What's happened over the past couple of years?

What's happened over the past couple of years?
Come and find out about our life-changing work!
Update April 2018: It's been a while my friends - and such a lot has happened since I was last active here!

When it finally dawned on me that I had been systematically abused - and not just by one person - my whole world collapsed around me.

You see, I had always believed myself to be a strong person. Capable. Successful and somewhat sassy to boot. A fighter. Someone who could overcome any challenge, as I'd proven to myself since early childhood, time and time again. So the knockout thud of recognition that I had been a 'victim' hit me with the full force of a steam train, tsunami and earthquake rolled into one.

"How could that have happened to me? How did I let it happen? Why didn't I notice it? Why didn't I stop it, or at least speak out?"
...and then came an all engulfing darkness of shame. And then the deafening silence.

It took me years to come out of that place. Years of hard work, self reflection and excruciating pain.

Which was how, ultimately, Light Up was finally born.

Now this work is being experienced and shared by many - and is growing in numbers and momentum. And I am grateful.

Grateful not only for my own experiences, also for the fact that Light Up gives people the tools to escape from their shame and pain in far less time than it took me!

We are already working with trafficked women, abused children and traumatised adults, successfully guiding them back to completeness (without having to relive their horrors) in as little as two sessions.

People are waking up and finding their voices. I am a firm supporter of the #metoo movement, and every other group that sheds light on and offers a platform for people to speak out and seek a complete way of living.

Yes, there is darkness in this world. Yes, there is much that has been hidden away. And yes, now people are speaking out. Thank goodness for those voices! The quiet ones. The angry ones. The sad ones. The loud ones. All have their place. All have their unique message to share. All are warriors.

I am honoured to be in service, and to play my part in reigniting this beautiful world of ours. We are coming together now. We are gathering force. And I am glad.

Fellow warriors, I salute you. I commit to continuing to stand in this arena alongside all my brothers and sisters who know there is a better way and a brighter future.

Come and find out more www.dnalightup.net

In continued love, recognition and gratitude

Mel xxx

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Debt, Divorce and Discovery

Bills and coins-1-

This afternoon Julie and I have been going through all the unopened letters that I've been keeping in a pile for the past few months. I knew what they were you see. They were all re-directed from Scotland, and related to the debts that are all in my name. Until I found my solicitor, you'll remember, I'd been told that the only way to deal with them was to sell my house here in France. So, while I was exploring options - and seeking work - I decided the best route was to leave them unopened. There was nothing I could do to take any action. I knew what they were. So they would have to wait until I had a clear way forward.

Well, now I do. So today was the day that Julie very kindly came round and opened and sorted the letters to make it a more manageable task for me to deal with. I'd meant to get this job done since my return home last weekend. I'd already seen my solicitor and we'd agreed a way forward. But somehow I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I'm not known for procrastination - quite the opposite in fact - but this week I've been finding no-end of 'important and pressing' jobs that took precedence over facing that pile of letters.

Daft, really. I know what's in them. After all, I completed this whole process at the beginning of October when I first became aware of two huge debts that were in my name - a major shock as you can imagine! At that time I sat down and worked out all of my commitments and started looking for help from debt advisors. You'll know from my previous posts that I have spent hours and hours talking with different people from different organisations in my quest to get to the bottom of the issue and to find a solution.  And that each time I have been given different - sometimes conflicting - advice from professionals and advisory bodies. It's been infuriating to say the least!

Well, now that I have a solicitor who's prepared to fight with gloves off, I feel I'm finally moving forward. And, funnily enough, on a route that is totally unrecognisable from the "only option" I was told was open to me just before Christmas. Persistence pays. Now the debts are "under matrimonial jurisdiction" and, as such, will be contested and need to be included in the negotiations for the divorce settlement. No matter that they are in my sole name - the fact remains that I was unaware of their existence. The fact remains that my husband acted without my consent. The fact remains that I have been duped - because I was blinded by love and trust for the person I believed was my soulmate. No more. My emotions are now in check, and I see clearly the nature of the beast I am dealing with.

And the discoveries of this afternoon have made me even more grateful for my escape. And even more convinced of my innocence in the many financial hardships we faced over our marriage. For within the letters that have been forward were a few - just a handful - that were intended for him, so should never have reached me. Of course I didn't know the difference until I opened them (for those who have ever used Royal Mail's post forwarding service, you'll know that the original address window is completely obscured by the oversized redirect label). Having opened the letters, of course I read them. OK, I accept, I should not have been privy to the contents, and technically I should really have re-sealed the envelopes the second I realised the letters were not intended for me - but hey, nobody's perfect, right?

The pile consisted purely of demands for payment - and this is only a snap-shot for I'm sure the majority of his intended letters stay in Scotland. Debt collectors, solicitors, arrears departments all seem very keen to meet up and secure a relationship with my husband, threatening entry to the apartment by fair means or foul. But he appears to be ignoring them all - strange, because not so long ago didn't I find him advertising for "new and exciting back-door encounters"....? Perhaps he's had his fill.

Among the debt collectors are a demand for £120 outstanding with a video rental company - how on earth can anyone run up such a bill? There is a solicitor's letter chasing £780 from a mobile phone supplier. An energy supplier threatening to cut off the services unless £87 is paid immediately. And the telephone company suggesting very politely that perhaps non-payment of their bill for £73 has been an oversight on his behalf.

Now, OK, most of us are sometimes a little bit late paying a couple of bills. But this, surely, takes the biscuit? As I've said before, I have earned nothing over the past year - and also suffered a serious knee injury which meant I couldn't move for a few weeks - and yet, and yet.... every single one of my current financial obligations have been met. I have a fantastic reputation with the bank, and also with the mortgage company who were going to repossess while he was in charge of the finances! He, on the other hand, has had no such debts to deal with. He has had work with at least two of our clients from Top Banana. He has also been in full time employment in a senior role since the beginning of September.

So what's it all about?

For me, it's about breathing an enormous sigh of relief that I discovered the truth. It's about realising that I was not to blame for our financial issues (although I hold my hand up to simply believing whatever he told me, without insisting on the evidence). It's about a new-found confidence in what I'm doing - and a renewed determination to fight against these financial institutions who think it's OK to threaten the "little people" - like me - without care or concern about the effects it has on families who are struggling to cope.

Those who know me well can vouch for the fact that I will fight against any injustice. Well, after this afternoon, I've discovered that I have more fire in my belly than I had previously thought. And now I'm prepared to battle against the banks, credit card companies and other financial houses - for finally I believe in my own monetary skills.

Watch this space and mark my words - this is war.

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Saturday, 30 January 2010

It's All Coming Together

A Scenery Like Me
Life's rich tapestry - one of those sayings that, sadly, has lost its meaning and power, and yet is so true! Over the past couple of weeks, I have felt that my life is indeed turning in to a rich tapestry. One with a design so intricate, a quality so unique, a beauty so breathtaking that no mere mortal mind could have designed it.

Things are balancing out. Working themselves through. Making sense. And in the process creating a stunning work of art. ALL BY THEMSELVES.

I've already written about the surprise contact this week from my old friend and colleague, and also my dear friend's success in securing a job? Well, there have been even more coincidences - pushes and nudges - that have convinced me that the master plan (life?) is indeed a joyous experience. And a journey to be trusted and enjoyed along the way. Yes, even despite the agonies that I've sometimes had to endure. Yes, even despite the set-backs, the unfairness, the frustrations of numerous situations through my life. 

These days I find myself smiling - and laughing - when faced by challenges or mishaps. Because my automatic response these days is that, as my mum always used to say "this too shall pass away" - I can cope through the storm, I can find the help or support I need, and once the storm has passed, in it's place there is ALWAYS something worthwhile. Something that without exception enriches my life or that of those about me. Like the smile that creeps over your face at the end of a good film or book, where the plot suddenly becomes clear and you can make sense of the story. The dawning realisation, the knowing smirk, the tilt of the head, the stroking of the chin "Ah, so THAT'S what it was all about then eh?"

Well - that's where I am at the moment.

Yesterday my boiler stopped working. It was just after the delivery of more oil - that I had to pay for with the final balance left on my French credit card. Yes, things are that tight. Boiler reparation is not in my list of skills, so I called friends for help. The first person I asked was equally lacking in that department, but I struck gold with the second contact. Robert, my neighbour just across from me, it turns out, is really quite experienced in the ways of boilers. And he was more than happy to help. He and his wife came to the village many years before I did, and when I first arrived we used to spend many evenings together. Time passed, and we saw less of each other - but always stopped and chatted when we saw each other. Since I've been on my own, they have rallied round and I'm reminded of how much I enjoy their company.

In the middle of Robert's explorations, we feared we may need to call in a professional plumber. Of course, that would be an expense I cannot cover at the moment. So instead, I called my friend Kevin, who now lives in Dubai, but who used to be a plumber here in France. He also happens to know my boiler very well! It was a fascinating experience. Robert kneeling by the boiler, with Kevin talking on loudspeaker telephone giving him step by step instructions on what he needed to do. A smaller problem, of course, but I couldn't help thinking of the film Apollo 13 where Tom Hanks was stranded in space and had to fix the engine with expert guidance from the team in Huston.

By that point it was nearing the time I had to collect Dylan, and so Sylvie, Robert's wife, kindly offered to go and get him for me. She also offered me a shower as I had no hot water. In the morning, you see, before the oil was delivered, I had put a treatment on my hair, fully expecting to wash it off in my shower to reveal a head of shiny healthy locks. Instead of which I'd resorted to pulling a woolly hat over my head, and keeping the hood of my cardigan up. And I had friends due round for dinner in just over an hour and a half...!

Gratefully I accepted her offer, pulled on my boots and warm coat, and traipsed over to their house, with towel, soap and shampoo tucked under my arm.

The shower was absolutely wonderful, and I enjoyed every second of it! Afterwards, I opened the door to reach for my towel... and that was when I noticed it. Somehow I hadn't quite shut the shower door properly, and there was water all over their floor! I know that my neighbours are very particular about keeping clean and tidy, so I was horrified to see that the water had not only soaked the beautiful woven cream wool mat that was outside the shower, but that it was also now heading towards the just as beautiful blue rug that was by the sink. This one I was even more worried about, as I'm sure it's one that Sylvie has made herself.

Because of my knee injury, I tend to be more cautious with my movements these days - particularly when the ground looks treacherous. Sylvie, incidentally, had a hip replacement operation last year, and I was also terrified that she might come in and slip on a wet floor. Running my own internal Laurel and Hardy disaster movie at this stage, I carefully stepped out of the shower and over to the blue rug. I managed to get it off the floor and over the hanging rails, just in the nick of time, as the water flowed to where it had just been. A small victory, but one that boosted my confidence and changed Laurel and Hardy's mishaps to a scene of jolity and laughter. I was winning!

Unable to find a mop, I threw on my clothes and walked quickly back over to my house. Robert was still working away in my house, but now there was a reassuring thrumming sound coming from the boiler room and Robert was standing there, hands on hips and a huge grin of satisfaction across his face. "It's working! We did it!"

I didn't want to worry him about my mishap over the road, so I congratulated him warmly and said I just needed to find my mop to clean his bathroom floor. His smile slipped slightly and his eyes widened a lot (he had probably started his own internal screening of the flooding cabins in the Titanic) but I reassured him that I had everything under control. It was just that I couldn't find a mop at his house - that was all!

Mop in hand and scuffling back over the road, I quickly got on with the job in hand. It didn't take much, really - the bathroom is on the ground floor (luckily!) and the floor is pretty robust. So by the time Robert appeared at the back door there was nothing to show of my little upset. We hung the big cream rug in the barn to dry, and I asked Robert to tell me all about his success.

A few minutes after arriving back home, Dylan walked through the door and offered to help clear up before our friends arrived. I did the final preparations, went upstairs to style my hair and get ready, and my friends arrived just as I came back in to the kitchen. Perfect timing!

We had a wonderful evening together, and once again I was able to reflect back on the day and appreciate the warmth and depth of my friendships. I am, indeed, richer than even Rockerfella himself - for friendship and love is something that stays with you no matter what happens.

I may not have material wealth - for now - but over the past few months I've realised that I am wealthier than all my wildest dreams. For I have friends. And I have survived. 

You may remember that a couple of years ago I made a commitment to "call back my spirit"... well, I've achieved it. It hasn't been easy, and I wouldn't wish my recent experiences on anybody. There have been times when I've felt I can't go on. Times when I thought I couldn't survive the pain. And yet now through it all I can honestly look back and see how every part of my journey has helped me to find myself. And I can finally look at myself and feel safe and secure. And now, as things are gently coming together, I feel that I can finally be me. 

I've found ME - not Mel the coach, the wife, the supporter, the provider, the businesswoman - no, ME, MYSELF, I - so aptly put by Joan Armatrading. I think I've already achieved a lot in my life. So now, as I move forward, I absolutely KNOW I can achieve so much more - and this time, it will be for me. Not to prove myself, or please anyone, or to win acceptance. No, now this is for me and what's important to me. For now I know that I can thrive. 

And, mark my words - I fully intend to live my life to the max. Watch out world!

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Top Banana Is Dead... Long Live Top Banana!

Cavendish bananas are the main commercial bana...
Yup - I've reached a decision. It's been a long time coming, but the signs and guidance are now so strong that I'm compelled to take action.

You see, for a long time (even before last year) I had felt resentful of the training company Cam and I used to run together, where once upon a time it had meant everything to me. It had begun to symbolise everything that was 'wrong' in my life. I had become so tired from all the commuting that I couldn't 'enjoy' my downtime. Empty from giving so much of myself to the work that I began to lose myself. And stifled by the constant financial pressures we seemed to have even though we had a bunch of top quality clients and plenty of work. I simply couldn't make sense of it, and every time I tried to talk with Cam about it he'd get angry. He'd tell me that we have to keep focused "keep in the zone" and that the only thing that was important was the business.

And I began to believe it was the business that was keeping me from enjoying my life. The business that kept me away from Dylan and my home. The business that meant Cam and I were so tired from working that romance and tenderness was reduced to a few snatched moments. And so I began to resent it - hate it even. I wanted to distance myself from everything it represented.

Now, of course, I realise that it was not the business that was eating in to my life. It was my relationship with Cam. It was the fact that I was so blinded by love, I couldn't see that I was living with a cold calculating controller who spent money like water and didn't care about me in the slightest. THAT was why I felt tired and drained. And THAT was why we had so many financial battles.

I actually used to believe that the financial issues must be my fault - that I was clearly crap with money. Now I know that's as far from the truth as it's possible to be! I haven't earned a penny throughout 2009. I have survived by selling things from the house, by being frugal, and also through the generosity and support of those around me. And within that year I have managed to save the house that was going to be repossessed. I've also met every bill and mortgage payment. My bank manager here in France has faith in me because I've done everything I said I would - even though sometimes I didn't know how I was going to do it. I've also kept food on the table and a smile on my face (most of the time!). So no, there is no way that I'm bad with money! I'm actually pretty darned good with it!

And as for the re-branding of the business? Well, guess what's coming back to me time and time and time again. Much to my utter amazement (and honour) clients and friends have told me "YOU are the business, you always have been! We bought YOU, because of what YOU do - some people liked Cam, many people just tolerated him, others simply hated him. But no one has anything but praise for you". 

To be honest, I didn't believe it for a long time - I actually didn't WANT to believe it. Because if I did, then I'd be obliged to set it up all over again. I'd also have to come out of the shadows, which has been my enforced 'home' and therefore become my comfort zone over the past few years.

Since the beginning of this year, though, I've had more and more proof of the strength of the Top Banana brand. And I am now allowing myself to remember that I was the driving force behind it. I chose the name. I commissioned the logo design. I brought Lara in to the business. I targeted clients. I took their calls. I met them all. I wrote the proposals. I designed the training - god damn it, I even coached Cam on what he was to present - and how he was to deliver! So how on earth I'd allowed myself to slink away in to the shadows, and to turn against the business, the brand, that I gave so much to and that in turn gave so much to me - well, it's beyond comprehension. I take my hat of to Cam's skills of manipulation. He was very VERY good.

Over the past two weeks I've heard enough 'coincidences' to convince me to keep the brand. If I am pitching as 'Mel Carnegie' that's one thing. But mention Top Banana, and everything becomes elevated. Talking to a major player at Disney last week, the mention of Top Banana in Brighton immediately allowed us to discover that we share a best friend, who was very taken with our company ten years ago! Another blue-chip is keen for me to send them information because they've also heard great things about Top Banana. My friend Matt came across someone high up in a particular radio group who has nothing but praise for Top Banana (even though I don't personally know this lady) - and the same for another radio group who's also heard a ton of good stuff about Top Banana. Another friend from the Northeast told me yesterday about a motivational speaker who also said he'd heard great things about Top Banana and the things we do!

So - as my friend Greg said to me so many months ago, and as so many people are saying to me now - to be recognised and admired just from a company name is a rare thing in this day and age. It's a diamond in these dull grey times.

You know what they say about diamonds? They're a girl's best friend. And Top Banana? Well, for many many years it was everything to me - and it brought me riches in experience, exposure, confidence, enjoyment, reputation, contacts and friends.

So who am I to bury it for good?

The old Top Banana - or rather, what I thought it was, what I believed it stood for - is dead and buried along with my relationship with Cam. But the new Top Banana - the new me, the new group of people around me, the renewed energy, passion and authenticity - well, now that is most CERTAINLY alive and well!

In it's infancy at the moment, The Top Banana Bunch will bring together like minded people and companies who want to serve and make a difference. Together we will provide an unrivaled service in people development. The timing is absolutely perfect as we move out of recession - management teams will be tired from the fight. Employees will have lost their belief. Board members will no longer have the necessary chutzpah to stand up make the difference. But WE do - and we know how to teach others to have the same. Because we've been through it ourselves. Every one of us who plays a part in this group will bear our own battle scars with pride. Each of us will have faced our own personal battles. Between us we will understand the devastation of loss. The hurt of betrayal. The vulnerability of despair. And between us we will create differences in the lives of people who are striving to make this economy strong.  

Top Banana is indeed dead. LONG LIVE TOP BANANA!!!!!!!!

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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Well Well Well...

English: Pier at Maraetai Beach, in greater Au...
... no, not the three holes in the ground. Just a wry smile on my face because things really are now moving forward. I really AM free. And I've just received a telephone call out of the blue, that I've taken as a big sign that all is well.

It was from Doug, an amazingly kind and talented guy we did all our best training with when we were running the business. I always thought of Doug as a friend, not just a work colleague, and I was gutted when we drifted apart (now I realise this was Cam's influence, but that doesn't matter now). Chatting to him on the phone after what, two years? Three years even? It felt as though time had just melted away, and I felt the connection once again. Only yesterday he had heard through the grapevine that Cam and I had separated, but didn't know the details. So he immediately called, much to my surprise and delight. And as I explained what had happened, I felt his support and understanding beaming towards me. Once again, more support, more good people - another person who had been kept away, but who can now return. He told me that he married his beautiful girlfriend just before Christmas, and I am so chuffed for both of them. It's wonderful news!

So many more things are also slipping in to place. Strange coincidences seem to be happening, and I feel that I'm in the 'flow' that I've read about and searched for since I first started on my journey of self-development. This time, though, the movement is effortless. My only job now is to relax, accept and quite literally "go with the flow" for things are unfolding in so many glorious ways right in front of my eyes.

You may have read in an earlier post about the unexpected kindness of a friend? Well, as a result of that kindness I was able to visit my solicitor last week. And it turns out that I might just be in a better position than I could have imagined. So that's good.

I was also able to collect new passports for both myself and Dylan - on the same day, when I was told it would take longer! Our surname is now officially back to my maiden name again, which makes a massive psychological difference.

I met some amazing people last week, and now the opportunities for work are even better and more exciting than I could possibly have imagined! And I was absolutely flabbergasted by the links and coincidences that continued to present themselves as the week progressed. So much so that, on the train home on Thursday evening, I could not contain my happiness! Smiling like a Cheshire cat, and unable to concentrate on the newspaper in front of me, my bizarre antics prompted a fellow passenger to approach me when I left the train, telling me I'd cheered him up as he'd never seen anyone look so happy....!!!

And then just a couple of days ago, one of my best friends in the whole wide world was given the good news that he'd secured the job he so dearly wanted - and deserved. For him, that marks the end of a very trying two years - so we celebrated together! Matt and his lovely wife have both been with me every step of the way, as have I with them through their trials. And we regularly share a philosophical conversation over a few glasses of wine, trying to make sense of these testing times.

Last night was no exception. This time, though, the philosophical conversation was positive as we focused on the things we've learned over the past few months. It seemed no coincidence that we were both suddenly back in similar circumstances to when we first met ten years ago. Specifically that he was just taking a new job as MD of a radio station, and that I was just pulling together a new training business. OK, things are not quite the same, but the similarities are there without question. So we asked the question "Had so much changed in that time after all?" and the response was a resounding "YES!". 

We both remembered that at that time, we were happy and excited about our lives in every sense of the world. We were at the top of our game, and we both achieved amazing results in our careers. We spoke the same language that we use today, we had the same dreams - so how come so much had 'gone wrong' over the past few years? And what had changed?

Chortling at the sudden 'ah-ha moment' that this prompted in both of us, we agreed that somehow the vibration has changed. It's difficult to put in to words, but somehow the energy and belief is now rooted and safe. It's now solid - through and through.  It's not floating in the wind, nor shooting off in all directions. We were no longer looking outside for the answers, or for more input. Now we were looking inwards, and noticing the differences.

And then we hit on the next realisation. Remembering the fantastic results we both achieved back then, just imagine the results we can now achieve, with the added wisdom and calm that we've both gained over the past few years? Now THAT'S inspiring. THAT'S something to leap out of bed for in the morning. THAT'S something to get really excited about.

I was asked a couple of days ago if I was "hungry" - meaning was I keen to get out there and make a difference. Absolutely I am! This time, though, no matter how hungry I may be, I won't stop at the first junk-food outlet I find - not even for a second. I'll select my food and service wisely. I'll take my time and choose calmly, with the inner peace and knowing that I DO have options, and that I DO deserve the best. This time I'll be patient and trust that the best is destined for me, no matter how things might appear on the outside. I'll be open to new opportunities and I'll accept the ones that serve me the best. For if I can survive through a year like 2009 and come through smiling, then I can certainly thrive in 2010 and beyond.

Neale Donald Walsche puts it this way: "Life works out in the process of Life Itself. All you have to do is trust that it will, and allow it to."

As I said right in the beginning.... well well well.... and you know what? It jolly well is.

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Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Winds Of Change...

...are surely blowing my way, and bringing such a sweet feeling of relief! After months and months of battles in the wilderness, at last I can feel that things are changing for the better.

These changes, though, unlike many before, are slow, safe and solid. For the first time in my life, I feel that new foundations are being built - not a shell, but a new depth of strength and security, right from the core of my soul. And you know what? Bizarre though it may seem, I'm actually beginning to get a sense of deep gratitude for my recent struggles - and, indeed, those of the past - for now I feel at peace. The struggles have at last brought me to a place of clarity and in a better position than I can ever remember.

Yes, the financial issues are still there - but they seem somewhat insignificant now. For, in the place of fear and stagnation is a newfound confidence and energy. It's not gregarious. It's not out to prove anything or shock anyone. It's not loud or "in your face". It's not there even to make a point. It's now something that's now resonating both inside and outside of me at a constant low pitched hum - making me feel a little like the Ready Brek kids with their warm red glow.

So what's happened? What's changed?

In truth, I'm not sure which came first, the chicken or the egg. I'd like to think that by changing my inner world, it has been responsible for making changes in my outer world - perhaps, though, it's been a little bit of osmosis from both parts? All I do know is that I'm no longer daunted by the road that lies ahead of me. I feel ready and able to face the obstacles I must overcome to finally free myself from Happyman and the mess he's left. But that's all it is now, just a mess - nothing more and nothing less. And messes can be cleared away. It's funny, because now I cannot even begin to imagine how my life was when he was around - not even remotely. The life I had then, the person I was then, is foreign to me. Interestingly, Dylan said exactly the same thing this weekend. I made reference to "Cam" about something - and he looked at me momentarily confused. "Oh, him!" he'd said "I'd forgotten he had a real name - it seems as though he was never here!" I chuckled, as once again my wise son hit the nail on the head.

For perhaps that's key - indifference is THE difference? Perhaps, for me, I've finally "let go" by completing the mourning process properly for the first time? Perhaps the on-going battles have given me the opportunity to clear up old messes as well as the present stuff?
Allow me to explain...

During my lifetime of study and self-development, I've often had the instinct that perhaps there was still something left to deal with around the sudden death of my beloved father when I was just four years old. Until recently I believed that I'd already explored every part of that situations - that I'd gone in to every emotion and healed every wound. But the gift that has come out of my husband's worst betrayals, is that I've been given the opportunity to explore all those emotions again - and found a new freedom as a result. For, like my father, Cam was everything to me and I adored him with all my heart and with all my soul. And like my father, he disappeared overnight with no warning and no recourse.

My pain and fury have at times been almost overwhelming. I didn't know that such strong emotions existed. I'd locked away the intensity and power of feelings from my childhood for fear I would literally die from the devastation should I ever open the floodgates. But this time it was as if I had no choice. This time, each new battle, each new test or piece of unexpected bad fortune, has forced me to feel fully - heart, mind, body and soul. And boy it's been hard work...! This time, though, I've also been open to the love and support that surrounds me. This time I haven't shied away. This time I've let myself fall and get up - over and over and over again. But then, as babies, didn't all of us followed exactly this same process so that we could learn to walk?

And now I'm walking. Tall, strong and with a new perspective. Confident that I'm on the right path, and that everything in my life has led me to this moment. And I feel healed - although, I must confess, I hadn't been aware that I was "sick" in any way.... I just know that now I feel better.

Perhaps, at last, I'm no longer waiting for my hero to come home. For perhaps now, I've finally realised that I can face life on my own two feet.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Everyday Miracles And Perfect Guidance

English: Tinkerbell by Diarmuid Byron O'Connor...
As a child I remember a cinema outing to see Peter Pan, and shouting at the top of my lungs when Tinkerbell died after drinking Peter's poisoned medicine. 

"I DO believe in fairies! I DO believe in fairies!" I'd shrieked, clapping my hands and stamping my feet along with all the other children in the audience, all of us willing her to get better. I can still remember the tingle of pleasure that ran up my spine as Tinkerbell came back to life.

To this day, I still believe in fairies - except now I choose to call them something else. I call them miracles. And I've been lucky enough to experience a few of my own this week.

You'll know about the recent battles I've been facing. Specifically, how to legally deal with the debts that my husband accrued behind my back - not to mention moving forward with the divorce. It's been an interesting few weeks, and a steep learning process along the way!

Just before Christmas (the day of my 45th birthday in fact) you'll remember, I was faced with the frightening advice that I had no other choice than to sell our family home to cover the debts - that particular deal would also have given my husband a nice chunk of cash, and left Dylan and I homeless and still in debt. I've since been chasing around the houses to find a better solution.

A few weeks earlier, at the beginning of December, a relative in America kindly agreed to pay my legal fees. Since my finances have been so tight that I could not even afford to pay my son's school canteen bill, this had given me a major boost as you can imagine!

So the Christmas break saw me send out an impassioned battle cry to James, a solicitor I worked with many years ago. It was James who fought the court case against my legal guardian, a well-known and highly respected local businessman, so that I could gain legal custody of my sister. James was the only person who believed my story - after all, I was only 19 years old and I accept that my stories of cruelty and betrayal would have been pretty hard to believe at the time. But he DID believe me, and he fought long and hard on my behalf. It was a bitter and complicated case, which dragged on for seven years. But in the end we won. So James and I have a history you see. All those years ago we took on a mighty Goliath together - and we beat him. And I decided that I simply must find a way to get him on my side again for this battle.

I had already tried to hire James in the summer, but at that time I had no proof of an English address, and he simply could not work under Scottish law. Now, however, the circumstances have changed, so I was confident that he would react swiftly to my call.

But the response I received just after Christmas Day (I was in London, with my sister at the time) came as a bit of a shock. His email was unusually brief and factual, stating that he had to go in to hospital and had passed everything on to his colleague, Owen. That was fair enough, but he also added that Owen would likely require a substantial sum of money on account in order to make sense of everything. I was surprised and upset by what I took to be a cold brush-off, and decided that I would research other alternatives before making any decisions.

A friend in London, Katy, who my sister and I have known for many years, kindly recommended another solicitor who had been of great help to her a few years earlier. So contact was made, and we awaited a reply. The Christmas break is a wonderful time in so many ways, but can prove to be frustrating when there are pressing business matters to be dealt with!

I flew home to France on 30th December, and I was finally able to speak with them that afternoon. I spent over an hour on the phone with them - firstly to the person my friend had recommended, and then to a lady who I was told would be more able to assist with my particular requirements. I'll admit, I felt heartened by both conversations, and I dared to start believing that I might finally be able to find a way through the nightmare that was by now overtaking my life. So I spent further hours pulling together countless documents detailing and evidencing my claims. But I was not prepared for the response that came in the following morning. It was a brief impersonal email, asking  me to print out and sign their letter of engagement and pay them £1,000 up front on account.

This was not what I had been expecting. My very first question to them had been to ask whether or not they thought they could help me. And if they felt that they could, then specifically what they could do and how much it was going to cost. I had learned from bitter experience in the summer that solicitor's fees can rocket, with very little or nothing to show for their efforts. £2,600 to a firm in Scotland had bought me absolutely nothing apart from a few letters sent to my husband, and I was not about to make the same mistake again. So I immediately replied to their email, stating that I was not going to sign anything, nor was I going to agree to any fees until I had confirmation of what they were going to do for me. Plus the money was not my own, it was my 'aunt' who was paying the fees, so I felt even more strongly that I had to be sure of getting a result this time. 

It was New Years Eve and of course I made sure to keep my aunt in the loop as she had requested. Although she was very quick to respond despite the time difference between America and France, I was somewhat baffled by some of the points she was raising. She had rather hoped that I would go back to my original solicitor, who clearly already understood the situation, and couldn't understand why I was considering briefing a new firm. I wrote back confirming our telephone conversation a few weeks earlier, explaining again that I believed the Scottish firm had been ineffective. I also added that their unpaid bill now formed part of my unsecured debts, so unless we wanted to pay that as well, we could not approach them again. She seemed to understand, and her questions stopped.

I still had no response from the solicitors, so I shut down my computer and headed off to Ruth and Henry's New Year's Eve party. I tried to put all of this to the back of my mind, but it was difficult to 'lighten up' and throw myself in to the festivities, although I did my best to join in.

The next day was Friday and a bank holiday, so I knew that nothing more would happen until the following week. Monday arrived together with a pre-booked meeting with the Notaire to find out how I can remove my estranged husband's name from the property. My French bank manager had already confirmed that since I've been solely responsible for mortage payments since April 2009, they would be happy to recommend a "desolidarisation" of the debt, which basically means I would be able to take it on under my name alone. In order to do that, though, I would also have to have the house in my name alone. Initial telephone discussions had implied that this could be quite a straight forward process, so I went in to the appointment feeling confident.

That was a mistake. Within just a few minutes, I understood that the Notaire was powerless to do anything without instructions from an avocat, or lawyer, as he had to be certain that my husband was being treated fairly. Once again I found myself in a position where I had to justify my request and my process for getting here. Where once again the law seemed more interested in 50:50 distribution of marital assets - with no interest or comprehension of the circumstances behind the separation. And once again I felt the heat rise in my body and the tears prick at my eyes as I took a deep breath to regain my composure and calmly explain the facts of the matter.

These days, everything seems to be a fight of some sort - and I don't understand why it should be that way. I am, beyond shadow of a doubt, the wronged party here. I have also done everything within my power to put things right every step of the way. But wherever I go, whoever I approach, it seems that I have to explain the story over and over again and fight for justice. I'm no shrinking violet, as you know, but even I am now feeling battle weary from the continuing demands of people who expect my marriage break-up to fit in to one of their boxes.

By the end of the meeting some 90 minutes later, I know that I had succeeded in getting my case across, and I had won a new ally. But it had been hard, and there were still no straight forward solutions. The Notaire had suggested that I would be wiser to get the divorce settled in France and gave me the details of a French-speaking lawyer who was based in England.

By now, this is the fourth lawyer I've contacted. And I spent a further two hours discussing my case with this new firm. His advice, by the end of the conversation, was different again from the previous lawyers. He told me that I would have to find out how far the divorce had gone in Scotland, before he could help at all. He also said that, although the business had been based in England, and despite the fact that the French Tax Office had told me in person that I was to pay my taxes in the UK, it was highly likely that in fact I'd been breaking the law for the past 6 years that I've been in this country. I should be a French citizen, and pay my taxes in France, so we'd have to investigate this and get the French authorities involved. Great - another issue on top of all the others! He also said that there was little or nothing he could do to guide me on debt advice, and that until I had found out about my divorce progress in Scotland, he could do nothing more.

I came off the phone feeling deflated. But I wasn't going to be beaten, and immediately found the numbers for the courts in Edinburgh - both the Sheriff Court and the High Court. But neither were answering the phone.

While I was on the phone to the "Frenglish" solicitor, I had a missed call from Owen. Since I felt I had achieved nothing but a few bruises from banging my head against brick walls, I decided it would make sense to return his call and see what he had to say. But he'd already left the office. The other solicitors by the way, the ones I'd spoken to at length on New Years Eve, had not even responded to my email. Their silence, I decided, spoke volumes.

That evening my whole world, once again, caved in on me. Thank goodness I was alone in the house (Dylan had gone back to his lycee that morning) and could let it all out. The fight, determination and positive energy I'd felt so sure about as I'd said goodbye to 2009 now all seemed to have been sapped from my body, and I looked sadly at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I looked lost. Beaten. Small. Sad. Exhausted. I hadn't expected to be knocked down quite so early in the year, and at that moment I had no fight left in me, so I let go. Dropping down on to the floor, I curled up in to a ball and sobbed. The tears seemed never-ending, matched with strange and uncontrollable noises coming from my throat. I could sense the pain from deep within the core of my soul, my arms instinctively wrapping around my body for protection. The sounds were steady, quiet, painful moans - cries of a heart that is breaking to release the hurts of today, yesterday, and perhaps years previously. 

I don't know how long it took, but I reached a stage where I could finally unfold myself, lie on my back, and breathe steadily once again. I was spent. Emotionally, physically, mentally. I was exhausted, but I also felt clear. So I went downstairs, and made myself a cup of hot tea, which I drank accompanied with numerous chocolate biscuits left over from Christmas. I didn't want to think about anything else. I just switched on the TV and allowed myself to be entertained by the first in a new series of Hustle. And slowly, slowly, I felt the warmth of a smile returning to me.

The next day, Tuesday, I was due to have a meeting with my bank. Beforehand, I decided to try reaching Owen again. This time I was successful. I confess to being more abrupt than usual, simply because I was tired of hearing conflicting messages from so-called professionals, and I was not about to be messed around anymore. But I hadn't needed to be that way. Owen was quick, articulate, understanding of the situation, and keen to explain that I may have more rights than I had previously understood.

Encouraged by our first brief conversation, I headed off to the bank. There, I was to hand over my old cards to be replaced by new ones in my maiden name. My bank manager is a fiery, no-nonsense french woman - the same age as me - who has been right by my side since the day I met her just eight months ago. In her office she reminded me just how far I'd come since we first met, and confided in me a secret. Conspiratorially, she leaned over her desk and told me that for as long as she could remember, she hadn't really liked English people, but that through her dealings with me she had completely changed her opinion! Tears once again pricked at my eyes, but this time they were tears of pride. So I shared a secret with her in return - I told her that she was part of "mon equippe", my team, and that she was one of the people I hold responsible for helping me regain my self-esteem. For the first time ever, we finished that meeting with kisses, not handshakes, and I bounced back to the car with my head held high and a smile on my face.

Home once more, I phoned the Scottish Law Courts - Owen had also said that we'll need to know where we stand regarding the divorce - and spoke calmly and confidently to the lady who answered the Sheriff's Office. She duly searched the divorce files for any mention of my name, and reported that there was nothing on record. I then repeated the process with the High Court - and achieved the same result. There was NO record of any divorce petition having been lodged. So the separation date, 22nd April 2009, had never even been registered by the solicitor I had used for three months last year - she had achieved absolutely nothing for her extortionate bill of over £2,600! 

Furious at their lack of performance, but also rejoicing at the fact I was now free to move forward with Owen (funny how things turn out), I stepped back to notice my good fortune. I may have faced a relentless stream of battles over the past few months, but I have learned so much from each one and, as I'm now seeing clearly, I've been guided along my journey. The blocks or dead-ends I saw as frustrations, have all, in fact, led me to where I am now. In a place where I KNOW I have a good solicitor on my side, who is also telling me that the debts are NOT all mine, and that there is another way around every one of my issues.

Delighted with the result, and my subsequent conversation with Owen, I emailed my aunt to let her know that lawyers fees for the divorce would cost no more than £1,200, although the fees for dealing with the debts could not be quoted since we weren't sure exactly what would be involved. I was certain she'd be delighted with my progress, and I happily set off to see my friend Anna for lunch and a good old catch up.

The next day, Wednesday, found me following up on professional introductions for work, and booking in meetings for my upcoming week in London. Relaxed and finally feeling confident about most areas in my life - sure about securing work, convinced that I had a way forward with my divorce, positive about keeping my home - I was busy on my computer when another friend, Julie, popped in for a coffee. Unannounced, it was lovely to see her and hear all her news. She also wanted to hear how I was getting along, so I happily filled her in with my progress.

She and I both happened to be sitting at the kitchen table looking at something on my laptop, when an email came in from my aunt. The title gave nothing away, but I had an instinctive feeling that something was wrong, so although I kept a smile on my face I asked Julie to "be warned, I may get upset at this"... well, thank goodness I did warn her. To my utter shock, the email told me that there had clearly been a misunderstanding and that my aunt was not prepared to pay for my solicitors fees. To say that I felt knocked down is an understantement. After all the battles and emotional energy it had taken me to get this far, her blatant denial of her written offer to pay knocked the wind out of my sails and threatened to capsize my world once again.

"I won't cry, I WON'T!" I said to Julie, the tears welling up and blurring my vision as I tried to make sense of my aunt's sudden change of tone. "What on earth does she expect me to do? How am I going to get through this? I'll have to wait now until I'm earning good money!" deflated and defeated, I let the tears roll down my cheeks. 

My friend's expression was caring and gentle, and I sensed a steely determination in her eyes. 

"How much is the divorce - £1,200 isn't it? And we don't yet know about the debts? So £2,000 would start you off wouldn't it?" and with that she told me she'd transfer £2,000 in to my bank account that very day, and that I could pay her back once I have some work. 

"I can't bear to see you go through this any more, Mel" she added, as I hugged her and cried, speechless at this amazing and totally unexpected act of kindness "you've found a way forward now, so you've got to be able to follow it through" - I nodded, sniffed, and hugged her closer, unable to make any sound, but noticing that very same Tinkerbell tingle running up my spine...

I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am for my kind friend's timely intervention - I am moved beyond words. And I wonder at the timing of these events - what were the odds of her being with me at the very moment my aunt's email arrived? 

Perfect guidance, everyday miracles, and a real-life Guardian Angel to my rescue. I am deeply appreciative, humbled and also boosted by the process that has led me here. My faith is restored, strengthened further than ever before, and I now know that no matter HOW bad things appear, I am truly guided and supported - I just need to remember that as I move forward. Perhaps that's my life-long lesson?

"I DO believe in fairies! I DO, I DO, I DO!!!"

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