Monday Night Reflection: Joyful and Triumphant

This last week, life happened, that pesky real life stuff that gets in the way of things you really want to be doing. The other issue is that I haven’t wanted to be introspective this week. The intrusion of my past has made me emotionally tired, I have wanted to move away from looking at anything requiring emotional engagement. On the physical level, I have a cold, which while being very normal is what I would call drag, it slows life down and makes it more difficult. Add in pain and physiotherapy work and I feel that the last seven days have had a cumulative impact.

Which is why I don’t write Monday Night Reflections in advance and schedule them, writing this on Tuesday would have resulted in a very different outlook. Life didn’t happen till Wednesday, my pain had been much lower, and my cold, if it had arrived had not announced itself. Tuesday morning, I felt emotionally calmer and settled after the reflection and the time I had spent around it. I was upbeat because I felt physically and emotionally peaceful, it was a very temporary situation. Pain wise I had noticed a relaxation over the previous few days and the accompanying symptoms had been much lower. I was really feeling much more like a healthy me than I had in months. By Tuesday afternoon this physical wellness had become me in a ball in bed, full of morphine and hallucinations with the symptoms back at full power. Those few days were kind of nice.

Which puts me, with my keyboard having struggled creatively to do, full of cold and feeling rather sorry for myself. Mostly I want to curl up in bed and sleep till I am better. Truth is, I could, I really could, it would not make much difference, I wouldn’t really be letting anyone down either. Most people would jump at the opportunity because they have the pressure, I used to have the pressure, where I would work long after it was advisable to the detriment of my physical, let alone mental well being. Like many I worked broken because I had no choice, no work, no money, that is the reality for millions that I shared for all my working life from the age of 13, and still do. I don’t work it has an impact, not so bad that we lose our house and starve, but you can tell the difference, its very tight on one wage and what I can cobble together when I am sick.

That is not my reflection. I have a friend, recent friend, still getting to know her, but she let me into her world and her struggles with anxiety and we were able to share and help each other. It is hard not to feel close to someone with so much shared experience and struggle. She is striking out, starting her own business and really pushing her boundaries, which is amazing and awesome. I have admiration and am supporting her a million percent because it is courageous to come from where she feels inside and get outside the house, so this is real achievement. There is a however, the however, is that I cannot share her triumphalism. Like me she has a lifelong battle with anxiety and self esteem, a less than stellar past and a storehouse of unhelpful negative experiences which can be used to beat her down, with the liberal addition of abusive relationships and life failures. I am envious because when things are good I cannot proclaim a victory. I am jealous because when I win over anxiety and am getting life done I never feel like the battle is over. I am always keenly aware of that inner dialogue and battle, the thoughts and emotions that are behind the scenes. The battle will never be over, and I feel like any proclamation of victory is both premature and provocation, like I am asking for an onslaught.

Thing is talking to her, privately, I feel that she too is premature, she still has the battles, right now she is winning and that is awesome, but the truth is the battles continue at various intensities. From the outside it may be inspiration to see anxiety, depression or mental health issues defeated, apparently lying dead on the floor bloodied, beaten and ultimately slain. This victorious cry is something that I long for, but is this reality or is it a fantasy? Is this vision of victory simply a collective delusion to which we have all consented to make ourselves feel like the there is a real light at the end of the tunnel, when in reality the battle is lifelong and to the death. Battles may come and go but the war is forever?

My experience is one of management. Anxiety and depression are managed not beaten. My experience of them will intensify and wane depending life and other things I may or may not control, so what I need is structures in place to help me deal with anxiety and depression as constructively as possible. I accept that there may be times that getting out of bed and eating a meal is the absolute most I can achieve that day. What I have sought to build are ways of making sure that on that day I do get out of bed, I do get dressed and I do eat a meal; in other words each day I give one hundred percent of whatever I have to give. Some days that one hundred percent could be outstanding, other days it will be less than impressive. I have had to learn to accept the massive difference between my very worse symptomatic days and the days where I can look like an extrovert genius who never needs sleep. Riding the waves of productivity and silence without blame or judgement is incredibly difficult. I have high expectations of myself and I have a good store of experiences that tell me that I am capable of achieving a lot at a high standard. The key is not to let success become a stick with which I beat myself down when times are hard.

I am not saying it is easy, in fact at the very height of success it can be struggling. For example, I was in the airport, waiting for the plane to fly to compete in my first ever European Championship, this was the opportunity. My ex had been a situation where this had been beyond a dream, my hobby would never be priority enough for me to spend money to go on a “holiday” on my won while the family did without. I did my hobby for fun, yet within a year of the split, here I was qualified by right and waiting for a plane to my first international competition part of GB team. My now wife was working and I had travelled to the air port on my own. Sat there you would think I was full of thoughts about the competition, riding the crest of a wave. In fact, I was broken, and sitting there having gone through passport control wondering what you had to do to leave. I wanted to go home and curl up and wished the world would leave me alone. I was scared, alone with no one to talk to. To this day I have no idea how I managed to stay in the departure lounge. I could be telling this story to make you feel better, the truth is. The whole way there I was telling myself to just go, just do it, it doesn’t matter. I told myself that last didn’t matter in my first competition, and that I had earned the experience, that it was a holiday to reward the work I had done. It didn’t help because I had struggled in the preparation. I had actually worked too hard. I had gone to train with a former world champion and world record holder; a coach of standing and significant cost was helping me for a couple of hours. It was just about affordable and to me and investment which such a big event coming up. By the end of 2 hours he stepped in and helped me get ready for free because I was so beat up. I had decided that my only chance of success was to outwork the competition, I believed I had no talent, but I did have hard work. I had completely overlooked any requirement to work hard and intelligently. Four weeks later I am in an airport, flying on my own to meet the team, staying in a different hotel because I could only confirm my place due to money at the last minute. I felt like disaster was a matter of time.

The best I could do on the way out was keep a Starbucks down, and not break down crying uncontrollably. I felt locked into a train wreck about to happen. This is my reality, this is my anxiety, and at the time I was not suffering particularly on a day to day basis. But this exceptional event had given anxiety the opening it needed to come on full. I cried the night before, I held back tears on the way to the airport, and I a was biting back the whole journey. On arrival I took a wrong turn in the hire car and was sobbing in a layby for an hour. Unable to even get my thoughts far enough to call my fiancée, when I did manage it, of course she was amazing and already she walked me through my steps to calm down and my solution.

Three days after nearly walking out the airport and sobbing uncontrollably at some toilet stop in the middle of nowhere I was flying home a European Champion. To tell the story as if the trip was a triumph over anxiety and fear feels like a betrayal, a lie I cannot tell to people, who like me, struggle daily. The reality, I believe is more liberating, more empowering, it may be a cheesy book title, but the battle is about feeling scared and like disaster is imminent and doing despite the fact you want to run. Management is about the disaster and realising it changes you if you let it, and only if you let it. This was once an incredibly hard truth to hold on to. I was not loved whether or not I succeeded or failed, in fact, love was portioned out in direct proportion to my success of failure, from a kind word to physical intimacy, it was always earned. Being loved just because I was me was something that other people talked about, it was not something I experienced, it was something I did, I knew that much. In this context failure was a big deal, and so fear was as more about a consequence than it was about something I imagined would happen, consequences were a danger, and they happened when you failed. The problem with anxiety is, it never takes account of context. In this case the situation could never have happened, I was always a hobbyist, I could never compete, never dream of it, too difficult, to much pressure, and it was unfair to ask my family to make that sort of sacrifice. I was a father and husband first and I had to honour those responsibilities. I took happiness in having a hobby, although I kept my pursuit solitary, or online where any interaction could be checked and verified. It was never worth talking to a person, although it happened and people tried to make friends with me, I knew the consequences, the consequences did happen. I knew it would happen but I was longing some sort of contact so I made sure I never said anything but how great she was and how wonderful life was. I since found out no one believed a word.

So I cannot be joyful and triumphant, even when I win a significant battle like that, it feels false. I feel like am betraying anyone who looks at the “victory” and gets inspired by the lie. If anything from my life is motivating or informs someone else in their struggles I could not live with that being based on a fiction. Reality is, that weekend was awful, I never want a weekend like that again. The night before I competed I cried, I cried so much I had a stinking headache, I was chronically lonely, I had been to the competition that day and felt immensely out of my depth watching the first day of competition; a feeling made worse by the procedure of registration of which I had absolutely no experience and no knowledge. The whole weekend was difficult, beyond my experience, boundaries and I was woefully unprepared.

Since then, lessons have been learned, and management of my debilitating anxiety and depression is being adjusted to make things possible and make my life all it can be. But it is a tremendous battle, and it is difficult. Seemingly simple things can be massively difficult. I never go to a new place alone, or if I am travelling to it alone I do everything in my power to make sure I have a familiar and friendly face when I get there. When travelling I will often set up way points with friends in case I need them. I did that last long trip, and I really valued that afternoon chilling with coffee, even tho I had an amazing time connecting with a friend at the event and meeting people I had competed with, it was a challenge and difficult. Even with all the lessons and all my best management techniques, it was difficult and I travelled with constant doubts, from what if it’s a joke and not happening to what if I embarrass myself, even with no possible reason for that to happen or be likely, and multitude of reasons running through my head why it was a bad idea to be there.

Which is my day to day reality, this month we are having people we have met over for tea. We know them a little bit and they are great, but inside I am terrified, scared of everything from the food I do being awful, me saying the wrong thing. I know so much of this fear is because of “feedback” and consequences from my life, parents telling me that I had embarrassed them or let them down, my ex-wife telling me why no one spoke to me, no one liked me, what people said about be to her, and how I was an embarrassment, from how I looked to how I acted, to the car I drove, how I drove, it was all a disgrace. I had always been a disgrace and a let down, I was always a disappointment, so according to my anxiety, why would that be any different now. And that is in spite of the evidence that, it was never true in the past and it is not true now, it still feels real. I hope, it feels less real as time passes.

This is the reality, there are victories and small wins, there are pyrrhic victories and defeats. That is life with anxiety, it may be gone for a while, mine always comes back, it may come back weak, it may come back strong, but it will always be there. At one time I may have thought anxiety a curse, perhaps it is, but anxiety is also essential to our survival, so it has been hard wired into our make up to have a concern that is future orientated. Survival is predicated on the prediction of danger and that involves fear via anxiety. After all if you never worried about starvation it is likely you would not store food, and when it ran out you would starve. Some people live where food is not massively seasonal and they do not have that anxiety and they do not stockpile or develop preservation methods. So it is with life, I don’t think it is possible to rid ourselves of anxiety. Anxiety is the dark-side, it has to be there, without it there then our positive drives have no roots, or perhaps we have nothing to run from. Perhaps that is why creative people are plagued, they are always running, and their creativity rests on a bed of anxiety and fear.

I am sorry I cannot proclaim, victory the war is won, I am sad that I may well walk to my door to get the bin and stumble and pause as I take hold of the handle, I will struggle to walk in public because I feel the stare because I am different, and I will hide in the familiar while seeking to achieve something positive.

What I mean is, sometimes Victory is getting out of bed, getting dressed and eating a meal, success can be simple, it can be words, it can be silence. Learn to accept success however small, learn to love yourself, however, alien that is, anxiety may walk our road for life, but we can, I know we can, make it travel with us and not let it root us to the spot in fear, we can be overwhelmed and still come back. I believe that, and like all rebellions my rebellion against anxiety is built on hope!

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Monday Night Reflection: Blog On

Monday Night Reflection: Blog On

Every-so-often, I do look back at this Blog, read my squeeks and contemplate how things have changed. As the New Year approached I started to think about the future because material has been gradually accumulating, I even downloaded and printed out a blog planner, and started a blog ideas notebook just to help me on my way.

Any look at my archive shows that I started slowly; the issue was that I had started an abuse survivors blog, a valuable enterprise. I am not entirely sure I had any idea what that would entail or even if that concept had any real meaning. In all honesty, I really didn’t have a clue. As I came to review what I had been doing and think about what I want to be doing. It is fairly clear this is not a blog about how to survive abuse and has gotten further away from being obviously abuse related. I do, fairly often, feel a little guilty that my pages do not have links to helpline and resources, perhaps they should? I am not convinced that what I am doing here, and I because I did not really use any particular resources to get away or even really start the journey of dealing with my abusive past, I cannot personally recommend any particular resource. At the same time, I feel woefully unqualified to write any sort of how-to guide, I didn’t diary the journey, and I don’t think I have much to give on the practical side over and above the great stuff that is already out there.

However, while this blog is not an abuse survival blog in that it contains any practical guidance whatsoever, any resources or even useful links, it is a blog written by an abuse survivor. I had to explain this to myself, because this differential was far to apparently self-evident Which meant, when I thought about it, like many apparently self evident concepts, I did not see any immediate content of substance in that category. While a blog about abuse survival is going to explain itself quickly with its practical focus, a blog by an abuse survivor could be anything. I have seen those that are accounts, almost diaries of what living in an abusive situation was/is like for the victim. Without that central theme, the experience of abuse in real terms, not the rather glossy euphemisms that make it more comfortable, what exactly makes a blog, or anything, different because it was written by an abuse survivor?

In a sense I could be searching for my unique selling point; but there is something actually very different driving me to the distinction. By having the category, blog by a survivor of abuse, I am creating an explanatory framework which a reader can use to quickly locate any problematic material. Or in other words, when reading my material, and in that I have particular piece and poems in mind, knowing that their inspiration and root is in an abusive past explains what is going on so the reader can make sense of the world in which they suddenly find themselves. Hopefully, knowing the origin of the blog as part of my journey via the creation of a persona, Mr Mouse, who is in charge of trauma processing, and is a major part of the creative production team, gives context. It explains the lack of my favourite recipes, personal pictures and tells my reader exactly, I hope, what to expect.

Early on, I realised quickly that this blog had to be something growing rather more organically with me and so to be genuine would need to follow my journey. For me to be happy with this I had to have material I would be at least happy to show people. Looking at early postings I see mistakes and errors that make me cringe, I do not change them because the development of my skills is a core element of my creative journey. I am consciously developing my craft through reading and practice at a level that keeps the process enjoyable and spontaneous. Every entry is written on the move; I have no store house or prewritten material scheduled up to post. The closest I get is scheduling something written late for the next morning or separating up posts in the day when the have been produced at the same time. Monday Night Reflections often start the week before and come together over the Monday, where I schedule the publication time as a deadline to meet, other times I barely keep it posting on a Monday.

I guess I have been squeeking organically; I enjoy working on this blog. Ironically, if all I did was create for the blog I would run out of material to create for the blog because its not all stored up. To have a blog I have to live, to travel, to do life and do my life. My life – still a difficult concept to pin down too. Looking to the future, that is the problem. In blog life as well as life, I am happy where I am, the changes are really making what is good already better, making me more happy rather than dealing with problems. In my life I feel problems are either in process, or they are not able to be processed and I class as not in my control. If I cannot change or control them then I work hard to keep them out of my view and out of my thoughts or planning. I am contented with what I have, it is truly amazing on every level, and something the little council estate boy would never have been able to dream about. Which is another unique aspect, and another thing that gives me twinges of guilt.

When I read survivor stories too often the situation of the writer has broken away from the abuse at a huge cost, losing everything material and having to start a new life from the bottom. Something I identify with, although without children I cannot know the struggle that situation brings. More significantly than that tho, I had a means to support myself, at least in the short term. I managed to rent a beautiful furnished starter home only three quarters of a mile from where I worked. Although I had to sell my vehicle, I was able to finance deal one before it sold, so again my situation was significantly different. Finally, while it would be soon to say how even if we had a statute of limitation, I was able, in a fashion to generate enough of an income for me to keep going. Lucky for me the days of a meal every other or 3 days did not return and I could have the heating on. I firmly believe that my lack of material deprivation contributed massively to my ability to get through the situations I faced constructively; that and a well timed text message in my darkest days.

As I was declaring bankrupt I was already being welcomed into my new life, one where I no longer had to earn anything at all to be materially looked after, I was being gifted a circumstance that I had deeply desired, worked hard to create, but ultimately did not actually possess.

I cannot write a survivors story, there is nothing dramatic, in my mind, to tell. Detailing what happened with a blow by blow account would be a fruitless act of storytelling. Instead, I am focussed on building up.

Clearly, I am not using a reflective model here. This is what I have been considering, I have a blog, I enjoy creating and sharing, so I could just have a blog that is me sharing my creative output. That would be wrong, because I sincerely hope that I am adding something different to the picture. At the outset of blogging, I really wanted somone, even if it was one person, to know that there is a through, an other side to get to. Because I definitely felt that there was no end beyond continued darkness and suffering, that there was no through it for my situation. That darkness and feeling of despair was my path to suicide, I need to know there was a way out, any way out, when they were absent, my mind found the only left. Not healthy, not constructive, and not something I would want anyone to have to face. Statistically, I know that men in particular will make the same choice as me but unlike me will be successful. Suicide is the largest single cause of death for men between twenty-five and fifty.

From this I developed a mental manifesto, or a wish perhaps, but definitely a core message that drives me to keep blogging and around which my future plans are centred. I want to say that having an abusive past is ok, there is no shame, you are not alone. But also that trauma while it may haunt you, is not only faced by locking it away and never opening it again. Trauma does not go away if you ignore it, and that there are a multitude of ways of constructively making trauma something you live with without undue pain, suffering or distress. And that trauma definitely does not need to control your life and how you make decisions. However, at the same time that trauma needs to be constructively handled, it can also be a source of drive. Let your pain drive you to greatness is a cliché, but there is a hard-core truth right at its heart. For me, I write poetry exploring my feelings, I allow myself to relive emotional moments deliberately. I find, for me, this form of expression gives me back the controlling power. I also find the act of reflecting and facing elements I from my past helps me better marshal and rally my thoughts coherently. When I thing coherently trauma and reactive behaviours lose their control because they stop being amorphous scary unknowns. The spotlight I see them for what they are, the reality they no longer possess and the consequences they can no longer deliver. I believe that paralysis by analysis is a constructive tool and well as a destructive force.

Which leaves me with what was I thinking, and what are my plans. I do have things I want to creatively, I have already said that, and I want to share that, or at least some of that, and I have ideas of things I can do to enhance or add depth to this blog as an endeavour, while bearing in mind that blogging is not what pays the bills, and that while it is constructive self development there is more to me and life than what I can publish. Which at times, actually gets more difficult that it should, I tend to see creative finished product as the measure of my productivity and therefore my worth.

That is a practical answer, and is ducking the real question. When I think back at what I was intending to do when this all started, its clear I had no idea. I wanted to do something; no idea what, where or how. I wrote a few things and found myself in a black hole cornered with only one real direction available. I was going to be writing an abuse blog and spending hours immersed in creating a valuable resource, or I was going to be writing graphic reconstructions. Neither appealed, and I while I am confident I have the academic ability to produce a useful resource, the graphic story telling, not confident at all, and not something I would want to be learning and getting deeply into. What I did was open up, change things and then run with it to see what happened and did what felt right along the way. Very much how I had done things as a young man lacking purpose and direction, waiting for opportunities while working at something and moving along a road to see how the landscape would change. I feel it worked well, because, it was not as ambiguous as it probably sounds, it involved learning and working, and because I was open to suggestion, change and opportunity rather than making myself fit a certain model based on external expectations.

At the same time, I have grown into wanting this blog to have purpose a little more than being a repository. I sincerely hope that anyone who is going through a tough time, or is dealing with trauma, abuse or not, can draw constructively from what I have done to deal with what has been traumatic for me. I have felt that I can offer up the, if he can do it, so can I angle. Because I am not a superstar, I am not at a level far removed, and my attainment being accessible, I am able to be of a little inspiration. I would like people to enjoy what I do, spread a little happiness and find practical utility and insight through my contribution.

Poetry Corner: Open Letter

Poetry Corner: Open Letter

There is a bed for you in my house
Always was and always will be
You are my son, my boy
I don’t know you like I once did
Your mum made sure of that
I’m sorry I don’t know so much
What picture to put on your wall,
Or duvet cover on your bed
Not your favourite colour
Or what you put between bread
16 is 3 years away, then you choose
I want to know so much
Who you’ve become and want to be
I want to listen, hopes and dreams,
Future romances, hear it all
But I need you to listen
Hear with wisdom way beyond your years
To assess the man sat holding back tears
Look me in the eye and see, find truth, believe
Meet you and let you assess
My past, my present and my legacy
I breathe in the hope you will not walk away
Take my hopes, my dreams, ….
I hear your voice and see your face,
So close but all those miles away
And I die a little as sunset fades,
Hope struggles to last the day
Stays alive my force of will
I wonder will that day come to be
Time will tell me, it may break me too
You grow from boy to man unseen
I had plans for you, for this, everything
I pray my body decides to last
To become your friend,
And havoc once more we bring!
With Love Your Father, … Me.

Poetry Corner: Sat Here Crying

Poetry Corner: Sat Here Crying

 

Sat here crying

It wasn’t your place to say goodbye

Not up to you to end it all

You stole so much and you stole the end

Took my pain passed it off as yours

My broken bones you supposedly possess

Talk of hurt you never felt only inflicted

I am your picture in the attic

You live unmarked and burden free

It comes from a page in a book

And from my life, come see, Look!

I have the limp, I have the scars

It is me who flinches and fears the night

Only in my dreams of terror do I drown

You survived and made it through

The tortured times you rained down

My sympathies it must have been so hard

To work tirelessly to crush and kill

And see me walk away breathing, still!

Speak the language and say the words

Take the role, wear the robes and play it well

Tell the stories and see them cower

Once again you take from me and no one knows

Take full possession and curate it well

Learn the details, speak my truth, you tell my story dear

You know longer reign, I no longer fear

 

 

Image: Victimhood

 

 

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Dr Linet’s Tweet

 

This was a tweet by Dr Linet. I firmly believe that to recover from trauma and abuse it is necessary to transition from victim to survivor and start developing an empowered and enabled outlook and break away from destructive and no longer useful patterns of behaviour.

Monday Night Reflection: Prison of My Mind Revisited

Monday Night Reflection: Prison of My Mind Revisited

I remembered this last week thanks to a Facebook posting by hypnotist Elliot Wald, and reading my initial thoughts I felt that the subject needed another thought.

Initially, I felt that the prison of my mind had developed almost exclusively as a defensive response to real situations. Over time I have seen that there is actually a more complex interplay between the real and experienced, the feared and anticipated. I cannot separate the two, and perhaps they have a shared root and are why coercive abusive control is so effective. You experience consequences of behaviour, consequences are threatened and become implied, so you start to fear and anticipate based on the real experience using the evidence of a limited number of sufficiently traumatic incidents. It’s not worth the beating you got last time you did it, or even its not worth the beating you got last time you got caught thinking about it. This is clearly a less than unique situation statistically, but is a distinctly different class of anxiety and imprisonment.walls-of-your-mind

When that relationship ended, it was the equivalent of the doors being unlocked and the place being shut – with all the power and supplies left on. Necessity forced me to leave the confines of what had been my life; for some things this was a welcome and much-wanted release, for others, it was a terrifying venture into darkness. The most common feature of this transitional period was fear. Fear because of the behaviours that had previously led to consequences and because I was conditioned to expect them, but also fear because when she found out what I was doing she retaliated and brought consequences. She did not want to relinquish control. I have said before her intention was to drive me to self-destruction and I firmly believe she thought she could drive me to suicide.

The reality was it took me a fair while to realise that I was in a prison, the early days were about coming to terms not just with what happened, while dealing, in a very practical sense, with what was happening, and then processing the implications this had about my past. Recognising that the marriage was abusive was difficult not only because it was 13 years of my life, it was because my marriage was no different to my childhood. I simply refused to believe.

However, once I began to accept that my behaviours had been conditioned over a lifetime of “consequence” avoidance when in reality the consequences were not entirely or sometimes even remotely predictable, I then was able to understand how I had imprisoned myself as a protective measure. Which is how abuse works, you do what you are told to avoid the consequences and to stay safe, however, over time what is safe changes and becomes more and more restrictive and the conditions that qualify you for safety increasingly unattainable. It becomes predictably random, you know when a consequence is overdue. Sometimes you even provoke a little to get a smaller consequence because you feel a big one is looming and you are in no fit state to take the onslaught.

Reading that back, it seems so simple, but in reality, it is crushingly complex. When you realise that you have a life full of conditioned behaviours and that you have predicated your choices on survival that realisation leads to a void of certainty and a sea of questions. Mostly these are things like, what do I really like to watch, what do I really like to do, where do really like to go, but they also include questions like who am I, what am I about. For me, when my marriage ended I lost what were core elements of my identity, husband and father. With those went the associated responsibilities of those roles. They were stripped away while my past was rewritten. So not only did I lose those identities, my legacy was erased as well. All I had done to that point in my marriage (and life) was recast and retold to fit the story that was being peddled and the identity I was being given.

Saying this was difficult is to seriously under report the extent of the effect this had. I was one text message from suicide. I felt I had nothing, my parents had passed away, I had no relations and friends were keeping a safe distance while my abusive ex lashed out at anyone associated with me with the fullest destructive force she could muster. Some were arrested, others nearly lost jobs, and real life damage was done in way that goes beyond he said, she said. This involved Police, Social Services, and agencies that were legally obliged to act on what she was saying on the possibility that it was true. Knowing all along that mud sticks and that damage could be permanent. I was physically lonely, and it was the internet that allowed some people to be supportive and miss a lot of backlash.

The upshot of the turmoil and change was that my prison had protective utility long after I could have left. I felt tremendously vulnerable, to the point I locked myself in. I felt unsafe, even in my own house, being arrested at 5am, having my door window smashed by her, and the threats made me feel vulnerable and seeing children playing reduced me to tears. My sanctuary was no fortress and I knew it. Still, I hid, literally and figuratively.

The prison of my mind was still intact. Life happened I moved away, but still she was there trying to destroy that chance. Of course, those efforts ultimately served to achieve nothing, and to those that engaged with them they simply reinforced my version of events. Reassuring as this came to be, I was stuck with a whole bunch of behaviours that were conditioned responses. The task is still working out what those conditioned responses are and then breaking them and engaging in what I call intentional behaviour.

2017 is my year of recognising, possibly more explicitly than ever before, that I need to make conscious choices about habits, and things that people probably don’t spend any time thinking about. Things like wearing different shoes, or what shoes I pick for which occasion. It is listening to music and reading books not worrying about any judgement of my choice, it is about watching a show I used to watch with her because I do like it and separating out the context from the thing as much as possible. I spend time wondering about places, like Sherwood Forest, on the one hand, I love it, but it is the place my children with her all went for their first holidays, and I went there with her. I have no desire to relive the past, and I want to build new memories. For now, I have decided that places are decided upon case by case. In this case, Sherwood is, very sadly, off limits, rather like the organiser she gave me for starting my first job. Whatever merits there are and utility there may be, it is not something to carry around every day. My future lies somewhere else, time to find a different forest and build from that place of peace, not an old one. The Baltic represents the opposite, we did not share that place, even though I went there with her, it was not our place at all. The Baltic was me and my son’s place, we shared the hours there and so it was okay to bring it into my new life because those memories are unsullied. My smiles real, no context other than loving time with my boy smiling enjoying himself. And, of course, the hindsight that I was giving him a unique life experience that will weave itself through his life. Just as he has woven himself into mine.

I have written about pictures and light switches, and how these are indicators of a peace, and of how my conditioned behaviours are changing over time. It is these changes that are driving my deliberate move to be intentional. I have managed, not out of any conscious move, to realise where I was and contrast that with where I am. This consciousness has brought with it the awareness that I am still carrying around habits and responses that were learned as protection from consequences.

This is most evident when I am placed under stress or duress, where of course, highly conditioned quick automatic protective responses are exactly what I needed. The ability to quickly move into a position or minimum harm and maximum defence with the least exposure to permanent damage is an essential that I no longer need. Rather like taking your hand off something burning hot, it is very difficult to unlearn what has been a very useful behaviour up until now.

So what of the Prison of My Mind? It is certainly not what it used to be, and becomes more derelict by the day. The truth is I still visit, and I stay a while, sometimes I stay too long, other times I wander into forgotten corners, however, for the most part, my visits are brief. Habits are changing, importantly I am settling into who I am, recognising what is the cowering protective me, and what is the living life me, and being the living life person deliberately until that becomes my habit.

In other ways I have to recognise, anxiety and the default to protective ritual, my fear of the unknown and my management strategies, are things that while intertwined with the protective learned behaviours have also established themselves independently. I have to assess whether or not I need to change these behaviours. Whether change is productive, useful or health and having decided what needs changing I have to work out what the replacement is going to be if a replacement is needed.

One day the prison will be a memory, I have a feeling it will always be a memory tinged with fondness and framed with a wry smile.

Monday Night Reflection: New Year – New Me

I bet I almost had you with the title there. However, while we can make fun of the legions of overly enthusiastic New Year’s resolutioners that will start new exercise, crazy juice detox programs and other similarly well-intentioned but ultimately doomed ideas, it pays not to feel too superior or get too smug. Some of these people genuinely want to make a change, and I challenge anyone to honestly say that they don’t get a little reflective and perhaps even a little motivated to do something different when a new year rolls around. I feel a similar thing near my birthday, recognising that this line in the sand can be a good starting point or ending point.

I have not made a new years resolutions, the joke that I made the new year’s resolution not to make new years resolutions is somewhat appropriate. I believe, like Tony Robbins teaches, that I can make the decision to change in an instant, that like Ray Lewis has implored with passion, “I am not the man I was a few moments ago”, while I recognise that the act of implementing and embedding that change takes time, the decision, that choice, is instant. I wrote about wearing different shoes, that for me was a decision to change.

My big project, and if you like, my project for 2017 is to be intentional in implementing changes I have already made but failed to embed as habitual behaviours, like wearing different shoes. I have lots of shoes, more than one watch, bracelets that like, oodles of t-shirts that all fit perfectly, I have lots of choices. And because I haven’t really ever thrown many things away, I have now amassed a lot of stuff. I should say that with clothes, in my ex-relationship I only had around 10 t-shirts in my wardrobe at any one time and things could disappear for months, so it was prudent when I needed an item daily to have more than one weeks (I had 10 sets of thermal underwear for example). When I moved out, and it wall all brought to me, I realised how much stuff I really had and actually was able to get rid of things that were just not me, especially clothes I had worn trying to be someone else.

The thing is, probably like anyone with self-esteem issues coming off the back of a life marked by abuse of some kind, while I had choices available, I simply acted out of habit. Wearing the same t-shirt for days to save washing, not showering to save water or because I had got in trouble for the time it took. Things like why are you showering now when you could be with your kids, or you can’t shower now I am waiting on a parcel and going out, they create behaviours that stick. In my case, I’ve started noticing I have quite a few of these behaviours that I can break away from.

However to break these past habitual behaviours I have to be intentional. At one time, I thought simply making the choices available would be enough, and I have wasted a lot of money having multiple items in pursuit of the magic number of choices that will set me free. Failing to recognise that too many choices will paralyse just as no choice will imprison. The reality is, I had the same prison I had all along because the bars were in my mind. Breaking out of the prison of my mind has been the theme of the last few years, in fact, the purpose of the majority of what I do is now as a result of that endeavour. How I look, how I spend my time, the relationships I cultivate and who I cultivate them with have their root in destroying that prison. Somewhere along the line, I realised that while the doors were unlocked and I could now come and go as I pleased, I was choosing to return to the prison. The prison had become my home, and I was comfortable in it, I was scared of the outside world and of freedom. I would go so far as to say not only was I comfortable in my prison, my prison was comfortable for me, it protected me and kept me feeling safe, markers of my institutionalised brain.

Having had a dysfunctional and abusive childhood transitioned into troubled teenage years and into a dysfunctional abusive marriage I learned protective behaviours, patterns of reaction and thought that allowed me to be happy and cope with the situation. It felt normal, I believed that my experience was the majority experience, that what I saw was the same face that I gave to the world and that behind it people were just like me. Statistically, looking at the prevalence of abuse, I was onto something. The reality is, the majority of people do not live a life like the one I had, and that my belief that was happiness and “perfect” relationships were things other people had was based in truth. I still feel that the life I have now is somewhat unreal, going to end inexplicably and that something will be revealed that causes it to crumble away, even though I have nothing and no idea of what this “thing” could be. My experience of happiness is of something fleeting, transient that is replaced with hurt. When it came to happiness there was always a price to pay, and part of me is waiting to find out what that price will be.

That was my life experience, and when you experience a life of consequences and finding happiness in adversity, where success is taken away, belittled and celebrated so you can be knocked down, you build yourself protection. The sad fact is that the better you manage to protect yourself, the more effective your barriers and coping mechanisms are the more imprisoned you become, the easier you are to abuse and the tighter the abuser’s grip becomes.

I was lucky, I was thrown away, however, while I avoided having to run and escape, that ultimately was all I avoided. I am not a man who walked out on his family, instead, I was made into something worse. My freedom from abuse has come at a cost, the piper has to be paid, happiness has a consequence. The pattern is hard to break.

However, living intentionally is about breaking the grip of the past on the present. Being intentional is about living in a way that recognises that the situation that made my mental prison a sanctuary has passed and that the prison is only that, a prison that holds me back, confines me and isolates me, depriving me of my liberty to be happy. That living in the prison is no longer a wise choice, and that my enjoyment of life and the richness of relationships is never going to happen behind the walls and bars of isolation. The challenge is to act despite fear; fear transcends rational or logical thought, in my case this is a fear that used to be a danger. Because just as the film tells us, fear is not real, danger is real, when danger transitions to fear because the danger is over, acting on the change is much more difficult because your fear is rooted in what was a reality.

So this is not technically a new year’s resolution, I made it before new year, however, it as a resolution for the new year. It is not new, when I embarked on my post marriage life I was immediately living differently in a practical sense, but mentally I was also immediately living intentionally. The difference is that now, I recognise what I am doing is intentional and deliberate, I realise that it takes commitment, persistence and dedication to change intentional behaviour into habitual behaviour, and last of all, I am systematic about my intentions. I am not driven by not being someone, which my early efforts certainly were, I am driving by a positive vision of who I am and having how I act and who I am inside, be congruent. Not drifting along on habit, I feel, is a challenge for anyone, for someone escaping or surviving abuse it is more difficult because the behaviour previously had utility. In the same way screaming and crying works to get a new-born baby positive attention and its needs attended to, it doesn’t take long until the reaction is very different. Outside the abusive situation, it can be very much the same. What worked to protect you in danger does you harm when you are not. This can be extremely pervasive, not just in how you handle personal conflict, but in my case it extends to the smallest thing like how I get dressed, the clothes I wear, how long I spend getting ready, whether or not I shower, yes, which shoes I put on and even the music I have in a playlist.

While I may resist the temptation to make a New Year’s resolution, I am not immune to the pervasive spirit of reflection. In fact, I embrace it. If more people took the time to reflect, and even knew what constructive reflection was, as opposed to maudlin in the past, then I think people would find more happiness and direction.  When I write a Monday Night Reflection, I am not the same person when I finish as I was when I started, they change me because I want them to and because taking the time to pick a thread or two from my life and look more closely at who I am, what I do, how I behave and what I think makes me more conscious of what I am doing. Reflection drives me to be intentional, to choose who I am and how I act in the world. Reflections drive thoughts and other reflections as well as creativity.

Finally, while I may not have made any Resolutions, I have made plans. My big project to be more intentional extends past just wearing different shoes and taking a shower more often. Living intentionally is also about setting goals. I am wary of setting goals, I deliberately set only one or two big goals for a year because I know that within a big goal there are a lot of steps and milestones (little goals) to achieve along the way. In my creative life, there are an almost infinite number of possibilities I could explore, my focus is on a few, Learning to sew using a sewing machine, as well as by hand, and ultimately learning how to make clothes, and other fabric items is one of them. In my professional life I have one goal which will involve a lot of milestones, and when achieved could result in some amazing rewards for me. These rewards are what many people would call goals in themselves. For example going to a big conference would be a goal for most people, for me, the goal is what I need to do to earn the right to go there. The conference could be cancelled, I could get sick, I may have a responsibility that precluded my attendance, a whole bunch of things could stop me going to this conference, however, what I achieve to earn my place cannot be taken away. The recognition of that achievement can be denied, but the work, the effort, my achievement on the journey and what I learn on that journey I possess by my effort. That is what really matters to me.

It is then into 2017 with deliberate intentions and s.m.a.r.t. goals I go and I, of course, wish anyone who reads this a productive and happy year – new or otherwise.