At the end of 2015, I wrote about ‘the year I broke’, an intense and challenging year of my life where I felt as though my heart and soul had been ripped out from the fabric of my being, then torn to shreds and trampled upon. I fell apart, broke, disintegrated and found myself laying naked and cold on the harsh floor of reality.
When I posted that article, I was, I believed, over the worst. How wrong was I?! 2016 took me to some new depths as the challenges intensified and came flooding into my life with such ferocity, I had no time to take a breath. By last summer, I reached a point of saturation as my body, mind and soul could take no more; the shutters fell and I drifted into a hibernation state, a period of stasis where, other than essential functioning, everything else stopped. Hence the ‘radio silence’ on my blogs and with emails.
As I curled up and recoiled in a kind of functional spiritual vegetative state, every time I tried to push myself to get up, I was sucked back into a deep state of powerlessness. I fought and wrestled with the powerlessness as I wanted to push it away so I could get on with my life but it’s force was bigger and stronger than me, and, like tentacles reaching in all directions, it slowly took hold. This game of ‘tug and war’ continued for weeks until I had nothing left. I simply couldn’t do anything other than surrender. I stopped fighting and trying to be more, do more and achieve more as I found myself unable to see beyond the moment.
Of course, in hindsight, this was a gift, as the present moment is the only moment of true significance, but I wanted that revelation to come to me willingly over afternoon tea one day rather than be dragged, kicking and screaming, to a point of realisation. However, everything happens for a reason, in its own time and in its own way, so despite my reluctance, it was obviously time I woke up fully and stopped faffing about in denial.
I felt myself torn between a state of numb exhaustion and feeling the intensity of years of unspent emotion and uncried tears. I oscillated somewhere in the middle of these two states, never really allowing myself to fall into either one and focusing all of my energy towards ‘hanging on’ to what I had left. Although I intuitively knew I had nothing left, it didn’t stop me from trying to cling on and resist the reality rising up over the horizon within my heart and soul. Denial wasn’t an obstacle I was still expecting to meet as I thought I had overcome that years ago.
I have faced countless challenges and dark nights of the soul over recent years and I had been sure I’d reached a point of enlightenment after 2015 as I was now living in a much more awakened and connected space. Looks can clearly be deceptive as this was simply window dressing; my own way of trying to dress up my wonky reality into something more palatable for my soul to accommodate. Yet, despite knowing this, I still kept my face buried in the false chocolate box idyll of denial as it was somehow easier to live with the pain of clinging on than it was to turn to face the pain of reality.
It’s easy to feel left behind when we see and read so much about living the ‘wonderful life’; of tales of joy and happiness of living an enriched and wholesome spiritual life. Perhaps this is even harder in the ‘new age’ arena as such stories are everywhere, designed to inspire and empower us, but making us feel somehow incomplete or broken when we just can’t seem to live up to the example set. Of course, our own expectations don’t help as we bully ourselves when we feel we’re not enough and this compounds the inner pain. I had reached a point of realisation that I could no longer cajole myself into believing my fake smile any longer; even I wasn’t convinced by it.
Over the last few months, everything I had was stripped away. I was left exposed, vulnerable and raw; I had no more filters to disguise, or hide, the truth, and my rose-tinted spectacles tumbled to dust as the force of reality took a strong hold of me and shook me to my core. I still fought as it’s an inherent part of being human to resist but the harder I pushed against it, the harder reality pushed back until I finally snapped in two. The year I broke (2015) was only just the beginning, as 2016 turned into the year of annihilation of everything I held dear.
As I lay cold and bare, shivering on the floor of rock bottom, I initially spent my time with my eyes shut, trying to block out the situation I found myself in. Like a child playing ‘hide and seek’, I thought I may be able to pretend it wasn’t happening. Of course, such a strategy can only be short-lived as falsehoods can’t be sustained in the long term. Initially this irked me until I realised it was the effort involved in trying to sustain the denial that was my true enemy rather than the reality I found myself in.
It took me a while before I tentatively opened my eyes. As they began to adjust to the dimmed light, I began to truly see where I was. It wasn’t pretty. My beliefs lay shattered around me and my life was ripped into shreds; it was easy to feel as though I had nothing left as I felt empty and numb. However, after a while, the emptiness stirred and layer upon layer of deep emotion began to surface; the surprising thing for me is that I allowed it to. The intense, gut-wrenching sobs were a physical manifestation following years of living on the edge. It was as though I’d spent years holding my breath, and the emotional release allowed me to take a big inhalation of life and it shook me right to my core.
I observed the rise and fall of emotion within me and gradually became one with it as I reconnected to my deeper, and truer, sense of self. It was unfamiliar territory for me as I’d spent my entire life trying to be the person I thought I should be and I’d never really allowed myself to let go and venture deeper within. Of course, I believed I was going deeper with all the inner work I’d engaged with but, it seems, I’d barely scratched the surface.
The pain that surfaced was the most intense, profound and powerful pain I’ve ever experienced and although it felt as though it was crushing the life out of me, it was actually doing the opposite as I began to breathe consciously for the first time ever. I felt a flicker of life stirring from deep within the energetic vegetative state I had slipped into and realised I was not in a cold, sterile, hostile landscape but in a space of nurturance and nourishment. Like a dormant seed, the light of truth, along with my willingness to finally look, triggered a chain reaction that lead to a powerful awakening.
Life certainly looks interesting from ground level, it’s amazing just how few people clean their skirting boards. As I gazed up at the world above me, I also became fully aware of the ground beneath me, and, for the first time, I felt truly supported by the earth. I had reached rock bottom but, rather than spend all of my energy and focus on escaping and not wanting to be there, I allowed myself to feel the pain of rock bottom. Of course, it wasn’t love, light and fluffy bunnies, but it was real. It took me many weeks to realise where I was and to get my bearings but I had neither the energy nor the inclination to rush back to my previous life which now felt hollow and meaningless. I had reached a new layer of my existence which I still couldn’t articulate but this was because there were no words to describe it. I was in new territory and I needed to rest there for a while until my consciousness could catch up and bring me the language required to facilitate understanding or, alternatively, to reach a point of awareness and acceptance where understanding didn’t matter.
I have never felt as empty, raw and exposed. Yet, what I initially perceived as pain quickly turned into numbness and then into something beyond words. I began to feel a sense of peace rising up within me, and although this was less tangible to articulate than the peace I felt a year ago, it felt more genuine and authentic. I breathed into the moment and the turmoil quietened. My perception had altered and I noticed a shift in the vibration of every single atom of my being. At first, this was a jostle or oscillation, quickly turning into a blaze of pulsating awareness which rushed in with such force it took my breath away. I felt a brief flicker of panic with the lack of oxygen and I quickly realised I had a choice: recoil to catch my breath or dive right in.
Once again, I initially tried to resist and attempted to take a sharp inhalation of breath but the energy required to maintain this was beyond me and I snapped. I started falling and I felt a fleeting moment of knowing that I needed to let go so I turned the freefall into a dive. Letting go was much easier than I believed it would be but it’s so hard to articulate as it doesn’t involve doing anything, as it’s more a state of conscious surrender. The more I let go, the more I realised the dive wasn’t taking me to new depths but I was soaring. Underneath the pain and exhaustion, a tingling of elation stirred as I reached a powerful point of revelation.
I realised there were several reasons to my situation: a failure to invoke edges, a failure to express the intensity of my feelings and the need to ‘be more me’. Each one equally as important as the others and each one fairly monumental in shape and form.
My failure to invoke edges was lifelong as I’d never had the strength or courage to draw boundaries; I felt lost and I had no clear sense of self. This was for several reasons: firstly, a lost sense of personal awareness, secondly, a desire to people-please and thirdly, a distinct lack of self-love. I’d spent most of my life not liking myself very much, not feeling worthy and not knowing why I was here or what my purpose in life was. I’d managed this by wearing a façade which hid my inner turmoil and, over time, it wrote itself into my subconscious and I thought nothing of it until I hit rock bottom when the cold light of truth came knocking.
I feared letting others in. I feared them discovering the real me as I believed they’d be as disappointed in me as I was. I feared them getting close so I stayed on the periphery. Yet, an even bigger fear was the fear I had of myself: I wouldn’t gaze into my own depths as I feared the pain within would consume me if I let it out.
Which leads into the second reason: the failure to express the intensity of my feelings. I’m a world-class smiler, I’m not one for expressions of emotions mainly because I feared if I let out just a little bit then the rest of the pain stuffed inside me would flood out uncontrollably but it goes deeper than this as I’d lost my voice years ago. I felt unheard and this caused me to recoil into myself and wither. When it comes to expressing my deep emotions, I feel stunted and awkward as I can’t hide behind words or the safety of my keyboard so I’ve always tried to hold it all inside, wrapping it up in my crooked smile and veneer of calm. This strategy worked unto the day it didn’t and this further opened the floodgates to my pain, it led to an outpouring so profound and so exquisitely painful, I felt closer to death than life. I wanted death to welcome me like an old friend so I could be free of the pain and struggle. I had nothing left, I was empty, hollow and lost.
I felt broken and damaged beyond repair and, although I was still down that dark hole of rock bottom, I began to tap into even deeper layers of insight. It was at this point when I really questioned my strength and resolve, and felt my stubborn, pig-headed determination was more of a curse than a blessing as, despite the immense pain, I hadn’t given up or given in and I wanted to. I wanted to end; to draw a line under the pain. I was tired right down to my soul and I’d had enough. I wrestled with this for some time and it took me a while to realise the main source of my pain was my stoical façade as the pretence was exhausting.
This led to the third reason: to be more me. After all, who else could I be? I’d tried to be the person I thought I ought to be my entire life and that had failed spectacularly. I’d reached a point where I no longer had the energy to fake it, I just needed to be real, honest and authentic. This meant being vulnerable and open, and although my stiff upper lip fought this ferociously, I was now on an enforced, one-way ticket to openness and it was leaking out of every cell of my being.
In truth, I’m still processing all of this. I haven’t suddenly awoken to a life of rose petals and marshmallows as it’s still immensely challenging, but it’s different. It’s different because I’m different. I’ve finally ‘stood on the precarious threshold of my own heart and soul ‘(John O’Donohue) and realised it’s not a place to fear anymore; it’s a part of me – it is me. I’ve a way to go before I’m dancing carefree through the hills and valleys of life but I’ve made it through the most challenging year of my life (so far) and, despite the intensity of the experience, I feel a flicker of optimism stirring in my soul.
I’m still in that dark hole but it’s become a firm foundation for me. My eyes have adjusted and it’s no longer the dark, soul-less place I believed it to be: it’s real and it’s quite comforting in many ways as it’s womb-like and nurturing. I can still see me underneath the rubble of challenges, ill-health and dysfunction. Admittedly, I’m continuing to acclimatise to the shifts but the world is changed. Every atom has shifted and I’m more aware of both myself and the world in which I live. My senses are awakening, and every sound, every sight and every smell is accentuated, renewed and crystal clear as though I’m experiencing it all for the first time.
As the echoes of possibility create a new resonance in my soul, I am finally beginning to see the sun creeping over the horizon of a new day of a new chapter of my life. 2016 was a phenomenally hard year, even though I thought I had crossed a threshold the previous year when I broke, I have now gone deeper and shattered layer upon layer of illusion as I’ve finally fallen off the edge, faced my deepest fears and found myself as a result. I couldn’t know until I fell that living off the edge is truly the only way to thrive…