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.
I am very much interested in learning as much as I possibly can about the practice of yoga. I have been familiar with the physical practice of yoga for a number of years, but my understanding of its principles and origin is limited.
During my first 1:1 I was introduced to the Ahimsa principle which means, do no harm.
The term ‘do no harm’ includes harm to yourself, others, animals and objects. As a boxer and boxing coach, I wondered; is the sport of boxing something that goes against this principle?
For me, boxing training has always been a way for me to connect with my spirituality. I wanted to explain this at my 1:1 but couldn’t find the words. I just know that it’s something I’ve always had a deep passion for. Something innate.
On my way home I wondered how to put into words my feelings about boxing and spirituality.
So here we go…
What does the word spirituality actually mean?
Spirituality: The quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.
When I was around nine or ten years old I was lucky enough to see a film called, Rocky. For those of you who don’t know, the film is about an underdog boxer who is given a chance at a world title.
The film made a deep and lasting impression on me. Here was a man who had no family to speak of, no friends and no money. He lacked in every area that our society deems so valuable, and yet, he was full of kindness and compassion. He was concerned only with doing what is right, both inside and outside of the ring.
This mans heart beat with love, with no trace of anger or bitterness and all he wanted to do was ‘go the distance’, which in boxing terms means reach the end of the bout. Despite his perceived lack, this man only ever wanted to give, and give his best.
I guess you could say he was a spiritual man, concerned with the human spirit as opposed to material and physical things.
At the age of nine or ten I could not have put this into words but the way he was and the way he chose to behave resonated with my core. I really felt like I could understand him and it made me determined in my own life to give my best despite my personal challenges, following my own moral compass in the absence of a caregivers.
When I put my gloves on as an adult, I am reminded always of these spiritual principles. When I step into the ring to spar or compete, it has always been with a willing participant of an equal ability.
So, does the sport of boxing go against the Ahimsa principle?
So far, my blog has been viewed in 59 countries since the publication of my book in March of this year. I never imagined that my story and messages of hope and love would travel so far around the globe. So I decided to buy myself a scratch map of the world, so I could see for myself just how far my story has travelled.
Every time I look at that map now, I can not help but be reminded of myself as a girl of 13, sat alone upon the roof top of Denver House, gazing at the stars and hoping for change. The memory is a sad one but also a powerful one, that serves me as a reminder of the power of hope and faith.
At 13 I learned that it is quite possible to find yourself in a situation where you are completely alone, without anybody to care for you. My family had told me that I was not wanted and that they were better off without me. The staff at the children’s home, my social worker and even some of the police officers I encountered, did nothing to protect me from being sold and used. And yet, in my darkest moments I was still able to hope, even at the age of 13.
I am so very thankful to the universe for all of the ways it has inspired hope in my life.
Hope is life saving and life changing. Hope inspires faith, and with faith you can summon the courage needed to keep moving forward, even when everything else around you is trying to hold you back.
I have taken a picture of a Christmas cactus that I believe sums up beautifully the power of hope. For those of you who don’t know, the Christmas cactus is a small genus of cacti found in the coastal mountains of south eastern Brazil.
There are around 6-9 species and the Christmas cactus gets its name from a legend about a young girl called Pepita from Mexico who was too poor to buy a present for Jesus’ birthday. Instead she gathered what greenery she could find in the mountains and placed it on the church alter. Then, when what was thought of as weeds by the local villagers suddenly burst into bloom, the legend of the Christmas cactus was born.
The Christmas cactus in the picture below was in need of watering. It was dying and it knew it. I know this because it had started to send out roots, in the HOPE of preserving its life. It had been trying to move to a new place that would better fulfil its needs so that it could live and bloom.
The Christmas cactus can not see, but still it sends out roots and reaches out when it is in need. Like the Christmas cactus, we too must reach out whenever we are in need or blinded by dark situations. We must hope and have faith in the universe that created us.
Since the publication of my story in March I can not believe how far I have been able to reach, and all of this has stemmed from a 13 year old girl who never gave up HOPE!
Effort – A vigorous or determined attempt (Oxford dictionary)
Giving 100% of your effort is something that will mean different things to different people. For example, what I can give in effort towards a particular goal or task may not be the same as what you could give, and that may be different again for the next person you meet etc.
Although we share many similarities, there is no denying that we are all different too. We are different physically; we are different psychologically and spiritually, and we each have different and unique life experiences, all of which can influence our capabilities at any given time. So when I say that giving 100% effort will mean different things to different people, it is a perfectly plausible comment to make… right?
Of course it is.
However, over the years I have had great difficulty accepting my 100% as ‘good enough’.
Since my last blog post I have been in training for my first fight as an amateur boxer and I have been unhappy with my 100%. I had hoped that by writing to you and putting my intentions out into the open, I would be able to muster the motivation I need to get to where I want to be, within the time frame I had set myself.
Unfortunately this has been easier said than done.
I haven’t written anything for a while because I had wanted to wait until I was able to write a glowing report about how my training is going and give you all some positive news. I have decided not to wait for that ‘perfect time’ and instead share with you from where I am right now, on this journey towards my goal of becoming a boxer.
I am still having nightmares that make me physically sick. The nightmares leave me feeling exhausted and sometimes I find it physically difficult to speak as my face and mouth feel numb. It’s frustrating and disheartening. On days like those I manage to get to the gym and train my clients, but then have nothing left in the tank to train myself.
That being said I am seeing improvements when I do spar. I am running faster and my footwork is improving. I have realised that I need to take a step back from my worries and self judgements and take a look at the bigger picture.
Those of you who have read my book will know that I have fought very hard already to be where I am today. One year ago I was about to start an alcohol detox programme and found it very difficult to leave the house for any other reason than to buy alcohol. Today I am in preparation for a boxing match!
Whilst I have not been happy with my 100% I know that it is good enough.
It is good enough because it isMY 100% and that is all that need concern me.
Accepting my 100% as it is now is an act of self-love and kindness. It creates space for self-improvement and removes any negative self judgement that can hold you back indefinitely.
So if you too have been, or are unhappy with what your 100% looks like right now, don’t let it stop you from giving it. Know that whatever your 100% looks like on any given day, it is good enough, and that your best can get better with patience, time, and a little self-love and kindness.
It is one thing to say that you are willing to die in the ring. That is a necessary must.
But are you willing to train for it?
Are you willing to eat for it and breathe for it?
Are you willing to LIVE for it?
If you can answer yes to these questions, then you my friend are a champion, win, lose or draw!
I wrote the above a few years ago.
At the time I was in a dark place, and was trying to motivate myself, but I didn’t believe I would ever again have the opportunity to box.
I am happy to say this is no longer the case and I will be boxing competitively in October, all being well.
I still have some weight to lose and I am concerned about the effect my nightmares have on me physically and mentally, but I am determined to try and give my all to my training over the next few months.
I have decided to share my worries here as a way of motivating myself.
I am doing this for myself and for all of us survivors out there who are fighting daily battles that no one sees or knows about. A victory for one of us is a victory for all of us.
I will have been victorious if I can make it to that first bell and say without doubt, that I have given my all to be there. No excuses.
To be honest, I don’t know if I will be capable of achieving my boxing dream and it scares me.
I don’t know if I have enough left in the tank.
But I am now ready and willing to find out, win, lose or draw!
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.