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.

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Poetry Corner: Me

I’m lost in darkness
I’m walking tall
I’m talking fast
I’m saying nothing at all

My smile is real
My smile is fake
My concern is real
My indifference is fake

My pain too much
My relief too fleeting
My goal is distant
My dream too precious

I’m making sense
I’m blank
I’m riding the wave
I’m crashing down

I’ve lost my voice
I’ve shouted loud
I’ve achieved a bit
I’ve lots to do

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.

Monday Night Reflection: Why my Book isnt Written

There are a lot of people who say they could be a writer, probably as many as those who say they could have done a lot of things like get a degree or be a sports star. The problem is … and you can insert their “reason” for not, being born in the wrong place, time, social group, income level or whatever. The harsh reality is they could not have been what they are talking, precious few have the ability to be elite in that chosen field, and even fewer have the mental capability to take the risks of dedication and consistency with no promise of reward like those are at the top do.

It is not particularly uplifting or motivation to say, actually you can’t be whatever you want to be, there are some things you will never be good enough to above competent at best. If you have a twenty four inch inside leg I would not be trying to be an elite runner, just as someone five foot one is going to struggle in basketball. However, what really lets people down is their mindset. They do not have have what it takes, and even more importantly they are not interested in developing those skills. The prospect of working for years with no guarantee of payoff or reward beyond the journey itself is abhorrent to them. Quick and easy is what they want. I really had a lightbulb moment not so long ago when I was thinking about our financial situation and shoring a few things up and paying the mortgage off. I thought “if I am lucky I will get the chance to earn some good money too …”. However, most people I have ever heard say, “ If I am lucky I will win and …”. They are not wishing for the prospect of hard work to make the money, they want it now as a gift, bypassing the hard grind of making money.

I realised there is a huge chasm in how people think, and that those on one side, the quick easy gift side do not want to pass over to the work for it side. Yes, winning a lot of money would be great and I do do the lottery, but I do not consider it a possible exit strategy. So it is with this background, recognising that I am on the work side, and that looking back at my life I have been prepared to work with not guarantee of success multiple times to the point that I have a large amount of failures because I was prepared to risk everything to be successful, that I came to realise that I have developed a fear.

My fear is that once again I will work hard and not fail, but as happened too often, not get the chance to fail. From injuries preventing both professional try outs and then a career in the armed forces to working hard progressing a career in a company that fails due to fraud from the directors. I have anchored myself in a pursuit where the journey is most of the point, where your competition is as much yourself as it is anyone else, and where in short I am no where near the top so much that failure and success are related to personal achievement and perspective.

Creatively, the same fear has driven me to quick results. I love writing poetry, one of the things I love about poetry is that, for me, is that I can produce poems quickly. They may need a lot of work and end up completely disregarded, but what I produce is a recognisable poem, and I can produce one or many in a day. In their raw form they look finished. I have accomplished and have something to show.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the relative speed of poetry production, it is rewarding and enjoyable on so many levels. In this context the journey of writing, the learning, the practice, the journey of writing is a huge component of what makes writing so engaging. However, what poetry also does is it allows me to finish. Unlike the frustrations of my life, and some where life changing, poetry allows me the final act and an ending. My work has a payoff.

Which is awesome, however, not recognising this fear of working and then getting nothing at the end, not even recognition of the work and effort, has seriously held me back. I do have a longer story idea, I have characters, I have a setting in time and place, background story, backdrop, a start, motivations, and an ending – however, those pieces are haphazard and independent because I have been afraid of developing them. I have not worked on joining the start and the end together with a narrative journey, although I know what the theme and issues of the story are. My fear has kept me disengaged because what if I write the story, the story is good, and it goes nowhere. What if I send it to publishers and such and it gets rejected until there is no one to reject it, what if my idea is stolen and they get the success and the credit from my work. Would this crush me; would this be the hammer blow that knocks me down so bad that I stay down.

This fear is why my book is unwritten. Where once I would work with no guarantees of success, recognition or payoff, now that prospect is too much. Thinking about those times that ended with nothing, and in some cases I ended where I started before the work like the journey never happened, is painful. To give perspective I worked for four years, legitimately earned my reward to have that taken away from me by the decision of someone and that is not mentioning that I lost nearly everything in divorce apart from my clothes, computer, books, my favourite spoon and a couple of mugs. To work again and have nothing the very thought itself is a crushing weight.

The book is going to stay unwritten, unless I can address this thought pattern and face the pain of those losses. I have to grieve over what I lost, what was taken because until now I had to carry on as if they never happened. Pretend they were nothing, when in reality, they had been everything. I never got to process what had happened, what it meant to me, and what was left at the end.

The hardest thing is explaining this fear, because it is not a fear of failure. I am ok with failing, I am ok with not being the very best, both of these are familiar and I have learned to live through them. Being ok with them does not mean I am happy or content with either, it simply means that I have learned to live with both. Failures are at least proof that I am trying. Which maybe is my point, when I fall short of getting the opportunity to fail, I have no proof of trying. Failure is a result, it is an end point. It is hard to describe because I am grieving the lack of loss. It is like nothing I have experienced, ive done the seeing a girl and never having the courage to talk to her and try and get a date thing, I have missed opportunities through poor judgement and lack of self belief but they are different to this.

I know, until recently, I had not even considered the impact of these never was incidents on my life and judgement. I was not conscious of their impact until quite recently when I was getting ready to compete. I guess I can say it here because no one knows me, I had a minor heart attack, and it has been a long road back. The competition was a big deal and I said for this one “I either come home with my shield or on it”. Two weeks before I got sick, I was running a fever, delirious with hallucinations. I should have been hospitalised, thing is my wife didn’t even ask. She knew I would never willingly go. I got to the competition, I did it, I did well enough, even if that was not as well as I wanted. Three days later I was hospitalised, because it took two days to convince me I wasn’t getting better. I had an obstructed bile duct and pancreatitis. It was then, in that preparation for that competition, that I realised, the prospect of having trained so hard, prepared like I had, I could not face not actually competing, I would rather have gone and failed, and I nearly did, than not gone at all. I had to come home with my shield or on it, and it was close to being on it.

So it is with writing, I am choosing the easier psychological wins, the next step in my development as a person is to learn to risk again, and risk not getting to fail because there was a time when I did, but then one time to many the opportunity was taken away, and often by circumstances not under my direct control. One example is a few years back I was again getting ready to compete, and I was at my all time best, in fact I am not back there now, and I broke my big toe, clean. I didn’t do the competition, with my shield mentality I probably would have gone and done something anyway. But, at the time, I took the good advice and skipped it for another day instead of going with my instinct to go anyway.

What happened next was, a short time after I was close to being hospitalised with anaemia. The issue was at least one bleeding stomach ulcer, that was sorted with medication, however, the lack of iron meant a weakened immune system and having coeliac disease certainly wasn’t helping matters and I succumbed to multiple infections while my body slowly recovered. The rest of the story is, I am still working to get back to that point, because that broken toe was the last time I was physically healthy, almost like it pulled the trigger for other parts of me to start breaking, hopefully peaking with the heart attack, although the still partially obstructed bile duct is not a good party.

That is enough rambling. Time to move on and let the Mouse do his thing.

Monday Night Reflection: How to Hate Me.

I am tired, if I spend too long writing this, it will be a Tuesday morning reflection. However, it has been a very busy Monday, and I have to admit, I have become a Christmas tree up before December person this year. I would love to have a deep, meaningful reason for this; the reality is I was excited for no particular reason to put the tree up; which became trees. Yep the lounge got a tree and the kitchen dining room also got its own tree with lights that flash in multiple ways, which has made me somewhat more giddy than my age would suggest.

Life happened and rather a lot of it stood up, and although some of it was spent in a far more crowded place than I would like, Monday was a success, even if the gluten free lasagne sheets completely let me down dinner tasted great anyway. If Monday has been a success it comes at the end of what was, on reflection, a successful week.

blackburn-town-hall-possibly
Photo Credit: Anonymouse The Third (Me)

My daughter had her 21st Birthday party which, while making me feel very old indeed, was a complete success, including four flavours of jelly on the party buffet (the children’s menu) and kids party games, thanks to my friend who just happens to be a professional DJ of fourteen years and children entertainer of even longer. There were some, shall we say, interesting interpretations of the dress to impress suggestion on the invites. The girls of the night smashed it out of the park, the boys, oh dear …. I guess with some I should be glad I couldn’t smell them at twenty paces.

Did I mention, I have debilitating social anxiety, which begs the question, “how did I negotiate a 21st birthday party?” The answer lies in how I cope with my anxiety generally, I avoid facing new situations alone, I always have an escape plan when possible, and I make the situation as familiar as possible. This week I was talking to a fellow traveller on the anxiety road. We talked a lot about how you end up isolated and fearful, sharing the negotiations that happen just to get past the front door. The variable nature, the seeming lack of any need for trigger, but I was able to share how I am able to do things which terrify me, and would, given any chance paralyse me. The first thing I do is reduce uncertainty, my life is dominated by travelling to places I know well. If the place is new I go with someone I trust, my wife being the obvious choice. Even before then I may drive to the place, look at it from outside, if that is not possible google street view and maps, with the sat-nav programmed. If it is a situation that causes severe anxiety then I will have a get out plan. Being know to be less than 100% health at the moment has made that easier, but in the past I have had “alarm activation” call outs, and of course travelled in a separate car so I am not needed for lift duty, if that was possible. I use Premier Inn, a chain where the rooms at every hotel are almost identical; it is all about familiarity and being able to keep the unknown elements to a minimum.

Being able to share my strategies for coping with my anxiety, and we did have many similar elements and feelings, and sharing that I fake it, in that I identify what the behaviour of a confident person would be and copy it. Taken from Tony Robbins, most people cannot tell the difference, and this person was one. They were astounded that I could spend ten minutes debating with myself before getting out the house. And, the fact that I could manage the sheer terror of new situations, in the ways I spoke about, was an extremely helpful revelation. I felt honoured and humbled that this person had chosen to spend what was a not insignificant amount of time with me opening up about their challenges, feelings, emotions and difficulties, the fears, the paralysis of depression and anxiety. This is a real privilege to me, and something that disarms me because I cannot really understand how I engender that trust in someone who at the start of the conversation had only really seen me about. It is also incredibly therapeutic to be able to share my own challenges, my feelings, and alongside compare and share strategies for coping with this debilitating internal struggle and incessant negative dialogue. I could not even lay claim to having an answer, and I still have days where making it out of bed is a massive achievement, and while my strategies can make me appear normal. Appearance is all it is, in reality, I have been in the anxiety management game so long that my life is very well set up in how it minimises source of possible terror by its very nature and structure.

Thinking about how often I have had the opportunity and privilege of talking to people, who are essentially still strangers when we start, about their innermost fears, feelings and challenges actually left me baffled. On the one hand, I have the undeniable fact that my appearance is designed to give me a quiet life, in so far as it discourages random interaction. Parents regularly shoo and usher their fascinated children away as if I were some Gruffalo incarnate. Which is cool, and kids staring in wonder is one of the cutest things there is. If you choose to look a certain way, which I have, then you have to accept the reaction that your appearance creates, and that is exactly why I have chosen it.

Take the time to talk to me, and of course, appearance and persona quickly reveal themselves as nothing more than social camouflage. And, not even particularly good or sophisticated serving only as a basic filter for interaction. If you fall for them then that saves me having to engage with you, if you see through them then it is significantly more likely that you are someone I can engage with and your sentences will not start with “did you see …” with reference to some celebrity or soap based TV program or ” did you hear about …” in relation to some Z-list famous for being famous so-called celebrity, over paid sports person or musically illiterate pop sensation, which is what I am looking for.

I want to listen more than I want to talk, although I have stock, what I call public domain stories I can share to create a feeling of familiarity and comfort, that I rehearsed with a friend many years ago, and have information, which while personal, is nothing that hasn’t been on the internet at some point as so is available to a few million at least, that I can share so you can get to know me a little better. I want to listen because I am interested, I want to know the person I am talking to, the real them, and I want to build friendships, not vague acquaintances. I am very lucky that I have gradually built trusting relationships with a few people. This is because I have stages of friendship. You start furthest away and through actions can move inwards, you can also move out, and it is a very rare individual that can move to the innermost level of trust at any sort of speed. That innermost level is the level at which I can genuinely be hurt by someone. The sort of hurt that causes grief, I have made the mistake of granting admission too soon, so I am, now, even more guarded than I used to be. There are actions, like stopping me committing suicide that will get you in close in a hurry. There are possibly five people in that innermost circle, but that may actually be four.

Despite the fact that I guard my closest level of friendship closely, I am a friendly person and have a friendship network, many of whom have been tremendously supportive through my life journey. Their non-admission to the inner most level is a reflection of my own trust issues, not any quality they do or do not possess. I am terrified of being hurt, and so have always sought to keep the number of people who can really hurt me and cause me emotional harm to a minimum. Which probably sounds odd coming from someone who was abused. Perhaps, being abused by someone who had gained admission to that innermost level is why it is guarded, and perhaps it was they who made sure it was not populated so they could maintain control. I have no idea whether I was guarding, they were, guarding or that it is just a sensible way to be, it is how I am.

The thing is, I want people to know who I am. When you meet me, I want you to assess me, and because I realise that not everyone can like everyone and because I realise that this means I may not be someone’s cup of tea, I want anyone who doesn’t like me to actually dislike the real me. What saddens me about my past is that there are people who dislike, and actually more than that, will hate me, because of the stories told about me. I know my appearance and persona will cause people to dislike me, however,if you are shallow enough to dislike me for my appearance then my life is richer for your absence, and perhaps maybe the planet would be better without you too. I have no space, time, need or desire for people who are judgemental, bigoted and what I call “…ists”.

My experience of people whose self-description ends with “… ist”  has not been overwhelmingly positive, from racists, sexists, feminists, to psychologists and scientists, personally and professionally it puts me on red alert. Prefix your “…ist” with fundamentalist and it’s a long way back for you. I will be civil, I may engage with you, we can be on great terms and even a sort of friend (depending on your … ist, of course) with who I share and get on great. However, as a self-identifying …ist, you have set a level limit.

While I am aware that we make sense of the world and people using stereotypes as crude, rapidly deployed frameworks, I fully expect them to be developed and adjust in the light of reality.

On the friendship level it has been a fulfilling and rewarding week, being an ear let alone being able to have a dialogue about coping strategies and ideas, is a huge privilege Talking with friends about being disliked all the way up to hated for who you are, what you actually stand for, and judged on your words, your actions and the consistency of the two; opposed to stories is something important that I had not realised was as significant to me as it actually is.

While I have told my self I do not care what people thing of me, clearly I care a lot about what people think about me in so much as I want them to be thinking and judging the real me and not a story version. Sometimes I really wish I could be like the autistic lad I knew who did not, not care about what people thought of him. He could not comprehend why anyone would think about him, let alone go so far as to have an opinion about him. He was very much his own person, very functional, as well as bright (brains to burn was the phrase), and of course without the prison of expectations and the inner need to control what people thought about him, was very free in his choices through every portion of his life. His jam and Dairylea sandwich was a particularly tasty invention that came from the fact he ate what he wanted,  how he wanted, when he wanted it.

My successful week continued creatively. My poem: To Carry On was a highlight for me and I am very happy to even proud of that piece. I have also been able to experiment a little, and while no profession photographer I have enjoyed sharing photographs and am looking forward to learning a little on how to manipulate. This also gives me options to travel outside, which whole being terrifying and tiring, is also very rewarding and great for my mental and physical health. The more I can break out of the prison my anxiety would make for me the better I feel. It was enormous fun to work with paint and create the picture frame, I am considering editing a picture of the final product to remove anything that can be used to identify me or the recipient, so I may just leave that where it is.

I am feeling a desire, or perhaps internal pressure to summarise or conclude this reflection. The summary is that this week I have been able to focus on the silver lining more than the cloud. Slowing down due to the pain and illness has allowed me some opportunities that business would preclude, and removal of the pressure put on me by me to be “productive” in that rigid sense I had constructed as meant I have felt better about reducing measurable outputs and doing other intangible things instead.

I also got my cooking mojo back – I may not want to eat it, but I am enjoying cooking again, although I will leave the innumerable food photos to my istagram as their creative merit is not high, and my dishes while tasty are definitely not art.

 

Monday Night Reflection

craterlakewest
A lot of people do not like Mondays, and I can see why, I have been that person although for much my life I did not work a regular nine till five, Monday to Friday job, in fact, today I was talking about how I had spent much of my employed life working thirteen days on and one off, and 7 years working permanent night shift. As well as two jobs on and off. Although my longest hours were, definitely, working minimum wage doing 12 and 13-hour shifts, going self-employed did not reduce the workload because for a long time I was working a paid job full time and then working self-employed full-time hours building up to the point where I could cut back my paid employment.

Looking back I can see that these long hours happened not because they were made necessary by choices I did not make. What is difficult is understanding how I was allowed to be away, but then I realised, that the job I had was isolated. I was on site, at night, with no co-workers with me. So it was secure in that I was controlled, later in life when I started my own business, which was part of my downfall, I could not be controlled, and I saw a much more obvious system of control. Especially as having my own business saw me trying to exercise control and build my dream, not her vision. I also see how she used her position to sabotage and undermine my chances of success. In short, I see how being allowed certain freedoms was a way to hide and exert control over me.

Which, sort diversion takes me and the Mouse away from this week’s creative efforts and other thoughts that have happened over the week. Me and the Mouse are still very much finding our feet on this Monday Night Reflection thing. Last week I meant to write notes to give ideas for what to include, I thought about talking about some of the process behind a poem. That did feel self-indulgent, but we could run with that. I thought about reflecting on our life, my life, the creative life, and writing down thoughts and ideas. That had more mileage in it but carries the risk of giving away my real identity. Which, when you say it, sounds rather paranoid, but anonymity is the key to the blog and freedom of expression. It is one thing to have your creative output mocked, quite another to have it both mocked and then twisted and used against you.

It also occurred to me that I could write the Monday night reflection before Monday night and schedule it, although seems a little deceitful. Although I am trying to up the creative output so that blog posts can be scheduled and saved in advance, which is trying to become a better writer and master my craft. Which is where there is congruence between the Mouse, as my blog persona, the part of me that processes the past and channels that to a creative expression, and me. I am in the transition from what I have done for over a decade, and I am very good at, to something new which, I feel very bad at because I have stopped enjoying what I am good at. The reality is that the more I have indulged my creative side, the less I have enjoyed where my mastery is. Till now learning was a joy, I am surrounded by books on my profession. My profession was my passion and my living, which made it so much easier to do the bits that were no fun, like accounts and tax returns. However, it got stale, and now it really is not that much fun at all. The transition is that, if you don’t like a situation, either you change the situation or you change your attitude to the situation.

Creatively this week has been great, letting the Mouse loose on some ideas and material from the pre-Mouse era, reworking those, what look now to be, very rough sketchy handwritten notes into poems has been really rewarding, and I haven’t finished with them yet. Only three pages of A4 but a good seam of inspiration.

This has been a positive development, because I identified a problem, in seeking to direct my creative energies away from the past, although this reflection is evidence that the past is still very present, and get the Mouse flowing in a different direction where the past is inspiration, guidance and advice for the future, and to sneak in some non-reflective, less Mousey work as well, I have started to seek out writing prompts, and am in danger of using them as a replacement for self driven.  A problem made worse by the challenge of a writing prompt, which is, on its own highly appealing. The challenge of finding originality in myself is a little more daunting. What if, when I dig for creativity there is nothing there but the past and what has happened then. What if pain, abuse, hurt and depression are the only wells from which my creativity draws. I am not sure how I feel about that at all. Worse still, what if they turn out to be very shallow wells, and that not only are those the only dimensions to my creativity and inspiration, they run out and I am left in a void. Perhaps that is why “what if” questions can be so debilitating.

The disadvantage of the online world is that it can be easy to fake confidence, and even be a little abrasive and strident in tone and conduct. I know the persona of the Mouse gained confidence and that spilled over to me, and I very quickly came to regret that. It also led to the Mouse and I agreeing to boundaries and ground rules for the Mouse and how the Mouse conducts business. The Mouse has a twitter account and I do not. The main purpose of that account is to follow and learn and to engage where appropriate. I was taking over that and becoming vocal with a different agenda, perhaps some undue coquetry and definitely some anonymity driven abrasiveness. Which was not the idea at all.

Recovery is a journey, and I am on that path. It can be easy to forget that having travelled a great distance, there can still be an even greater distance left to travel. It is hard also not to be reminded of the words of Karl Marx who wrote, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living”, in that my past can lie like a nightmare on me.

 

Word Press Discover Challenge: Song

Word Press Discover Challenge: Song 7 Lions One More Time

I first heard this song when I watched the WWE Tribute to the Ultimate Warrior.

Like many of my generation, I first encountered the Ultimate Warrior in my teens as the WWE hit the UK. A lifetime fan of Arnold Schwarzzenger, Stallone, He-Man, The Hulk and other superhero muscled figures the Ultimate Warrior was an obvious logical extension of that element from my childhood. Possibly an obsession, because, as an adult, I went on to spend 15 years bodybuilding trying to look like my heroes without ever actually achieving that look.

I moved out of my parent’s house and didn’t have a TV for years let alone a sky subscription, and I guess I quickly grew out of wrestling. I rediscovered Warrior in my 40s, when a friend pointed me towards his YouTube channel. Immediately I connected with the man, Jim Hellwig, somehow, although this was supposed to be Warrior, it was always Jim to me. Warrior was the wrestler, and he cut promos that never made much sense. Jim, in contrast, cut through my personal bullshit and ripped at my soul. I was desperately unhappy at the time; to the world, I had the dream. In reality, I had become trapped in the prison of an abusive relationship, and it felt like as escape became more and more remote the walls were closing in. Every desperate attempt and cry for help served only to isolate me more and deepen the hole.

Watching the Warrior Man was a reminder that there was something. Jim was part of the turning point. Like Eric Thomas, Jim was a key figure in the chorus of voices telling me something different about myself. They screamed at me “You Matter”, and time and time again I would return to Jim and Eric time and time again they screamed the same message to the core of my very being. When I was kicked out and the marriage split was nasty. Jim was there; this time instead of reminding me, painfully reminding me of what I didn’t have, I watched Jim the Warrior Man in a different light, the passion and the intensity with which he spoke and lived connected with me again on a different level. He screamed at me with such passion, like the video had been made for me and me alone, you matter, it does matter, an it does matter life. At the very depths of my personal darkness it was incredibly difficult for me to see any light. But in the same way the text message of a friend jogged me out of a suicidal spiral, Jim the Warrior Man was there to remind me that there was more to life.

Jim screamed and shouted at someone inside me who had hidden away, like a very scared Mouse. It wasn’t just video’s people too were about. However, in all honestly, no one pulled me out of that dark pit of brokenness and dispair but me. I worked my way towards the light one inch at a time, I fought and I clawed for those inches.

 

It is a long road, but Jim connected with me on my journey. He died 4 days before my birthday, suddenly. Like many, I was still celebrating the induction of Warrior into the WWE Hall of Fame when footage of his final speech and the news of his death came as one big hammer blow ….. with the words


“Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the bodies of others, and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit will be immortalised. By the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory, by those who honour him and make the running the man did live forever


And, just like that Jim was gone, but not forgotten, as a child I had been entertained and captivated by the Ultimate Warrior, as an adult Jim the Warrior Man would speak to my very essence, and help with the ignition of the person I am today. It is old and it is worn out to call someone an inspiration, usually that means someone admires while that admiration does nothing to them as a person, and nothing about them as a person changes. With Jim the Warrior Man, I was and have literally been inspired by the very fact that there are people, of which Jim was one, who live a life which I can aspire to emulate. Not because it has money, cars or material wealth, but because it is a life chasing their passion.

 

7Lions One More Time is the Soundtrack to that memory; and so when I hear it I can remember, and more importantly I can summon the emotions. I can feel what it was like to be trapped, I can feel what it was like to sit watching Jim on my laptop with my breakfast on my own, alone hardly able to face the day feeling that intensity and passion driving its hammer blows to my desperate soul. I can relive the flicker of “I can do this”, of “I can recover, I am down not out, I will be more than this right now” not as words but as feelings. That feeling that while the future looked like a storm of uncertainty, I had what it takes to grow and be something better in the storm and after it.

The lyrics also speak of a different emotion, sadness. My Mother, for all her faults and abusive behaviour, I want to see again. I held her hand as she died, right there in front of me, imperceptibly at first. Her breathing slowed, she became still, she said almost inaudibly, I am proud of you, and then that was it, no sound, peace and stillness till moments later she was gone. Just like that. Then, you sit, and then you leave. You walk to the car, you drive, nothing has changed, yet, everything has changed. That was it, 37 years old, 16 days until my 38th birthday and I am all alone. No grandparents, no aunts, uncles, just me, no siblings, cousins. With nowhere to escape at all, the abuse of that marriage gradually increased until I stood up for myself and was discarded like yesterday’s old news to be destroyed at the earliest opportunity.


I’ll stand in the front lines.
I’ll give it all just to see your face.
And tell you its alright.
To hold you for one more night.
Just give me one more time.


alwaysbelieveknifeframeThe song reminds me that
my mother and my father, like Jim are gone. I will never get to tell Jim what a difference he made, get his autograph or even show him my Warrior Tattoo based on his original artwork. Instead, it reminds me of what will never be. I read the lyrics, and they remind me of what my 1st marriage should have been, my mother gone, my father gone and the relationship I had and the stark reality of how my normal was anything but right or normal. The song is a soundtrack to times of pain, hurt, and endurance, even a little suffering at times in the way of a Rocky montage. At first, when I heard the song I was down, I was nearly out, I doubted myself and all but lost belief. I was ready to check out of life itself. But the Warrior Man spoke to me, the ghosts of my past spoke to me, Eric Thomas spoke to me, a few people stood with me and stayed the course of my journey through darkness. And the song keeps playing as I have risen up.

It plays to finish with the backing of a highland piper, the montage of my redemption starts to show me with my wife, my successes at the end of the journey and the song plays to the fact that now, each of us would tearfully play this in remembrance of each other, that the words speak of reality and the tune foreshadows the fact that for one of us, this song will echo the longing of loss.

 

 

 

 

I quit.

I have always wanted to write a brilliant motivational post entitled, quitting is a state of mind, telling people that you quit mentally first. The thing is, that is just about all I really have to say, actions speak louder than words, is something we hear fairly regularly. And for the most part, actions really are the measure of intention, however, the older I get, the more I realise that actions are not the complete picture.
Sure, when, it comes to relationships, what someone does, is a good measure of what they are really like, and love will always be a verb. However, when it comes to quitting, I am not so sure actions are a clear indication of where that person is internally. I first noticed this in the gym world, where many people are going through the motions, and dripping with the sweat of effort too, but mentally, they have quit. On the outside they look the part, and many indeed are in great shape, and some are even professional athletes, but inside they are dead. They have quit, they no longer enjoy what they do, but are there because of a huge pressure not to quit, even a self identity that precludes being a quitter. Once I had noticed this, I realised that people have quit on life, they literally go through the motions.
This hit me when I had it all, the business, the car, the house, the family, inside I was dead, and I had quit wanting to achieve, I had quit with engagement, my business and my life, I quit and stayed on because, like many employees, I had no choice. I looked at people around me, and I saw the same, “I have quit” in their eyes. We were together in our endeavour to just get through the day, fulfil our responsibilities and be the person we were supposed to be. We even managed to look passionate about the right things, and engage, but I saw it, I felt it, the deadness the mental disengagement of having quit life.
Quitting, then, is not just walking away and ceasing, which is what instantly springs to mind, I realised quitting was the mind. In a situation where physically stopping and changing was not an option, we mentally quit, disengage and retreat because we do not want to be part of the life we have. I felt I had been sold a lemon, a Friday afternoon special of a life, one that looked great but actually did not work properly, and I realised, that I was not alone in wanting to quit my faulty life and have the one I signed up for.
The truth is, I never worked out how to un-quit, how to re-engage and become active in building a life that I wanted to be part of. The quitting was done for me. Which is why I could never write my motivational article, because, what sort of advice is it to say, yes you are in a situation you do not like and have quit life in the active sense because of this, without proposing an action to start the process of change. I feel, I could recite some motivational literature; I think I could do a reasonable academic job via research, but that would be cold, distant and theoretical. Tony Robbins says change takes an instant, its making that change stick and seeing the results of that change that take the time, and he is right. The problem is that I have no idea, had no idea, of what done looks like, no goal, because I was at the goal and it wasn’t like the brochure.
In making a change, we consciously or subconsciously pick a goal, the issue is, when we have quit on life, goals, achievement and the train of lies we ended up riding, we lose faith and trust in the process as well as the destination. The trains look the same, and whatever they say we become pretty sure that they all end up at disappointment and disillusionment. Gradually we look at a world, not where happiness, achievement, goals and such are things that happen to other people, we live in a world where those things are a facade to the outside world put up by people like us, dead and helpless, maintaining the lie that we got what we paid for in the store of life. Each of us hiding the reality, that is not happiness and not what we wanted, realising that it is not that we have failed, but that success is nothing like what it was supposed to be.
Inside we quit on the whole “game”. From soaps, sports, social media, and alcohol we self medicate away the pain, but that never goes, and the hole grows a little, bit by bit. I wish I had answer for the bleakness. I guess at twelve step plan would be a great way to make money, or fame, or fortune, but it would be a lie. A lie in a sham world of broken dreams and promises. In my personal world the truth is, the change came from the blackest place where I realised I could not trust things, people, relationships, blood or anything that was not me. It came when I realised that my reality, my world, whatever label got put on it, was mine and that I lived in it as much as I lived in a physical space. I learned how to rub along in the physical world without realising, to go through the motions. On the outside, I don’t think there was ever much to see, certainly a description of my daily routine is as mundane and repetitive as any call centre worker or cleaner. What I came to change, was how I viewed my internal space.
First, I realised my internal space was real, and no one but me was in charge of its definition. The world could advise me, and there were healthy and unhealthy constructions I could make, and as such structures had been put up without planning permission, and so some building was required. This was my space, in a conscious sense and my reality was important. So, when something said was hurtful, if I didn’t care about the words or the intention, it did not have to hurt me, it did not have to have an impact. The rudeness, the selfishness, it was my choice whether I would take those into my world. In this world, my thoughts and feelings had intrinsic legitimacy. Suddenly it was no longer mad, or odd, or a sign of mental illness to fantasise of a different life, as a girl, it was just something to pass the time on the toilet. Just because no one I knew admitted it, does not mean it was not happening, rather how people do not admit the fact their perfect life is not what it looks like.
I suppose, you could say, that I learned to become at peace with myself. I no longer took the measures of a world of sham and lies and saw how far I didn’t measure up to them. Instead I took the measures of what I had decided were virtues to determine how I was doing. Would I be someone, I would like to know and be friends with, if the answer was no, then I was in charge of doing something. This internal space, this peace with myself did not require a level of income, a certain car or house, a certain relationship status, it is independent of those externalities.
The decision was to seek happiness with myself. First, I never wore a lot of black, I didn’t change my style or my wardrobe of clothes, externally I did not need to go, “look at me, I have changed”, or “look at me I am different”. I did not discuss the external style, I had, instead the internal perspective, the foundation of being at peace with myself. The world of cars, houses, babies, careers, records, relationships was there and I was now in charge of how I engaged with it. It was up to me to enable or disable what would ultimately matter.
That is how I un-quit on life, by realising that the so called life I had quit on was no life at all, and life was about peace and happiness in my internal world first and foremost. And that the walk through life is conducted from this space, and so what I do, my job, my relationships, my house, car, dog, define me only in so far as I decide they define me, and that un-quitting is about taking internal control first. From that place of internal peace, ultimately being I able to say, I am a person with whom I am happy, my values, motives and intentions are consistent with who I have decided to be, is the starting point. From that solid foundation, actions follow, and character builds so that actions speak louder than words, after all, we tell the world very little, we show it a lot.