It was on Mother’s Day 2019 when I decided I’d had enough. I was sick and tired of living my life under a cloud of guilt, regret, and fear.
What was I guilty about?
I felt guilty for not listening to that part of me that knew better. The part that had been trying for years to get my attention. It comes from a higher, purer space within us and because it is gentle, it was easy to ignore when it tried to tell me that I wasn’t living the life I truly desired. Guilt crept in like a bogeyman in the night at random moments to remind me that I was denying myself the chance to feel the best I could feel about my life. I felt deep guilt for failing myself, my children, and my husband.
What was I regretful for?
I regretted the things I hadn’t done in my life such as pursuing my writing or studying to become a counsellor – two things I’d dreamed about for decades. While I’ve never regretted giving up my career to take care of my kids, I have regretted not believing that I have something of value to offer the world. I regretted that I didn’t feel more love in my heart for myself and for everyone in my life.
What was I fearful of?
I feared failure, so I didn’t bother to try. I feared that I’d be found out for the loser that I believed I was deep down. I lived in fear of being hurt by the people I loved. I lived in fear of not being trusted or not being able to trust others. I lived in fear of my own self.
So, on May 12th, 2019, I finally stopped and listened to the higher, purer part of me, whispering from the depths of my soul that now was the time to be true to myself. It was time to look inwards with honesty and not to be afraid of what I might see. As I slowly opened my eyes with trepidation, I came face-to-face with a very sad person. I saw someone who desperately wanted to feel more connected, to fit in, to feel she had a place in the world. I saw the me who had spent decades suppressing my feelings with substances. I saw the shame I carried around like a big heavy sack of rubbish on my shoulders that stank to high heaven and weighed me down until my spine curved and my head drooped towards the ground. I saw a woman who believed she was bad and who didn’t deserve love. I saw a person half living her life, envious of those who were making the most of theirs.
I felt sick at the sight of what I had become
The higher, purer part of me knew what needed to be done. I had to de-clutter. But first, I had to be honest about what had to go.
- What were the things in my life that were tripping me up every time I tried to walk out into the light, pulling me back towards the darkness?
- What was I doing that didn’t make me feel proud of myself?
- Where was I slipping up?
- What could I change?
Those of you who have read my earlier blogs will know that I found my moral compass and faced my conscience. I had been self-medicating with alcohol for decades, damaging my body, mind and spirit. Once upon a time it had been marijuana. Before that, it was tobacco. When I was a kid, it was sugar. Throughout my life, I turned to substances to comfort me when I couldn’t handle my feelings. I escaped those feelings because I hadn’t learnt a better way to deal with them. The sad thing is the substance-abuse only made my feelings worse in the long run. Plus, it added an even greater layer of self-loathing to my already fragile sense of self. The more I turned to a substance to lift me out of the doldrums, the more I ended up right back there.
I made a life out of avoiding unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and memories. If I felt lonely, I rolled a joint or I poured myself a drink. If memories of sad times came to me, I found a quick fix in a substance. And I stayed stuck in the blame game, a big part of the victim mindset I had adopted.
The higher, purer part of me that I learned to listen to had always been there. It is the part of us that allows us to be the observer of our thoughts and feelings. The part that gives us the space to separate ourselves from the crap that arises in our minds, and to see that it does pass. That it is not us.
I am not my thoughts
At times I feel indignant for having taken so bloody long to finally listen to that part of me. I was 53 years old when I finally faced the truth. I feel I wasted so many years responding to my thoughts, trying to escape the feelings that resulted from those thoughts and not being able to live in the present moment.
But this moment is no time for regret. This is a time to celebrate that I saw the light!
This is the moment to acknowledge that I faced what wasn’t serving me and I kicked it to the kerb. I lightened my load and enabled myself to travel the rest of the road with acceptance rather than avoidance, with a strong focus on the things that are important to me, fully committed with an open mind, and a welcoming heart.
Three years on from that important day, I am proud of how far I’ve come.
I found my superpower in being honest with myself, shedding the shame that held me back, no longer needing a substance or any other unhealthy behaviour to help me cope with uncomfortable feelings, learning to forgive myself and others, committing to do the things that serve me well, learning mindfulness and breath-work and being kinder to myself and others.
I’ve written a book that I believe will bring hope and inspiration to others and may even help people to lighten their own load sooner than I managed to lighten mine.
An extract from my book was recently aired on ABC Radio National’s programme Life Matters. You can listen to it here.
I am half-way through my Diploma of Counselling and loving every word of knowledge that I am acquiring, not to mention the connections I am making with like-minded students.
I believe that my own lived experience of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and the resulting addictive behaviours makes me a more compassionate and empathic person and will help me to serve others who are suffering.
My relationship with myself is deeper and more compassionate because I got to the root cause of my self-loathing, thanks to counselling. I have shown myself the kindness and care that I had been crying out for. In choosing to live a sober life and to love sober, I feel everything more – the joy & the pain, the happiness & the sadness, the excitement & the boredom. I accept that life is about embracing it all – the good, the bad & the ugly.
If you are reading this and wondering how you might be able to help yourself to feel better about your own life, here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you find the answers:
- What isn’t serving you anymore?
- What matters to you… deep in your heart?
- What do you want to do with your time on this planet?
- What are your core values?
- What sort of person do you want to be?
- What are the things you can do that will help you to be that person?
My core values are compassion, connection, honesty, integrity, and creativity. I remind myself of these every day to help me to be the person I can feel proud of. I have learnt not to judge people for their failings, because I have my own. I am honest about my failings and am not afraid to be vulnerable. I know there will be people who will judge me, but I remind myself that it is my own opinion of myself that counts the most, having learnt the hard way by judging myself harshly in the past. I am quietly content to have nurtured a strong sense of integrity by sticking to my commitment to embrace a sober life. I feel more alive because I no longer numb my feelings with alcohol, I no longer do the things that weren’t serving me — that were holding me back from making the most of the time I’ve got left on this beautiful earth. I feel a deep sense of compassion for all living things. We are all one big miracle. Thanks for being here with me. Can you feel the sense of achievement that my commitment brings? It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been so worth every single day of the past three years. I dedicate this blog to my loving husband, Damien, who is celebrating three years of sobriety with me. You have helped to lighten my load and I am really grateful to you. Tomorrow, May 14th, we will celebrate 18 years of marriage too. That’s another commitment that I am very happy about. Take a moment to feel good about your own commitments – they are testament to your strengths. Celebrate them!