Thinking Out Loud : Swimming Gala

It is not that often I like to go back to my childhood and specific incidents within it. I feel that they are done with and that now I have largely accepted what was faulty with it and done my best to move on and be practical in dealing with the here and now. I am unlikely to end up in the same situation now I am an adult and so often there is limited information that I can directly apply.

However, the Butlins’ swimming gala is an event that maintains relevance in my adult life. As a kid I loved swimming, and looking back I was actually not that bad either, it is entirely possible I could have been quite good. I never found out because my mother never wanted what would have gone with my success. I swam at the Harrow and Wealdstone Club, but I never made it to the group which did competitions. Eventually unable to move up I quit. My parents let me, and I later found out, my mother had asked that I not be put up so I would not become eligible for full coaching with the early starts and travel to comps all over the country that could involve. They obliged. I was allowed to enter the club gala by way of the qualification process. You swam in your chosen stroke and distance and if you set a time you were in. Of course, it was all racing group kids. I had a go and I was in. On the night I arrived, got changed and sat and waited till my race. As an adult, I realise that all the competitors were warming up in a pool. They appeared and it was my heat; to go to the next round all I knew was that it was first 2 and then the fastest 2 losers after that. No idea what was going on, I got ready for the backstroke, I had practised a little on racing turns and dives, but I hadn’t had any coaching. In fact, it was a surprise that I was there.

I was third in my heat and I went home. I got changed alone, no one said a word, no one else in the place. I went home, no special tea. Nothing changed and I went to school the next day. The only recognition was the older kid who swam for the club saying didn’t expect to see you last night. Later I would find out I was the third fastest loser as well as 3rd in my heat, missing both by the usual fractions. This was years later and I had given up swimming by then. I was a loser, I didn’t get past the first round, I had been stupid to think any different. Of course as an adult I realise that I was 17th out of 56, and the only one who hadn’t been coached to race, and that it was quite possible that I had been faster than some of those had they been in slower heats as I had no idea of the standard of who I was against.

So I guess I was an okay swimmer really. My parents went to this holiday camp, I can remember it wasn’t much of a holiday, I was forced to do kids club stuff, which as the fat kid I hated, it was nothing I was good at. The highlight was getting a BMX for a morning (all my pocket money to hire it) and having a go on the ramps they had. Part of the week was swimming; I was looking forward to it because at least I could swim. The day came and as per usual we were split into teams, and then horror of horrors, I was given butterfly because I had made the mistake of saying I could do all the strokes. I was a backstroker, that was my only chance of not being embarrassed, I was in my trunks by the pool, the parents were there, I wanted to run, but I felt entirely trapped. It was only Wednesday, so I couldn’t run because there was the rest of the week to survive, and of course, I couldn’t embarrass my parents either, that wasn’t worth it.

The time came, we all trotted out for the one length butterfly race, completely exposed as the fat kid I looked around at the athletic bodies of every kid around me. I am sure they weren’t all athletic but they definitely were not fat like me. I guessed we would be gone in the water and I could sneak out while the winners got all the attention. I tried not to notice them limber up and did everything I could to try not to draw attention to myself. I just looked down my lane at the goal, the end, over, sneak off as there was a break after for lunch. I dived and I swam for my life, in the water all I could do was concentrate on my worst stroke, just absorbed in the movement until the wall, it was over. I immediately went to get out the pool fast, when I looked back. The lane either side of me was just over half way. In fact, no one was even close. I had beaten the entire field by the best part of 12.5meters or half a length of 25  metres in that pool. I got out, got a certificate, some stickers and my mum took a photo.

That was it, I went for lunch, the well done lasted from the pool to lunchtime and I put my certificate away and the stickers with it. The holiday continued. Nothing changed, it wasn’t mentioned, I got my well done, there was a photo, that was it. For many years I have looked at that photo of the beaming proud “fat kid” who had finally won something. I saw his top abdominal muscles, his shoulders developed from the thousands of lengths, his legs chunky from the miles cycling to and from the local pool to swim for hours in peace alone. I didn’t see a fat kid; I realise no one saw a fat kid, I realise the looks on those parents was not at the fat kid who was woefully out of his depth but at the swimmer who was about to win by a mile and disappoint their child. To me those stares were telling me I shouldn’t be there, and I was right, I had no right being in a holiday camp swimming gala, I looked like a competitive swimmer, I thought it was because I was the fat one.

My swimming life was instructive as a child because it taught me that I was a loser and that winning didn’t change anything. Success didn’t change life, I had a job, I had 2 jobs, I paid keep, I did well at school, so I should, I won something, it was a nothing event at nowhere, I failed at the Club competition, what did I expect? The looks of the parents confirmed that I was fat too. I hated school, swimming was not the way out, success in the world was not the route to happiness either. I grew up wanting to hear the words “well done”, wanting a bit of fuss and wanting my success to change something, even it that was just picking what I had for tea.

As an adult, I ended up in a relationship just like that of my childhood and so I never strove with everything I had to be a success because there would always be people better than me, and any temporary win would not change the fact that I was a loser and not a successful person. The belief that I was the person I had been told I was and was treated like informed how I made my way through life. At work, I would work hard and try to do well, and find myself sacked the first mistake I made. It did not take long for me to try and be in the middle unnoticed. At school I worked just hard enough to stay out of big trouble, I wanted to be somewhere else, the teachers made it clear I wasn’t good at school stuff and the odd time I poured all I had into something it came back with the same grades as when I didn’t. Leave fatty alone was my life. I had a great overhand right that helped with the latter.

As an adult I was, for so many years, that little boy trying to get by, trying to be happy without someone noticing it. Being happy only lasted till someone noticed and then it would be taken away. Success was something you kept to yourself, it was only yours, no one cared, no one even wanted to know. It wasn’t healthy. I know now how terribly debilitating it all was, it was no wonder I was plagued by crippling depression and that in an abusive relationship anxiety came to paralyse me. Now I preach that other people’s picture of you is only real if you make it that way, that you celebrate success and learn that you can succeed and to not accept external definitions or measures of what success is. You can set a world record and come third, see the achievement for what it is, not the definition someone else gives it.

So I look at those swimming Galas and learn; I did what was never expected of me, I was able to be the real deal when I had no encouragement, no coaching, no help and definite obstruction so why can I not be the real deal now. I may not be the best in the world, but someone will be and if I never aim to be I never stand a chance of being that someone. Most of all I look at that little boy and I realise that he was petrified, he was terrified, he felt like running away every second till that whistle blew to start those races, and that while he felt like he did not belong, that he was an alien in the land of others, that little boy stood there anyway. And more than that, that frightened little boy stepped up and did good, he did really good.

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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

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.

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: Home

It is just a place, me and the other grubby children with dirty faces playing down the park or on the green. Stopping for cars, our little junction serving as our centre court had few interruptions and rain only stopped play when our mothers said so. We ran, rode our bikes, never new but often shiny, played football badly and dreamed of stadiums somewhere with posh sounding names. We talked with walkie talkies till they got out of range, we ran to the shops round the corner our pocket money jangling along. The treasured haul that didn’t last the hour.

We paid no attention to those faceless streets, the endless same of council dreary that has not changed in twenty years. Back then it was a blank canvas on which we painted our dreams for so short a while. We laughed and chattered; busy little bees, no idea that the place, was not our toy or precious painting, but something rather insidious instead. As time passed, we played less and less, the walkie talkie batteries never replaced. My best friend moved away after he was not allowed to play with me. I never found why and he never gave his walkie talkie back either. Someone said it was because he was Catholic, but I really never knew what that meant or why I didn’t get my walkie talkie because of it.

As I grew older my mother kept me in, set rigid curfews and precise boundaries. I went to places I shouldn’t but I always came back on time. I thought it rather draconian and I learned to stay inside, going out became a fight. I am glad of the days no mobile phone or I would had to check in regularly as well. It wasn’t just the leaving, the endless questions surrounding the when, where, who and intention of my departure. Hanging out was not even close to a good reason, that got you home by 8pm latest did that one. 9pm was always it, or as it came to be, just when something interesting might happen.

House arrest got easy, a computer and games. TV, like going out, was fraught with danger, watch the wrong thing and no TV, no TV meant no games. My mother thought a week was a short time too. I got the message loud and clear, I flicked on and was trying to work out what the program was, when my mother looked in, instantly recognised a banned program, and it was gone. Today I wonder how she knew, and why she thought I would watch it with my door open right in front of the stairs so you could see when you came up? She never said, and I knew not to ask or argue, that only made things worse. My father, bless his heart, got it down to just a week from the month it had been. He never told me, I never knew he had my back like that.

Locked away, watching the sea of back gardens from my window, reduced to set places and set times, known routines and familiar places. The estate where I once played took on a menacing air. Across the road became darker and fraught with danger, the park, my football ground, with makeshift hosepipe swing over a little brook, became off limits and out of bounds. I looked in and wondered some days, even when the fence was nothing more than posts in the ground, I never stepped in not once. I missed a lot perched on my little island. The place never changed, nothing changed. The dull dreary sullen bricks indifferent to it all, a life or death equally insignificant to those cold and damp council walls. The houses frowned, and I joined in, head hanging down hoping no one would see me. Those kids who once made up another team, or the Indians to our Cowboys never spoke a word, I learned silence.

I came to be the place I grew up, there but not part of anything, sullen and detached from what was real and was makebelieve. The world of suits, careers and briefcases in another world from mine. Like clean windows and brand new cars, work was rare and never lasted long. Whatever a career was, it could be, if you were lucky, a ticket to somewhere better. Not sure where better was, how to get there or what it looked like. It had to be good because they never came back. I had no idea what drugs were, but they sounded fun, I was told of prison, but it didn’t sound that bad, they seemed to get meals they chose and allowed outside. I heard stories that people got jobs when they got out too, I wondered why school was considered such a great option quite a lot as well. Rules and constraints.

I stood outside my house, where the skip that took my childhood away once stood. Thankfully the new owners were out, like when I left the gate wasn’t fitted, and the grass could have done with a cut and tidy. The Hedge seemed neater and the little walkway to the front door had shrunk from the wide expanse of those childhood days. The windows had changed, and the front door too, but they still frowned and looked familiar to those that I drudged home to so many times. You never ran, late was late from one minute to an hour. And hour was better, you had a better time and you could say you misread the time, rushing in 1min past meant you had tried it on. It got easier to stay inside, no internet, no people, no pressure.

Going outside was not only navigating the barrage of questions when you wanted to go out, it was the interrogation when you returned. Where had you been, what had you done, what had you said, and I learned that a simple account was not enough you had to know why. Staying home was easy, reading a book was easy, sleeping was easy. I was like my house, just enduring, staying the course not out of any conscious will but because I was made that way and so had no choice in the matter.

I am standing on my old drive, I am 12. I can stand where my Dad hit me, I can stand where my mother dressed me down. I can stand where I wasn’t good enough and where I had let everybody down. I can stare at where all hope was lost and my dreams were dashed. I can stand where laughter became tears, and friendships disappeared, I can stand where triumph turned to dread, I am standing where the skip that took my childhood away stood.

Like the place, I am standing where I grew dreary, weary of life just after it had started, and it was quiet. As a child sirens had never wailed, when you heard one it was always barely a whisper, and it was the same that day, nothing, no birds singing no dogs barking, everyone knows to be quiet here. The police never came to where I grew up, and the buses stopped when it got dark as long as I remember. I drove down the road I had walked on all those school days, completely different with the park gone and the houses now generic and the same, but I knew where I was, it felt the same. Driving to that house my heart grew cold and I braced a little out of instinct.

Worse happened in other houses, the walls they didn’t care. The roads sauntered on past, indifferent to us all like those they carried.

I stood in the place, the place I grew up, it was never home. People called it home not out of belonging or pride, more from a sense of the alternative, homeless. I stood there with my wife, and she stood knowing much more than I realised about the little boy of 12 still standing there not knowing why. The place speaks, like it speaks to everyone, no one here is home. This place was just that, a place. A station platform, only the homeless stayed, everyone else moved on, either back or forward, but no one chose to stay.

 

At 16 I moved away and by 17 in my own flat a long way from the little street of my childhood. I broke away and so I went to school, but never hold a job for long. Moved around, had jobs and money, lost jobs and money. Owned a house and had a mortgage once but the Council estate brought me home. This time most of the country from the place where I grew up, a dreary house on a faceless road, different but same. So familiar, the distant sirens, the roads that didn’t care and walls that could speak of horrors but like the people didn’t dare. There was a broken telly, and grass that needed cutting, something felt familiar. I stayed there for 5 years, the longest I stayed anywhere.

One day, in that foreign land, I stood, inside, and looked out across the river, to houses just like mine, just as dreary and equally as weary in a place I called home.

Poetry Corner: Certificate

It just says November, a time now far away,
Not a date, no mention of a day,
I never went, no pictures or gown,
No handshake from a relative of the crown,

On a weekday I will have gone to work,
No excuses about missing Church,
No proud parents or friends I made,
Another workday with tempers frayed,

I said it didn’t matter to me then,
Looking back, I get sad again,
Nothing changed, perhaps it should,
No one said, the boy done good,

Hidden away in the darkest nook,
Torture just to take one look,
I changed your frame in hope,
That happiness would interlope,

Proof of achievement some would say,
It matters not then, not today,
Never walking proudly or standing tall,
If you never rise, you never fall,

I have no recollection, no story to tell,
My pride is broken, nothing to swell,
I had written my dissertation tome,
And the doors closed on my home,

My time was done, I was cast out,
Not one of them, no longer devout,
I had stayed the course, I had success,
Already broken, of that, I confess,

I sit your new frame, new place, new wall,
Grew just in recent years, new to standing tall,
Of you, I should be so very very proud,
What I had done proclaimed, my voice rather loud,

Just sitting there and gazing at the light,
Me, right there with you, fearing the night,
Resting on my desk somewhat benign,
You are nothing, the significance is mine

Thinking Out Loud: Don’t give up the day job!

In my non-writing life, I took a little step today, I put my first item in the Etsy shop I created months ago. I would like to say I opened a business bank account and linked it all together enthusiastically, but I would be lying and I don’t lie here.

The truth is I have been nervous all along. It is not an attempt to make a fortune, instead, it is a way of selling on things that will hopefully make people smile and give a little bit of happiness. In a way, just an extension of my poetry project and the therapy aims of blogging.

Being ill has given me plenty of excuses to delay making something for the shop and moving forward. The real reason was fear of being laughed at. Despite encouragement, I find it hard to shake the feeling that I am, and what I do is, a joke and that people are, behind my back laughing at me. I am not sure where I picked up this belief, there has been plenty of opportunity for sure, but regardless it is there.

So today I plucked up the courage not only to list the one small thing I feel I can do while ill, but also to announce it on my personal Facebook page. The comment came in “don’t give up the day job”. Of course this was intended as good humour, but in reality, I was crushed. I wouldn’t expect that person to be artistically inclined or into what I do in anyway, and that sort of banter is completely in character, but I wanted to cry. In fact, this few minutes later, right now, I am biting back.

It was in that moment a confirmation of all that I had told myself was not true, I am a laughing stock. I have lived with the “knowledge” in reality I am a joke to people but I have isolated and insulated myself from having to face that. Every so often, though, there it is, confirmed.

I deleted it, but I wanted to say I know, you don’t have to tell me, it is okay, I am aware that I what I do is hilarious, that I am a joke. Sadly, I am not “special” in the right way that I don’t see it or realise it, I am actually aware of how I look to the world. I have what I have because it has been given to me, I didn’t earn it, everything I worked for failed. I know. I know it all, I just wanted to pretend it wasn’t true.

It won’t change much, I will carry on making things to sell in the hope that people will buy them and smile, as gifts, they will bring a bit of happiness to someone because I have to. I will know that I am a joke, I always have, I always did


 

(Just after writing this post I went back and deleted the entire Facebook post)

Poetry Corner: Little Red Square

I wonder where you went

That little square I made in primary school

You sat by my bed for years

I remember you so clearly

Red, with coloured thread

I was so very proud of you

I took my time, so very careful

At the end of term I took you home

Showed you to my mum, she frowned

And told a lie that it was nice

My dad he did not fake

I went to my room

He still shouted about it

I don’t know what he said

He wasn’t happy and he wasn’t proud

My mum looked sad,

I worked hard for a long time

I thought it was great,

My favourite colour made by me

Only one would ever be

It didn’t matter

I kept you so very safe

But my mum made sure you were gone

When we moved house

She cleared my stuff

I never saw you again

You taught me well my little square

People lie and pretend they care

I learned well my worth and place

To hide my tears and hide my face.


 

Poetry Corner: Drowning

A canoe sinking, legs trapped, one roll too far

Trying to relax, slow motion, the last gasp of air

Knowing I won’t make the surface again

Going soft, just waiting, trapped and calm

No light, no life, no highlight reel, nothing

Heart stopped, living or dying

Gasping, choking, the water tasting disgusting

The sky pale and far away, the face so close

No air, fighting, water everywhere

The cold, ice on the inside, shivering

Lying on the hard jetty with loud voices, hearing nothing

Lungs rasping, bursting, and the air stinging every breath

No post mortem, no revelation, empty, lost

Monday Night Reflection: Pen and Paper

The problem with reflections is, and I am making a wild assumption that I am not alone, is that events immediately prior to the reflection can dominate the scene. There is no way I could reflect on every day, I struggle to write in my gratitude journal more than once a week, and I am a lot more grateful than I am reflective, so a real-time reflection compiled and released on a Monday is not going to happen.

I would love to remember to take reflection notes, but that is a lot like trying to do a reflection, even on a few lines, it is not going to happen, and it would mean either note-taking on my phone which I do not like doing, not sure why this approach doesn’t work but I fail every time I try it. I could carry a notebook, and I in a previous life, that would have been far too embarrassing or drawn too much attention to me. When I first wrote that sentence, I was going to say, I was no more likely to use a notebook than my phone. Somehow the idea of being seen to be playing on my phone is getting less and less attractive. However, the fact is, it is possible, and I have no idea how likely, that I could use a notebook.

I am moving back to pen and paper, very deliberately. I have found that while the smartphone can be an awesome tool, there are definitely limits to that for me. And, perhaps, as importantly, the world around me getting more and more absorbed into their phones, and sucked into social media. Which I love, especially Instagram, where I am a complete addict, and have built up a tremendously positive feed, I am aware that social media ultimately does not go anywhere. Social media is what we make of it, what we bring to it and a tool we can use in certain ways. To me, I share my life because although I am far from exceptional, I set goals and achieve and I hope that someone, will look and see that if I can do it, then they can as well. And to show that success is not about Ferrari’s and mansions, and happiness is not through parties, Rolex watches and hanging out with the coolest people. You can be happy with all of those things, but you can be lonely and desperately unhappy too, and in my experience of the so-called highlife, loneliness, despair and emptiness are much more common and the “life” is the disguise that hides it.

I am not sure which is driving me more, the promised practicality and utility of pen and paper, or the appearance of it. The fact that pen and paper feels and looks like doing, rather than messing about or playing. It is also tempting to quickly “check” and very easy to disengage with the world. Which is something I do not want to do, and I do not want to do to those who I am with. I tend to do my “playing” alone because when I am with people I want to engage with them. It is the lament of the older generation that “kids” have their heads in their phones, but more and more I see, it is people are more engaged with social media than the person they are sat with. I must admit I am guilty of the food shot, but then the phone goes case closed either away or does not get picked up. I will sometimes check a notification but I am ruthless about whether that gets a reply, and not much is that urgent.

Perhaps, too, this is a nostalgia drive, a lamenting of the so called connected age where in reality we are increasing disconnected, interrupted and disengaged. I feel there is a passivity, from the use of video over text, which I feel is much more passive than reading. I learn better from a book than a lecture. Voice works for outlines not for detail with me.

What exactly am I reflecting on here? It is not about pen and paper, that could be symbolic, however, I am thinking about engagement and more specifically disengagement. Specifically, I have become aware that while on the individual level I can enjoy engagement with people, and I have a desire to ensure that I am present in the moment, something I definitely picked up from mindfulness, I am, on a social level, highly disengaged. I am disengaged with wider society, socially because I live an isolated life, largely picking and choosing social settings and interaction chances, but I am isolated on a more socio-political level too. I do not watch popular television programs, I am increasingly not interested in popular music, I do not follow football or have any sort of passion for what are the current mainstream sports, and I am woefully disappointed with the political situation. I would leave the country were it an option, and I cannot bring myself to positively endorse any of those who stand for office. Not only to I look at the political candidates and personnel and feel revulsion, I am saddened by how the population has been so ready to believe the complete and utter rubbish they get fed. More than that, it is the collective readiness, even desire, to hate that leads me to despair. My desire to move is to go somewhere where isolation is easier, not because I believe the move would improve the situation, it would merely trade one set of despair-inducing circumstances for another.

This desire to disengage on the bigger stage is perhaps driving my desire to be more engaged with the individual. It is also a symptom, if symptom is the right word, of my healing. While I want to be isolated from that which I cannot change, I am now much happier at the individual level. My new life has led to new circumstances, positive reinforcement as opposed to the negative force applied previously, and I have found a confidence. With each interaction that has not had “consequences” or “feedback,” I have in very small increments been able to learn that it is not only ok to talk to people, but that it is encouraged, seen as a positive thing to be doing.

Getting used to the positive change in circumstances is taking a long time. Undoing a lifetime of learning is not easy at all. Moving to pen and paper, an insecure way of recording thoughts, a way that can be stolen, abused, that could invite ridicule and mocking was impossible. To carry a pen and the paper would invite suspicion, ridicule, some derision, while playing on my phone was just playing and messing around and so the insults lesser and the price easier to pay. Moving away from a protective behaviour to another is illustrative of how my mind had become locked into protective patterns. The minimising of threat and potential harm was the default setting. In childhood, I learned to protect, defend, and minimise potential harm. I learned that planning for the worst was always the best option and that hoping for the best was unfounded optimism. The key moving forward is to take the positive forward, the planning and preparation, and to leave behind the negative such as pessimism. Moving to pen and paper, going back to the transitional period between my childhood and my marriage, that time when positive seeds were sown, but that I ran away from those who would cultivate them, and where I sought to block out the world and numb the feelings of brokenness I had been given via drugs and alcohol, and taking a tool that worked.

Rediscovering and taking a confident step in building new habits, utilising new and old in this new setting, ditching the phone. Like the pen and paper, it is symbolic. I am not the phone guy, I am not the technology guy, and I am not the one device super efficient life, slick suit guy. Trying to be something I am not is something I need to confine to the past. I need to make trying to be by living up to an image or what I think people will find acceptable needs to be past tense. My greatest prison is still my mind.