How did I get here?
I was raised in a traditional but loving household. My parents were kind people who nurtured us and made sure that we got the best opportunities to thrive in this world, but it was disciplined, and we were expected to be 'good, well behaved' children. My relationship with my older brother was difficult. My father worked away from home, and so in a way my brother, who was only 3 years older than me, became a sort of step in Dad, at least in my eyes. I wanted to do everything he did, and I followed him around constantly. He was my idol. But, perhaps because of this role that had been lumped on him, or perhaps because of his own wounding, he was cruel, and would often put me down, which I found especially hurtful in front of others. He would turn other boys on me and exclude me from the pack. I felt rejected and sad, and I formed the belief that there was something wrong with me.
I learnt to read my brother’s every feeling, so that I could avoid his cruelty and his physical attacks. I did everything I could to make him feel ok, not disagreeing with him or provoking him. I learnt what to hide, what not to feel, and how to gain his approval. I would gang up against my younger sister with him, even though my relationship with her was otherwise very loving. I lost myself in order to please him, and to protect myself from the hurt that he could inflict. My mother was scared that if she acted on my behalf, she would give the impression of favouritism, and make things worse for me. I learnt not to go to her, or anyone else for that matter. When I was hurting I would take myself off, usually up a tree, and sit there, secretly hoping that someone would come out and comfort me. I learnt to stifle the emotions, all the rage and sadness, and I carried the wounds for the next 20 plus years.
I continued to look for my family’s approval. My mother wanted me to be a certain way. She wanted me to fit in, get a good job, have a stable relationship and be safe. Honourable and well-intentioned no doubt, but her desire for me to have these things came at the cost of my authenticity. She would withhold her warmth when she felt I wasn’t going the way she wanted me to. Again I adapted myself in order to gain her approval. I suffered from bouts of depression, and anxiety was ever present. I was constantly pretending to be someone I was not, hiding how I truly felt in order to please and win approval. I became an expert in reading people, but I lived in my head, thinking about conversations, past and future, what I should or shouldn’t say, what opinions I should or shouldn’t share. In essence I was just very frightened of the world. I was terrified that people would find out that there was something wrong with me, which in my mind was the truth that I had been hiding all these years. I learnt to present myself in a certain way - I became a carefully edited version of myself. And the parts of myself that I didn’t share became lost. I forgot that they had ever existed. I buried them. I was a fragmented soul, existing for everyone else’s pleasure but my own. I was terrified of vulnerability but I longed for deep connection and deep feeling, with myself and others. Often I looked to drugs and alcohol, but these ultimately left me feeling more empty and alone.
When I was 26 I met Hannah and my life changed. She showed me how to be vulnerable. She made me feel safe in a way that I hadn’t felt in so long. She didn’t apologise for who she was, she didn’t pretend to be someone she wasn’t, she didn’t shy away from the heavy, and she wanted to know everything about me. I dropped my guard. I showed her who I was. I showed her my flaws and my doubts and my fears and she held it all. She accepted me for me. My heart opened and I was flooded with joy, a feeling I hadn’t tasted in decades. But I soon realised that this was just the start. As wonderful as it was to be loved and seen by someone, I felt there was still something missing, there was still an emptiness that no amount of external love could fill. A few years into the relationship I developed chronic neck and back pain, and I became severely depressed. I felt as though all this joy I had recently felt was being sucked away from me once more, and that I was closing up again. I didn’t understand why. After a phone call to lifeline during a particularly heavy bout of depression, I realised that I needed help. I needed to heal.
Layer by layer I dove down into my inner world. I sought out healers and counsellors. It became clear that when my heart had opened to the joy of life and love, it had also opened to my past pains. Pains that were long forgotten but not released. There was anger and sadness and deep grief. I entered into a period deep reflection, shadow work, meditation and healing. I vowed to myself that I would feel all that I had neglected to feel, all that I had been unable to feel back then. I learnt that my emotions were not unhealthy things that needed to be suppressed. They were there for a reason. They needed to be felt, acknowledged and loved. I began to uncover the toxic thoughts that I was repeating, and the impact that these were having on my body and my heart. I saw how it was all connected – body, mind and spirit, and how the things we think we left in the past will remain with us until we face them. I started feeling lighter again, I started to remember who I really was, all my goofiness, playfulness, and openness.
I know that the journey of self-discovery will continue throughout my life, but I can honestly say now that I accept myself as I am – imperfect, vulnerable, slightly (very) odd, but 100% unique.