what rock bottom feels like and three steps to get you back on trackTen years ago, pretty much to the day, I woke up in a Reykjavik hotel bed, drenched in a cold sweat.

I had been there on an all expenses paid work jolly up, and had as per usual got myself into a very messy mess. I had the familiar heart sinking feeling that shit had gone down the night before, but couldn’t recall the details.

It took me some time to gather the momentum to get myself out of bed. I needed the loo but didn’t make it, and instead ended up on the bathroom floor retching. I’ve often wondered if my inability to vomit is a blessing or a curse, and have concluded that it’s both, but that’s a whole other story.

Whilst lying on the bathroom floor trying futilely to eject the poison that I’d been voluntarily feeding myself for the previous forty eight hours, I noticed an empty bottle of wine from the minibar. On the shelf in the shower.

Who in their right mind drinks wine in the shower, straight from the bottle?

That was when I realised I had crossed the line

untitled-design-5Once the retching had passed, I sat with my head in my hands and bawled my eyes out. Snippets of the weekend came back to me in flashes. I remembered arguing with my boss, and making a complete idiot out of myself in front of my work colleagues. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, I’d put myself in unnecessary danger (again) by taking a taxi from one end of town to the other, alone. In the state I had been in, anything could have happened. 

I felt deeply ashamed of myself.

I knew that I could no longer just laugh it all off as I had done so many times before back then. If I was to have a chance of making it through 2007, I couldn’t carry on like that. In the four years between my first mental breakdown and that morning in Iceland, I had many incidents that could (and should) have propelled me to rock bottom.

But they hadn’t. Why not? 

I wasn’t ready to face my demons before that morning, and rock bottom only comes after pushing the boundaries to the absolute max

rock bottom and how to get out of it
I remember being in that hotel room like it was yesterday. After my pity party in the bathroom I had a shower, got myself dressed, and took a long hard look in the mirror. I was a broken mess. I had survived a shitty childhood and in many respects had got through my first decade as an adult by the skin of my teeth.

Yet, amid the chaos of my life, I had met some truly amazing people who I am privileged to call my friends. Without even finishing high school, I had managed to forge a decent and fairly paid career. I had also found my wonderful husband, who I was in serious danger of losing at that moment in time.

Ultimately, I knew there and then that I was deeply flawed as a human being, but I was capable of great things too. I hadn’t come this far to give up, and I would be damned if I allowed my relationship with the bottle destroy everything I’d worked so hard to achieve.

I was overwhelmed with a sense of clarity, and the fighter in me who had given up in favour of getting smashed took over.

rock bottom and how to get out of it Just like that, everything suddenly made sense

I was a weekend bender away from losing absolutely everything and everyone that mattered to me. I knew, sitting there in that hotel room, that things had to change. I also realised, perhaps for the first time, that nothing would change unless I did, and that I needed to change a lot.

My attitude.

My behaviour.

My eating habits.

My outlook on life.

Everything.

So that’s when the hard work began.

Step One: Awareness

rock bottom and how to get out of it It’s so much easier to just ignore our problems and hope they will miraculously disappear, but they never do. What actually happens is they become harder to deal with the longer you leave facing them.

To start helping yourself, you have to acknowledge what your problems are in the first place. Self-reflection can be a bitter pill to swallow, but you absolutely must be willing to do it. 

It became obvious to me that I was in the mess I was in because of the crappy things that had happened to me. However, I came to realise that holding on to the hurt of the past was destroying my chances of future happiness. I had all but written myself off as ‘tragically messed up’, but I wasn’t. I just needed to make peace with my past, so I could move on from it.    

Step Two: Determination 

I truly believe that most self-destructive behaviour stems from being engrossed in the cycle of dysfunction. By getting obliterated we are burying our heads in the sand, and not facing up to our problems. We think at the time that we’re having fun, but actually we’re doing even more damage to our broken selves. In order to start healing we need to surround ourselves with the the very best people.

rock bottom and how to get out of it A supportive partner, real friends or loving family will want to help you thrive and succeed in life. They absolutely, categorically, will not try to sabotage your efforts.

People who genuinely love you would only ever want to encourage your success. If you’re at rock bottom, chances are you have toxic people in your life that are holding you back. You’ll need to identify who they are and either redefine the rules of your relationship, or sever ties with them altogether.  

Step Three: Courage

You will have to get to know yourself, and always be true to who you really are. This means not getting swept up with the crowd, and never living your life according to anyone else’s timetable. You’ll need to become a ‘what you see is what you get’ type of person, not someone who changes their personality based on who they happen to be with at that moment. 

It’s time to identify the steps you need to take, that will get you onto the path to the life you deserve. If you need a little help with doing this, you might find my book Become the Best You useful. Click on the image below for more info.    

I wish you the very best of luck!

rock bottom and how to get out of it

That which does not kill us, makes us strongerIt’ll be obvious to anyone who follows this blog, that I’m a huge believer in the adage ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. I’d like to share one of my many stories today, just in case someone out there needs reminding of this.

Lets step back in time, to almost twenty years ago…

My first job after leaving home was working as a waitress in a market cafe (caff not café) for £2 an hour. I’m still rather baffled how I got from this to working in the City at a big corporate firm less than four years later. Lets just say I had a very lucky break, and that the background checks weren’t what they are today. I’ll be forever grateful for that first City job, as I learned so much and it paved the way for me to have a decent career. I also met some amazing people, two of whom are still very close friends. This may not seem relevant, but bear with me.

I had foolishly racked up debt as soon as I was able to, and took on a weekend job in a pub down the road from where I was living to help clear it. Anyone who has ever worked behind the bar will know this makes you instantly desirable to the opposite sex. I’d never been in such hot demand, and could literally take my pick of the bunch. I started dating one of the local lads, lets call him Dave.

Dave seemed like a pretty stand up guy…

He had a good job, earned decent money and his parents had a nice house (things that were important to my foolish, naive, much younger self). He was godfather to several of the babies that had recently been born in the area, which clearly meant he was trusted. Most importantly of all, he treated me like a lady, and was very sweet. There wasn’t much chemistry in the bedroom but I could live with that, because he seemed so nice.

Dave would drink in the pub on a Saturday night, and wait for me to finish up after it closed. Then we’d go out, get hammered, go back to my place, sometimes attempt to shag, sometimes not bother, and wake up on a Sunday with very sore heads. One weekend, after we had been together for about three months, his parents were away, so we went back to his house after going out. We’d had an absolute skinful and I was fit for nothing but sleep. It was around two or three in the morning, and instead of also getting into bed he insisted on going out to walk his dog, claiming it hadn’t been out all day. Afterwards I would realise that he disappeared a lot, but I genuinely never thought anything of it at the time.

I was roused from my sleep by loud crashes and bangs, and remember being really scared thinking someone had broken in. I leapt out of bed to find Dave butt naked with another man, about to have sex a few feet from where I was sleeping. I flew into what can only be described as the fit of a wild beast. Started beating them both with my fists, yelling expletives. The other guy ran for his life and got the hell out of dodge. Dave broke down and told me he had always known he was gay, but his family and friends would disown him if he came out. Lets face it things were a lot different back in the nineties.

I was the perfect alibi – the barmaid girlfriend all his mates wanted to bang

Turns out that Dave had been picking up men in the wee hours for some time, and not being careful. The three months I had to wait for my HIV all clear were agonising. He also told our mutual friends that we had broken up because I was sleeping with one of his mates. I left that town behind a few weeks later and started over (something I was well versed in as I did a lot of moving as a kid). Fortunately for me, having a decent job and good friends meant that instead of completely falling apart, I was able to pick my damaged self up and recover.

In the years that followed I had flings, and too many one night stands, but didn’t have another proper boyfriend until I met my husband. It took me a long time to come to terms with the level of hurt he had caused me, and allow myself to trust again, but I did get over it. Like so many things from my past, this experience now feels like it happened to someone else.

what doesn't kill you makes you strongerI guess the moral of the tale is this…

Have faith that time really does heal all wounds.

No matter how raw and painful they may seem.

And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

For more about me, and my life, read my book

 

Motherhood without a mum

Motherhood is a complex subject for people like me. Mother’s Day is always a mixed bag of emotions. 

In the early days of my estrangement from my mother many people told me that I’d change my mind once I had children of my own.

As if the decision to cut ties with her and the rest of my family was made so lightly it would all just get swept under the carpet and forgotten about the second I was pregnant.

As if it had been nothing more than a minor spat that could be rectified by having a group hug and doing a bit of forgiving and forgetting.

Believe me, walking away from my family wasn’t something I did without agonising over it for years first

I don’t speak about them often, online or in real life. I grieved for them long, hard and self-destructively directly afterwards. Nowadays I don’t harbour animosity towards any of them, and I see no benefit in dredging up the past and justifying why I don’t have them around.

Not that I need to do that of course, but I’m sure it comes across that way.

It’s a strange one to get your head around isn’t it? A person claiming not to have ill feelings towards their mother, yet actively choosing to exclude them from their life. Depriving their children of an extra grandmother in the process.

“Don’t you miss your mum?”

motherhood without a mum Concerned friends have asked me this countless times over the years. I’d be lying if I said no, not at all. The fact is, I do miss not having a mum around. One who could help see me through the daily grind known as motherhood.

One who would demand to take the kids off my hands regularly so I got a break. One who could be a brightly shining positive influence for my children.

If I thought for a second that my mother was capable of these things, I wouldn’t have cut ties with her in the first place

When I put my damaged self through therapy after breakdown number one in 2002, my counsellor opened my eyes to how toxic my relationship had become with my mother. Before that I genuinely had no idea. I knew my family was far from ‘normal’, but whose is, and what is ‘normal’ anyway?

The biggest irony is that my mother had a very volatile relationship with my grandma, and she was extremely vocal throughout my childhood about that never happening with her own kids.

In lots of ways I feel sad for her, because her life wasn’t easy or fun, then to top it off she lost her eldest daughter. Not through some tragic accident or awful unfair disease, but because that daughter decided she couldn’t be around her anymore.

For the sake of her sanity, and self-preservation, she was done

Done with the lies.

Done with the dramas.

Done with her good intentions being thrown back in her face.

Done with the guilt.

Done with feeling that she was responsible for fixing everyone else’s problems and should always be doing more. Giving more. Being more.

motherhood without a mumShe was done. I was done

In April 2005 I made the toughest decision I have made to date. In my darkest, most horrendously depressed moments, where I’d feel alone in a room full of friends, I miss the idea of a mum so much it physically hurts. A superhero mum that would put her cape on and make my challenging life easier.

Then I remember the reasons I walked away in the first place

So, do I miss a mum? Yes of course. Do I miss my mum? No, sadly I don’t. Do I wish things were different? Hell yes, but they aren’t.

I’m the mum now, so rather than pine after something that doesn’t exist, I’m going to plough all my energies into being the best mum I can for my own children.

I will let my actions, not my words, do the talking.

That way, they should never feel the need to cut me out of their lives when they grow up.

 

mental health pre kids

 

I’ve wanted to write this so many times, but have always been afraid to, just in case it was taken the wrong way and there was a backlash. This fear of others misconstruing my words has led to censorship, which is ridiculous. I can’t call myself a pro-blogger and allow myself to be censored at the same time, so I’ll be taking a big deep breath as I press the publish button.

I’d like to credit Alice who writes at The Filling Glass. After reading her brilliant piece The Chicken and Egg of Positive Parenting, these words started swirling around in my head. So here they are, come what may. 

A story about mental health

There is no beating around the bush here, when I left home and emerged into adulthood at 15, I was seriously fucked up. How could it have been any other way? Although I had a mother who loved me, she was very much reeling from her own miserable upbringing throughout mine, and made a whole load of terrible decisions that negatively impacted (damaged, destroyed, stole…) my childhood.

Lying to me about who my father was; moving so much I went to eight schools where I was often bullied; inviting randy teenage boys into our home who would take advantage of me… The list could go on and on, but this blog would end up being the length of a book.   

I could never have been described as fresh faced and innocent, but I definitely was naive, which led to me making more than a few bad decisions of my own. Especially after drinking, which I did regularly and heavily in those days. All the partying inevitably led to me having very little in the way of respect for myself, and this more than anything else perpetuated the cycle of bad decision making.

In the first decade of me living independently, I attempted suicide, suffered countless bouts of depression and anxiety, and had two full on mental breakdowns.

After the first breakdown I started seeing a counsellor who opened my eyes to how damaged I was. She also made me realise that it wasn’t my fault. This is the thing that us survivors of abuse usually carry with us you see, the guilt. I didn’t even realise until that point that I was as damaged as I was, or that I even felt guilty about my childhood, but believe me I was and I did.

She made me see that I needed to bury those demons of mine once and for all, if I were to move on and lead a happy life. 

In order to heal, we must face up to the past

My healing process was long and painful. It involved cutting ties with my entire family, and going through a second mental breakdown, which was triggered by hitting rock bottom and coming exceptionally close to losing everything I cared about.

Counselling was the very start for me, and although it highlighted a lot of my issues and why they existed, it still took me over four years to realise that my own self-destructive behaviour was at the centre of a lot of my current-day problems. Irrespective of why I was fucked up, the point is I was fucked up.

The only way I wasn’t going to be fucked up any more was by digging deep, and changing every aspect of my life that was causing me dramas. Nothing is as important as our mental health well being, but it can be difficult for us to appreciate this.

Taking responsibility for our lives not panning out the way we want them to can be a tough truth to accept, but it’s not about blame. It is about not allowing those demons to destroy our chances of happiness for a minute longer.

Everyone’s demons are different of course, and the changes they will have to make will depend on what is driving those demons. As for me, I quit partying, had a three month booze break, started eating well and doing more exercise. I disassociated myself from negative influences, and created lifelong good habits. During the course of six months, I worked relentlessly to turn my life around. It was the hardest yet most rewarding thing I had ever done at that point. 

You’ll never know how messed up someone is, until you try to love them

Exactly halfway between my two breakdowns, I met my husband. He has always been stable, confident in his own abilities and an all round rock solid guy. I still did my best to push him away though, and sabotage the chances of our relationship surviving. We broke up a few times in our earliest years, but ultimately he stuck by me and refused to accept that I was ‘too fucked up to be loved’.

The turning around of my life came after we had been together for almost three years. He proposed on our fourth anniversary, and six months later I fell pregnant with our eldest. To say we’ve faced lots of challenges since becoming a family, would be a huge understatement. From a horribly traumatic first birth (thankfully much nicer experiences second and third time!); to kids that don’t sleep; to having autism to contend with; and most recently, deciding to home educate. Once again the list could go on… 

How do you cope? 

In the six and a half years that we’ve been parents, we have certainly had our fair share of ups and downs, which is what inspired me to create this blog almost three years ago. I get asked on a regular basis how I cope, considering I have very little in the way of help day to day.

I truly believe the reason I’m able to cope as well as I do, on the small amount of sleep I get most nights, is because I went through the process of dealing with my demons when I did.

I faced up to the past, I changed the necessary and I buried those monsters good and proper. I put coping mechanisms in place that would see me through the toughest of times, and it means I am able to focus on present-day challenges. I have essentially compartmentalised the painful elements of my past, so they can’t hurt me any more. 

When I made the decision to turn my life around back in November 2006, I didn’t have a clue that I’d be implementing changes that would directly impact my mothering abilities.

That is exactly what I was doing though. 

Untitled designSo what next?

If you’re reading this and know in your heart of hearts that you have demons stemming back to your childhood, then you must acknowledge them.

The next step is to forgive yourself and anyone else you need to for them.

Then you need to let those fuckers go. You hear me?

Work out a plan to rid yourself of them once and for all.

Believe me you will have never felt lighter in your entire life.

Do it for the sake of your kids. Whether they are already here, or they’re a mere thought at the back of your mind. 

It’s going to be hard work, make no mistake about that, but it has to be done.  

I’ll be cheering from the sidelines, and wishing you all the luck in the world on your journey!  

 

How Travelling Made Me A Better PersonOn this very day, many moons ago aged 22, I embarked on my first travelling expedition. I’d been on holiday prior to that, but never for longer than a week, and Greece was the furthest afield I’d gone.

I had recently passed probation in a new job, and they had to make my role redundant. They had a different position they wanted me to take on instead, and rather than negotiate a pay rise I got them to agree a three month sabbatical. I’d been living in a party house for a few years with a bunch of wild antipodeans, and my trip to Thailand and Australia was with some house mates.

We all have our own agenda in life of course, and travelling isn’t for everyone. I’ve met people over the years that had zero desire to do anything more than holiday in swanky resorts. That’s great for them, because they wouldn’t be happy to slum it in backpacking guest houses or rooms in Asia that cost less per night than the price of their morning coffee. Other people hate flying, so don’t go anywhere that will take more than a few hours to get to. 

For me however, I know with absolute conviction, that going on that trip was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It sparked off a different mind set in me, and ultimately I know that travelling the world in my twenties has made me a better person. Wow, that’s a big statement right? Here are the reasons why.

Made me more adventurous

That first trip was a very gentle introduction to exploring the world. Jungle trekking in the north was good fun, and Bangkok is a full on assault on all senses, but even a decade and a half ago, the southern Thai islands weren’t exactly full of local culture. It felt more like club hopping than island hopping at times, and laying around sunbathing on beaches certainly doesn’t qualify for hard travelling. Australia has always been first world, and my only shock to the system was how expensive everything was (bloody GST)!

The first trip whet my appetite though, and less than eighteen months later I returned to Thailand with a more intrepid outlook. Less than a year after that, I headed out there all by myself and had the time of my life. I met my husband on that trip – third time lucky I guess. There are so many countries still on my must-see list, I don’t think the travel bug ever leaves your system once you catch it. 

Opened my eyes to the wider world

Although I had been living independently since I was 15, and had met a large variety of people by the time I was 22, my views on the world were still rather blinkered. I don’t think it’s possible to truly empathise with poverty until you see it with your own eyes. I didn’t properly ‘get it’ until witnessing entire families living in a rubbish dump in Cambodia.

Made me more accepting of other people

I met some awesome people on all my trips, but taking the third one solo meant that unless I wanted to be on my own day in day out, I had to meet others. Some of them I gelled with immediately, and they are still a part of my life, others not so much. I didn’t feel compelled to spell out all their flaws and fall out with them though. I got into a fair few heated debates, because of differences in opinion, but no proper arguments. I learnt many lessons in when to keep schtum – something I wasn’t very well versed in at all back then.

It was lots of fun

Travelling was many things, but more than anything else, it was a whole lot of fun. My experiences on the road have given me lots of useful tools to help me succeed in life, and if I could give just one piece of advice to a teenager after they finish education, it would be to travel the world before settling down. This is the main thing that I hope to see my own kids following in their parents footsteps on.