The Journey

She had been able to see it on the horizon now for a while, rising out of the darkness like an ancient monolithic structure. At first it had seemed so far away, too far to imagine ever reaching. Back then it was tiny, and if she didn’t keep her eyes focused upon it, she would lose sight of it. Kind of like pointing out a bird against the backdrop of clouds or an insect going about its business on a hot summer’s day in front of a wall of ivy.

She knew it was important and she knew that she mustn’t lose sight of it for, somehow, it would become her destination. There were deep gorges in the landscape between them though, areas where she could see the dark clouds looming and hills that from this distance looked insurmountable. She wasn’t equipped for this, her small body wasn’t strong enough, her hair would occasionally whip itself across her face, causing her pale skin to sting and the rocks felt rough beneath her feet.

But still, she pushed forwards.

There were other people on the path. People she knew, and people she didn’t. Some of them looked stronger than she did, more confident. They looked like they had made this journey before and were coming back for another stab at it. She wondered why they would… but she soon remembered that it was never a choice.

The days soon turned into weeks, which turned into months and years. She kept on walking, but she became so tired at times that she had to stop for fear of breaking down completely. In those moments she sat on the ground and took deep breaths, her eyes upturned to the sky, for if she focused on her destination too long she would lose sight of it. At times it felt like a mirage, forever shimmering and out of reach. Did any of these other people ever reach it? There were times that she questioned whether it had even existed at all.

At some points, she felt a hand slip into her own as she traversed the more difficult boulders and lakes. Sometimes the hand was big and smooth and when she closed her eyes she could see him sitting opposite her in a small, too-warm, room. He asked her questions, difficult ones that had no real answer and would cause the tears to burn behind her eyes and fall heavy into the lakes that were of her own making. On other days, the hand was as familiar as her own, warm and aged from a lifetime of work and love, she looked up and saw the kind eyes of her mother as she planted the seeds that would blossom into the flowers which she longed to see on the other side. On some days the hand was understanding and calming, the one that she held in the quietest moments where the memories jumbled and the tears could no longer fall. In the solitary moments of moving ever forward the hand still held her firm, reassuring her that it would never leave her side, even if the road was longer than they both ever imagined and on other days, the hand was small, and unsure. It gripped her tightly out of fear, and she didn’t want to look down at the child holding it because she knew that her own image would cause her to stay where she stood, paralysed in the thoughts that had brought her to this desolate place.

There were days that the sun would creep out from behind the clouds, where birds would sing in the early morning silence and the lakes would run clear and crisp. She would drink from them then, filling herself with the hope and energy that she needed in order to forge forwards. Sometimes these seasons lasted for mere hours, and sometimes they lasted for weeks on end. She looked forward to these times for it was during the sunlight and birdsong that she was able to move quickly. However the clouds moved quicker still and sometimes the storm was upon her before she could even smell its arrival in the air.

She kept walking, through the storms when the wind bit her cheeks and the rain mixed with her tears. At times she felt that the sky was crying with her and there were days when it couldn’t stop.

But she was drawing ever closer to her destination…

She could see now that it was a door, standing solitary and alone. It seemed so out of place perched upon that mountain top, but she never questioned it. She assumed that others on the path had their own door for she had never seen anyone open the one on her horizon.

There were days where her feet lost their grip upon the slippery rocks and she felt that she would tumble to the ground and have to begin again. She concentrated on the ledges that she passed and reminded herself of words that she had once heard about landing on one of them and resting. She would never have to begin completely again, not now, not after all the trails the path had given her. Her small hands gripped onto whatever they could find and the muscles in her shoulders burnt as she heaved herself upwards and onwards.

When she got to the mountain top she felt something that she had not expected. She felt grief. She turned around and looked at the landscape behind her. The hills that had felt like mountains, the deep lakes that glistened in the late afternoon sun and the forests that had felt so dark and imposing as she had walked through them, haunted by voices of the past. Looking at it all from up here as the wind blew her hair from her face she wondered how it had all felt so desolate, for it was beautiful and she knew that it had been of her own creation. She took a few moments to drink in the sight before her before turning back to the door that had been her destination all along.

The birds sang their now familiar song, and the wind whistled above the landscape that she had come to know as home. She couldn’t explain it but the hands that hand held her own were now bodies around her, holding her firm and not allowing her to run back to the familiarity of what once was. She took a deep breath and reached out her hand to the doorknob…

She didn’t know where she was going now, but she knew she could face whatever it would bring.

Written for the May Writing Challenge

Week 1, day 1: Door

Codependent

Image credit: Dominik Vanyi @ Unsplash

Codependency was a word that I never fully grasped; it was something I never fully understood and something that – even now – I struggle to spell!

And yet, I was it, I was it to the letter. If anyone wanted an example of what a co-dependant person looked like, they could just bring me forward, with my phone firmly planted within my hand and my attention off elsewhere, and show me off as a good and fine specimen of someone who has fallen into that trap…

I hadn’t become this way intentionally of course, I hadn’t even become this way consciously, but I had become it all the same. It had happened over years, namely with one person, but there are little glimpses and tell-tale signs with others too. However, with this one person it was powerful, it was overwhelming and it was becoming very, very damaging.

This was a person who I had never met and who I had no real intention of meeting. He was a man who I had met online years ago, our conversations had started out regarding a shared interest in mental health and we had formed a friendship of sorts. Sometimes it is easier to talk about the hard stuff with someone if you don’t have to look them in the eye… and so, we gradually opened up to each other. He told me things that he had (allegedly) not told anyone else and I listened and advised the best that I could. When I suffered dips in my mental health, I turned not only to my husband and closest friends, but also to him. He always replied, always acknowledged my feelings… and then always reciprocated with his own.  

This isn’t a writing about how a friendship turned sour though, far from it. We don’t talk now, after a very difficult conversation we decided to have some time apart and whilst I admire him in many ways and still sometimes feel like I have lost a huge pillar of strength within my life, I also know that he has to address his own problems before we could ever hope to build a healthy relationship.

I also know that I need to address mine.

Because co-dependency doesn’t just spring up from nowhere. I became co-dependent because I had a need for something, something that was lacking and something that even now I struggle to identify. My over whelming desire within this friendship, was to fix; I wanted to make everything better, I could see the damage that was being done by my friends behaviours, but I could also see the things that would help him and I could see such potential – if only he would listen!

But he was listening, wasn’t he? We would have these long conversations; we would talk our way round the same situations day, after day, after day. He would ask me ‘What do I do?’ and I would reply with logic and compassion. I harnessed everything that I had learnt in therapy, everything that I had read about mental health and addiction. I would read articles online to try and improve my knowledge of the specific things he was struggling with. I would talk to my best friend – a qualified mental health nurse – and relay information, I would find song lyrics that resonated with his struggles and send him the music so he didn’t feel so alone. I would speak to him first thing in the morning and last thing at night, I would engage in behaviour that was damaging to my own mental health, in order to prevent him from either a) getting what he needed in that moment from someone who was potentially dangerous for his mental health or b) hurting someone else. But this was friendship, right? This was helping him, surely?

No, and no.

I remember very clearly the moment that it all clicked. It was on a day off, so I had been at home by myself all day and, yes, talking to him via text for a good part of it. I was feeling pretty tired – this was at the end of last year, so very much still combating my own medication withdrawal and Fibromyalgia symptoms. I ran a bath, loaded up Insight Timer and I saw a talk on the homepage by Michelle Chalfant about codependency…

I led in the bath and listened to her describe the behaviour I had been exhibiting, for years. Not just ‘oh, that kind of applies’ but every, single, item on that list I could identify and relate back to something I had done. I realised that I was not ok, if he was not ok – and he, was never ok.

It was like my empathy with this man had gone into overdrive, I wanted so desperately to make everything better for him that I had completely neglected myself in the process. He hadn’t specifically asked me to, he hadn’t directly put this stipulation on our friendship that I must behave in this way or he would leave – but I kind of felt that way all the same. I am learning the reasons now why I did that, I am working through my own feelings and my own motives for that behaviour – but it’s not easy.

We carried on talking for a while after that, but something had shifted. Truthfully, I was scared, I was scared to let him go because if I didn’t have him to ‘help’, then what would my purpose be? I was also very scared that actually, he wouldn’t care. That he would just say ‘ok then’ and go and I would end up with the weight of rejection upon my shoulders. I was also scared that all of this, all of these conversations, all of this kindness, this empathy, this care that I had willingly and freely given over months and years would be for nothing.

I was scared that it made me selfish.

Co-dependency is complex. My motives for my behaviour came from a number of different places – from the need to be heard, to my need for validation and also my natural desire to help and to empathise. The times that he would say ‘yes, this makes sense’ were the glimmers of light and the behaviour he continued to exhibit that went against that very same piece of advice, extinguished those sparks. But he would learn from that for next time, right? So I kept on, persevered and tried to be a good friend. In the end it just exacerbated those ingrained feelings and beliefs of being unheard, but to me, that was familiar and so it was ‘safe’. It was known behaviour so it was comforting even though it stung like ripping off a sticking plaster each and every time. I found that I couldn’t trust him, and yet I confided in him still. I found that I got angry with him, but it felt more like being angry at a child. I found that I was sinking into his problems whilst my own screamed at me from the surface…

Letting him go would also mean I didn’t have a distraction from my own problems anymore.

Eventually, it was my decision to end contact with him. It wasn’t pre-meditated, it wasn’t a thought out ‘I am going to have this conversation and it will be resolved by X, Y and Z’. It was a row – it was an insensitive comment made by him about my husband on a day when I was feeling depressed and in pain and having to brave it out at work. It was the argument that ensued and this voice that bubbled up inside me and screamed ‘this is not ok!’.  I had been ignoring this voice, my own voice that said repeatedly, for months, ‘I am done…’ but I should have listened to her; my inner child may be small and gentle but I was doing her no favours by not hearing her – eventually she screamed, a scream of pain, a scream of frustration and a scream so powerful that my decision was made in that instant. I was done.

Afterwards, it felt worse than any romantic break up that I had ever endured. I spoke to friends about it; I spoke to my husband and my therapist about it. I meditated on it, I questioned what I had done, and I checked his social media profiles to see if he was ok… but I didn’t go back.

One thing I noticed in those first couple of weeks was how much time I had! I wasn’t tied to my phone anymore. I also noticed that my confidence improved – I wasn’t hiding behind someone else’s problems. Yeah, sure, this meant all of my problems came to the surface but I could own them now. I tried to turn some of that care and affection back onto myself – and some days I manage it, some days I don’t, but at least I am trying. It’s something that will take months, if not years because it isn’t straightforward and this type of behaviour has roots that are buried deep.

I still miss him. I still wonder how he is, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I am learning the importance of boundaries and the importance of true friendship. I am learning to listen to the voice of my inner child because she knew what was up before I had even registered it. I am learning to forgive – both him and myself and I am learning that we cannot, ever fix someone else.

We can love them, we can support them, we can validate their feelings and we can send them all the articles and song lyrics in the world.

But we cannot fix them, for that is a path they must walk alone.

Turn Around

Image by Yogendra Singh @ Pexels

You tried to outrun it, didn’t you?

You tried to speed ever onwards, not looking back. Through relationships, and jobs and sweet amber liquid that tasted like how you imagine silence might sound.

The bridges that you built in haste with shaking, trembling hands stood firm, they didn’t crumble, they didn’t fall. They held your heavy, fast footsteps as you cleared each one.

It was working.

It was messy and it was band aids and it was hard. But it was working, wasn’t it?

Until it wasn’t.

Until it gained speed behind you. Did it pick up it’s pace, or did you slacken yours?

I suppose it doesn’t really matter, it was going to catch up with you eventually.

Because you can’t outrun fear my love. You can’t outrun that little knot of fear and loneliness and emptiness that a small child once grasped with both hands and couldn’t let go of.

You need to take a deep breath, turn around and take it from him now. It’s heavy, so be careful.

Be brave.

And then you can walk the rest of the way, with a small hand in yours and the loneliness, at least, will subside.

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What I Have Learnt from 100 days of Meditation

Meditation… the blissful calming of the mind, the lotus position, straight backed and neck elongated. Breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth. The calming of the turbulent thoughts, the easing of the racing mind, the chakras aligned and cleansed. The one single act that instantly transforms us from irritable, hangry, frustrated mortals into enlightened, calm and mindful beings, right?

Um, no… sorry. Wrong.

Meditation isn’t a cure all, meditation isn’t the answer to all of our problems in the western world. It isn’t a secret passageway that some people take on a shortcut to enlightenment. It is hard, it can be physically, mentally and spiritually uncomfortable. It can make you cry like a baby without even knowing why, it can leave you feeling more confused than when you first started…

But it is pretty wonderful.

I have meditated on and off for the past few years. I went through a spell a couple of years ago where I tried to meditate every day (as well as doing an hour of rigorous exercise, eating healthily, drinking my protein shakes, working full time, being sociable, trying to write and maintain a perfectly ‘balanced’ lifestyle) unfortunately… something had to give, and ironically (or perhaps not) it was that time that I dedicated purely to the benefit of my own mind and self-worth that flew out of the window first.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m sat at my desk at work, in a room where I spend 42 hours a week of my life. I am bored, I am exhausted, I am in physical pain and emotional pain. I blank out my own thoughts, fears and feelings by helping others (in particular, one other), I’m not exercising regularly, I’m not eating all that well… I am crumbling. This was last year, last summer. I wasn’t in a great place and it did all come to a head when I literally could not stop crying at work – that’s one thing when you can slip away from your desk and hide in the toilet for ten minutes, its another when you solely man reception for a company of 800+ employees.

So, for the second time in my life, I stopped. I stopped everything – work, the performance I was putting on every day. I went home, went to see my Dr, rested, talked to friends, took some time out and re-evaluated my entire life.

And it was hard. It was hard financially for a little while, it was super hard emotionally and it was hard physically as I learnt that what I was suffering from wasn’t just a recurrence of my depressive symptoms, I now had a physical condition too. My medication changed – or rather, stopped. I came off of the anti-depressants I had been on for 7 years – and let me tell you, medication withdrawal is not something I would wish on my worst enemy, if I had one. The plan was to switch to a medication that would not only treat my depression but also the Fibromyalgia that had reared its pretty nasty head. However, I am not someone who walks the easiest path, so I decided to not go on the other medication, and instead to try and find my way without it.

Let me clarify one thing here – I am not anti-medication, for anything. For mental or for physical health. I have actively encouraged others to take medication and of course, I have been on long term medication myself. I have seen and felt the benefits and I highly doubt that I would be sat here today if it wasn’t for pharmaceutical intervention earlier in my life. However, I felt I was at a crossroads and also, as a woman in her thirties, I knew that if I wanted to have children at some point, I could not do that whilst on the medication that was being prescribed for me.

I mean, I couldn’t do that if my depression symptoms were terrible either – so I picked up the prescription ‘just in case’. I decided to do a week without meds, then two, then a month…

That was 5 months ago. The meds are still in the cupboard under my stairs – if I need them, I have them, but not once have I reached for them.

And that’s not just meditation (oh yeah, lets get this writing back on track…) it’s a whole supportive network of things. It’s the vitamins and CBD I take every day, it’s the therapy I attend once a week, it’s the toxic relationship I have cut completely out of my life, it’s the different hours I’m doing at work, it’s the support of my closest friends and my husband and the snuggles I get from my dog…

But, it’s also meditation.

Ironically, it was the toxic person that I cut out of my life that suggested it to me in the first place. I know that doesn’t sound very grateful of me, but there was a lot more going on there than what it looked like on the outside and I’m sure there will be more writings about that in the near future. And I am grateful, immensely so. I thought he was fucking joking when he said to me one morning to meditate – I was in a very bad, and dark place – going through withdrawal and feeling like my world was falling apart. The thought of sitting cross legged and in silence seemed like torture, but he insisted I listened to a talk on a meditation app at least… so, I did.

I didn’t meditate regularly at all for the first few weeks. I found the odd one and put it on, half listening whilst I did something else (not always eyerolling, but sometimes) and then I listened to a talk on co-dependency, and something clicked.

I started meditating every day… sometimes for just ten minutes, sometimes for an hour. Sometimes when I woke and sometimes when I went to sleep and sometimes even both! I wasn’t entirely sure what, if anything I was getting from it, but it felt like a little glimmer of positivity in my darkest days and I was willing to grasp hold of that with both hands if I thought it would pull me through.

I listened to talks too – I listened to other people’s experiences and their journeys. If I just wanted to lie quietly, I’d listen to the sound of rain or waves crashing upon a shore and regulate my breathing. I listened in the bath, I listened in bed, rarely I listened in lotus position…

Because there is no correct way to find inner peace. For me, sitting upright hurt my back (thanks fibro) and still does on bad pain days, so I find that now I meditate best when I am lying on my bed and my mind can focus on breathing or voice, and often both, rather than being distracted by pain.

I have cried through entire meditations. I have cried even before they have fully begun! I have switched guided meditations off halfway through because they just weren’t working for me, I have found myself laughing partway though, I have found my mind wandering towards what we are having for dinner or what happened at work that day. I have meditated in the moonlight, sunlight, candlelight and pitch dark, I have meditated outdoors and in. I have meditated to past life guided mediations and I have seen myself in widows’ wares burying a child. I have fallen asleep during many meditations, I have gone for weeks where I haven’t listened to anything guided but just used gentle music or rain sounds to help me calm my breathing and get me to sleep. I have listened to meditations designed to give me more confidence, to help me connect with my inner child and to help me cut ties and find peace with people….

But I have done it every, single day.

I can’t say that I have wanted to do it every day – some days the reason I have done it is purely because I am a perfectionist and I don’t want to lose my continuous day streak! (Yes, really!) I mean – as marketing goes, it’s a pretty good incentive.

However, for what I feel I have learnt (other than perfectionism is a weirdly great motivator for inner calm) I’m not sure it can be summarised in a neat little package – but for the purpose of this writing, and because I have taken so long to get here, I will try.

I have learnt that we all need more time, we need time to just sit, and listen – and I mean really listen. I have learnt that it’s perfectly ok to take time for yourself and in fact, its more than ok, it’s vital!

Our own voice is the one we hear the most, it is in our head constantly. It’s our thoughts, it’s the way we see the world. It comes from our current form, it comes from our child selves, it comes from our family members, our friends and our ancestors – it is everything that has had a hand in creating us and it is constant. If we ignore than voice, what does it do? Does it quietly go and sit in the corner and wait until we’re a little less busy so it can have a quiet word with us?

Ha, no!

It shouts. It throws a tantrum, it knocks things over, it says things to get a rise out of us, it criticises, it makes a nuisance of itself until we are forced to pay it some attention.

And that’s what meditation does. It allows us to hear that voice within us – the child that is lost, the memories we have buried and squashed down and sat on top of for so long. It forces us to come face to face with the quiet and in the quiet, the parts of ourselves and our pasts that we fear the most. It allows us to see what is real and what matters, without the distractions that we greedily absorb day, after day, after day…

And it is, at times, terrifying. And sad, and overwhelming.

But my god, it is worth it.

Because when you see yourself, and I mean really see yourself, it triggers something within. Some primal need for understanding and authenticity. When you stop using busyness, or alcohol, or sex, or Netflix, or running, or gambling, or food, or other people to stop distracting you from yourself it is weirdly freeing and completely empowering.

I’m not saying its not hard, or that I don’t have days where all I want to do is curl up into a little ball and hide from the world – because I do. But I also know that I am working towards something bigger, something that is going to help me become a different and hopefully one day, a more enlightened version of myself. For now, I will focus on keeping my daily streak going, I will focus on learning and reading and listening and finding out more about what I have been hiding and numbing and running from  – and some days I will have the courage to face those things down, and some days I won’t, but 100 days is a start and we all have to begin somewhere.

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