A Bed Full of Memories

bedmemories

I’m staying in my old flat in London this week, the flat I lived in for 13 years, from the ages of 31 to 44.

As I got under the covers last night and wrestled with sleep – my washing machine head full of a very long To Do list involving decorating, DIY, workshops and a wedding – I couldn’t help but reflect on everything this bed and I have been through over the years.

For a start, I imported it from Brazil, where I bought it together with my then boyfriend to furnish the bedroom in our São Paulo apartment. I was in my late twenties. Writing that word – twenties – makes me pause. How young? It seems a lifetime ago. Was that really me?

Right from the start, my bed bore witness to the emotional twists and turns of my life and it soaked up my tears. If it had a memory (I don’t have memory foam), it would remember the times my then boyfriend and I slept on opposite sides of the bed, a gap between us, as we slowly and sadly drifted apart and our relationship dismantled itself. For the best in the end – we’ve both found happiness elsewhere – but it didn’t feel that way at the time.

Then there was the morning, here in London, when I sat on the edge of this bed with a man I barely knew alongside me, watching as he hastily got dressed. I’d met him the night before in a club in Central London when under the influence of too much booze (both of us). I’m not entirely sure he knew my name, or if I knew his. It was back in the days when I drank to excess and felt an irresistible pull to unavailable men – this guy was a backpacker from Down Under and would be off on his travels again very soon. I remember wondering if I’d see him again as he pulled his clothes on. I remember hoping I might. And I remember how crushed I felt when it became clear, as he left, that I never would. I had looked for love in the wrong place, as I’d done before and would do again, before eventually coming to my senses. I had fallen for the good-looking nomad who’d soon be on his way. I had gone for the adrenaline rush, the quick fix to take the pain away. But I’d ended up with more pain on top. I felt sad, lost, hungover and full of shame.

I remember kneeling by this bed the year after my dad died, looking up to the ceiling, tears streaming down my face, pleading, “God, if you’re there, if you exist, tell me what’s the point. What’s the point of my life?” I was single after a recent break-up that had exposed unhealed wounds from my dad’s death and opened the floodgates on my grief. I was also in a job that gave me status and a good salary but that left me feeling soul dead. I’d stopped binge eating by then, something I used to do to numb my emotions and escape the pain, so I was finally able to feel the hole and the emptiness inside. My bed was there on that dark night, albeit facing in the other direction, parallel to the windows.

I remember sitting at one end of it a while later, on top of my pillows, notebook in one hand and phone in the other, tears present once again. I’d been signed off work by the doctor with stress, anxiety, bereavement, depression and something else I can’t recall and I was desperately trying to explain to someone from Reuters’ employee helpline that I had broken down and had no idea how to fix myself but really wanted to as fast as possible.

Then there was the morning of my 41st, sitting cross-legged on my bed in my Calvin Klein pyjamas as tears dripped onto my knees, silence all around (a scene I describe in my book). How on earth did I end up here? How on earth did I get to 41 without a partner and without children? What have I been striving for? Will it always be like this?

Of course, there were good times too – long lie-ins and early nights with a book when I felt so lucky to live here and felt happy to be single, to have time and space for me and to have this little haven of a home up amongst the tree tops. And there were good, healthier relationships as I steadily recovered from my self-sabotaging ways – long mornings when a boyfriend, a laptop and I (my version of a threesome) would plot holidays or buy concert tickets.

But it’s the sad times I remember most.

I took to this bed in the daytime once after I’d split up with my boyfriend – my now fiancé, the man I’ll marry next year – with a box of tissues and a Downton Abbey box set installed on my laptop. I’d ended it because he’d said he didn’t want children and couldn’t promise he’d change his mind. I was 42 and believed I still had a shot at motherhood. I also thought that’s what I really wanted. I’m not so sure now, although the question is often there.

I returned to this bed with my now fiancé after we got back together. One Valentine’s Day, we swapped kisses and chocolates and marveled at our good fortune because we’d finally stopped messing around and had committed to being together. On another occasion, I cried myself to sleep next to him after working myself up into a tizz and convincing myself that our relationship was all wrong – a reminder that sometimes I just need to let the tears flow, the feelings pass and process what’s really going on deep inside, and then the attraction and my love will return.

Two years ago, I packed up my stuff but left this bed behind as I took a leap of faith, followed my heart, committed to seeing if my relationship could work out and moved out of London to the seaside – some 13 years after I’d arrived.

So much had happened in those 13 years – all the events I’ve catalogued above and so many more. I changed. I transformed. I went from a binge-eating, overworking political journalist who flew on prime minister’s planes and worked out of parliament, to a more courageous, more authentic woman who blogged, wrote about the stuff she cared about in the press and aspired to publish a book. I went from a single woman to a woman in love. And in the two years since I’ve slept in this bed, there’s been more change. I am now the proud author of How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart and I am doing work, some of the time, that’s beyond my wildest dreams: coaching others to create healthy and loving relationships with themselves so they can have long-lasting relationships with emotionally well partners. I’m engaged to be married. I own a house with my man. The floor of my mini is covered in sand and I recently bought a paddleboard so I can get out on the water whenever I please. What freedom.

And now I’m back in this bed, for a brief stint, as one tenant moves out and others move in, for another twist in the tale, another memory to hold.

This morning, I peered underneath the bed and found a book, left by the lady who’s just moved out, the lady who’s pregnant. The Complete Book of Baby Names. Plus there’s a John Lewis Baby catalogue. I winced a little, just for a second, and then I smiled. Yes, dear readers, a baby has been living in my flat and sleeping in my bed for the last few months, inside her mother’s tummy, and someone has been reading about baby names right here, in the very place I sat at 41 and watched my tears soak into my pyjamas as I mourned my age and stage, my singleness and my childlessness, as I wondered how on earth I had ended up here.

So how did it feel to find that book of baby names? How does it feel? It felt OK. I thought it would feel worse but it felt OK.

IMG_5460I’m 46. I’m in love. I have a wonderful life and a sandy home by the beach in Dorset. I am building my dream career and my dream life, something I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. I’m still me, of course. There’s still a heap of anxiety and I still have some self-defeating behaviours I’m doing my best to let go of, one day at a time. I still have sleepless nights. But I am, by and large, very happy. In fact, some days my heart is so full of joy and love for my man that I want to cry. There are mornings when I step onto the beach, before anyone else is there, and tears spring to my eyes. I did this. I created this. I live here. Could it get any better?

So, as I go to bed tonight in this bed, I’ll slide once again into its memories but I’ll also gently let them go. In a few days, I’ll be leaving this bed behind again as I return to the seaside. I’ll be moving on. Moving forwards. And that feels good. I’ll also be going online to search for a new bed – I think it’s time to let this one go for good.

* * * * * * * * *

If you like what you’ve read here, you may enjoy my book: How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. It’s not just for single women. It’s for men and women who want to heal and transform their relationships with themselves and live fulfilling, wholehearted lives. I also have an online course and a one-day London workshop coming up so check out my website for more details.

If you like my work, have a think about joining my free Facebook community for women who are committed to living wholeheartedly: Being Real, Becoming Whole.

Thank you! x

 

 

 

Posted in Childless, Dating, Happiness, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Turning it around

Turningitaround

I posted this picture in my Facebook group, Being Real, Becoming Whole, the other week and I wanted to share what I wrote with you too, as well as to remind myself of the magic that can happen when I choose to turn my day around, take positive action and connect with other human beings.

What I realised the other day is that I can turn my day around at any point. And the same goes for my week, my month and my year.

Here’s how I arrived at that conclusion …

I’d had a really full-on day. I’d been up since 6 am for a networking breakfast and had spent the rest of the day at my co-working space. By the time I got home at 6 pm, I was feeling tired and overwhelmed.

I was feeling overwhelmed by all the things I needed to get done in my work, by how hard I was finding it to make a consistent income and by the prospect of a challenging week ahead. I was heading up to London for a few days to sort out some complicated life admin, then travelling on to North Wales to spend some time with my ailing mum and to take her to the doctor.

As I drove home, there was one thing on my mind: I wanted to lie on the sofa and comfort eat. I thought I might cry too.

The thing is I knew eating was a really bad idea. As many of you know, I’ve been recovering from compulsive overeating for many years so comfort eating, for me, can be a slippery slope. Once I start, I often can’t stop, and even if I can stop, comfort eating pretty much always leaves me feeling worse off than before.

I knew what I needed to do but I didn’t want to do it. I knew I needed to exercise in the fresh air. I knew that would turn things around for me. But the pull of the fridge was so strong.

Anyway, what would I do if I exercised? I could walk, but what about my dodgy ankle that had been giving me grief? I could cycle, but that involved getting the bike out, which seemed like a real faff. I could swim – I knew a sea swim would work wonders – but what about the hassle of getting in and out of my wetsuit and of rinsing and drying it afterwards? Groan.

I was dragging my heels, dragging them slowly in the direction of the food cupboard, but then something stopped me and pointed me in the opposite direction, towards my wetsuit and the sea.

What stopped me? I think in part it was my Facebook group. I’d been encouraging the women in it to take care of themselves, to love themselves and to act in their best interests. I’d been encouraging them to do the things they love to do and to make themselves feel good. So was I really going to just talk the talk and not walk the walk? Was I going to encourage them to prioritise their wellbeing while I was lying on the sofa eating food I didn’t need to try and numb my feelings?

No, I was not. So I put on my wetsuit, got into my car and headed to the beach.

There, I swam, played around a bit in the sea, swam some more, waved at a woman who’d gone in without a wetsuit (brave!) and generally revelled in the freedom of it all and in the feel-good hormones that were flooding my body.

Hurrah. I had turned my day around.

I had spurned sugar and the sofa.

I had chosen the sea and surf instead.

As I left the beach, I began chatting to a lady coming out of the toilets. I thought the toilets had been closed so I asked her if they were now open for good. It turns out she was cleaning the toilets and she began explaining, in stilted English, that they’d been closed temporarily. I asked her where she was from, hoping I could speak her language. Brazil, she said. I speak Portuguese, I replied. And we proceeded to have a lovely conversation in Portuguese, aided by her cute bilingual daughter who was playing nearby.

I told her about my time in Brazil, living in Sao Paulo and Brasilia. She told me where she was from. And she filled me in on the saga of the toilets, how people vandalised them and left them in an appalling state, for her to tidy up.

When we finished chatting, I felt so connected, to other people and to the world. I’d spoken Portuguese for the first time in ages and had just about remembered it. I’d reconnected to the wonderful time I spent in Brazil and the lovely people there. I’d realised that while I worry about my business, there’ll always be another lady who is cleaning toilets, and in the case of this Brazilian lady, with such energy, positivity and good grace. I also remembered how far I’d come since the days I cleaned toilets while travelling in Australia in my early 20s.Connection. Gratitude. Laughter. Appreciation.  After our talk, this stranger felt like a friend. She and her daughter knew my name and I knew theirs.

Back home, I no longer needed to overeat. I had nipped that in the bud. I had chosen a different path. I just had my dinner, lay on the sofa a bit to relax, then collapsed into bed.

I had turned my day around. I had short-circuited the desire to medicate my feelings with excess food. I had enabled myself to go to bed with a clear head and the exhaustion that comes from exercise, rather than with a fuzzy head from sugar and feeling down on myself.

(If, on occasion, I don’t manage to turn my day around and I end up overeating on the sofa, that’s OK too. I can forgive myself and remember I have another choice next time).

The point of this story is to remind myself I can turn my day around.

We can turn our days around.

You can turn your day around.

The same goes for our weeks, months and years.

You can turn it around.


AreyoureadyIf you need support turning things around, hop over to my free Facebook community of like-minded women, Being Real, Becoming Whole. It’s for anyone who wants to live a more authentic, wholehearted life of freedom and love. It would be great to see you there.

Also, if you’re single and would like to join a small group of women on a journey to love, my next How to Fall in Love course starts June 12 – fall in love with yourself, your life and another. Just ten spaces and early bird ends Friday!

Have a great day x

 

Posted in Eating disorders, Fun, Health, Positive thinking, Recovery, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Let’s talk about shame

I wrote this post on a train a few weeks back, in one of those inspired moments when I just had to get the words down onto the page or the screen. I didn’t have wifi at the time so I didn’t post it and when I re-read it a few days later, it didn’t feel so urgent, so raw or so relevant. In fact, it felt exaggerated and self-indulgent.

But last night, I had what I can only call a shame attack. Something triggered me and I felt so small, so in the wrong, so not good enough, so like crawling back into my shell. I felt I didn’t have a right to be here. What was I doing, pretending to be grown-up in this world full of grown-ups, pretending I can hold my own? What was I thinking? How could I dare to believe that I could navigate this world, do normal things like normal adults do, speak up for myself, assert my rights, be seen, be heard?

onion

Peeling the layers of the onion

Beset with shame but needing to cook dinner, I opened up my laptop and re-watched Brené Brown’s TED talk on shame while I chopped onions, peppers and mushrooms. I then re-watched her talk on vulnerability, then clicked back to her talk on shame again.

Tears came and went (and not just because of the onions), but I grew calmer as I listened. I felt less alone. I heard how shame is the swampland of the soul, how it’s fed by secrecy, silence and judgement, and how empathy is the antidote to shame. I understood that others felt as I feel sometimes.

I then promised myself I would post what I had written a few weeks ago about shame, with some tiny edits and additions, and I would share it with you. Because that’s one of the ways I have learned to deal with my shame, with that sense of worthlessness and wrongness that comes and goes, with that deep feeling that I’m flawed or not OK. By writing it down, working it through on this page, speaking my truth and hopefully connecting with some of you on a deep level, I can heal, I can feel less alone, like I belong, like there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with me, like I’ll be OK and it’ll all be OK.

So here it is.

Let’s Talk About Shame

Shame is a topic I’ve only skimmed over to date, on this blog and on my personal development journey.

I’m not sure why. Perhaps I was scared, scared to explore just how much shame I carried, scared to go there. But lately, I’ve been getting a strong sense that I need to go deeper with shame, to get to the root of it and to understand how my shame has impacted my life and continues to do so and to find ways to heal from it. I’ve been reading about shame, hearing about it and it’s been on my heart. I guess I’m shedding another layer of the onion, one that’s very close to the core.

So here goes. Deep breath. This isn’t going to be easy.

The bottom line is I’ve always had this sense that I’m irreparably flawed, that there’s something wrong with me, that I’m wrong, my life is wrong and whatever I do or choose is wrong.

I could say I’ve worn a cloak of shame all my life because that’s a nice metaphor, but it wouldn’t be true. My shame hasn’t cloaked me. It hasn’t been on the outside. It’s been on the inside, festering, eating away at me, hollowing me out, pulling the rug from beneath me, dragging me down.

I can see it now in a way that I couldn’t before. And it makes me feel sick. And angry.

I believe I inherited shame. I inherited the idea that there’s no space for me, that I don’t have a right to be here while others do, that there’s something wrong with me. I’ve just had my mum visiting and I could hear and sense her shame and it made me very sad. “I don’t want to be a nuisance”, “I don’t want to be in the way”, “Won’t I be in the way?”, “I’m going to be a nuisance”. She repeats these phrases often. Somewhere, at some point, she sadly got the message that she was a nuisance (what a horrible word), that she didn’t have a right to breathe her air or to take up her seat or to allow her truth into the world. I must have grown up hearing that or sensing it.

I imbibed shame and then I grew it by doing things in my younger years that I was ashamed of: drinking to excess, throwing up, binge-eating so my body took on a shape I was ashamed of, striking up inappropriate relationships and always, always, trying to cover my shame, trying to compensate for it by being a good girl, by being perfect. That generally backfired. The more I tried to be the perfect weight through undereating, the more I binged and grew in size. The more work I did and the higher I climbed, the more I felt I was an imposter who didn’t belong, and the more I ate to cope with that shame.

I don’t do things I’m ashamed of anymore but the historical, deep-rooted shame is still there.

I feel my shame when I try to market by book or my work. I feel it in the way I phrase my offerings or price what I do. I am downplaying my talents and skills. I am undercharging. I am giving away my time. I know I am. I can see it clearly now. I’m out there doing what I love but not to the level that I could be or with the professionalism or price tag that I know, deep down, deep beneath my shame, that my work deserves.

I feel it when I interact with people who I believe have got things much more sorted than me or who are cleverer, richer or happier or who seem to have made better choices in their lives, which, in my mind, is pretty much everyone.

I feel it acutely when I’m around people who apparently have it all – husbands/wives/partners and children. I feel the odd one out. Despite now being in a lovely relationship and recently engaged, I still feel different. I feel like I got it wrong. I feel like this path I’ve taken and this journey I’m on can’t possibly be right. I got engaged at 46, not 36 or 26, and it’s highly unlikely I’ll have children. Whether I wanted them or not, I still feel ashamed.

I feel like others are judging me and feeling sorry for me, for the way my life has turned out and for the choices I’ve made, even if they’re not, even if they’re unhappy in their lives and envy mine.

How hard it is to embrace my path. How hard it is to accept that this life of mine, these choices I’ve made, the way things have turned out is OK, spot on, more than good enough. It’s easier to believe I got it wrong, to hang my head in shame.

You wouldn’t notice my head is hung but it is all the same, much of the time. It’s so hard to claim my space, my air, my right to be here. It’s so hard to believe I am equal to you and equal to everyone else. It’s hard to believe we’re both right and we both made good choices. It’s much easier to think you’re right and I’m wrong. It’s easier because that’s the way I’ve always thought.

I remember someone saying to me way back that shame is a useless emotion. While fear can keep us safe and sadness alerts us to emotional pain or hurt, shame just hangs there, telling us we’re no good, that we’re flawed, that we got it wrong. More than that, telling us we don’t belong here, to go back to where we came from, to crawl back under our rock.

Now at 46, without children, engaged to a man who doesn’t want any and understanding that I’ve always been ambivalent about kids (I had options to do something about it and I never did), I am beginning to accept and embrace this path of mine.

I really want to embrace it. I do. But it’s not easy. I am programmed to believe I am wrong. I am programmed to feel shame. Especially next to those who seem to have it all sorted. I feel like you pity me. Maybe you don’t, but it’s easier to believe you do. That’s my default. That suits my shame.

But I owe it to myself to stand tall in my life, in my choices and in who I am. And I owe it to myself to remember that I’ve had a wonderful, remarkable life so far and that I am blessed to be healthy and to be in love.

My therapist reminded me the other day what a remarkable life I had led to date. I may sully it with tales of binge-eating, self-harming, over-working and dysfunctional relationships, but there’s been so much adventure and joy and there’s been so much deep, deep friendship, love, healing and incredible transformation. Some of you reading this have been part of that story and still are.

What a privilege to have lived like this and to have the opportunity to continue to live and love. What a privilege to be me – someone who feels deeply, loves deeply and hurts deeply, but feels fully alive.

IAmRemarkable

We are remarkable. Remember that.

But it took someone else to remind me how remarkable I am and how remarkable my life has been. And that’s often the case. Maybe that’s the case with you too?

Whenever friends or colleagues talk about me or my work, they point out the remarkable stuff. I don’t, or at least not often. I’m ashamed to talk about that. I’m ashamed to own my life and my journey. I’d rather play it down and I’d rather focus on the negatives and the bad choices. It’s familiar. It suits my shame.

So how do I break this? How do I get the shame out of my body and soul? How do I rid myself of it?

I begin by talking about it, by writing it here and by seeing if any of you can relate. That’s a good start. That makes me feel less alone and lessons my shame. I can let go of what you might think of me when you read this blog and publish it anyway, confident that it’s important to me to be real. That is part of my journey to wholeness.

I could also keep returning to Brené’s talk on shame and I could read John Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame That Binds You or watch his talks on shame.

That’s one approach. Honestly, though, right now it would suit me to hurl my shame across the room at great speed and with great force. I’m so over it. I’m so over this shame. I am so ready to be happy, precious and free. I am angry and that’s a good place to be. I’m angry that shame has dragged me down.

Enough is enough.

From here on, I will do my best to own my life, own my choices, breathe my air and take up my rightful space in the world.

I wish you the same.

********

So that is what I wrote, with a few small edits and additions. That’s how it felt then. It doesn’t feel quite like that today, right now, because I did a few things today to combat my shame – and they worked.

In the old days, my shame-management techniques were as follows: hide, eat, drink, overwork, self-harm, be perfect, keep quiet, stay small, be vague, undercharge.

Today, I am discovering more and more shame-defeating techniques: visibility, connection, support, clarity, knowing my value, stating my worth, fun, joy, playfulness, balance, self-care and spontaneity.

I am learning that to beat my shame, I usually have to do the opposite of what my shame-based mind wants me to do. If my mind tells me to stay home and isolate, I need to get out there and connect. If my mind tells me not to ask for support, I need to reach out for help. If my mind tells me to stay quiet, I need to speak up. If my mind tells me to be invisible, I need to do everything I can to be visible.

Mebookbeach

Being visible – an antidote to shame

Visibility happened by accident this morning. I headed to the beach to do a Facebook live video about shame, to share all this stuff in this blog and to get it out there into the world. But when I got there I saw I only had 15% left on my phone battery, which meant I couldn’t do a live video. I had my book in my hand, because I was going to mention it – I was going to say that after putting my heart and soul into writing it, I often felt too ashamed to market it – so I decided to take some photos and videos of it, and of me, and of the book, and of me, and of the book on the sand, on a rock and in my hand. In other words, I decided to shout about my book from the rooftops rather than explain why I was too ashamed to do so.

Bookstonebeach

Book looks great at the beach

It turned things around. The sun was out and warm, the waves were rolling in and I was being creative and having a lot of fun. I then posted those photos and video on social media – hitting right back at my shame.

Next, I went to a meeting of Creative Women in Business at my studio, The Old School House in Boscombe, Bournemouth, and talked openly about my shame with a group of supportive women, aided by the energy healing techniques of the wonderful Marie Houlden.

I cried, I shared, I cried and I healed – not all of it, but another layer of the onion. So again, I hit right back at my shame. I connected, I felt empathy towards others and I experienced empathy. I was open, honest and real. Shame didn’t stand a chance in that environment.

I wonder if you feel shame? I wonder if your shame holds you back? I wonder if you have shame-management techniques, such as perfectionism, overeating, over-working, drinking or hiding. And I wonder if you too can find ways to defeat your shame – through connection, empathy, support, visibility, honesty and courage.

Maybe we can do it together?

If you’d like some support with this, with beating shame, with being visible, with living the life of your dreams, or with finding love, have a think about joining my Facebook group, Being Real, Becoming Whole. It would be amazing to see you there.

As the fabulous Brené said at the end of her TED talk, that’s all I have.

For today.

 

 

Posted in Addiction, Childless, Dating, Eating disorders, Love, Perfectionism, Relationships, Self-Acceptance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Talking About Love

In the hours after publishing my previous post – The Magic of March – I worried I hadn’t sounded positive or excited enough about my wonderful engagement news.

I read it back a few times. Had my realness and vulnerability tipped into negativity? Was it wise to share my mixed feelings? Should I have kept my grief, loss or sadness to myself and focused on the happy stuff?

But then some feedback started to come in. Some readers had found my blog moving, life-affirming and positive. For some, my words had affirmed their own journeys and made them feel less alone.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings and stories with me. Hearing from you makes me feel less alone. It helps me heal my sadness. It affirms my journey. It inspires me to continue to write and it gives me purpose.

I was heartened to hear I’m not the only woman who has felt somewhat thrown by a marriage proposal and who’s had to process a whole range of feelings, not exclusively joyful ones. We are complex beings and our lives, in many cases, don’t look like the storybooks we read as children or the Hollywood movies or British romantic comedies we grew up on, particularly if we’re in our forties or fifties before that proposal comes. A marriage proposal is one of those milestones that stops us in our tracks and prompts us to look back over our lives and assess the journey we’ve been on and the choices we’ve made, conscious or otherwise, as well as to look forwards to the new life ahead.

raspberriesSaying ‘Yes’ to marriage later in life, say at 46 rather than 36 or 26, and joining our lives with another also requires a bigger mental and emotional shift than if we were younger. In many cases, we’ve got used to our identity as a single person or as an unmarried partner. Taking on the role of wife or husband requires a deep breath and a leap of faith. If we haven’t been married before or been in long-term relationships, it may be we have a fear of commitment and that fear isn’t going to evaporate when a proposal comes. That wouldn’t be real.

I wonder, too, if my engagement news triggered some difficult feelings in some of you. I know I’ve felt triggered over the years when friends or acquaintances have shared their happy news – engagements, weddings, babies and so forth – particularly on Facebook where everyone seems to lead such a charmed life. When I’ve heard their news, as well as feeling joy for them, I’ve also been reminded of all the dreams that haven’t come true for me. I’ve felt pain. I’ve wondered when my time would come. If that’s you, I get it. I’ve felt it too. It’s okay. It’s normal. Can I suggest you allow the feelings to come to the surface, that you allow yourself some space to heal, to cry perhaps? Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. That’s what I’ve done in the past and it’s helped.

I believe it’s important to acknowledge all of our feelings, to accept that we are complex people whose emotional lives aren’t black and white. If we don’t, we’ll end up brushing the feelings we deem to be unacceptable under the carpet and they’ll stay there, festering, niggling away at us, sabotaging our happiness, enveloping us in shame.

So I hope my writing – either on this blog or in my book – somehow gives you permission to accept all of yourself and to love all of yourself. That’s how we heal. If my honesty can help you be a bit more honest with yourself and with others and to bring some of those hidden feelings out into the open, then I’m delighted.

Lunchtime Love-InIf you enjoy this blog and/or if it helps you, I wonder if you’d like to join me this week as I share some more thoughts on love – self-love and falling in love – via live video. I’ll be hosting a Lunchtime Love-In every every day this week at 1 pm for 20-30 minutes on my Facebook business pagewww.facebook.com/KatherineBaldwinUK/

Just like or follow my page to access the video. No cost involved. It would be wonderful to have you along. The videos will also be available on the page for you to watch at any time if you can’t join me live. I’ll be sharing some of the steps from my book – How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart – and discussing how to connect with our feelings, tap into our intuition, build our self-esteem, love ourselves and build the solid foundations required to fall in love and stay in love. I’ll also be talking about how to navigate the inevitable challenges of relationships – romantic and otherwise.

I also have a closed Facebook group – Being Real, Becoming Whole – so if you’re interested in living wholeheartedly and authentically and are looking for a supportive place to share your feelings and to discuss taking courageous action in your life, be that in dating and romance, in your work or in another area, do have a think about joining us in that group.

And if you’d like to go deeper and work through any obstacles to love as part of a small group of like-minded women, you may like to think about joining one of my How to Fall in Love courses. I have a four-week course starting April 24th.

Otherwise, do keep reading and do keep commenting if you feel able. It’s powerful to be heard and understood and I hope that you also feel heard and understood when you read thoughts or feelings that you can identify with on this blog.

This blog, in many ways, was the start of my own journey to love, or at least it was a milestone on that journey. It was the beginning of a new path, of a new realness and vulnerability. It opened doors to a new form of writing and journalism after years of writing daily news stories. It gave me freedom. It allowed me to express all of myself. It gave me permission to be me.

I hope that in some small way it gives you permission to be you too.

Posted in Childless, Happiness, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Magic of March

My 46th birthday. How to Fall in Love published in paperback. A marriage proposal. That’s the magic of March.

When it comes to March, I’m biased.

It’s my birth month and I’ve never shied away from celebrating the day I came into this world, so my memories of March feature birthday picnics and frisbee games in the park in Oxford with my university chums; karaoke nights and dinners out with my girlfriends in London; skiing in glorious sunshine in the French Alps and dancing in ski boots; and one particularly vivid memory of darting into the sea in my birthday suit with my partner on the nudist beach close to my home in Poole. I also see March as a spring month of hope and new beginnings, a time when we get a hint of the sunshine to come and we start imagining long summer days, a month of bright yellow daffodils.

March 2017, however, will go down in my personal history as a truly momentous month.

On March 7th, on International Women’s Day, I published the paperback of How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. The theme of International Women’s Day this year was ‘Be Bold for Change’ and I was certainly being bold by publishing my book.

You may think, because I’ve been writing this blog for five years, because I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years and because I’ve been writing another book for four years, that publishing a book wouldn’t be such a huge deal. But if you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know a little bit about me. You’ll have read about my fear, my low self-esteem, my deep sense of imposter syndrome and the sometimes crippling perfectionism I’ve had since I was a little girl. You’ll also have read about all the work I’ve been doing on myself to overcome those obstacles – about the personal growth and personal development marathon I’ve been running since I was in my early thirties.

With all that in mind, publishing How to Fall in Love was a huge feat that required tremendous effort, huge amounts of adrenaline and a conscious decision every day to wrestle my inner saboteur to the ground, challenge my perfectionism, walk through my fear and get on with pursuing my dreams.

Next came my 46th birthday, the day after my partner’s 51st birthday, spent under blue skies on a ski holiday in the French Alps. While away, we reminisced about the previous March when we’d finalised the purchase of our first home together over the phone from the slopes, feeling ridiculously middle-class.

My 46th was lovely, but as with all my birthdays in my forties, it brought a hint of sadness and some familiar thoughts. How on earth did I get here, to this age and stage, without acquiring the trappings of ‘normal’ life – marriage and kids? My life wasn’t supposed to look like this. How come it took me so long to find happiness and love? I remembered, though, to be grateful for what I had – a beautiful relationship with a lovely man, writing and coaching work I enjoyed, good health, family and friends, a published book and bags of hope – and to keep my focus on that.

Then, on Friday March 17th, St Patrick’s Day, I sat down to a hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream at a mountain-top restaurant at Col de la Chal, across from my partner and alongside a few of our friends, and admired the spectacular views.

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My partner opened up a packet of Haribo sweets for his mid-morning snack and pulled out a red and yellow ring. I imagined he’d gobble it up fast before anyone had a chance to comment on it (he had a habit of avoiding anything marriage-related – he’d always get up fast if he found himself on his knees or shuffle awkwardly at the mention of weddings). But to my surprise (and his, it seems), he placed it on my finger – that finger.

Immediately, I started to cry. I’m not sure exactly why, but I have a feeling I was crying because I understood in that moment that a marriage proposal might happen eventually, even if not there and then, and that was a very moving, emotional prospect, given the journey I’d been on and the journey we’d been on as a couple. Then, as I wiped the tears away, hiding behind my sunglasses and my hot chocolate, my partner slipped onto his knees on the other side of the table, slowly found his words after stumbling over them a little and popped the question. And I said yes.

Wow. Wow, indeed.

When I began writing this blog just after my 40th birthday, did I imagine that one day I would blog about a marriage proposal? When I first met my partner, on a cycling trip in Cornwall soon after starting this blog, did I imagine he would be the one I’d agree to spend my life with? When I launched my How to Fall in Love course and began coaching women to have healthy relationships with themselves and others and to fall in love, did I imagine that I’d be sharing my engagement news with them? And when I wrote in the introduction to my book that ‘my partner and I aren’t married yet, but I believe we will be when the time is right’, did I imagine that just nine days after publication, that sentence would require an update? As I wrote in the book, I thought it might happen some day, but I imagined it might take him a few more years to ask. Nor was I sure if I was ready, despite appearing to be on the surface and apparently often dropping hints. It’s easy to load all the commitment issues onto him, but I had my own deep-rooted reservations about tying the knot.

I wonder, too, if I could have imagined how I’d feel in the weeks following the proposal.

As you’ll notice, two weeks have passed since he asked me to marry him and I said yes. For some of that time, we were getting in touch with family and close friends, not wanting them to find out via social media.

But I was also processing a complex array of feelings, as I think he was too. We joked about a 14-day cooling off period like you get when you sign up to a new electricity provider (that ended today!) but while I never considered backing out, I had plenty of emotions to work through before I was ready to announce it to my friends on Facebook (which bizarrely feels like the act that sets it in stone).

In the past two weeks, I have felt elation and excitement – I remember skiing off with the Haribo ring under my ski glove and a big smile on my face – but I’ve also felt fear and trepidation. Marriage is a big deal – my memories of my parents’ marriage and subsequent divorce are unhappy ones and the idea of making such a huge commitment to my partner is a scary one. No wonder I had to get to 46 and do so much work on myself to be able to say Yes. My childhood experiences have left a legacy, as I imagine yours may have done.

I felt worried at first that I wasn’t feeling exclusively joyful – have I made the wrong decision? Should I have a rethink? But then I remembered – I am me. How could I go from being an ambivalent, commitment-phobic, indecisive, complex, not particularly straightforward woman to being the complete opposite in a flash? It wasn’t possible. Mixed feelings were inevitable. And I wouldn’t be real and this blog wouldn’t be worthwhile if I didn’t share them with you.

I’ve also felt some disappointment. I’m not a youthful princess in a fairy-tale being whisked away to a castle on a white steed by my prince, my dress billowing behind me. I’m a real, 46-year-old woman with a complicated history in a real relationship that requires negotiation and compromise and with a man who has his own past and his own wonderful idiosyncrasies.

And then there’s the bitter sweetness, the joy mixed with the sense of loss – the sadness that my life hasn’t followed a ‘normal’ path, that I’m 46 not 36 and that my marriage won’t lead to a family. That’s been a tough one to digest. Accepting his proposal felt like the definitive end of the fantasy of ending up with a couple of kids.

In previous years and particularly when I was single, I believe the desire I felt at times to have children was because I wanted to fill a hole, to medicate my loneliness and sadness, to fix my brokenness. I also wanted to try to heal the wounds of my past by creating the family I always wanted to have as a child – the family unit that stayed together with the perfect mum and dad. I still feel some of that, the child inside me still longs for healing and for a perfect family, but the desire I’ve felt recently (on and off, not all the time) to create a family has been different.

I remember clearly someone saying to me that the problem of falling in love with someone is you want to expand that love, make it bigger, grow it into something more. That’s how I feel now. I love him and sometimes I want to create more of him, more of us.

But I have arrived here late, as so many of us do, and I forgive myself for that and anyone else I might momentarily want to blame. And I have always been ambivalent about motherhood, as I explained in my book and as I’ve written about on this blog.

IMG_4593So I will embrace the miracle that is my relationship, the miracle that is the two of us (maybe three if we get a dog). I will cherish the beauty of his mountain-top proposal and the uniqueness of the Haribo ring (although I believe someone proposed on Holby City with a Haribo ring the other night – copy cats).

I will embrace my journey to love, with all its twists and turns, and his journey, and the beautiful way in which our paths have met and converged into one.

I will practise acceptance and gratitude for everything that I have. I have a companion, a life-partner, a fiancé, a husband-to-be. I have laughter, silliness, affection, love and touch every day. And I have a ring to choose and a wedding to plan and plenty of friends and family to enjoy it all with.

Thank you, dear readers, for walking with me on this journey to love. I wish you all the best with yours x

Posted in Childless, Happiness, Love, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Celebrating courage

It was International Women’s Day yesterday, a day when we celebrate our female icons and all the courageous things they’ve done over the years, a day when we speak out for women everywhere, trying to make sure women and girls have a voice and have the same opportunities as men.

I took a courageous step yesterday, on a much smaller scale than our heroines throughout the ages, but it was a courageous step all the same. I walked through my own fears. I fought for my own voice.

Yesterday evening, I published the paperback of my book How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart.

Bookcoverpic

This was much harder than publishing the Kindle version, which went live on Valentine’s Day. Putting my book in paperback required a lot more courage.

My inner perfectionist went wild for a few weeks. She obsessed over inverted commas, Oxford commas, conjunctions and margins (do we take off 5 millimeters or 7, 5 millimeters or 7? How can I be sure?)

I don’t have the constitution to write and publish a book, I kept saying, as I lost sleep worrying about how I would be judged for repeating a word in the same paragraph or for getting an idiom wrong. There were tears. There were times when I ran along the beach shouting out for help.

Why do I find this so hard? Why am I so scared? I know why, and the reasons go deep, the fear goes way back. There’s a deep insecurity – a desire to be universally liked, loved and approved of that began in my childhood. And there’s a perfectionism that’s crippling and paralysing at times.

But I’m slowly realising that being universally loved is a childish fantasy. That’s not the real world. That’s not adulthood. And perfection doesn’t exist.

I’m slowly getting over myself.

Because I have to. I don’t have a choice. The pain of being silent, of not creating, of not going for my dreams and not publishing my words is becoming far greater than the pain and anguish I had to go through to put my book in print.

So I did it. I took the plunge. I bit the bullet.

My book is out in paperback.

And now I’d love your help. I’d love you to share this post or the link to my book with your friends and contacts. I’d love your support. I’d love my book to climb up Amazon’s lists and I’d love to get some reviews. If you can share my book, that’s wonderful. If you can’t, thank you for cheering me on all the same.

I hope by walking through my fears and getting my voice out into the world, I’ve encouraged you to make a bold choice and to go for your dreams, despite your fears, your anxieties and any anguish you feel.

If I can do it, I believe you can too.

If you’re wondering what the book is about, here’s a summary from the back cover:

Poignant, intimate, shockingly honest and inspiring’

Tricia Walker, Author of Benedict’s Brother

‘Katherine’s step-by-step process is transformative’

Nicola Humber, Author of Heal Your Inner Good Girl

Are you struggling to understand why you’re single or why none of your relationships work out? Do you find yourself drawn to unavailable types or to people who won’t commit? Do you look on with bemusement as friends find partners, wondering if you’ll ever meet your match? How to Fall in Love will help.

This timely book is a dating and relationships guide with a difference. It’s for people who want more than superficial advice and who are ready and willing to explore the real reasons for their singleness.

Katherine Baldwin takes you on a transformational journey, helping you to change unhealthy patterns, mature emotionally, build your self-esteem and make bold choices so that you can form a loving partnership, as she has done.

How to Fall in Love is about much more than dating, however. It’s about learning to thrive, not just survive. It’s about fulfilling your dreams, whether you are single or not, and creating a life that’s aligned with the desires of your heart.

Thank you!

Posted in Creativity, Empowerment, Love, Perfectionism, Relationships, Women, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

V for Valentine’s, V for Victory

“The best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times – although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile … For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

how-to-fall-in-love-ebookFor the last five weeks, I have been stretching my body and mind to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. I have written, rewritten, revised and self-published a book called How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. It went live on Amazon Kindle yesterday – Valentine’s Day – and will be available in paperback by March 1st.

It is a massive achievement. I am incredibly proud of myself. In fact, when I open up my book on my Kindle, I can’t quite believe I’m an author with a book in print – and I haven’t even seen a paperback yet.

As some of my regular readers will know, I’ve been writing another book for more than four years – a book that began as a journalistic exploration of the phenomenon of hitting 40 as a high-achieving woman without a partner and without children and that later morphed into a memoir, tracing my story from 40 to 45 as I came to terms with not being a mum and fell in love.

That book is still there, stored in a computer file, but I haven’t finished it yet. In fact, I stole quite a few ideas, anecdotes and scenes from that book to put in How to Fall in Love, which makes me feel sad in some ways but it felt the right thing to do.

My old book was heading the way of my new book anyway. It had become less about my baby angst and motherhood dilemmas and more about the experience of working through all my relationship difficulties and self-sabotaging behaviours to be able to fall in love and to fulfill my dream of living by the sea.

That’s because my baby angst had subsided as I had got older – as motherhood had seemed less likely, as I’d committed to a partner who didn’t want kids and as I’d realised I’d always been ambivalent about being a mum and was even more so in my early to mid-forties.

So the book I have produced is the book that’s right for now. I self-published it because I couldn’t wait (although I didn’t have an agent or publisher either – I didn’t try).

I couldn’t hear one more story about a woman who had fallen for a married man or for a bloke with a girlfriend without feeling that I needed to share what I had learned over the years as I have worked through and let go of my own attraction to unavailable men.

I couldn’t meet another 40-something female who was grieving because she’d missed out on the chance of biological motherhood because she couldn’t find a guy to love in time without writing about the journey I’d been on – learning to soften, change my patterns, reassess my type, face my fears of commitment and fall in love.

I couldn’t wait.

If you’ve been following my blog, some of the topics I discuss in the book will be familiar to you. I talk about the need to let go of the fantasy of the perfect partner or the myth of Mr Right. I discuss how we need to stop working so hard and do more of the things that make our heart sing so that we’re in a better place for love.

I also write about the idea of the Ideal, the Ordeal and the Real Deal in relationships. That’s the theory of relationship expert and author Harville Hendrix who says we need to mature enough emotionally in order to push through the difficult, messy stage of a relationship – the time when you have to negotiate boundaries, manage difference and accept our partner is never going to be perfect – in order to find our way to the Real Deal. If we can’t do this, we’ll just keep chasing the Ideal – and we’ll be single for a long time. I thank my therapist and my friends for helping me to get through the Ordeal so I could have the Real Deal.

In the book, I share plenty of my own dating dilemmas and mishaps – all the times I decided a man wasn’t good enough for me because I was too scared of emotional intimacy and all the times I looked for love in the wrong places, in food, in external validation or in the arms of a guy who was attached to someone else.

So if you’ve enjoyed my blogs over the years, you’ll love my book. And I’d love you to read it. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a Kindle app and read the book on any device, your phone, tablet etc (see my book page for details of how to do that). And if you’d like the paperback (I wouldn’t blame you because the cover is gorgeous – designed by Briony of Goldustdesign, who I share a co-working space with at The Old School House in Bournemouth), keep your eye on this blog, on my Twitter feed or my website and I’ll let you know when it’s out. You could also take a look at this Facebook live video from yesterday evening, in which I excitedly share the publication of my book and some of its contents.

raspberriesAlso, if you’d like to work through the steps in this book with me and a small group of like-minded women, check out my next ‘How to Fall in Love‘ course that starts March 27.

But back to the quote I began this blog with.

I have most definitely stretched myself to finish this book. There were times when I worried I was back in my workaholic mode, abandoning my self-care and harming myself. Perhaps I did, a little bit. I worked too many hours. I forgot to eat (a bizarre sensation for someone who used to binge every time she had a deadline) and I forgot to go to the loo. I abandoned housework, food shopping (I thank my wonderful partner for stepping in and keeping me well nourished) and I neglected my other storytelling and PR work. I almost ran out of petrol and I completely ran out of lipstick (that’s the biggest disaster!).

But it was for a very short period. I only worked really intensely for a couple of weeks. And I made sure I spent the first few minutes of everyday grounding myself, meditating, saying a prayer and reading one of my daily readings (or pretty much every day, I let a few days slip right at the end when I got up at ridiculous o’clock to do the final edits).

My perfectionism reared its ugly head but I accepted that my perfectionism is part of me and it helps me to achieve amazing results. And I accomplished what was a hugely ambitious goal of publishing my book on Valentine’s Day.

V for Valentine’s. V for Victory.

Because in the end, I think I have written a really important book that will help a lot of people. It’s not perfect, of course. But it’s there. It exists. I walked through my fears and I put it out there into the world. Instead of filing away pages and pages of research and draft versions of books in boxes (as I have done with my other book over the years), I uploaded this one to Kindle. I released it.

I put into practice all the suggestions from all those inspirational self-help books I’ve been reading for years. I took the advice of Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic and of Brené Brown in all her wonderful books – to get over myself, to just do it, to get into the arena.

A M A Z I N G

So, dear readers, if you have a dream, go for it. Absolutely go for it. Prioritise it. Clear the decks of other stuff. Focus your mind. Invest your energy in something truly worthwhile. Because once you’ve done it, once you’ve walked through your fears, they don’t feel so scary anymore (I’m already thinking about my next book!).

I’ve spent years working incredibly hard but not necessarily for me – for someone else. I’ve exerted myself for a multinational or for a boss. This time, it was for me and I’m so so proud.

So share the love, buy a copy of my book or share the link with friends and colleagues.

And bear in mimg_4410ind How to Fall in Love is not just for single people and it’s not just about dating and relationships. It’s for anyone who wants to go on a journey of transformation – to learn to love themselves, prioritise their dreams, work through their blocks and create a life they truly love.

It’s about flourishing and thriving. It’s about doing what I am learning to do. Enjoy x

Posted in Addiction, Childless, codependency, Dating, Happiness, Love, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment