Being alone is like wandering in a murky twilight. It’s also the best way to heal.

The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. 

―Osho

I wrote recently of wanting to explore the wild woman within. For some, that was a strange and unfamiliar term.  Simply put, it’s about defining, redefining and getting clear on what matters most to me, who I am as an individual, as a woman. What I didn’t mention in that previous post was that part of the impetus for this exploration has been the startling realisation that humans are so conditioned to be partnered, that many, having experienced a relationship break up,  don’t allow themselves time heal before seeking a new replacement partner. They ignore their emotions, bottle things up and expect a new partner to step in and replace the previous one.  Then there are those who can’t leave a relationship without seeking a soft landing and lining up the next person before leaving their current partner. The ramifications of these behaviours, without healing and without time out before forming a new relationship, means that we end up bleeding all over someone who hasn’t hurt us. It might not happen immediately, but it will happen.

I’ve been surprised by the number of people I have met who are afraid to be alone.  Two men,  both had 19-year marriages that ended, each re-partnered very quickly with another woman. One, had a child with his new partner. Which he said was an unfortunate mistake as he already had four children and she a child of her own.  I say unfortunate, not because he does not love his child, but he knew, and it proved to be true, that sadly this relationship was not destined to last. The other man had been with his new partner for several months and had recently broken up.  He was so heartbroken over this relationship that he was selling his house to move away from the memories of their time together.  He so desperately missed the little things; reading newspapers together on a Sunday, cooking meals together, calling someone at the end of the day, that he was actively searching for another partner to fill the empty spaces.

I too initially missed those same things: weekend breakfasts on the deck,  making my beloved a cup of tea, sharing the highlights and low points of a day. I have since come to the realisation that being alone after a long (22 years) relationship has ended is a good opportunity find out who I am as an individual, outside the confines of a partnership. I have realised too that many behaviours happen in a context and once the context is removed so are the behaviours.  This ’empty’ and undefined space was initially alarming to me but gradually I came to see it for the liberating opportunity it is and became excited to explore, with a clean slate, how I might interact and react in situations now.

Back to my friend who was selling his house. Having turned 50 a few months earlier his dream was to live for 6 weeks in New York, renting an apartment, frequenting cafes and generally just enjoying the vibe of that great big, fascinating metropolis.  When I asked when he was planning to go he claimed it was too late, the year was coming to an end.  It wasn’t even August. Then he said it would be winter soon and that wouldn’t be any good. I thought it would be fabulous, the icy streets of New York, skating in Central Park, surely this would be just as fun as a summer sojourn? Enquiring into this further it was revealed that he didn’t want to go alone and wanted a partner to go with.  Having travelled on my own I know there are times when you just want to share experiences with someone but putting a dream on hold because there is no one to go with and not wanting to be alone. Come on! That’s no good.

I encouraged him to make plans, take his leave and go.  No, no. He simply couldn’t be alone.  I shared all the incredible overseas adventures I had been on alone and how enriching it was. Seeing I was getting nowhere I suggested he go for three weeks on his own and then invite a friend or his daughters to come over and spend the following three weeks. No. He simply could not conceive of being alone.

Gobsmacked, I challenged this mindset further. I truly believe that we owe it to our next partners (if indeed there is to be another partner) to have spent time alone. To unravel the coils of relationship, to sever ties with old partners, to wrestle with the hurts, the disappointments, the annoyances and the habits formed. Surely, he could see how destructive moving into a new relationship would be when he was pining over a lost love? As it turns out, he wasn’t interested in growth or healing.  He wanted to fill a gaping space and fill it quickly.

I share theses stories, not to be unkind or judgemental. They provided me with an insight and a lesson for myself.  I do find it very sad however, that the drive to be attached is so strong that sense and reason seem to get lost.  Yet, I get it. We are designed to be coupled but I fear there are so many recently separated men and women who so desperately want to feel whole again that they jump into the next relationship, only to see it crumble too.  Or, worse still, destroy the person they partner with. I felt the ache, I felt the intense desire to be partnered, I felt the hollow emptiness not only of living alone but knowing no one would walk through the door again. The desire to share, to talk, to embrace and connect was strong.  I felt it. There was an urgency to it. It is a physical ache; a deep longing and it cries out to be sated. But the longer I allowed myself to feel that discomfort the more I realised how much I was healing. And the more I was healing the more I realised I needed to do this for myself otherwise I would repeat the same patterns, that old behaviours would continue and that I would accept the same behaviour in a new partner and nothing would change; simply a new face and an old story. I realised a great merit and freedom in being alone.  Sadly, so many fear it and actively avoid pain, close themselves off to the roiling emotions and stuff it all down.

Relationship breakups hurt. You suffer grief and loss, similar to a death. There’s regret and sadness, for me there was humiliation, embarrassment and a sense of failure, but the best thing to do is feel it all.  Feel the fear, the shame, the hurt, the anger, the need for revenge, the emptiness and the numbness.  Then gear up again for the anger and despair to come flooding back in. Because they creep back in when least expected.

We live in a world where we don’t like the unsanitary, the messy, the inconvenient.  We shy away from discomfort and do our best to soften any blows that come our way.  Let me tell you, this is one time you need to get down and dirty, feel the pain in every iteration. Cry, scream, howl at the moon. Punch. Scream some more if you have to. Flail about. Curl up unbathed and rock. You need to feel the pain, you need to grieve the loss, you need to move through it and emerge, shaken but finally upright with your face to the sun once more.

It’s not easy. It bloody hard.  It’s scary. It’s like wandering in a murky twilight without a torch, hoping to find your way.  Then, when you emerge, connect again with others.  In fact, it’s good to get out and talk with people. It’s good to spend time with others. For me, spending time with male and female friends, having coffee, dinner, going places has been delightful.  It is lovely to listen to someone and be truly present because I have no expectations of them.  I have rebuilt some confidence conversing with men from diverse backgrounds and enjoying their company. Do I want a serious relationship? Hell no.  It’s too early.  It’s time to explore the wonders of the world, my inner strengths and to get really clear on my boundaries, my values, my-self.

To be alone is to heal. We owe it ourselves and to the cultivation of genuine and authentic relationships to be alone. So, I settle in to learn the lessons of aloneness; to figure out what inspires me, to create new dreams and I am grateful for the opportunity.

“The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it’s not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person–without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.”

Osho

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Heartache to happiness

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”
 John Joseph Powell

As as pondered what I had learnt this week and what I could share that was interesting and meaningful, I scrolled back through my posts. I’m not sure what compelled me to do so but I stumbled upon this unpublished draft and wondered why I had shelved it. Even as I wondered I realised, despite my willingness to share and be vulnerable, that perhaps this was too raw, too private, something to be kept under wraps. As I write this introduction I have second thoughts about sharing. I have a gnawing unease. Will people think I’m mad? Probably. Will people think less of me? Does it matter? Will people judge me and ridicule? Perhaps.

Then another set of questions were raised. What’s the point of sharing? What’s the value in it? Is it self-indulgent? Is it interesting and meaningful to others? Oh, heck. I don’t know. Maybe it is self-indulgent but perhaps it could be cathartic and healing. This story might set some eyes a rolling but then it might also hit a nerve for one or two. Interesting? Most assuredly not. But confirming and validating for some, perhaps.

Well, I figure, you  can’t change if you don’t feel uncomfortable. Right?  I’m feeling VERY uncomfortable. But it’s interesting too, to see that so much has changed in 12 months. This post was written a year ago (I had almost forgotten how desperately dark and ill at ease I was) and maybe that’s why it’s begging to be released now. When all is said and done I believe there is a place for celebrating change and growth and new found peacefulness. There is room for celebrating life and choosing a different focus. Life can change. We can change it with small actions and with a choice to be, think and act differently.

Okay, here goes. I have resisted making any changes to the original post, it is as I wrote it all that time ago.


Moved to tears over years of anguish. And for what?

I recently read a brilliant post by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she shared a personal experience of releasing pain after fifteen years. She eventually. After trying everything sat quietly and asked her body what it wanted her to do to heal a knee injury. She got a clear message and was from then on able to move freely after following the advice she received.

I’ve tried this strategy myself many times with mixed degrees of effectiveness. Too often my rational brain pops in to make its voice heard, as does my ego.  Anyway, I felt, after reading this I’d give it another go.

I sat quietly, hugged my knees to my chest and asked my body what it wanted me to do to help it heal. The answer brought tears to my eyes. Very clearly I heard the words “Love Me”.

I cried for several reasons. Imagine being unloved for 40 odd years. I cried too because after 40 or so years of not loving my body, I didn’t know what that meant. How was I to do this?

Suddenly all the hateful self talk, all the anguished bathroom mirror rantings and frustrations flooded back to me, all the times I’d compared myself to others and felt lacking, all the times I’d ‘hidden’, dressed in nondescript clothing, refusing to wear make up, not wanting to stand out, came flooding back to me and I was ashamed. I was also suddenly aware why things weren’t working, why there were imbalances, why there was extreme fatigue and lethargy. Wouldn’t anyone feel this after being treated so poorly?

I saw the pattern of my behaviour over many years mapped out in an instant behind my closed eyelids. I recalled too an agonising self depreciating tirade my sister had delivered just the week before. She was on a diet. Another one. To lose weight for a wedding in which she is to be Matron of Honour. My sister is the mother of four beautiful children. She is stunning. If you were to see her you wouldn’t think she needed to lose weight at all. She looks fabulous, stylish and she is an outrageously entertaining woman. I asked her why she thought she had to lose weight. Her response was that all the other bridesmaids were younger and skinny.

She felt she had to be skinny to be accepted, to be worthy. All this was said in front of her teenage daughter.  I couldn’t help but wonder how very damaging family patterns can be. I’ve read a lot recently about the importance of mothers teaching their daughters to love their bodies. How can broken women do that? How can years of patterning be reversed? Do we even realise these patterns exist? Does our walk match our talk?

I remember saying to my niece that our family had always equated being thin with being valued. That she should be aware that she was so much more than her body and that her personality, her intellect, her talents and skills were the bigger parts of her that contributed to the world, that her body needed to be healthy to help her reach her goals. There I was, telling her the very thing I couldn’t and had never been able to do for myself – value me for me and be grateful to my body for enabling me to move through life. There I was encouraging her to ignore what she heard us say and saw us do. I was asking her to understand what she’d just heard her mother say about her own body was unhealthy, irrational and unfounded. I was so impassioned that my beautiful, strong, energetic, sporty niece should not go down the same path we did, without realising I should have been preaching to myself.

I recall too, many years ago sharing my self loathing with a massage therapist and she didn’t understand. She had never experienced it. Her story was equally foreign to me. She told me she often looks in the mirror appreciatively and thinks “Hmm, looking good!”.

What to do? I’m thinking start small. I’ve been writing a gratitude note each day this year. I’m just going to shift my attention to focus on my physical body and thank it for something each day. Surely gratitude is one step along the path toward self -love.

I can barely see through the tears in my eyes. I guess I’ve just found a kernel of truth right there.

Sending you all love and wishing for you great wads of self-love and appreciation.

Breathing easy again. My journey from fear to gratitude and compassion.

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, old and new.
                                                                  Ralph Waldo Emerson

If the only prayer you said your whole life was ‘Thank you’ that would suffice.
Meister Eckhart.

An incredible thing happened to me this week. I felt a great weight lift from my body and I could breathe freely and unrestricted. My heart felt lighter, my body and mind too.

You see, I returned from Nepal a couple of weeks ago. I experienced the earthquake and the devastation it wrought. There were times I was pretty scared, I guess, running from buildings in the middle of the night unsure if it was safe to return, afraid to sleep in case I should not wake in time to leave should an aftershock, or worse, strike again.  I say, I guess I was scared because at the time I wasn’t thinking, I was simply reacting. Fear really didn’t come into it until I returned home. Then, in the quiet, safe spaces of my house I felt my body and my mind crumble under the weight of what had been, what I’d left behind and the realisation that I had survived when others hadn’t.

A pressure began building in my body. I could feel a constant vibration deep within and a heavy hollowness braced my heart. The hyper vigilance persisted. I was no longer in danger but my beloved, was he safe? In the time after the earthquake I was not only reacting to Mother Nature’s rumblings but I was fearful for the safety of my beloved husband. We were not together. He was in a different part of Nepal, uncontactable. The uncertainty and the not knowing was torturous. I can’t explain the unbearable nature of the situation. Once I returned home, to safety, the weight and the agony of my fear for him multiplied exponentially. It became a physical burden. I hadn’t realised at the time what it was. I thought I was suffering as a result of my experience. I thought it was panic attacks, anxiety.

For two weeks the pain grew. It deepened and became like vice around my heart. Seriously, I thought I might be having heart issues. Then, as the days progressed and his return inched closer I could feel a little space, a little lightness creeping in. Two days before his departure there was another earthquake and a series of large aftershocks. The vice redoubled. The heaviness dropped right back in. My thoughts were scrambled.  Not only did the news from Nepal bring shock, fear and a renewed anxiousness for the safety of my beloved and his companions but I found myself transported right back to Nepal. I relived the nightmare, the guilt of having left, the sorrow and heartache for the beautiful Nepalese people who were suffering.

As his departure drew nearer, and after news of each small step closer; baggage checked, boarding pass issued, boarding the plane; I started to breathe easier. I slept, not without nightmares and not without waking through the night but it was sleep like I’d not experienced for a few weeks.  On the morning of his arrival home I realised the vice around my heart had loosened its grip, I felt a new energy seep back into my body. Could I have been feeling the weight of fear?

I’ve lived my life in fear. Fear of not being good enough, of not being smart enough, pretty enough blah, blah, blah. Fearful of trying new things, fearful of being seen, of speaking up, of being vulnerable. Its limited me, its held me back and at times its kept me safe. Safe but small. This recent fear. Real fear. Fear for a loved one. I might venture so far as to say ‘terror’, was so strong, so physically and mentally palpable, I didn’t actually know how to respond.

Why, after all these words, am I actually sharing this with you I wonder? I don’t know.  I felt compelled to write. Maybe this is my medicine? My healing? Whatever it is I think it’s also about compassion. And it’s about gratitude.

We don’t always know what others are feeling or what they are experiencing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is ailing, grieving or suffering. We are pretty good at putting on masks and covering up our messy emotions. I think this experience has taught me to be mindful and gentle with others for they too may have a vice around their heart, a heaviness in their body and be aching in ways I couldn’t imagine. This experience has caused me to feel a deep and abiding gratitude.  I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring (there really is no better way to describe it) of support, of concern, of blessings from friends, family, acquaintances and work colleagues. Messages, texts, phone calls. Hugs (virtual and real), friendly chats, offers of support. I cannot begin to tell you the comfort and the reassurance they have bought me. My eyes well with tears as I recall how, every few days, dozens of people would check in on me, ask about my beloved, and ensure I was okay.

I’ve felt compassion. I am humbled by it and I am immensely grateful.  No words or actions can adequately  relay to those wonderful people how much their support has meant to me, how it has helped me through. Except to simply say ‘Thank you’.

I have an abundance of good on my life.

I know I am blessed and I know I am loved.

It feels wonderful.

Thank you.

 

Post traumatic stress disorder can effect those who have experienced a significant threat. It can effect those who enter a place after a threat (such as aide workers) and it can effect the loved ones of those who have been under threat. I mention this, not because I know I have PTSD, but it kind of fits how I’ve been feeling, on two levels, my own threat and that of a loved one. It’s real. It’s debilitating. Again, be gentle with those around you. We can never really know how deeply anyone is suffering.