Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Surviving The Aftermath
In many ways I’m thankful that I fell back on what surely is the most basic of all instincts – that of survival. I thank my lucky stars that I learned to focus on keeping myself together rather than contemplating the enormous emotional, financial, professional and spiritual carnage that had been steadily eroding my life while I blindly carried on giving love and support. Nurturing the very person who was cold-bloodedly using our “relationship” to fuel his own sordid existence – at my expense.
It has been one heck of a battle. Not with him because, as you know, I have neither seen nor spoken with him since the night I discovered the truth. Thank goodness he’d been in another country while I was sat at home in France. As soon as he knew he’d been rumbled, he quite literally disappeared. No explanation. No question. No contact. No nothing. Gone. No, my battle has not been with him as such… the battle has been with the world in general – and myself in particular.
Over the three years since that night, I’ve had to pull myself literally out of the pit of ruin and damnation. I’d been told I would lose my home, leaving my son and I on the streets with nothing but a pile of debts. I’d also been told that it would take years of expensive court battles to secure a divorce. On top of that, I also had to deal with the on-going insinuations from professionals that I must be “missing something up top” in order to let myself get in to such a ridiculously dangerous and hopeless situation “But madam” sneered a credit controller from the mortgage company, who just a few days before my discovery were about to sign an order to repossess the property “surely you must have realised something was wrong? We wrote you numerous letters telling you about the situation….”
“Yes!” I wanted to scream “and I never saw any of them because they were being hidden from me!” But, of course, I realised that any kind of response like that would merely provide further ‘evidence’ that I had lost the plot. So instead I learned how to remain calm, focused, and unwavering in explaining that no, I hadn’t understood what was going on. That yes, now I was in full possession of the facts and was keen to clear up the mess. That I’d like to understand what I could do, and that yes, I could absolutely promise that any agreed payment terms would be upheld – despite the existing bad payment records (and despite having no idea how in the world I was going to be able keep my promise).
It was excruciating. So many of the seemingly tiny steps of progress would involve a ridiculously huge amount of personal control and calm – when all I really felt like doing was crying out and collapsing in a heap.
I remember the silent howls that raged inside as I bit my lips and took yet another deep breath “Why can’t you see? When is somebody going to support me? What is stopping you from realising the truth and helping me?”
But of course I couldn’t do that. Instead I used the hurt and anger to propel me forwards. Gritting my teeth and giving myself countless pep talks, I slowly came to realise that… in actual fact…. I didn’t need other people to understand or sympathise with my situation. Well, not in the way I had originally thought I did, in any case.
Acknowledging The Small Steps
No, as I built my self-support muscles I found that I could deal better with each new piece of information. Every time I achieved the smallest of achievements, I would pat myself on the back, or say something out loud to myself until the phrase “well done Mel” gradually settled itself as a regular in my verbal library! The more I did that, the more confidant I became that I would be able to come through – despite the vast array of information and so-called expert advise that kept insisting to the contrary.
My thoughts (and self-questions) gradually changed form. Gone was “why can’t you see the truth!” to be replaced by “I know what happened, that’s what is important. And it doesn’t matter whether or not you can understand – I don’t judge you either way”. Equally, thoughts of “I just can’t go on” were slowly substituted with“Bring it on – you’re messing with the wrong woman here!” But rather than being simply the war-cry of adrenalin-fuelled defiance from the first few days and weeks, it slowly became a solid declaration of the fact about who I really was. Who I had become, and (most importantly) who I always had been.
And as more battles presented themselves, I started to enjoy the continual cycle of personal growth while I slowly woke up to the truth that actually, I can do this. I am already enough. I always have been. I realised that I no longer needed validation from anyone else – because here I was, finally standing strong and proud by myself and for myself. Stepping up, speaking up and forging ahead became my spiritual and emotional work-out, and through the process I have become fit, strong and confident.
It hasn’t been easy. And I’m now facing some physical fall-out (no results from the biopsy as yet, but I’m feeling confident I can deal with the verdict, whatever it is) which, quite honestly, doesn’t surprise me when I step back and consider the full picture. I think it’s safe to say I’ve made it – I’ve passed go and collected £200 to boot. It’s been one heck of a journey and it’s no wonder that my body is now protesting – or perhaps just cleansing old patterns? No matter. I’m confident that this is another opportunity to learn more and live with more joy.
Would I choose to do it all again….? Never in a million years. And I while the prize is one I shall cherish forever, I would never wish my journey on anyone else. Ever.
What I will happily share, though, are all the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Because I do believe it’s possible for people to learn from the experiences of others…. My challenge is simply how to get the messages across in ways that are meaningful, useful and relevant. Hhhhmmmmmmm….. now that keeps me thinking
Tuesday, 17 April 2012
As I’ve said before, my mother died very quickly from advanced breast cancer at the age of 44 – leaving my little sister and I orphans at the ages of 16 and 11. From that moment, she and I stuck together like glue in order to survive the emotional roller coaster ride that we’d inadvertently boarded. We also quickly learned many classic ‘survivor’ traits; hiding our pain, forcing our smiles, and doing all we could to fit in and be ‘normal’ in a world that was suddenly frightening and alien. It’s been a long battle since then – for both of us – and I’m hugely proud to say that so far as I’m concerned, we’ve both grown up to be healthy successful people. But of course it’s also fair to say that that kind of start in life has taken its toll on both of us. There are still moments where we both look back together at what happened and do our best to make sense of things. Those moments are never easy, and we rarely find any more answers – but even just acknowledging that we were both facing the turmoil together in the past, somehow facilitates a deeper sense of peace in the present.
Friday, therefore, was not only an ordeal for me but for my sister as well. Over the previous days and weeks, she and I had shared many emotional conversations. Sometimes we would talk about what was happening for me, and discuss our shared experiences to do with cancer. Other times we would talk about seemingly non-related issues… but always the underlying threat of fear and hurt was there. Sometimes we would laugh. Sometimes we would cry. Each time, though, I would come away feeling even more connected to the little sister I’ve loved even since before the day she was born.
After Mum’s death you see, we were thrown in to an environment where we learned early on that it was not ok to show or discuss our feelings. Instead we were told we must be grateful for the ‘care’ we were receiving. We must be respectful, do everything we could to help, and never ever complain. But where we lived was emotionally sterile, and we retreated in to our shells – burying our feelings in order to survive.
That is why I became so determined to find another way to approach life. That is why since those times I have been focused on making a difference. That is why I dedicated my professional life to coaching people so that they can realize their potential.
That is also why, ironically, I believe I became a target for a sociopath. Because I’d fought so hard, and had succeeded in finding a positive pathway out of a difficult situation. I guess I must have offered a glittering toy box of new skills and techniques that could be copied and used for his personal benefit.
A decade after meeting and falling in love with him, I was given the opportunity to put all of my skills – and more – in to practice in order to free myself from the living nightmare. Ironically again, I believe that my encounter with him – whilst giving me a good few doses of heartbreak, desperation and total destruction – has ultimately allowed me to grow even more. So therefore I remain thankful for the experience because it’s made me who I am today. And who I am today is someone who is choosing to face this very real threat of illness full on, face on, and with my head held high. No hiding from the truth any more.
Today, right now, right in the middle of it all I can hold up my hand and say out loud that yes I’m scared. I can say that I feel beaten up and tired from the fight. On top of the unknown, I’m still dealing with a nasty bout of bronchitis and laryngitis. So I can say that I have moments where I burst in to tears for no apparent reason. I can say that sometimes I am unable to sleep. That sometimes I feel overwhelmed by thoughts of “what if”…..
And you know why I’m choosing to regard this as a positive? Because for so many years – both as an orphaned child and also as the wife of a sociopath – I learned to put on a brave face, keep a stiff upper lip and carry on regardless. I didn’t cry. I didn’t share my fears. I wouldn’t open up and express my loneliness and isolation. Nope, instead I carried on.
Now, I’m not saying that is a bad thing – in fact it is many of those survival techniques that have brought me through many a rough period in my life. What I am saying, though, is that I’ve discovered that consciously allowing myself to feel and acknowledge the fear, the pain, the hurt (whatever the ‘bad stuff’ is) in the moment that it’s happening…. At the same time as implementing methods to keep on keeping on…. Well now that’sgrowth and progress.
There’s Always Something Good
And that is where I feel I am today. Acknowledging to myself and to others around me that I’m not in the best physical place right now. Saying out loud that I am most certainly feeling the fear… and also recognizing the huge amount of love that is surrounding me. And that in itself is scary! Not for any other reason other than old childhood experiences of deep loss, and the newer scars left from my marriage that still leave their traces in my present life.
As Susan Jeffers so rightly says – “we can accept fear simply as a fact of life rather than a barrier to success. We can unlearn the thinking that keeps us a prisoner in our own insecurities” I’m continuing to ‘unlearn’ old habits and choose new supportive behaviours. So this latest challenge, for me, is about re-flexing my focus muscles and determining to increase the “yes” approach to life. It’s about asking “let’s see what good will come from this situation” and seeking the value in the experience.
I’ve been receiving countless messages of support and encouragement, and feel truly blessed to be surrounded by such kindness. Now it’s another chance to open up more, let down more barriers, and accept more love – even though it feels scary. Well, that’s the way I’m taking it in any case. So once again I am grateful for what is happening – because it’s another opportunity for further expansion and conscious choice. To feel the fear, acknowledge its’ existence, and to move through it to greater love and peace.
It ain’t easy – but heck, I reckon it’s worth it!
Tuesday, 3 April 2012
I felt chirpy, relaxed, and perfectly ready for whatever they wanted to do – a marked difference from my previous visit where I was uptight, frightened and full of dread. They’re a great bunch of people there, and I chatted away happily to the receptionists and also to the technician who came in to explain the details of what was going to happen.
All fine, all good, all dandy – everything made perfect sense (although I felt a little unnerved by the technician’s statement that nobody can be sure that the lump is not cancerous until the tests are completed in the laboratory) and I went in to the doctor’s surgery feeling calm and prepared.
Just When You Least Expect It
I am making a point of telling you this, because I am keen to make it clear why I felt so totally blindsided by what happened next. The friendly technician (Thomas), thank goodness, was still in the room when the doctor arrived. The very moment he walked in, though, the atmosphere changed. The smile went from Thomas’ face, and I felt him tighten up as the doctor criticized everything he had done to prepare me. The cleaning and sterilization wasn’t correct, the anesthetic wasn’t the right one… even the fact that Thomas had allowed me to keep my shoes on was wrong!
Bear in mind I’m lying half naked on a table, my arm above my head with my breast covered in yellow iodine – and here was this so-called professional (who hadn’t even had the courtesy to greet me or even give me a smile) throwing disapproving comments to the friendly technician who had done everything he could to put me at ease. It was a hugely uncomfortable atmosphere, and I felt myself stiffening. I was in a physically vulnerable situation, but there was no way I was going to let myself be bullied by this rude man.
So I started chit-chatting to break the tension. The doctor was sitting next to me but still would not look at me – although I was looking straight up in to his eyes. Can you guess what I saw? The familiar empty, cold and emotionless expression that sent a shiver of recognition down my spine.
I knew how important it was to get this biopsy over and done with, so I kept on looking at the doctor and kept asking questions. He asked me to point out the lump because he was having difficulty finding it on the ultrasound. When I moved my hand towards the area he huffed, rolled his eyes and told me off for accidentally touching a part of my skin. “Now look what she’s done” he spat at Thomas “we’re going to have to sterilize all over again!”
It carried on like that for a good few minutes more. I asked what he could see on the screen and said to him that I’d been told that there was nothing to worry about
“Well, Madame” he sneered, pushing the scanner just a little harder than necessary in to my breast “it doesn’t look like ‘nothing’ to me – you have lots of cysts, but this… this is something quite different!”
He seemed to take pleasure brandishing his power, and deliberately making me nervous. It was working on Thomas, but it wasn’t going to work on me. I kept my focus strong and refused to look away from his eyes – still keeping my expression relaxed and my breathing regular as he picked up a huge needle and brought it close to my breast.
“And now, Madame” he said, fixing me with cold eyes and a straight face “you have to shut your mouth and shut your eyes”
Taking a deep breath and maintaining eye contact, I calmly said no. “I can give you silence” I said “but I am not closing my eyes”
“Well you have to” he replied, a little taken aback by what he probably saw as insolence “I have to work in silence and it annoys me if a patient watches what I am doing. I must instruct you now to close your eyes and keep your mouth shut while I do my work. I need you to do this or I cannot do my work”
“And I need someone who can reassure me and put me at ease” I replied, still staying calm, still smiling, and still fixing him with my gaze “this is my body, and I would like to watch what is happening”
With that, his mask slipped. Blinking furiously, he threw down his instruments, stood up, huffed and puffed and spat out the words “I won’t work in this way Madame, you’ve ruined it. You’ve messed it up, this is your problem. I am leaving – good day Madame!”
And with that he flounced out of the room, slamming the door behind him like a petulant teenager, leaving Thomas and I open-mouthed in the silence that remained.
So that was the end of my biopsy. I sat up, covering myself as best I could and looked to Thomas for some kind of explanation. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but still the whispering questions had already threatened to surface “Is this my fault? Could I have handled this differently?” – but those questions were instantly silenced when I saw Thomas’s face. He was mortified.
“I am so sorry Madame” he said, reaching out to touch my shoulder “this is nothing to do with you. He is a very difficult man and we have had many problems with him. He’s the same with all of us, it’s very bad”
“But this is not right!” I replied, tears of frustration pricking in my eyes and uncontrollable shakes by now beginning to show in my hands “It’s not right that he’s allowed to do this! Why is he in this job? How can he be allowed to treat people this way? It’s totally unacceptable!”
And then came the response I have now become accustomed to hearing
“But he’s our boss. We know it’s wrong, but what can we do?”
Standing Up For What Is Right
This monster works in a clinic that specializes in detecting and treating breast cancer. My heart sank, imagining how many people – staff as well as numerous vulnerable patients – this so-called professional is bullying and criticizing every day of his life. How many people leave the clinic feeling a little less confident, a little more worthless, and in some cases physically abused. People who go there expecting help and support in their darkest moments, and end up feeling belittled and humiliated! But because this man is an educated, revered professional, nobody is standing up to him – so he gets away with it!
I understand that I am the first person this man has actually walked out on. Good, so he’ll remember me. Because I’m also the first person who is going to stand up, speak out, and make certain this man is held accountable for his actions.
The experience shook me enormously. For the next couple of days I found myself bursting in to tears for no apparent reason. But you know what? I’m now back on track and taking the first steps towards dealing with the authorities who are responsible for this man. I’ll let you know how I get on.
In the meantime, my biopsy has been rescheduled with another doctor for Friday 13th April – lucky for some, and super-lucky for me. Well, at least that’s what I’m choosing to think in any case!