Staying Grounded

In my previous post ‘Success ≠ Happiness‘, I talked about how passing my ACCA papers and getting a new job were deemed as ‘successes’, and I thought they would make me happy, but they didn’t. I realised that happiness comes from within (sounds obvious) and funnily enough, all those cliches I heard over the years turned out to be true!

It’s been quite a shock to say the least to have this realisation, as for so long I thought all of these material and external things would make me happy. It was always ‘I’ll be happy when I get that job, when I have enough money, when I buy that car, when I get that house, when I meet Mr Right…’ and the list goes on. The trouble with this ‘I’ll be happy when’ mentality is what if ‘when’ never happens?

I found myself asking this question more and more as time went on, and I can safely say that I no longer find myself stuck in this unsatisfactory mindset, but if I do, I am able to recognise it and pull myself out of it. It is freedom at it’s most liberating. I began by asking ‘yes, but what about now? how can I be happy now?’, and I soon realised the most obvious answer to this question: choice. I could choose to be happy.

If someone had said that to me a few years ago, it’s likely that I would have punched their lights out, and told them how bad my life was, how everything was just falling apart and how dare they tell me I could choose to be happy. Understandably so really, because at the time I was mid-breakdown, and all I could see was grey; happiness was something only other people experienced and I had forgotten what it felt like.

However, after what has felt like years of trudging through mud with a sack of emotional bricks on my back, I have finally found dry land and left those bricks behind. I no longer need these external things to find my happiness, and I am shocked to hear myself say that right now, I am happy! I have no car, no flat, no job, no partner and no plans, and yet I am happier than I have ever been in my life.

Of course I am about to embark on an amazing adventure and fly off over to New Zealand, but even if I wasn’t, I think I would be just as happy. I would find something else to explore, somewhere else to go, new people to meet and challenges to overcome. All of a sudden, I see hope and potential where I saw emptiness and despair, and it is in the small things around me, as well as the things that have always been in my life. They have new meaning, and I find myself holding them with reverence and a clarity I have never had.

This has been a gradual process, one which has taken all of my strength and perseverance, and now that I am here, I can’t quite believe it. As a result of this disbelief, I am feeling a strong need to stay grounded during this period, and not to get carried away with ego trips or fantasies of how my life will now flourish. I want to remember that the whole point of this process has been to attain this feeling, right now, in this very moment; the peace and happiness of now.

It is so easy to feel as if you have achieved your goal, overcome your bad habits and dysfunctional patterns, and that all the hard work has finally paid off. The problem is solved and there’s no more work to be done. So many times I have fallen into this trap and reverted back to my old ways of being and thinking, of living in any moment other than right now, building up expectations of the future and denying my feelings about the past. It’s so easy.

Except it’s not easy, not in the long run, and it’s like learning how to swim with no arm bands but then thinking ‘oh why not, it’s easier with arm bands anyway‘ and not putting in that effort anymore. Your muscles become weak, your muscle memory disappears, and you get comfortable back where you started. Then the whole cycle starts again and you get mad at yourself for letting this happen.

This time, something does feel different. This time, it feels like something might just have stuck. I’ve been seeing my therapist for just under four years now, and a week ago we discussed what we were going to do about our sessions when I go away to New Zealand. He asked me what I wanted to do, and I said that I would like to continue our sessions via Skype like I had while I was in Australia. I then asked him the same question, what did he recommend. His answer shocked me, despite knowing in my gut what he was going to say.

He deliberated for a few moments, and before continuing he reminded me that what he said was not gospel, and by no means did I have to do it, but went on to say that he thought we should stop. He said that I had made so much progress in the last few months that to continue with Skype would not benefit me, but more likely confuse the situation. I felt absolutely elated by this news, because for years, and pretty much since the beginning of our relationship, I have been dying for him to say those words to me.

After I left his office in a blur of excitement, I became ill, with a head cold and a horrendously sore throat. I had some personal issues crop up that took my attention for about two days and all of a sudden I had no time to think about my therapist and our impending end. I was caught up in the stress of my personal life and the debilitating virus that had taken me over, and I couldn’t bring myself to think of he and I.

I went back to see him after our 5 days apart, and all I could do was laden him with all the troubles I had had and avoid talking about our ‘ending’. I felt disconnected from him, as if I had shut myself off somehow, and I realised that I felt quite angry at the idea of him ‘pushing me off a cliff’ which is how the whole thing wound up feeling. Instead of feeling liberated and confident, I felt betrayed, and I wanted to give him something – a problem – that would show him I can’t cope without him, how could he do this to me.

He caught me out and highlighted this fact, and when he did I felt immense relief because I then realised how upset, angry and scared I really was. I also felt relief because it reminded me that he knows me, he understands how I must be feeling and he managed to coax it out of me as he has done for the last four years. He also said that the body has a funny way of expressing our feelings for us, that the timing of my illness was aligned with the shock of our conversation, and I agreed with him because that is exactly what if felt like.

I saw him again, and I felt much more connected to him, I was able to admit to how scared and sad I was, yet happy at the same time. I couldn’t stop crying during our 50 minutes, when I recounted the last four years, there was just so much to be thankful for. I have connected with this man like he is a third parent, and he knows all my secrets, but now it is time to say goodbye to him and I am beyond distraught.

Much like baby birds leaving the nest to fly, I am leaving the safety of his office to see what I can do on my own, and it is still both liberating and terrifying all at once. For the first time in my life, I know I am ok, I am worthy of happiness and love. At the same time, I do not know how to grieve for this relationship, nor how to trust that what he has helped me achieve will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I keep taking stock, pausing throughout my day and checking in with myself: are you ok? how are you feeling right now? are you sad, happy, angry or scared? what do you need? what is your gut saying? I do this because I have no choice, despite the scary and intense emotions that are flooding my brain right now, something has kicked in. There is a strong voice that overrides that horrible little gremlin telling me that I am no good, and says stop, you know it’s not true, and now is the time that you must stop listening to this.

Something happened when I heard my therapist say that he thinks I will be ok if we stop, and while physically I just felt panicked and ill, mentally my brain was processing this information and rewiring itself. My body just needed to be out of commission for a few days while my brain needed time to do this, or this is how it felt.

It took a while for my brain to compute what he had said, but slowly the message that he thinks I am there got through. Something inside of me started to take over from him, it said ‘he’s not going to be around to tell you to do this stuff anymore, you’re going to have to do it for yourself‘ and that is exactly how it feels. I can almost feel with every day that passes, that a part of me is letting him go.

Letting him go hurts like absolute hell, it’s as if something is being ripped from my insides when I imagine no longer talking to him, no longer being able to rely on him. I find myself replaying conversations with friends of mine who always asked if it was dangerous to rely on a therapist for this very reason – that there is no guarantee that it will either work nor that I will ever stop relying on him. What will I do if I rely on him too much and I am never able to stop seeing him? This was a question that has haunted me throughout the entire process.

That is the paradox; in order to no longer need someone you must rely on them completely, something he said to me time and time again. I could just never understand this, how the hell am I supposed to get better if I rely on you to do it for me?! But that’s just it, healing is a two person job, and in order to get better you must trust that someone wants to help and allow them to share your pain. There was nothing more validating than having him listen to my story and just feel that pain with me, no judgement, just being present.

Everyone is different, we all have different scars from our past, different patterns of behaviour and levels of dysfunction. For me, I knew I needed someone to tell my that my feelings were ok, that they were allowed and I was entitled to feel them. It’s been a slow process, but over the years I have learnt to accept my feelings, acknowledge them and feel them.

There was a time when I did not know how I felt, except pain, but now I can separate them out, identify them, allow myself to feel them and even identify the cause and release them. I ask myself if I am ready, and my intuition tells me that the answer is yes, despite everything else inside of me screaming no. I also know that I am never going to truly feel ready, as that is the point of going outside of your comfort zone.

When I booked my trip to New Zealand, I could not wait to go, to get away from London and my therapist, to bury my head in the sand and just forget about all the pain, but now that it is here I feel completely different. I am terrified to go to the other side of the world, completely on my own, with nothing sorted except two nights in a hostel, and yet my intuition tells me that it is the right thing to do.

I am as ready as I will ever be; to leave, to end therapy and to go to New Zealand. One moment I am completely bereft, the next I am like a little kid at Christmas, it is an emotional rollercoaster and one that I just have to ride out.

It is the moments in between – the calm, peaceful and centred moments when everything within me is in complete alignment – these are the moments that keep me going. I am listening to the voice within that has always known what to do, the one that told me to get out of a bad relationship, to go to therapy, to quit my job, to keep doing my professional exams, to stop seeing the bad boys, to curb my drinking, the destructive behaviour, go to Australia, and to go to New Zealand, the voice that told me to follow my dreams.

The voice has been that of my therapist, and now that voice is mine. I’m more scared than I have ever been in my entire life, but I have never felt more alive. I feel like I am eating life up like it is a never ending meal, and each day is a delicious bite, whether it is bitter or sweet. I am just about managing to get through these moments of agony as well as exhilaration, by standing still, breathing and making sure my feet stay firmly planted on the ground. These are the moments I find the happiness I never thought was possible.

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Success ≠ Happiness

Today I got my exam results for the final stage of my ACCA exam paper, it was my fourth attempt at this blasted UK Advanced Tax paper, but I passed it! I usually receive a text message at midnight but I hadn’t updated my mobile number and so had to wait until 4am when the email came through. Needless to say I didn’t sleep until it came through.

I am now officially a qualified accountant, after 4 years of hard work and perseverance I have finally done it. I am going to sound so ungrateful now, and to be honest I’m not really sure how I’m feeling, but all of a sudden I’m very afraid and I am not sure I can handle the success of it – it’s too much pressure.

I keep thinking I’m not good enough, surely I am simply not good enough. I realise in my mind that I had written it off as something unattainable, and anyone who has it is a genius or a mastermind, and therefore that can’t be me. I know my view is warped; the exam is clearly doable and no one who takes it is a genius, they are just intelligent and have put in the hard graft, just as I have.

It has really shocked me how much I can’t seem to see myself with a realistic and positive light, I almost want someone to snap me out of it and wake me up because it’s too much for me to bear. I am used to pain and disappointment, to not being good enough and hiding behind the success of others.

I can feel myself wanting to self-sabotage, it’s like an addiction, an itch i need to scratch. I desperately don’t want to do that, I really want to enjoy my hard earned success and stop trying to ruin the good things that happen to me. I’m scared, of what I might do, or that this success isn’t as real or good as I perceived it to be. I feel like my version of reality is totally skewed.

I am seeing my therapist tomorrow, and last week he suggested that I see him twice a week again. I would if I could, but I am going to have to tell him that I can’t afford it at the moment. If I’m honest with myself, I am also scared to let him in anymore than I already have. He wants me to open up and let him in but I am petrified to do so. I don’t trust myself.

I feel so sad that this is how I feel about myself, that I don’t trust me and I don’t have any real faith in my abilities. I’m afraid that this blog will be rejected, seeing as I am starting to get external interest in it, all of a sudden it’s under scrutiny and I’m not sure that I am ready for that. It’s not even paid interest, but this is who I am. This blog is me, and so any rejection of my blog is another painful rejection of me.

I know that it was a risk starting my blog and opening it up to criticism and review, but I didn’t realise how I would feel when it actually started happening. It’s hard. It feels so precarious, and I want that release of someone putting me and my work down so that I can feel sorry for myself and wallow in my comfortable well of self pity.

Succeeding is hard. Achieving is hard. Getting what you thought you wanted is hard. It’s not that I don’t want these things, but I realise that they do not make me who I am, they do not make me happy. My happiness comes from feeling good about myself, not from external validation, but it’s so easy to forget that, especially when that’s where I am used to getting it.

Yes, it’s great that I passed my exam, but it doesn’t dictate my worth. It is also great that I have been asked to contribute to another blog and have had interest in my freelance services for the first time, but these too do not dictate my worth. I am not ready for these things yet, and I realise that I am still focused on my journey of self-discovery rather than accelerating my career.

I want to go to New Zealand and work on the ski slopes for a while, I want to travel around and work on farms, in bars and offices and keep learning about myself and the world. I don’t feel confident enough in my abilities just yet, and I don’t think these things are going to make me happy. I think following my heart and passion is the key to happiness.