In the first few years after I left home, I got myself into all kinds of undesirable situations. Sometimes through naively trusting people, often through being intoxicated and making terrible decisions.
Here are a few examples:
- Leaving myself jobless and homeless on the promise of money to go travelling (from my mother) that didn’t materialise. It all turned out to be a ploy to get me to come back to where she was living.
- Sleeping with a friend’s very recent ex-boyfriend (while drunk) and losing her and her two sisters’ friendship. They were also flatmates so this prompted a house move.
- Putting myself into unnecessary danger countless times by going back to random strangers’ houses after clubbing. I recall scanning the room on more occasions than I care to remember and realising that I was the only female. Panicked thoughts would run through my head: Where am I? No-one knows I’m here! What if this turns nasty? Six blokes and me, I wouldn’t stand a chance! I count myself really lucky than nothing too awful ever happened as a result.
There are many more scrapes I got myself into, but this chapter would be too long if I included them all. I had to learn my lessons the hard way, through the harsh reality of living them and facing the consequences of my actions. It wasn’t always pretty, in fact at points it was out and out ugly, but I can honestly say now I’m grateful for the colourful life I’ve had. Nowadays I can see all these bad experiences have helped make me the person I am today, and if I had my time over I doubt I would change a single thing.
I am also aware that looking at the past through rose-coloured glasses with the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing. Unsurprisingly at the time I didn’t feel too overjoyed by the crappy stuff that was happening. I have had several periods of my life where just getting out of bed in the morning was an effort.
Taking responsibility by getting help
When I had my first breakdown at 22 I knew the time had come to seek professional help, and I look at this as a very significant part of my history. I strongly believe the counselling I went through back then plays a huge role in my ability to function now. I know with absolute certainty that I am only capable of being the wife and mum I am today because I made peace with my past way before I started thinking about having a family of my own.
My counsellor, Nina, came highly recommended to me by a person I trusted, at a time in my life when I desperately needed guidance. I was fortunate that she and I instantly clicked. Nina was very patient and understanding and when she offered up her nuggets of wisdom it was never in a way that I felt patronised by. I always wanted to take her advice on board and put it into action so I could tell her about it the next time I saw her.
Nina opened my eyes to how much of a drain on my emotional resources my family were. That they were forever taking from me in some way or another, yet rarely giving me anything in return. That this wasn’t normal and I shouldn’t just be putting up with it because they were related to me. She helped change the way I viewed myself and made me realise that I deserved more out of life than I was getting. Most of all Nina taught me that I needed to love myself, because if I didn’t then how could I expect anyone else to?
After a dysfunctional childhood or early experience one of the worst things to have to admit to yourself is that you are all alone in the world, but it’s time to face up to this and stop blaming others for how your life is going.
Your happiness is in your own hands and no-one else’s. Regardless of what you have been through before now, and whose fault it was, it is up to you to take back control and make your future a brighter place.
There are lots of ways you can seek help to support you through troubled times. If you feel you need professional help then it’s essential you get it in whatever form you are comfortable with. Although counselling got me back on track, and I cannot advocate it enough, I’m aware that it’s not for everyone.
Other ways you can seek help
Intervention: Arrange a gathering and get the deep dark secrets that are causing pain out in the open. Talk them through with the people involved and agree to forgive and forget. If you are all willing to work together as a team it could be easier than you think to put those secrets into a box and bury them in a safe place where they can’t hurt you anymore.
Group therapy: If you have specific problems you need to address, then joining a support group could be the answer you’re looking for. Not only might it help you to overcome these problems, you could also make new like-minded friends, or find a mentor. Someone that has been exactly where you are right now could help you with implementing the changes you need to move forward .
Life coaching: If you feel you are lacking direction and need some guidance, a good life coach will assist with getting you on to the right path. It’s commonly misunderstood that life coaches and counsellors are one and the same, but this is not the case. If a life coach is doing their job properly they should be encouraging you to make the decisions you already know need to be made. They won’t bring up the past the whole time, and you shouldn’t need too many sessions.
Self-help books: Reading inspirational books can be a positive and uplifting experience, which you can have in the comfort of your own home without having to involve anyone else. If you think you might opt for counselling in the future but aren’t quite ready for it yet, I would suggest reading far and wide on all subjects you feel you could benefit from. As a generic starting point I can personally recommend the following:
– The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama
– They F*** You Up by Oliver James
– You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
Writing: Cathartic writing can be a fantastic way of getting old and unwanted memories out of your head. Even if it initially causes upset, over time you will probably get a lot out of it. They say everybody has a book in them, why not put the theory to the test and see if it’s true?
Detox: Consider following a simple liver detox for a month. When we are drinking or partying or eating lots of junk it can be very difficult to look at situations objectively. A liver cleanse will help to clear your head and put you in a good position to start doing some life laundry. Always consult with your GP beforehand.
Meditation: Learning how to properly calm your body and mind will help to restore some peace in your chaotic world. Meditating is incredibly grounding and a really useful skill to have. Pick a quiet space and focus on your breathing. With your eyes and mouth closed take slow deep breaths in and out through your nose. Concentrate solely on your breathing and allow your thoughts to come and go without being distracted by them. Begin with a few minutes at the very start of each day and slowly increase over time.
When we’re engrossed in the cycle of dysfunction we are often our own worst enemies, and although brutal self-reflection can be painful in the short-term it is absolutely necessary if we are to successfully change our lives. To break the cycle we need to be become self-aware. Hopefully, by now, you are ready to start identifying behaviour patterns that are detrimental to your life. Behaviour such as drinking too much; addictions; sleeping around; over eating for comfort; self-harming; and spending more than you earn. If you can identify with one or more of the following examples then you will need to start doing things differently.
Drinking: Having a couple of drinks to get into the swing of a party is fine, but if you always take drinking to the extreme and it leads to trouble, then you must stop pushing the boundaries quite so far. If you don’t feel you have the will power to hold back then don’t go out in the first place. It took me three months of complete abstinence from booze then another three months to learn the self-control I desperately needed. Your length of abstinence might be shorter or longer than mine depending on your situation, but some time off the sauce will definitely be required. It’s important to remember that change will not happen overnight, so be patient with yourself during this time.
Money: Spending more money than you earn could lead to massive debts and eventual bankruptcy. Think about subtle lifestyle changes you could make to save cash. Could your car be downgraded? Do you need state of the art technology? Could you buy less expensive clothes? Do you go out to bars and restaurants that you can’t afford? Start weighing up your wants against your needs and think about whether you really need the things you are spending your money on.
Sex: Harmless fun can be great between two single and fully consenting adults. If, however, you regularly find yourself in bed with people that you aren’t even attracted to, then you probably experience a fair amount of self-loathing as a result. If you are not truly comfortable with casual sex and would prefer to have meaningful relationships then you’ll have to stop sleeping around. I would also strongly recommend that you never share naked photos of yourself with anyone. You don’t know where they could end up.
Taking responsibility by identifying bad influences
Now is also the time to identify the bad influences in your life because you will never break the cycle if you spend your time with people who are dragging you down. It’s important to remember that all relationships need to be nurtured by both parties and it should never feel like you are doing all the giving or all the taking. If this is the case then things must change for it to become fairer. Takers will sap your energy and leave you feeling drained and unhappy; don’t let them take from you for a moment longer. Take back control!
There’s a theory that we will only ever be as good as the five people we spend the most time with. Ask yourself these tough questions, and start thinking of the answers: Do the people in your life enhance it, or do some of them make it more difficult? Will they be able to achieve all the things you want to achieve? Are you heading in different directions, and if so do you have a long-term future? We will look at this in depth later in the book.
A suggested plan of action
- Start viewing your negative behavioural tendencies as little gremlins that make you do things you don’t really want to do. Take control back from them and squash those little monsters by practising self-control as much as you possibly can.
- Be completely honest at all times by self-reflecting. Truly learn as many lessons as you can from your mistakes and put what you’ve learnt to good use by not repeating them.
- Consider doing more for other people. Volunteer for your local charity shop; help an elderly neighbour or take a meal to a person who has just had a baby. Selfless acts will take your mind off your own troubles and help you to feel good about yourself. They will also make the other person’s day.