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.

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.

 

Uncomfortably Safe

I feel uncomfortable. It’s as if there is something bubbling under the surface but I don’t know what it is, and it’s niggling at me. There are two versions of me and they are battling it out for the grand title, and it’s killing me. The last two sessions with my therapist have been dissatisfying and I can’t seem to connect to him, or let myself connect to him. There is a very high barrier there and I’m desperately trying to find a way around or over it but I can’t seem to, no matter how hard I try.

There are a few things going on in my life too, the main one being that I have two months left in Sydney before I am due to go back to the UK, and the second one being that I am not working and unsure of how to spend these next two months. I have all of these choices, and yet I can’t make one! I can’t decide whether to stay or to go, move out of my flat and travel on the little money I have saved, or try and get some contract work to save for my trip to San Francisco in August. I feel so stupid because I thought I would manage to find sponsorship and stay here, but it hasn’t happened, and so I planned my trip to America so that I would come back here two weeks before heading home. Now I feel like I’ve messed up my last two months here and I’m giving myself a really hard time over it.

I keep telling myself to enjoy my time here, do something every day, look for work or just do something productive, but I’m struggling. I wake up and I try to do something, I have my porridge, I shower and then I decide what to do if I don’t have anything on in the morning. I’ve done ok up to now, but I’m starting to run out of ideas and I’m home alone in my flat as my friend has moved out and my flatmate is on holiday. I’m worried for myself, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, and I feel under pressure to make the right choices.

I can feel a hot stab of anger and anxiety in my chest, and I’m not sure what it is. There is something in there just dying to get out and be released but I just don’t know what it is. I’ve just had two weekends away to wonderful places in Australia, and I’m back in Sydney with only my thoughts. Something inside of me is telling me to sit tight, things will work out, and to be patient, but the inner child is literally screaming at me to ‘do something! Make a decision! Take the first job you can find even if you hate it! Stop being so relaxed!’

Adult me is telling me to stay calm and sit tight, that I deserve to wait for the right job to come along, and that it’s safe to do so and trust that something will come along. Child me is tugging at her sleeve and screaming that we know I am no good, and I should be grateful for anything I can get. I am so afraid to make any decisions, I am so worried that I shouldn’t have turned down the job I didn’t want and now I will be punished for it. I genuinely and wholeheartedly believe that life is against me, and that I am not entitled to make any decisions for myself. I feel completely trapped, oppressed and depressed.

I have been here before during my therapy, at this point where I just don’t know what I am feeling and become frustrated with both him and myself. Every damned time I get here I can never remember how I got here before or how I got out of it! I’m frightened. I am afraid that I won’t find work, that I won’t be able to go to my friends wedding, that I will have to go home and I will revert to the depressed and anxiety ridden girl I was before I left.

I am terrified to go home, to go back to my family, to my therapist, my friends and my life back home. It felt so good coming out here and doing something for myself, and I am so scared that I will get caught back up in all the emotional difficulties that went on in the life I had there. I feel free here, I feel like me, and I so desperately want to hold onto this feeling that I would do anything to stay here. Yet when those options arise and I try, I can’t stick it out, and I give up and think it’s not worth it. I am so confused. I am writing this and I have no clue what I am actually feeling.

I am so angry that I don’t know what I feel, or what is wrong with me. I am so unbelievably sick of feeling this way and I can feel the rage inside of me bursting to come out. I feel irrationally angry with my therapist because in my mind, he won’t let me go, he won’t take care of me, he won’t fix things for me, he won’t just make it all go away and make it ok. I feel so stuck because I know truthfully that nobody can do this for me, I have to do it for myself.

I just don’t want to be like this anymore. I want to trust myself, have faith in my abilities and know that the future will work itself out. I am absolutely petrified that it won’t, that I am incapable and that I will never get anything that I want. I just want to give up. I don’t want to try anymore. I don’t want to want anything anymore. Wanting things only leads to pain and disappointment.

Letter to my therapist:

I don’t want to talk to you anymore. You aren’t making me better you are making me worse. This is just getting worse. I can’t function. I can’t relax. All I can think about is pleasing you and getting you to see that I am ready to get rid of you in our next session. Why won’t you just tell me I don’t need to come back anymore? Why can’t you just let me go? Why can’t you just tell me I am useless and unfixable and we can just forget everything we have done? I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know why you are making me. I hate it. I can’t do it. I can’t feel the things you want me to feel let alone express them to you. Why won’t you just leave me alone?! You want me to be angry, but I’m not, and I don’t understand why. Then all I do is doubt myself and wonder what is wrong with me and why I’m not angry.

There is obviously something wrong with me if I am not feeling the right thing. I just want to give you what you want so that I can get away from you and worry about myself, I can know that I have satisfied you and you will stop bugging me! Once I have done that I will feel safe, because you will be happy and I can go away for a while knowing that we are on good terms and you are still there for me. Except that you don’t want anything from me, and I can’t compute that, it doesn’t make sense. How can you just be there for me with no ulterior motive other than to care for me?

I don’t get it. I am angry with you because you aren’t playing my game. Can’t you just abandon or reject me and get it over with? I’m not comfortable being safe or cared for, it feels too close, too vulnerable, unsafe. Please just go away before I push you away. I told you I’m no good, that I’m bad, but you won’t listen, and so I will have to show you. What I really want is for you to not go anywhere, even when I show you the worst version of myself.

The only thing guiding me through this is my intuition, and that tells me to keep going, slowly, and despite it feeling immensely uncomfortable, that it is safe to proceed.

My First Step

For years I have thought about starting, or been told to start, a blog. I kept saying yea yea, I will get to it, and I never did. I think now the time is right. I want to blog because I have been through such a difficult, interesting and profound series of changes over the last 4 years that I want to share my thoughts, ideas and hypotheses with the world – in the hope that these might help others going through similar difficulties. Why go through something awful, come out the other side and not share what you have found so that you can help others? Now that I’m here, it seems a no brainer.

There are so many writers and websites that I have used on my journey, and I will make sure that I credit them for their contributions to my recovery, but I see a huge gap in the world of psychology and the value of the therapeutic relationship. Not enough is researched, published and made readily available to people, and the subject is so taboo that no one likes to talk about it. Well, I want to open up the forum, help gradually diminish the taboo, and speak about my experiences and realisations.

Part of the reason that I have not published anything earlier is fear that I will offend or upset the people closest to me, because of course my experiences involve them. I realise that it is all about balance, and speaking the truth but in the right manner and with the right intentions. I hope that I can adhere to this, and that my nearest and dearest can respect my decision to share this information, find it in their hearts to understand, support and trust that I do this in good faith and with only honourable intentions.

Since this is an introductory post, I won’t go into too much detail about this journey of mine, but I will begin with a few recent realisations and useful thoughts that hopefully strike some chords with people. If not, then this will be a great release for me and another part of my journey forward.

I recently went to a group therapy meeting with Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) in Sydney, for the first time, another first for me after deliberating for years whether to go or not. One of the members opened with an introduction that cut right to the core of me, bringing tightness to my chest and tears to my eyes. He said “I was born into co-dependency, and so the symptoms I suffer are not feelings as such, but actual physical pain”. This touched a raw nerve in me, he described exactly my early life and upbringing, and the symptoms that brought me to psychotherapy a few years ago. It has taken so many dark moments, torturous self-reflection and lonely days and nights to identify the source of my deep-rooted unhappiness and lack of self-esteem, but I feel I am getting there.

Co-dependency is an area of psychology that has been intensely researched, but finding advice on the subject has been no easy feat. I am originally from London, and moved to Sydney 6 months ago to try and further ‘find myself’. It is here that I have found these resources readily available, mental health seems less taboo here, and that has been a breath of fresh air. People don’t like to talk about therapy or co-dependency – or dependency of any kind – back in London, and so I have felt like the black sheep with her panic attacks, depressive episodes and total reliance on therapy and antidepressants. I believe much of the UK is unaware of the root cause of our binge drinking culture; it seems everyone wants to numb their feelings, pretend that life is great and that no one is really hurting.

I say this because I have been there, I still do it now sometimes and it takes an awful lot of effort not to. I am also not over generalising or stereotyping, as people are entitled to have a drink, relax and do what they please. I am talking about the binge drinking, the drinking yourself into oblivion, seeking out a one night stand so that you don’t feel lonely (again, I am not over generalising, I’m only speaking of people trying to fill a void with promiscuity – no harm in sex if that’s all you want), starting a fight because you can, allowing yourself to lay on the side of a street where anyone could rob, rape or murder you, or wasting the time of the already stretched emergency services and getting your stomach pumped because you wanted to drink yourself to death.

I know it happens, we’re young, we want to party, to test the boundaries of society but also to fit in and to feel confident. However this problem causes great distress to everyone, be it the neighbours, family, friends or those in the services, everyone is affected by this. The government don’t seem aware of the possible cause for our culture, that it is just a mask for people’s unhappiness, and a symptom of a deeper-rooted problem. So instead they put the prices of alcohol up – as if this is going to make a difference to an already unhappy public who are in need of some honesty, understanding and respect from those in power. It’s the British way, we don’t speak about those things we call feelings, we repress, stiff upper lip and all that.

I love the UK, it has it’s positives, it’s caring, polite and well mannered, and above all, it does try. However, I have lived a mostly unhappy life which I have spent in denial as a result of upbringing, culture and the habits of older generations, and I would like that to change for the future. I won’t lie, I also want the validation of knowing that I am not alone, of realising that what I always thought is true – that if you are raised by unhappy, emotionally unavailable, co-dependant but well-meaning parents, who on the surface provide you with everything you think you need – you wind up becoming the same yourself, in a job you dislike, single and sleeping around or in a bad relationship, drinking yourself into a stupor to numb the pain of the truth that you are desperately unhappy, but you don’t know why.

On the face of it, everything seemed fine – a home, food, warmth – but the fact that Dad would come home late and Mum would discuss her relationship with her oldest daughter, complaining and in need of professional counselling, couldn’t be a problem – or the reason for such unhappiness – could it? I’d look around on my nights out, at my colleagues; attractive, young and with so much potential, drinking themselves silly and fawning over each other trying to find someone to love them for the night, and I realised this wasn’t for me anymore. Something wasn’t right, something had to change. There must be a reason for this deep dissatisfaction and unhappiness with myself and with life, and I won’t find the answer at the bottom of a bottle or in a strangers’ bed.

I am a depressive, anxious, co-dependent, recovering alcohol dependent woman hoping to help others who feel stuck in similar ways by my sharing thoughts, experiences and ideas. I hope this helps anyone who happens upon it, and I will keep blogging. Thank you for reading.