on my every hope.

To sleep uninterrupted, still and quiet and unburdened by the rise of anxiety.

To be carried on gentle winds across land and sea – a simple, weightless nothing.

To be wrapped in the damp embrace of the earth I love, and be finally united with life in its purest form.

To float and sink slowly below the surface, aimlessly retreating back to the depths of life’s beginning.

To finally be alone, not haunted
By unrealistic and unmet expectations
And what ifs and not good enoughs
And I’m fines, and just tireds
And dark eyes and fake smiles
And constant irritability
And uncontrollable anger mixed with uncontrollable tears
And sudden chest pains and headaches
And ruminating on past issues
And failing attempts at self care
And hopelessness and disappointment
And loved ones who want to understand but don’t
And explanations that never quite capture it.

Bull and crab.

I saw you again today.

You were leaning casually against a green fence, cushioned by a black backpack with a white logo I couldn’t quite make out.

Your hair was in a low bun, just how I always loved it – messy and untamable, just like you. I was glad when I saw you grew it back out.

Your face was clouded by a breath of smoke, and I hated the cigarette that stole the clarity of my first vision of you in months.

I was jealous of whoever he was, standing next to you. I didn’t recognise him, but I’d know you from a mile away, even if I were to suddenly go blind. Everything is shrouded in darkness without you anyway.

I wanted you to see me.

I wanted your heartbeat to falter for a fraction of a second, just like mine did when I realised it was you and found myself breathless.

I wanted your stomach to drop a few inches, just like mine did as I strained to hear the deep sound of your voice; the one that spoke to me with more truth and vulnerability and wisdom than all others meshed together; that paired with mine in perfect harmony and sung the sweetest song.

I know our universes will align again some day.

But today would have just meant another goodbye.

And I’m still recovering from the last one.