So here it is. Just when I thought I'd surely got to the bottom of things and found out all there was to know about myself... well along comes another hidden driver that had been hiding away for all those years. Something that has been ruling my life in a way I simply did not recognise. Something that, I now believe, is dissolving - because I've found it you see. I've acknowledged it. Finally I noticed what was there - something that for years has been asking for acceptance and was doing everything it could to get my attention.
So what am I referring to? What am I talking about? Well, tons of stuff has written about this subject, and there are many different opinions and labels for the thing I'm talking about, which is, essentially, a deeply held pattern or belief that drives the way we act. Some people talk about unconscious beliefs. Some speak of childhood patterning. Others mention karma. Others still tell us about previous life experiences that follow us in order to be cleared. Me? I'm choosing to call them parts of ourselves that have been longing for acceptance. Parts of ourselves that are so deeply engrained in our psyche that we don't even stop to think about them - or the effect they have on our experiences. Until they finally cause us to sit up and take notice. I call that healing.
It's like this you see. As you already know, the past 18-plus months have been a time of reflection and growth for me. Relentless shocks, setbacks and tests that have pushed me to become more than I was before. Experiences which, now, I can totally accept as gifts. I may not have had any conscious control over what was happening to me, but I sure had conscious control over how I chose to respond. I could either sink or swim. Give up or get up. They say that whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger - well, I sure am lots stronger than I've ever been before. And calmer. More peaceful. More understanding. So, you see, I got my wish - to grow as a person. To become all I could possibly be. I guess that perhaps, though, I've just been one of those particularly stubborn and wise-cracking students who can only learn these things the hard way eh?
Anyway, so all that said and done, it hit me really hard this week to discover I felt down and depressed. Yes, I've been working myself hard - and it's paying off. Yes, I'm still fighting battles - and slowly winning the war. And yes, as a result I've achieved a colossal amount over the past few months. So, OK, yes, it would be perfectly acceptable for me to feel tired. But this was more than tired. I felt absolutely exhausted. Physically, emotionally and spiritually.
So when I received some less than positive news at the beginning of the week, I found myself spiraling out of control and in to self-doubt. Blurred focus, nagging voices in my head, and the overwhelming feeling that I just wasn't good enough. That I was about to be found out as a fraud. That despite my best intentions I just couldn't hack it. That people were laughing at me behind my back. And anyway, who did I think I was kidding?
During coaching sessions I talk regularly about pushing comfort zones. Encouraging people to move out of the familiar and in to stretch - but rather than stretch, it seemed I'd moved myself in to total panic! I knew I was in a mess, and I also knew this wasn't "me" - that all these thoughts were delusional, unfounded and totally unwarranted. But I sure as heck felt trapped and worthless - even after everything I've already achieved! So something had to be done.
First of all I went down my normal tried and tested route. I pulled myself back and away from the situation, found a change of scenery and started noting all the good things I've achieved. Work is piling in - check. Last week I facilitated two life-changing coaching sessions - check. My status in France is now confirmed - check. I am surrounded by wonderful friends and family who I love and who love me - check. I have a beautiful home - check. I'm looking and feeling pretty good - check. Yup. Did all of that and more, but still I felt drained, useless, and very teary. So what was that all about then?
I knew that somehow, somewhere, I was being given another gift. Another opportunity was presenting itself to me so that I could grow, although it didn't feel much like a gift at the time. I joke sometimes that I'm fed up with all this character building rubbish, and wouldn't it be better to just live my life asleep and unaware? Hell no! This is my choice, and on a soul level I know I'm lucky to have these opportunities.
So I let the tears fall. I let myself feel rotten. I allowed the feelings of despair to pass through my system - without judgement or resistance - and I knew the answer would come. And it did. This time the answer came through my dreams.
I dreamed that I was being offered a precious and ancient gift - funnily enough it was a small glass bottle of perfume (those who know me will tell you about my addiction to lovely smells!). Amber coloured, with beautifully clean lines, the bottle had a simply shaped old-fashioned stopper that perfectly echoed its rounded form. It was offered to me time after time, yet each time I went to take the gift, something went wrong. Either I couldn't open the lid, or the perfume had gone off, or I would drop the bottle. And each time I felt myself getting more and more frustrated, and heard myself apologising for not being able to accept what was being offered to me. And each time that happened I imagined Cam's face grinning at me - grimacing, actually, is a more apt description. Like some kind of malevolent energy, I began to feel his presence wrapping around me, pretending to give warmth but instead choking the life out of my body until I could hardly breath. And then all of a sudden I decided to stop apologising. Forcing a huge breath in to my body, and drawing myself up to my full height, I found my power and screamed out at the top of my voice "NO! I'm not taking this any more! It's NOT my fault! I'm INNOCENT!" And all of a sudden the darkness subsided and instead I was bathed in light - and in that very moment I knew I'd broken the spell.
In the shower the following morning, I noticed that I felt somehow different. Freer than before. Lighter. As though a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Standing under the hot running water, I looked up to the ceiling and asked myself what had happened. That's when it all made sense, and I burst out laughing. Guilt. That's what it had been. Guilt. Nothing more, nothing less, but a pattern of guilt I'd carried with me for more years than I care to remember. And as I thought about it more, I saw my life experiences flashing before me - all the times when I'd thought something had been my fault. Times when I'd admonished myself for making mistakes, for failing to put things right - for failing to save the people I love, including myself. I realised that at some level I felt guilty about my father's death. Guilt that I had survived. Guilt that I resented the birth of my sister. Guilt that as a result of my failure I had also lost my mother and failed to look after my sister. Guilt, even, about the way in which I was born - with my arm wrapped around my head, making it a very painful process for my mother. Guilt about some big things as well as some totally minor things - for all these things, being the first to hold my hand up and admit to something that was never my fault in the first place!
I remember one such situation a few years ago while I was on holiday in the Dominican Republic. We'd gone there for Christmas, and I was part of a jolly crowd of people enjoying the Christmas festivities. In my usual enthusiastic way, I'd put my drink down on one of the big glass tables a little too heavily than was necessary. The table smashed in to tiny pieces with an almighty crash. So what did I do? I immediately stood up, waved my hands in the air and shouted out "I did it! It's OK! It's my fault! I'll pay! Let me make it better!"
And you know what? Pay I have, through my own personal guilt-trip. Time and time and time again. For all those episodes where I've assumed responsibility. Far too much and for far too long.
Slippery little suckers, these unconscious belief patterns. They're with us and around us all the time - like the air we breath - but until we notice them, they have more power over our lives than we can imagine. So, having acknowledged this unconscious guilt pattern as a living breathing part of me, I did some research as to how this belief can manifest itself. I found references to people suffering from an unconscious need for punishment (hmmm) as well as feeling responsible for the emotional and physical well-being of everyone else. The drive to make things right, to put others first, to heal the world and to make amends. Because, after all, it's all my fault - isn't it? The more I researched, the more boxes I ticked - and the more my smile widened. Ha! Gotcha! I see you - and you see me. And, right in front of me, the guilt dissolved, and we both gave a sigh of relief. It had been accepted, and forgiven. And in it's place stands innocence - something I thought I might never feel again. Another gift - more valuable than anything money can buy. And it's mine to keep - thank you.
I went back and reviewed the less than positive news from a new perspective. And I realised it wasn't my fault. Whereas my fall-back position has often been "what could I have done differently here?" it suddenly became clear that the issue laid not with me, but with something outside of my control. I had already done more than enough, so I responded with strength and kindness. And the situation was dissolved - right then and there.
Now I have even more flexibility. Now, yes, I can still ask myself the often healthy question "what could I have done differently here?" and I can also take a step back to ask myself whether it really is something to do with me - or whether, perhaps, it's nothing to do with me at all. Now I know that I'll recognise the difference.
I thought I'd done it all. I thought I'd come just about as far as I could. I thought I was doing really well. And you know what? I have been doing really well - and I still am. I shall continue to take responsibility for my actions, and for the way my life is unfolding. Now, though, I can accept that precious gift of perfume in the way it was intended - with innocence and love.