When everything feels wrong

There are days when everything feels wrong.

Days when you feel so far away from the robust, strong, healthy, confident, dynamic go-getting person you want to be and sometimes are. Days when you wonder where your enthusiasm for life, for work, for love has gone.

Days when you despair at the fact that you can’t type without your right hand hurting and that you may have done nothing in the preceding weeks to help your situation – in fact, you may have done everything to make it worse.

Days when it dawns on you that you’re not merely 43, but that you’re 43 and a half – half a year away from being 44. Days when you realise that you might actually still want a child after all, despite months of ambivalence, an awareness of your own frailty following your injury, an understanding that you need lots of peace and space and the knowledge that you find constant noise, people and activity overwhelming. Days when you realise that the way you’re conducting your romantic life is doing nothing to move you closer to the possibility of having a child – in fact, it could be sabotaging your hopes and dreams.

Days when you feel despondent at your lack of motivation for projects you were once really excited about; when you wonder how you could have lost your way with the book that you are writing; when you question how on earth you ended up spending the bulk of your working week on assignments that just pay the bills, squeezing the things that fulfil you and make your heart sing to a tiny space at the end of the day when your energy and inspiration are running low.

Days when all you want to do is run, swim or cycle but you feel trapped by your injuries and worried that anything you do will just aggravate the problem and extend the pain; when you want to jump, dance, shout or thrash about in the sea to let out all this pent-up energy and frustration, but you feel weak and confined.

Days when you want to write a blog filled with hope, joy and excitement for life when all you can do is dictate this post through slow and steady tears. Days when you feel that familiar lump in your throat, like a rock, growing bigger and harder, signalling that something needs to come out – pain, anguish, anger, whatever it is – but that something seems so big and scary and is so hard to express.

Days when you wish you had been able to walk past the corner shop or just pick up a bottle of water and leave the chocolate coated orange peel things behind; when you wish you’d been able to leave them in your bag or pop them in the bin instead of eating them in 20 seconds flat.

Days when you feel empty but unable to do any of the activities you usually turn to to distract you from the feeling of emptiness, the sense that nothing is there, aware that ultimately nothing will work (and those chocolate orangey things really don’t do the trick).

Days when you wonder where your faith went and why God seems so far away or not around at all.

Days when you feel lost and alone.

Today is one of those days.

I wish I could run, jump, cycle or splash around in the sea. I wish I could write this blog  with my fingers on the keyboard and not dictate it. I wish I could find motivation, enthusiasm, faith, hope and joy. I wish everything was different.

Why does everything feel so wrong?

And why can’t I just leave it at that? Why can’t I just sign off in the midst of the doom and gloom? Why do I have to try and find some glimmer of hope? Why do I feel obliged to find a few positives or express some semblance of gratitude (for the sun, friends, my left hand, this dictation software)?

And why does my smile insist on forcing its way on to my face, curling my lips up instead of down, even as I brush away the tears? Why do I have to know that it will all be OK, that everything will work itself out in the end? Why can’t I just wallow for a good long while?

The answer, I guess, is because I know that you’re reading this and that it might speak to some of you and make you cry or smile; because I know that some of you have similarly challenging days when everything feels wrong; because I know that even though I sometimes feel that everyone else has got everything sorted and is getting on with their lives without all these thoughts, feelings and pain, I know for sure that I’m not alone.

And because I’ve been here before and it has passed.

So while it all feels a little self-indulgent, I’m going to press send on this post without editing it too much, correcting it or making it sound any more upbeat than it actually is.  Because while I’m not where I want to be today and everything does seem awry, I have the gift and the freedom to be real.

Yes, today is just one of those days.

Posted in Addiction, Childless, Eating disorders, Faith, Love, Recovery, Spirituality, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Getting our priorities right

Some of my most loyal readers and those that know me best have remarked that they like my blog because when they read it they can hear me speaking. I’ve always taken that as a compliment. If you’ve never heard me speaking, imagine a rather loud voice (my friends are always telling me to quieten down in restaurants) with a hint of a northern accent, which grows stronger or weaker depending on who I’m talking to. But otherwise, it’s not too different to what you’re reading right now.

But if this post sounds like I’m speaking more than usual, it’s because I am. I’m trying out some new dictation software because my wrist injury, unfortunately, hasn’t healed. In fact, it seems to have got worse.  Of course, I haven’t done much to help the situation. My attempts at resting my wrist didn’t work out too well.

It seems I’m not very good at resisting activities I love doing and I always think my body will cope fine. I can be a little reckless and impulsive and find it hard to say no to myself.  And I definitely don’t like missing out.

So last weekend, I found myself climbing down a rock face, needing to use both hands, before jumping off rocks into the sea, with no idea of how I was going to get out. As it was, I had to haul myself up out of the water, tugging on seaweed to stop me getting washed away as the waves knocked me off my feet. Not an ideal situation for someone with a wrist injury. Why couldn’t I stick to the simple and gentle option of swimming in the calm rock pool? Why couldn’t I resist the urge to go bigger and better, to go one step further, to take the more exciting route? Why is enough never enough?

I’m smiling as I write this – or rather as I speak it – because there are parts of my personality that drive me crazy but they’re the parts of my personality that make me me. I can try and temper them, but ultimately, I am who I am. I’m always going to want to jump off rocks into the sea. The day will come when I’ll be forced to sit on the sidelines but I’m not ready for it yet.

But there are or there can be consequences to the parts of my personality that resist rest and time for healing. And I may be suffering those consequences right now. Not being able to use my right wrist has brought a lot of frustration and stirred up a lot of emotion. I feel very vulnerable. And I constantly wonder or worry what would happen if it didn’t heal properly.

I was wondering that this morning as I went for a brisk stroll through my local park in the sunshine. I figured that getting my heart pumping and the blood flowing around my body might do me some good. As I walked, I realised that while not being able to write on my computer again would be a big blow, the things I would truly miss if my wrist didn’t heal had nothing to do with my work.

If I couldn’t cycle, if I couldn’t swim, if I couldn’t jump off rocks into the sea and get out again, if I couldn’t climb down a rock face to the shore, put up a tent or throw a rucksack on my back, they’re the things I would truly miss. Along with dancing, since I need my right hand to salsa, merengue or do any partner dance.

So while my work and my writing are important to me and often bring me peace, it’s good to know that my heart lies elsewhere.

Which got me thinking about other areas of my life and whether I’ve had or have my priorities out of line. I’m aware, for example, that for many years I put work and achievements before love and relationships. I’m pleased to say that is changing, though it’s hard to break the habit of a lifetime.

Of course, as an extremist, there is always the temptation to go the other way. I know I’m quite capable of dedicating the rest of my hours to swimming in the sea and cycling and fun and love and relationships. Now that doesn’t sound like a bad life, but I’m pretty sure I would feel unfulfilled if I ignored my hopes and dreams for my work.

So, once again, it comes down to that most difficult of concepts: balance. I’ll be working on that as I nurse my wrist back to full health, making sure I make time for fun but also not giving up on projects that are close to my heart.

With that, I’ll wrap up this first dictated blog post, suddenly aware that speaking into the computer – while practical right now – is very different to tapping on the keyboard and crafting sentences on the screen. I’m reminded how much I love the art of writing. So here’s hoping I can get this wrist back in action very soon.

Posted in Addiction, Creativity, Health, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Living with limitations

Weakness has never been one of my strengths.

I’ve always detested it in myself and I’ve disliked it in others. So much so that I’ve ridden roughshod over my own weaknesses, ignoring them or fighting against them in a way that has ultimately done more harm.

And I’ve often run a mile when I’ve sensed weakness in others. That’s because the traits I most despise in me are those I most dislike in others.

Neediness is a case in point. For many years, I prided myself on being independent and self-sufficient. On not needing anyone. Or on not having many needs. Sleep was for wimps. Poor health or injury were to be disdained and ignored, rather than treated or allowed to run their course with the help of rest or medical attention. And all that love and support stuff? That was for others – for those mushy, sentimental types.

There was a time – I think I’ve blogged about this before – when the Simon and Garfunkel song ‘I am a rock’ really resonated with me. I saw it as some sort of mantra, an ideal way of being (I’ve built walls. A fortress deep and mighty. That none may penetrate … And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries). But that self-image, I now know, was bravado. It hid a deep need for others, for love and support – so deep at times it felt overwhelming and so it seemed a good idea to bury it. Perhaps I learned to put on that mask at a young age because I felt my needs, if I revealed them, would likely go unmet. Pretending I didn’t have any or that they weren’t important was much easier than being met with silence or rejection.

So I associated having needs with shame, guilt and being dismissed. Having needs became a sign of weakness that was incompatible with the strong woman I wanted to be. But my neediness was like a pressure cooker – as soon as I came close to someone who was offering to meet my needs, as soon as I allowed them to surface, they’d bubble over and all pour out at once, trying to find their long-lost home, trying to get met. And of course the person on the receiving end of this torrent of needs would run for the hills.

Similarly, in the past I’ve frozen or fled when people have brought their needs to me and asked me to meet them. Since my needs weren’t being met – for rest, play, joy, security, love or whatever – there was no space for anyone else’s. What if your needs overwhelmed me? What if they suffocated me? What if I lost myself while trying to meet them? And what about my needs?

You needing me also suggested weakness – the same weakness I despised in myself. I needed you to be strong and I needed you not to need me. Make sense?

The good news is that as I’ve learned to meet my needs – for rest, play, joy, security, love or whatever – as much as I can, the pressure cooker effect has lessened and the lid isn’t so likely to fly off. Today, I recognise I have many needs and am finding healthy ways to meet them myself or to ask others for support. I can also tolerate your needs much better, because I have more space, more love and more acceptance of both of us and of what it means to be human and in relationships.

But I digress, as I so often do.

This blog wasn’t going to be about neediness so back to the original topic: physical strength, weakness and our limitations.

I’ve always been active, strong and fit. Gymnastics, trampolining, tennis, dance, netball, lacrosse, athletics, cross-country running, rowing, cycling, swimming, Taekwondo, wake boarding, hiking and a bit of women’s football – I’ve managed to do a lot of sports and activities reasonably well and I’ve always taken my physical strength and abilities for granted.

But as I type this very slowly and carefully because of a sore right wrist, I’m aware of two quite contradictory things:

1) How much I push myself when my body is complaining or asking me to stop

2) How easily I can be defeated and give up

When it comes to pushing myself, many of you will be familiar with my story. I used exercise as a form of bulimia for years, punishing myself for overeating, desperately trying to lose the weight I thought I’d gained in the previous binge.

I’ve pounded the world’s pavements – London, Oxford, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Valladolid and another small Spanish town (I was recently reminded by a friend that many years ago at a wedding in Spain I slipped out of my dress, put on some shorts and trainers and went off for a run around the town’s sleepy streets half way through the reception, while everyone else sipped wine, ate nibbles or took a nap – bizarre behaviour that was duly noted by my fellow wedding guests). Everywhere I went, work trips or holidays, I took trainers and running kit, with very few exceptions.

Now it goes without saying that I love exercise. I love the buzz it gives me and I love to sweat (or perspire). It clears my head and lifts my mood. But for years, I felt obliged to work out and there were times when I almost fainted exercising on an empty stomach and a horrible hangover or after a massive binge. Not to mention what I’ve done to my poor joints. It turns out I’m hypermobile – my joints over-extend, they pick up injury easily, are slow to heal and wear down faster than average – and running isn’t the best idea for my ankles or knees, at least not in the punishing way I used to do it.

My wrists are also weak and prone to injury, hence the current problem. I hurt my wrist moving my Vespa, exacerbated the injury learning to kite surf and finished it off on a late night bike ride in the pouring rain. I had to strap it, could barely type last week and can only do so now with great care.

In fact, I probably shouldn’t be typing this non-urgent blog at all! But that’s the point. On the one hand, it’s incredibly hard for me to stop and rest, to go slow, to take time out. What about all the stuff that isn’t getting done? The work, the book, the housework, the decluttering, and so forth? I was forced to take most of last week off work and it drove me a little nuts.

But on the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, I can be easily defeated. My thoughts head off very quickly in the direction of catastrophe. The fateful ‘What’s the point?’ question starts to surface and then it spreads, to encompass far too many areas of my life.

‘Well if I can’t type, that’s it for my writing career. I may as well just give up. And as for all the sports I love, that’s it. My active life is over. And if I can’t chop vegetables, I may as well eat rubbish all week. And if I can’t exercise and can only eat rubbish, I may as well just get fat’. And so it continues.

But then yesterday, as I walked briskly up a hill, broke into a light sweat, noticed my flushed cheeks and felt good, I realised that I don’t actually need my wrist to walk. Who’d have thought it? And I’m finally taking steps to get myself some dictation software, which will be useful even if this particular injury heals. I also tidied the flat (a little bit), bought some vegetables, did some cooking and got my healthy eating back on track. And I’m determined to get out for that walk. So all, in fact, is not lost.

It was pointed out to me yesterday that this defeatist side of me may have something to do with perfectionism, as well as being a typical characteristic of an addict. If my body can’t do everything I ask of it or perform 100 percent, then what’s the point? If I can’t chop and slice my own butternut squash like I did the previous week, then why bother eating any good food at all? And if I can’t do the work I’d scheduled in, what’s the point of tidying up, reading those articles I need to read or making those phone calls I need to make.

The same applies to other areas of my life. I remember pitching one of my first ever freelance articles straight to the New York Times. They said thank you, but it’s not quite right for us. Instead of celebrating the fact I’d actually got a response and sending the story to a few more newspapers on my list (Wall Street Journal, Washington Post perhaps), I pretty much gave up. I did try to resurrect it a while later but I’d lost my momentum.

Similarly with the book – a dozen rejections from publishers and I lose my excitement. I ignore all the J.K Rowling stories about perseverance in the face of rejection and all the opportunities self-publishing affords, preferring to put it on the back burner until somebody tells me it’s good and I get my momentum back.

Where’s my fight? That fight that got me this far. The drive that got me to university, around the world, back to London and kept me afloat. That helped me get a good amount of recovery from an eating disorder and other addictions that had plagued my life.

I wonder why I can’t apply the drive that’s done me harm – that’s pushed me through injury and illness and not allowed me to rest – to healthier projects. Why can’t I summon up the determination I used in a self-harming way in the past to keep my spirits up when I’ve hurt my wrist, or to continue writing (or dictating) my book in the face of rejection, or to go for brisk walks, or to realise I can chop the onion in my food mixer if I can’t use my hand, or to buy the software I need even if I’m worried about the expense?

Why is it so hard to push through? Why does it take me so long to take healthy steps when I could take the unhealthy ones in a flash?

Perhaps it’s a question of time – I spent the best part of three decades on the unhealthy path and have been on the recovery road just over 10 years. It’s a bit like turning around a massive ship. It’s a slow process.

But as I write this, I know I’m aware of my propensity to give up, which is a massive step in the right direction. And I have taken some positive steps – for a start, I have a fridge stocked with healthy food and a freezer full of homemade meals.

As I was pondering this blog and the questions of living with limitations and being easily defeated, I heard Radio 2’s Pause for Thought, which was particularly relevant. Father Brian D’Arcy quoted golfing great Arnold Palmer who told Tiger Woods:

“If you think you’re beaten, you are. If you think you dare not, you won’t. If you’d like to win but think you can’t, it’s almost certain that you won’t. Life’s battles don’t always go, to the stronger woman or man. Sooner or later those who win are those who think they can.”

He then quoted sports psychologist John Wooden, who advised his students: “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

On hearing that, I decided to commit to making the best of the way things turn out.

Posted in Addiction, Eating disorders, Health, Perfectionism, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dirty Dancing has a lot to answer for …

… and it’s not all about Patrick Swayze. Although he’s got a lot to do with it.

I was 16 when the film came out (27 years ago!) and, I reckon, more impressionable than your average teenager. A group of girlfriends and I headed to Mcdonalds’ first for a burger or, in my case, a filet-of-fish and then piled into the cinema with popcorn to watch what had already become a movie sensation.

Like many of my fellow female teens, I came away mesmorised, transported to another land. And that, of course, was the point. That’s what Hollywood does best.

The problem was I thought that land was real.

The stars of Dirty Dancing showed me who I thought I wanted to be, how I thought I wanted to look and the guy I thought I wanted to date. The film fed a feeling, already deeply lodged within me, that I wanted to be someone else, somewhere else and living somebody else’s life.

This feeling kicked in as early as primary school. I remember starting to write Karen instead of Katherine on my work and confidently telling my teacher I’d changed my name by Deed Poll (although I think I said Deepol, and I really didn’t know what it meant). Karen was a classmate who I deemed to be prettier, thinner and more popular than me. She lived near school in a nice house.

Couldn’t I just be her? Wouldn’t that make everything alright?

So by the time I was in secondary school and Dirty Dancing hit our screens, I was already a few years in to my diet plan, restricting my food to try to get slimmer – even though I was really slim. On top of that, and probably as a result of my undereating, my hair had begun to thin, losing its volume and shine and turning to frizz. And perhaps I’d started binge eating by then too, I can’t recall. But the bottom line is my body hate and my desire to escape myself had well and truly taken root.

I’d also developed countless crushes on good-looking boys, probably seeing them as some sort of escape or as a means to get love and attention, even if I didn’t feel I deserved it. Typical teenage behaviour, you might say, but I’m sure I took this to extremes, thinking about the guy with the flat top or the strawberry blonde hair day and night, following him around town or going out of my way to be in the same place. This guy would be the answer to all my problems, I thought.

So when I sat down in that cinema in downtown Liverpool, I was well and truly ready – hungry in fact – to find some way, any way to not be myself.

First, there was the young Jennifer Grey, so slim, toned and perfectly tanned with thick, curly locks. In my eyes, she had the perfect body, great hair and fantastic clothes, including pristine white underwear – if I really tried, I thought, I could look like that.

Then there were all those amazing-looking couples with their fantastic dance moves. I already loved to dance so maybe, if I worked at it, I could dance like that (my friends and I went on to do countless poor impressions of dirty dancing in Liverpool’s nightclubs).

I saw a real sense of camaraderie or family too – all those young people hanging out together at that holiday camp. And that sense of belonging was something I really craved. Oh yes, and Baby’s dad was a doctor and was very much around.

Utopia, I thought.

There was the romance, that intense, falling-in-love feeling that set us all up to think it had to be like that to be real or worth something (“I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.” Spoken breathlessly, of course).

And then, last but not least, there was Swayze, who in a couple of brief scenes (maybe the one where he’s lifting Baby out of the water or the one in his cabin with the record playing?) condemned teenage girls all over the world (or was it just me?) to years of searching for a man just like that – a man who could lift you over his head but also one in touch with his feelings and with a big heart. A man of few words but with great one-liners (“Nobody puts Baby in the corner”). And a man, of course, who could dance.

I’ve never found anyone like Johnny Castle in real life, and believe me I’ve looked.

Ok, so it’s just Hollywood doing its stuff, entertaining us all and giving us something, momentarily, to dream about.

But for a teenager who hated her body and felt lost in her life, those images convinced me that happiness lay over there or in becoming someone else.

What I was aspiring to was unattainable, of course. It was perfection and it was far out of reach. But I didn’t realise that back then.

So I starved and ran to get thin and then overate because the dieting wasn’t working, I still didn’t have a body like Baby’s and I’d started to binge. I bought clothes in all colours, shapes and sizes, thinking they’d make me feel better about myself but they never did. And I kept looking for the man, looking for that guy Hollywood had made up, the guy who didn’t exist.

Why write about Dirty Dancing now? Well, it was on TV the other night and despite having my own copy on DVD that I could put on at any point, I couldn’t resist tuning in.

I’m pleased to say that this time around – probably about the 20th time I’ve seen it – my head didn’t go off into a fantasy land where I was as slim as Baby and where guys like Johnny actually lived and breathed. Instead, I saw it for what it was, a movie set in a made-up world.

And a movie I was watching from my London flat in a body and a life that were good enough – despite some feelings of discontent – and with the awareness (finally!) that striving for perfection in myself or in a man would only condemn me to years of loneliness. As they already had.

So Dirty Dancing and other similar Hollywood movies do, indeed, have a lot to answer for. But the extent of our vulnerability to their messages comes down to how we feel about ourselves and how happy we are in our lives – and that’s our responsibility.

Imagine coming away from a movie or from an encounter with someone who seems to have it all worked out (body, family, home, career and so forth) and saying to yourself, “That life looks great. But I don’t want it. I want mine.”

If there’s anything worth striving for – or perhaps surrendering to – it has to be that.

Posted in Addiction, Body Image, codependency, Love, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I know who I am

On Tuesday of last week, a few hours before a scheduled phone call that I was pretty sure would mark the end of a brief courtship with an attractive man I really liked but kind of knew wasn’t for me right now, I cycled off to the London Fields Lido – that’s east London’s outdoor pool for non-local readers – and had a swim.

I was partly motivated by a desire to stretch, shake and move my body after seven hours sat in a car, on a train or on a station bench the day before on the way back from a long weekend in Cornwall. I was also motivated by a desire to burn off some calories after three days eating stuff I don’t often eat – bacon and eggs for breakfast, chocolate, crisps and delicious clotted cream ice cream (It’s amazing how quickly over-eating or eating fattening stuff can start to mess with my head and how quickly I can feel it on my body, even if that’s all in my mind too).

But another motivator, and perhaps the most important one, was to remind myself who I am and what I love doing. Seeing the blue sky and clouds above as I lifted my head from the water, feeling the breeze on my body as I got in and out of the pool and being among like-minded people who also want to swim outdoors in early May was like an affirmation of my true self.

It felt important to swim that particular afternoon, knowing that a little later I would inevitably feel a little sad and somewhat rejected – even if the rejection was on the back of me stating my needs, being clear about what I was looking for in a relationship and not being willing to accept less than I felt I deserved.

And then today, still feeling a little blue, regretful and out of sorts (I don’t deal well with endings, I tend to dwell a little, question, blame myself, think about how I could have done things differently, wonder if I’ll ever meet anyone I’m that attracted to again – although I always come to a place of acceptance and trust in the end, and I know I’m nearly there), I took myself for a good tramp across Hampstead Heath.

I walked on the grass and stomped through some mud, getting my boots wet and my jeans dirty. I walked quickly up hill, feeling my leg muscles kick in and my breath quicken. And I took long strides on the downhill, admiring the views across the heath and beyond.

This tree gives great hugs

This tree gives great hugs

On the way down, I stopped at a big tree that had caught my eye earlier as I sat eating my lunch near the duckpond. From a distance, its leaves had looked purple (my favourite colour) and as I approached, they were rustling wildly in the wind. I stood on its base, leaned my head against its trunk, closed my eyes and listened to the noise.

Then I turned and gave that mighty tree a great big hug, pressing my heart against its trunk.

This is where I find God, I thought.

Also love the sea - this is the Isle of Wight

Also love the sea – this is the Isle of Wight

I’ve always felt closest to God when I’m in Nature. Often, it’s when I’m swimming in the sea (there’s something so vast, powerful and endless about the ocean) but I can also get that feeling from standing or lying on the earth. But there was something about the size, strength and solidity of this tree, the fact it had been around for thousands of years (I think – I’m no expert) and the fact that my arms barely got half way around its trunk that brought God to mind.

This tree was supporting me (I was still stood on its base), holding me somehow (perhaps because my arms weren’t big enough to hold it) and stabilising me (because it was so huge and unmovable). It had also been there long before my arrival on the earth and would still be around long after I’d gone. And then there was that sound – that incredibly soothing sound of the wind rustling its leaves and sweeping across the long grass at its feet.

Under the canopy

Under the canopy – the view from the trunk

I hung on for a good while, disregarding the feelings of embarrassment that wanted to intrude on my peace. I felt so grounded and secure. I felt as solid as that tree (which is lovely because at times I feel like a feather blown around in the wind). And I felt totally present in that moment, in my body (as opposed to in my head) and close to God.

It was one of those rare times (they are rare for me at least) when I think, “I have everything I need to be safe, happy, loved and free.”

After my tree hugging session, I marched on across the grass, through the mud and over to the Ladies Pond. There was nobody swimming – although I dare say there might have been a few hardy souls taking a dip earlier on – and there was nobody around (aside from the lifeguards shut away in their little cabin). The water was calm and inviting (I’m sure I’d have gone in if I’d have had my stuff) and the grassy slope, which in the summer is packed with topless women chatting and picnicking on grapes and humous, was completely empty. I sat for a bit on a bench, loving that sense of being in the middle of London but in such a tranquil, Nature-filled spot with nobody else around.

As regular readers will know, the Kenwood Ladies Pond holds a special place in my heart. It’s always been a bit of a haven where I’ve managed to find solace on my own and where I’ve enjoyed special times with friends. There’s something about that lush, green, little corner of the capital that enables me to leave all my stresses and anxieties at the gate.

Back home now, I feel completely different from how I felt this morning, which was angry, sad and troubled, for a host of reasons not just to do with the recent break-up.

Somehow, getting back in touch again with my true self – my love of the Great Outdoors, of getting my heart rate up, stretching my muscles, feeling the breeze, walking through mud, hugging trees and of sitting in stillness and peace – restored my sanity and reminded me of who I am.

I’m incredibly grateful, today, to know who I am (most of the time), to know what I’m about (fun and adventure, Nature and the outdoors, creativity, friendship, laughter and love), to know what I need (a lot of the time) and to have the courage and the determination to meet those needs, be that by speaking my truth to protect my heart or by taking a detour on my scooter to the wide open spaces of Hampstead Heath.

I don’t always understand or meet my needs perfectly – far from it – but every time I try, or get it wrong and then correct course, I learn and I grow.

Knowing who I am and what I need feels really good. And it gives me hope

Posted in codependency, Dating, Happiness, Love, Relationships, Spirituality, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My authentic self

Being my authentic self in relationship – particularly in relationships with men whom I find attractive and with whom I want to be in relationship – is my biggest challenge, according to well-placed sources (my therapist).

Because being myself carries huge risks, risks in the present but also risks that are associated with painful memories from my past: if I speak my truth, there’s a chance or a fear I might be rejected, abandoned, ignored or ridiculed. I might not get my needs met. I might not be loved. And that hurts.

But not being myself in relationship, trying to be something I’m not or hiding my true self to avoid rejection, abandonment and so forth, is more painful in the long-term, for both of us. Because the relationship I get myself in will be based on a lie or a version of the truth, but not the whole truth.

What am I talking about exactly? I’ll try to be more explicit, while also being mindful of the fact that writing about relationships inevitably involves other people and that I really value my relationships with others, even when they’ve ended. I also value other people’s privacy and hope I always manage to respect that in my writing, by keeping the focus on me.

So a fledgling relationship – if you could call it a relationship – has just ended. It’s probably more accurate to say I’ve split up with the guy I’ve been dating for the past eight weeks (two months, really? I hadn’t realised it had been that long) as we’d never really established whether we were in a relationship or not. In fact, it was my desire to establish whether we were in a relationship or if we were heading that way that brought it to an end.

I liked him, a lot, and we clicked on a number of levels. In many respects, we were a good match. But I had a sense, early on, that I might be at a different life stage to him, that we might be looking for different things.

What life stage am I at? Well, when it comes to dating and relationships, if I meet someone I get on well with, I want to give it a shot. I want to put two feet in, as opposed to one foot in, one foot out, which I used to do in my past. I see now that my previous half-hearted attempts at relationships disguised a fear of intimacy, of getting too close, in case he left me or in case he actually loved me, which would then bring the risk of him leaving me – the pain of which felt too much to bear in my younger years.

Having learned from my mistakes and having understood that the magic I’ve been seeking in so many other places for so long actually happens when I risk my heart and allow myself to get close to someone, I tried a wholehearted attempt at a relationship last year. It was a wonderful, rewarding experience, even if it did end. It also helped me define the kind of relationship I’m looking for.

So I’m at the stage where, if I click with someone, I’m going to want to nudge things forward after a while, to spend more time together, make a few plans, for days out or weekends away. I’m going to want to put some fun in the diary and make space for spontaneous stuff too. I guess I’d like to know I have a boyfriend, even if that word still makes me cringe a little.

Am I looking to ‘settle down’? It’s an interesting question and one that I had to ask myself recently. If I’m honest, I loathe the phrase and I reacted quite defensively when it was put to me. It seems to carry connotations of monotony, sameness and trips to B&Q on weekends (not that there’s anything wrong with B&Q on weekends, particularly if you work a five-day week and your home is in need of repair). It runs contrary to what I like to think I am, which is a bit of a free spirit.

Feeling happy doing the things I love (hiking in the Isle of Wight)

Feeling happy doing the things I love (hiking in the Isle of Wight)

What I’m looking for in a relationship, at least in part, is adventure, laughter, camping trips, days at the beach, weekends spent in foreign climes and, in time, potential discussions about a joint investment in a VW campervan and a couple of surf boards (I realise some of this is weather dependent and nor is my surfing the best).

I guess I want to continue doing what I’ve been trying to do in recent months and years – the stuff that makes me feel alive, which generally involves the great outdoors, exercise and amazing scenery, but I’d like to be doing that with someone I’m getting to know and learning to love.

Happy again, this time in Cornwall

Happy again, this time in Cornwall

I’m not set on dating a carbon copy of myself (that wouldn’t be much fun). He doesn’t  have to want to swim in the freezing cold sea (I swam off Cornwall last weekend, albeit for about 3 minutes) or share my love of salsa dancing, but a desire to try out some of my interests while I try out some of his would be great.

But I also appreciate that it’s difficult to find adventure and some sort of stability in the same person or the same relationship and there’ll have to be some give and take – I’m ready for that. And I realise that B&Q trips, home repairs and a more stable existence can be really fun if you’re with someone you love (apparently).

But I digress – this wasn’t meant to read like an online dating profile.

Back to authenticity.

In the relationship that just ended, I took a big risk, made myself vulnerable and was my authentic self. At a time I deemed appropriate – not too soon (I hope) but not too late that I could end up really hurt – I verbalised what I was looking for – a ‘two-feet-in relationship’ – in as clear a way as I could. I spoke my truth and I think I did so in a way that was gentle and considerate of the other person’s truth, feelings and potential uncertainty about what he was looking for. I did this while knowing that I might be inviting rejection. In fact, I was pretty sure that, despite all the good stuff, a break-up was on the cards.

That break-up took a little while to happen, but it did happen.

It’s only two days on so, inevitably, lots of questioning and second-guessing is going on. Did I speak up too soon? Should I have just gone with the flow and seen where it went? Should I have behaved differently, kept my cards closer to my chest, silenced that side of me that always wants to share her feelings, not worn my heart emblazoned on my sleeve? Was I too much? And, ultimately, should I have ignored, for a few more weeks or longer, that still, small voice inside that was telling me I might not get my needs met here?

I can question, second-guess and beat myself up as much as I like but these behaviours are part of my default setting that dates back to my childhood: to blame myself when someone decides they don’t want to be with me or when something breaks down. As the psychotherapists say, when we’re children, we think it’s all about us and we can carry that sense of everything being our fault or of not being good enough into our adult lives.

But when I look at it rationally, I’m proud of myself for speaking up and for taking care of my needs. I did things imperfectly – I may have shared some feelings that I could have run by a trusted friend on the phone first. But it was good enough. More than good enough. I was myself. And on this occasion, as it turned out, my authentic self and the other person weren’t the best match – for reasons of timing, age and stage in life or whatever else.

But what I deserve to remind myself of in the moments of grief (because grief follows every loss, especially if we’ve experienced a lot of loss before and even if we know the ending was for the best) is that my authentic self is enough and there’ll be someone who’s a better match.

So I can tell those ‘if only’ voices – the voices that tell me I messed up – to pipe down and I can turn up the volume on the ones that tell me I did really well, that I was courageous and brave, took a risk, shared my vulnerabilities and honoured my hopes and dreams rather than ignoring them for the sake of extending, probably only for a little longer, that wonderful sense of possibility and the delights of being affectionate with someone I really liked.

For a little while, it’s back to basics: self-care, self-love, work and fun with my friends. And then, when I’m ready, it’s back on the dating scene with a renewed sense of hope and a greater confidence in my ability to tackle my biggest challenge: to be my authentic self in relationship.

Posted in codependency, Dating, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Trust, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s your truth?

How do we know what our truth is? How do we know that what we sense is our intuition or instinct is actually that, rather than deep fears rooted in our distant past? How do we navigate our way through the swamp of old patterns of thinking, feeling and reacting to understand our feelings today?

I say swamp because it often feels like that – like wading through a green, sticky mass, through a sea of gloop that wants to keep pulling me under, sucking me down just when I’m coming up for air.

In the past, my answer to not knowing my truth was to ask somebody else. And I got pretty good at it over the years – either directly asking for advice or tuning in to another person’s words with such concentration to see if I could interpret what they said. I’ve learned over the years that nobody else can know my truth, but that doesn’t stop me from asking, even today.

But when I ask for people to tell me my truth, or at least to help me find it, I also have to remember that they’re hearing and responding to my interpretation of reality, along with all the baggage I’ve attached to that reality when I’ve shared it. And inevitably, they’ll also have their own filter or lens through which they see my reality, shaped by their own past experiences, fears and hurts.

I love reaching out to friends, support groups and therapists. I love sharing my stuff. And I cherish the love, understanding and empathy that I receive – and that I give in return.

But I’m also learning that only I can know my truth. And I’m accepting it might take me a long time to get there – much longer than I would have liked – and there might be a lot of pain, struggle and wrong turns along the way. I might have to sit in uncertainty for a good while, which I find excruciating, but I’m getting a lot better at.

Having understood this, I was heartened to read a meditation this morning that reminded me I’m not the only one on this difficult path.

It’s from The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie, a book I cherish, that often speaks to me and that I highly recommend to anyone who’s on a journey of self discovery, self-love and self-care. Today’s reading is called Finding Our Own Truth and I’ve copied a few extracts below:

We must each discover our own truth. It does not help us if those we love find their truth. They cannot give it to us. It does not help if someone we love knows a particular truth in our life. We must discover our truth for ourselves … We often need to struggle, fail, and be confused and frustrated. That’s how we break through our struggle; that’s how we learn what is true and right for ourselves. We can share information with others. Others can tell us what may predictably happen if we pursue a particular course. But it will not mean anything until we integrate the message and it becomes our truth, our discovery, our knowledge … We may want to make it easier. We may nervously run to friends, asking them to give us their truth or make our discovery easier. They cannot. Light will shed itself it its own time … Each experience, each frustration, each situation, has its own truth waiting to be revealed. Don’t give up until you find it – for yourself.

Today, I will search for my own truth, and I will allow others to do the same. I will place value on my vision and the vision of others. We are each on the journey, making our own discoveries – the ones that are right for us today.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There are many truths I’m trying to uncover right now, but one truth I’m becoming more aware of than ever before is how my first experience of love and closeness with a man – my Dad – affects my romantic relationships today.

As much as I can do the ‘strong, independent, knows what she wants’ woman thing really well and despite the fact I’ve been feeling extraordinarily content and emotionally stable in recent months, there’s a deep wound inside when it comes to men. That wound, which formed not because my Dad did anything terrible but simply because he didn’t or couldn’t give me the kind of love, affirmation and emotional closeness I needed and wanted as a little girl, opens every time I get close to a man today.

My functional adult knows all about boundaries, respecting each other’s space, taking things slowly and the importance of making rational decisions around relationships based on good information, shared values and so forth.

But the child inside, who sometimes gets in the driving seat, just wants to be loved – wholly loved, loved 500 percent (despite knowing from my financial journalism days that 100 percent is as high as you can go).

I know nobody can give me that amount of love, fill the deep hole or completely heal the wound. I know that the wound can lead me down a path of craving and wanting something so badly that inevitably I’ll push it away. And I know the wound at times feels so painful that the prospect of exposing myself to any further hurt by engaging with a man who might be offering love feels so scary that I’ll walk or perhaps run as fast as I can in the opposite direction.

The presence of this wound makes me hypersensitive to any hint of abandonment, rejection or not being wholly, 500 percent wanted. It makes it incredibly difficult to know my truth or to trust what I think is my instinct. It clouds my intuition and judgement. It leads to me to conclusions that may or may not be correct. And it drives me nuts.

I’ve done a fair bit of healing of this wound over the years – self-love, self-care, meditation and prayer all help – but it’s still there, lurking under the surface.

So what’s the answer? Awareness comes first, awareness of this particular truth, even if I’m still struggling to work out all my other truths. With that awareness, I can then continue to self-soothe, self-love, self-nurture and connect with my faith so the wound isn’t quite so deep or exposed. I can talk to the child inside who didn’t feel loved enough and doesn’t feel loved enough today. I can reassure her that she is – at least by me. And I can find the courage to allow my adult rather than my hurt child to make my decisions in the here and now, based on the truth of today, not on my past experiences.

Psychotherapists say that our hurt happens in relationship and so it follows that our healing happens in relationship too. But of course it doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it feels absolutely terrifying and so much easier to stay away.

But I know the answer is to engage, to walk the wobbly tightrope between my past and present, to take chances, to expose myself to potential hurt as well as to love and healing. And to keep searching for my truth.

Posted in Dating, Love, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Trust, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments