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

‘Them’ and ‘Us’

We’d crouch wide-eyed on the sand, our hands cupped under our chins, and watch with wonder as the Land Rovers filed past, towing behind them shiny, white speed boats containing excited, blonde-haired children in colourful swimsuits.

We’d watch as the tanned, handsome men at the wheel reversed the jeeps towards the water’s edge, deposited their cargo, then drove back up the slipway.

We’d wander around the smart caravan park, pointing out our favourite sports cars and picking out the chalets we wished we owned, the ones with the lovely decking and the steps down to the sand, before being treated to a very expensive, naughty-but-nice KnickerBockerGlory.

This was Abersoch, North Wales, in the 1970s, where wealthy Liverpudlians and Mancunians had their holiday homes and where we holidayed for a week or two over the summer, staying in the caravan we rented from my dad’s firm.

I loved it there, making shapes out of the sand, floating on a lilo, playing beach bowls, but those holidays also helped crystallise some very unhelpful ideas about ‘them’ and ‘us’.

The kids in the ‘them’ camp had speed boats, comfortable holiday homes and flash cars and they had a secure family unit with two parents still in it, or that’s how it looked on the outside. The girls were pretty with long, brown legs, glossy hair and gorgeous clothes.

We were in the ‘us’ camp, renting a caravan for a week, wondering whether our car would actually make it there, holidaying with mum but without dad. And I always felt wrong – dressed in the wrong clothes, too big or too small, my hair never quite right.

I see now that we were fortunate to have holidays at all. Lots of kids never went to the seaside. But my child’s mind couldn’t see that – it only saw the differences, what they had and what we didn’t.

This idea of ‘them’ and ‘us’ continued through school.

“Hands up all those pupils on free school meals,” the teacher said in my junior school.

I gingerly put my hand in the air, hoping nobody would see.

Then I went to a private, fee-paying senior school on a scholarship. Free school meals again and a top-notch education for free, while most other kids’ parents were paying. What a privilege. But I felt like the odd one out.

Oxford University didn’t help with my ‘them’ and ‘us’ complex. I was fortunate to fall in with a fabulous group of friends, many of them Northerners, which helped me feel more like I belonged. And although plenty of my pals came from families with lots of money, they weren’t the bragging type. But Oxford was a place of privilege – students whose parents were politicians or diplomats, academics, financiers, doctors or lawyers; students whose mums and dads lived in exotic places. Obviously this didn’t mean their lives were perfect, but my teenage mind struggled to see beyond the wealth, the outward confidence and the differences between their backgrounds and mine.

Then I ended up working in parliament, with a host of other Oxbridge types. I had the education, I had the Oxford degree, I had the Reuters salary and the flat in Islington, but I still didn’t feel like I belonged. I still felt like that girl crouched wide-eyed on the Abersoch sand. I still felt like the child who was terrified the money would run out and we’d end up hungry and homeless. I still felt like the 10-year-old who was ashamed she had a nice coat from C&A because she knew, she’d been told, we couldn’t actually afford it. I still felt like there was an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ and I’d never cross the great divide.

Now I’m living my dream by the seaside in Poole, which just happens to be brimming with wealth, yachts, fast cars and tanned, long-legged women in beautiful clothes.

And here I am, still with that chip on my shoulder (I used to call it my ‘northern’ chip but that’s a cop out – it’s just mine). Still with that ‘them’ and ‘us’ mindset. Still with the feeling you people with money are a different breed, despite the fact some of you are my friends. Still with this ingrained belief I’m one of the ‘have nots’, despite my relative wealth (flat in London, part-owner of a house in Poole, now driving a Mini Cooper S). Still struggling to make a decent, consistent living despite a considerable array of money-making skills and still searching for a way to stay on top of my finances and all the papers clogging up my office.

It’s clear to me now that it really doesn’t matter how much I earn or own, what needs to change is my mindset, that deep-ingrained belief that I’m not part of the ‘them’ crowd and never will be, as well as those other self-limiting beliefs I carry around: that it’s shameful to ask for money; it’s shameful to ask to be paid for my work; I don’t deserve to earn a decent wage for what I do; writers and creative people are always broke; I don’t understand money; I haven’t got a clue how to run a business, and so it goes on …

Something has to change.

Timetochange

In fact, something is changing.

I’m aware of my crazy money stuff and I’m so over it. I’m ready to get rid of that old mindset and build a new one. I’m angry now. And fed up.

I know it’s not going to be easy. Old habits are hard to change. But I know I need to try to take the following steps:

  • When someone offers me work, pause and reflect. Think very carefully about whether it fits with my values (more on values another day); think what purpose it serves (purely financial or if it’s taking me in the right direction); think carefully whether I am being fairly compensated for my time and talents
  • Follow the same process with how I spend my time – is this activity or event in my best interests? Does it serve a purpose or am I just running around trying to stay busy, clutching at straws or looking for the answers elsewhere when I know I’ve got them myself?
  • Spend more time connecting to my spirituality and faith – reading, writing, meditating and connecting to like-minded souls who are on a journey of self-awareness and self-discovery. Spend time working on affirmations and changing my mindset around money
  • Get clarity around my income and expenses and come up with a system I can maintain consistently. Plan what I need to earn as well as what I’d love to earn
  • Declutter, declutter, declutter – my clothes, my shoes, my office papers and my mind
  • Keep writing down my dreams, which for the immediate future, include: having enough spare money to buy my share of a campervan; buying a kayak or Stand Up Paddleboard; having a wardrobe of clothes that I love; managing my time so I have a good mix of work, play and holiday; publishing my book and getting coaching and writing work on the back of it around relationships and going for your dreams

That will do for now!

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” Albert Einstein said.

It seems I can’t rewire the part of my brain that formed when I was very young – the fear and shame will always want to kick in and hold me back. But I can lay down new wiring alongside it and then channel as much good stuff down those new wires as I can so the new beliefs start to shout louder than the old messages.

I am enough. There’s no shame in asking for money or having money. I deserve to live a happy, abundant life. I deserve nice things. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. I’ve already arrived. I belong. I have a right to be here. We are all equal.

Yes, it’s time to change my mindset.

What’s helping right now? Well, I’m reading Barbara Stanny’s book, ‘Overcoming Underearning’ and loving it. I’m doing the exercises and some of them have me in tears. Lots of lightbulb moments.

I’ve also just taken part in a visibility challenge via a Facebook page with the wonderful Nicola Humber that’s got me moving out of my comfort zone and doing a few more videos. I’m actually starting to enjoy video now, have fun with it, play with it, so I’m planning on doing more.

Here’s one I did this morning with a few basic tips on blogging. Enjoy!

 

Posted in Creativity, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Women, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I go to therapy

Therapy has helped get me to where I am today, or most importantly where I was on Saturday and Sunday – playing in the sea with my partner, just a short drive from our new coastal home, thinking I absolutely love my life and I couldn’t possibly feel any happier.

It hasn’t all been down to therapy, but therapy has really helped.

Of course, it doesn’t always feel like this, as my friends and blog readers know only too well, but it feels good more often these days than it has done for a very long time and when it does, it’s important to acknowledge all the ‘work I’ve done on myself’ and to try to use my journey to help others take steps towards happiness by writing about it here and in my soon-to-be-finished (I hope!) book.

My therapeutic journey began in my early 30s after something prompted me to start to confess to my friends that I had very strange eating habits. I wouldn’t eat anything all day and then as soon as I poured a little bit of cereal into a small pot of yoghurt, an uncontrollable urge to binge gripped me and I couldn’t stop eating until the entire box was gone.

I’d been doing this all my life – secretly bingeing on food then doing anything I could to get rid of it, usually running for miles or taking back-to-back aerobics classes. The cycle went like this: starve, starve, starve as long as I could; binge, binge, binge on as much food as I could stomach; shame attack; hide; run, run, run; starve, starve, starve; binge …

For years, I chose to ignore it. I did it, but I didn’t think about it. It was part of me, but not something I wanted to own up to or was even aware of on a conscious level.

But that shifted after I hit 30, as I got ready to leave Brazil to move to London to start a job working for Reuters in parliament.

Most of my friends didn’t know what to say when I told them about my odd eating habits. They laughed along with me and were as bemused as I was. The first therapist I saw – in Brazil – wasn’t sure how to address my crazy food behaviours either, although he began delving into my past, opening a Pandora’s box (the lid definitely needed to come off and would have done, sooner or later).

One friend, though, knew exactly what it was all about. A recovering alcoholic, who’d been sober and attending recovery meetings for years, had lunch with me in London when he was passing through. I told him how I ate, how I couldn’t stop and how confused I was by it all and he suggested I attend a support group for compulsive overeaters, anorexics, bulimics and food addicts.

When I got there, it felt like I’d come home. These women, and a few men, sat in a circle in a room beside a church in Notting Hill, were sharing my story. They said how they went from store to store buying bags of food, pretending they were having a party, and then went home, shut the curtains, switched off the phone, ate everything in sight, then hid the evidence as best they could; how they ate when they were full and their stomachs hurt; how they ate food that was off or that they didn’t like; or how they put themselves in danger, bingeing when driving.

I’d done all this. I’d found my tribe. I was no longer alone.

It's the journey

My first therapist was a specialist in eating disorders and in the illness many experts agree lies at the root of eating disorders and other addictions: codependency. I went to see her for a good number of years and she helped me learn to eat normally and to manage my fear, anxiety and insecurity in healthy ways, rather than with food. I left when I felt I was no longer progressing with her. After my dad died, I saw a bereavement counsellor for a year or two – she helped me through that devastating time, but she could only take me so far. After that, I saw another therapist for a while, but, looking back, we weren’t the best fit, although it took me a long time to realise it and to have the courage to leave. Then, a few years ago, I began seeing my current therapist, whom I’ve been seeing ever since.

That’s a lot of therapy. And a lot of money. Is it worth it? Why do I do it? And is it not self-indulgent, all that talking about myself?

Sometimes I think it’s all of those things – too expensive, not worth it and self-indulgent.

But most of the time, I see how important it’s been in my progression from a self-harming, workaholic who was afraid to be herself or speak her truth, at work or at home, and who was so scared to love deeply she kept finding fault in men or running away from them, into the woman I am today – content in a beautiful relationship. Other things have helped – addiction recovery meetings, mindfulness and my rediscovery of the faith I had as a child. But therapy has challenged me and moved me forward hugely, particularly in the area I most wanted and needed to change: romantic relationships.

My therapist helped me see that I always found something wrong with the men I met, felt attracted to the unavailable types or pushed the good ones away because I was afraid of love, commitment and intimacy. He helped me commit to letting down my guard, to trying to love wholeheartedly and to staying the course. He helped me work through all the reasons from my past why I feared love and commitment. He helped me see love and commitment are a choice, and as I choose, the more the love grows.

And he’s helped me stay on track when I’ve had my wobbles since I committed to my relationship. Often, I’ll return from therapy and make amends to my partner, realising I’ve said something mean or behaved in a way that might push him away if he were a less patient and forgiving man. Now, I try to remember to look at my behaviour when I have the urge to point the finger at him, although I don’t always get it right.

My therapist has also got me to a place where I don’t need to see him as often – I can rely on myself much more and the other support mechanisms I’ve found – friends, support groups, prayer, meditation, sea swims etc. He’s talking himself out of a job, at least with me.

I’m not ashamed to say I go to therapy or that I’ve been going for many years. I don’t see it as a weakness. In fact, I see it as something to shout about.

We’re not all the same. What’s right for me isn’t necessarily right for others. I see that. But particularly in the area of love relationships, I believe the right therapist can be a great help. He or she can help us look at ourselves, do the work on ourselves and understand that the problem isn’t always with the other or that there isn’t necessarily an absence of eligible men or women in our world. He or she can help us explore our self-sabotaging behaviours that may keep us single or wreck our relationships. He or she can help us change the way we relate to our partner or the person we’re dating so we don’t push them away or cause the relationship to combust.

As for the expense, yes, it can be costly and not everyone has the funds. But for me, it’s always been an obvious choice, worth prioritising over most other things, worth sacrificing other things for.

I wonder if therapy, provided you get a good therapist, is a bit like swimming in the cold sea.

You’re not going to feel like it at first. You’re going to stand on the shore, looking at it, shivering, maybe dipping a toe in, then yanking it out. But once you’re all the way in, you’re always going to feel the benefit. You’re always going to look back and think that while it was painful at the start and you were wary of the experience, it was totally worth it in the end.

You’re never going to regret it.

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

PR for the Petrified

Fear

Can I be real, authentic, open, honest, vulnerable AND a successful, credible businesswoman?

I hope so, because I don’t feel I have a choice. Not anymore.

This is a topic that’s on my heart and in my mind and that’s cropping up in conversations with some of my co-workers at our shared creative space, The Old School House in Boscombe, Bournemouth.

Can we share our struggles? Can we tell clients or prospective customers that while we have stellar CVs and tonnes of experience, we sometimes doubt ourselves, have crises of confidence, think we’re not up to the task, struggle with imposter syndrome and want to give it all up and go and do something far less challenging instead?

I believe we can. I believe we have to. I believe this is what makes us human, what connects us with others on a deep level. I believe this is what it’s all about.

I’d much rather hear the real story, the mess, the struggle and the failures than be presented with a highly polished façade that hides all the cracks underneath. I want authenticity from my friends, colleagues and role models and I hope that’s what people want from me. I won’t think any less of you if you tell me how difficult things are at times. In fact, I’ll feel closer to you, more connected to you. I’ll respect you more. You’ll inspire me more.

I pondered this dilemma yesterday – the dilemma of how to marry my professional journalist and PR coach persona with the heart-on-sleeve, From Forty With Love blogger in me – the vulnerable woman who writes on this page. I advertised a workshop I’m running next week – Own Your Own PR – where I plan to use my journalism and storytelling skills and my knowledge of the media to help people and businesses identify their unique story and get their message out into the world. Then I tweeted the link from my From40WithLove account and linked it to my new Facebook business page. That means that anyone interested in my PR workshop will have access to the other side of me too – they’ll be able to delve deep into my heart and soul and take a tour around my internal landscape by reading my blog, taking in all the peaks and troughs along the way.

Yikes, I thought. Should I not separate my two personas? Do I not undermine my credibility as a journalist and PR coach by letting everyone in on my inner battles?

But if I were to do that, I would be going against everything I believe in, because I believe passionately that it’s essential and urgent that we bring vulnerability and authenticity into our professional lives and into our conversations in the workplace. This is why I am on the School for Social Entrepreneurs Start-Up programme this year – to grow and develop into a social entrepreneur who writes and speaks on authenticity, vulnerability and the importance of being real; who coaches people to find and follow their authentic path and break free from their stressful, inauthentic, often self-harming patterns and lives; who encourages people to drop the mask and be real; who, like my hero Brené Brown, takes this message into schools and workplaces, sharing my own struggles at work and at home and thereby giving people permission to do the same, to speak up, to own their truth, hopefully saving themselves some heartache and pain or an emotional breakdown in the process.

So no, I can’t send out two messages or split myself down the middle. I need to be authentic, true and whole, for my own benefit and for the benefit of others.

This is my resolve, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been hit by waves of shame after taking a step towards visibility – who do I think I am? I’ve got it wrong. I’d be better off staying small. Everyone will be pointing a finger and laughing at me (despite knowing, deep down, you’ve all got far better things to do!).

It’s helpful to know that what I’m suffering from is what Brené Brown calls a ‘vulnerability hangover’ in her fabulous Ted talk on shame. Or as I called it in a Facebook post yesterday, the ‘afterburn’.

It’s helpful to listen to that talk and realise I’m not alone in suffering from ‘afterburn’, to realise that by taking an emotional risk I am being courageous and I am, as Brené Brown says, at “the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

It’s also helpful to hear her speak the Theodore Roosevelt quote that reminds me I’m a winner because I’ve shown up, I’ve taken action, I’ve put myself out there.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”

And it’s helpful to hear her affirm that vulnerability is the answer to disconnection, self-harm, addiction, perfection and the excruciating pattern of analysis-paralysis:

“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path. And I know it’s seductive to stand outside the arena, because I think I did it my whole life, and think to myself, I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I’m bulletproof and when I’m perfect. And that is seductive. But the truth is, that never happens. And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in. We want to be with you and across from you. And we just want, for ourselves and the people we care about and the people we work with, to dare greatly.”

Finally, it’s helpful to realise that I learn by doing even if I make mistakes, not by pondering, not by analysing, not by waiting. I learned how to be in a relationship by getting into the muddle and being in a relationship. I learned how to love by loving and being loved. And I learn how to do my work by doing my work. I learn what direction I want to go in by picking a direction and seeing if that works out. I learn what niche I want to be in by beginning with no niche or starting with one niche and then switching to another. It’s fine to experiment.

And by experimenting, I’ve come up with an idea of where I might want to focus my PR work:

PR FOR THE PETRIFIED

PR for the Petrified: Helping those amongst us who have something they really want and need to say, something they’re incredibly passionate about and need the world to know, but who are wracked by self-doubt, fear, self-questioning and those voices in their head that tell them to keep quiet and stay small. Those of us who really want to blog, write a magazine piece or be featured on TV but are too scared to give it a go. I’d like to help people walk through their fears and get their message out there even if they’re trembling when they pick up the telephone or when their fingers hit the keyboard.

And why do I think I can do this?

Because I’ve been there.

 

Posted in Creativity, Perfectionism, Self-Acceptance, Women, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Being real

I’ve brought the wrong speech, I thought, as I stared at the four pages of A4 in front of me and looked up at the audience. I’ve definitely brought the wrong speech. What now?

I’d written nearly 3,000 words on the topic of ‘Becoming Whole’ for a talk I was giving to the Mothers’ Union in a church hall in Brockenhurst, a beautiful village in the New Forest in Hampshire.

I’d opened with a scene from my political journalism days, a reporting trip I was on with Tony Blair. I’d described how we’d arrived in a hotel in Shanghai, checked in and been shown to our rooms. Then once in my plush suite, I’d made a beeline for the minibar, shoving huge chunks of chocolate into my mouth followed by handfuls of salty peanuts, before sitting down to write my story, panicked, frantic, scared of making a mistake. Later, I’d gone down to dinner with my press colleagues and tucked into a large banquet, before running back to my room and diving onto the chocolates the maid had left on the pillow. Nothing left to eat, I’d collapsed in tears.

On the outside, I’d written, I was a journalist for Reuters with a desk in parliament and a seat on the prime minister’s plane. On the inside, I was a mess – full of fear, insecurity, anxiety, imposter syndrome and using binge eating as a crutch to cope with the feelings and get by.

I’d described other painful rock bottom moments – on my knees, by the side of my bed, in floods of tears, asking, “What’s the point?” and then “God, if you exist, can you show me what the point is, please?” Times of loneliness, depression and grief, triggered by losing my Dad or the end of a relationship. My brief flirtation with anti-depressants.

I’d also written about the gradual process of becoming more whole, of my years in recovery from addictive behaviours, of quitting a job in which my soul had gone to sleep and slowly finding a way to do work that was aligned with my authentic self, at least some of the time. Then, towards the end, I’d encouraged my audience to be real, to be authentic, to share their struggles, to open up about their difficulties, to identify the desires of their heart and go after them. By being real, I’d written, we give others the permission to do the same. We all feel less alone, saving heartache, stress, loneliness and self-harm.

Only I’d written the wrong talk. The audience of respectable Christian pensioners* (see note below) sat before me wasn’t going to relate to this. Eating disorders, self-harm, binge drinking, the pursuit of a fantasy Mr Right, dating guys who didn’t treat me right, running away from those who did, compulsive working, an existential crisis, questioning the point of my life. And they certainly weren’t going to relate to the part about me hitting 40 without kids and now being 45 and coming to terms with the fact motherhood probably won’t happen. It’s the Mothers‘ Union, after all.

No, these themes definitely weren’t for the ears of the lovely ladies of Brockenhurst and its surrounding villages and towns. These were women of immense faith and with a strong sense of purpose, I said to myself, sure of their identity and committed to a cause. They weren’t flaky or ambivalent. They didn’t have a backstory of struggle, self-harm and feeling lost. Plus, they were of a different generation. And they’d all had kids. How could they relate to my world?

I looked down at my notes again. I’d better cut out most of my talk, skip over the unpleasant bits and stick to the successful journalist, writer, blogger, teacher part, I thought. These women, I heard as the Chair read out the notices, baked huge numbers of cakes, raised lots of money, put on events for local families, supported the community and worked hard to improve the lives of others, particularly those most in need. The story I’d planned to tell felt selfish, self-indulgent in comparison.

I began with a joke about my red jeans, white top, red cardy and red scarf – my clothes seemed so much brighter than everyone else’s. I stood out like a sore thumb. England was playing so I was in my team’s colours, I laughed, and I was born in Liverpool, so I’m used to wearing red and white.

I then said I’d written something down but was unsure about reading it, but I’d decided to read it anyway, believing it was what I was supposed to stay.

So we arrive in Shanghai … minibar … chocolate … low self-esteem … self-harm … binge eating … binge drinking … throwing up … stress … fear of commitment … singleness … what’s the point? … addiction … recovery … now in a relationship … living by the sea … no kids … being real …

Silence. All eyes on me.

They’re either listening intently or they can’t believe I’m saying all this and can’t connect with it at all. I’m not sure what to think but I’m in my flow now, speaking loud and with confidence, as my Dad always did, looking around the room, into their eyes.

I start to wrap up, encouraging my listeners to be real, to be open about their struggles, to feel the feelings, let them out. I’m sure you already are, I say, slightly apologising for what I’d dared to say. And even if what I’ve said isn’t relevant to you, I add, apologetically again, perhaps you have a daughter or a son or a friend who’s struggling and needs to open up to you. By showing some of your own vulnerability, you can help them.

I finish and it’s time for Q and A – that moment of silence when you’re convinced nobody’s going to speak up. But they do.

badthingsThey’re stunned, absolutely stunned, they say, that I could be so brave as to turn up to a room of total strangers and bare my soul. Thank you for being so honest, so real, they say. Then some of them share their struggles, out loud, with the room. Struggles from the past or from the present day.

After the talk, ladies come to speak to me and share more of their stories, more of their realness, about their own eating disorder, about an abusive relationship, or about the struggles of their son or daughter. They tell me they’ve just been speaking with each other too, prompted by my talk – about loss, divorce, sadness and how they’ve questioned God. Not all of the ladies in the Mothers’ Union have children, I’m told. And there are men in the Mothers’ Union too. Who knew?

I’m humbled, humbled that so many of these lovely pensioners* (see note below) were touched by my talk, so touched they felt able to share something of themselves. I’m also surprised, surprised at the judgement I made as soon as I walked in and sat down, forming my opinion of them based on what I saw on the outside rather than looking inside, almost allowing my mistaken assumption that I was separate and different from them to stop me being real, rather than trusting what I know is true – that as humans, we all struggle, we all experience heartache and pain, some people just hide it better than others.

I’m delighted I said what I’d gone there to say rather than cut out all the tough bits and stick to the superficial. And I’m delighted it went down so well and it inspired and encouraged others to be real.

I now know I’m on the right path. I just need to move forward. I need to walk the walk. That involves pursuing my purpose, boldly, through writing and doing more of what I did last night, on a bigger stage. It involves being brave, being heard, being seen, breaking through, breaking free, being real.

So I’m about to start a Facebook page to advertise this side of what I do – speaking and writing about transformation, my own and other people’s, and the value of being real. And I’m about to start a Facebook group to build support for these ideas. Only, surprise, surprise, I’m stuck – stuck on the name.

Be Real, Be Heard, Be Whole

Be Real, Break Through

Be Real, Be Heard, Break Through (or Break Free) …

Answers on a postcard please …

I do this. I do this to myself. I fixate on the minutiae, the tiny things I can obsess about, the things I want to be perfect. It’s a distraction, a distraction from the fear I feel about being seen, being heard, living my purpose. I fear I’ll be judged and ridiculed. I fear I’ll fall flat on my face and you’ll laugh. I fear I’ll be wasting my time. But I had similar fears last night in Brockenhurst and they didn’t come true, so I’m taking courage from that. It’s time for my own breakthrough.

So thank you to the Mothers’ Union and to all those who came to hear me for confirming I have a gift for being real, for baring my soul and for inspiring others to do the same.

It’s a gift that deserves to used, to be seen.

*Since posting, I’m reminded the Mothers’ Union has members of a range of ages and that the term ‘pensioners’ can carry negative connotations. I’m sorry if my use of the term reinforced any unhelpful stereotypes. The ladies sat before me that night, as I learned from hearing their notices, are sprightly, active, energetic and hard-working and the MU has many younger members too. This has got me thinking about generalisations, perceptions and the ideas we associate with words.

Posted in Addiction, Childless, Eating disorders, Empowerment, Faith, Women | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments