Hmmm... I've been pondering this one. I had a minor epiphany on Friday night around the subject of "doing the right thing" or doing things "in the right way". And you know what? I realised that for the vast majority of my life - certainly all of my adult life - everything I've said or done has been driven by the need to be correct. To receive that ever elusive reassurance - the approval that I'm on the right track. To pass for "OK"
And the utterly ridiculous thing has been that I must have actually believed that other people knew what that was!
You see I thought that other people were in on this secret. That they knew instinctively what was cool. What was good. What was acceptable - the "done thing". I thought that everyone else knew except for me. That everyone knew what "it" was, while I was forever chasing my tail to discover "it" for myself. And it's been a mighty confusing quest!
Constantly checking in, always on the look-out for some kind of clue - some kind of feedback from the outside. The unconscious questions were endless - Did it..? Were they..? Did I..? Should he..? Have I..? AM I ENOUGH?
I'm sure that's why I have a deep line running vertically between my eyebrows. It has nothing to do with age (well OK, maybe just a little...!) it is more to do with a regular look of puzzlement or bewilderment when trying to ascertain whether this time I had done something in the right and proper way. Is this the way you're supposed to behave when meeting your boyfriend's parents? Was that the proper way to present a roast dinner? How many times is it acceptable to ask someone to repeat what they are saying until you understand? Is there a right way to start or end a relationship?
I didn't know then. I STILL don't know now. But you know what? Now that I've realised that was what I was doing, I no longer care. And you know what else? I'm now pretty certain that nobody else knows for sure either!
I'm as sure as I can be that most of us are forever asking questions, seeking ways to fit in, to run with the in-crowd, to be accepted - to be loved. Because that's what it all boils down to, isn't it? A basic human need to feel loved.
It is said that a human baby, if denied love or human interaction, will face medical and developmental problems - they will wither, and in extreme cases they will perish. So how about as an adult? What happens to us when we are cut off from love and affection, whether through deliberate neglect, abusive relationships, self-denial or any other number of reasons? Is this what is meant by the term "Failure To Thrive" - a medical term used to measure health in both small children and the elderly? When the will to live, the desire to thrive, has gone... been sucked out or simply dissolved away over time.
I don't know all the answers - in fact I hardly know any of them at all - but I DO know it's a subject that is fascinating me more and more. And this is why.
Over recent weeks and months, people have expressed their surprise that I am not eaten up by bitterness and anger. I've lost track of the times I've heard the words "I really don't know how you've carried on" - which is a wonderful assurance that I'm on the right track. Strange, don't you think, that while all the time I was searching for that kind of encouragement I couldn't find it? And that now, after I've thrown myself body and soul in to getting through the worst time of my life, I forgot about seeking reassurances and yet I'm finally receiving all the confirmation I could ever have asked for - and more?
Hmmm... OK... so now that I'm learning to recognise all the good stuff that I do instinctively, perhaps there is indeed something that I can share with others?
For me, you see, my natural instinct is to fight. To stay positive. To find a way. I've said before that I regularly re-run a particular scene from the film Papillon in my head. The scene where Steve McQueen has made yet another escape from Devils Island on a raft made of coconuts. Weak from prison yet determined to break free, he has to overcome a huge drop on to rocks and crashing waves in his latest bid for freedom. Defiant and bold, he makes his escape. And once through the ferocious currents he turns back to wave his fists at the island "I'm still here, you bastards! I'm still here!"
He refused to be beaten. And so do I. It's a natural fall-back position for me. It's not something for which I have ever sought reassurance or acceptance. It's something that I just do. And I do it well. I've had to survive more times than many people, but less times than others. Death, abuse, abandonment and betrayal were all things I had to deal with before I even reached adulthood. And there has been plenty more since then. So I've had good practice for overcoming the excruciating horrors I've faced over the past twelve months.
This time, though, I've really and truly dug deep - and am still continuing to do so. This time I'm searching for what I could have done differently. Doing my best to understand my own part in all the tough times I've had to overcome. Where I've done well, where I could have done better, and how I can learn as I move on through.
A number of years ago I came up with a phrase, which today rings truer for me than ever before. My saying was this "There's no escape. You have total freedom!" And I absolutely believe it to be true. I have the freedom to choose, freedom to think, freedom to create - I always have had. And it's been my own thoughts and behaviours that have created my experiences, and my battles.
And this time the battle feels final. This time it feels that at last I'm learning - that there's a larger purpose here. For it also feels that I can share my experiences in the hope I may be able to help somebody else facing their own challenges. Goodness knows I don't get everything right - far from it! And, in fact, I'm no longer convinced that there IS a "right way" or indeed a "wrong way" - it's not about judgment or passing any kind of test. It's just about being and therefore finding my own way through. With confidence and conviction - with authenticity. Doing my best to stay true to myself.
So perhaps.... perhaps.... this is finally the last time I will have to fight? Perhaps at last I have escaped from the recurring nightmares that seem to have been larger than life? I certainly hope so.
Forget the right way - I'm just living the right now - and if I fall down along the way, I know for certain that I can pick myself up, dust myself down, and carry along on my way. And what's more, I now know that I have an army of friends around me who will tend to my bruises and carry me on their shoulders until I'm ready to carry on by myself. And even then they'll stay close by me - watching over me, reassuring me, and making sure I stay away from danger.
It's a wonderful life, ain't it?