This blog is going to be brief because I’m trying to practise self-love and that means not spending too long sat in a chair staring at a bright screen, but I imagine it’ll end up longer than I intended because once I start, I find it hard to stop and the desire to keep writing, to keep working, often overrides everything else, including physical impulses like needing the loo.
Does that ever happen to you? Do you find yourself working at the computer or doing chores when what you really need to do is go to the toilet? Or perhaps drink a glass of water? Or eat something? Or maybe step outside into the sunlight?
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I’m so much better than I was.
You’re reading the blog of a woman who, in case you weren’t aware, used to binge eat until her stomach was about to explode and who used to binge drink until she blacked out, fell over and nearly hit her head on the bath. A woman who also used to date men who had no intention of valuing her or respecting her or staying with her and who used to work through the night and carry on working the next morning.
But despite the huge transformations I’ve undergone in the past few decades – healing from an eating disorder, giving up alcohol apart from the odd half glass of Prosecco now and then, giving up dysfunctional relationships to marry a wonderful man and tempering, as much as possible, the urge to work until my eyes hurt – self-care remains a challenge, a struggle at times.
Here are a few reasons why I, why we, might find self-care hard:
1) We find it hard to consistently care for ourselves because, as children, we weren’t consistently cared for. It was a bit on and off, or perhaps more off than on. So that’s the self-care pattern we have tended to follow – a bit on and off (although a bit on and off is much better than one hundred percent off).
We treat ourselves as we were treated. It’s a hard habit to break.
2) We came to understand, as a child, that we weren’t entirely valuable or worthy, that there was something wrong with us. Maybe someone told us this, but more likely, we interpreted it or intuited it from what was going on around us. Children are naturally egocentric. They think the entire world revolves around them. Therefore, if something is wrong with their caregivers, they think it’s their fault.
It’s my fault that Daddy left. It’s my fault that Mum is angry and sad. There must be something wrong with me. I must be faulty somehow.
We then carry this belief into adulthood. We are not valuable. We are not lovable. We are not worthy of good care.
3) Following on from the above, we think we are not worthy so we need to prove our worth somehow – by being perfect or extra good or working really hard or getting good grades or pleasing everyone we come across.
4) We also think other people’s needs are more important than ours because that’s what we learned when we were growing up. Our needs may have been neglected or subordinated to the needs of the adult (who, through no fault of their own, was unable to meet our needs because their needs had never been met).
This leads us to over-work and over-deliver, neglecting ourselves and our needs, including the basic ones like drinking water, going to the loo or getting sleep.
The patterns listed above then become habits. We undervalue ourselves. We neglect ourselves. We don’t care for ourselves.
There are other reasons I could add to this blog but I really want to respect my boundaries and wrap this up so that I can get on with other things.
As I do so, I invite you to reflect on why you struggle with self-care, if you do, and whether you can relate to the points above. I also invite you to think about how you can show yourself move love, care and compassion.
If you’d like some ideas and support with this, I have a few things that might help:
1) Fourteen Days of Love – an online experience spanning two weeks that’s designed to inspire and motivate you to love and accept yourself, grow in self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence and expand your self-awareness so that you can have happier, healthier relationships and create a more fulfilling and balanced life.
You can follow on for free on social media (links below) or by signing up to my ‘Love Letters’ on my website. And you can join the full, embodied, interactive experience for just £14 for 14 days via this link: 14 Days of Love (the full experience).
2) The Love Retreat, February 17-19 in Dorset. This is a wonderful women’s retreat designed to support you to lay the foundations for healthy love so that you can date with courage, clarity and confidence. Find out more here.
Thank you for reading. Phew. I managed to finish that quite quickly, as I promised myself. Hurrah!
If you’re feeling busy and stressed right now, that’s because the run-up to Christmas, for many of us, is a busy and stressful time.
It might also be because feeling busy and stressed and doing too much are convenient ways to avoid your true emotions about this tricky time of year.
[If you’d like support at Christmas but haven’t got time to read to the end of this blog, take a look at my ‘Coping with Christmas’ workshop on Wednesday Dec 21st here.]
We’re clever creatures, aren’t we?
We seek and find multiple ways to avoid, escape or numb emotional pain, grief, loss and other unpleasant, uncomfortable feelings.
Many of us learned to do this when we were very young, because there was no opportunity to process our difficult emotions, because they weren’t welcome or because there were no emotionally available adults around to support us.
Maybe we learned to overeat (tick), overwork (another tick), do too much (yep, that was me), drink too much (yep, that too), worry about things obsessively (one more tick) or adopt another dysfunctional coping mechanism or process to self-soothe or bury our painful feelings deep inside.
The problem is that whatever we are seeking to avoid will keep trying to get our attention, perhaps subtly at first, but ultimately in ways that sabotage our health, our work and/or our relationships, in ways that might even bring us to our knees if left unchecked.
So the best thing we can do is spend some time with ourselves, notice ourselves, listen to ourselves and give ourselves the space to feel whatever feelings we are trying to run away from, before they bubble up and over and drive us to bury ourselves under a heap of Quality Street or drown our sorrows in a vat of red wine.
The best thing we can do is slow down, breathe, relax and allow any feelings to surface – because we have to feel our feelings in order to heal them.
And if we stuff our feelings, they stay stuck inside.
Now they say we teach what we need to learn and here I am, writing about the very thing I am struggling with the most.
Because I have a chronic habit of keeping myself busy, of cramming my life with activities, work and compulsive thought processes in order to avoid feeling my feelings.
It’s basically one of the few coping mechanisms or survival strategies I have left following a long recovery journey during which I have healed from a binge eating disorder, stopped drinking to excess and stopped tumbling headfirst into unhealthy relationships – a journey that also saw me walk away from a stressful, busy job as a political journalist in London after a burnout and a breakdown.
Yes, I have ‘put down’ lots of unhealthy behaviours and transformed hugely over the past two decades, but I remain a work in progress when it comes to living and working with balance.
And I am especially prone to getting extra busy when I’m scared to feel what’s going on inside.
Which brings me back to Christmas.
Christmas, for me, stirs a jumble of childhood memories – some hilarious ones like getting drunk with my teenage girlfriends on Christmas Eve in Liverpool and stumbling home arm-in-arm from the faraway pub in the freezing cold; some not so funny ones like feeling lonely and lost and feeling the weight of my late mother’s discomfort and pain.
Christmas is also a time when we notice absences acutely – the family members we have lost (I have no parents or grandparents remaining) and the family members we wish we had, the family we had hoped to create.
I know Christmas is especially tough for those who are single-not-by-choice and childless-not-by-choice. This was my experience once and while I’m so grateful for my adorable husband and gorgeous pooch, it’s hard to avoid the sense that ‘Christmas is for kids’.
So if you are feeling blue, firstly I want to say, simply, that I hear you.
I see you.
You are not alone.
I also want to suggest that you carve out some space and time to hear and see yourself, to comfort yourself, soothe yourself and shower yourself with Christmas companionship and compassion, and that you give yourself the gift of feeling rather than numbing your feelings, knowing that this is how you heal.
If you’d like some support doing this in the company of like-minded women, please join me for a seasonal support session on Zoom on Wednesday Dec 21st at 6 pm GMT. The session is called ‘Coping with Christmas when life hasn’t gone to plan’ and you can read details about it and sign up via this link or the link at the end of this blog.
Of course, given what I’ve written above about how I manage my feelings through over-working, I have questioned why I’m hosting a workshop a few days before Christmas. There is an argument for taking the whole of next week off.
But I felt prompted to create this safe space for you to be real before the holidays, to share what’s truly going on, beneath the sparkle and glitter, and I have tried to schedule it with a nod to balance and self-care. I’ll be having most of Wednesday off before the workshop, lunching and laughing with my wonderful buddies from the Funky Little Beach Choir.
I have also decided not to host the same workshop this weekend. I had planned on doing so but nobody had signed up and I realised it might be better for all of us to be out and about meeting people in real life rather than on screen, or kicking back and relaxing on a lazy Sunday morning.
I hope you can join me on Zoom (or via catch-up) and if I don’t see you there, I wish you a peaceful Christmas and look forward to sharing with you in the New Year.
Also, if you are looking for a gift to give yourself or a dear friend, my book, How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart, will support you to feel your feelings this Christmas, to understand yourself on a deeper level and to take steps towards finding and forming a happy and healthy relationship and leading an even more fulfilling life. You can read the first chapter for free via my website here or go straight to Amazon to get your copy.
OK, so I’ve changed a lot over the years, transformed in many ways, as this blog attests, but will I ever change my last minute dot comnature?
Earlier this week, just days before flying to Turkey to host The Love Retreat that starts this Saturday October 15th (still time to join us – click here!), I was scouring the internet for something to wear – ordering bikinis and shorts that don’t fit and then needing to get to the Post Office to send them back before I leave, feeling stressed, rushed and guilty about my impact on the planet.
Not to mention the emergency sit ups I’ve been doing this week after suddenly realising that my tummy is looking rather worse for wear due to a combination of peri-menopause, a two-year break from Pilates after my classes stopped during Covid (why haven’t I gone back?) and the legacy of a binge eating disorder that meant I was overweight for much of my late teens and twenties.
And why, after so many years of recovery, do I still care so much about how I look – about how my body looks and what clothes I wear? That’s for another post.
There is good news, of course.
I’m more prepared than I was in the past – I remember too many holidays and work trips when I was still packing into the early hours before getting up at ridiculous o’clock – but I still leave things too late, especially before travel.
To get the adrenaline hit.
As a sensitive soul who grew up in an unpredictable environment where alcohol abuse was present, I’m used to feeling in a state of high alert, with adrenaline pumping through my body. It feels entirely normal to me, familiar, and therefore safe. And physically, I have a high tolerance for the stress hormones (just like I used to have a high tolerance for excess food and booze).
Without the rush, I feel kind of bored, flat, not fully alive.
Or that’s how it’s been in the past, because I continue to transform.
These days, I notice the adrenaline – the tingling sensation in my body – and I don’t like it. And I’m starting to enjoy peace, order and a slower pace – but all changes take time, don’t they?
If we’ve been living a certain way for decades, it’s unfair to ask ourselves to change overnight.
The rushing, busyness and adrenaline hit also distract me from the fear and anxiety that lurk beneath the confident, competent exterior.
Will I be safe? Will I be good enough?Will my retreat participants like me, love me, approve of me?
They did last time. This is my eighth or ninth retreat – I’ve lost count. But there’s always the chance that someone will be angry with me, and that’s a frightening prospect for my wounded inner child.
I wonder if you’re a last minute dot com person too, dear Reader?
And if you are, I have the perfect opportunity!
I have two rooms left on my Love Retreat that starts this Saturday October 15th in Dalyan, near Dalaman in sunny Turkey. Flights are available and you can arrive anytime on Saturday or even before if you can get there that fast!
Despite my usual trepidation/excitement (there’s a fine line between the two) before I host this retreat, I know it’s going to be amazing.
Sunshine, self-love, sisterhood, powerful coaching circles led by me to help you to break through your blocks in love and in life, relaxing yoga and spectacular boat trips. And together we can also explore why we’re so addicted to adrenaline and how to plan a more peaceful life!
“I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who tends to neglect their self-care,” Nina said about the Turkey retreat last time.
“Magical, out of this world,” Phoebe said about our spectacular boat trips.
“You couldn’t top this!” Iris said, after a week of chilling out with us in the sun.
Would you like to join us?
I know from experience that despite the adrenaline spike and the rush, I’ve had some incredible holidays when I’ve acted spontaneously and booked last minute.
So if you’d like to come away with me and some like-minded women that could turn out to be friends for life, please explore this link and send me an email on email@example.com and we’ll arrange a quick chat.
Otherwise, I’ll tell you all about it when I’m back and share the amazing pix!
PS Feel free to share the link below with any spontaneous female friends who are in need of a break. I guarantee they will thank you for it!
Before you read on, if the photo above speaks to you, explore my Love Retreat in Turkey here or share the link with your lovely friends – they’ll thank you for it!Now on to the blog …
Every now and then, I make incredible stuff happen and I have no idea how I do it.
For someone who struggles with fear, procrastination, indecision, low self-esteem and imposter syndrome – all rooted in developmental trauma (also known as complex PTSD) – it’s a miracle to me that I am where I am.
It’s a miracle that I managed to:
Overcome an eating disorder that began before I turned 10 and ravaged my body and my mind for several decades
Leave a super secure, high-profile job as a Reuters political journalist, without any idea where to go next
Transform my career and start from scratch as a coach, speaker and author
Write, finish and publish How to Fall in Love – a book that has changed lives, so my readers tell me
Host eight or nine (I’ve lost count) successful women’s retreats in the UK, Spain and Turkey (we’re going back to Turkey soon – details here) over the last five years, despite a strong aversion to marketing and sales that’s rooted in my childhood wounds (fear of rejection, criticism, judgement, of being seen and heard and subsequently knocked down). I remember my first retreat – no experience of running retreats, no research, just an idea and lots of passion and it was a remarkable success
Find a healthy and loving relationship and get married to a wonderful man after many years of unhealthy relationships, dysfunctional dating and singleness
How on earth did I do all that?
Little me, with all my insecurities, dysfunctional patterns and unhelpful coping mechanisms.
Courage, I guess.
Courage dug up from deep inside me.
Persistence. Determination. Drive. Vision. A massive survival instinct. Creativity.
The same persistence, determination and creativity that took me from a turbulent single-parent family in Liverpool to Oxford University and all around the world as a foreign correspondent, even if I was using excess food or booze as a crutch most of the time – I accept and forgive myself for those self-harming behaviours as I did the best I could with the tools and awareness I had at the time.
The same courage and determination that helped me recover from binge eating and other addictive behaviours and that motivated me to understand my faulty relationship patterns and find healthy love in time to marry at 48.
The same courage and determination that got me back on my feet after a burnout and breakdown that precipitated my departure from my Reuters position in the Houses of Parliament. I can see myself now, sitting on my bed in tears in my mid-thirties, as the life I’d worked so hard to build crumbled around me.
The same courage and determination that keep me on my journey of healing and growth, always peeling off new layers of the onion, no matter the obstacles and challenges – and there are many of them.
Always learning. Always growing.
The same persistence and determination that sometimes have negative consequences – driving me to work too hard, to push too much, rather than relax, let go and trust.
It’s never ending, isn’t it? This journey of healing, growth and recovery.
And although I sometimes wish it wasn’t this hard – that I didn’t have so many struggles, that I’d had a simple, straightforward life with a steady, low-adrenaline career, a healthy marriage in my thirties and a couple of cute kids (I am childless due to many complex circumstances – ambivalence, childhood wounds and more), I am grateful for the depth and richness of my experience of this thing we call life and all the miracles that have come to pass.
I’m particularly grateful for my ability to feel a whole range of emotions, pretty much every day, from joy to grief, especially after so many years of numbing my feels with food, booze, drama-fuelled relationships and work.
I’m grateful for my creative gifts and my permanently active mind that comes up with a new idea for my business every 10 seconds as well as my writing skills, honed over many years as a news journalist, that mean I can write blogs like this in minutes rather than hours.
And I’m grateful for all the lives I’ve touched and changed and will continue to touch and change through my writing, speaking, coaching and wonderful retreats.
Yes, I have found purpose in my pain.
And here I am, about to touch and change lives again as I prepare to take a small group of women to Turkey on the Love Retreat – my first international retreat since Covid scuppered all our plans.
Marketing is tough at the best of times, and it’s especially tough for those of us who carry shame, low self-esteem, imposter syndrome and the childhood wounds I mentioned above. Add to that the current market conditions and the news we hear every day about the big squeeze on our finances.
But what can we do – those of us who have stepped off the hamster wheel, stepped away from job security and stepped out on our own, driven by passion and a desire to use our experience to help others transform their lives?
We can only trust.
We can believe in ourselves, our gifts, our talents and our offerings and trust that the people who need to hear our message – in the case of my work, the women who are hurting, tired of being single, tired of sacrificing their personal lives for their work and yearning for change – will hear it loud and clear.
I can trust that in five weeks time, I will recreate the magic of my first Turkey retreat, the laughter, the friendship, the adventures, the healing and the growth, as shared on the wonderful retreat videos I managed to put together with help, again against the odds, because my inner saboteur would much rather leave things unfinished (I have lots of things unfinished!).
So today, I choose to trust.
How about you, dear Reader?
Is there an area of your life where you need to dig deep, find your courage and choose to trust rather than roll over and give up?
The choice is yours. And what a gift that we have a choice.
I am a love, dating and relationships coach, midlife mentor, motivational speaker and writer with a passion for supporting people to love themselves, love their lives and careers and find healthy love.
It’s when we go towards situations that scarred us in the past.
It’s when we take a chance and risk being triggered.
It’s when we put ourselves in the line of fire.
It’s when we face our deepest fears.
Here’s an example: If I stood up on stage as a child and told a joke but was humiliated and mocked, I would be putting myself in the line of fire again if I decided, as an adult, to take a stand-up comedy course. I’d be back on stage, under the spotlight, and the potential would be there for me to be mocked and humiliated, thereby reliving the painful experience of my past and triggering an old wound.
Or if someone broke my heart when I was younger, I would be walking towards the fire if I went dating again. I would be putting my heart on the line again, risking getting hurt.
Or if I was told as a child that I couldn’t sing and my voice was mocked, I would be facing my fears if I joined a choir and chose to sing in a group, even more so if I chose to sing a solo. I would be risking hearing the same hurtful words again, being told that I couldn’t hold a tune or even a note, being told that I was rubbish at something I enjoyed.
But, dear Reader, this is how we heal – by walking towards the fire, by putting ourselves in the same situations that wounded us in the past, by exposing ourselves to the same triggers, by making ourselves vulnerable, by facing our fears.
With one rather important caveat: if we walk towards the fire in the same condition as when we were younger – feeling like a vulnerable child, feeling insecure, unsupported, lacking in confidence and self-esteem, fragile and petrified about what others think of us, we probably won’t heal. In fact, we may re-traumatise ourselves. We may get hurt so badly, in the same place we were hurt as a child, that we never want to venture out again. We may never tell a joke, date, kiss, dance or sing again.
No, the healing comes if we are able to relive our past traumas or walk towards those fires as our adult selves, our mature selves, our recovered selves – not perfect but with a reasonable degree of healing under our belts. With healthy foundations of self-love, self-care, self-esteem and self-confidence, with a strong emotional core, and with some good support around us.
If we can do this work on ourselves first and get the support we need, then we can walk towards the fire knowing that whatever happens, we’ll be OK.
And this, dear friend, offers us the most incredible opportunity to heal our early wounds and grow into the person we were always meant to be.
I did this last weekend.
I walked towards the fire.
I stepped far out of my comfort zone and into a situation that had triggered me and hurt me in the past.
But I did so with strong foundations, in a safe space and surrounded by supportive people.
And it was a true gift. A revelation, in fact.
One of the best opportunities for healing I’ve had in a long time.
I was on a singing, sound healing and painting retreat in the New Forest with the wonderful Sarah Warwick and a small group of lovely, supportive people.
It may sound idyllic, but singing has mixed memories for me.
I used to love singing as a toddler. I’d sit in the back of the car (apparently), singing away to myself, making my own music, not a care in the world.
But then the cares developed, and they multiplied.
At junior school, there was a choir incident that knocked my confidence. My memory is sketchy but I recall being asked to leave, I think because I was laughing, but maybe I thought it was because of my singing too.
Around that time, I was given a label by those around me, a label that read: Katherine can’t sing. Incidentally, my mother was given the same label.
It was relayed to me as fact that the musical talent had been reserved for the male members of the family – my dad was a successful, semi-professional jazz musician who played the guitar and banjo and sang for more than half a century. The Beatles supported Dad’s band, The Merseysippi Jazz Band. They won a BBC Jazz Heritage Award, they played in America every year, at Wembley Stadium and with Louis Armstrong. Some act to follow! My brother sang and played in bands too.
Yet, it was said that I couldn’t sing. I had other talents but singing wasn’t one of them. I could only sit in the audience and watch.
So my singing was reserved for karaoke, which I absolutely loved and continue to love (we had karaoke at our wedding) but I would only ever do karaoke as a duet or as a group, too scared to go it alone.
Despite my shaky confidence and challenging experiences, the desire to sing stayed with me, hovering beneath the surface for many years and then emerging more strongly after I began my personal development and healing journey some 20 years ago. Over time, it became impossible to ignore.
As I reconnected with my true self and true spirit and as I grew in self-esteem and confidence, I dared to sing. I joined a few choirs in London, generally hiding amongst the stronger voices, and I am now singing in two choirs here in Dorset, The Funky Little Choir and The Funky Little Beach Choir, still a little low on confidence but doing it anyway.
I signed up to Sarah’s singing retreat because I know that singing is one of my paths to healing.
I was right.
Two momentous things happened on the singing retreat:
1) I courageously stepped into the middle of a group of people I’d only just met and composed a tiny song with melodies that everyone could join in. My song went like this:
Woman on the verge.
Wants to Fly.
Now imagine those four lines sung in different harmonies by eight people. It was an incredible, empowering experience, given my fraught relationship with singing in public and my fears of being mocked (nobody mocked me – I received only praise and encouragement).
The second breakthrough came the next day when we did some toning in a circle. I’d never done this before. Basically, you hold the same note as a group, singing to oooh for the entire breath, then you move up and down the scale, holding other notes, in unison.
Well, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hold the note steady. My voice wobbled all over the place and I felt stupid, foolish, like I didn’t know what I was doing. A big lump formed in my throat. I started to cry. I wanted to run away and hide (a familiar feeling from my past).
But I didn’t run and hide. I stayed in the circle.
And the group gave me space to share what was going on inside – to share the pain, to share the memories, to share how small and scared I felt. And with the sharing came the healing.
I had been hugely triggered. I had relived a painful experience from my childhood, singing in public, exposing myself to potential ridicule.
But I had healthy foundations, emotional resilience and I was in a safe space with supportive people.
So not only did I survive the experience but I thrived through it – I had what felt like a massive breakthrough.
I even emerged from that retreat thinking that I want to write songs, which is an astonishing development given my early relationship with music and singing.
This healing is a gift, and it’s a gift that’s available to you too.
Whatever your particular fire, you can walk towards it and heal.
It may be public speaking, singing, painting, dancing, writing, multiple arithmetic, telling jokes in public, or dating.
Whatever makes you want to run for the hills, that’s your own particular fire.
Once you’ve identified your fire, you can take the following steps:
First, lay your foundations. Make sure you are in a good place emotionally, with a reasonable level of self-awareness, self-esteem and healing behind you.
Secondly, check you’re not going off too soon, before you’re ready. Make sure you have step one – your solid foundations – in place first.
Thirdly, gather some good support around you. Line up people you can trust and lean into.
Fourthly, walk towards your fire.
And fifthly, experience your breakthrough. Savour and celebrate it.
Now when I say breakthrough, please know that it may hurt. It may be messy. But if you have followed the steps above, you will be fine and you will heal and grow. And this breakthrough will pave the way for another breakthrough and then another.
The pain, provided you can manage it, will be your greatest gift.
Here’s a practical example of the above:
You are scared of dating because you’ve been wounded before but you take the first three steps above and then you walk towards the fire – you go on a date.
As it turns out, the other person isn’t too healthy (we can’t always spot this from afar – give yourself a break) and they disappoint you or reject you or dismiss you or ghost you or let you down in some way.
This hurts, but it doesn’t hurt anything like that initial rejection, that early wound, because you have built your foundations and you have a great support network. You bounce back in two days and realise you’ve grown from the experience, so you date again and this date isn’t great either but you learn something more and after a few more dates, and perhaps a relationship that doesn’t work out but feels like a positive experience, you strike gold.
And you wouldn’t have struck gold if you’d decided to stay home.
You wouldn’t have struck gold if you’d chosen to avoid the fire.
Just like I wouldn’t have struck gold and healed some of my deepest singing wounds if I hadn’t booked onto that retreat.
Incidentally, and because I’m running a retreat myself in October and I know how hard it is to invest in ourselves, this is what happened to me before the retreat.
I saw it in my inbox and felt excited. It spoke to me.
Then my fear kicked in – I can’t afford it. It’s not really for me. I don’t like this bit or that bit etc.
Then my recovery kicked in – Go, Katherine. Give yourself this gift.
I paid up.
Then the doubts kicked in – I wish I wasn’t going, I can’t afford it. I want to stay home with my husband and pup etc.
But I went and I had a breakthrough.
I offer breakthroughs on my retreats, if you’re in the market for a breakthrough yourself.
Because as I experienced this past weekend and as I’ve seen on the eight or nine retreats I’ve run so far, there is something incredibly powerful about being seen and heard, being witnessed, crying with others, being hugged and reassured and accepted for who we are.
There is something so powerful about working through our issues in community, in relationship with others.
As I always say, our hurt happens in relationship and our healing happens in relationship too.
We can heal together.
I send you strength, courage and support as you prepare to walk towards your fires.
I’ve been writing this blog for eleven years and every post represents a small step on my journey of emotional maturity.
I started blogging here at 40 as I confronted the reality of being a single, childless woman whose career – the career she’d given her twenties and thirties to in an all-consuming way – had gone awry.
I had a reasonable idea back then about some of the things that were blocking me from true emotional maturity. By the time I started this blog, I’d already been recovering from an eating disorder and codependency for some years. I’d already lost my dad. And I’d already burnt out in my job.
So I’d done a fair bit of emotional processing.
But I didn’t know the true scale of what I was dealing with, nor did I know that it would take me many more years of consistent personal development work and healing to be able to have a healthy relationship with myself and a loving, long-lasting partnership with another.
Nor did I quite realise that growing emotionally and becoming more available to my feelings would be a lifelong journey, something I’d need to keep working on for many more years to come.
So it is that I write to you having just turned 51.
I am in a very different place to when I turned 41, which was, I recall, a difficult day.
My 40th had been a breeze. I held a big party with my friends and bought a new frock (don’t you love that word, frock?). I felt young, healthy and upbeat about the future. I didn’t dwell on my single and childless status. I was enjoying my single London life. I’d also just started this blog and was loving writing it and connecting with my lovely readers.
Turning 41 was a different kettle of fish.
How on earth had I ended up here? I asked as I cried onto my pyjamas (this scene will be familiar if you’ve read my book, How to Fall in Love). The silence in my North London attic flat was deafening. No partner to bring me breakfast in bed. No patter of tiny feet on my wooden floors. A cavernous emptiness inside.
Fast forward ten years to the morning of my 51st. I woke up in a beautiful wooden cabin in Devon with my husband of nearly three years and our gorgeous cocker spaniel, Layla. We walked the dog in the dunes of Saunton Sands, went body boarding and soaked in a hot tub on the decking, before going out for a meal.
A very different picture. A joyous picture.
Yet I’m the same woman.
Despite the wonderful company I now have, the old coping mechanisms I developed in childhood are never very far away and I have to be constantly vigilant, lest I fall back into a dark place.
I have to practice my morning meditation, keep up my beach walks and sea swims and remind myself to be grateful for what I have, rather than always hankering after the things I don’t have.
I have to be wary of the compulsive wanting, the dissatisfaction, the soul sickness.
I also have to keep working on my recovery, my healing and my emotional maturity. I have to stay connected to my feelings.
I may have fallen in love, but without emotional maturity and a connection to my feelings, I can easily sabotage the beautiful relationship I have built.
I came close to doing this on the eve of our birthday weekend in Devon. I lashed out in anger and frustration at my wonderfully patient husband and my gorgeous golden puppy.
My blood boiled, steam came out of my ears and I raised my voice.
The surface reason is because both he and she did something that I found annoying.
But the deeper reason is that I was feeling stressed and scared, which I realise now happens to me every time I take time off work and go away (holidays are a trigger from my childhood – I feel much safer glued to my desk). And instead of feeling my feelings and processing them, I chose to act out on them in my closest relationships.
In that heated moment, I chose to blame others rather than look at myself.
This is an example of emotional unavailability. I wasn’t available to my own feelings. I didn’t make space for my emotions. I didn’t take the time to realise I was feeling scared and anxious and to soothe my frightened inner child. I just stayed busy and kept working, piling one task on top of another until the accumulated steam blew the lid off my internal pressure cooker and my emotions came out sideways, at sharp angles, like daggers or arrows, directed at those I love.
Thankfully, I’ve been on my personal development journey long enough to realise quickly that I am acting out on uncomfortable feelings.
Within minutes, I apologised to my husband and to the pup. Within minutes, I understood that I needed to process my own feelings rather than hurl them around the room.
Thank goodness for my self-awareness.
Emotional availability is a journey, not a destination, and it’s progress not perfection.
As many of you know, I spent almost two decades completely detached from my emotions, binge eating, binge drinking, smoking, over-exercising, over-working, courting danger and drama, getting into relationship scrapes.
There was no way I could have sustained a healthy relationship during those years. I was completely disconnected from myself.
So much has changed.
Yet I am still capable of shutting down my emotions.
I am still capable of lashing out at others, of blaming others, rather than taking responsibility for my own feelings and my own healing.
Without this awareness, I wouldn’t know to apologise. I would push my husband away and my marriage would come crashing down.
I’m only one step away from major self-sabotage.
Thank goodness I don’t take my recovery and healing for granted.
It’s one thing to build sufficient emotional availability to fall in love, but staying in love is a whole other ball game. I’ll get round to writing ‘How to Stay in Love’ eventually – I’m still gathering information!
Now, over to you.
How is your emotional availability, dear reader?
Are you present to your feelings? Are you aware of what’s going on inside? Do you process your feelings and allow them to heal, or do they come out sideways, in judgement, criticism or attack (attacking yourself or attacking others), or do they stay stuck inside, stuffed down, smothered with excess food, alcohol, TV, work or something else?
Remember, we are always growing and learning. Every day, we can start afresh.
Emotional availability is on my heart right now, and not just because of these recent experiences. I’m preparing to host a workshop on the topic of How to Find an Emotionally Available Partner. If this topic resonates with you, it would be lovely to see you on the workshop. You can find the details below.
Thanks, as always, for reading. I hope this blog has helped you to grow.
Events & Resources
How to Find an Emotionally Available Partner is a live, interactive workshop for women that happens on Friday March 25th at 12 noon GMT (8 am EST) and is repeated on Tuesday March 29th at 5 pm BST (UK time) and 12 noon EST. Limited places. Save your seat here.
When we think of self-love, we naturally think of massages and bubble baths.
And don’t get me wrong, I love a good soak and I adore being massaged.
But self-love, in my book, goes way beyond that.
And it might not look so fluffy and pink.
It might not be so pretty and perfect.
When I think about my biggest acts of self-love, they’ve involved true grit.
They’ve involved facing my fears and wrestling with my demons.
They’ve involved making mistakes and occasionally getting mud on my face (which is where the bubble bath comes in handy).
Without self-love, I wouldn’t have been able to finish and publish my book or to continue to write my novel (I have 60,000 words and counting – woo hoo!).
Instead, I would still be working in a profession that I no longer enjoyed, in a career that had once excited me but that had consumed me, drained me until I was empty.
Without self-love, I wouldn’t have found the courage to work through my love avoidance and attachment issues and to commit to a relationship and later a marriage (and believe me, my journey to love was a bumpy road).
I would still be single, finding fault with every man I met, always looking for someone else, for some fantasy Mr. Right, thinking the problem was entirely with the guys I dated rather than partially inside me.
Without self-love, I wouldn’t be charging a reasonable rate for my skills and experience in my coaching practice. (And I wouldn’t have added a donate button to this blog either!)
I’d be undervaluing myself at every turn and then feeling resentful that I am not earning what I deserve.
Without self-love, I would have stayed silent and not voiced my needs and wants in so many situations, only to take my anger out on myself later, through over-eating or some other self-harming behaviour.
Self-love is the pink, fluffy stuff, yes.
Self-love involves massages, bubble baths and moisturising our skin; walks in the sunshine, days on the beach; delicious, nourishing food, retreat days, spa weekends, phone calls with amazing friends.
Self-love is self-acceptance, self-compassion and gentleness.
And I still struggle to be gentle with myself, to go easy on myself, to show myself compassion.
I am a work in progress, so much better than I used to be and still quite a way to go.
But self-love is also the bold, courageous, dream-making, vision-realising stuff.
At least it is in my book.
It’s when we speak our truth, stand tall as our authentic selves and go all out for our deepest desires.
So let’s start with the baths and the massages.
Let’s wrap ourselves in fluffy dressing gowns.
Let’s buy ourselves flowers.
Let’s take long breaks from work.
Let’s walk in the sunshine.
Let’s build a strong foundation of self-love – the strongest we can possibly build.
Then let’s use this foundation as a wonderful, stable, solid platform from which to launch ourselves towards our dreams, whether they be dreams of a loving relationship, a healthier body, a more authentic career or a more fulfilling life.
*** Self-Love Workshop This Sunday February 13th ***
Join me this Sunday, February 13th, at 5 pm UK time (12 noon EST) for a special self-love session with a special group of women. This is an interactive online session designed to support you to understand why you sometimes struggle to love yourself and how you can deepen your loving relationship with yourself. Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about the workshop. Join here.
If you’d like to support my creative writing, you can do so on this page.
Mid-January. Dark mornings. Bleak skies. And the first anniversary of Mum’s death.
A week to be endured and quickly forgotten.
Instead, it was a memorable and magical week.
Because I gave myself space.
Space to feel my feelings.
Space to honour my grief.
Space to commemorate Mum.
Space to celebrate her life.
Space to celebrate my life and the joy of being alive.
Space to experience all the love I have around me.
It’s hard to give ourselves space. It’s hard to take time off work, especially when we are self-employed, running a business we feel passionate about, and especially when we have used work for most of our lives to escape our true feelings, to numb the fear and avoid the pain, as I have done.
But I have learned so much over the many years of my healing journey and my courage continues to grow. More and more, I am able to act in my best interests rather than act against them, as I did for so long.
So last week, around the anniversary of Mum’s death, I gave myself the precious gift of space, and as I did so, God, the Universe and Everything responded in kind.
The weather was glorious, stunning blue-sky days and wall-to-wall sunshine, providing the perfect backdrop for beach walks, sea swims and a magnificent excursion to Durdle Door with my husband and pup.
There, I took the plunge in honour of life, in honour of being alive.
I swam naked in shallow waters at the far end of the beach, the seaweed gliding across my skin and wrapping around my limbs, the rocks on the sea bed almost grazing my nipples, high on the thrill of the cold, laughing at the craziness of it all.
Mid-January. A Thursday afternoon. Skinny dipping on a deserted stretch of beach just along from one of Dorset’s prime tourist attractions. A year to the day since my mother died.
The day before had been miraculous too – the last day I’d seen Mum alive this time last year. I took an early sea dip and then went to sing in a choir, silencing those inner voices that told me that it was a Wednesday morning and I should be at work.
On the way back, uplifted by the singing, I heard a segment on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show that spoke to me.
Before I go on, it feels important to tell you that Jeremy Vine was Mum’s favourite show on Radio 2. She listened to it religiously, volume turned down low, her ear close to the radio so as not to make too much noise (Mum didn’t like disturbing anyone). In fact, she was most put out when she arrived in the care home, her final home, and discovered that lunch was at 12 pm – but that’s when Jeremy Vine is on!
The segment in question was discussing life transformation. It featured Craig Oliver, a former Director of Politics and Communications for British Prime Minister David Cameron, talking about his new podcast, Desperately Seeking Wisdom.
Tina Daheley, standing in for Jeremy Vine, invited people who’d chosen a simpler life to contact the show. I emailed in and five minutes later, I was on air.
You can hear my interview (available for the next few weeks) via the following link (I appear 1 hour, 23 mins and 20 seconds in to the show): The Jeremy Vine Show, Jan 12th.
This interview reminds me of a number of things:
To trust myself, my skills, my knowledge and my expertise.
To go for it, no matter what the voices inside my head tell me.
That you have to be in it to win it and it’s always worth a try.
That visions work (high on my visions list for 2022 was to use my voice more in broadcast media – this is my second BBC Radio interview this year).
And that self-care pays dividends.
I could have been sat at my desk, desperately trying to come up with ideas to let the world know about my work and my words. Instead, I took a day off, had fun and, on the way back from my fun, got myself on national radio, with minimal effort.
I deserve to remind myself of these truths whenever I am pushing or striving or trying too hard to control outcomes and whenever I am putting work or others’ needs above my self-care and wellbeing.
I hope this post and the pictures below inspire you to do the same.
I scribbled the bulk of that blog, the part about losing Mum, in a notebook late one night through tears. The feelings were raw and I just had to write them down.
Sometimes I wonder why I do this, why I bear my soul to the world, but I need to. I need to be witnessed, to be seen, in all my messiness, perhaps because I wasn’t entirely seen when I was younger, perhaps because my messiness, my extremes of emotion, weren’t acceptable.
So I share them all with you, because it’s cathartic for me and, so some of you tell me, it helps you too.
On that note, I want to share how excited I am that one of my delightful readers donated to me via my donations page on this blog today, and an amount that blew me away. I felt so moved, so touched.
I’ve been writing here for so many years, more than ten in fact, thousands upon thousands of words, pouring my feelings onto the page, processing my losses and I hope, helping you to process yours. When you comment or donate, it gives me such a warm, fuzzy feeling inside and confirms I’m on the right path, finding purpose in my pain.
Thank you so much for reading and for supporting me. It means a lot.
Now back to Christmas.
So there’s loss, lots of it. There’s love too, of course, but where there is love, there is loss.
It hurts to get in touch with our losses, which is why so many of us try to avoid them, especially at this time of year. We over-eat or over-indulge with alcohol to numb our feelings. We get extra busy, running around buying gifts or cleaning the house, so we don’t have to feel. We work too hard, which is what I’m doing right now, to distract from the feelings. (I was supposed to wrap work up yesterday but here I am again).
What’s the answer?
For me, the answer is to try and practise Christmas presence (I have my therapist Paul Sunderland to thank for this fitting phrase, which he shared with me in our last session of the year this week.)
What does Christmas presence look like?
It means being present to my feelings, all of them, including the uncomfortable ones.
It means avoiding the behaviours that take me away from myself – the eating, over-working, running around, the control.
It means being entirely present with the people I am spending Christmas with, my husband, a few friends and our gorgeous pup, Layla Joy.
It means taking myself away from the hubbub if required, to a quiet space so that I can process any feelings that come up, so that I can honour them, rather than dismiss them or numb them.
What would it look like for you? Have a think and comment below.
Before I go, one more suggestion: to celebrate your successes as we wrap up 2021.
You can’t think of any? I know that one. It happened to me too. At first, I couldn’t think of any successes and then I remembered that my mum died this year and that I am still standing – that’s a success. If all I had done was get to the end of this year without crumbling, then that would be a victory.
But I also wrote 50,000 words of my novel. Yay! And I brought a puppy into my life, Layla Joy – facing my fears around commitment and making the wrong choice.
Importantly, I stayed in love with my husband and maintained our beautiful relationship, despite numerous challenges, many of them related to the pup!
I made time to visit a sick friend twice.
I also hosted my How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations and Date with Courage, Clarity and Confidence courses for groups of women. Success! And I hosted a How to Fall in Love Retreat. Success!
I’ve touched people’s lives, helped women to find more clarity, more contentment, more self-compassion, more courage and for some, a loving relationship. Yay!
And I kept writing this blog. Amazing.
All in the year my mum died. I’d say that was a victory.
So how about you? Can you celebrate your successes? If you can’t think of any, think again! Share below if you’d like to.
I will finish this blog here so that I can wrap up work as soon as I can and start practising Christmas presence myself.
Sending you love, peace, joy and hope
Support my writing& my work
Donate – You’ll find a donate button in the right sidebar or on this page. (If you are donating on a mobile, the screen will go black when you hit donate and then you need to scroll up to the top of the screen to find the box to enter your card details. It’s a bit tricky, but doable when you know how!) By donating, you support me to create more space in my life for my writing. That means more blogs and more books. I have a novel on the go and a book on emotional overeating in progress. You can donate as little as £1 or as much as you like. Thank you for your kind contributions.
Read and review my book – My first book, How to Fall in Love, is available on Amazon and most other platforms. If you’ve read it and liked it, please do leave a review. Reviews help other readers to find my work.
Hire me as a speaker – I speak to schools, universities and organisations on wellbeing, self-care, self-esteem, managing stress and healing from compulsive and addictive behaviours including eating disorders. Click here for more details.
They say we teach what we need to learn and I know that to be true.
I’ve been teaching people about self-love and self-care for many years, first informally, by supporting others who were on a similar healing journey to me, recovering from eating disorders and other self-harming behaviours, and then professionally, through my coaching, writing and speaking business.
But it’s come to my attention that I need a paradigm shift in my life.
I need to step up my self-love and self-care, big time.
You’ll know if you’re a regular on this blog or follow me elsewhere that I’ve come a long way in this area. I no longer binge or starve or compulsively exercise or drink myself into a stupor or work 12-hour days or fall into bed with random strangers, all of which I did for many colourful and painful years.
So much has changed. I have worked hard on my healing.
But now I need to go deeper. I need to go further.
I have come to understand, thanks to my ongoing personal development journey and the excellent support I have from a therapist and various other people who are on my side, that despite the huge transformation that’s occurred, I have continued to engage in unhealthy behaviours that harm my body and my mind.
Primarily, I have frequently fallen into a flight routine, which is one of the coping mechanisms we adopt in response to traumatic events in our lives – the others being fight, freeze and fawn (these are the main ones – there’ll be more). I fall into these other three patterns too, but flight is my primary response.
Flight involves constant activity of the body and mind – always doing, always busy, always pushing, constantly trying to prove, trying to get somewhere or be something, alongside over-thinking, obsessing, worrying, planning and doubting.
Gosh, I’m exhausted just reading that back.
Again, all this is so much better than it used to be.
Back in the day, in my early to mid-30s, I would board a jet plane with the prime minister and a pack of fellow journalists and fly around the world, crossing numerous time zones and skipping sleep in favour of work. Always working. Never resting. Always worrying and second-guessing. Bingeing on sugar and carbs and drinking excess alcohol in a desperate bid to stay awake, to stay afloat and to cope with the terror I carried around inside. Did I deliver the right story? Did I beat the competition? Will they find out I’m an imposter, a fake, a fraud? Will I make a mistake and be told off?
In contrast, I start many of my mornings now with spiritual readings and meditation. I exercise most days (even if it’s just a dog walk or two), swim in the sea as often as I can and sleep a reasonable number of hours (except when the puppy is playing up). I eat pretty healthily, as a general rule, and try to avoid gluten because it irritates my tummy.
So far so good.
But sometimes, as the day goes on, I find myself wrapped up in too much activity, too much work, racing against the clock and battling against a feeling of overwhelm. How on earth am I going to get everything done in my business, around the home and with the pup? My stress and adrenaline levels start to rise and I grab handfuls of nuts, which I see as healthy snacks, on the move.
On some days, I buy a gluten free cake from Milko, the vegan cafe down the road, because I’m in need of a pick-me-up.
And on bad days, when the stress and adrenaline get the better of me, I throw the gluten-free diet out of the window and eat whatever I like, generally suffering afterwards with bloating, pain and digestive issues, which I now know contribute to other health complaints I’ve become aware of in recent years: a high degree of inflammation in my body, compromised immunity and joint pain.
Yes, dear Reader, I may look healthy on the outside (especially when I’ve just come out of the Saltwater Sauna, which we enjoyed on my Love Retreat a few weeks ago) but on the inside, my 50-year-old body is suffering from the effects of decades of high stress, high adrenaline, high anxiety and constant activity.
And it’s telling me that it’s time for change.
My digestion has been my weak point ever since I was a little girl, as it often is for those of us who experience any level of trauma in our childhoods. [As an aside, trauma takes many forms and if you relate to my writing on the flight, fight, freeze and fawn responses, I suggest you check out an excellent book by Pete Walker called Complex PTSD – From Surviving to Thriving.]
I remember sitting on the loo as a small child and my mum holding my hand as I struggled with constipation and I remember the diarrhoea that hit me on the mornings of my school exams. I couldn’t tell you what was happening to my gut and digestion during all the years I was bingeing, starving, abusing alcohol and vomiting because I was in deep denial. But it can’t have been pretty, can it?
I’ve been working on my diet and my digestion on and off for two decades, ever since a homeopath suggested I give up sugar and caffeine on my return to England after ten years of living abroad. I had a serious candida overgrowth and a bad case of labyrinthitis, an inner ear disorder that caused me to lose my balance.
But my attempts to heal my insides have generally been half measures and I haven’t sufficiently addressed one of the biggest causes of my digestive issues – my high adrenaline and stress levels.
I can’t put it off any longer.
If I want to resolve my joint pain and digestive issues, or at least improve them, I need to stop rushing and pushing and I need to prioritise calm and create space and time in my life for joy, for food preparation, for even healthier eating and for the right forms of exercise.
And to do so, I’m going to need to give up something that I’ve always been trying to get.
Giving Up the Impossible Dream
You see for years I’ve been trying to get what I didn’t get as a child – the kind of love and attention and care that I needed and wanted, a feeling of safety and security, a feeling of being seen and heard.
It’s this constant yet futile search to get what I didn’t get that set me up to push and strive and achieve and try to be the perfect journalist, author, blogger, coach, retreat host, friend, lover, wife, housekeeper, you name it.
It’s like a drug – this idea that if we can just be perfect or achieve something amazing we’ll get what we missed out on as a child is addictive. It’s hopium, as my therapist Paul Sunderland calls it. It takes us hostage until we finally become enlightened enough or defeated enough to set ourselves free.
I hope I’m getting there. I hope that I’m ready to let go entirely of the hopium and, in the process, slow down my life even further and give myself all the things I wished for as a child but didn’t get – reparent myself in other words, mother myself.
But I’m also a realist and I know it’s not going to be a straightforward path. I’m still ambitious and there is so much more I want to do – courses to run and retreats to host and books to write and knowledge to share and collaborations to explore. I have gifts and talents and I want to use them. I want to contribute to the world.
And I know many of you will feel the same. You have so much to give and offer and there just isn’t time.
You feel constantly overwhelmed, crowded and crammed, like you’re running a marathon while chasing your tail, like you’re surviving, barely, but not thriving.
And we so want to thrive, don’t we?
So where do we go from here?
Giving from the Overflow
In my case, I first have to fully accept that my desire to work and produce courses and books and have a positive impact on others has to come from the right place. I can’t allow the hopium to drive me anymore because if I do, I will burnout or fail. I have to stop looking for what I didn’t get, relax, kick back, create space, make soup and do my thing in a calm, balanced way, letting go of the outcome, letting go of the results, letting go of any need for you or anyone else to like me or to love me or to see me as I was never seen.
Because while it’s hard for me to let go of controlling outcomes and trying to control how others see me, I do actually believe that I will thrive if I let go – that my business will thrive and my clients will thrive and my writing will thrive and my body will thrive and that beautiful things will come.
And I believe the same for you.
I will leave you with the three priorities I have chosen for the near future – for the rest of this year and beyond.
Joy – I commit to focusing on fun and to saying Yes to all the things that make my heart soar, which include singing with others (I’m booked into a Christmas singing workshop with Sarah Warwick), doing disco yoga (I’m going to Groove Om with Pip next month) and dancing and laughing as often as I can.
Soulwork – I commit to deepening my connection with myself and my breath and to making choices going forwards that are guided from within.
Nurturing – I commit to making space in my life to nurture and nourish my body and my mind with healthy food that I prepare with patience and loving care. I intend to actually follow the advice my friend and health coach Kim Talbot has shared with me, actually watch the nutrition videos on the Change the Change course I won a place on and dust off my school friend Dr Hayley Tait’s plant-based cook book and a few others I have on the shelf. Yes it’s time I learned to cook, an activity that I’m sad to say always seemed such a waste of time when I could be working.
And now it’s over to you, dear Reader. Do you need to step up your self-care? And if so, what are your three priorities going forwards? Comment below. I’d love to hear.
PS In the interests of self-care, I’m posting this blog before it’s ready, without a final edit, trusting that my 80 percent is good enough. Would you like to do the same today – believe your 80 percent is good enough?
Support my writing& my work
Donate – after 10 solid years of blogging, I’ve finally added a donate button to this site. You’ll find it in the right sidebar or on this page. By donating, you support me to create more space in my life for my writing. That means more blogs and more books. I have a novel on the go (if you like my blogs, you’re going to love my novel!) and a book on emotional overeating in progress. You can donate as little as £1 or as much as you like. Thank you for your kind contributions.
Read and review my book – My first book, How to Fall in Love, is available on Amazon and most other platforms. If you’ve read it and liked it, please do leave a review. Reviews help other readers to find my work.
Hire me as a speaker – I speak to schools, universities and organisations on wellbeing, self-care, self-esteem, managing stress and healing from compulsive and addictive behaviours including eating disorders. Click here for more details.
I am a writer, coach, midlife mentor, motivational speaker and the author of How to Fall in Love - A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. I specialise in coaching women and men to have healthy relationships with themselves so that they can form healthy and loving romantic relationships and lead authentic, fulfilling lives. I coach 1:1, lead workshops and host retreats.