For many years now I have wanted to share my story.
The thought that I may be able to help others by sharing my own experiences has been an important factor in my own recovery and healing process. It has given my suffering meaning and with this I am able to rise each morning, count my blessings and, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, ‘live deliberately’.
Unfortunately this week I have also been plagued with nightmares. It has been exhausting.
Last night I had some particularly disturbing nightmares about the abuse I suffered whilst living at Denver House. After waking for a third time I called for my dog. She knows this routine well now. She dived under the covers, turned herself around and then settled down next to me with her head resting on the opposite pillow.
Having her next to me and listening to her breathing (snoring) helped me to ground myself in the present and go back to sleep.
This time I had a wonderful dream that I would like to share with you.
I dreamt that I was cycling along a winding, cobbled road that climbed a steep hill. I was tired and it was dark. The bike I had was not suited to the road I was riding along which made the journey difficult but I would not allow myself to stop. I had a sense that I was almost where I needed to be although I had no idea where I was or where I was going.
I kept on cycling until I reached a flat surface on the hill. I stopped just as the sun began to rise. As it rose it spilled light over everything below it, revealing a beautiful town just on the other side of the hill. Beyond the town I could see the ocean glistening.
I like the way the light of the sun takes the place of the night’s darkness each morning.
I am grateful that I am enveloped by this light every day no matter how long the night before it.
The sunrise reminds me that light finds it’s way into all places in the same way that our inner light will shine through an open heart and wash over all of the darkness we have known.
Listen to your heart and ignore its requests, and you will experience unbearable suffering.
Listen to your heart and comply with its requests, and you will suffer, but you will not suffer unbearably.
Last night I had awful nightmares about the men who trafficked me when I was a child living in Denver house. The nightmares were so bad that I wasn’t quite sure where I was when I woke up, or even how old I was. I was physically sick and felt exhausted and emotionally drained. My body felt so heavy, and my heart so full of pain that I could barely walk.
As a result, I cancelled my morning training session with my coach and went back to bed. The last place I wanted to be was in my bed, but I just didn’t have the energy to do anything else. A few hours later, I managed to get myself up and dressed and went for a walk with the dog.
On the walk, I recognised that I was being unkind to myself in the way that I was talking to myself mentally. I was judging myself harshly for the way I was feeling. I was telling myself that I was a complete failure because I was not feeling happy.
And then I thought to myself, really? How ridiculous is that way of thinking in the grand scheme of things?
I had to remind myself that although I was feeling ‘bad’, I was actually doing really well.
Feeling bad is not the same as, ‘doing badly’.
I am so very grateful that I have been able to make this distinction today, on a day when I have been really struggling to function.
Over the past week or so I have ‘felt bad’ on a few occasions. My second yoga class left me wondering about suffering and my relationship with it. The nightmares I had last night made think about it again.
In one of the nightmares, I was trapped in a house, trying to find a way to escape from the men who had come to hurt me. I could hear the men slamming doors and up turning furniture, and I knew that it was only a matter of time before they found me.
I was in an upstairs bedroom wondering if I could escape through the window when I noticed a newborn baby, swaddled in blankets. She had been abandoned and I knew that if I abandoned her too, she would suffer the way I had done. I couldn’t let that happen so I took the baby in my arms and hid her amongst some cushions I had noticed.
I then took a deep breath, and went out to face the men, hoping that my actions would save the baby girl from being found. As the men hurt me as I knew they would, I prayed silently that the baby girl would keep quiet and not alert the men to her presence.
I have thought about that baby girl a lot today.
She was only a few days old and had absolutely no idea of the danger she was in, but I knew, that if that child started to feel hungry, anxious or even lonely, she would cry. Suffering is a natural part of life. What is not natural is the way we learn to attach ourselves to it.
I have endured such a lot of unnecessary suffering in my life because somewhere along the way, I ended up believing that my pain was who I was. It became my identity. But the truth is, I am so much more than what I feel.
Emotions pass and change all of the time but who I am, what resides at the core of me, is solid and unchanging.
When I think of myself, and recognise the unchanging part of me, any emotions I experience are just that, experiences. They do not define me. The same is true for physical experiences.
Do not let your emotions or physical experiences define you.
We are not our anxieties or fears. We are not our pain and suffering, we are not even our happiness and joy. We are an unchanging part of the universe.
No, I am not talking about how to safely cross the road, but what I am referring to can have just as dramatic an effect on your life as being hit by a car, if you do not practice it regularly.
Yesterday evening I attended my second yoga class. Although I have tried to incorporate some yoga into my boxing training routine, I have not always been successful. Having practiced it regularly ten years ago and experienced some of its healing benefits, I wanted to create some time and space in my life now, so that I could begin to experience those benefits again.
As luck would have it, I happened across an advert two weeks ago for a yoga class that was only a few miles away from my home. The advert said that the classes were for all levels and welcomed newcomers. It also said that the classes were held on the very evening, of the day that I discovered the advert.
I believe that the universe offers us opportunities, and not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I immediately contacted the yoga instructor and before I knew it, I was sat on a yoga mat, reconnecting with my soul.
Now here I am today, writing about this experience, for you.
After my first class I went home feeling elated. Even my food tasted better! A week later I was looking forward to my next class, but hours before I was due to attend I experienced some distressing symptoms related to PTSD. I put this down to an unpleasant nightmare I had the night before, about the abuse I endured as a child.
Although I was feeling anxious, and disconnected from everything and everyone around me, I was determined to attend my second class, and I did, however, I did not find it easy.
I tried my best to focus and relax, but the more I tried the harder it became. It was only towards the end of the class that I found myself able to give my attention to my breath and let my body release the tension I was carrying.
As my body relaxed I began to experience some surprisingly intense emotions, that were as uplifting as they were upsetting, and as I lay on the yoga mat I cried. Who knew that you could cry with your eyes closed! The yoga teacher was very good about it but I found myself automatically apologising to her for showing my emotions, when what I really wanted to say was thank you.
I could not find the words to describe what I was experiencing at the time. In my mind I had an image of myself emerging from a dark wood, only to be faced by a mountain. The mountain was imposing and just as impressive. I stood at the foot of it, admiring the sparkling, snow-capped peak that was surrounded by a clear blue sky, and I knew that I was not lost anymore.
I realised that I hadn’t been able to ‘see the wood for the trees’, but the real surprise was that actually, none of that mattered anyway. I had been lost in the wood and it was only now that I was being introduced to the truth of my situation. And although I knew I had a mountain to climb, I felt a huge sense of relief because I had seen the truth. I had felt it in my heart and I knew that by acknowledging it, I could find the peace I was looking for.
The tears I cried on the yoga mat were tears of sadness and tears of joy. Although it grieved me to think about all of the unnecessary suffering I have experienced, I was also immensely grateful to have been shown the truth of my situation. As I lay on the yoga mat, I felt at ease and completely supported by the universe. I had never felt more supported in my life and it was a revelation to know that I had that power to connect to the universe, within me all this time, and that I didn’t have to be feeling good to experience it.
The yoga class finished with the sound of three chimes, and as had happened at my first class, the sounds made me uniquely aware of my heart beat and the life force within me. I recognised that what I was experiencing was the result of a conscious effort on my part, to stop, look to, and listen to my heart.
I would encourage everyone to take the time to stop and listen to their heart as often as possible.
Switching off from all distractions, both the external and the internal, take the time to sit with yourself; get to know yourself, and then just be yourself.
Make being yourself your primary goal in life; you are unique, and whatever you decide to do in life whilst you are truly being you, will most likely be what is best for you.
And when you seek what is best for you from the inside out, you will attract what is best for you from the outside in, thus making the tiny area you occupy on this planet a happy one, and succeeding in making the world a better place, in a way that only you ever could!
I am writing today in response to a comment I recently received from a reader.
Sheree Garner, you are right, and this post is inspired by you.
I am not a girl afraid of her emotions, but a girl afraid of not being understood because of them. One of my mothers greatest wishes for me was that I, ‘ be bullied and not fit in’.
For the majority of my life I believed that there was something terribly wrong with me. I always felt like the odd one out and didn’t feel like I ‘fitted in’ anywhere. It is only recently I realised that the feelings I had were normal. After all, I was surrounded by people who were nothing like me when I was growing up, so it was perfectly natural to feel like the odd one out.
What I didn’t understand then, was that just because I was unfortunate enough to not have any like minded individuals in my life, that did not mean that there was something wrong with me.
However, I am still left with a lingering sense of loneliness and fear of ‘not fitting in’.
Yesterday, I noticed a man walking down the street. He didn’t seem particularly happy or sad. I guess you could say he was pretty poker faced. Then, the driver of a car peeped his horn and waved to the man on the street as he drove by.
This all happened in a matter of seconds but I was struck by the reaction of the man on the street. His whole face lit up with joy. His joy was contagious and I felt it with him. I wondered if recognition and acceptance is something that we all crave and need, and I believe that it is.
Not the recognition and acceptance of our skills and talents, but the recognition and acceptance of who we are; recognition and acceptance of the fact that we actually exist.
To be seen and to be known is a joyous thing.
I am still learning to be myself, but I know that living in this way will attract the right kind of people into my life, and any loneliness experienced when I am truly being myself isn’t quite as painful.
So…to be or not to be?
Definitely ‘be’, because although being true to you isn’t always easy, it is always worth it!
Thank you to everyone who has been in touch recently. I enjoy reading your comments and if I am ever indeed of uplifting or motivating, I reread them.
Two nights ago I had a very strange dream that I would like to share with you.
I was standing alone in my mothers living room. I was feeling the side of my head, just behind my ear, where I had noticed a lump. The lump was uncomfortable and I was anxious to get rid of it. I started to squeeze it between my finger and thumb and was shocked when the head of a miniature snake burst through.
The snake was angry having been disturbed and was trying to bite my fingers as I tried to remove it from my head. Luckily, I was faster than the snake, and was able to grab hold of it and pull it out. I threw it to the ground where it slithered around in circles before turning to face me.
The snake hissed at me and lunged itself forwards, bearing its fangs. I knew that it was going to try to get inside of my head again. I couldn’t let that happen so I stamped on its head, ending its life.
This dream is so relevant right now in relation to my life and where I am up to with my spiritual growth.
For most of my life I have had a voice inside my head telling me that…
I am not good enough.
I am stupid.
There is something wrong with me.
I am unlovable and undeserving.
Can you relate dearest reader?
For most of my life I have never questioned this voice, believing it to be my own.
A few weeks ago I visited a primary school to teach boxing. I must have seen close to 300 kids in total, and although I was nervous at first, I actually really enjoyed myself. It was such an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to share my love of boxing with so many kids.
On my way home from the primary school I was suddenly overcome with a devastating and painful realisation that felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I realised that I had just proved to myself that the voice I have been so used to listening to was not my own but my mothers, and that everything it had ever told me about myself was a lie.
My God that hurt so much because I have missed out on so much because of it.
But after the initial pain had worn off, and I was able to get my breath back, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude because…
I am good enough.
I am not stupid.
There is nothing wrong with me.
I am lovable and deserving.
My God what a difference a day makes!
We live our lives based around our beliefs and values. It is important we take the time to examine these values and beliefs every so often, especially the beliefs we hold about ourselves. How do your beliefs make you feel? If they don’t make you feel good then maybe they aren’t your beliefs at all. Maybe something someone has said to you has found itself a home inside of your head, like the snake in my dream.
When the opportunity to go into a school and teach boxing came up, I said yes because my reasons for doing so were stronger than my excuses for saying no. When you begin to listen to those inner voices that make you feel good and start to live your life accordingly, all of the nonsense that has ever taken up space in your head becomes glaringly obvious and much easier to clear out.
Please protect and nourish your mind with loving thoughts, and make sure to challenge every thought that causes you pain or gets you running scared. You don’t have to live with them.
Today, I got stuck driving behind what I can only think to describe as a ‘crazy lady’. In fact, she put me in mind of Cruella de Vil from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians.
I could see that she had wild hair and was arguing animatedly with her passenger. She was also smoking, and when she flicked the ash from her cigarette it landed on my windscreen. She then suddenly sped up, dangerously overtaking the car in front of her and disappeared up the road.
I’ve never seen anything like it and it put me in mind of the saying, grow or go, which has been very relevant to me over recent weeks.
It has been almost ten months now since my last alcoholic drink, and I have been thinking a lot this week about how much my life has changed during this time. At times it has not been easy staying sober but it definitely has been worth it!
I knew that I would face challenges living a life of sobriety, and that facing these challenges would ultimately be easier to deal with than the ones I faced on my worst day of drinking, but what I was perhaps unprepared for, were the changes in the attitudes of the people around me once I was sober.
There are people, like Pam, and my friends at the boxing gym, who have stood by me through it all and are genuinely happy for my successes, but there have also been people who I thought would be friends for life that are now no longer in my life.
It has been quite a painful learning experience for me, and as you know, I do not shy away from my emotions anymore, so I have sat with this pain, I have learnt from it and I am now ready to share it with you.
So here we go…grow or go!
I made some new friends before I stopped drinking alcohol.
Before I stopped drinking I had extremely low self-esteem and did not believe that I was a good enough person to have any friends. I believed what my mother had always said, that there was something wrong with me and that I deserved to be alone.
Because of this belief, I entered into the friendship feeling unequal, and because of that I gave too much of myself too soon. I extended confidences about my fears and dreams. I said yes when I wanted to say no. I responded to texts and phone calls straight away, even if I was busy, because I valued my friends more than I valued myself.
Then I had an alcohol detox and actually started to achieve some of the things I had spoken about before I got sober. I thought my friends would be happy for me but as the days of sobriety turned into weeks, and then months, my friendship started to fade. I wondered if I had done something wrong.
At first I avoided talking about my feelings with my friends because I was afraid to upset them, but then I realised that not talking would only reinforce my belief that I didn’t matter. Once I realised this I challenged my friends at the next available opportunity. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done.
It was the first time in my life that I have ever risked upsetting someone because I wanted to talk about the behaviour they were displaying that was upsetting me. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I cried and found it difficult to speak at times but I was determined to say what was on my mind.
The response I got was quite aggressive and uncaring which really surprised, hurt and angered me. Needless to say, that conversation marked the end of our friendship.
As I walked away from two people I had thought were going to be lifelong friends I was surprised to feel a fierce sense of elation! All of the depressing emotions I had been carrying around with me for weeks had vanished. I had spoken up for myself and I owned my feelings. I knew that I was speaking from a place of love and integrity and that was why I had absolutely no feelings of remorse as I walked away.
I truly believe that we meet the people that we do for a reason. We are both teacher and student in any given moment, and through this experience I have learnt that I am a good enough person to have friends in my life. I do not deserve to be alone. My feelings and emotions are important and I have the right to question behaviour that makes me feel bad.
As we grow we change. When we change, the people around us will also have to change in order to accept the new you. If they can’t grow with you they will go.
My advice is, let them.
When you can own who you are nothing and nobody can touch you. They might try, but anything negative that is thrown at you will bounce back, just as the ‘crazy lady’s’ cigarette ash bounced off my windscreen!
When you start to grow and serve your highest purpose you will notice that the wrong kind of people will make every excuse to get away from you, like the ‘crazy lady’ speeding away, and the right kind of people will make every excuse to be near you, and you will feel the benefit of their presence in your life.
I hope you have enjoyed reading todays post.
I hope that when you need to, you can find the courage to let go of the things that no longer serve your highest purpose.
I hope you know how important you are and that your feelings matter.
And I hope you never get stuck driving behind a cigarette wielding ‘crazy lady’.
Thank you to everyone who has recently been in touch. Your messages inspire me more than I could ever explain.
This week has been full of emotional challenges for me. I have had to ‘dig deep’ to keep myself focussed and get through it. Thursday was by far the worst day I have had for a long time.
I woke up after having an unpleasant dream about Denver House. In the dream I was an adult and had returned to the children’s home. I walked into the office to find that the whole of the front window had been removed. Beyond that I noticed a flower bed that was full of dead sunflowers. In my dream I climbed through the hole where the window had been. I then sat amongst the dead sunflowers and wept as I cradled their crumpled remains in my hands.
Thursday was also a very bright and sunny day. For me this can trigger very unpleasant memories and feelings about my childhood, but I was determined not to be dragged down, so I got myself out of bed and went for a run. Feeling brighter I decided to finish my workout with some kettlebell exercises. As I was finishing my last set of repetitions I happened to look up at the light fitting on the ceiling and was horrified to see my mothers living room window reflected in it instead of my own. Sometimes things like that can happen when I am having a difficult day.
I was due to attend an appointment so I tried to push the incident out of my mind and concentrate on that instead. On the way there I made the mistake of buying a magazine that contained an article about my book, based on an interview I gave. I was early for my appointment so decided to read it. I wasn’t happy with what the journalist had written and my resolve not to be dragged down dissolved.
I felt distracted during my appointment and was fighting hard not to let my emotions get the better of me. I lost that fight. I returned to my car to see that I had been given a parking ticket because I had mistakenly placed my ticket face down on the dashboard. I am smiling as I write this now, but I certainly wasn’t smiling then!
Later that evening, after taking a class at the boxing gym, I decided to call in the shop and buy something for my dinner. On the way out I noticed that I had been short changed. I returned home to find that someone had parked in my space. That almost never happens and I just couldn’t wait to go to bed. Please keep reading as there is a happy ending I promise you!
On Friday morning I attended a course designed to improve self esteem and confidence. I was dubious about it at first but as the day progressed I could feel my mood improving. On my way home I had what I can only describe as a revelation about why I struggle so much on sunny days, and it has truly been life changing for me.
I realised that the reason that a sunny day affects me is not because it reminds me of not being able to move around in my room as a child, but because it reminds me that I was not able to be myself as a child. Any form of self expression was punished so severely that I learnt to sit in the middle of my room and not move or express myself at all, and that is what causes my depression on sunny days.
I have learnt to fear being myself and it has made me desperately unhappy. I have such a strong sense of who I am, and having to keep that hidden away takes a lot of energy and focus, and it is exhausting.
I know now that it is time for me to be.
On Saturday morning the sun was shining, and for the first time in at least twenty years, I couldn’t wait to go outside and enjoy it. I was excited and as I made my way to the gym I felt blessed and allowed myself to be happy, knowing that it is safe to do so.
I imagined my four year old self sat on my knee as I drove, and in my mind I explained to her that she is now blooming and that all of her time spent in the darkness has made her light so strong, that now she has broken through, nothing will ever be able to hide it away again.
I imagined how I might have felt hearing those words as a four year old, and as I was doing so I had to stop at a crossing. A young girl of about four or five was crossing the road with what I assumed to be her father. The little girl was happily chatting away and her father was attentive and smiling and holding her hand. The girl waved at me and smiled and I waved back. I explained to my four year old self that she was free to be herself now just like the girl who had waved.
The sun has been a recurrent theme for me this week. The sun never gave up shining on me even when I had given up on the sun. Don’t ever give up on yourself, even when everything seems grey, because you never know when the sun is going to break through, and pull you through.
The roots of a flower are in constant darkness. They find nourishment in this darkness so that the flower is able to grow continuously towards the light. Like a flower, we too are in need of the ability to find nourishment in darkness if we are to blossom.