In truth, I’d never really acknowledged just how challenging it would be for me to put my struggles down in writing and then share them openly and wholeheartedly with others. I had no idea how it would feel to become completely vulnerable and transparent leaving myself nowhere left to hide. I had no idea how my confession of brokenness would be treated; in this world of ‘love and light’ spirituality, would acknowledging my fragility and lack of robustness be seen as ‘less than’ and I’d be dismissed as damaged goods? When I pressed the send button I had no notion of just how many people would read ‘The Year I Broke’ nor could I comprehend how many messages it would trigger. However, hearing the words of love, support, compassion and unity of so many from so many different places on the planet, warmed my heart and soul to it’s very core.
We often suffer and struggle in isolation and disconnection; we pull back from life when things get tough which leaves us feeling awkward and disjointed like a misshapen piece of the universal jigsaw puzzle we call life. We all have times when we feel fragmented and broken; unable to reach out to others through a fear of judgement or rejection. We try to present the façade of being whole and complete as we know that many don’t really want to hear the truth when they ask how we’re doing or feeling: ‘fine’ is all they want to hear. We also try to kid ourselves that a smile and ‘keep on keeping on’ approach will fix and heal. After a while, we begin to assume that no one wants to truly know our pain and we smile stoically trying to keep up the pretence, trying to fool everyone – including ourselves – that we’re coping. And yet, the more we try to hide away the truth of our pain and the depths of our feelings, the more they intensify and grow as we begin to buckle under the strain.
Last year I reached a point where the intensity of my disconnection, desolation and despair grew even deeper as life events exposed, and then trampled upon, the delicacy of the fine-line I walk when it comes to ‘holding it all together’. I tried desperately to rush around picking up the shattered pieces before anyone noticed but I couldn’t muster the energy; there was nothing left. I was struggling to breathe, my mind was unravelling and my spirit shattering as the raging torrent of ‘stuff’ inside me whipped up into a frenzy. It was hard to know what to do with it as it was so intense and powerful; it consumed me. I couldn’t keep trying to contain it as it split me open and tore me apart.
In truth, when I feel this fragile, all I want is to return to the safe place from my childhood: under the kitchen sideboard resting in a basket of freshly dried washing listening to the reassuring sound of the whirring washing machine. I felt so safe there. I wanted push the world away, weep uncontrollably and get back into the safety of my own little world and stay there. But I couldn’t, I’d nowhere left to hide anymore as every corner, nook and cranny had been used already. I didn’t even have the language to navigate and articulate myself away from my pain as it all felt too raw, my emotional core was exposed and exquisitely sore and I was drowning.
When I go into that desolate space I’d previously only ever sensed two options available to me: 1) box it up and push it back inside or 2) end. I have never opted for the latter, obviously, but I have felt perilously close at times. Yet, I know there’s a third way: to talk about it, express it and to stop stuffing it all inside of me. After all, how could I have a healthy relationship with life if I didn’t have one with myself? Yet, I’d always fought hard to keep it inside and hold it together; I feared I’d shatter if I let it out.
I’ve pushed the pain away; I wouldn’t acknowledge it, allow it or accept its presence in my life. Of course, it’s hard to face reality when it’s so painful, and it’s hard to bring acceptance or grace into every day when every day feels so heavy and arduous. Yet, it is my reality, and it’s ultimately my perception of this that flavours it. So, if I continue to carry these burdens, how will I ever set myself free? Indeed, I wonder if there is such a thing as being totally free. Of course, intuitively I know that freedom comes from within, but as my within was so choked and suffocated with repressed pain, grief and emotion, freedom felt a million miles away. It wasn’t a million miles away, but as long as I continued to believe it was, it would always be out of reach.
So, the time came to stop spending my days simply using up perfectly good oxygen and creating greenhouse gases. I became ready to open up my heart and soul in order to step beyond my pain, to admit my failings and fragility, to accept that I’m not perfect, to be willing to be vulnerable, and to not be afraid to falter in the presence of others. My stoicism wasn’t fooling anyone any more, well, other than some of my hospital consultants who still take my smile at face value (although I must admit I do wear it well after so many years of practice).
Yet, wanting to break free and change isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. I was aware of the changes I needed to make but until life pushed me to the brink of collapse I didn’t know how to implement them. It was only when I broke that I realised I was over-thinking the situation. I didn’t need instructions, I just needed to let go and be real.
I think most importantly I’ve accepted that my stoical smile isn’t fooling me as I can’t believe the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ positive thinking anymore. It’s not that I don’t believe in the power of positive thought; I’ve just decided to opt for realistic thinking instead. I’m turning to face myself with honesty and authenticity, I’m beginning to acknowledge my pain, my grief, my anger and my fear. I’m finally allowing myself to experience them as they are important facets in the spectrum of my life. I can’t push them away any more, I need to face them, befriend them, and find a way to live well with them as they are an intrinsic part of me.
Whilst I may have a way to go before I start loving these difficult emotions, I’ve realised the importance of trying not to fight or resist them. The residues of grief and pain have etched deep engravings into my heart and soul; they have helped to shape and define my essence. They are no less a part of me than joy or love and they make me, me. When I finally acknowledged the truth that I was the biggest obstacle holding myself back, I began to see a deeper and more enriched picture of the intricate and tangled web I’ve weaved over the years in a seemingly futile attempt to stay ‘safe’.
I feared letting others in. I feared them discovering the real me and feeling so disappointed as I wasn’t ‘Miss Everything’s Wonderful in My World’. I feared them walking away as a result. I feared them getting close. Yet, an even bigger fear was the fear I had of myself: I wouldn’t gaze into my own depths as I felt ‘less than’ because I wasn’t the superwoman I thought I should be. Of course, in hindsight, I now know there was never anything to fear, but hindsight is easy with the benefit of hindsight! Whilst in the midst of turmoil and disconnection, it’s hard to think rationally about anything much.
The Day I Woke was a powerful one for me. I had just been told I needed major high-risk surgery. My consultant mentioned death a few times and, during the conversation, I realised that I no longer held any fear of death; although I wasn’t (and I’m still not) overly keen to die, I was at peace with myself. I have much I still want to achieve in life and I have a rich enthusiasm for the preciousness of life but I had found peace with the only truly inevitable thing: death. It was only when I reached this point, I realised that when death holds no fear, everything changes including fear itself. I refused the surgery which has potentially created an even bigger risk but I’m at peace with my choice. Intuitively I know I’ve made the right decision for now.
I felt a profound and exquisite peace rising up within me as the turmoil quietened and I re-connected to an essence that danced and laughed within every single one of the billions of cells in my being. I had woken and I felt as though I had been given a new chance at life. I am still processing the somewhat profound shifts within me as I grow accustomed to the giggling, dancing sprite-like energy within me as it feels at a tangent to the somewhat fragile and broken figure I see looking back at me in the mirror. Yet, my eyes are bright and the fire in my soul is radiating brightly. Finally, I feel alive, tantalisingly awake and exquisitely connected to life (and to myself) exactly as it is.
Someone once said ‘to find real peace you have to let the armour go’. Mine fell away during the year I broke and rather than trying to find replacements or welding together the shattered fragments into some kind of Frankenstein-esque armour, I’m finding strength in my vulnerability and open-heartedness. I have no idea what tomorrow, next week or even today will bring but that’s okay. Whilst I can’t pretend that everything’s now rosy and perfect in my world because it isn’t. I feel more awake than ever before but I’m still fragile and delicate. Breaking may have been a gift but it will take time to restore a true sense of equilibrium in my body, mind and soul.
My world turned upside down and tossed my spirit about like a ragdoll and it continues to do so. As I continue to peel back layers and make peace with myself there are still violent lurches as life continues in it’s own unpredictable way, yet, it’s okay as although I still have no idea who I am becoming or where I am heading, I am me and that is enough and it’s incredible because it’s exactly as it’s meant to be. I’m finally learning to love the inherently unpredictable and confusing nature of being human and, most importantly, I’m learning to love myself (imperfections, frailties and quirks included) with every ounce of my being…