Family

For some of you, it’ll seem quite bizarre that I’m having these feelings and writing this post at the grand, middle-age of 45. Others, I know, will understand.

Some of you have already had years belonging to your own family unit. I don’t mean your family of origin – your Mum, Dad, siblings etc. I mean a family unit that you’ve created outside of the one you were born or adopted into. Some of you kicked this off in your 20s, partnering up, getting married or becoming parents quite young. Acting like adults, even if you didn’t feel like it. Running homes. Having shared responsibilities or making big decisions about little people’s lives. Others did it in your 30s. But I’m only just experiencing it now (minus the little people). And it feels new, different, good and sometimes weird, so I thought I’d write about it.

phonegreenWhen I signed up for the Seahorse Swim recently (2 km in the sea on July 3 – I’d better get training!), they asked for the details of two emergency contacts. For the last decade or so, I’ve given my brother’s details as my first ‘next of kin’, then Mum as my second. I figure my brother will be more able to cope in a crisis than my Mum and she’s also often out and doesn’t have a mobile phone. Prior to that, when Mum was a bit younger, she was my first emergency contact.

This time, I gave my partner’s name and number first. Then my brother’s after that.

I’ve given my partner’s name as an emergency contact before over the past 18 months or so, but doing so hasn’t come all that naturally. I’ve had to pause and think about it. But this time, I hesitated less. I didn’t think about it very much at all. And I smiled as I did it, enjoying the new sense of belonging I feel. That’s because since we moved in, nearly four weeks ago now, I feel like we’ve created our own little family unit. Families don’t need to be of 3, 4, 5 or 6. They don’t necessarily need to consist of adults and kids.

A family of 2 is family enough to be a family.

It’s a small thing in many ways but for someone who’s been so independent for so many years and single, on and off, for a reasonable amount of time, and whose family role to date has always been that of daughter and sister, being part of my own family unit marks a really big shift. The closest I came to this was back in my Mexico days when I felt part of a large family of sorts – a group of people all in our 20s, living very similar lives, hanging out in each others’ homes, partying until dawn. It was great fun and I felt like I belonged, but we were young and it was different to what I have now.

For me, this is the more grown-up version. The culmination of a long journey I’ve been on.

It’s odd. Little has changed but then so much has changed. I’ve matured. I’ve committed to a relationship. I’ve bought a house with my partner. And I’m now starting to inhabit my role as a member of my new family with confidence and a real sense of belonging. We spent the weekend painting walls in matching overalls. I’m enjoying making dinner for us both. And I love hanging the laundry out to dry in the fresh, sea air! (It’s funny – I used to get my kicks from flying on helicopters in disaster zones. Now I get a real buzz from watching the laundry blow in the wind! Age? Maturity? Recovery?)

These are good feelings. I feel happy, safe and loved. And when I don’t feel those things, I know it’s my mind playing tricks on me, trying to sabotage the good stuff, looking for reasons to create a catastrophe, so I just ignore it and remind myself of the truth.

So what if you don’t have your own family unit and you dearly want it? What if you’re reading this as a single person who no longer wants to be, as someone who wants to feel part of their own little family?

I don’t have any answers, other than my own experience. I returned to someone who I’d previously dismissed not because he necessarily ticked all the boxes my head had drawn up, but because, when I’m around him, I laugh a lot, relax and feel peace. My washing machine mind stops whizzing around so much. I feel secure. I feel accepted. I feel free to be me, in all my silliness, to sing and dance around in my pjs.

I did a lot of ‘work on myself’ (I dislike that phrase!) to get here. It was a process of letting go of fixed ideas of what my future should look like. It was a process of taking risks. And it was a process of learning to tame deep-rooted behaviours and responses that make me want to run away from, judge, criticise or control the person I want to be with or jeopardise my chances of happiness.

That’s just a brief summary. The rest of the story is going in the book. So I’d better get back to that!

 

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

I want to be me

I want to be me, I thought, as I cycled along the Bournemouth seafront this morning. Not someone else. Not that woman over there with the toned, slim legs or the long, thick, glossy hair. Not that sporty girl in the cute hoodie or that lady cuddling her baby. Not that young lady driving that car, with that guy sat next to her.

I want to be me.

I think I’ve spent a lot of my life wanting to be someone else, to look like someone else or to have someone else’s body, family, career or life. But while this life of mine comes with its own peculiar challenges, today I want to be me.

As I pondered wanting to be me this morning, I remembered a poem I wrote two years ago for Body Gossip, a charity that campaigns for positive body image and healthy self-esteem. It was published in a Body Gossip book, along with other poems and stories. I’d completely forgotten about it, but it came to me the other weekend and I decided to read it to a room full of people. I’d like to post it here too.

A lot has changed since I wrote this poem and since I started my 40-day challenge to accept myself and stop criticising the way I looked, chronicling my progress on my first blog: ‘Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self-Acceptance’ back in 2011. It’s easier to be kind to myself these days, to speak to myself in a more loving way. It doesn’t always happen but it’s easier than it was. Maybe that’s because I understand today, more than ever, that it’s a choice – I can choose to be kind to myself or I can choose to beat myself up. It’s down to me.

And I can choose to accept, embrace and love my life as it is today or I can choose to fantasise about some other life that isn’t mine and probably will never be.

The poem is called ‘If Only’. Here goes …

If Only

 

If only I had Michelle Obama’s arms, I wouldn’t need any other charms

If only I had Gisele Bündchen’s height, then surely life would be alright

Attractive young woman concerned about her weight

If only I had Cindy Crawford’s cleavage, and Jennifer Aniston’s über-toned sleevage

If only I had Claudia Schiffer’s thighs, I’d definitely have my pick of the guys

If only I had Cheryl Cole’s glossy hair, then everyone would stop and stare

If only I had Kate Moss’ tum, not to mention Jennifer Lopez’s bum

If only I had Elle Macpherson’s skin and if only I had just one chin

In short, if only I didn’t look like me, surely then I’d be much more happy

I’d be out every night with a gorgeous date or married to the perfect mate

I’d have two lovely kids and a flourishing career; I’d be confident and free of fear

Because life is easy when you’re pretty and slim, it’s not a battle, it’s no longer grim

Surely with the perfect complexion, life is simply love, joy and affection

But what if all this isn’t true, and what if I didn’t wish to look like you

What if I decided I was good enough and life really wasn’t all that tough?

No more envy or trying to be who I’m not, because I’m me and I’m all I’ve got

So why not celebrate other people’s beauty, but tell myself I’m also a cutie?

Why not accept myself just as I am, but also put on a touch of glam?

I have a pretty face and a shapely body, my clothes don’t need to look this shoddy

Why do I hide under a baggy dress? Why not style myself to impress?

And why insist on a life of striving, when I could be out there, laughing and thriving?

So every day I’ll embrace my appearance, all it takes is a little perseverance

To challenge negative thoughts when they come, and keep myself from feeling glum

Because regardless of my shape or size, I’ll still be blue if I listen to those lies

So life will flow and I’ll feel content and free, if only I can keep on accepting me.

 

 

Posted in Addiction, Body Image, Eating disorders, Perfectionism, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Uncategorized, Women | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dread

I can remember it vividly. I left the gym at Belvedere’s, my senior school in Liverpool, and walked past the netball courts and out onto the street, where Mum was sitting in the car waiting for me. I was sobbing before I opened the door but when I got in, dragging my heavy bag of books onto my lap, the tears flowed even more. Mum didn’t know what to do or say. What could have happened? Who had died? Why was I so distraught?anxiety

“Mum, I read the question wrong!” I cried, as my shoulders heaved and I gulped for air.

I’d just done one of my ‘A’ levels and I was convinced I’d misunderstood the question and had therefore failed. I was inconsolable for hours, if not days.

A few months later, when I picked up my results, I got a string of A grades, not a B in sight and definitely no fails.

I remember another time at school when I was asked to run cross country for Liverpool in a race in Coventry. Quite an achievement, perhaps. An honour, even. Only the race fell on a school day and I had to miss drama class. I worried all the way to Coventry and back. I had two relatively new friends at school and I was convinced they’d bond with each other in drama and that when I got back, I’d feel left out. I didn’t enjoy that day or that race. I didn’t feel any sense of achievement. I was in a permanent state of dread, worrying about something that probably didn’t happen (I can’t recall if those girls bonded in that class but I was never short of friends at school).

Jump forward several decades to the time I bought my London flat and you’ll find me in a similar state of panic. In my mind, it was the wrong flat, too far from the Tube, too far from the shops, too this, not enough that. I decided to buy it in an adrenaline-fuelled frenzy, but I didn’t trust myself and I beat myself up for months afterwards. Eventually, though, I grew to love that place. I made it my own, I gave the living room a red feature wall, painted the bedroom walls green and invited my friends around often for tea. And then the Tube came to me, hooking up with a station on my street, helping to more than double the value of my attic flat and enabling me to buy another home by the sea.

There are so many other occasions when my anxiety has got the better of me – too many to list, so I’ll just highlight a few.

When I refurbished my flat and decided one of the radiators was too small and the kitchen was so badly designed I couldn’t use a corner cupboard – I obsessed about those ‘mistakes’ for ages, losing nights of sleep, beating myself over the head with an invisible frying pan. When I decided to fly back from Spain on the Thursday instead of the Saturday or whatever day it was and as soon as I booked it, convinced myself I had to change it and set about reading the small print about alteration fees. And all the stress I created over buying my wetsuit and my little mini (which you heard me enjoying in my last blog post). In my mind, the wetsuit was too small and I’d made a huge mistake with the mini because it wasn’t red or blue, the tax was too high and it was too heavy on petrol. Only I’m quite happy with both now.

Which brings me to today. Today, our house purchase completed and later on, my partner and I will pick up the keys to our new home.

“Are you excited?” people have asked me over the past few days.

“Apprehensive, nervous, anxious,” I say, and I’m not sure they understand. It’s not what they want or expect to hear.

How can they understand? How can they get inside my worrying mind? How can they grasp how tortuous these decisions are for me? If I tell them I lay awake last night, worrying that we bought the wrong house, on the wrong street, next door to the wrong people, will they get it? If I confess I’ve been obsessively scouring Rightmove to see what bigger, better, quieter house we could have bought if we hadn’t bought this one – in the exact same way I used to get straight back onto dating websites after getting together with a guy to see who else was out there – would they comprehend? Given house purchases and relationships have the ‘C’ word in common – commitment – it doesn’t surprise me I behave in the same way.

There’s a reason for my nervousness around houses. I have history here. We moved a few times when I was young and I remember, every time, my Mum struggling with house-related woes: noisy neighbours, barking dogs, traffic, subsidence and so forth. Seeing my Mum stressed, worried and sad is an early memory. It’s one of those very deep wounds. It’s not surprising it recurs.

Relationships are similar. In my early years, love meant loss; love meant hurt; marriage meant divorce and Dad moving out. There are some wounds there too, buried deep in my psyche.

But the anxiety I so often feel extends beyond houses and relationships. It’s pervasive. I have a sense that there’s a crisis around every corner, something to be feared. And fear breeds control. If I can control my circumstances, I can reduce the likelihood of feeling pain. So a detached house means less chance of neighbour noise. A ‘perfect’ bloke means less chance of getting hurt. Lots of money and loads of stuff mean less chance of ending up homeless and sleeping on the streets.

Only it’s never enough. The outside stuff is never enough because the problem is on the inside. Outside stuff can help for a while – excess food and overeating used to act as a sedative to the anxiety and the pain, until they stopped working. Money can give me the sense that I’m secure, but that security is an illusion. I can try to control my environment and what happens to me as much as I want, but so much of the important stuff is out of my control.

Why am I writing this? Partly because I read this article on Facebook this morning and it really resonated with me: How to Make Anxiety Work For You, Not Against You. I liked what the author said about making friends with anxiety, embracing it, seeing it as an ‘unbelievably creative imagination’ and channeling it through writing.

After reading it, I did five minutes meditation, which brought me to tears. I’d had a sleepless night, obsessing about the house and all the other mythical houses we didn’t buy and in those five minutes of stillness and silence, I got underneath all the obsessive thoughts and connected with the pain – the deep, deep pain; the pain that so often is lurking beneath the hyper-activity, obsession and control.

Then after crying, I looked at myself in the mirror opposite my bed as I typed some notes on my laptop, curled up in my pjs. I saw my furrowed brow, the way my eyebrows were angled down, almost connecting in the middle above my nose. I saw the wet patches beneath my eyes and the red, flushed cheeks. I saw the lips, so often smiling, turned downwards and the flecks of grey in my hair. Anxiety takes its toll on my face.

So I’m writing this because it helps to share my pain and I’m writing this because it seems to be what I’m meant to do.

I’m also writing this because I want you to understand me. I want you to know this is part of me, a part I really struggle with, a part that can be painful and debilitating, but a part that somehow, as that article said, is worth embracing, even cherishing.

Please don’t judge me for it and please don’t laugh at me. Try to understand me. Hear me out. Hold me if I ask you to. Understand that we all have our strengths and our lesser strengths. Understand that the things I struggle with, you may find easy, while the things you struggle with may be a walk in the park for me. I, for example, am pretty good at public speaking, I’m not daunted my appearing on television and I’m persistent and determined when hassling banks for mortgage money. But other things – decisions, big and small; commitment; buying a house; choosing flights – cause me anxiety or fill me with dread. We all have different strengths and struggles. So let’s understand each other.

There are some things I’ve found that help with my anxiety: making a decision usually helps for a start, even if it causes short-term pain. Action and moving forward help (funny – once I heard this morning the house purchase had completed, some of my anxiety subsided and I did feel excited; the build-up was the problem). Meditation helps. Swimming in the sea helps. Chris Evans’ Radio 2 Breakfast Show generally helps, because it makes me laugh. Yes, laughter helps. Writing helps. Exercise helps. As does having some ‘bottom lines’ or boundaries around my behaviour – so no more checking RightMove for houses or Gumtree for minis; and no more swapping wetsuits for smaller sizes. Anti-depressants may help, of course, but I’ve also been too anxious to take the stupid things!

I could also tell myself to lighten up, to count my blessings, to see my issues as high-class problems other people would love to have. I do that often, but it doesn’t always work. Somehow, that seems like the path of resistance – trying to quash the anxious, worrying side of me, trying to pretend it doesn’t exist or telling it it’s not allowed to have a voice.

Maybe the better route is to accept it, to embrace it, to surrender to it, to create something with it and to write it all down on this blog, so that I can look back in a few weeks and see, as so often has been the case, that I had absolutely nothing to worry about.

 

Posted in Addiction, Creativity, Eating disorders, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Choosing change

I went for a swim in the sea this morning, in my new wetsuit, cosy swimming socks, neoprene gloves and cap. And I wasn’t even cold.

On the way down to the beach, I had one of those ‘I think I need to pinch myself’ moments. I was driving my little Mini Cooper S (cream with black bonnet stripes), I had my swimming gear in the boot and I was thinking that this time next week, my partner and I will get the keys to our new house. Our first ever home together. The first house either of us has ever bought with anyone else. Our three bed semi with wood floors and decking onto a sunny garden, walking distance to the harbour and a bike ride to the beach.

How did I end up here? How did I end up in love, buying a house, living by the coast, writing my blog in a cafe while looking out to sea?

I made it happen. I made choices. I took risks. I pushed through my wobbles.

Remember this blog: The life I want to lead from October, 2012? I do. I was single, unhappy and staring at a box of unopened antidepressants tucked away in my tea drawer. I’d just done my motorbike test – driving a scooter on busy roads through disgusting weather as big lorries sped past – and it felt like I’d just sentenced myself to many more years of living alone in London. How on earth did I end up here, I asked. I pulled myself out of it, taking myself off to Mexico for five weeks, realising that if I want my life to change, I have to change it, but while I had a fabulous time away, I felt sad and miserable again when I got back.

So what changed?

I made some choices.

In October 2015, a few weeks after taking my first anti-depressant and then deciding I didn’t want to go down that route, I took a few big decisions and resolved to stick to them.

I committed to giving a relationship with my partner my best shot – no more wavering, no more one foot in, one foot out, no more looking over my shoulder or his to see if there was someone else around. I also committed to writing my book and to spending money on a writers’ retreat to prove to myself that my book was worth investing in. And I committed to putting my health and happiness first. That was the Rescue Remedy I blogged about. And it worked.

Not long after that, I made another choice – to move out of London to the sea, something I’d been talking about for years but hadn’t had the courage to do. And that’s where I am right now, writing this while looking at the beach, my wetsuit in the back of my little car.

It hasn’t been plain sailing, as you well know. How could it be? I’m prone to my ups and downs whether I live in Islington or Poole, whether I’m in love or lonely. And I’m prone to overdoing it, working too hard at things that don’t nourish my soul, not getting to the beach enough. But on balance, I’m a lot more balanced down here. I can thank the sea for that, as well as all the work I’ve done on myself and the steady, solid, oak-of-a-bloke I love.

So if I want things to change, I have to change them. If they don’t work, I can always change them back but I believe choosing to change is the answer to being stuck.

Change is tough, especially if you carry around several bags of anxiety like me, but I’ve seen over the past few months, much more than ever before, that Mark Twain was on to something when he said: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

The difficult things that happen to us often come out of the blue, with no warning, knocking us for six. But the things I spend most of my time worrying about, trying to anticipate, rarely come to pass. For example …

All being well, my partner and I will complete our house purchase next week, saving us a huge amount of money in extra stamp duty. I didn’t think we’d manage it. I’ve worried about it for weeks. But the whole thing has flowed, with only minor hiccups. It’s not entirely clear whether I needed to stress so much, to intervene, to make so many phone calls, to stay on top of the process every minute of every day. I wonder if it would have flowed just the same without my control freakery. I certainly would have slept better if I’d have believed it would all work out in the end. Who knows?

And take our recent ski trip. I thought I’d be miserable. I thought my hands and feet would freeze and I’d poke my eye out with a ski pole. I thought I’d be lonely since all my pals can ski and I can’t. I thought I’d hurt myself when I fell and it would be a painful, expensive week.

SkiingBut no. I absolutely loved it. The sun shone every day but one, I was generally too hot, not cold, I enjoyed learning with the ladies in my ski school, I adored dancing in my ski boots as the sun went down and I didn’t hurt myself, not even when I slid backwards down a red slope for quite a stretch.

Fabulous. When can I go back?

So how did I end up here?

I used to ask that question in tears in the bedroom of my Islington flat or at the end of that horrible motorbike test. I still ask it, but the tone is different now and I’ve got a smile on my face. How did I end up here, living this wonderful life?

The answer is I made it happen.

So if you’re feeling stuck and want to change, why not give change a shot? Move towards it, grab it with both hands. Discover the patterns that get in the way of your happiness and do the opposite of what you’ve always done.

The worst that can happen is that you have to change back.

 

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Living the dream

It’s not always like this. In fact, the past few days haven’t been great. My washing machine head has been on spin cycle, thoughts thrashing around inside at high speed, keeping me up in the night as I flip from side to side, tying the duvet in knots. I’ve been beating myself up, for all the things I’ve decided I’ve done wrong or all the things I haven’t done. I’m feeling bruised. And I haven’t had enough sleep.

But today it’s different. Today, the sun is out and I cycled to work.

Cycling to work, these days, doesn’t involve riding through busy streets, avoiding double-decker buses, big lorries turning corners and hurried pedestrians dashing across the road.

I live by the sea. It’s different now.

Inspired by the sunshine, I decided to cycle this morning from Poole to my studio in Boscombe along the seafront, from one end of the beach to the other.

It reminded me why I live here.

The waves were crashing to my right, rows of colourful beach huts were gleaming in the warm sun to my left and I saw the kind of life I love to see: surfers, walking along in their wetsuits with their boards on their heads or catching waves out by the pier.

IMG_2787

Disclaimer: my camera’s broken so this picture wasn’t taken this morning but it’s the right beach!

I’d much rather see surfers on my way to work than men and women rushing around in grey suits. They remind me there are more important things in life than computers, screens, emails and deadlines. They remind me why I do what I do, why I don’t have a well-paid, full-time job, why I juggle and write, teach, train and coach and sometimes worry about where the money’s coming from. It’s because I want a different life for myself, a life where I can take a sunny morning off to swim in the sea or body board (maybe I’ll learn to surf properly some day) or take the afternoon to see the people who are important to me.

Peace, freedom, joy, love, time. They’re my goals. I sometimes get in my own way. In fact, I often do. But this morning I felt closer to where I want to be than I have in a while.

I grew up riding along the prom – Otterspool Promenade in Liverpool – with grass on one side and the River Mersey on the other. The Mersey is nothing like the sea I have here – and nowhere near as clean – but it’s a large expanse of water and it looked particularly big when I was small. This morning, I wondered if I’m living here because I needed to come back to my roots: to water, to the coast, to fresh air, exercise and the Great Outdoors. It feels good to be on a prom like the one I rode freely around as a child. It feels like I’m getting back in touch with the real me, the adventurous, free-wheeling little girl I temporarily left behind.

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Becoming whole

This blog post, like me, is a work in progress. But I’m going to post it anyway. In fact, I’m going to write it in half an hour and post it immediately, so I have time for lunch, to get ready and to get out the door to catch a train to a meeting. I’m not going to stew or stress over it. I’m not going to edit it for hours. I’m just going to write it, read it once or twice and press send.

It’ll do. It’ll do for now because I know I’ll be coming back to this topic of ‘becoming whole’ many times. It’s what I’m about. It’s what my book is about. And it’s what I want my work, going forward, to be about. I want to become whole, as much as humanly possible, and I want to help others to become whole, through writing, coaching and speaking.

So here goes.

oakLet’s start with what I mean by being whole. Think of the oak tree, with its wide, solid trunk. It stands firm in the wind. It doesn’t sway, waver or bend. It’s grounded, solid, safe from the elements, from outer influences. It’s connected to the earth. It’s resilient. It’s sure of who it is and what it’s about.

Now think of a thin, scrawny tree with spindly branches. It gets blown about all over the place. It may get uprooted, knocked over, or its branches may snap when the wind blows.

Or think of a feather in the wind. It gets blown back and forth, up and down. It has no substance. It’s not able to resist. It’s vulnerable, flighty. It goes where it’s pushed. External influences decide its direction of travel. It has no course of its own.

I want to be like the oak tree, grounded, rooted, secure. I want to know who I am and what I’m about. I want to stand tall and strong, with my feet planted firmly on the ground, connected to Nature, to my source. I don’t want to be like the scrawny tree or the feather. I don’t want to be blown about. I want to decide where I’m going and stay on that path.

The oak tree is inside me somewhere. It’s growing, taking shape, slowly inhabiting my insides. But it takes time and effort to develop a solid core, particularly if we’re starting from a scrawny base. I want to embrace my inner oak and nurture it. And I want to help others do the same.

It’s hard to trust yourself when you never have before. It’s hard to believe you know what’s right for you when you’ve lived with so many years of insecurity and self-doubt. It’s hard to break the habit of listening to other people’s opinions and handing them authority over your life, thinking they’re right and you’re wrong. It’s hard to say No when you really mean No when you’ve spent a lifetime saying Yes to things you don’t want. It’s hard to stand up to ‘authority’ figures when your first attempt of doing so – perhaps as a child, standing up to a parent – went horribly long.

But we can learn. How do we learn? Through practice, by practicing being whole, saying No, standing up to people, trusting ourselves, taking up our rightful place in the world, even if doing so makes us scared, even if it makes us sweat, cry, shiver or start running for the hills. We learn by spending time with ourselves, feeding and watering our inner oak in whatever way works.

What works for me? Meditation, prayer, writing, walking by the sea, taking time to listen to the ‘still small voice’ inside, speaking to friends to build up my courage and by exercising the muscles that have been under-used (saying No, trusting myself, making choices and accepting my mistakes).

Becoming whole, or as whole as possible, will take time. I’ll be on this journey for the rest of my life. But it’s probably the most important road I will walk. And it’s a road that’s well worth travelling.

Whole. Authentic. Free. True. This is what I want for my life.

Becoming whole doesn’t mean I won’t cry anymore or I won’t make mistakes, mess up or get hurt. It means I’ll cry as much as I need to and want to because it’s healing and freeing. It means I’ll accept my mistakes and learn from them. Maybe I’ll even laugh at them.

I know I’ll have days when I feel less whole, days when I’m more like the feather in the wind than the sturdy oak tree, but that’s OK. The inner oak is there. It’s growing. My core, my authentic self is becoming strong.

I watched a talk the other day by a woman called Johanna Walker that inspired me to continue on this journey of becoming whole and to continue to share my story with absolute honesty. I’ll leave you with the Youtube clip of the talk (see below). I think it will inspire anyone who’s struggling to come to terms with a life that looks nothing like the one they thought they’d be living. Johanna talks of the power of storytelling to make sense of our sorrow, whatever it may be, and shares how she came to terms with her grief around not being a mum. Johanna says she was inspired to speak by watching Jody Day of Gateway Women do the same. Jody talks openly and honestly about her grief around not having children and helps other women come to terms with their infertility and lead fulfilling lives. Jody’s new book is out very soon. I’ve read the first edition and can highly recommend it.

So that’s me for today. I’ve written and edited my blog post in just under an hour, not quite half an hour but still quick for me, and I’m trusting it’s good enough. Perfectionism holds me back. Perfectionism is a result of not feeling whole. When I don’t feel whole, I need to be perfect; I need other people’s approval to feel OK, to feel good about myself.

I’m done with that.

Today, I’m embracing my inner oak.

 

 

Posted in Childless, Empowerment, Happiness, Infertility, Perfectionism, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love is …

I wrote a first draft of this blog post a few months ago. I woke up one morning and felt moved to tell you all how much I love my boyfriend (OK, so I think I’m going to have to call him ‘partner’ from now on. ‘Boyfriend’ seems a bit silly as I’m nearly 45 and he’s nearly 50 and we’re looking to buy a home together).

But then I got sidetracked explaining why I hadn’t written my blog since August, reassuring you I hadn’t given it up, filling you in on my summer and autumn – lots of beach days, sea swims, good times, tough times, particularly as the winter nights set in and everything went dark and quiet down here on the south coast). And before I knew it, the day was over and I hadn’t finished my post – I must be out of practice. Then, when I came back to the blog a few days later, I didn’t feel quite as in love with my partner as I had a few days before and I felt very hesitant about declaring my feelings for him on the World Wide Web. So I stalled, returning to the post a few weeks later when I felt smitten again, but then somehow failing to finish it before Christmas arrived.

Now here we are in 2016 (Happy New Year!) and finally, I’m ready, not just because I really love him today but because I’ve come to understand that it’s natural for my love to ebb and flow. It’s nothing to be scared of. It doesn’t mean I need to jump ship. It doesn’t mean it’s not right. Maybe it just means I’m normal.

I’m also noticing that even if my love ebbs and flows, it also steadily grows. That may sound contradictory, but it feels true for me.

I used to have a very different concept of romantic love. I used to think that it wasn’t love, it couldn’t be real if it didn’t feel desperate, urgent and all-consuming; if I didn’t feel on edge and high on adrenaline.

I used to think it had to be like on Fatal Attraction (without the bunny boiling or sharp knife), or I had to experience an intensity like Baby on Dirty Dancing: “I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you,” Jennifer Grey told a bare-chested Patrick Swayze, in a breathless whisper.

I’ve experienced crazy, breathless, got-to-have-you-right-now ‘love’ before, but it didn’t grow into anything. It went up in smoke or it fizzled out. Sometimes, it was all in my head. Once, I fell for a stranger over email. Over weeks, he wooed me with poetic words. I imagined us meeting and falling into a passionate embrace. But as soon as I saw him, as soon as he became real, the bubble burst. I felt no spark. I walked away. He was upset. (I’m sorry, if you happen to be reading this).

I see now that my understanding of love and the journey I’ve been on to get where I am today reflect my personality, my inner battles and my challenges. These may be unique to me, but I share them in the hope some of you can relate.

dreamstimefree_1054567I first had to choose to love. I had wavered and wobbled and been in and out of a relationship with my partner for a few years. I thought I needed to stay away but I kept going back. Tired of not knowing what I wanted or what was good for me, I made a decision to commit to the relationship for six months and to give it my best shot. I promised myself, a few dear friends and my incredibly helpful therapist that I would do my utmost not to doubt, not to question, not to find fault and not to look for ways out. I agreed, for that time, to stop thinking there was someone else.

Choosing to love in this way may not sound particularly romantic. It’s not very Hollywood. But I’ve had a lifetime of ambivalence, of push-pull, particularly in my relationships with men. ‘I want you, but I don’t want you. I want to love, be loved and be in a partnership, but I’m terrified of loss and of being hurt. Come close; now go away.’ My mixed messages must have left a few of my ex-boyfriends feeling bewildered (if you’re reading, I apologise).

Ambivalence plagues me in other areas of my life too – ‘I want my work to get noticed. Wait, no I don’t. I’m scared and I want to hide’ – but I’ve written about that before (Ambivalence) and I can come back to it, so I’ll stick to love in this post.

I chose to put two feet in and keep them in and every time my feet got cold and I wanted to yank them out and run, my friends reminded me of my decision, of my commitment. Stay with it, for six months. Those six months came and went and I felt ready to move out of London to the sea, where he lives. We’re now at 15 and I’m ready to move in.

So I made a choice and I pushed through my doubts.

I used to think he couldn’t be the right guy if I had so many worries and reservations at the start. I kept waiting for the man to come along with whom I’d enjoy an immediate honeymoon period. (For more on that, see my 2013 blog ‘Waiting for my honeymoon’). I kept waiting to meet someone and be instantly enveloped in a pink fluffy cloud. I’d heard others talk of love like that. I’d heard others say ‘I just knew. As soon as I saw him, I just knew’, so I thought that had to happen for me too. I thought, to misquote Michael Bublé, that I just hadn’t met him yet.

(“You had to keep looking, just in case,” my partner joked with me yesterday morning.

“You kept looking too,” I replied.

“I was just passing the time, sweets, just passing the time.”)

But I never found my honeymoon. I was always wracked with doubts, judgements, criticisms and reasons why it wouldn’t work out, often right from the start.

I’d judge men on their height, weight or amount of hair, on their attitude to work or their career choice, their shoes or socks or the way they crunched their Cornflakes at breakfast. I could go from feeling incredibly attracted to someone one minute to not being able to stand the sight of them the next – ‘Come here. No, get away from me!’ – and when I felt repelled like that, it had to end.

I used to think my turmoil meant there was something wrong with him, until I realised it was more likely there was something wrong with me. I read He’s Scared, She’s Scared and began to understand there was a reason why I was attracted to men who couldn’t meet my needs and who feared commitment – because I feared it just as much or perhaps more. I was the common denominator in all my failed relationships. I was the one who made these judgements, who pushed men away. So I began to try to understand myself, to challenge my own commitment-phobia and to tame my urge to run.

Do you push love away? Are you attracted to people who aren’t good for you? Are you still holding out for the instant honeymoon, for someone about whom you won’t have any doubts? It’s helpful to become aware of our patterns and what lies behind them. Only then can we change.

When I finally became ready and willing to push through my reservations, I chose someone who showed willingness to push through his baggage too. My therapist reckons we’re attracted to people with a similar level of ‘stuff’ as us, to people who are at the same level of maturity or emotional wellness, who have the same level of commitment-phobia. The key is to find someone who’s also willing to grow, who’s also willing to push through.

This process – the choice, the decision, the compromise, all the deep and meaningful conversations (D&Ms, he calls them) that we’ve had to have to sort through our stuff – isn’t how I imagined love to be. It’s not how they portray it in the movies and it’s not the message I heard from those people who ‘just knew’. But it’s my process. Our process. And it feels real.

I’d say be wary of the lightning bolts. Remember some of us get an addictive fix off men – or women – who are unavailable or unreliable or both. I did. We can be magnetically drawn to people who can’t meet our needs, sometimes because we’re subconsciously repeating a pattern from our childhoods when we craved love from our parents and it didn’t come. As adults, we replay the tape, hoping to engineer a different outcome. This time, he’ll love me. This time, he’ll stay. But too often, the ending is the same.

What if you find someone you think you can trust but something inside you still tells you to run for the hills? I’d suggest asking yourself if this really is your gut instinct or if it’s your fear. I reckon this is the hardest question to answer – gut instinct or fear? It’s so difficult to discern. But if love has left its scars – the love of a father, a mother or a previous partner – we may be reluctant to get hurt again. So we put up barriers, in my case in the form of criticism, judgement and ambivalence.

Processed by: Helicon Filter;These days, my wobbles about my partner are few and far between and, while I had to take a long-haul flight to get here, it feels like I’ve finally arrived on my honeymoon. Both my feet are in deep and all I want to do is sink them in deeper.

This love is different. It feels certain, long-lasting. I even feel able to write, here on the Internet, that I am ‘in love’ with my partner. I’ve always been afraid and embarrassed to utter those two little words. I never dared to. I didn’t think I was allowed. I didn’t think I belonged to the club of people who fell ‘in love’. I didn’t think my love looked like the kind of love I saw on TV, in movies or between other people.

But I’m owning those words now. And the more I say them, the more it feels true – and this isn’t about convincing myself of something that’s not real. It’s about challenging the harmful, self-sabotaging, ambivalent, shaming, ‘I don’t deserve’ messages that have inhabited my core for many years, embedded deeply in the same way the word ‘Blackpool’ runs through a stick of northern rock. This love feels good for me. I feel calmer, more grounded, I laugh a lot more. And there’s space to grow.

My regular readers may be wondering about the baby thing, by which I mean the fact I’m nearly 45, don’t have children, thought I wanted them, am unsure and ambivalent (no surprises there) about both motherhood and about childlessness and I’m wondering what will happen and how I’ll feel if I don’t have kids. It’s been a recurring theme on this blog as I’ve aged from 40 to nearly 45 and it will feature in my book, which I’m still writing and will finish this year. But that’s not something I’m going to tackle now.

Suffice it to say I’m focusing on one miracle at a time. It’s a miracle that someone who was once so obsessed with her work, her looks, her diet and her weight and who was shut down emotionally and unable to deeply connect can love like this.

If you’re reading this wondering if you can too, take heart. You can.

Posted in Childless, codependency, Dating, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments