Festive feelings

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It’s not all snowflakes and tinsel, jingle bells and ho, ho, ho. It’s not all jolly times and happy memories.

Christmas has the ability to remind us of Christmases past and perhaps, for some of us, Christmas hasn’t always been a merry occasion. It can also remind us of loss – of those who were here in previous years but who aren’t here anymore, of the things we hoped we’d have by now but don’t, or of the opportunities we feel we’ve missed.

It can be an emotional time.

It’s OK to feel. It’s OK to grieve. It’s OK to get in touch with the pain and loss.

As I see it, I have a choice – I can stuff the feelings down with chocolates, mince pies and mulled wine, or I can accept them, unlock them and give them free passage out of my heart and my soul.

Sometimes we don’t know the feelings are there, lying just beneath the surface. We don’t know the tears are sitting in the rims of our eyes, ready to fall. We don’t know because we’re busy, rushed, stressed, trying to get everything done, trying to please others, forgetting to sit with ourselves and allow ourselves to feel.

Until someone says something or we hear something or we remember something that triggers us, that takes us to a deep place of pain.

That’s what happened to me last night. A simple phrase, uttered by another, triggered something incredibly deep inside. First, I felt angry as my expectations that this Christmas would be absolutely perfect and magical came crashing to the ground. Then I felt sad as I connected with the hurt and disappointment I’ve felt on Christmases past.

This is my first Christmas in my new home with my partner, a milestone on my journey of recovery from addictive behaviours and dysfunctional relationships, a milestone in my maturity and adulthood. I wanted it to be 100 percent wonderful and dramatically different to the Christmases that have gone before – no sadness, loss, regret, dullness, stress or boredom.

Those expectations of perfection are the unrealistic expectations of my inner child – of a child who’s felt sadness, loneliness, disappointment and distress at Christmas in the past and who wants it all to be fabulous this time around.

I remembered some of those previous Christmases last night as I got into bed. I connected with the hurt and I let the tears flow.

One memory was particularly vivid. It was, I think, the first Christmas after I’d left for university. We, the students, were all heading back home. Only I wasn’t sure where my home was. Mum had sold our family house in Liverpool and moved to a caravan in North Wales and my brother was staying away in the town where he was at college. I wanted to be with my childhood friends so I’d planned to stay at my Dad’s house in Liverpool, where he lived with my step-mum. I’d rarely stayed there before. It wasn’t my home. I slept in a spare room filled with other people’s stuff.

I stayed in bed late, having gone to the pub the night before with my friends and drunk far too much, as I did in those days. I opened a few cards and presents I’d taken back with me from uni and then I got up, just as my Dad was leaving the house with my step-mum. They were off to feed her horses. It wasn’t clear when they’d come back. It wasn’t clear when we’d have lunch or when we’d open presents. I was alone in a house that wasn’t mine and I had no idea what was happening on Christmas Day.

As I write this, I realise that people have had far worse Christmases – kids without parents, kids in war zones, kids with terrible illnesses. I’m always saying this to my therapist – there are people far worse off, who’ve gone through much worse things. What am I doing here? Isn’t this self-indulgent? What right have I to feel hurt?

And there are people much better off too, my therapist usually replies, who’ve had much nicer experiences. Plus, we’re all unique. We have our own ways of processing stuff and some of us are more sensitive and vulnerable than others. Shaming myself for having feelings is only going to make it worse. It’s OK. I’m allowed.

That Christmas, I was 18, an adult in legal terms. But given I’m writing this 27 years later as a woman who still has her emotional ups and downs, I can see how much of a child I was back then, how young I was, how completely unprepared I was for such a huge disappointment at Christmas, for my expectations of a lovely day to be shattered, to feel so alone.

On that Christmas day, stood in my Dad’s cold kitchen, I didn’t know what to do next. I called my Mum and cried a bit, then called my best friend who lived around the corner and cried some more. I was on my own – could I go round? I can’t remember the sequence of events after that – did I go back to Dad’s for lunch or did I stay at my friend’s? What I can remember, though, very clearly, is how I felt and looked by the end of the night.

In the evening, we visited another friend whose parents were really sociable and loved to host. I remember sitting at her kitchen table and my friends remarking that my face was all red and blotched. I’d eaten so much sugar, drunk so much alcohol and cried so much that day that I’d come out in some sort of a rash. My body had reacted to everything I’d put inside and all the anguish that was coming out. I thought the food and the drink would take the pain away but in such huge quantities, they only made it worse.

There is no blame. It’s nobody’s fault. All I know is that I wasn’t emotionally equipped to deal with the enormous feelings that came up.

I have other memories of Christmases that weren’t as I’d hoped they’d be. One Christmas, at 23, for example, when I was travelling in New Zealand and had fallen for an Irish backpacker who, it turned out was more interested in getting drunk and playing football with his friends on Christmas Day than hanging out with me. I’d expected him to take away the pain and the loneliness but those expectations were unrealistic – and I’d chosen the wrong man. I was homeless that day, too, so to speak, staying in the Irish guy’s dorm with a few of his friends because the Queenstown hostels were full and I was low on cash.

I remember calling home to Liverpool, speaking to my Dad and my brother who were enjoying a pint of beer in my Dad’s back room and wishing so desperately that I could be there with them this time – safe, in company, with my family, rather than feeling completely lost on the other side of the world. But how would it have been in reality?

Then there were the Christmases I spent in Mexico, with a different family – a huge family of Mexican and ex-pat journalists and friends. I felt like I belonged, like I’d found my tribe. I felt loved and surrounded by warmth. But I still drank myself stupid, perhaps drowning all the memories I’ve written about here.

In recent years, I remember the Christmases when I’ve felt like there was something wrong with me – returning to my brother’s home as a single, 40-something, childless woman, feeling like a little girl, not a grown-up, feeling like I’d taken a wrong turn, like I’d missed out some key life stages, like nothing would ever change.

Many of those images of Christmases past came to me last night and I let the tears flow.

This morning, there’s some lingering sadness but I feel more balanced. And I understand what happened to me last night – something triggered deep pain from my past and I got in touch with mountains of grief. I see this as a good thing, even if it didn’t feel that way at the time. Another layer of the onion. Another stepping stone in my growth and development.

It reminds me of the phrase – if it’s hysterical, it’s historical. My reaction last night was disproportionate to events, which means my past had invaded my present, that a simple phrase had triggered deep wounds from my childhood. I wrote a blog about this five years ago, If it’s hysterical, it could be historical,  which interestingly also talks about how we can rewrite our stories, or write new stories for ourselves.

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Our fabulous twinkly tree

This morning, I’m back in my adult again, aware more than ever that my enjoyment of Christmas depends on my inner condition, rather than on the stuff on the outside or other people’s actions. I know now that I can give the child inside me a wonderful Christmas, I can make her feel loved, safe, secure and joyful. I can choose how I feel this Christmas. I can do my best to cultivate inner peace, gratitude and playfulness. I can lower my expectations of others as well as my expectations of myself, while knowing I am responsible for my own happiness and have all the inner tools to make this a cheerful time. And I can celebrate the fact I have a beautiful home with a fantastic, twinkly Christmas tree, a partner who loves me and whom I love and that there’ll be plenty of joy, laughter, love and friendship in this house at Christmas. I’ll miss my family, especially the young ones, but I can hold those feelings, they don’t need to floor me.

I can also accept this Christmas will be a mixed bag like so many others – some magic, some fun, some stress and some dull, run-of-the-mill stuff. It won’t be perfect, since perfect is impossible, but that’s OK.

If I don’t write again before Christmas, I wish you all a wonderful time. It will be what it will be. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to grieve, grieve. If you need to feel loss this Christmas – the loss of a father, mother, sister, brother, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, child or friend, or the losses of your own childhood, of the children you haven’t had or of the life you haven’t led – feel the feelings deeply and give thanks that you can feel. Don’t be afraid of the tears. They won’t hurt you. They’ll cleanse you. They’ll renew you. They’ll help you to grow.

And if you feel triggered, if you feel anger, rage, sadness or hurt that’s disproportionate to the present circumstances – in other words, if your reaction is hysterical (I use that word because it fits with historical, without any judgement or shame attached) – step back, take some time out, remove yourself from the situation or conversation and give yourself time to process what you’re feeling. Is your reaction to do with the present or the past? Separate the two out before you decide what to do or say next and process your feelings from the past. This, I believe, will save and smooth relationships at what can be an emotionally charged time.

Finally, if you can find gratitude, and I believe we all can, if we dig deep, if we write a list, that’s amazing. If you can feel joy, that’s fantastic. And know, however dark you may feel inside at times, that you have the capacity to create your own light and you soon will again.

So whatever your festive feelings, I wish you a wonderful time.

With love this Christmas,

Katherine xx

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

Dating with Soul

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This quote was true for my dating life for quite a long time.

Groundhog day.

Like banging my head against a brick wall.

Wondering why things never worked out. Wondering where I was going wrong. Wondering why I kept being attracted to men who were unavailable – emotionally, physically or geographically. Wondering why I kept sabotaging relationships with available men who were good for me. Wondering why I’d be head over heels about a man one minute and then repulsed by him the next. Wondering why everybody else seemed to have this relationship thing sorted while I was so often single and alone. Wondering … wondering …

Nobody teaches us how to date or how to be in romantic relationships. We work it out as we go along. Some of us are fortunate enough to have had a good grounding – we’ve seen healthy, loving relationships modeled by our parents or by others around us. And some of us are fortunate to have developed a healthy relationship with ourselves – to be able to know what’s good for us and to have the courage to go for it; to be able to hear our intuition and trust it; to be able to feel that tap on the shoulder that’s telling us this isn’t the right path and to be bold enough to heed it.

That wasn’t the case for me.

For a long time, I had no clue what a healthy relationship looked like and my relationship with myself was virtually non-existent – broken by years of self-harm and low self-esteem. I lived in a fantasy land, holding out for a Mr Perfect who didn’t exist because I was afraid of entering into a relationship with anybody real, scared to love in case love brought loss, as it had when I was young. I dismissed men for simple things like the colour of their socks, where they’d gone to uni or the way they ate their cornflakes and when in relationships, I swung dramatically from a pink cloud to an urge to run for the hills.

This was my story. And I accept it sounds quite extreme, perhaps more extreme, looking back now, than it actually was at the time. All I know is I was scared of commitment and intimacy, but I had no idea I was scared or that my fear was getting in my way. I thought I was ready. I thought I was in a good place. I thought I knew what I needed. I simply thought there were no good men left in the world.

It’s taken years to challenge the unhealthy relationship patterns that kept me out of a committed relationship for so long. It’s taken years to unpick the beliefs about relationships that got lodged in my head when I was very young. It’s taken years to accept and address my fears.

But I’m absolutely delighted I had the courage to go on that journey, to look inside, to open up my several suitcases of baggage and to sort through their contents. I’m delighted because I’m absolutely loving being in my relationship. I love how much we laugh. I love that he’s here when I come home and how happy I feel when he walks through the door. I love that when I see him all the worries and troubles and craziness in my head dissolve into nothing as I realise it’s all OK. I love knowing we have a long future together, God willing, and we’ll grow and change and discover together. How exciting.

You may not need to go on such a long journey as me to find love. You may not need to trek to the bottom of your heart or hike deep into your subconscious. I hope that’s the case. But if you’re still single in your 30s or 40s or 50s and you don’t want to be, I wonder if it would help to explore if there’s anything you might change.

I wonder if it would help to take a more mindful, thoughtful approach to dating and relationships. I wonder if it would help to slow down and hear your intuition. I wonder if it would help to spend time thinking about your values, creating a vision for the partner you’d like to be with and making sure your values and vision match up. I wonder if it would help to take a look at your life and see how much time you’re spending on relationships, fun and self-care, compared with work.

I wonder if it would help to ask yourself what would happen if you keep doing what you’ve always done, or what you might get if you make a change.

heart-1407248_640If any of this sounds appealing, take a look at a workshop I’m running this evening with coach and therapist Helen Gormley in Poole, Dorset, and consider sharing it with some single friends who might be able to join us: Dating with Soul.

Late notice? I know! It’s taken me a while to get round to this blog, but we’re planning to run many more of these workshops – both for single people and those in relationships – in Dorset and in London, so do stay in touch if this topic might be of interest. You can follow me on Twitter, sign up to this blog or follow my Facebook page.

And if you’d like to hear a little more about our vision for these workshops, take a look at this Facebook Live video I did early yesterday morning: About Dating with Soul.

Why am I running these workshops? Because I’m really passionate about sharing my experience, strength and hope with others. I’m passionate about developing a coaching, speaking and writing business in the area of relationships because I believe I can make a difference and I believe I have a gift for it. Some of the people I’ve coached or who’ve heard me speak agree. Here’s a lovely testimonial I’ll soon be sharing on my website:

“I would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Katherine to help and guide you through the emotional roller coaster of dating and relationships. In the past, I tended to swing between not voicing my needs within a relationship, causing me to harbour resentments, to behaving in a way that the other would feel controlled. However, with Katherine’s support and encouragement, I am able to find a healthy balance of communicating my needs within a relationship and accepting my partners limitations. Talking of which, she has supported me with the massive realisation that men are human too! Through the acceptance of myself and my own flaws, I am now able to love and accept a man for who he is, warts and all! Katherine has helped me to see the blocks I have had to intimacy/relationships and helped me to understand when it is my intuition or my fear that is telling me to run a mile. She has also helped me to understand my relationship triggers and work out if my reactions are rooted in the past or are about the here and now, encouraging me to take the time to process big feelings and act from a place of authenticity. Katherine’s approach is a delightful mix of wisdom, gentleness, honesty, authenticity and humour. If you want to find real authentic love, Katherine is the one to help you on that journey of discovery” – Catherine, 44, artist.
And here’s another:
“I met Katherine at The Inspire’d Stage in London, where she delivered a talk – a talk that was refreshingly real and from the soul. In a world where hiding our feelings and looking for quick fixes on the outside seems to be the advice du jour, Katherine is a breath of fresh air. She is a relationship coach with a difference. Unafraid to show her vulnerability, she encourages women and men to open up, look inside and dig deep. If you are single and in your late 30s, early 40s or beyond seek out Katherine. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience that she shares in a fun, transformative and authentic way” – Lidija Markovic Rosati, International NLP Trainer and Master Coach and creator of Momentum Coaching Method, London, UK.

For now, though, I’ll thank you for reading and I’ll send you some good vibes for a healthy relationship today – with yourself and with others.

x

 

 

 

Posted in Dating, Love, Perfectionism, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Spirituality, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ageing disgracefully

I’ve just put my dear Mum on the train in Bournemouth, destination North Wales.

As I sat her down and made sure she was comfortable and that she knew where her coat and case were, and as I asked a fellow passenger – by chance, a lovely Liverpudlian lady – to make sure she got off at Birmingham International and made her connection, I felt a huge swell of emotion and some tears behind my eyes.

It’s been a different, wonderful, sometimes challenging week.

The highlight of Mum’s trip to my new home was last Wednesday when we both swam in the sea. I knew sea swimming would have the same effect on Mum as it does on me. I was confident she’d be filled with joy, giggle like a six-year-old and kick her legs with glee. I was sure I’d see her eyes come alive as she looked around at the vast expanse of water. And I was convinced, after the initial shock of cold, that she’d wonder what all the fuss was about and would revel at the fact she was swimming in her swimsuit while everyone else was walking along in their coats.

It all happened exactly as I’d imagined. Her eyes lit up, she giggled like a little girl and she swam around, in awe of the incredible view and incredulous at where she’d ended up one sunny November morning. She got in touch with the child inside her, that child that really wants to come out to play but all too often stops herself because she’s scared. And she was so pleased and proud of herself afterwards.

Like mother like daughter. Or like daughter like mother. We both come alive in the sea. And we both want to play and do extraordinary things, but our fear sometimes holds us back.

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Old Harry

Mum also loved our walk to Old Harry rocks, on the same beautiful, warm November day. How fortunate we were with the weather (we said those words a few times, as you do).

And she was blown away by our walk beneath the looming cliffs at West Bay, the backdrop to the TV series Broadchurch, so much so that we bought her a framed photograph of the scene. We got blown about, we got caught in the rain and we almost got our feet wet when the tide came in, but it was worth it.

We looked after Mum. We fed her well, made sure she got some fresh air and exercise and plenty of sleep. I helped her into the shower, combed her hair and took a few inches off the bottom so it was a bit more manageable.

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The cliffs at West Bay

Combing her fine, long, white and grey hair, I couldn’t help but think I’m heading that way. We’re all heading that way. As my partner says, it’s in the post to us all – old age, that is.

My hair, beneath the dye, is already grey and white in parts and my face has its lines. And one day, I’ll struggle to work the TV remote control or I’ll go searching for my glasses I thought I’d left downstairs but that were upstairs all along. I’ll start to forget things. I’ll panic. I’ll ask the same questions a few times over and it’ll seem like I’m hearing the answer for the first time. I’ll be frightened by new things and want to keep to what I know.

I wonder who’ll look after me then, who’ll comb my white hair and give it a trim, who’ll put me on a train and make sure there’s someone to pick me up at the other end. Maybe my partner will, or maybe I’ll do the same for him. I hope we’ll have a wonderful long life together and we’ll have the strength and mental agility to look after each other when we’re old. But having Mum to stay has got me thinking about ageing without kids.

The other thing I’ve been thinking, though, is how lucky I am to have her. I’m grateful I can comb her hair and help her onto the train. I’m grateful I can love her and take care of her. I know some of your mums aren’t around anymore, perhaps they haven’t been around for years, perhaps you lost them far too long ago, before you were even remotely ready. Then there are those of you whose mums are much more able to love and care for themselves and for others, mums who are active and sharp, who are solid and steady, and who are fantastic grandmothers.

We draw different lots in life. Some things are out of our control. But what my Mum’s visit has shown me is that I want to make the most of what I have, cherish every moment, cherish the people around me, cherish those I love and live courageously and wholeheartedly.

Would Mum, at 76, have any regrets? Would she say she wished she’d lived more, risked more, done more, had bigger dreams and faced more fears. Maybe.

That’s what I want for my life: to live more, risk more, have big dreams and face more fears and to have many more precious moments like that Wednesday morning in the sea when I was out in Nature with someone I love, when my eyes filled with wonder and my spirit came alive.

I wonder, what do you want for your life? What do you dream about? And are you finding a way to make those dreams come true?

I hope so.

Posted in Childless, Health, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How I fell in love

heart-1407248_640It began with me – with falling in love with myself.

I know that’s a cliché, that you’ve heard it before, read it in some glossy women’s magazine. But that’s where I had to start. I really couldn’t accept and love another if I didn’t love myself.

For some of you, loving yourself may come naturally. It may not be something you have to remember to do or work at. But I had to make a conscious choice. I had to learn to stop punishing myself and to care for myself instead. I had to undo years of self-harm and reprogramme my body, mind and spirit. I still do. Daily, I have to make that choice.

There were some significant milestones on that journey of learning to love myself:

The day I accepted I had an addiction to food, sought help, sat in a room with fellow binge eaters, starvers, compulsive exercisers and self-harmers and felt the tears streaming down my face.

The day I spoke my truth to someone I’d been scared of all my life, despite my fear they wouldn’t love me anymore, knowing that continuing to stay silent would do me harm.

The day I decided to take voluntary redundancy from my stressful, all-consuming, high-adrenalin Reuters job, setting myself free to find my path and to find a more loving, gentle way of working, one that nurtured my soul rather than fed my ego. I didn’t know then how difficult it would be, how I would meander, how I’d feel lost in the woods so many times, how I’d struggle to trust that I could make a living from being authentically me, but I wouldn’t change that decision or this journey for the world. It was the start of this blog and everything that’s followed on from it. It was the reawakening of my creativity and the love for writing I’d had as a child – both of which had been suffocated by 10-hour days, deadlines and rigid straitjackets.

The day I took myself off to Tarifa in the south of Spain, on my own, with my tent, and spent the best part of nine days holidaying at my own pace, listening to my body’s rhythm, paying attention to my needs – sleeping late in my little tent, reading my book, eating breakfast on a mat in its tiny porch, shopping for giant, juicy nectarines then going to a quiet beach in the afternoon, to lie under a sun umbrella until the sun had lost its heat, to read some more of my book, swim in the glorious sea and generally do exactly as I pleased. That trip took courage. Could I travel on my own again, in my early 40s, and avoid all the crazy behaviours I’d done in the past – getting drunk, getting entangled with surfer dudes or fellow travellers, bingeing on food? Could I enjoy my own company, meet my own needs, listen to my heart and follow it? Yes, I could. Those nine days during which I maintained a healthy, peaceful, loving relationship with myself (most of the time – I’m not perfect and never will be) felt like a major step on the path towards being in a healthy, peaceful, loving relationship with someone else.

The day I decided to try extreme self-care instead of continuing to take a course of antidepressants after swallowing just half a pill. The day I knew, deep down, that the choices I was making were a major factory in my misery and that if I made different choices, spent my time in more loving ways, perhaps I could be happy naturally, without chemical help. The day I took myself off to the beach at Camber Sands on a weekday – downing tools, playing hooky from my work, skipping through the barriers at St Pancras station like an excited schoolgirl who was bunking off class – and stretched out in the sunshine, swam in the sea and got covered in sand. I could breathe, I could breathe again. I know how to make myself happy, I thought. (I blogged about that day: Extreme self-care).

The day I decided – the day I made a choice. The day I decided to get off the fence and commit to a relationship I’d been in and out of for a few years. I decided to give it my best shot. I decided I deserved happiness, connection, partnership and love. I chose to accept and to love. And after a while, the doubts and fears faded away and the love flowed. (I blogged about that choice: Love is … ).

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And finally, the day I decided to follow my heart and move out of London to the sea so I could have more space, a slower pace, and swim and play in the waves (I went in the sea today. No wetsuit. Invigorating!).

All those milestones and many more helped me to fall in love with myself, and with another.

It took years, until my early 40s, but pretty much every day I give thanks for the miracle – the miracle of healing from self-destructive patterns, the miracle of learning to love and accept myself, and the miracle of falling and staying in love.

I honestly never thought I could. I didn’t think it was possible for me to have the connection to a man that I saw others have. I didn’t think it was possible for me to settle on one person, fall in love with him and stop thinking there was someone better out there. It feels like I’ve spent my life looking around, waiting for the man to arrive about whom I wouldn’t have any doubts, waiting for some knight in shining armour or guy on a white horse or Mr Big (actually I preferred Aidan), some perfect bloke who’d tick all those boxes I vowed I never had. In my crazy, self-destructive days, my body would wander as well as my eye. Then it was just my eye that would dart around, look over the shoulder of the bloke I was with, searching for some other man. I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t think it would be possible to be in a relationship and stay in a relationship, eyes, body, heart and soul. But it is. And it’s a miracle.

I never understood how I could feel head over heels about someone one day then repelled by them the next. I’d catch a fleck of grey hair in a beard or see their legs in shorts or listen to them crunch their cornflakes and I’d feel such repulsion, such disgust, such a strong desire to get them out of my life, to run for the hills. The push-pull. The ‘I want you. I don’t want you’. I’ve written about this before. Remembering it makes me wince. Those feelings were so strong. And I think they were so strong because I hated, despised certain aspects of myself. My eating habits, my body, my flesh, the fact I was ageing, my indecision, my flaws, whatever it was. But once I’d made peace with those things, as best I could, once I’d reconciled myself with my imperfections, I no longer felt repelled by seeing those parts of me in others.

The push-pull has gone. The ‘I love you. No, I hate you’ has gone. My feelings are constant, steady. OK, I’m not a robot. I’m human. There are ebbs and flows. But I don’t want out. I never want out. I want to stay. I want to find a way through. I know there’s always a way through.

Ideal. Ordeal. Real Deal, to quote my therapist, who’s quoting someone else. You may have read this before here, but it makes so much sense to me.

Ideal – we see someone or start dating someone and are whisked away to the land of pink clouds and romance. This feeling is heightened when the object of our affection is unavailable or unattainable or distant or the relationship is undoubtedly going to end. This increases that notion of the Ideal because we know it’s always going to be this good, we know we’ll never get to the messy stuff, to the muddle, to the negotiation, to the compromise, to the working things out. And we know we’ll never have to risk our heart, risk hurt, commit to a relationship and face our fears of being suffocated or trapped.

Ordeal – when the pink cloud plummets to the ground, the bubble bursts and we start seeing things we don’t like. We start realising that relationships take work, negotiation, compromise and we might have to give up a few things to gain love. And we start confronting our very real fears of commitment and intimacy and as we do, the voices telling us this isn’t right or there’s someone better out there shout louder and louder. Sometimes, we believe them. It’s easier, isn’t it? It’s easier to believe there’s someone better out there than to confront our own fears and get into the muddle and mess of a relationship. It’s easier to leave than to stay. (Note – I’m not advocating staying if your instinct tells you to get out – just to ask yourself whether it is actually your instinct or whether it’s your fear.) So many of us quit the Ordeal and go back in search of the Ideal. I’ve done it. Ah yes, that soft, pink, fluffy cloud, that ‘falling in love’ feeling, which, apparently, is akin to a cocaine hit. This feels nice, this feels right, this feels so much better than that messy Ordeal stage. But sooner or later, the Ordeal creeps up on us, so we either get out and go in search of the Ideal again or we stick it out and get to the …

Real Deal – we’ve been through the Ordeal and we feel closer to our partner than ever before. This feels real. This feels like it’s for keeps. This feels like love. Mini ordeals keep cropping up but we now know that they always will, whatever the relationship. We know the Ideal is just a stage, it doesn’t last. We know that if we ditch what we have to go in pursuit of the Ideal, the bubble will soon burst and we’ll have sacrificed something so lovely and real. So we stay. Love deepens. We don’t run. We work it out.

As I write, I’m aware of all the times it definitely wasn’t a good idea to stay, of the times when I was in a relationship with someone who couldn’t meet my needs, when I was repeating self-destructive patterns and self-defeating behaviours. We do this too, don’t we? We stay too long. We think he or she will change. It’s so hard to know. It’s so hard to decipher. But deep down, I think we know. If we’re courageous and wholly honest with ourselves, we probably know. And if we’re bold enough to speak our truth and to ask for our needs to be met or to ask where the relationship is heading, despite our fear we won’t get the answer we so desperately want, then we’ll save ourselves so much heartache. Short-term pain for long-term gain.

What a complex topic and what a long blog! I don’t have all the answers. I only have my own. I have my experiences, my learning, my recovery from years of dysfunctional relationships with myself and with others. But this is a topic I’m passionate about and one I want to help others find their way through. I already do that, with friends and other women who come to me. But now I want to expand it, do more of it, coach people into healthy relationships with themselves and others.

If any of the above is of interest to you, there are two things you can do:

Come along to a ‘Dating with Soul‘ workshop I am running with Helen Gormley, a friend and a mindfulness and resilience coach – a relaxed evening where we’re inviting single men and women to take a more thoughtful and mindful approach to dating and look just a little bit deeper into their relationship patterns with a view to enjoying the dating process more and ultimately, finding love if that’s what they want. (Don’t worry – we won’t be going as deep as this blog!). It’s in Poole on the evening of Nov 24. You can book on here.

Secondly, I’m developing a coaching practice around dating and relationships, helping people create healthy, loving relationships with themselves and with others. If you’re interested in speaking to me about this, please do get in touch. I’d love to hear where you’re at and see if I can help.

Otherwise, thank you for reading all the way to the bottom and feel free to comment! x

Posted in Addiction, codependency, Dating, Eating disorders, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Embrace

I speak to my Mum and hear the relentless passage of time.

In her voice, I hear my difficulties, struggles, doubts, insecurities and pain, magnified a hundred times, exaggerated by age, by decades spent alone and by the absence of recovery or therapy from her life.

I stop at the beach and watch the waves rolling in, over and over again, with faultless consistency.

The clouds break and the sun comes out. Leaves fall on my car as I drive. The seasons. They never fail to change.

I’ll be there at some point in the future too, older in age, struggling to get my head around the things I find easy today, battling with a mind that tells me I can’t, that I’m not who I used to be, that it’s all too much for me.

So can I embrace today? Can I embrace who I am today? Can I embrace this roller coaster ride with its ups and downs and sudden stops and starts? Can I love who I am, even if I often drive myself up the wall? Can I embrace my health, my sharp if turbulent mind, my good fortune, my beautiful home by the sea, the choices I’ve made? Can I?

Can you Katherine?

I walk on the beach to lift my low mood. I didn’t want to come. I wanted to work. It felt too cold, but I’m pleased I’m here now.

‘God, please help me. God, I need your help. God, I need your help,’ I say over and over as I walk.

I change into my swimming costume once the dog walkers have passed by in their coats, hats and scarves. There’s part of me that’s embarrassed to be swimming when everybody else is wrapped up, part of me that’s ashamed to be different, that just wants to fit in.

Can I embrace who I am?

lincoln-city-1204401_640I walk into the waves.

Why, I ask, as I duck under the surf. Why me? Why do I have to be like this? Why does it have to be so hard?

I cry. I cry in the sea. I cry as the waves crash on my head and I dive underneath. Those tears come from a deep place – frustration, sadness, pain. I let them out. I let them leak into the water. Better out than in.

And it is better out than in. I know that.

I dry myself on the sand. My body tingles in the cold. I shiver and my toes go white but I feel alive. I feel brighter. I feel more able to face my day, to challenge that voice in my head that wants to keep me low, that wants me to give up.

Sometimes, on days like these, it’s an effort just to stay afloat. I so wish it wasn’t. I so wish every day could be a good day, that I could be more ‘normal’, whatever that means.

But I know it’s worth the effort to keep my head above water. And I feel better now. My swim in the cold sea on a windy October morning has reminded me of who I am at my core, that there’s a strong, determined, vulnerable, playful, unique and real woman inside.

I regret how grumpy and resentful I’ve been these past days. I feel sad that I’m capable of pushing the man I love away by blaming him for things that are my fault, things I need to take responsibility for instead of slipping into victim mode. I’m grateful he has the patience of a saint, but even The Saint has his breaking point.

How can I make it easier for myself and for those I love? How can I stop pushing and punishing? How can I turn my work into play? How can I stop analysing my choices and blaming myself?

Time is short. The waves roll in. The leaves fall. I want to embrace who I am. All of me. I want to love even the bits I loathe. I will. I’ll do that today.

I heard a song on the radio this morning: ‘What have you done today to make you feel proud?’

What have I done today to make me feel proud? What have I done today to make me feel happy? What I have done today to make me feel free and alive? What have I done today to connect more with others, to be more human, to love more? What have I done today to keep my head well above water?

That’s the important stuff. That’s the stuff that truly matters.

Posted in Faith, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Loving myself consistently

I’m having a tough week emotionally. A lot of grief is coming up. A lot of pain. I’m processing a lot of feelings, digging deep, unearthing stuff that’s buried far down.

What’s it all about?

On the surface, it’s about my relationship with work and money. It’s about my difficulties managing my time, money and workload. It’s about my deep resistance to visibility, to putting my services out there. It’s about my reluctance to follow my passion at the same time as earning good money from some very marketable skills. It’s about the realisation that I’m struggling to find motivation – to write my book, to rebuild my websites, to professionalise what I offer, to run workshops, get clients, and so forth. It’s about the fear I feel when I can’t find that motivation, when I have no idea what motivates me or what I can find to motivate me going forward.

But what’s it really about? What’s it really about?

heartwavesI asked myself that question this morning as I scrolled through some meditations, trying to find one that resonated (I use The Meditation Podcast as an app on my phone). There were meditations on money, prosperity and abundance, on gratitude and emotional clearing. I skipped over those. But when I saw one called, ‘Healing from Heartbreak’, tears arrived in my eyes and I got that familiar lump in my throat.

That’s the meditation I needed to do today.

Heartbreak, you may ask. But you’re in love, happy and content in a beautiful relationship. And that’s true. Thank God that’s true. No, the heartbreak I needed to look at goes way back.

I closed my eyes and travelled back in time, to some moments as a child when I felt terribly lost and alone, when I felt abandoned, rejected, unloved and unloveable (the moment Dad moved out when I was small springs to mind). I felt the pain of my little girl. I cried. But then I remembered the good times, the times I felt loved, the times I felt safe, the times we laughed. Yes, there was love there too. There was both.

Consistency. That’s the word that popped into my head. Consistency. To me, as a child, as a sensitive, vulnerable, little girl, the love coming my way didn’t feel consistent.

So that’s why I struggle with consistency, I thought. That’s why I struggle to consistently write my book (stopping and starting, meaning I need tonnes of energy to start again after I’ve abandoned it for a while); to consistently stay on top of my finances; to consistently post on my Facebook business page; to consistently declutter my clothes and the papers and magazines in my office; to consistently keep a clear space around me so my mind stays clear; to consistently go through my tax return until it’s completed (I’ve started but not finished, meaning it’ll take me ages to understand where I left off when I pick it up again); to consistently build mailing lists for my services … the list goes on.

Looking back over the years since I went self-employed, there have been big bursts of energy followed by periods when I kind of gave up on it all – bursting onto the blogging scene, bursting onto Twitter, rapidly building a community, writing my book, getting an agent, getting on Newsnight and then … nothing for a long while … low energy … low motivation … what’s the point; throwing my heart and soul into a workshop on ‘Own Your Own PR’ or into a talk on ‘The Inspire’d Stage‘ (which I’ve linked to below in case you’d like to see it) then a big energy dip once again. Not building on what I’ve achieved. Not consistently following through.

And there, at the root of it all, the underlying problem: not consistently loving myself.

It’s like I don’t know how. It’s like I can only give to myself what I was given as a child. It’s like I can only replicate the childhood memories of inconsistent love – sometimes wonderful, sometimes not – that are deeply entrenched in my limbic brain.

But I know from experience that’s not true. I know I can challenge that. I know I can learn to be consistent. I know I can because I’ve done it.

I did it with food. I did it with eating – one of the most basic, human, daily rituals. I undid decades and decades of inconsistent craziness, of starving then bingeing then avoiding then running then bingeing then starving. I changed the way I ate and the way I viewed food. It took years and at the beginning, I didn’t have a clue how to eat healthily and no  idea how I was going to change, but I did it. I learned to consistently nurture my body with healthy food, three times a day. I learned to eat foods that used to be ‘banned’ unless I was on a binge, without feeling guilty and without forcing myself to run 10 miles afterwards. I learned to make soup and to cook (still learning!). I did it. I turned it around. I could still be doing those behaviours, even at 45, but I intervened, with the help of fellow eating disorder sufferers, therapy and faith. I learned to eat well and nourish my body every day. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty consistent. It’s become routine.

I also did it with loving my partner. It’s an absolute miracle that I can love him consistently after so many years of push-pull in my romantic relationships, of ‘I want you; I don’t want you’, of ‘I think you’re great; ah, get away from me’. It’s a miracle I can love him enough to maintain a loving, growing, developing, blossoming relationship. It’s a miracle that I can stop myself whenever I want to blame him for my pain or hurt, for my frustration, for my procrastination, for my grumpiness. It’s a miracle that I can apologise quickly when I feel I’ve done that. It’s a miracle that I can catch myself whenever I’m finding fault and focus on all the amazing stuff. Miracle is a big word but I don’t use it lightly. I use it intentionally, knowing my past, knowing the transformation that’s occurred.

Do I have any other examples of consistency I can draw on to prove I can do it? Well, I’ve stayed with this blog for five years, despite some breaks. And I’ve been in recovery for an eating disorder and dysfunctional relationship behaviours for 13 years, consistently.

So I can do it. I can consistently feed and nourish myself. I can consistently love another. I can stick with some things. So I can learn to consistently love myself.

Loving myself, unfortunately, doesn’t mean spending every day at the beach. Loving myself means re-parenting myself, setting loving and healthy boundaries for myself around my work and leisure time, around my book writing time, around my earning and spending. It’s about taking time for self-care, health and wellbeing, balanced with a solid commitment to my work goals. It’s about knowing my worth and being bold enough to ask for what I deserve. It’s about being visible, about daring to be seen, despite fear of judgement, criticism and ridicule. It’s about showing up for myself, consistently.

So today and this week, I promise to consistently love myself. I’ll start there and see how I go.

I’ll say a bit more about my talk on The Inspire’d Stage in my next post. In the meantime, you can watch it here.

Posted in Addiction, codependency, Dating, Health, Love, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Finding Our Voice

“I intentionally get myself in situations beyond my ability and then rise to them”

This is an affirmation I picked up from a book I’m reading and working through – Barbara Stanny’s Overcoming Underearning.

It feels fitting for today, as I prepare a 10-minute talk I’m due to give on Monday evening on a London stage.

I’m one of the speakers on The Inspire’d Stage in Mayfair this Monday Sept 5. The Inspire’d Stage is a platform for inspirational, personal leadership, Ted-like talks. If you’re in London, I’d love to see you there. Some friendly, supportive faces in the audience will make all the difference. Check out the website – inspiredinlondon – for some videos of previous speakers, Monday’s line-up (also see below) and to buy tickets (£12.50). Tickets also available here.

Looking at that affirmation again, I know speaking for 10 minutes about my journey from addiction, an eating disorder and other self-harming behaviours to recovery and self-love isn’t “beyond my ability” as such. But it certainly challenges me. It takes me out of my comfort zone. It makes me feel a bit queezy.

This is all good stuff.

You know this, right? You know that the stuff that makes us feel a little sick to the stomach, that gives us chills and makes us want to run away fast is the stuff we really need to be doing? That phone call we don’t want to make. That conversation we don’t want to have. That piece of work we don’t want anyone to see. That big leap we don’t want to take. The stuff that scares us is what we need to do.

Not all the time. That would be system overload. I know for me, stepping up makes me want to instantly retreat. But the more I take big leaps, the more those big leaps start to feel like small steps. And the less they frighten me.

I do need to be prepared for the ‘afterburn’, though – that moment of self-doubt that kicks in as soon as I do something a bit different, as soon as I speak up or put myself out there.

That hit me this morning when I saw my write-up for Monday’s talk – the write-up I’d written myself – advertised on Facebook. I wanted to hide.

InspiredHere it is: Our second amazing speaker at Inspire’d Stage event on 5 th of September is : KATHERINE BALDWIN is a former international news journalist who once had a desk in parliament and a seat on the prime minister’s plane. At the same time, however, she was secretly binge eating and drinking, compulsively exercising and self-harming in other ways to help manage stress, numb fear, mask low self-esteem and to try to ignore the gaping hole between her job and her authentic self. One minute she was quizzing Tony Blair in a press conference in Shanghai, the next she was bingeing her way through the minibar of the plush, five-star hotel. Eventually, the pain got too great – Katherine’s shiny exterior cracked and she was signed off work. Following a rock bottom moment when she questioned the point of her life, Katherine found the courage and tools to walk away from her high-status role and to pursue her soul’s work rather than her ego’s work: using her experience to help others break free from whatever trap they’re in and to achieve their unique potential without pain or self-harm. Katherine is a freelance journalist and writer, motivational speaker and coach who’s been in addiction recovery for 13 years and who is passionate about the importance of being real. Her philosophy: if we’re all honest about what’s truly going on for us behind the mask – particularly high-achieving, outwardly successful and confident professionals – then we give others permission to do the same. The result: less stress, less self-harm, less addiction and less suicide, and more people living authentic, real, wholehearted, fulfilling lives. Katherine will soon graduate from the School for Social Entrepreneurs LLoyds Bank Start-Up programme, where she has been developing a social enterprise based around the importance of being real and authentic to break negative patterns and avoid self-defeating behaviours.”

I read that and I felt shame. Was that me? Did I write that? What will people think? Will I be laughed at and ridiculed? Who do I think I am?

You know that voice, right? The voice that wants to keep you small.

For me, it’s always there. I take a leap out of my comfort zone and it tells me to get back in my box where it’s cosy and warm. I put up the ad for The Inspire’d Stage and that voice tells me to take it down. I want to be visible but as soon as I’m visible, I feel shame.

But I don’t get back in my box or take the ad down.

I get on with preparing my talk and doing some long overdue work.

It’s time to get clear about my purpose, about the various hats I wear, about the skills I offer and about my income streams. It’s time to do some web design so I have two separate sites.

I now know that I need one for the ‘From Forty With Love’ work I do – this blog, the book I’m writing, the first-person articles I write (there’ll be one in Red magazine this Autumn on commitment phobia), the motivational talks and the relationship coaching I’m beginning to offer. More to follow on that. It’s exciting. This blog site could probably do with a bit of a revamp too. I’ve barely changed it in years.

And I need another website for my other hat – my PR coaching, consulting and copywriting – the work I do to help other individuals and businesses get their message out there, into the media and out into the world.

While there’s an umbrella that sits across the two – authentic storytelling – I’m targeting different markets so I need to keep things clear. I need to split my Twitter feeds too.

But first, I’ll give myself space to connect to my intuition, to what it is I’m supposed to say on Monday night. I deserve to give myself time to prepare well.

I hope to see you there. I’ll be alongside some fabulous speakers, plus you could bid for the wildcard and get out of your comfort zone. Why not? What have you got to lose?

The line-up:

SIMONE VINCENZI, The Purpose Strategist and award winning speaker is warmly welcomed back to Inspire’d. He is founder of GTex, former Michelin starred chef, and a man responsible for helping thousands of people using his own Purpose Awakening SystemTM.

LYNSEY BONELL, Much loved superstar of the UK Improv and stand up comedy circuit  is an actor, improviser and writer, who performs regularly in London. She has appeared internationally including: New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Melbourne, Copenhagen. She has taken a number of shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well.

KATHERINE BALDWIN, is a former international news journalist who once had a desk in parliament and a seat on the prime minister’s plane. She shares her story of secret binge eating and drinking to now working with self-harming high achievers.

UTTAM R MARAZ, fearless speaker from WARREN RYAN’s FEARLESS SPEAKERS ACADEMY he will tell us of the amazing transformation that he has been through to find happiness through the toughest beginnings of his mum death and father suicide.

KP FUSIONEERS, amazingly talented currently gigging all over London and promoting their new EP. They stole the show at the ”Spice of Life Open Mic” this month, and we are thrilled that they are going to be closing out the night for us.

WILDCARD, as always, the line up could also feature YOU! We are one of London’s only nights to have a unique opportunity for one person to be featured as the wildcard, where we select someone who would like to share their message on the night, and this slot is often very magical.

Posted in Addiction, Eating disorders, Empowerment, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment