Ambivalence about motherhood

crossroads2

Whenever I do a short radio or TV interview, I come away wishing I’d said things differently and made my points more clearly and succinctly. In most cases, I come away wanting to write, wanting to make sense of my thoughts by putting them down on paper or computer.

So here I am.

Yesterday morning, I had the privilege of being on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour to discuss ambivalence about motherhood alongside the award-winning comedy writer Sian Harries. You can hear presenter Jane Garvey interviewing Sian and I on the Woman’s Hour podcast here. We begin 35 minutes in.

I’ve wanted to speak on Woman’s Hour for a long time, ever since I began to find my voice through this blog and write about things I truly cared about: eating disorders, addictions and self-harm, recovery, dysfunctional relationships, loneliness, singleness, the missing baby, grief, commitment-phobia and, in recent years, falling in love.

It’s hard, in a live radio interview of seven minutes or so, to tell the full story. And I’m not going to be able to tell the full story in this post either. I have my book, of course, which tells much of my story and talks about my ambivalence towards a relationship, as well as towards children, but you may not have read that, so I’ll attempt a precis now.

For the first, say, 34 years of my life, I wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in having children. I didn’t feel a yearning. I didn’t make any space in my life to think about them or plan for them.

I was too busy travelling and focusing on my career. I appreciate focusing on my career is one of those standard phrases people use about women who’ve been busy working rather than having children but my story is much more complex, as I imagine all our stories are.

I didn’t think about children because a) they simply weren’t on my radar and b) I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being tied down by kids when all I wanted to do was travel, have fun and work. I had no notion that children could be fun, bring joy and fulfillment and open us up to incredible experiences.

The messages I’d picked up as a child, being brought up by a single mum on low funds, was that children were a ball and chain around your neck, that they curtailed your career ambitions, drained your bank account and kept you home when you wanted to be out enjoying yourself. In short, they ruined your life. That sounds harsh and I’m not blaming anyone. That’s what I picked up. My brother has three wonderful kids, so he clearly didn’t absorb the same message as me. But then I’m female and my mum was a single mum who did most of the childcare. Dad carried on with his life.

So kids were not on my agenda. Neither was a relationship for that matter. I understood, based on my parents’ unhappy marriage and divorce, that relationships were a bad idea, that they ended in loss, misery and hardship. I picked up that men weren’t worth bothering with, that I’d be better off on my own. I took that message and ran with it.

I focused on my career because I was an intelligent, capable, adventurous woman who picked up foreign languages easily, loved to travel and managed to get incredible jobs doing exciting things (foreign correspondent in Mexico and Brazil, for example). It was the natural thing to do? Why wouldn’t I?

But I also focused on my career because I craved adrenaline, excitement, achievement and the approval of others. The adrenaline enabled me to numb or hide from my uncomfortable feelings while the approval of others went a small way towards filling the gaping hole I felt inside (the hole in the soul, as we say in recovery circles).

My low self-esteem and sense of imposter syndrome drove me to climb as high as I could so I could win as much adoration as I could, to try and feel better about myself, to try and feel worthwhile. Of course, no amount of approval or achievement was ever enough. The hole inside was love shaped. Just as I stuffed the hole with food to try and feel better, I also stuffed it with career success and an impressive CV. None of that actually changed how I felt inside, but I kept trying, doing the same thing and expecting different results.

As my mid-30s approached and I spent some time in a good relationship, I began to think about kids. By this time, I was in recovery from an eating disorder, although I was just at the start of what would turn out to be a journey of transformation. I began to think what it would be like to live in an idyllic cottage by the sea with a loving husband and a few little ones. Suddenly, family life seemed attractive. It also seemed like a good way to fix the emptiness I felt inside. My craving for family grew, which put a strain on my relationship. I needed to know. I needed to know now if he was ‘The One’ and if this was going to work out so I could get on and have that family I’d begun to dream about.

That relationship ended, for a number of reasons, opening the floodgates on years of grief and loss. My dad had died the year before and I hadn’t paused long to grieve, jumping into a romance instead, so it all came tumbling out. I had what some would call an existential crisis: what’s it all about, why am I here? I had what could be called a breakdown – I was signed off my big journalism job in parliament. Instead of going to press conferences in Downing Street, I sat on my bed and cried.

So for a few years, I had no choice but to focus on getting well and working on my recovery. As 40 approached, I began to think more about the absence of a partner and children, hence the start of this blog, posts like the baby gap, and articles about dating with baby goggles in the press.

As I hit 41, I didn’t feel ambivalent anymore about kids. I felt kind of desperate. Now my time was running out and I didn’t have anyone to date, never mind have a baby with. How on earth did I end up here with this amazing job, great CV and beautiful flat, but with no partner or kids?

I turned my baby angst into a project and began to research a book about it: The Baby Gap. I got an agent, but I didn’t get a publishing deal and I lost all my momentum. I still aim to finish that book, or a version of it. I tested my fertility, interviewed IVF doctors and women who’d had kids on their own by various means. I talked with counsellors about the prospect of becoming a single mum via IVF and ruled that out because of my mum’s experience. I dated but nothing worked out.

As my recovery deepened and I worked through a lot of my baggage with an excellent therapist, I began to understand that the emptiness I felt inside was about much more than the missing baby, and that a child might not change the way I was feeling. In fact, it could make it worse. I needed to re-parent myself first.

I began to fill myself up from the inside out and create my own happiness. I learned to soothe myself. I reconnected with the things I used to love doing as a kid – cycling, camping and being outdoors. I began to explore a different, more fulfilling career. The hole in the soul got smaller. The craving died down. I became more self-aware.

At 42, I decided to stop over-thinking my life, shelve my baby angst for a while and date a man I found attractive but who didn’t want kids. We had a wonderful time but I ended it after a few months because I thought I still wanted a shot at motherhood.

In therapy, I was starting to explore my ambivalence, towards everything in life and especially towards a relationship. I understood how scared I was of commitment and of love because my first experience of love with a man – with my dad – ended in heartache and loss. I also began to delve into my ambivalence around motherhood. Did I really want a child? Was I ready to have a child? Did my own inner child need more attention first? Did I just want a child to fit in and to feel like I belonged?

At 43, having failed to find anyone I liked more than my ex-partner and having realised I had my own deep ambivalence about kids, I went back to him and we committed to each other. Nine months later, I moved to Dorset. Less than a year after that, we bought a house.

All the while, my therapist helped me keep my ambivalence in check. He helped me to see that I found fault in my partner and wanted to run away and find someone else because I was scared – terrified of commitment, of intimacy, of love and of potential hurt. He also helped me to understand that the baby obstacle that stood between us had been a convenient excuse to avoid getting involved and that deep down, I was unsure about children myself.

I’m now engaged to be married to my partner. I’m 46 and we don’t have kids. Most of the time, I absolutely love my life. I love my freedom and I love my work. I get to write from the heart and I get to coach others to create wonderful lives and find love. I’m doing things I’ve always wanted to do but have been scared to do in the past. I’m using my voice. I’m working at something I love. I’m speaking on Woman’s Hour and at events with Psychologies magazine. I’m running retreats by the sea in Dorset and will soon run them abroad. I’ve published a book and want to write more. Wow. It truly is amazing. And I mean that. I really do mean that.

Sometimes, when I walk down the steps to the beach and look out to sea, I feel so much joy I could cry. I created this life. I did this.

At other times, though, it doesn’t feel enough. I see pregnant women all around me and I begin to question my life. How come I didn’t get to do that? I’ll never know how it feels to grow a baby inside my tummy or be a mum. I’ll never have a family of my own, beyond our family of two (or maybe three if we get a dog). I’m missing out big time.

I had one of my biggest meltdowns just the other night, ironically the evening before I was going on Woman’s Hour to discuss ambivalence about motherhood.

To set the scene, I was already feeling hyper-sensitive. We’d been discussing Christmas, a time of year when I really feel the absence of a family of my own, the absence of our own kids in our own house. A time when I find it virtually impossible not to feel like my life is less than others’, smaller, less complete, less joyous, even though I know people with kids and families struggle with their own stuff and that nothing is as it seems on the surface or on Facebook. So I was already feeling vulnerable.

We then went to a drinks party. There were only seven other people in the room besides us, one was a gorgeous toddler and two were pregnant women. Suddenly, I felt like a green-eyed monster, like there was something very wrong with me, with us, for not joining in, for not doing the baby thing that so many couples do, for not having that experience.

Later that night, grief hit me like a fast-moving truck. It would be simple to say the grief was about not having a child but I know myself better than that. The grief was too big, the sobs too loud, the pain too raw to be about that alone.

It was grief for all the losses, for the fact that I had no choice but to spend years of my adulthood re-parenting myself and healing my past in order to get to a place to even have a loving relationship. Grief that I only got there at 43, not at 33 or 36. Grief that if we’d had more years, we might have had children. Grief over my upbringing and my partner’s early experiences, which for some reason, put him off parenting.

Sadness. Horrible, heavy sadness. That my life hasn’t been ‘normal’. That I haven’t had the chance to do the ‘normal’ things that others do. That there’s something I’ll never know or experience. The tears and whirring thoughts kept me up most of the night.

And now that tsunami of emotion has passed, how do I feel?

Better. More like me again. Keen to finish this blog, get on with my work and then get to the beach. Excited to work on all the things you’ll see mentioned at the bottom of this post.

And ambivalent. Yes, still ambivalent about motherhood. Which would be funny if it wasn’t a little bit sad. If you gave me the opportunity to have a baby today, what would I say? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’m on the fence.

In preparation for my Woman’s Hour interview, I did my research. I read articles. Here’s one of the many I found – Love and regret: mothers who wished they hadn’t had children. I checked in with honest friends with kids. For some, ambivalence doesn’t go away after you have children. I saw my mum in those articles and those messages from friends – loving us like mad, of course, but questioning, regretting perhaps, wondering what if.

I read about drudgery, boredom, loss of identity, isolation, self-doubt, loss of freedom and never-ending sacrifice. I also read about the fireworks that go off in your heart, about a profound and satisfying experience, about a love that beats all other loves and makes you a better person.

So where do we go from here?

I clearly have more processing to do. Ambivalence is a difficult place to be. You can only sit on a fence for so long before it really starts to hurt.

The important thing, no matter where we are – with kids, without kids, still with the option or with the door now closed – is to try and make a choice, for the sake of our own sanity and happiness, and perhaps for the sake of our relationships, if we’re in one.

If it feels the choice we want to make is no longer within our grasp for whatever reason (to be a mum or not to be a mum), we have to try and embrace where we are and accept where we’ve ended up. We have to grieve the losses as best we can – give them space and time – and then try and live with ‘what is’ rather than always chasing ‘what if’. This choice isn’t a one-off thing. We make it, then unmake it. Our feelings ebb and flow like the tide, but perhaps with every movement, we get closer to resolution.

If we’re still deciding whether to try for motherhood or not, I believe we have to get out of our heads and into our hearts. I’m a huge over-thinker. I try to work stuff out. I’m a journalist. I do my research. I ask questions. What do you think? What did you do?

But the answer, I believe, lies with our intuition, with our hearts. And we connect to that sacred, wise place by quietening down and sitting still.

I was re-reading my book on the train back from London yesterday with a view to updating and re-releasing it in February. I’ve always thought my first chapter goes on a bit, but I was struck by how much sense it makes and how important that first step is. The answer lies in stepping inside and connecting to ourselves, in understanding what lies within – fear, pain, grief, sadness, negative beliefs or fixed ways of thinking that are stopping us from moving forward with our lives.

We have to feel it to heal it. We have to be aware of it to change.

No wonder I couldn’t summarise how I feel about this topic in a few minutes on Woman’s Hour. It’s massive. I’m close to 3,000 words and I could carry on. It’ll be a miracle if you’re still here, still reading. But if you want to read more, try my book. I write about ambivalence – how I overcame it in my relationship and how it relates to motherhood – throughout the book, but especially from pages 205 to the end. I also have a blog on ambivalence from 2013 here if you’re not tired of reading yet.

If you’ve stayed with me to the end, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please do comment or get in touch x

****

Dates for your diary:

Free live video workshops on Dec 19 on Letting Go, Moving Forwards and on Jan 4 on Creating the Life & Love You Want in 2018.

How to Fall in Love six-week course starts Jan 8.

There are a few rooms left on my Jan 12-14 How to Fall in Love retreat.

I’m doing a London talk – Fall in with yourself, with life and with another – in partnership with Psychologies and NOW Live events on Feb 12. I’ll also be doing a Facebook Live on Psychologies page on Feb 14.

Advertisements
Posted in Addiction, Childless, codependency, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Dream Big

RetreatBeach1

This blog post is for you if you dream of a different life or a different career. If you dream of having more freedom and more time. If you’re sat in an office and you really want to be outside. If you’re commuting on a bus but really want to be walking along a beach. If you’re struggling along on a low income but want to live an abundant life.

I had a dream once, to be a journalist, to be paid to travel, report and write. My ultimate dream was to work for the global news agency Reuters or the BBC. I shared this dream with my tutor in my final year at Oxford University, shortly before I got a 2:1 degree in Modern Languages.

You know what she said?

Don’t bother, don’t try, or words to that effect. You won’t get into Reuters or the BBC, she advised. They won’t give you a second look. She said I should have been involved in journalism at Oxford, writing for student newspapers or working for student radio stations, instead of playing lacrosse, football, rowing and drinking beer. Without that experience, I could kiss goodbye to my dream, she told me.

She was probably right with her initial assessment. Reuters and the BBC were heavily over-subscribed. They were likely looking for students with journalism experience as well as for graduates who could speak more exotic languages than French and Spanish (Chinese and Arabic, for example). I don’t begrudge her for saying it how it was.

But where was her creativity? Where was her encouragement? And why didn’t she spot my creativity, determination, ambition and ability to make things happen, and encourage those qualities in me?

I remember feeling downhearted after that meeting. I felt even worse after a meeting with the careers’ advisory service. My adviser suggested that a career in insurance, perhaps based back in Liverpool, from where I’d come, would suit me.

Were these advisers terribly short-sighted or was I giving off unambitious vibes? It wouldn’t surprise me if I’d emanated a feeling of not being good enough or of not belonging or of wanting to run away and hide.

I didn’t feel good enough. I didn’t feel like I belonged among those dreaming spires, and I often wanted to run and hide. But beneath my insecurities, there was an incredibly capable and creative woman. I know that now.

I found my own way into Reuters, via the back door, so to speak. I picked up a rucksack, travelled alone to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and the U.S., working at odd jobs as I went along, and then into Mexico, where I began working for English language newspapers in Mexico City, before landing a trainee and then correspondent role with Bloomberg and ultimately, a correspondent position with Reuters in Brazil. From there, I moved to London with Reuters and worked for six years in parliament.

I got in, my own way. Since then I’ve written for the national press and appeared on BBC TV and radio. In fact, this Monday December 11th, I’ll be speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour (on ambivalence about motherhood – I’ll come back to that in a moment). These are all institutions that seemed out of reach to me, and that were out of reach, if I’d listened to my Oxford tutor and that careers adviser.

As I write, I’m also reminded of the time I tried, with the help of a literary agent, to get a book published. On my behalf, she approached the biggest and brightest of the publishing world. I thought a book deal was in the bag. I could see my book (about the baby gap) in the window of Waterstones. But they all said no. Thanks but no thanks. Lovely writing, great topic, but not for us. All the doors closed.

I lost my confidence. The publishers were right and I was wrong, I decided. I was not a writer after all. I hoped my agent would help keep my spirits up. I hoped she’d reassure and encourage me. And I expected her to show some creativity, to guide me into publishing via different, less established routes. But my agent went quiet. In fact, she went AWOL for a while (I believe she was dealing with some personal issues). I hung on to her despite her absence, believing I didn’t have the right to fire my agent, believing I was so lucky to have one that I’d better endure being stood up at a cafe or not replied to by email. Just like I needed my tutor’s backing to apply for Reuters all those years earlier, I needed my agent and the big publishers to tell me I was OK and my book was worth publishing. Without their approval, I lost my way.

And then, earlier this year, I found my confidence, momentum and self-belief. I wrote a different book – How to Fall in Love – and published it myself. I finally believed in myself enough to put my work out there. I stopped waiting for others to give me permission. I went for it, like I’ve rarely gone for anything before.

That act of pure faith in myself, in my talents, in my craft was the start of some amazing things. I got engaged a week after publication for a start! My book got a plug in the Daily Mail and was featured in Psychologies magazine. I spoke on the radio. And now I’m on Woman’s Hour on Monday. Plus, I’ll be doing a talk in partnership with Psychologies on Feb 12th, as well a Facebook live on Psychologies’ page on Valentine’s Day (when I’m re-releasing my book).

So it’s been well worth believing in myself and publishing my book.

As my book dream became a reality, other dreams began to surface. I had an idea of running a retreat, of bringing women to the beautiful part of Dorset where I live, of leading them in guided meditation along the beach, of going in the sea with any crazy ladies who’d join me and of facilitating exercises that would help them open up, let go, understand themselves and others better, identify and remove blocks to love and feel more loveable. My first retreat was a success. My New Year retreat is Jan 12-14. In the spring, there’ll be longer retreats with activities like paddle boarding. And there’ll be retreats abroad with yoga and relaxation.

I remember when I first thought about running retreats. I was on a holistic holiday on the island of Skyros in Greece. I’d signed up to some group healing. I looked at the man who was leading the group. I want to be in your place, I thought. I want to be leading groups. And now I am.

So where do you want to be? Who do you want to be? What do you want to be doing? What dreams are you holding? Are you going for them or are you telling yourself you’re not good enough? Are you waiting for someone to approve of you, to tell you you’re worthy or to champion your work?

It’s time to start championing yourself.

If you’d like help doing this, I have two free live video workshops coming up. On Dec 19th, I’ll be leading a workshop called Letting Go, Moving Forwards – recognising the importance of clearing out the old to make space for the new. And then on Jan 4th, I’ll be leading a workshop called Create The Life & Love You Want In 2018, where we’ll be identifying our heart’s desires and creating a plan to go for them. I’d love you to join me.

Before then, tune in to Woman’s Hour tomorrow or on catch-up. The topic is ambivalence about motherhood, which is something that’s followed me around for a long time. In fact, ambivalence is one of my core traits, which you’ll know from my previous blogs (here’s one on ambivalence from 2013) and from my book. I come up against it in so many areas – my approach to having children (I’m 46 and don’t have any and probably won’t, although I still find it hard to say I definitely won’t, even at this age), my relationship (I had to choose to commit to my partner or I would have stayed on the fence for ever), my work, my approach to success, and many other areas. I’m looking forward to discussing it.

Here’s to dreaming big in 2018 x

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Anger turned inwards

Anger

Anger is on my mind, as you’ll know if you read my previous post, ROAR!

Why is it that when everything in me is screaming, ‘That’s not OK!‘, or ‘You’ve got to be kidding’, or ‘WTF!’ (excuse my French), I smile and say ‘That’s OK’, or ‘Don’t worry about it’, or ‘I understand’?

Why is it that when I know instinctively that someone else has crossed a line or is taking the mick, my first reaction is to assume that I’m in the wrong, that it’s my fault?

I’m not the only woman (or man) to do this, as evidenced in this courageous piece of writing for The Guardian by my former Westminster colleague Jane Merrick, who Sir Michael Fallon MP, ex-Secretary of State for Defence, tried to kiss. Had I led him on in some way? She asked.

I must have done something wrong. It must be me.

In my case, this impulse to blame myself and to exonerate everyone else goes way back.

When I was a little girl, I spoke my truth to an adult. I said what was on my heart, freely, without censorship. I pointed out something that I didn’t think was right, that I didn’t think should be happening, that was making me sad. I must have been seven or so.

In response, I was shouted at, dismissed, told I’d got it wrong and that I shouldn’t be so stupid to suggest such a thing. I won’t go into details as it involves someone else’s story too but it was a frightening moment for me.

As a young, sensitive child who was still at the stage where I depended on adults for everything, for my very survival, that altercation, that flash of conflict had a damaging effect. There were other situations too, but this memory is especially vivid.

In that moment, I decided I would never speak up again. I’d never speak my truth. I’d never call anything out that I thought was wrong. It wasn’t safe to do so. I’d be met with anger. I might not survive.

What’s perhaps more damaging is that I also decided that my instinct couldn’t be trusted. That my feelings were wrong. That my gut told lies. That whenever I felt that tap on the shoulder suggesting something wasn’t as it should be, it was most likely I was mistaken and everyone else was right. I should ignore it. Whatever feelings were coming to the surface, I should push them back down.

The same goes for anger. Back in that moment when I was told off, I had every right to be angry. But it wasn’t safe to express it. At least, it didn’t feel safe. I felt the other person’s anger and assumed, as the child in front of the all-powerful adult, that their anger was justified while mine had no place.

And as I became scared of everyone else’s anger, I also became scared of mine.

So I swallowed my anger and I’ve been swallowing it ever since.

In my case, the phrase swallow my anger is pretty literal. I developed an eating disorder from a very young age. I began by starving, which, if you think about it, is an attempt to become small, to become less visible, to shrink, as well as an attempt to find some form of control. But then, at a crucial moment in my teens, I began to binge. I ate on my feelings. In fact, I ate my feelings. I stuffed them down with bread and sugar. I smothered my anger with food and an extra layer of fat, which gave me another reason to dislike, dismiss and mistrust myself.

I don’t do that anymore. I am pretty much free of any food obsession or any desire to stuff my feelings down. Yes, there are times when I’m tired or anxious when a little bit of extra food seems attractive and sometimes I succumb, but that’s fine. It’s nothing like it used to be. I don’t worry about it.

Unsurprisingly, as I’ve put the food down, the feelings have come up. That’s what happens. That’s why alcoholics, when they put down the drink, find they have a food problem, or vice versa, or why former druggies get addicted to running marathons. For some of us, feelings are intolerable so we’ll do anything to avoid them, moving from one substance or compulsive behaviour to the next. We keep switching crutches until we run out of choices and have to face our feelings and process our pain.

Initially, in the early days of my personal development journey, I felt grief, so much grief and loss that it floored me. So much pain and so many tears I thought I’d sprung a leak. I thought they’d never stop.

Much of that is out now. Much of that pain has been released, although there are always new layers of the onion to peel off. As an aside, if you have feelings to feel or grief to process, find some support. The feelings are there and they’re going to come out, one way or another, so get yourself into a safe space so that you can feel them. They won’t kill you. I know, it sometimes feels like they will. Believe me, I’ve cried from such a depth that it was frightening. I’ve howled. But the feelings didn’t kill me, although I was always scared they would. I came out the other side. You can do the same. But it’s good if we don’t do it alone.

As I say, much of mine is out (I hope), but what’s left, what’s still there and just making it’s way out is the anger.

ANGER.

I remember my very first therapist in the UK (I briefly saw one in Brazil before moving back here in 2002) mentioned anger to me and I couldn’t understand what she was talking about, at least not how it related to me. I don’t get angry. I don’t have any anger.

DENIAL.

I was in denial. I had stuffed it down, buried it inside, ignored it in whatever way I could.

I had turned it inwards – binge eating, binge drinking, a punishing exercise regime and an even more punishing work schedule. I had run from it, avoided it, distracted myself from it, and from all the other feelings I didn’t want to feel.

But I am finding my voice. And I’m finding my angry voice. I am connecting to my anger. I’m not about to explode or rage at people. My long journey of recovery has taught me to pause and reflect and to work through feelings before I take action or say something to the person who I feel deserves to hear from me.

But from now on, I’ll speak my truth, with integrity and dignity. From now on, I won’t assume you’re right and I’m wrong. I won’t ignore that feeling in my gut or that tap on the shoulder. I won’t stay quiet to avoid your anger or an adverse reaction.

I’ll speak up. I owe it to myself. I owe it to my present self, my past self and my future self. I owe it to other women and men. It won’t be perfect, but I’ll do my best.

As Melody Beattie writes in today’s entry in The Language of Letting Go:

“What do we want to do or say? What are our instincts telling us? Trust them – even if they don’t make sense or meet other people’s rules and expectations … We can convince ourselves that people-pleasing, going against our nature and not being honest, is the kind, honest thing to do! Not true. Simplify. Back to basics. Let go of the confusion. By honouring and respecting ourselves, we will be true to those around us, even if we displease them momentarily. To thine own self be true. Simple words describing a powerful task that can put us back on track.”

So how about you?

Are you in touch with your anger? Or where has your anger gone? Have you stuffed it inside with food or with too many glasses of wine? Have you run from it? Have you distracted from it by staying so busy that you don’t give yourself a second to feel or to think. Are you pleasing others, playing by the rules, not rocking the boat? Where is your anger?

Or do you have other feelings buried inside that you’re running from or hiding from? Grief, loss, pain, anxiety, loneliness, sadness? Are you able to find a safe way to express them?

If you want to join me on this journey to full self-expression, stay in touch. I am putting together some Women Who Roar workshops. I might even write another book (my first one is here). So subscribe to this blog or sign up on my mailing list: www.howtofallinlove.co.uk or www.katherinebaldwin.com.

Your anger is there for a reason. Don’t push it inside. Don’t turn it on yourself. You deserve so much better.

****

If you’d like more support to be real and live authentically, I have a free Facebook group, Being Real, Becoming Whole.

If you’re dating or looking for a relationship, I have an online membership community for a small monthly fee in which I coach and support women to find love. It’s called the Love Ladies Community.

I’m also running two retreats by the sea in Bournemouth – I have two spaces left for Nov 17th and plenty of room still on my Jan 12th retreat.

Finally, my How to Fall in Love course begins again for six weeks in January. As I mention above, watch out for Women Who Roar workshops in London very soon.

 

 

Posted in codependency, Eating disorders, Empowerment, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

ROAR!

WILD

Something is stirring. I can’t quite explain it but it’s bubbling up inside. It’s anger. It’s a desire to break out and break free. It’s a fierceness. It’s my wild side. It’s the woman inside me who wants to ROAR (rather than squeak).

It’s hard to explain in words. I need something to punch, to wrestle. Or I need to yell and scream.

That reminds me. A few weeks ago, I did yell and scream. In the car on the way back from a morning sea swim. I won’t go into all the details but suffice it to say I felt ignored, dismissed, fobbed off. And I was angry. So I screamed. I screamed so loud in the car that my voice hurt and my ears began to ring. I wonder if anyone heard me outside.

My reaction was so violent that I must have been screaming about much more than that one incident. Remember my post from years ago, Hysterical? Could Be Historical. I must have tapped into much earlier, younger, deeper episodes of feeling ignored or dismissed and staying quiet about it, lodged deep in my subconscious.

I haven’t screamed since but it’s still there and I know it’ll come out again soon.

I have a wild side. I’ve always had a wild side. But I’ve been such a good girl. I’ve people-pleased. I’ve done as I was told. I’ve said what I thought you wanted me to say. I’ve stayed quiet. I most definitely haven’t roared.

Why? Because I felt scared? Scared of your anger. Scared of my own. Scared of the repercussions. Scared I’d get hurt. Scared I wouldn’t survive. That feeling goes way back. It’s visceral. It’s traumatic. It’s real. But I’m stronger now. I’ve survived. I will survive (cue Gloria Gaynor at very loud volume).

What does this wild woman inside look like? What does this mean for me and my work? What does this mean for the direction I want to go in?

I’m not sure but all I know is it’s not pink and pretty.

It’s gritty and real.

I just spent a day redesigning my website for my relationship coaching and life design to make it look pretty and alluring. But now I think I need to chuck it out and start again. I need to paint it black or dark grey and throw some stones in there, some grit. A few lions and tigers. Some fire. Who knows.

Going forward, maybe I’ll need to change the title of my How to Fall in Love retreats (2 spaces left for November, and January is now on sale!). Maybe I’ll be running Get Real Retreats. Or Roar Retreats. But even if I don’t change the name, we’re going to roar.

Because I’m not pink or ladylike, and I’m not a mouse. I’m wild. I’m loud.

I’ve broken free from loads of things over the years (from binge eating, from a job in which I felt caged, from dysfunctional relationships, from big, concrete jungles to the open expanses of the coast). I’ve shown so much courage.

But now I need more. To really speak my truth. To connect on a deep level with the women and men I’m supposed to be talking to and working with. To those who are caged or trapped in a prison of their own making. Who drink or drug or binge eat or starve or sleep around or compulsively run or work 18 hour days or who self-harm in other ways, all beneath a pretense of niceness, respectability, perfection and success. To the women and men who want to be real. Who want to unleash the lioness or lion within.

Too much? Too angry? Too aggressive? Not me?

Who knows. I can only write what’s on my heart. I can only say what’s real in this moment. That’s the beauty of this blog.

I feel it.

I write it.

I publish it.

I’m changing and evolving so fast. Last year, before I published my book, I recorded this interview with Nicola Humber as part of her Heal Your Inner Good Girl series (Nicola’s book is here). What I say in that podcast is still really relevant and very true. I tell my story – the eating disorder, the breakdown, the ‘Wow’ job that I quit and how I turned my life upside down. I share how hard it is sometimes to be authentic, to stay true to ourselves. And I use this great line: I didn’t have the courage to do that, until I did.

But I think I’d speak differently if that interview were today. I’d be angrier. I’d be wilder. It would be grittier. Less altogether. I might roar (a bit).

How about you? Where are you at with your wild woman or wild man within?

Do you squeak or do you roar or are you somewhere in between?

Are you pink and pretty or are you gritty and real?

Maybe we’re all a bit of both. Maybe I am. My dark and my light. After all, lions and tigers are beautiful but fierce at the same time. And I do love purple and lime green.

But she’s there. The wild woman is there.

And she wants to be heard.

 

                                                                ****

Check out my pretty website (for the time being) here: www.howtofallinlove.co.uk for details of coaching, courses, retreats and more, or drop me a line: katherine@katherinebaldwin.com

Posted in Eating disorders, Empowerment, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Women, Work | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Our time is now

Last week, I sat in a clinic with my mum and wiped my tears away as the nurse diagnosed her with a form of dementia. It shouldn’t have come as a shock – her memory had been failing for a while – but there’s something about hearing a diagnosis from a medical professional that makes it very real and final and drives it home in a way you can no longer ignore.

Mum is 77, 31 years older than me. My Nana, her mum, got dementia too and it began in her 60s. What does this mean for me? That’s something I hope to explore in greater detail in a magazine article – is it hereditary; what do I need to do to protect myself and reduce my risk? But beyond the facts, figures, studies and expert opinion, it’s clear what it means for me: I need to get on and live.

clockMy time is now.

Our time is now.

I owe it to myself to make the most of my life and my current state of health, which, apart from some aches and pains, is pretty good. I’m very fortunate. I’m blessed.

I owe it to myself to fight for the life that I want, to follow my heart, to live my passion, to speak my truth, to stand up for myself, to have real conversations.

I owe it to myself to reduce my anxiety and stress levels, to lighten up, to laugh more.

I owe it to myself to do my utmost to turn this passion of mine for writing and for coaching women and men into healthy relationships and lives they love into an abundant business that’s deeply fulfilling and has a profound impact on others’ happiness and wellbeing.

Yes, we owe it to ourselves.

Don’t we?

I know it’s not all going to happen at once. I know that I might be fired up one day but feeling low on enthusiasm the next. I know there’s no magic bullet or quick fix. I know I’m on a journey.

But if I can make a choice every day to trust, to believe, to have faith in myself, in my work, in my future, in this glorious life that I’m creating, then I’m half-way there.

If I can speak up when my shame is telling me to be silent.

If I can speak my truth when my fear is telling me to hide.

If I can go big when my low self-esteem is telling me to play small.

If I can join in with others when my saboteur is telling me to isolate.

If I can fight for community and belonging when the voice inside is telling me I’d be safer on my own.

If I can be generous to others and to myself when my financial insecurity is telling me to hold on tight to everything I’ve got.

If I can let go and trust when I want to tighten my grip and control.

If I can cry when I want to stuff my tears down with food or numb my feelings by staying busy.

If I can believe there’s enough for everyone and celebrate others’ wealth and success rather than envy it and be scared to share my gifts.

If I can laugh often with friends and strangers.

SwimMe

One of those grey day swims

If I can go paddle boarding or sea swimming even when it’s cold and grey rather than stay home watching rubbish TV.

If I can be bold and brave.

If I can say sorry quickly and say I love you every day.

If I can do all that, then I’ll be giving life my best shot.

How about you? How are you going to make the most of your time?

Your time is now.

*****

If you’d like to help me do the work I believe I’m meant to be doing and make an impact on others’ lives, it would be wonderful if you could share news of my upcoming How to Fall in Love retreats in Dorset with any single women who might be interested. And if 2018 is your year to find love, come and join us.

Retreat10My November 17-19 retreat is almost full but I still have a few rooms left. My January 12-14 retreat is now open for bookings. Both are great value.

I’m also opening up my membership community of Love Ladies again on Nov 1st so if you’re ready to find a relationship and would like to explore dating as part of a supportive community of like-minded women, come and join us. The fee is £16/month. We have group coaching calls and an active Facebook group with lots of video and written content on topics like wellbeing, intimacy, body image, fear versus instinct etc.

For a flavour of my work, read some more of this blog or check out my book: How to Fall in Love – A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. Please leave a review if you read it and have a moment. Reviews make a big difference.

Finally, my free Facebook community is here: Being Real, Becoming Whole.

Posted in Dating, Faith, Happiness, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Trust, Women | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How to stop emotional eating

Womaneating

Weight. Body image. Self-esteem.

These are issues that come up quite regularly in my work as a dating and relationships coach.

Or perhaps I tune in to them more than to other issues, because I’m a recovering compulsive overeater. For many years, through my teens, twenties and early thirties, binge eating and comfort eating inflated my body and deflated my confidence.

The way I felt about my body affected my interactions with men and potential partners.

Throughout university, I barely had a boyfriend because I felt fat. I was a few stone heavier than I am now and I disliked myself profoundly, although you wouldn’t have known it. I hid it well.

The first thing I did on the morning of my finals exams was to weigh myself. The number on the scales dictated how I felt about myself that day.

It took until my early thirties for me to come out of denial about emotional overeating and to find help. Today, I’m largely free of obsession around food and body image. I eat healthily most of the time and I’m pretty happy with my body. Just like Kate Winslet, I don’t weigh myself anymore.

My eating isn’t perfect, whatever that means. I still eat on my emotions at times – on sadness, tiredness or anxiety. A few biscuits, a bit of cereal, extra chocolate or toast. But I’m aware that I’m doing it. My eating doesn’t spiral out of control like it used to. And I forgive myself quickly and move on. I don’t carry around bags of shame.

I believe I had to make peace with my body and develop a healthy relationship with food and eating in order to find love. My excess weight, in the past, acted as a barrier to men. They may have found me attractive but I didn’t feel worthy or good enough. And I had so much shame that I didn’t want anyone to come near me. I didn’t want to take my clothes off.

Your story may not be quite so extreme, but I wonder if your relationship with food and your body is affecting your relationship with others. Is it affecting your dating? Is it keeping you single? Or is it keeping you emotionally distant in your relationship?

This morning, I felt inspired to record this video: How to stop emotional overeating. I wanted to share some of my journey with food and body image, and how I’d managed to put an end to my emotional eating. In it, I share how I’ve learned to soothe myself in healthy ways rather than with excess food, or alcohol or male attention or work, for that matter.

The video is half-an-hour long so you’ll need a bit of time. I hope you find it useful. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’d like any support on this issue, or would like to know more about how I developed a healthy relationship with food, do get in touch. I’d love to help.

*****

A reminder that I’m hosting my first How to Fall in Love retreat in Dorset, Nov 17-19. Click here for more information. Rooms are selling fast. Four spaces left.

I’ve recently launched my membership community for single women looking for a healthy and loving relationship. Find out more about the Love Ladies Community here.

Come and join my free Facebook community: Being Real, Becoming Whole.

To buy my book, How to Fall in Love, click here.

Posted in Body Image, Eating disorders, Love, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When you follow your heart

ChangeI was interviewed this morning on BBC Radio Solent’s Breakfast in Dorset programme about my love coaching work, my book and my upcoming love retreat.

The interview was over in a flash. In fact, I felt a bit deflated as I left the studio. Had I managed to say anything worthwhile in such a short space of time?

But then I listened back to the recording, which host Steve Harris kindly sent me, and I heard it.

I heard it in my voice.

I heard the excitement and the passion.

I heard the authenticity.

I heard, loud and clear, that I absolutely believe in what I’m doing and in what I have to offer others in this area of love, dating and relationships.

I heard my truth.

I heard my energy and enthusiasm for this life I’ve created and this work that I do – for the joy of being able to spend my Monday morning driving through the New Forest, speaking on the radio about my love coaching and my book, then driving back to the beach for a sunny walk.

If you’d like to hear it too, click here for the radio interview.

During our brief discussion this morning, Steve and I agreed that when we’re true to ourselves and when we find happiness inside, or as much happiness as possible, love and relationship often follow. We’re more open and more attractive.

For me, moving to the seaside, committing to my creativity by writing my book, and doing my love and life design coaching – these are all acts of self-love and self-belief. They are all examples of me listening to my heart and following it. They are steps that have hugely contributed to my happiness and wellbeing. They have filled me up from the inside. They have given me purpose.

It’s not surpising, then, that my partner proposed just after I finished my book and at the end of my first How to Fall in Love course.

I had found myself. I had found my joy. I was living my dreams. I was all fired up. My light was shining bright.

And as I write this, I feel excited. I feel excited for what’s to come.

As much as I can give myself a hard time for not doing enough or achieving enough (don’t you hate that side of us that always does that?), I have come so far this year and it’s only October.

I have written and published a wonderful book, for which I’ve received some wonderful reviews, some from people I’d never met before. I’ve run a number of How to Fall in Love courses, also to lovely reviews. A small group of women have stayed working with me since doing my love course in January. January! That’s nine months. I’d have never had the courage back in January to suggest people work with me for nine months, but these special women have, and I feel so grateful for their belief and trust in me and so excited to watch their lives unfold as they go after their dreams.

I have got engaged. Big deal! Very big deal.

I’ve had my relationship story and my book featured in the Daily Mail, my love story featured in Red magazine and I’ve been on BBC Radio four times (BBC Radio Solent three times and BBC 5Live). Some more wonderful media is just around the corner.

And today I’m super excited because I’ve just launched my community of Love Ladies, a supportive space where like-minded women can evolve and grow as they create wonderful lives for themselves and move forwards on their journey to love and relationship. Plus, places on my imminent seaside retreat in November are filling up. I can’t tell you how excited I am about that. Running retreats is one of my big dreams and here I am, running a retreat! If either the community or the retreat appeals, do get in touch (katherine@katherinebaldwin.com). I’d love you to join us.

Yes, today I’m excited. I’m in a good mood. I’m upbeat.

I know I won’t feel like this everyday. It’s not in my nature and that’s not real life. But when setbacks come or when I feel downbeat, I can look back at this blog and at this year and remember that wonderful things happen when I follow my heart, stay true to myself and trust myself. Wonderful things happen when I face my fears and do it anyway. When I embrace change.

I read another quote that really spoke to me:

Don’t fear failure.

Fear being in the exact same place next year as you are today.

I can safely say that this October I am nowhere near where I was last October. Hurrah!

I hope you can say the same if change is something you’d like to see in your life. And if you can’t, I hope you can commit to change today, in this moment, to whatever small or big change you feel able and equipped to make.

Don’t fear failure. Fear being in the exact same place next year as you are today.

Posted in Faith, Love, Recovery, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments