Ripples

I wrote this a couple of years ago, but was not ready to publish it at that time. I’m ready now.

When I was fourteen years old my friend was brutally raped and murdered at my cousin’s 16th birthday party. That’s some opening line, right? You can sometimes see resentment in the eyes of fellow conversationalists if I mention it – they are a little bitter at being forced out of their collective comfort zone.  They are intrigued, but uncomfortable nonetheless. 

Leigh Leigh's law failure | Newcastle Herald | Newcastle, NSW
Leigh as I remember her. Courtesy The Newcastle Herald, 2012

Now that I have finally accepted adulthood at the not-so-fresh age of 44 years, I have begun to address some of the issues that have led to (sometimes) crippling anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, and an insatiable appetite for justice. My recent reading has led me to this idea that so often we find ourselves trapped in this constant cycle of frustration and unhappiness as we play situations over in our minds.  You know, the conversation you might have had with your boss where you wish you had handled things differently?  You play the scene over and over in your mind, and each time you physically feel the same anger and frustration that you did when you were there in real life. So, I guess this is how post-traumatic shock syndrome plays out. The physical memory of trauma doesn’t go away. 

But what if your memory isn’t real?  See, I wasn’t at the party where Leigh was killed. My last memories of her are etched forever in my mind – the way the sun hit her face, the tone of her voice, her big smile, the joy that was Leigh – a smile that was always there. That memory isn’t a difficult one. She ran over to ask me if I was coming to the party, so excited to be going herself. I wasn’t going for a whole bunch of reasons, but mostly because the people going weren’t really my crowd. Leigh, on the other hand, was friends with EVERYONE. 

Despite not being at the party, I somehow created my own memories of that night. I knew the people, I knew the venue, I have played Leigh’s movements out in my head, right to the very worst of it, almost every day of my life. And over the years, I became a little numb to it all.  Desensitised. I think I just adjusted to this feeling of terror that would wash over me every time, and it started to seep out of me in the form of severe anxiety.  I was suffering from PTSD related to an incident I wasn’t involved it.  More recently I have started to wonder how many of us from this idyllic beachside town have had a similar experience. Shall I call the roll? 

My cousin, whose life had just begun, would never recover from finding her – how would you?  He would never shake the feeling of responsibility, despite his youth and innocence, because it was his party. My Aunty and Uncle, who carried their own disproportionate sense of guilt, and then grieved the loss of their son and what he could have been. My friends who didn’t attend the party, but who showed up at school on Monday in a trance, just like I did – shock and disbelief taking over our bodies and brains. The friends and acquaintances who were at the party – kids drinking, possibly having lied to their parents about their whereabouts – do they wish they’d stepped in and stood up to the boys who were giving Leigh a hard time? And are there those who saw more than they admitted to, but feared getting in trouble, either from the police or from their parents? How many people have lived with PTSD-like symptoms from that one event? 

But the ripples that move through the community go much further than this.  How did the teachers cope? How have Leigh’s family coped? How much has this event from my early years shaped my own approach to parenting, and hence impacted my own children’s lives?  See, I still live in this town, and I can tell you that not many people from my generation are still around. Some fled as soon as they were old enough to leave, others drifted away later as they realised that this place held bitter memories for them, still others have taken their own lives, or made life choices that led them away from reality.  The town is full of new faces who have heard about Leigh’s murder, but they don’t feel it on a cellular level like we do. Some have even told me to “get over it – it was years ago”. 

What I realised last year is that my own experience of this trauma is real and valid, and worthy of being addressed. I have been through anger before, but more at the injustice of the actual incident.  Now I have reached a new level of anger. How dare they rob us of our grief by drowning out the loss of our dear friend with this very loud, bungled police investigation?  How dare they charge no-one with sexual assault, despite the overwhelming evidence that Leigh was raped?  How dare the media and the gossip decide that Leigh was in some way responsible for this because of her reputation – a reputation that was proven to extend no further than making friends with every soul who crossed her path? 

For so long now I have wanted to do something to bring closure and healing for those of us who have held onto wounds, but almost every avenue examined saw people being forced to reopen wounds, whether they were ready to, or not. And so, I have chosen to write. Not about what happened on that night, not about all the ways in which the police investigation failed Leigh and her friends and family, but about the impact that one pocket sized girl’s death has affected thousands of lives.  I have far from exhausted the list, but I have given a starting point. 

So, how do we heal?  We start by acknowledging that what happened was horrific and traumatic, and shaped our lives.  We talk about it.  We open up about things we have kept inside for eons. We understand that whether we were there that night or not, we were still at the heart of it. We remember that we lost a very special girl, and we cry for her and for ourselves.  But what is the most important and most valuable thing we can do?  We can learn from it. We can build a society that values women and girls for what is at their core and in their hearts and minds – far more than just their bodies. We can build a society that seeks justice and supports all victims through trauma. We can build a society that Leigh would have been proud of. 

Rebuilding

I’ve been quiet for a long time. Yes, I’ve been busy, like everyone, but that’s not really my reason. I think I have just been processing. It’s time for a check-in. The challenge here is that the more content I become, the less I feel inclined to share the journey, but I have had so many kind words from people who say that reading about my story has helped them that I kinda feel like it’s important to keep sharing.

One really lovely thing about growth is that it just keeps going. You don’t get to a certain point and just stop. I thought that I had uncovered so many parts of myself that there could be nothing left hidden, but I was wrong. Lately I have found myself in new awkward and uncomfortable head spaces; feelings that I wanted to get away from. I stuck it out, though. Rode through a bit of pain and discomfort, then became aware of another self-destruct pattern, and am now ready to swap it.

Have you worked out who your cup-fillers are? I thought I had. I knew which people made me feel good, who saw eye to eye with me, and understood my ramblings. I thought they were the people who inspired me and lifted me up. I actually feel somewhat embarrassed to admit that, actually, their approval was what was making me feel good. Now, these are beautiful women. They are intelligent, honest, holistic, and they have integrity that I admire. I have laughed with them, cried with them, and thought that they were my people. But here’s the thing…

Whilst I have quite literally driven through bush fires to be there for these people, I have finally realised that this dedication is not reciprocated. I’ve spent so long striving to be a good friend, that I didn’t stop to be sure that I had a good friend. I am SUCH a good friend. I sacrificed parts of myself to be one. I waited like an adoring puppy dog to be either needed or acknowledged, but not once did someone call me and say “come on over. I want to see you.” Any time I see these people it is at my request and organisation efforts. I even reached out on a couple of occasions when some big things were happening in my life, but none were available. Seeing these words makes me feel ashamed, and uncomfortable, but I’m going to push past that, and I’m going to grow.

Another thing that I am a little uncomfortable about is the fact that I have always envied other people’s close friendships. I know people that have the same group of friends in their 60s that they have carried from school. I compared my friendships to theirs, and felt a lack. I felt like a bit of a loser because no-one wanted to spend time with me. That was the story that I played in my head, anyway. It’s the story that made me try so hard that, really, it pushed people away. One of these people actually said to me once “you were just a little too much for a while there”.

I have been reading @glennondoyle’s Untamed. She talks a lot about how much time women spend being “good” versions of themselves – the good daughter, the good wife, the good mother. We cut off pieces of ourselves to fit into this little box that society has deemed appropriate. I had long ago identified this “goodness” as bullshit, and thought I was done with martyrdom and self-sacrifice, but it seems there was a frontier that I had missed. But, if you’ve read my other entries, you would know that I have been a people-pleaser my whole life, so I guess it’s not such an enormous surprise that I missed this aspect of my life when I did the “end of good” stocktake.

So, I’ve found another part of my life to rebuild. My first step was to say to myself, “who would be there for me if I really needed help?” Of course, my family would be, but somehow it’s important to me to have friends who don’t also have family obligation. I could only think of one. It made me feel so low and lonely for a couple of days that I kind of shut down and had a pity party.

It didn’t last long. Of course I have other people I could call on, only they haven’t played a big role in my life. This whole thing made me realise that I need to put my heart into those people. I need to nurture those friendships, because they are the ones where we build each other up and bring out the best in each other. I think I will just be lonely for a while until I find my people proper. And that’s ok.

Who are your people? Do you build each other up? Or do you come away feeling a little disappointed, neglected, sad, a bit yuck? Like a strong tree that just keeps growing, we need to drop the parts that are sucking up nutrients, but not really contributing to the big picture. It doesn’t mean cut them out of our lives, it just means remove them from our inner circle. Funnily enough, just because I had placed certain people in my inner circle doesn’t mean that this is where they saw themselves.

Whenever my husband prunes the trees around our garden, I feel that he has gone too far. The yard looks bare and lifeless. He always promises that it’ll be back, stronger and more beautiful than it was before, and he is always right. He hasn’t killed a tree yet. This is what I need to remember.

The Case for Letting Your Garden Run Wild | Architectural Digest

So, there is nothing wrong with being a little lonely for a while. I can just hold onto that tiny group of loved ones and wait for regrowth, knowing full well that it will be spectacular and wild when it arrives. There’ll be some grief over the loss of what I have held onto for a long time, and perhaps there will even be a shifting in the energy of some old friendships and they’ll come and meet the new version of myself with their hearts open. Whatever the case, the loneliness is temporary; just a part of life that can be hard, but, as Glennon says, we can do hard things. I will rebuild my community, my inner circle.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the last time I’m going to realise something about myself that I’m uncomfortable with. Each time I go through this, though, I move through it a little faster than last time. I know myself better. I trust my instincts more. I think that we remain blind to things only until we’re ready to look at them, so we have to be patient with ourselves as our eyes are gradually opened and veils are gradually lifted.

I’ve been writing this for a few days now, constantly changing my mind about how to say what I want to say. I don’t want it to sound miserable, because, really, it is far from it. Just since letting go of previous expectations, I have connected with a few of my real cup-fillers. We’ve made plans to catch up, and I’ll nurture these relationships so that they are a healthy part of my world. I have also become aware of the possibility that maybe friends don’t seek me out so much because I always appear to be so confident and in control. They might not think I need them. So, as I fertilise my garden, I will be sure to remain open, and show vulnerability where appropriate.

If you’re reading this, you are most likely on your own journey. My hope for you is that you feel loved and supported in everything that you do, and that you feel worthy of people’s time, love and affection. Because you are. You are worthy.

Glennon Doyle says so much, so beautifully!

The People Pleaser

My journey from pleasing others to pleasing myself.

Over the past two weeks, we have had some big milestones in our family. We’ve had a wedding anniversary, and our daughter-in-law’s 21st birthday. When the Easter Bunny visited everyone else, but didn’t come to me, I realised that up until now, I have been very hung up on gifts and traditions. My husband and I didn’t exchange any gifts for our anniversary on that same weekend, and for the first time, I did not take experience the absence of gift-giving as a feeling of lack, or a comment on my worth as a wife and human being. My husband is exceptionally kind and thoughtful, expressing his love in the form of food for his family. He is a chef by trade, although he cooks only for us these days, and he is so amazing at what he does that it is rare for us to have a successful meal out – the bar has already been set too high, and we are often disappointed when we go and pay for something “special”. This year, I noticed how thankful I felt for the special Easter pancakes, and the beautiful baked breakfast bowl he presented me with on our anniversary. It got me to thinking about what a selfish cow I had been for so long, but only for a moment.

Gift Giving Traditions from Around the World Part 2 | Budsies Blog
I used to value my self worth according to the number of gifts I would receive on birthdays and at Christmas!

See, my husband, in all his wisdom (which I never give him enough credit for), reminded me of the habit that I had carried over from childhood with regards to gifts I had received. Just as Mum used to get us to do, I would lay all of my gifts out beautifully on my bed so that I could admire and appreciate them. What I now realise is that what I was doing was associating the gifts I was receiving with the amount of love I deserved. If I didn’t get many gifts, it was because I wasn’t worthy of them, so the value of the gifts I received was directly associated with my value as a person. I wasn’t being a selfish cow. I was just a regular human being, grappling with her self-worth, so I immediately forgive myself for appearing so greedy and trivial.

Naturally, this got me to thinking about my biggest challenge in life – seeking the approval of others. I wanted everyone to love me. Everything I did, I did to make myself feel worthy of others’ approval. Now, I’m not saying that I haven’t done some amazing things – I absolutely have. What I now know is that I was not listening to my own heart. I was trying to create something extraordinary, because I was just not good enough. I did everything I could to take the focus away from my lack, and to keep myself too busy to have time to look at myself. I was obsessed with the image of myself, rather than finding out who I really was.

The moment when I realised what I had been doing my whole life was massive. I was overcome by this wave of emotion, and felt a grief for my own loss that was astounding. All of the things I had failed to feel, all of the opportunities I had missed, all because I couldn’t face myself. I think this is what made those years of workplace bullying so very difficult – nothing I did ever made that woman approve of me! It was like a riddle that I just couldn’t solve, and it was a personal attack that I thought was about a lack in me.

Suddenly, everything made sense. It all just clicked into place. Can you see yourself in these words? Here are some of the things that I did that others have identified with. And note, these are the things that I have (mostly) conquered, meaning that anyone else can do it as well…

  1. I became infatuated with people I admired. I wanted to be them. It wasn’t enough to express those things through my own schema – I tried to become them. I made career choices, shaped my dreams, furnished my home, all based on other people because I wanted to inhabit their lives. It’s terrifying! Now, I never boiled any bunnies. I did what I did subtly for the most part, until, one day, a subject of my admiration called me out. I was embarrassed, and sad that she pulled away from me, but I didn’t really see what I had been doing until years later. I was so embarrassed once I made the connection, that I actually tracked that person down and apologised to her. She didn’t understand why I was so desperate to escape myself, because she thought I was a wonderful person!
  2. I NEVER dropped a ball! At one point, I was studying at university, maintaining a very high GPA, parenting 3 young children, working three part-time jobs, all whilst organising special screenings of movies as fundraisers, volunteering in my youngest’s classroom, keeping fit, organising children’s extra-curricular loves, and appearing to have it all together. I didn’t really get stressed because that would have shown a weakness. Actually, I did drop a ball – I started forgetting to pay bills. This terrified my husband, and he took over that part.
  3. I couldn’t let anyone disagree with me. If they did, I would make it my personal mission to convince them to see things my way. I had to convince everyone that they should see the world like I do. I thought that I was superior to people who didn’t agree with me. (I know! WTF?)
  4. I valued my worthiness based on the amount of time people would want to spend with me. It’s funny, because I know people admired me, but no-one really wanted to hang out with me. I had a couple of friends who really saw “me”, but most people kept me at a distance. So ironic, considering that everything I was doing was just so that people would like me more and I wouldn’t feel so lonely!
  5. I worried. After almost every encounter I had with other people, particularly when they were people I admired, or who held powerful positions, I would stew over whether I had appeared as I wanted to be seen, and usually I would decide that I had said something stupid, and would try to invent scenarios which allowed me to change their opinion of me. I would find myself taking on beliefs that weren’t mine, and I had no time for my own thoughts, because other people’s were better.

Of course, there are other things, like my association with physical beauty as an indicator of worthiness, but those things are a blog entry unto themselves, so today we’ll just talk about these 5.

How did I become a human being that I am (mostly) happy to be? Well, I had to first accept all of those things above, and they were some hard pills to swallow. Of course, the first step to overcoming anything that you want to change is identifying that there is a problem, and by the time Casey and I found each other, (Casey Warwick was my life coach for some 6 months or more, and is still someone I check in with every now and again), I knew that I really needed to change my habits of thought. I didn’t know the specifics of my problems – I only knew that I wanted to like myself more. I think that journaling is a good place for anyone to start. I tell you, I was sick of introspection after a few intensive weeks of looking at myself, but it’s a small price to pay for the relief you feel on the other side!

The Lingering Effects of Childhood Trauma | Allison Davis Maxon ...

Once I had spotted some of the main issues that I wanted to overcome, I did some timeline therapy. The purpose of this was to be able to have a good look at what had led to my behaviour patterns, because finding solutions to problems requires a thorough understanding of what led to the situation in the first place. As with most of our adult “issues”, most of my own insecurities stemmed from childhood, and I found it fascinating to make the connections between things from my past and the protective habits that I developed over time! See, none of those habits was created without purpose. They were all things that I developed to protect myself through vulnerable times, but, of course, I was no longer in need of protection, so it was time to drop them!

Now, looking at childhood generally requires us to revisit some traumatic times, and can be a very raw and painful experience. I think this step is one that people often get stuck on – allocating the blame! So many people work out that some important person in their lives was responsible for the pain and trauma that led to those habits they seek to change, and get caught up in the anger and the bitterness that comes with blame. It’s satisfying to know that it is someone else’s fault, and to take some responsibility for things means that we need to shelter some of the blame ourselves, and why should we do that??? We were just vulnerable, frightened children when these things happened to us – why should we accept any responsibility???

Well, the thing is, we may not have had a say in what was happening in the worlds of our respective childhoods, but we cannot escape the fact that we are responsible for our actions as adults. In fact, it’s the most important and liberating thing we can do! But first, we must forgive those people who have hurt us in some way. And this, dear fellow human, is possibly the hardest part of all.

Casey introduced me to some meditations for forgiveness, and I was so incredibly shocked at how powerful they were when I emerged from them feeling free of anger towards the person I had been working on, that I repeated the process for all of my antagonists. There are plenty of meditations for forgiveness on YouTube. You just need to do a bit of searching to find what really speaks to you. Sometimes things pop back up for me, and I have to revisit the meditations, but overall, I moved through the process within a week or so.

I will add here that I was so ready for change that I completed the activities Casey set for me with vigour, yet I know that each step can take any amount of time. The thing is, you just need to sit with it until you’re there. There’s no point in trying to move on to the next thing if your heart is still consumed by anger and bitterness. Take your time and be kind to yourself as you face your demons.

It was at this point that I realised that the only person I needed to seek approval from was myself. Once I had forgiven the people I needed to, I really started to look at the way that I spoke to myself, and the person I wanted to create. I learnt to identify the patterns when they arose, and cut in with an adult perspective. I learnt to be kind to myself by thinking of the part that had been hurt as a child, and it still helps me now to look at photos of myself as a child, and remind myself that I have the job of protecting this little person now. I am the only one responsible for keeping her safe, and helping her heal. Once you commit to a child like that, you can no longer allow her to be spoken to the way you have been speaking to yourself up until now. I try to be mindful in everything I do, but I do still trip up from time to time. The key thing is to trip the circuit – watch those thought patterns, and then rebut them with something kind.

One more thing I had to alter before the people pleasing really stopped was my choice in company. There are some people in our lives who drain energy from us, and we don’t really enjoy spending time with them, but feel a sense of obligation, so we drag ourselves through unpleasant scenarios because we “should”. Well, that just has to stop. There will be some friends lost – people who don’t understand your process, and cannot support you through it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t love them. You need to keep your energy for yourself, and service to others does not need to look like a painful friendship that is past its expiry! It can look like volunteering in the community, like donating to a charity you believe in. It can look like random acts of kindness, or paying it forward in your cafe. These are all things that serve others, but still uplift you.

Instead, choose to spend your time with the people who fill your cup. Those people who you can safely have discussions with about things that matter. Conversations that expand your mind, make you laugh, make you love. Life is too short for gossip, and there is no-one on the earth who is benefiting from negative conversations. Always seek growth!

Self-Care: How to Fill Your Emotional Cup in the 4th Trimester and ...
Choose the people who put something in your cup – not the ones who take from it.

And then this brings us back to that people-pleasing behaviour. I don’t mean that all of the work is over for self-improvement, but I have found that this is where my attitude towards others and what they thought of me just changed naturally. I was so much more compassionate towards myself, that I stopped over-analysing the things I said to people. I was in touch with what I wanted for myself, so I stopped caring at all about what others were doing. My anxiety levels have been reduced to nothing, as opposed to daily panic attacks and bouts of rock-bottom depression. There are still some little areas that I am working on – like, I am not yet completely comfortable sharing this truth with certain people, which makes zero sense. But overall, on a daily basis I just ‘ain’t bovvered’ about what anyone else thinks. If I know in my heart and my soul that something is good and right, then that’s what I go with. Because, after all, I’m going to be stuck with myself for a lot longer than any of those people I used to worry about. I need to be happy with the choices I make, because I’m the only one who has to live with them.

The only person I need to impress is the one in the mirror. She is going to be around longer than anyone else!

Finally, don’t get caught in shame over your old behaviours. I was mortified once I realised what I had been doing, but I concentrated on that little girl; I put on my teacher hat and thought about what led to the behaviours. We would forgive a child for their behaviours that come from a place of hurt – why wouldn’t we forgive ourselves.

Sometimes I wonder what makes me want to put this stuff down on a page and send it out there to the big wide world. I guess I want people to know that they’re not alone. Not many people knew the extent of my messed up mind, and most would be surprised to read this, but I lived with the torment every day, like a calm duck, gliding over the water, paddling like a lunatic, trying to keep it all together and appear to be a normal person. So I hope this helps someone. If just one person was able to make kinder choices for themselves because they read my story, then that would be enough. As Maya Angelou says, “when you get, give. When you learn, teach.” I can’t keep my lessons to myself.

I didn’t take this journey alone. I had teachers – Casey, of course, as well as authors like Brene Brown, Oprah’s Soul Conversations Podcast, and Dr Joe Dispenza, in particular his book “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself”. There are so many people I come across who empower me with their words and wisdom, and I always keep my mind busy with the things that inspire me. If you think you need someone to support you, seek someone out. Casey does all of her work online, so is accessible for everyone, as are many coaches and therapists. She also caters to your financial needs, but you need to find the person who is right for you. I think paying for the service makes a difference to your attitude towards your growth. It adds some accountability, in my opinion. However, if that is an obstacle for you, don’t let it hold you back. Find your own teachers. Growth doesn’t need to break the bank.

Take Control and Surrender

I remember as a little girl, hearing my Dad’s story about the time he felt God’s presence. He described this incredible sense of joy, peace and trust, and then spent years seeking that feeling again. He tried many different churches, he joined bible study groups, I even remember visiting a church where people were speaking in tongues! But, whilst he did experience deep love and connection through his endeavours, he never quite found the magic again.

My Papa and I. Oh, how I idolised that man!

Besides my father, there was my Aunty, who attributed her survival through aggressive cancer to God’s intervention, and who, along with my Grandmother, began to take up bible studies to better understand “His word”. I was so cynical of them all! I could not believe that otherwise intelligent people would base their assessment of and interactions with the world around them on words written so many years ago by a bunch of narrow-minded, misogynistic men! I was incredibly judgmental, and proceeded to seek evidence that they were wrong. I knew that there was something greater than us at play in the world, but I had no idea how to explain it. I consumed everything written by the Dalai Lama, I got into Astrology, I “played” with Runes. I never really scratched the itch.

Conversations with God, an Uncommon Dialogue : Neale Donald Walsch ...

Around 6 months ago, when I wasn’t really searching at all, I stumbled upon the book “Conversations with God”. It is not a title that would ever have attracted me, because, in fact, I was, and still am, resistant to the word “God”; however, a friend had referred to a quote from the book that really resonated with me, and I spend plenty of time driving to and from work each day, so I decided to give it a crack.

Well, that, right there, was a life changer! See, I have always associated the word “God” with this personified, all powerful, mythical being in the sky. There was a big association with guilt, and the rules of the churches I had been in some way connected to made me doubt the existence of a force that stands in judgment of our actions, even to the point of sending someone to eternal hellfire and damnation! What a load of codswallop! As if this being could send my tiny, perfect baby to Hell if he was to die, just because we had chosen not to have him Christened or Baptised! This was one of my Aunty’s fears.

And then I listened to the Audiobook of Conversations with God, and all of the prejudices and frustrations I had ever held against devout Christians suddenly dissolved. I’m still not comfortable with the term “God” because of my early associations, but I will use that term here to keep things simple.

Because simple, it is. Conversations with God confirmed for me everything that I had ever suspected. It painted a new picture that was so much easier to look at than the ones created by organised religions. It describes God as everything. As the life force in all living things, as the miracles of nature, as the grief of loss, as the ugliness of all that is not wanted. It eliminates the dichotomy of “good” versus “evil” – nothing is good or bad, it all just is. God is the source of those lovely little “coincidences”, where you see someone you haven’t seen for years and years but had just entered your mind the day before. It is the unparalleled joy that a mother feels when looking at her baby. It is everything beautiful and everything ugly, and everything in between. There is no “Hell”. What loving being would choose to send another to a fate so terrible?

With my new understanding of “God”, I began to look for signs and messages. I was incredibly skeptical when a friend pulled out a pendulum and encouraged me to give it a go. Way too “woowoo”, but I cleared my mind and opened it up. I got a few true answers to basic yes/no questions, and then tried to trick it. It couldn’t be tricked. Just like those times when a thought comes, unbidden, into my mind about a thing that I really should do (like start my own blog as first steps into my writing career), but I try to ignore it. Then I see more and more signs pushing me towards that thing. I keep trying to ignore it, but as long as my heart is open, it doesn’t go away until I do it. Have you experienced this? It’s God, pushing you to your destiny. That’s all.

One of the habits of thought that I wanted to change in myself was my own judgment over others. I had already begun to dismantle that. I had begun to forgive people for their actions that led to my own pain from childhood, and I was making sound progress. There were a couple of people I just couldn’t quite forgive though. Some people who had done unspeakable acts, and my hatred for them took up some space in my heart that I didn’t want to waste on them anymore. I actually feel a little crazy when I mention this, because I can’t quite believe that I have really come to this place. I have accepted now that we all make our choices based on the knowledge and the tools that we have in this moment, and that everyone, everywhere is doing their best. I even forgive my friend’s murderers. There, I have said it. Their actions have caused so much grief and devastation in my circle of friends, my community and in my family, and yet, they were a bunch of kids who have had to go through life with the knowledge of what they have done to that child, and to all who knew and loved her. Can you imagine carrying that burden? Is there any punishment that could be worse than what they must issue themselves? It is not my place to judge their actions, and my hatred for them won’t make this world any better. My love and forgiveness will, though.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer quote: You must first of all think justly ...

So, after so many years of judging others and their religious beliefs, I am now charged with the responsibility of forgiving myself for my attitudes. I do. I knew no better. I forgive myself for most of the things that I have done that I feel go against the essence of who I want to be, and the things I haven’t overcome, I am still working on them.

I took my new understanding of “God” into my daily life. Through further reading and learning, I came to understand that the crux of it all is just handing over control. In my last post I wrote about how we need to take responsibility for our actions and take control of our reactions, and once we have done this, then we can let go of everything. Once I surrendered my need to have control over parts of my life that really were impossible for me have any influence upon, a peace and a sense of joy like nothing I could ever explain came over me. I used to lie awake for hours, worrying that something was going to happen to my children, worrying that I had a serious and deteriorating health condition hidden inside me that might be slowly killing me, worrying about what other people think! What a waste of my energy! If those things are what God has in store for me, my worrying won’t help me survive them!

Throughout this pandemic, I am absolutely surprised to feel no anxiety. I am sad for the loss that people are experiencing, and I certainly hope that it doesn’t come closer to me and affect my loved ones. I am cautious and mindful, but I am not frightened. God has this under control.

Now I know what Dad was talking about all those years ago. I feel such joy to feel the sun on my body, the breeze on my skin. I trust completely in God’s will, and look for the signs that it sends. God is love. It is just everything, and it is responsible for far more than just what is on our planet or in our universe. There are no limits.

Notice that I don’t refer to “him” or “her”? I don’t have a need to humanise this force, and I think it would be arrogant of me to make those assumptions. I guess it just makes it easier for some people to relate to the human form.

I am working on my association with the word “God”. I am curious about the bible, now that I have changed my perspective. There are so many things across different religions that are consistent, and I am sure that many of the things I thought were meant to be taken literally are just metaphors and cautionary tales. It is human beings who decide that their religion is the right one. They seek power in their churches, and pass judgment over others. They, too, are just doing what they know and understand in this moment to be right.

My experience of God has not been fleeting. I marvel at it every day, and am so happy to have reached this point in my life. I still get angry, still think futile thoughts, and still sit in judgment of others occasionally. What is different is that I quickly identify my mistakes. I say hello to them, I think about the situation, I show myself some compassion, and I jump back on the path I want to be on. I am a work in progress, and I completely accept who I am right now. I feed my heart and soul with wise words from my teachers, most of whom have no idea of how much I am learning, or even that they have me as a student. I meditate in some way every day. I listen to my body and what I want and need. I ask myself whether I am honouring myself by drinking this wine, or watching this TV show. Sometimes the answer is “yes” and sometimes it is “no”. If I am not sure of a choice I have to make, I sit with it, knowing that the answer will come in time if I have faith that it will come.

Really, there aren’t any rules to help you achieve true peace and happiness. You don’t need to pray at a certain time each day, to wear certain clothing, to eat certain foods. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself and others and all living things. That’s all. It’s so enormous, but so simple.

The irony here is that I feel nervous about putting this out there. Like I said, I am on my journey, and have not arrived here as a destination. The more of us that are living with truth and integrity, though, the better this world will be. So, please, if this resonates with you, go ahead and share. Let’s spread this notion of kindness all over the God-damn place!

Kindness is Always Possible

The Turning Point

It all changed when I realised that I was responsible for what came next.

Like most people, I have spent most of my life in survival mode. I was fairly average. I was intelligent, but no genius. I was seeking a better life, or, rather, one where I was financially stable; and I thought that this would make me happy. I thought that life would be better when we owned our own house, and then I thought we would be happier if we owned our own restaurant, and so on down the path of “I’ll be happy when…”. I was always seeking something, keeping myself busy, helping others, saving the world. Little did I know, I had everything I needed to be happy right there in my head, heart and hands, and I was just too afraid of having a close look at the here and now.

When I look back I can see that I simply wasn’t ready to face myself. I had lived through so much trauma without realising that this is what it was, that looking at myself was simply too confronting. Now, don’t get me wrong…I was loved, clothed, fed and sheltered. The trauma was relatively small in the great scheme of things. The thing is, my little brain didn’t compare this level of neglect to that of children in third world or war-torn countries. It just entered survival mode to keep me safe. And it stayed there for many years, unbeknownst to me. And in some ways this just led to further trauma. Like a mouse on the treadmill, running from the trauma, creating a cycle of more trauma. It was bloody exhausting! No wonder i was always so tired!

The Trauma Cycle | Inanna Sanctuary
I love this infographic from Inanna Sactuary. It is a visual of what I was doing up until a couple of years ago.

Now, I have to spend a moment here, just listing a few of the things that I classify as “trauma”, mostly because I still have a tendency to play them down. I must list these things for myself every now and then, if only to validate my own experiences. The lovely thing is, I no longer feel emotionally attached to the experiences, so listing them doesn’t hurt me.

To summarise, my experiences were common to many children coming from broken families and very young parents. One of the most valuable things that I learned in recent times is that only hurt people hurt people. No-one who ever hurt me did it knowingly. They were all just doing the best that they could do with the knowledge and the tools that they had at that time. There were a few step-fathers in my life, some of whom were positive role models for my brother and myself. There was a little neglect and abuse, and witnessing of the same towards the people I felt responsible for. There has been a reversal of roles, a misplaced sense that I was responsible for my mother’s well-being and happiness. There was my Dad coming and going from my world when I wanted nothing more than to be with him every day. There was the brutal rape and murder of a friend at my cousin’s 16th birthday party, deaths of other friends due to car accidents, drug overdoses, suicides and fires. There was having children at a young age (21 – just young in my eyes), and trying to play the part of adult and mother to three children when my own emotional growth and development had been so impeded that I was still a child on the inside. Throughout all of this I became a practitioner of herbal medicine, started my own award winning business creating herbal tea blends and natural skincare, helped my husband to run restaurants, ran school canteens, volunteered for charities, went to uni to study teaching whilst working 3 jobs and maintaining ridiculously high GPA, all while raising three children. I landed a “targeted grad” position, and then faced the biggest battle of my life.

Three tales of workplace bullies and how to stop them - CMI

The principal of my new school decided quite quickly that she didn’t like me after I was forced to speak up about something that was happening that was against moral, ethical, and procedural standards. From that point on she proceeded to manipulate me in any way possible. I did not think it possible that I could ever be the victim of workplace bullying, and it took me a long time to accept that this was what was happening. I fought against it for years, putting in formal complaints, communicating concerns to the Department of Education, and working with the Union. I was not the first person this “leader” had targeted, and I would not be the last. Finally, after exhausting every possible avenue for escape, I accepted a temporary teaching role at another school.

Throughout this time I went through a rollercoaster of emotions, and I look back and have no idea how I lasted so long, either for my own or my family’s sake. There did come a point, however, when I made a sudden decision to do something for myself. It was a small thing. A one-day yoga retreat organised by a dear friend, @fyonacoulton. I had rarely valued myself enough to invest money in my self-care, and I am not sure what overcame me that day, but it was the start of something big. The instructor heard some of my story, and I was obviously so completely overtaken by my situation, allowing this one person to have control over every part of my life, that she spent some time chatting to me over lunch. She suggested I have a listen to the podcast, “Subconscious Mind Mastery”. I took her advice. At first I thought it was a little “woo-woo” for me, but gradually I started seeing evidence that I could possibly be responsible for creating my own destiny. I guess this is what gave me the strength to remove myself from that workplace.

Once I started at the new school, I was overwhelmed by how wonderful and humane the principal was. The gripes and complaints of staff in that environment seemed so unimportant and petty to me that I would come home laughing to my husband about the things they felt worthy of complaint. Of course, over time, I understood that these things are relevant only to your own experiences, just as my traumas seemed small to me compared to those of others over the world.

Something else happened in my new environment, though. Once I felt safe and secure, I suddenly, and without warning, fell apart.

How to Get Rid of Suicidal Thoughts: Suicide Signs & Prevention

It was when I woke up in a hotel one morning, down in Sydney for a regular Union event, that I started having thoughts of suicide. I knew that everyone I loved would be sad for a while, but that they would all be okay in the end, and, actually, they would probably be better off if they were free of my own limitations. I thought about how I could do it, and then, once I really registered that I was having suicidal thoughts, I sent my husband a message. It pushed me into getting myself into therapy, and the healing process began.

One of the most valuable things that I did in my time with William, a very special therapist, was homework involving writing a letter to my younger self, promising her that I would never allow anyone to treat her badly again. I vowed to do whatever I had to do to protect her, and I stepped into my “adult”. I learned my first lesson about self-compassion, and finally understood that “self care” meant more than long baths and massages.

I reached a point where I felt that I had gotten all that I could get out of my therapy sessions, and wanted to learn more about the process of healing myself. I was hungry to get to know myself, now that I had a new understanding of who I was. I was 43 years old.

Fate threw herself into my path in the form of @caseywarwick. I had just joined Balance gym, and Casey was assigned to me for the complimentary session with a PT. As we finished our session, I mentioned that I was not likely to book in for more PT sessions, because I knew that I needed to fix my thought patterns more than I needed to fix my body. After a lifetime of eating disorders and issues with body image, I was ready to let it go and learn to like myself. “Love” for myself was not part of my vernacular at that point. Casey mentioned that she was also an NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) therapist, and had some self-improvement programs. She said that she would send me more information, but there was no big sell there. It was almost all I could think about for days, and I eventually chased her up and asked for more information about her packages.

Image may contain: Casey Warwick, closeup
Meet Casey Warwick. Click to find out more about what she does.

I never thought for a second that I would take on a “life coach”. I used to have a private giggle at people who did that. I knew my husband would think I was going mad, and I was really not into spending money on something like this. And yet, everything that I read about in the program made me think it was exactly what I needed, and so I jumped in!

In the first 6 weeks, as part of a group, I learned so much about myself and where my patterns came from that I couldn’t possible leave it there. I embarked on a personal program for another 12 weeks after that, and I grew exponentially. I increasingly experienced this sense of calm and joy that I had never known was possible. I forgave everyone who had ever hurt me, I faced my demons (well, some of them – there are still many more I’ve yet to meet), and sat with the ugly and uncomfortable things about myself. Most importantly, I forgave myself for everything that I was not comfortable with and I took responsibility for my actions. The relief that comes with realising that we are the only ones who can be help accountable for our own happiness is inexplicable.

My journey is not over. Far from it. I am certain that I am still at the beginning of the process. I consume wisdom and knowledge like they are food for the starving, and I find teachers every day. Apart from these early therapists, there are the dear friends who fill my cup. I read books and listen to podcasts by people like Brene Brown, Dr Joe Dispenza, Oprah Winfrey, and Hugh van Cuylenburg. I soak up the conversations that people like Oprah and Russell Brand have with the world’s most fascinating and inspirational people, and I have learnt to live in this moment. I can no longer say “I’ll be happier when…”, because now I know that this moment is all I really have. I still get angry, and I occasionally behave in a way that doesn’t sit right with me. Now, though, when I make a mistake and overreact, or snap at someone, I own it. I don’t beat myself up about it – I assess the scenario and look at what led me to that reaction, and I cut myself some slack. Kindness has always been important to me, but now I realise that in order to be kindest to others, I must first be kind to myself.

Maya Angelou quote: If I am not good to myself, how can I...
Maya Angelou – a beacon of light for everyone who comes to know her work and her words.

Now I just want to share my experiences with everyone! I want the people I love to feel the joy that I feel. I can be impatient and frustrated, knowing that I can’t make anyone else happy, but I have to have faith that they will come to a similar point in their journey and make the leap themselves.

Now, knowing that I can learn something from everyone I meet, I want to hear your stories! Where are you at on your journey? Who do you turn to for guidance? I have opened up my blog now, not just limiting it to how my journey is linked to teaching, but how it links to everything! These are conversation topics that open our hearts and make us bigger, and the more that we talk about them, the happier we will be as a society.

I have so much more to write, about so many topics, but I am excited to have made a start. I seek all of those whose hearts are humming with the joy of their human experiences. You can help me grow, and perhaps I have something to give as well. What books should I read? Are there podcasts I should listen to?

I am waiting to hear from you.