A journey to love
Embracing Your Shadow on the Path to the Light
My new book is in the final stages of production. I've shared an introduction here as a preview to what you'll be able to find in the completed work. I hope you'll join me on the Journey to Love.
‘I don’t care what you do for a living, I want to know what your heart aches for.'
Oriah Mountain Dreamer
To the Reader
A Journey to Love provides an insight into how experiences in my childhood played a part in influencing my relationship with myself and others. The poetry highlights how shedding light on specific tendencies has enabled me to make different choices, break free from debilitating behaviours and drop into a place of stillness and peace. This has facilitated an awakening to a more joyful and creative life in which I have grown to build healthier relationships with my family and myself — a life where my work makes a real difference to peoples’ lives and my emotions are a trusted guide towards a continuous and deeper learning about who I am. This was not always the case. I witnessed violence and verbal abuse in my childhood, adopted strategies that didn’t serve me in later years and experienced deep depression.
I grew up witnessing my father’s eruptions of anger along with my mother’s emotional outbursts. On one occasion this left me feeling as if stuck in a warzone where no-one was going to win and any survivors were going to be scarred forever. It seemed so futile and I felt helpless to change anything. Internally there was something screaming inside wanting my parents to wake up and see what was really important in life. In that moment my breath seemed to be gripped in a vice and my body froze. The thoughts rushed through my head ‘if my breath stopped for long enough, I could die’. Would they then realise the significance of life and love for their children? At that time there were no thoughts of whether this was an over-reaction or egotistical response, it was just there and seemed to imprint on my body to go to a place of freezing followed by a strong desire to run each time I felt stuck in a place of conflict.
The instances became repeated at times through my life and the triggers could be as simple as anyone from a parent, teacher or partner raising their voice to being unable to hold my own in a conversation when there might be a difference of opinion. As a child my go to place of escape was to find solace in nature and to this day still offers a nurturing and safe place of peace and solitude. When this option is not available, writing and poetry has been my saving grace and a cathartic outlet in times of conflict and confusion. I owe so much gratitude to whatever it is that flows from thoughts and through pen and paper. Much of my writing has helped me to link my childhood experiences to patterns and behaviours I have adopted throughout my life. Gradually and through what many would call “Through the Grace of God” has highlighted how dysfunctional these tendencies have become, along with the ability to make incremental steps to letting go of unhealthy ways of reacting in certain situations has made a real difference in the long term. There are too many instances of these behaviours to recall and I have mentioned a few below which maybe you the reader can relate to, either for yourself or they are visible in others.
As a child I learned to earn love and respect by doing things that would please my parents. Even though it was confusing at times because when my father lavished attention on me and called me a ‘good girl’ my mother seemed to become moody or resentful. In an attempt to please my mother, I would do my best to help her at home, not realising that I was somehow adding to her feelings of inadequacy. I continued striving to fit the ‘good girl’ label for decades of my life, and even when I became aware that it was an unhealthy pattern, I could witness myself continuing to play it out and it seemed far beyond my control to change it.
The identification of being good and other protective and defensive mechanisms adopted in childhood shaped how I could or couldn’t behave in my relationships as an adult and stopped me from being honest with others and with myself. I struggled for a long time to identify my purpose in life and couldn’t find contentment with work. Other people’s needs always came before mine, which led to a sense of unworthiness, lack of self-respect and ultimately depression.
When I became a mother of two daughters, worked night shifts as a nurse and was juggling all the commitments of being a parent and wife, I felt a constant and all-pervading lack of fulfilment in most things I tried to do, as if something was missing in my life. Nothing seemed to matter. I was operating on automatic pilot, every daily action seemed robotic and eventually I reached a point where even functioning in this way was impossible. I had been depressed for a while but had tried to ignore it and carry on with my roles and duties. I clearly recall one morning struggling to get my body to take slow painful steps across the kitchen to reach the kettle. I realised then that something was seriously wrong. I hit rock bottom. Even though I knew I needed help, I couldn’t think of anyone in my life I could turn to and even if I had thought of someone, I would not have been able to pick up the phone to call. This was the beginning of a long period of recovery that has been messy, painful and, at times, extremely challenging, a journey with setbacks intertwined with inspiration and a driving motivation to heal.
Moving on from depression towards a life lived in Love has been a path of discovery that has engaged me at all levels of my being. It has required humility and willingness to see how I create my reality, courage to accept responsibility for my life, make conscious choices to take different actions, surrender to follow my inner guidance and, most importantly of all, sing my own unique song.
The Journey therapy has helped me access and release traumatic memories and dissolve negative beliefs. During my training with the founder of this work, the barriers I had erected to protect myself fell away slowly and incrementally over a period of years thus enabling me to receive love. The Journey work has given me permission to express my emotions and validate my feelings. Over time, more and more layers have fallen away revealing a true sense of who I truly am. It is a relief to let go of the ‘trying’ to be someone I thought I had to be to please others. It is easier to speak naturally and effortlessly from my heart rather than editing and being fearful of saying the wrong thing.
Since I embarked on what I see as my journey to the soul, poems have arisen from within and flow through my body into written form. I have allowed the words to emerge as they will and many of the poems appear in this book in their ‘raw’, unaltered state, free of the censorship of my conscious mind. Poetry has been a guiding light along the way, sometimes as a cathartic release to help me express the pain stemming from childhood memories or past experiences and at other times allowing me to put into words new understandings that arise as I shed unnecessary behaviours that prevent me from living my life to the full.
It isn’t easy to describe how these poems appear, but I can identify certain elements that have allowed my creativity to flow; they arise when in silent solitude, on spiritual retreats or outside in Nature. When an emotion arises, I have chosen to be still (whenever possible), breathe and acknowledge the feeling with my full attention as I let go of any judgement as to whether the emotion is good or bad. Sometimes just staying in the moment and being present to the feelings, however intense, has seemed the only way forward; attempting to push them away or ‘pull myself together’ has not been an option. Often the initial discomfort dissipates and this somehow has enabled my mind to be more at ease. The willingness to be with ‘what is’ in the moment whilst accepting the possibility of ‘not knowing’ has taken me to a place within where I experience love, joy, bliss — my true nature, deeper self or consciousness. Poetry sometimes arises spontaneously when I am in this space. The process of welcoming uncomfortable feelings in me and accepting, rather than denying them has helped me realise that everything I have searched for has been within me all along.
I have slowly discovered that writing poems is a gift that makes my heart sing. A journey that began as an outpouring from an emotional place has become a discovery of my inner self. The ability to put my feelings on paper has somehow affected a release that has had a knock-on effect in my life, freeing me to truly forgive, heal old trauma and let go of stories, which in truth seems to unleash my creativity. If some of these poems are prayers, then I have faith that, somewhere, they are being heard and answered.
My evolving understanding …
I believe now that we are all interconnected and our story is a product, not just of our parents but also of our ancestors and their experiences. Beliefs and patterns of behaviour are passed down by our parents and as children, often we not only take what our elders say as the truth, but also take on these same behaviours and replicate them.
My mother experienced a lack of love in her life stemming from the stoic nature of her parents’ generation and, although she tried to make changes with her own children, I always felt that being tactile did not come naturally to her. As I see it today, the absence of a loving touch or any explicit signs of affection contributed to a lack of self-worth and inability to feel loved in both my mother and me. This, in turn, led to patterns of neediness and unhealthy attention-seeking behaviours that only served to drive away the love we sought.
In my mother’s story, the effects of a lifetime of feeling unloved played out in dramatic and self-destructive ways. During my childhood, her frustrations were released at times of severe stress and I felt scared and ill-equipped to cope. I truly wanted to help, but it seemed impossible for me to reach out and offer any love because of the impenetrable walls of defensive behaviour that she displayed. These ways of acting can continue to be recreated through the generations. Displaying defensive behaviours became a strategy that I adopted and truly believed would serve me.
The combination of inherited traits and negative mind-talk prevented me from embarking on new relationships or receiving love from others because of past hurts. Unconsciously, I was probably protecting myself from being hurt again. I shut down and often distanced myself from men because of an instinctive need for self-protection. These tendencies and behaviours, learnt from my mother and grandparents, were coping strategies. I also adopted other unhealthy behaviours such as ‘people-pleasing’, being a victim with endless stories of ‘poor me’, which stood in the way of the loving connection I longed for.
We always have a choice when we suddenly become aware of undesirable feelings that we may have suppressed for many years. We can do what we have automatically and consistently done through our life to avoid them or we can act differently. In that moment, we might choose to dwell on our problems, resent and blame other people, think that we are the victim of our circumstances or look for faults in others and, as a result, try to change their behaviour. Alternatively, we can look at ourselves: explore our inner world and the messages that our emotions convey. On a daily basis, we can take the opportunity to see in other people the reflection of our challenging patterns of behaviour. We can choose to be with our emotions, look inwards and ‘let go’ of blaming or controlling others. It seems to me that the first step on a journey to healing is to strengthen our awareness and disposition to change. For me, the true catalyst for change was hitting rock-bottom and uncovering the willingness to take the first step.
Reading and reflecting on this, is a precursor to putting in the real work that comes with the commitment to release our unhealthy and ingrained patterns of behaviour. Using the mind to change these patterns seems to be impossible because they are usually adopted at a young age as coping mechanisms that may have served us at that particular time in our lives; for example, a child who cries to get attention and continues to use this as a manipulative trait into adulthood. Unhealthy behaviours that we consistently use to meet our needs are often rooted somewhere in our past. If we give time to noticing what is going on in the moment and identifying the root causes that created blocks in the first place, we can start to unravel our story and free ourselves. Unless we know the root cause we might not have any idea where to start or what to work on. This inner work is not about dwelling on our past but about having the understanding that we can learn from all of life’s experiences and relationships.
My experiences are not unique …
I have learnt that my story of emotional pain is not unique and that we are not alone. We all experience traumas that affect us in different ways. The loss of a parent or a child, physical or emotional abuse, witnessing traumatic events, growing up in a violent household or living in a war-torn country all leave their mark but life experiences need not be as distressing as these examples to have a lasting impact. For example, as I have previously mentioned, the label of being a ‘good girl’ made me lose sight of who I really was or how I wanted to be. I often felt like a fraud in playing out this role because I was denying the darker side of myself.
Even though our lives and relationships are meant to be fulfilling and connected to a deep sense of love, this is not always the case. The stories I hear in my professional practice are full of frustration, longing for a more loving partner or a sense of disconnection and of not knowing what one’s purpose is meant to be; It seems that daily life conspires to pull us along a treadmill of duties, tasks and commitments and we wonder why it feels as if our very life force is being sucked from us. One day, if we are lucky enough to recognise it when it comes knocking, a wake-up call might help us to re-evaluate life and implement new ways to make a real difference.
My work as a therapist has been enriched by my story of growth and healing. It has given me a sense of freedom that allows me to support clients to find release from their traumas, assist in tapping into their motivation to make healthier lifestyle choices and reach a place of peace. I have witnessed how individuals can find the love in their hearts that has been repressed and frozen, sometimes for decades. I find that shedding light on our issues renders them less scary or life-threatening than we at first imagined.
Guide to the Book
Although my poems and writing were not originally intended for publication, it seems as though this book had a life of it’s own. It’s creation became a beautiful project that speaks of the importance of connecting to our essence and being our authentic selves.
The purpose of the book is to share what I have learnt, with the hope that it will help those seeking to discover how to acknowledge the pain in their lives and find a way to move beyond it into a place of love and purpose. It aims to facilitate a deeper connection to the love that is within all of us. It also illustrates my search for love as well as the lessons that led me to realise that love lay within me the whole time.
My prayer is, that with some guidance, self-effort and a little grace, we can all learn to connect to the love within ourselves, unleash our creativity and see in others the reflection of our own natural qualities.
A Journey to Love is a tapestry that honours my inner artist by combining poetry, snippets of my story, helpful skills that I have collected along the way and playful mnemonics created to highlight those elements that have been essential in my journey of discovery. I enjoyed precious moments of connection with my mum, daughters and husband in the making of the book and so I chose to include some of their poetry to communicate a sense of that process of connection and learning for us all.
The book is divided into three main chapters: Love, Relationships and Life. The chapters include sections with a mix of poems, explanations about the relationship between my story and the poems, mnemonics, skills and illustrations. Each section invites the reader to bypass the mind, acknowledge any feelings that may arise and hopefully arrive at a thought-free place within. Ultimately, coming to peace happens when unwanted feelings are recognised, felt and accepted.
The seven-step mnemonics are designed to help us acknowledge the limiting beliefs, tendencies and behaviours that we may have adopted through life. The aim is to offer ways of letting them go, while facilitating a journey to the wisdom of ourselves and who we are beyond the pressures and trials of life.
The poems have been written at times when barriers that appeared to stifle my creative ability broke down. They allude to a long and often painful journey that, in hindsight, I would not change as I look back with gratitude for the learning opportunities provided by my experiences.
The structure of the book invites you to pick and choose. “Life is like a box of chocolates” and to consume the whole box at once might leave one feeling rather sick. I recommend that you select one or two sections that appeal to you, savour them individually, digest them slowly and enjoy. My intention is that the verses will facilitate a daily opening to an authentic outlook on life.
Note: If you are experiencing intense or traumatic issues please seek professional help or contact an experienced accredited Journey Practitioner. (See Resources.)