I can’t tell you how moved and excited I feel to write these words: From Fifty With Love.
Some of you will have been with me from the very start, from the birth of this blog – From Forty With Love – 10 years ago.
Some of you will remember where I was back then: turning 40, single, confused about my career after burning out and breaking down as a political journalist, bemused as to why I hadn’t managed to make a relationship work, wondering if I’d ever have kids, frequently asking the question:
How on earth did I end up here?
Searching. Searching for answers. Searching for answers inside myself by writing my truth on this blog. And searching for answers from anyone who was in the same boat, from anyone who could relate to where I was at.
And you read my posts and you wrote to me and you said you could relate. You said you were in the same boat, that you were also confused and bemused about your life, your relationship status, the absence of kids or generally, the way things had worked out. You told me that you were asking the same thing:
How on earth did I end up here?
And you helped me to feel less alone, less odd, more normal, like I belonged somewhere, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
And you gave me the courage to continue to write, to share my truth, my hurt, my vulnerability and my questions in this blog and all over the internet. And you gave me the strength to continue to search and, once I’d found my answers, to take a massive leap of faith.
You gave me the courage to explore my relationship history and understand where I’d been going wrong so that I could end the cycle of self-sabotage, stop hurting myself and others and put things right.
You gave me the courage to put two feet into my relationship with Bill, rather than keeping one foot in the door as I’d always done – to trust that it would work out and that if it didn’t, I’d be OK.
You gave me the courage to pitch my writing to scary editors at glossy magazines and to write to radio stations and to challenge my feelings of ‘less than’, unworthiness and imposter syndrome and walk through my fear of getting it wrong, of being judged, criticised, ridiculed or found out.
You gave me the courage to pack up my tiny London flat and move my life to the Dorset coast so that I could swim in the sea as often as I liked.
You gave me the courage to believe in my writing, to believe that people wanted to hear what I had to say, and to publish my book, How to Fall in Love.
You gave me the courage to say ‘Yes’ when Bill stumbled to one knee at the top of a snowy mountain in the Alps and asked me to be his wife.
You gave me the courage to build a coaching business from scratch and to believe in myself, my gifts and the value of my experience.
You gave me the courage to hold a retreat, way before I was ready to hold a retreat, and you helped me to make it a success and hold many more.
You gave me the courage to build courses and run workshops and to stand in front of big audiences and speak from the heart.
And you give me the courage, every single day, to get up and start again – to write my novel and my other books, to run more courses, workshops and retreats, to face my fears and challenge the thoughts that tell me I’m not good enough, that nobody will want to read my work, hear me speak or invest in my stuff.
So thank you – thank you for holding the space for me to be my authentic self, to write my truth and to share my gifts with the world.
Thank you for reading – whether you’ve been reading for years or just started today – for commenting on my posts and for supporting me on my journey.
This blog will continue – how could it not? – and we’ll keep the title, From Forty With Love, because that’s how it was at the start.
I have some wonderful, transformational courses available to help you to love yourself, love your life and find love which you can find here. The small group courses for up to 10 women begin on March 29th so do get in touch if you’d like to join us.
As I prepare to celebrate my 50th birthday on Saturday, I’ve been reflecting on my milestone birthdays to date and the breakdowns and breakthroughs that have accompanied them.
On my 10th birthday, I was dealing with feelings that I had no idea how to process. Grief, loss and confusion following my parents’ separation and divorce. And fear, no doubt, as we sold up our family home and moved to a smaller place without Dad. Deep down, I thought it was all my fault.
Some months after my 20th birthday, I moved to Spain on a year out from Oxford University. I partied like crazy and made some wonderful friends but I also overate compulsively, drank myself silly, smoked and got into messy relationships. I weighed about 2 stone more than I do now. I disliked myself and hated my body.
I spent my 30th birthday in Brazil, finally finding the courage to end a relationship that was so hard to end but that really needed to end. I was slimmer by then after taking diet pills but I was still unhappy on the inside. I went to therapy for the first time and began my journey of self-discovery and healing.
On my 40th birthday, I launched this blog, From Forty With Love, and began musing out loud and in public about turning 40 as a single, childless woman with a career that had gone down the tubes after a breakdown and burnout. My father had died several years earlier, making me profoundly aware of the absence of a meaningful relationship and a family of my own.
And now I’m turning 50, a few months after losing my mum. I am childless and parent-less. However, I am married to the most wonderful man. I now live by the sea in a home with my husband rather than a one-bedroom London flat. I have a book published and am writing more books, including a novel, and I have a flourishing coaching business.
It takes huge courage to grieve – to grieve the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the absence of children, the loss of our health or the loss of the life we thought we’d have.
It’s much easier to avoid our feelings, to sidestep our pain.
It’s much easier to stay busy, to rush and to push.
It’s much easier to fill our bodies and minds with stress, worry and adrenaline, so that we’re numb to our grief.
It’s much easier to change our emotional state by overeating on food, drinking too much, taking drugs, over-working and over-achieving, compulsively exercising, or seeking out the attention or touch of someone else, even though we know that relationship isn’t good for us or is destined to end.
Staying with the feelings is the road less travelled.
Feeling the feelings is the harder path.
But it’s the one that yields the greatest healing and growth.
So muster up all your courage, dear reader, and sink into yourself.
Allow yourself to go there, into the depths of your heart, and to feel your pain.
Yes, it may hurt, but it won’t topple you, because you are strong.
And by feeling and healing your feelings, you will grow taller and emerge stronger.
I know it’s hard to get out of bed sometimes; that you wake up feeling overwhelmed with grief and fear, with tears in your eyes.
I know it often feels like you’re floundering, living the wrong life, or like you’re grasping for something that’s just out of reach.
I know it can feel exhausting – this constant journey of self-improvement.
You’re a survivor, you see. You have a strong survival instinct. You needed it back then. You didn’t have the best start in life.
It’s all relative, of course, and I know you don’t feel like you had it so bad, compared to others. I know you feel guilty for describing yourself in these terms.
But we all react differently to our circumstances and the bottom line is that you didn’t get what you needed. In fact, you got far less than you needed. And that’s all that counts here – for the purposes of this discussion, for the purposes of your healing and of what we’re trying to understand.
But you have done so well, despite a very wobbly start and because of your strong survival instinct. Look how well you’ve done.
Look where you’ve been – Spain, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, the White House, 10 Downing Street, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Iraq, London and now Dorset.
And look what you’ve created – a home with a husband by the sea and a business, an incredible heart-centred business that is growing and is gradually becoming self-sustaining and not only that, but that is helping people, actually impacting other people’s lives in a positive way, transforming them sometimes. You created that, from scratch, and you wrote a book.
And look what you’ve just endured – you’ve lost your dear Mum, first to dementia and then to death, although perhaps you lost her long before that, which is why it’s such a complex grief.
There’s so much mixed up in there. Like a cement mixer – there’s smooth stuff and then there’s gritty stuff, lumps and bumps and stones and sharp edges, tiny shards of glass even, and it’s all jumbled up together, so that sometimes it flows smoothly and other times it grates and scrapes and scars. But ultimately it will all become smooth; it will all heal, as long as you give it the space to churn, and as long as you give it time.
That’s the key, you see – space and time.
Your grief needs space. Your feelings need time. Or rather they deserve both those gifts. Because only then will they heal. So it’s OK, some days, to go back to bed for a cry or to go to the beach hut and swim in the sea. It’s OK. You’re doing OK. You’re not sinking if you take care of yourself instead of sitting right down to work. You’re not being lazy or slacking off. You’re not abandoning yourself or your dreams.
In fact, you are actually making space for your dreams. You are allowing yourself to grieve and heal and then to renew. And remember, dear one, you created this life, intentionally and with courage – a life in which there is more space and time, because you’re a sensitive soul and you know that’s what you need, so take advantage of it now, while your need is great, perhaps greater than it will ever be.
Frankly, though, it’s amazing that you get out of bed at all on some of the dark days, especially with the insomnia you’ve had recently. But you do, you get up, and then you get yourself dressed and do your exercises (which your husband amusingly calls ‘physical jerks’) in the garden, or you take your inner child to play in the cold water and end up with a healthy glow. Well done, you.
And it’s amazing too that on occasions you manage to ring people and talk to people and arrange to meet up, sometimes. It’s amazing that you see people at all because you feel so vulnerable, so young, so scared, so apprehensive they’ll say something that triggers the tears, which would be OK, of course, but frightening all the same.
Yes, well done you. You’re so brave.
But the thing I’d really like you to understand, dear one, is that it’s not about survival anymore.
You have survived. You have more than survived. And although the child inside you often hurts, you are no longer a child. So it’s no longer life or death, you see. You don’t need to hold on so tightly anymore. You can let go a bit. You can trust. There was no safety net, back then. There should have been but there wasn’t.
But there is a safety net now. I am your safety net, and we have Bill too. You are not alone.
Let’s try it now. Imagine that you are leaning back, letting go, loosening your grip on the control. Can you feel it? Can you feel that you are held? Yes, it’s safe to lean back. You’re going to be OK. You’re not on your own anymore. I’ve got you. We’ve got you. Amazing.
So let go of the struggle. And allow. Allow yourself to be and to feel. And allow things to happen. Try a lighter touch, try going slowly, try trusting yourself, try balance, try space.
And on the days when you wake up in tears after a sleepless night and you don’t have the energy to get things done, forgive yourself, even though there’s nothing to forgive. Allow yourself to cruise rather than push. Allow yourself to rest if that’s required.
Because you know better than anyone that every time we push away the pain, we deny ourselves an opportunity to grow and to heal. So feel it, so that you can heal it.
It’s nearly 10 years since I wrote my first ever blog, on a site I called Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self-Acceptance.
It was the eve of Lent, 2011, and I’d had it.
I’d had it with self-criticism. I’d had it with the way I poked and prodded at my body and judged it for not being slim enough or smooth enough.
I’d had it with the way I stared at my thighs on the loo, making them wobble and wishing they wouldn’t.
And I’d had it with the way I treated myself in general – the way I judged everything I did and said so harshly.
I’d had it and I was finally ready to do something about it.
Here’s an extract from that first blog on Just As I Am, published on March 8th, 2011 (Lent started late that year):
Today is the first day of Lent – a 40-day period of sacrifice, abstinence and self-denial. Yesterday, as I contemplated what to give up for Lent, I decided to forego Starbucks soya milk decaf coffees for the next 40 days and give the money to a good cause. I also thought about giving up bread or sweet stuff. But as the world celebrated International Women’s Day, I decided there was something else I needed to give up – something much more unhealthy and far more costly than coffee or chocolate: negative thinking about my body and appearance.
So I am challenging myself – for this period of Lent – to give up those nasty thoughts about my shape, size, form, skin tone, complexion, hair etc etc etc – that go through my head numerous times a day. This isn’t going to be easy. As I realised this morning as I showered and got dressed, self criticism is deeply ingrained in my psyche. But the best I can do is to challenge those thoughts – so every time I’m tempted to pinch at my waist, look critically at my legs or tut or groan when I look in the mirror, I’m going to try not to. And every time I look at another woman and am tempted to think I want her figure, hair, face etc, I’m going to celebrate her beauty and also celebrate mine. I’m going to smile and say ‘Thank you God for creating me just as I am‘.
Now, I know this may sound a bit like a Bridget Jones moment and I admit I’ve stolen the line ‘just as I am’ from that romantic scene when Mark Darcy tells Bridget he likes her ‘just as she is’. I also admit I’m approaching a milestone birthday which may make me contemplate my life in a Bridget Jones fashion. But this is rather more serious.
Over the past few days, as I attended events to mark International Women’s Day, listened to speakers and read a lot, it dawned on me that all the struggles for women’s rights and equality over the years are worth precious little if I continue to put myself down. I have been my own worst enemy. And it seems I’m not alone – in a Glamour Magazine survey, women admitted to having 13 negative body thoughts daily. Imagine how much extra thinking time we’d have if we didn’t have those negative thoughts, or imagine how great we might feel if we replace every one with a positive thought!
End of Day One
It’s the end of Day One and this is already proving harder than I thought! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to say ‘sorry’ to myself for almost slipping back into what we’ll call that ‘stinking thinking’. After all, it’s not easy to admire the way my hair looks after wearing a helmet for 45 mins to ride my Vespa. But at least I’m now aware of how those thought patterns creep back in, which gives me a better chance of changing them.
It also occurred to me a little earlier that despite Mark Darcy telling Bridget Jones that he liked her ‘just as she was’, it wasn’t enough for her – she still went back to Daniel Cleaver! I guess you have to believe it yourself first.
And now it’s the first day of Lent, 2021, 10 years on, and I’m approaching 50.
It’s incredible to think how much time has passed and also how much has changed.
Even though I can still be hard on myself – I remain a work in progress – I honestly feel that I am much kinder to myself than before, and especially to my body.
I am much more loving and accepting of myself, much more compassionate towards myself.
And I like to think that the other huge changes that have happened in my life over the last 10 years are connected to that decision I made, in March 2011, to be more accepting of myself and to love myself more.
Self-love led to more self-love and greater self-acceptance and eventually to romantic love and a wonderful marriage.
Self-love helped me to believe in myself and my writing and to turn my Just As I Am blog into this From Forty With Love blog, which I continue to write today, 10 years on.
Self-love empowered me to believe in myself enough to prioritise my dreams and to write and publish a book, How to Fall in Love.
Self-love gave me the courage and strength to follow my heart out of London to live by the sea in Dorset.
Self-love helped me to build a purpose-driven business, which focuses on supporting other women and men to love themselves, to find love and to create lives that they truly love.
As I said, I remain a work in progress. I have to remind myself every day to be kind to myself and not to push myself too hard.
But so much has changed.
And it began with a decision, with a choice I made – a choice to change some harmful repeated patterns of behaviour, a choice to do things differently, a choice to prioritise self-love and self-care and to let go of self-criticism, self-punishment, self-harm and self-neglect.
Would you like to make that choice today?
Shall we make it together? Because I need all the support I can get to continue on this journey and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the past few decades, from all my healing work and from hosting healing courses and retreats based on the principle of self-love, it’s that we are stronger together.
When my phone rang on January 13th, I hoped against hope that it was my alarm waking me up, although I knew, deep down, that it was the middle of the night.
That could only mean one thing: Mum had died.
It was 4 am and the carer’s voice on the other end of the line sounded too lively and upbeat, given the hour and given the news she had to impart, or perhaps it was simply matter of fact. Mum’s passing had come as no surprise to her and it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, given her rapid decline over previous days, given how thin she had become and how she could no longer take in water or food.
But it was. It was a shock. Maybe it always is. Maybe nothing can prepare you for that moment.
Half-an-hour later, I sat with Mum on her bed, held her hand, touched her beautiful face, stroked her soft, silver hair and kissed her lips. And then I did it all again and again, until it was time to leave.
It’s just over three weeks now from that dark January morning and I don’t know what to write – I just know that I want and need to write. It’s what I do. It’s my natural response to big life events and to feelings that are hard to process.
I want to tell you how surreal it feels to be without Mum – my first love, my first human connection, the person who’s known me the longest and who I knew before I was born.
I want to tell you how much I loved her, how soft and cuddly she was until she became ill, and how much I wanted her to be well and happy my entire life.
I want to tell you that for years I have been acutely aware of her struggles, often feeling them as though they were my own, but now all I can think about is her beauty and her strength – her courage, her resilience and her determination to keep going on, even when it felt dark, and even when her body was giving up.
I want to tell you that my heart aches sometimes and everything feels bleak and that there are moments when my brain feels in a fog; that I feel weary and my energy seems to deplete at a much faster rate.
And then at other times I get caught up in what I’m doing and forget that I am grieving, that she is gone, and then I wonder how that happened, where the feelings went, and I wonder if I’m doing it right (ever the perfectionist, even in grief).
I want to tell you that I’m OK too a lot of the time, which surprises me, that I have hope, purpose, passion and my own unique brand of strength and resilience.
I want to tell you that I am writing a novel, whose pages I edited at Mum’s bedside in her final days, and that to continue to write and eventually publish it feels like the biggest gift to me and to Mum. I want to tell you that the writing sometimes flows and I can’t contain my excitement and then other times I wrestle with it and want to delete it all and start again.
I want to tell you that I want to honour mum in so many ways, by fulfilling my dreams, some of which were hers too:
I want to be free, live free, free of the constraints and the behaviours and habits that keep me trapped, circling my true, authentic life but not quite diving in.
I want to dance and swim and cycle and climb and see Nature’s wonders near and far.
I want to speak my truth, with grace and courage, and stand tall rather than cower, hide, dissimulate or lie to please or appease others.
I want to experience an abundance of time, money and love, and let my worries go, let them float away on the breeze.
I want to write, and write, and write and write some more, spin tapestries with my words, touch hearts and souls as I open mine.
And I want to experience peace and quiet, on the inside and out.
It’s funny, I had this idea that after Mum had gone, I’d be a different person, that I’d change overnight, that I would no longer procrastinate or worry or stress or waste time scrolling through Facebook.
But it was a fantasy. I’m still me, with my strengths and my struggles, with my ever-present, internal tug of war over whether I should turn this way or that.
But perhaps there’s a subtle shift – there’s grief, yes, an entire container of emotions yet to be resolved – but there is something else, more subtle than I expected yet there all the same: a little bit more determination, a slightly more focused mind, a marginally more courageous heart and, perhaps, once some time has passed, a sense of freedom that comes from no longer having parents.
Because both have gone now, Mum and Dad. It’s a strange feeling, being an orphaned adult (yes, there’s a term for it). At times I feel like I’m floating, suspended in air, or like a puppet whose strings have been cut and who momentarily crumpled to the floor but soon learned to stand up again.
There is nobody directly above and nobody directly below me now, as I have no parents and no children of my own (I have some other blood relatives yes, but no direct line).
There is, however, someone right by my side (she writes with a smile), a rock of a man whom I chose, incredibly wisely, to share my life with. Looking back, it was a genius move. Our family of two may be small but it’s beautiful. And on the days when I struggle with its size, when I long for something more, for more people in our little unit, I can allow myself to grieve and to heal and to cherish what I have, while keeping up the search for a new addition, a dog, when the time is right.
I’m so proud of all the work I did to be able to make such a marvelous choice and fall in love and I hope, if you’re still searching or waiting for your life companion, you take heart from my story (which you can read in my book), because I never thought I’d get here either. I really didn’t.
There’s another huge comfort I take right now, even if it’s a poignant thought: I am not alone. We must all go through this. And while some of us will experience a more complex grief than others when our mothers and fathers die, nobody escapes this particular fate (unless, sadly, we depart before our time, before them).
That knowledge that I’m not alone in my grief has given me strength over the past weeks. If others can get through this level of loss, then I can too.
It also gives me hope and purpose because I now know that when others lose their parents, as they inevitably will, I will be able to help them through.
I will leave it there for now and say more another day, as there’s so much to say. In closing, though, an acknowledgement of where I am today, almost ten years after starting this blog, which began, as I turned 40, with so many questions related to not having a partner and not having kids.
I am now rapidly approaching 50 (my birthday is in mid-March), with no parents and no children but a wonderful husband and a precious marriage.
I wonder what will happen next. You’ll be among the first to know.
Can you hear the call to claim your seat at the table.
To take up your space.
To make your voice heard.
To be the person you were always meant to be and live the life you were always destined to live?
If you can hear it, that’s wonderful. And we’re going to be talking about what to do next in a moment.
If you can’t, don’t panic! You might simply need to be still for a while, to quieten your mind and to turn down the volume on all the other noise – all the ‘shoulds‘, the overwhelm, the resolutions you’ve already broken and the disappointments you already feel, even though we’re only a week into the New Year.
I confess I’m not feeling particularly adventurous or dynamic myself right now, and that’s a huge disappointment for someone like me who places substantial expectations on herself.
I’d hoped to feel fit, healthy and strong, Amazonian even. I’d hoped to roar into 2021, ready to take on the world. I’d hoped to be full of bounce and drive. I even began working with a personal trainer in December, making a headstart on my intention to strengthen my body as I approach my half-century on this earth.
But instead, I’m hobbling around the house after spraining my ankle on a hike on Christmas Eve and, consequently, feeling a bit flat.
For me, a sore ankle is far more than an inconvenience. For someone who relies on fresh air and exercise to stay mentally afloat and for whom sport has been such a friend, as well as an obsession at times, it’s a real blow, especially during a pandemic when outdoor walks are one of the few sanctioned forms of socialising.
I’m also prone to catastrophising, especially about my health, and I have to be careful not to spiral down. When my body hurts, I struggle to remember what it feels like when it doesn’t or to see any light at the end of the tunnel. The time when my body didn’t hurt actually feels a long way off. My health has taken quite a battering this year – a combination of Covid, ageing and, I imagine, pushing myself always that little bit too far.
The life that didn’t go to plan
Suffice it to say that my life today, January 7, 2021, isn’t how I would like it to be and I wonder if that’s true for you too.
Is your life today different to how you’d hoped it would be?
It’s incredibly annoying, isn’t it? Frustrating. Sad. Depressing at times.
But what can we do? We can either fall into the trap of beating ourselves up for all the ‘mistakes’ we deem we have made …
Why did I hike so far on Christmas Eve when I actually wanted to be lying on the sofa, watching rom-coms? Why didn’t I strengthen my joints last year?
Or for you, it could be …
Why did I waste two years of my life with that guy, two of my precious fertile years? Or why did I focus all my energy on my career and neglect my personal life? Or why didn’t I do my inner work sooner so I could change my relationship patterns?
Oh yes, here’s another one of mine, which is bugging me right now …
Why did I wait until I was nearly 50 – yes 50 – to believe in myself enough to write a novel?
That question is driving me mad right now as I read the stories of other women who realised at 30 or at 40 that they wanted to be a novelist and just went for it, while I continued to focus my energies elsewhere.
So we can wallow in those questions, and believe me, I do a fair bit of that myself. Oh yes, I can spend hours berating and blaming myself for all the things I deem that I’ve done ‘wrong’. I’m so much better than I was – you should have known me 15 years ago – but self-compassion does not come naturally to me. I’m a work in progress in that area.
Acceptance is the answer
Or we can accept where we are today – me with my sore foot and aching body, arriving late, and on crutches, to the novel-writing party; you with your life that hasn’t gone to plan for whatever reason – and love ourselves as we are today.
We can trust that life isn’t a race that we’re somehow losing or a test that we’re failing badly. We can trust, instead, that life is a crazy, challenging, sometimes infuriating adventure, with many humps in the road, but an incredible privilege too, an adventure that we can make our own.
Yes, we write our own script. And we play the leading role.
So can you hear the call to adventure?
Despite my lack of dynamism, my sore foot and my grief about my ailing mum, which is always in the background, and sometimes in the foreground, often hijacking me in the middle of the night when I’m wrestling to sleep, my mind buzzing with information and ideas so that I don’t have to feel the magnitude of the loss I am facing, I do hear the call to adventure.
But hang on a minute, what adventure? I hear you cry. I can’t go anywhere right now.
How can I have an adventure when I’m stuck indoors and it’s cold and dark outside? Surely adventures involve tropical rain forests, mountain tops, beach parties or festivals?
Yes, they can do, but our most important adventure happens on the inside.
It’s the journey back to our authentic selves. It’s the process of uncovering our truth and discovering who we really are, beneath the fears that compel us to stay safe, to stay small, to stay quiet. It’s the action of reconnecting with the joyous, courageous, creative child inside, with the person we were before life rudely landed on us like a tonne of bricks.
It’s where we must go first, before we do anything else. Because that’s where we connect with our deepest feelings and our heart’s desires. That’s where we discover our mission. That’s where we find the map that’s going to dictate our next steps. That’s where we discover our truth.
We need to connect to this truth because otherwise we’ll go off in the wrong direction. We’ll follow a path that others set out for us, a path that pleases other people but not us, or a path that feels comfortable, safe and secure, even if it is intolerably dull.
And we’ll keep following that path until we hit a brick wall, which we’ll bang our heads against a few times before sliding to the floor and sitting at its base, our head in our hands, in despair.
So dear readers, first, step inside. Have a good look around. Because that’s where you’ll find your mission for this year.
Once you have your mission, identify your superpowers.
Yes, you have superpowers. If you don’t know what they are, think about some of the darkest times you’ve endured, some of the difficulties and challenges that have been unique to your life, some of the pain you’ve experienced. That’s where you’ll find your superpowers. That’s where your greatest strengths were developed.
Maybe you are extraordinarily perceptive, able to sense what others are feeling and hear what goes unspoken – a skill you honed growing up around anger or violence or drunkenness or other unpredictable behaviour.
Maye you are deeply empathetic because you experienced grief and loss at a young age.
Maybe you are super resilient, because you have been fending for yourself for so many years.
Maybe you are incredibly creative – a creativity born out of pain – a way to express things you struggle to say in other ways, which manages to touch other people’s hearts.
These, dear reader, are your superpowers.
Identify them. Embrace them. Champion them. Don’t be embarrassed to shout about them, even though doing so makes you cringe, just as I cringe a bit when I write the following …
I see my superpowers in my coaching – in my ability to see and hear and empathise and read between the lines and help to put together the puzzled pieces of someone else’s heart and mind so that they make some form of sense, so that the picture brings relief and shows a way forward.
And I see them in my writing, in how I am able to translate the scars on my heart into words that somehow heal someone else’s wounds.
So know your superpowers and use them to their full potential. They have carried you this far and they will continue to carry you, for miles and miles.
Next, accept your humanity. You have superpowers, yes, but you are human too. I often forget my humanness. I think I should be able to keep going even though my mind and body are telling me to stop. I think I have more than twenty-four hours in a day and that I can achieve more in those hours than anyone else. It’s simply not true.
So accept the fact that you are human, that you sometimes make ‘mistakes’ (or experience opportunities for growth), that you sometimes feel weak and sad and need to lie down in the middle of the afternoon (something I never do, by the way, but would love to!). Forgive yourself. Show yourself compassion. Love yourself, for both your superpowers and your not so super powers.
And because you are human, gather your supporters. Yes, you have come so far on your own, in your own strength, not asking for help, but you don’t have to struggle on anymore. In fact, you can’t, because you’ll hit that brick wall.
So look around you and ask: who’s supporting me? Or who can I ask for support? Coaches, counsellors, therapists, friends, groups – lean on others. Allow them to be there for you, just as you, no doubt, would be there for them.
Armed with your superpowers, with a healthy dose of self-compassion and a team of supporters, identify the obstacles that stand in your way and start to chip away at them.
Yes, I said chip away at them. I could advise you to pick up the boulders that block your path and hurl them to one side with your Herculean might but this wouldn’t be realistic. It would be setting you up to fail.
Remember, you are human. Slow and steady progress is enough, more than enough. Baby steps. Small wins. Gradual improvements. Pick your battles too. It’s impossible to slay all the dragons in one go.
Allow space for miracles
And remember to do something that I always forget – to celebrate your successes. If not, what incentive do you have to succeed again? If your eyes are always fixed on some faraway, elusive prize, you will miss out on the joy of the journey. And that’s what it’s all about.
Along the way, allow space for miracles. When we hold on too tightly to fixed outcomes and exert ourselves in trying to engineer the perfect result, there is no room for the unexpected, there’s no space for surprises or miracles.
Hold it lightly, whatever it is.
So can you hear the call to adventure? Or are you willing to listen out for it?
What internal and external adventures will 2021 hold?
How will you take your seat at the table, how will you be heard, how will you be seen this year?
I have so much more I want to write than what I’m about to share with you.
I want to tell you about my adrenaline addiction and how it especially bites at painful times of the year – like Christmas – and how I’m becoming more aware than ever that I use on work and stress to avoid my emotions, emotions that are particularly strong right now because my dear mum is slipping away.
I want to tell you that last night, after finally putting down my work, far later than planned (and here I am again!), I was hit by such an avalanche of emotion, of grief and of pain, and a barrage of memories from previous Christmases.
Memories of loneliness.
Memories of being frightened.
Memories of drinking so much alcohol and eating so much sugar to avoid my feelings that my skin came out in a rash and I vomited everything up.
Memories of shame, like the time I was thrown out of a backpackers’ hostel in Queenstown, New Zealand, on Christmas Day, for having a man in my bed the night before. Yes, in a female dorm.
But it’s Christmas Eve and the sun is shining and I need to go swimming in the sea and then go hiking with my husband.
So instead, I’m going to share with you something I prepared earlier, something I sent to my mailing list yesterday.
If you’re on my mailing list and have already read it, I wish you a Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays. If not, read on …
Emotions in turmoil.
Tears just beneath the surface.
Feeling isolated and alone.
Feeling sad because your circumstances haven’t changed from one year to the next and your life is so far off the plan that you’ve almost forgotten what the plan looked like.
If you can relate to any of the above, dear reader, please know that you are not alone.
Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, this time of year is triggering.
It pushes our buttons.
If we’re in a good place, we can give thanks for all that we have and enjoy this festive season. And I truly hope you find yourself in a good place.
But I know from speaking to many of my friends and coaching clients – the majority of whom are single without children and with hopes and dreams that haven’t come to pass (yet) – that this time of year can shine a spotlight on the things that are missing – the partners, the children, the communities, the sense of belonging and the people who are no longer with us.
On top of that, this year we have Covid with all its restrictions.
For me, Christmas is one of those times when I’m prone to ask, ‘Is this family of two that I’ve created enough?’
The volume on that question is turned up this Christmas as my mum slips away, suffering with dementia and growing thinner by the day.
In fact, a week or so ago, my emotions floored me.
I connected to the sadness.
I connected to the grief.
I connected to the loss of the hope that my mum, or any other parent figure, would meet my unmet childhood needs.
And I (once again – as this awareness comes in layers) faced the stark reality that there was only one thing for it: I would have to meet my needs myself.
I cried a lot. But I’m pleased to say the feelings passed and my joy returned (mostly – I’m sure there’ll be more wobbles). New edit: I had another major wobble last night.
Which is my message to you today:
This too shall pass.
If you’re feeling down, trust that you will feel better. If you’re feeling hopeless, know that hope will return.
And in the meantime, show yourself so much love, compassion, gentleness and acceptance. Give thanks for all that you are and all that you have done in this difficult year.
And do lots of lovely things for yourself, no matter how small. Tiny acts of kindness, for yourself, and if you have the energy, for those around you too.
Rest, relax, restore and recover.
And remember that you are enough and that you have done enough.
I will remember it too: I am enough and I have done enough.
Sending you love and season’s greetings. See you on the other side.
Resources to help you through
Hand on heart meditation – This is the meditation I share on my How to Fall in Love courses. I’ve uploaded the video to YouTube so that you can use it whenever you feel the need (ideally every day!).
Self-paced courses to help you to reconnect to yourself, lay your foundations for a healthy relationship and date with courage, clarity and confidence. Use the code compassion for 10 percent off all my self-paced courses.
This question has been on my lips for a few days, and I imagine it’ll stay there for a good while longer, because the topic of reparenting ourselves and taking care of our inner child is hot for me right now.
I’ve been aware of the concept of reparenting for a long time. As you’ll know if you’ve been following my journey on this blog or if you’ve read my book, I’ve been walking this path of self-discovery, personal growth and healing for many years.
In fact, it was more than 17 years ago when the penny first dropped and I understood that I had an eating disorder – I was addicted to the highs I got from binge eating on sugar, starving myself in between binges and racing around everywhere to burn off the food, and that these highs numbed my feelings and anaesthetised my emotional pain.
At 49, I’m a very different woman to the 30-something who’d walk from shop to shop buying chocolate bars and crisps, joking with the shopkeepers that she was having a big party that night, before dashing up the stairs to her flat, shutting the curtains and gorging on her sugary feast until her stomach hurt and tears rolled down her cheeks.
Or rather I’m the same woman at my core, but with a huge amount of recovery, healing and growth behind me (and more still in front of me) and much healthier patterns of behaviour.
The Inner Child Holds The Key
Understanding that I have a scared, wounded child inside who longs to be comforted, soothed and reassured has been a crucial part of my self-discovery journey. But despite all the work I’ve done to date, it feels like the concept of reparenting has only just clicked for me.
Or maybe the knowledge has moved from my head to my heart.
Or perhaps I’ve peeled off another layer of the onion and got closer to the core.
Whatever it is, I feel much clearer about what my inner child needs and how I can successfully reparent her.
My inner child needs clear, consistent communication.
She needs to know that there’s an adult in charge (that’s me, as there’s no other parent around to help and there hasn’t been for a very long time – and even when there were parents around, sadly they weren’t able to provide the best parenting).
She also needs my compassion.
While so much has changed in the past 17 years, I now see that my inner child has often felt like she’s stumbling around in the dark, navigating a grown-up world but with no adult at her side.
Who’s in charge here? Who’s taking care of me? What’s going on?
On the outside, I’ve done a reasonable job of being a grown-up. I’ve bought property, got married (albeit at the rather mature age of 48), managed my finances (sometimes by the seat of my pants, but I’ve managed them all the same), published a book and built a coaching, writing and speaking business.
Some of it might even look impressive from the outside.
But my inner child has remained terrified as I’ve taken these steps, which is why everything has felt so hard, so painful, so tortuous.
With every move, I’ve struggled with fear, indecision, second-guessing, procrastination, perfectionism and self-recrimination.
Frankly, it’s been exhausting.
And while I want to keep on learning, growing, expanding and stepping deeper into my true purpose, which includes writing more books and delivering more courses and coaching, I’m done with the exhaustion.
More Courage – Less Torture
So how can I continue to take courageous steps in my life and work without torturing myself so much?
How can I cultivate a sense of ease?
The answer lies in the question I asked at the start of this blog:
What would a good parent do?
If I can ask that question in every instance and then take the action I’m guided to take in response to it – the same action a good parent would take alongside a beloved child – I believe that everything will become easier and, who knows, my life and career might even flow.
Let’s take my writing as an example.
I have three books on the go – a memoir, a novel and a self-help book on emotional overeating. They’re in varying states, one half-finished, one just begun, one somewhere in between, and I’ve got myself into a pickle about which book to complete first.
I’m basically frozen and therefore not writing very much at all.
That’s because my inner child has been running the show.
It’s my inner child who flits from one project, one book or one activity to another, seeking instant gratification and emotional highs, that inevitably are followed by lows.
It’s my inner child who has a limited attention span, is prone to distraction and who reaches for her phone to scroll through social media in the middle of a writing session.
It’s my inner child who struggles to proceed steadily, with balance, and to stick with a project until completion.
It’s my inner child who is afraid of people and of others’ anger and who prefers to please others first before pleasing herself, thereby postponing the pursuit of her dreams.
And it’s my inner child who’s reluctant to finish what she starts because finishing another book and publishing it would mean she’d have to face her fear of rejection, criticism and humiliation, deal with her terror of getting something wrong and stand up to her chronic inner perfectionist.
I guess that’s why I wrote my first book, How to Fall in Love, so fast. The adrenaline I created as I worked to meet a deadline set by colleagues and reinforced by a writing coach numbed the fear I felt inside. And I rode that wave of adrenaline right up to publication day.
But it wasn’t an entirely healthy way to manage my workload. I wrote late into the night and got up at four in the morning, replicating the adrenaline-fuelled years I spent as a Reuters news journalist. And I didn’t lay the groundwork for publication. I didn’t do any advance marketing. I simply hit ‘publish,’ breathed a huge sigh of relief and then went on a ski trip!
I also abandoned other areas of my life to get the job done – my social life and my relationship. Fortunately, no long-term damage was done. My partner stayed with me, supported me throughout and even proposed after I’d published the book, despite barely seeing me for weeks (or perhaps because of that!) and having to cook all the meals.
This Is What Good Parents Do
Going forwards, I’d like to do things differently, with more balance, more self-care, more flow and more ease.
Which is why this question – what would a good parent do? – is so important.
A good parent, I feel, would encourage a child to choose one project and see it through to completion, surely and steadily.
A good parent would gently guide the child back to her main focus when her attention wandered off or when she wanted to throw in the towel.
A good parent would give the child a manageable deadline and draw up an achievable writing schedule that allowed the project to be completed while making time for self-care, fun and love.
A good parent would soothe the child when her fear of criticism, judgement and humiliation rose to the surface and threatened to derail the entire project.
A good parent would ask for help and support from appropriate quarters – a writing coach and an editor, perhaps – just as a parent would bring in a maths tutor or a sports coach.
A good parent would bring consistency, clarity, compassion and would let the child know who is in charge, helping the child to come down from her flighty, unfocused, adrenalised and panicked state and proceed with balance.
I don’t have my own children. I’m not a parent. But I’ve been parented, I’ve observed parenting and I know and love a number of children. I also think we instinctively know what children need, whether or not we are parents.
Children love to play. They can be spontaneous and chaotic. They can leave a mess everywhere. They prefer instant gratification. A good parent can teach the importance of order, cleanliness, balance and delayed gratification.
In what areas of your life do you need a good parent? In what areas are you prone to instant gratification or magical thinking? In what areas do you need some balance and order?
When The Inner Child Goes Dating
Since I’m a love, dating and relationships coach, let’s explore the topic of dating for a moment.
If your scared inner child is in the driving seat when you go dating, she might reach for instant gratification and she might overstep healthy boundaries. She might end up texting late into the night, losing herself in fantasy thinking, abandoning self-care and sleeping with someone before she’s ready.
She might end up staying in a relationship that isn’t right for her because she’s scared of abandonment or rejection, or she might push a good person away because she’s terrified of getting hurt.
On the other hand, if our loving inner parent is running the show when we go dating, we will proceed steadily, we’ll delay gratification, we’ll set and respect healthy boundaries, including around our thinking (my book has a whole chapter on boundaries) and we’ll act in our best interests, choosing to stay or to go based on our inner wisdom and intuition rather than our panic and terror.
All that said, it’s important to acknowledge that we’re human, we make mistakes, we get over-excited, we let our emotions run away with us and we get ourselves in a pickle, especially where love and sex are concerned. And that’s OK. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. We simply pick ourselves up afterwards, brush ourselves down, learn our lessons and move on. Self-compassion is critical to the whole process.
But if we can keep coming back to the question, what would a good parent do?, and if we can keep soothing and reassuring our inner child and giving her clear direction, then we’ll set ourselves up to succeed in relationships rather than fail.
Putting It Into Practice
I hope this question – what would a good parent do? – helps you in life and love. It’s already helping me.
When I feel tempted to flit to a new task before finishing what I’m doing, I ask, what would a good parent do?
When I reach for my phone to scroll through social media rather than getting on with my writing, I ask, what would a good parent do?
When I want instant gratification with food rather than cooking a healthy meal, I ask, what would a good parent do?
When I’m procrastinating over life admin, I ask, what would a good parent do?
When I’m working myself into the ground and depriving myself of play, I ask, what would a good parent do?
So, dear reader, take your quandary and ask, what would a good parent do?
This blog was inspired by a wonderful experience I had recently doing equine therapy with my incredibly insightful therapist Paul Sunderland. There’s a separate blog brewing about the equine itself, or perhaps a media article, so I won’t write anymore about it now. Suffice it to say that I learned how important it is to communicate clearly, consistently, in a commanding way and with compassion when around anxious horses or humans (including our inner children).
How To Fall In Love Courses Starting Soon & Prices Going Up!
One of the results of all this inner work I’ve been doing is a realisation that it’s time I increased the prices of my How to Fall in Love courses, Laying the Foundations and Date with Courage, Clarity & Confidence. This is what a good parent would do. I have understood that I cannot fulfill my true purpose in this world while charging my current fees and while I struggle with marketing, selling and charging certain rates for my work, I need to practice what I preach and value myself and my expertise.
I was doing some meditation at the beach on Sunday morning – listening to the wonderful Sarah Blondin on Insight Timer (she’s the best!) – and a scene from my childhood meandered into my mind.
In this scene, I was not long into my time at secondary school (so around aged 11) and I was feeling anxious about missing out.
Yep, I had FOMO, long before the acronym was ever imagined (I think – don’t quote me on that!) and long before social media caused an epidemic of FOMO.
The reason? I was due to take part in a race for the City of Liverpool’s cross country team in Sheffield. This was quite an honour. I was only 11 and I was representing my city at cross country running. Go me!
But running the race, a distance away from home, meant taking a day off school and missing a very important lesson: my drama class.
This felt like a dangerous thing to do because back then, I was only just figuring out who my friends were and I was worried that the two girls I’d been hanging out with in previous drama classes would cement their friendship in the class I was set to miss and that I would be left out, in the cold, on my own, friendless.
I remember feeling so unsure about running the race. I remember feeling torn between the drama class and the cross country event. I remember going along to Sheffield and running through the muddy forest, while at the same time worrying about what was going on back at school and how friendless I would be when I returned.
It was excruciating. I had no peace. I wasn’t present. And I didn’t enjoy the race. I ran it with the weight of the world on my tiny shoulders.
This memory came to me because, this past Sunday morning, I was once again torn between two activities: an outdoor yoga class followed by a sociable coffee versus some alone time at the beach hut, swimming in the sea, journaling and enjoying the peace and space.
I opted for the latter, because I felt like I needed it. I knew I had a sociable afternoon ahead – my husband and I had been invited to go sailing – and I’d had a sociable Saturday evening. My inner introvert, who cohabits with my inner extrovert, was asking for some time out.
But even as I sat down in the glorious sunshine to meditate, I felt a bit unsure – unsure of what I wanted and needed, unsure if I’d made the right choice. I also felt a little anxious about missing out on the yoga and social gathering.
Yes, I had a touch of FOMO. Aged 49.
To settle myself, I tuned in to a meditation called ‘Remembering Your Worth’ and I did just that – I remembered my worth.
I remembered that I didn’t need to run around like crazy trying to prove that I was valuable and that I didn’t need to gather an army of friends around me to certify that I was a likeable person.
Instead, I could just rest, in my inherent worth.
And as I rested, I connected with my little girl – with my 11-year-old self and with an even younger self, my inner baby – and I saw how scared and unsure of herself she was.
I saw how much she lacked a secure base – that is a safe haven, provided by consistent, present and loving caregivers; a place to return to when she felt scared.
I saw how wobbly she felt on the inside and how much she needed to be reassured that she was safe and that she was OK, which is why, as she grew up, she was so anxious about forming friendships and why she had so much FOMO – and can still have to this day.
I saw why she studied so hard and performed so brilliantly academically and on the sports field – because she was forever seeking a sense of safety, a sense of worth and a sense of esteem, but from outer rather than inner sources.
And I saw why she picked up the crutch of binge eating, and later binge-drinking, and later sexual liaisons – to feel better about herself, to feel OK, to feel acceptable, to feel loved (even though her actions left her feeling the opposite – full of shame, unworthy and unlovable).
Once I had a clear picture of my insecure, anxious inner child and my scared inner baby, bawling her eyes out in her cot while nobody came to soothe her, I imagined myself walking towards her and picking her up and holding her on my lap, against my chest, stroking her hair, calming and reassuring her.
And what was so clear to me is that the baby I was holding on my lap wasn’t my baby. It wasn’t a baby I’d given birth to. Or I baby I wanted to give birth to.
Rather it was me as a baby.
It was my inner baby.
My inner baby needs me.
My inner baby needs to be soothed and told that she is loved and that she is safe.
My inner toddler needs this too, as does my inner 11-year-old and my inner teenager.
They need my comfort and my support. They deserve my comfort and support.
And the more I am able to give comfort, reassurance, love and soothing to my inner children, the more I will feel on steady rather than shaky ground, and the less I will suffer from the fear of missing out and the illusion that happiness is over there, rather than inside here (places hand on chest).
I was unsure about what to write for World Childless Week until I stumbled upon these thoughts about the inner baby and inner child and they felt relevant.
Each of us has our own journey to not having children, if that’s our story.
For me, my journey has a lot to do with my inner child.
I now understand that I always needed to connect with her first and to love and care for her, before contemplating bringing a child into this world to love and care for.
She has always needed me, and she’s been crying out for me, but I ignored her for many years – until now.
She needed me to soothe her and she needed me to play with her.
This, I now see, was the most important thing for me.
And it had to come first.
I didn’t have enough nurturing, love or care to give to another child because I needed to give it to myself. Or perhaps I was resistant and reluctant to give it to another child because I knew I needed to give it to myself first.
But it took me a long time to realise this, all my fertile years, in fact. And I’m now 49.
I wonder what your story is, in relation to outer and inner children.
You may already have children and you may still need to connect with and care for your inner child. In fact, your inner child might be screaming out for your attention and you just don’t feel you’re able to give her/him any of your time.
Or like me, you may need to accept that your inner child needed your love and attention so much that you weren’t able to nurture an outer child, or perhaps you developed the capacity to do so eventually, but by then it was too late.
Or maybe you still have a desire to have children and you still have time. In which case, my suggestion is the same …
Start by nurturing your inner child.
How do we know if our inner child needs our attention?
Here are some clues: if we find ourselves binge-eating or binge-drinking or social media scrolling or blaming, judging and criticising others or sleeping around or working ourselves into the ground, then it’s likely our inner child is crying out to be noticed, to be heard, to be seen, to be allowed to play, to be reassured and comforted.
If we are doing any of the aforementioned self-harming behaviours, the best thing we can do is pause, reflect and connect with our inner child and give him or her all the soothing, reassurance and love that he or she deserves.
Do you agree?
I’d welcome your thoughts.
This week is World Childless Week and there’s a whole series of wonderful, free events so do take a look via this link.
If you’d prefer to explore these topics face-to-face, I am hosting a wonderful retreat holiday in Turkey with yoga in May 2021. Click here for details. Why not give yourself something to look forward to?
Finally, whether you are childless or not, or looking for love or simply looking for a better relationship with yourself, you might benefit from my book, How to Fall in Love.
I am a writer, dating and relationships coach, mid-life mentor and motivational speaker. I'm the author of How to Fall in Love - A 10-Step Journey to the Heart and I write for the national media on topics including love and dating, how to change unhelpful habits and have healthy relationships, and other aspects of personal growth. I coach people to create healthy, loving and authentic relationships with themselves and others, and lives they truly love. I lead workshops and run retreats.
You can find out more about me at www.katherinebaldwin.com and www.howtofallinlove.co.uk or read my blog at www.fromfortywithlove.com