Religion and Spirituality

Religion and Spirituality

Just the mention of the word 'God', has been enough in years gone by, to make me want to turn away, to switch off and roll my eyes knowingly. The words "oh, here we go - more preaching" echoing in my mind.

From as far back as I can remember, I have been aware of God. God has been present throughout my life in one form or another. I've sometimes referred to the presence of God, as God, Lord and as Father during conversations within myself (internal dialogue). While at other times I've used the terms 'Source, Life Force or Infinite Wisdom, depending on who I was speaking to or how I have felt about God at the time. My journey with God could be described as turbulent. I am ashamed to admit that this has mostly been a one sided relationship, in which I have regularly played the role of abuser - all in and attentive one minute, dismissive and uninterested the next.

During different stages of my life, I have adored then, ignored.  Relied then, denied.  Abused, Accused, Pleaded and Begged, Blamed and been ashamed of,  always taking for granted, but never really listening to what God might have to say. Never really understanding who God really is.

Being the eldest, religion was something of an issue for me as a kid, in as much as my relatively young parents hadn't quite worked it out yet. My Mum, a devout Roman Catholic who believed children should be brought up in the Catholic fold, my Dad, C of E, believed they should not. There was some push and pull about where us kids belonged religiously;  as often happens in families, and so for the first 8 years of my life I was considered to be C of E, which essentially meant my Dad had won the argument. As a result, I attended a C of E school and God didn't really figure in any of it. I didn't need to attend church either within school or outside of it, apart from the odd hymn, school didn't involve a relationship with God at all. Religion for me felt distant, removed, cold and indifferent, it wasn't something I felt I was part of. I can say this now because I am able to make a comparison, but I didn't know anything different then, I just remember - God wasn't involved in my life and so I didn't really notice he was there. C of E School for me was about learning to read and write in ways that made the teacher happy, it had nothing to do with God.

By the time I was 9 my Mum had won over,  and following our return from living in Africa, my siblings and I were christened Catholic and sent to a Catholic school. It was different - very different. Nuns doubled as teachers in this school -  called Sisters, and they were married to God. A confusing concept for a 9 year old newbie, but seemingly not something to be questioned,  because like God, Nuns were to be revered, especially this particular Nun, that was now to be my teacher.

Being a Nun who was married to God, essentially meant you were closer to God than the kids or any of the other teachers, therefore Nuns were tasked with keeping the kids in check by punishing them often enough to ensure they never toyed with any madcap ideas about misbehaving. You didn't actually have to do anything wrong to be in trouble in Sister Winifreds class. Sister, along with her trusty red pen, was a dab hand at child misbehaving prevention, an avid supporter of children in need, of a good stabbing with the aforementioned pen! She terrified me, which led to me frequently being stupefied in her presence - another behaviour she couldn't tolerate.

The Catholic School and The Catholic Church functioned as one as far as I could fathom.  I was expected to attend Mass and Confession regularly at Church, while prayers and assemblies were continued in School. God would know those who didn't attend Mass, because He was always watching - and Sister would soon find out about it.

There were lots of new rules for a kid to learn, for example; It is considered rude to look behind you in Church and usually resulted in a thick ear! A harsh learning curve for an inquisitive kid. Turning your back on the alter in Gods house isn't the done thing, eyes forward, head down, honour and respect are the order of the day. I was introduced to Mary, Joseph and Jesus - this felt so much stricter, but strangely, it felt closer, warmer even, a togetherness which was intense at times. I fainted on numerous occasions in Church, I think it was due to the worry of getting things wrong - the smell of incense still makes me queasy. I didn't understand the relevance of the feelings back then, or why one religion felt different to me than the other - it has taken me half a century to figure it out and to understand what the feelings meant for me.

Growing up I was an observer of life. Watching, listening, digesting, interpreting. A quiet but challenging kid I imagine - always questioning things that were 'none of my business in an era when children should be seen and not heard rarely won me favour.  I quizzed away silently - internally, drawing my own conclusions from the information I was observing. I could never understand the relevance of going to Church on Sundays to recite the same words over and over again; week after week, year after year, repeating the same thing - what did it mean? what was the purpose of it?. I haven't been to Mass in almost three decades but I can recite an entire Mass by heart.

Growing up a Catholic,  I often wondered if this ritual was what made someone a good person. Attending church every Sunday and being able to remember all the right words and actions in the right order wasn't easy, but is this what makes someone a good person in the eyes of God? I had my doubts about that, and if this were to be the case, what about the rest of the week?

I knew some people who never missed Sunday Mass, but I had my doubts they were 'good people'. God would undoubtedly disagree with that. The playground bullies who appeared to forget about God during the week, the gossips and the judgemental, - those people who showed up for Mass dressed to the nines and looking fabulous, while eyeing up and down with an expression of pity or disgust, those of us dressed in less glamorous hand me downs; "You should stick to wearing your school uniform you should, it makes you look much less scruffy" was the kind advise I received from one hypocritical regular church goer. God didn't mind I don't think, he could see beyond clothing - he knew what was in my heart.  I decided this is what confession must be about.  Maybe God doesn't actually expect people to be good or even nice to each other all of the time, and as long as they are sorry afterwards, every week - then all is forgiven and God will be pleased! A peculiar set up I thought and one that I was aware baffled my paternal Grandad.

I wondered about the people who regularly turned up late for Mass, since I was always in bother for being late. They'd attempt, in vein to shuffle in unnoticed - clanging through the double doors with their car keys rattling during silent prayer. Clambering clumsily into the pew at the very back, which usually meant they ended up sitting next to me. A crisp five pound note would be neatly placed on top of the loose change in the offertory tray, then they would nip away early before Mass had even ended - seemingly way too busy to give God their undivided attention. I never once saw any late comers getting a thick ear or the hard stare, no one seemed to mind their tardiness or interruption, then adults are treated differently to kids. I often wondered if the fiver made a difference to God? It certainly caught my attention, since our family could only ever manage a few loose coins.

A fiver would have bought the required ingredients for a decent family sized meal. A favourite homemade meat and tattie pie perhaps, covered in a thick crust pastry, with lashings of gravy, that my Dad had perfected. Baked in the old Range in a huge metal mixing bowl, money well spent in my view! My meagre offering was usually a solitary scruffy ten pence piece, retrieved earlier from the back of the couch or pinched from my Mums purse to save me from the shame of having to pass the tray along without putting anything into it. On a bad week, when I turned up to Mass with no money for the offertory, I would take the round wooden tray from my neighbour with one hand, shaking it gently while holding a clenched fist over it with the other hand, creating the illusion that I was dropping coins onto the green felted wooden tray. As a child, I'd developed ridiculous ways of disguising elements of my life that I was embarrassed or unhappy about - having no money being one example. As an adult, I realise it is unlikely I fooled anyone with my coin rattling charade, but it helped to make me feel better.

On a good week, my offering was a shiny new 20 pence piece taken from my Mums empty steradent tube collection, which were her savings for a rainy day. In my mind it would have been better spent on a quarter of Kop-Kops from the little shop next door, and I'm ashamed to say, very occasionally it was. The indiscretion inevitably led to confession the following Saturday, 3 Hail Mary's, 2 Our Fathers and a Glory Be - I have to admit, it was worth it - I loved Kop-Kops . I wonder how many other kids confessed about their ill gotten sweet-fest in the confessional, or was it only me?. Either way, I was glad the shop keeper wasn't a Catholic else Sister would have had plenty to say about it.

Being a helper; handing out hymn books, offertory trays, playing the Organ, being an alter boy, reading out or singing a psalm- these things seemed to win favour. I'm not sure if it won any favour with God but being a helper certainly won over the Priests and the important people in the Parish. I wasn't a Church helper and my singing was and still is highly offensive,  so I stuck to helping out the old people in our street and the residents in the old peoples flats. God wasn't there to witness it, but the old people, like Murray Mint George, Custard Cream Pat and our neighbour Auntie Pearl, known by the local kids as The Witch.  They all appreciated help from my younger Sister and I, running errands in return for a Murray Mint, a soggy biscuit or a delicious coconut covered snowball - and in my mind, the old people needed our help far more.

Over the years I experienced many twists and turns on my journey with Religion; regularly feeling judged or frowned upon, restricted and not good enough, but this is neither the time or the place to go into that. Needless to say,  I pulled away from the Church and it's teachings and as a result - I excluded God from my life for a while.  Growing up I had come to know God as part of a religion. I was desperately trying to make sense of things that didn't make any sense to me. Reprimanded for asking questions about things I didn't understand, and treated as though I was being disrespectful by asking, when in reality I was seeking answers. I was regularly advised to 'just have faith' which never felt like an answer to me, I interpreted it as 'shut up and do as you are told'.  Trying to figure out what this remote, mysterious, bearded super hero, that I envisaged looking down from his kingdom in the clouds, expected of me.

I was protective of my God;  fearful of listening to other peoples ideas of religion incase it offended my One God. Affronted by people who attempted to force their religious beliefs onto me - those who appeared to assume their God was the right God, and a different God to mine. I got involved in many arguments about religion over the years, which wasn't really my intention.  I closed the door on a God who I believed had stepped aside, leaving me alone to cope and allowing some of the darkest hours in my life to almost destroy me. A God who in my mind couldn't really love me as he had failed to intervene on my behalf.

For me Religion, with its hierarchy, rules, regulations and restrictions, with all its the pomp and circumstance, misogyny, preferences and exclusions  -  had clouded my judgement and confused my relationship with God. It has taken me almost half a century to truly connect with God, which I have achieved through the art of meditation - a practise previously known to me as prayer, albeit on a much deeper level.

Like pulling back the curtain to reveal Oz in the The Wizard of Oz, I found that by separating God from Religion, for me it revealed Spirituality.  I discovered God within.  With it came clarity, a feeling of connectedness, truth, light, insight and inner peace. I realise now that by having knowledge of God as a child, I'd learned the difference between what felt like being close and warm was God in my life and a sense of belonging,  as opposed to the empty, distant coldness of not knowing God.

Religion had introduced me to God, and whether it had intended to or not, it had inadvertently taught me that God was an external being, a source outside of myself, a force to look up towards, to worship out-with, a Creator of all living things, looking down on me from above.

With Spirituality came the realisation that God is within me - within each of us, a part of us and within all living things - God is the universal life force that dwells within the souls of every single one of us and without it we are lost. By focusing my attention inward I am connected to God, an entirely different feeling to what I previously understood about God and religion.  This has been a life changing experience for me, it has changed the way I live my life. It has changed how I treat myself and others. It has brought new understanding and clarity to things that are important to me.  I recognise that not everyones journey or relationship with God, Religion or Spirituality is experienced in the same way and therefore this blog post may or may not make any sense to you, the reader. However, one thing I am absolutely certain of is that when God was excluded from my life, the emotions I experienced within myself felt cold, empty, uneasy distance; the reverse is also true.

I'm not suggesting for one minute that anyone else has or will experience either religion or spirituality the same way that I describe it here in this blog - I only ever speak for myself and my experience. I mean no disrespect to anyones beliefs or chosen religion, be that Catholic, C of E or other - all knowledge of God is valuable.

Through Spirituality I am closer to God and connected to the universe. I feel warmth, connectedness, peace, gratitude, contentment, love and joy. I see beauty in things that previously went unnoticed, I find joy in the simplest of tasks, gratitude for the love I feel and life that I share, understanding has replaced confusion, I feel grounded and contentment where once instability reigned.

If you are suffering within and have yet to find inner peace, my advice is - meditate, you can be sure the answers are within you. I wish you love and peace.


A Message To The Confrontational

Don't ever stop, standing up for yourself! Being a confrontational person is not a bad thing. In fact, in a world where our rights, our opinions and our way of life are constantly under scrutiny by those around us, it is a gift to be able to stand up and say your piece without worrying about the backlash. If you are confident in what you are saying, you are confident enough to engage in a healthy debate which maturely results in both parties concluding to either agree to disagree or come to an understanding about where each other is coming from. We call this "effective communication", a skill that sadly,  so many people seem to lack nowadays.

So much is misinterpreted simply because the need to be right, out-ways the need to understand and because of this, even the simplest of situations can be twisted and manipulated and be so blown out of proportion, it leaves us feeling utterly bewildered. We call this "wilful communication" - having or showing a stubborn and determined intention to do what one wants, regardless of the consequences.

When we confront someone, what we are doing is making that person aware that their words or behaviour in some way has caused hurt or upset and it is our right to stand up and speak out about it. In a recent incident with myself - where i was in the wrong - i had made a comment on something that did upset someone. The person messaged me to state her feelings and explain how it was from her point of view and she was right. I was thoughtless in my comment and without even trying to justify anything, i simply apologised, agreed that i was in the wrong and would know better in future. The issue was then resolved without any further damage being done.

Iv used my own wrong doing as the example here simply to show that even as i'm sat here today, a whole world away from where i used to be, i still make mistakes....because i'm still human! The difference is in how we respond to these confrontations. Only when we are able to stand accountable for our actions can we have the maturity to admit we are wrong without having to personally attack the person confronting us.

Confrontation is often mistaken as aggression. Especially from those who are purposely trying to trigger/gaslight or manipulate us into a reaction, so they can say we are the crazy ones and deny any responsibility on their part. These people aren't even worth confronting and it doesn't take long in their company to realise this person has no interest in other perspectives or even trying to understand where others are coming from. The very people who will play victim and tell their family and friends how you have been so mean to them when the truth of the matter is, they have caused the problems themselves with their own words and actions to begin with but god forbid they are confronted and have to stand accountable.....this is where they twist confrontation and call it aggression. This is also where you separate the decent from the deceptive!

I suppose we just get to a point where we know what is and what isn't worth confronting any more. We know the people who deliberately want to cause us harm in some way and by giving them the satisfaction of that confrontation, we give them the power to play victim again. When we step back and realise that the people who want to see us fail, are the ones who talk the most crap about us. In an attempt to try pull us down again. We realise then that they are not people who deserve the time of day from us so let them chat their shit. The universe is watching them ones and will one way or another serve them their own karma in due course.

Embrace your confrontational side though. Its only offensive to those who are trying to manipulate you in some way. To the rest of us...its a strong character trait that will take you places when used appropriately.

Pick your battles wisely....if they're not your monkeys, stay out of the circus!




Know Thy Self

The Beliefs We Hold

The beliefs that we hold about ourselves shape our choices and our lives.

If I believe I cannot do a thing or be a thing, the chances are, unless I am willing to challenge the belief I hold about myself, my assumption is likely to be correct - and I cannot do it or be it, because our thoughts impact how we feel and how we act.

'Beliefs are just thoughts that we keep on thinking'!

We have the choice to examine the beliefs that we hold about ourselves and challenge the beliefs that are preventing us from living the life that we would choose for ourselves alternatively, we can choose not to.

The Choices We Make

Widely accepted, but seldom applied is the understanding that each of us are responsible for our actions, and we each live with the consequences of the choices that we make. It is important to recognise that the choices we make, given the information we have available to us at the time, and to the best of our capabilities -  result as often as is possible, in outcomes that we are comfortable with or at the very least - outcomes that we can live with.

While the law recognise's that people under a certain age are not accountable for decisions influenced by others (adults), having knowledge of this fact, does not stop the negative emotions of shame and guilt that a person carries within themselves for the badly thought-out decisions that they have made as young people; Decisions that have led to outcomes, that they have later come to regret. People often carry the weight of regret, shame and guilt for bad choices way into adulthood - knocking their confidence and self esteem; informing their future choices and shaping their adult lives.

Resolving these negative emotions within ourselves is an important part of the healing process.

Consider this: If I ask you which do you prefer Tea or Coffee? Chances are, you will find it easy to answer the question with minimum effort, automatic even - because you know what you like and don't like. You may choose Coffee, because you don't like Tea, or visa versa. You may choose neither - preferring a cold drink instead, or nothing at all because you're not thirsty, or you've recently had a drink. The point I'm making is, you know what you prefer intuitively and whichever choice you make in that moment, is undoubtedly the right choice for you.

The problem which decision making arises when our judgement is clouded or our choices are influenced by another/others. Sometimes because others imagine they know what is best for us, and sometimes,  not necessarily because the other person is intentionally influencing our decisions, but because we are choosing to put another persons beliefs, opinions and  preferences before our own, maybe because we care about them and don't want to upset or offend them, maybe through fear of rejection or criticism, or for other reasons, but whatever it is, it is still a decision that 'we;, are making and that we will live with the consequences of.

To give a lived experience example;

In a previous relationship, many years ago now, my new partner initially presented as 'the perfect mate'. He appeared funny, kind, attentive,  intelligent and for want of a better word 'really cool'. All the things I thought at the time were important qualities in a partner. I was impressed, because I was anything but cool, and I couldn't really understand why someone as 'cool' as he was would be interested in someone as uncool and 'straight laced as me. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but this kind of thinking came from my own lack of self worth. I also wasn't aware at the time, that a failure to recognise and address my own lack of self-worth, meant I was likely to keep revisiting the same situations; Different faces, different places - always the same outcome!

Not long into the relationship, he came to my house and I was listening to pop music, belting out the words to one of my favourite songs; Erasers 'We'll be together again', while hoovering the living room carpet. "You're not into that shite are you?" he said, turning the volume down on the 'Ghetto Blaster'. Embarrassed by my preference, and fearful that my 'uncoolness' would be revealed,  I immediately responded with "No, not at all - it just came on, I don't usually listen to 'shite like this"!  I never listened to that song, or any kind of popular music that I had previously enjoyed, again during the relationship. However, when asked if I liked the heavy metal music that was his preference, I felt unable to say No, even though, the truth was, I absolutely detested it. It gave me a banging headache, but instead of saying what I truly felt,  I fluffed around the question so not to appear 'uncool, unintelligent or different to him. I also didn't want to offend him with my honesty, so I skated around the question with things like; I've never really listened to it - to be honest! - I don't dislike it, it's pretty good" Complete tripe! I convinced myself I was being a  'nice' person, being considerate - making compromises - rubbish, I was lying to myself, compromising myself because I was afraid of being rejected by someone I had feelings for. For the duration of the relationship, I kept up this ridiculous pretense of 'not minding' listening to the awful din that was his music choice and avoided listening to anything that he might consider 'popular'.

It began with music, but it quickly spread into every aspect of life. The clothes I wore, the food I ate, the company I kept, even my values and beliefs.

It wasn't long before I lost sight of who I was and the things I preferred. I felt as though I was disappearing behind this other person until I was completely overshadowed and no longer valid, I eventually lost sight of myself.

The guy was not cool in reality,  he was incredibly violent and abusive. I eventually left the relationship after a particularly violent attack when he knocked me to the floor, held me down, and squeezed my throat with both hands until I passed out. It is by the Grace of God that I am here today to share my experiences with you.

The Responsibility We Take

For many years I was able to confidently say 'None of it was not my fault'! He was the problem.  But after the third, ( not always violent, but always controlling and/or abusive), I had to face up and accept that I had a part to " play in the things that were happening to me. I was the common denominator, leaving me no choice but to ask of myself 'What is it about me always leads me to here?" I embarked on a journey of self discovery that would change me and my life for ever for the better. (feel free to request these self discovery exercises and I will happily email them to you)

How you Feel, matters. How you think informs how you feel and how you behave. All to often we leave ourselves out of the judging and blame others for the unhappiness in our lives.

I came to understand that I am not responsible for the violent, abusive behaviour of another. As we said in the opening sentence, 'We are each responsible for our own actions, we own our behaviour and live the consequences of our choices.

We cannot control the actions of another person no matter how much we may want to or how hard we try. We can however choose how we respond to the actions of others. We always have a choice!

We can come to understand how and when we give away our power to others. How and when we allow our choices, opinions and values to be overshadowed and over ridden by another. We can learn how not to do these things, and how to stand in our power, exercise our rights - or not!

We can learn how to challenge the beliefs we hold about ourselves, we can consider the words we use to describe ourselves, we can choose to change if we wish.  We can choose to become more assertive and learn how to exercise our rights or we can choose to always point the finger and choose to continue on the path that we are on.

If you are experiencing negative emotions, it is very likely that you are going against yourself in some way, you may be ignoring your internal sat-nav that is alerting you to a problem. You may be doubting yourself, questioning yourself, or choosing to ignore yourself because you don't want to face what listening to yourself means for you.  After 30 years of searching for answers,   I only found one way forward from this place of angst and confusion - and that is self-discovery! Looking within -  the answers are within us -  look within - know thyself!



The Truth About Healing

To be absolutely honest, its messy, emotional, overwhelming and exhausting. But with that comes the most amazing feeling of mental and emotional freedom when you can finally break away from the chains that have been holding you back in your own mind. The limiting beliefs you have had about yourself slowly subside. A level of confidence and determination shines through so bright that you no longer tolerate the things you once did and what a truly liberating feeling that is.

As with anything in the world, there is no 1 size fits all. This is particularly true when it comes to healing ourselves as the process of healing depends very much on the depth of our pain. The years we have carried it with us and the generally destructive behaviours and coping mechanisms we have displayed as a result. All this need to be addressed so we can identify our triggers, tune in with our bodies responses and learn to control our emotions in a more healthy and manageable way.

Taking responsibility is key! It is completely up to us individually to be responsible for our own healing. Unfortunately there is no magic wand that makes everything all better, that would be too easy. We are given the tools and guidance by those who support us through this difficult time to be able to find our way through but ultimately, it is up to us to put those things into practice and make the difference in ourselves.

In my own healing process i found journals very useful. Part of healing is solitude, distancing yourself  from all the people and places that bring chaos to your life and so having a journal to write down how you are feeling is a safe and private way to just get things out your head. Wither that be in the form of poems, stories, memories or just a good old rant, write it down! In writing these things down, it gives us the chance to read it back out loud to our self and hear the words spoken rather than turning over in our head. I for one have on many occasion thought to myself after saying something "that sounded better in my head". When we vocalise something, we are giving our self the chance to actually hear how we feel rather than just thinking about it and this alone can change the way we start thinking. This is where we start facing our real feelings as opposed to suppressing them and that again is a major part of the healing process.

As i started feeling better, the journal entries became less and less but I would from time to time pick up my journal and read through past entries. It is at this point i realised just how far i had already come and reading the earlier entries actually made me feel really proud of myself and gave me the energy and motivation to keep going forward. In order to do that with a lighter heart and start letting go of the past, i sat down in front of a fire with my journal, read page by page and as i finished each one, i ripped out the page and threw it in the fire until the whole journal was left with just blank pages again. It was almost like a personal cremation of all the things that once weighed me down and it felt so uplifting. This can be done with photos, old letters or anything else that negatively impacts your state of mind or connects you with things that you no longer want in your life. Treat it like a funeral. Respectfully say goodbye to once was and open up to a new way of living, feeling, thinking.

Then start writing again! Open up the journal and start making new entries. As time goes on you will again see how much further you have come. There will always be hurdles and obstacles in our way but we learn to navigate them better as we grow and again, is a reflection of how far we have come in our own healing process. Repeat the "written cremation" as i like to refer to it as, as many times as you need to. This is your process, take as long as you need!

Music! The music we listen to very much influences our mood. If we are already feeling low, listening to songs that are generally about break ups, bad love or just generally have depressing lyrics, guess what?? That's how you are going to feel. Depressed! Music can also have the opposite effect. Create an uplifting playlist with positive messages in the lyrics. Play that playlist every morning and see the difference in your mood as the day starts. A few of my favourite songs and playlists that helped me through were, Blue October - Fear... Matchbox 20 - Unwell...Andreas Moe - Out Of Your Body...alexrainbirdMusic - there are so many compilations on youtube that are very uplifting and positively impact your mood. Have a listen to some and find one that makes you feel good.

The most important thing to remember in your healing process is, if it doesn't make you feel good.....stay away from it! You are making your way through the transitional tunnel of self love, self care and self respect. Setting your boundaries and protecting your heart. If the things around you don't contribute positively to that....its a sure sign you have outgrown them and are ready to move into the next level of healing.

Sending healing wishes to everyone who needs it. Stay strong....YOU CAN DO THIS!!


What if?......Why not?...

It's all too easy to let our trauma consume us. It's not something we automatically want to do but for some.....many.... there is seemingly nothing else to focus on to keep us motivated.

In my own experience, it was the positive feedback i got from outsiders, teachers, bosses, colleagues, friends...strangers even,  which kept me in the mindset that i was capable of doing something positive with my own life. I think this is very important for anyone who is lacking the support of family members or for those who are in fact victimised by their own families, to realise that our biggest supporters are often those we dismiss because we expect the positive feedback from those closest to us.

Sometimes we lose sight of our abilities because we have been told too many times we don't have any by the very people who are supposed to love and care for us but the truth is, it is often the people we come into contact with on our journeys that give us a better evaluation of our capabilities. They are commenting from a non judgemental point of view and are merely saying what they see in us. That's where our focus is better placed.

Having these influences i believe are our guidance from the universe that our abilities are being recognised but it is up to us to believe it. These are the universal signs we hear and talk about. We have people sent our way, no matter how brief, to come to us with positive input and to build us up bit by bit and instil a feeling of worthiness. No meeting is ever by chance, there is something to be taken from all our human encounters. They were never all meant to be negative.

What if, instead of being chipped down by the negative comments we have heard about ourselves, we were to focus solely on the positive comments. What if..we dismiss the opinions of people who don't nearly have their own life together or are living a lie themselves. What if...we could better understand that insults and put downs are nothing more than a projection of the pain inside the person who is saying those things to us? If only it was as easy to accept the positive like we do the negative.

Who is anyone really to devalue our worth? What gives anyone the right to make us feel so rejected? We know the answer to these questions are no one and nothing, so why do we take their word as truth?

Why not, instead of reacting to these people, we simply say...."i hope you heal from whatever drives you to want to hurt others". That's where our power lies.

What if...we stopped taking things personally and instead think, "what do i have that intimidates people to the point they have to try and pull me down"?

When we change how we perceive the view of others...we change how we feel about it.




A Lesson in Respect

I grew up in the 80s in a mining community in Yorkshire. I played the cornet in the local colliery band. I marched with the Miners when they returned to work defeated, exhausted and broken.

I remember the horrors of the miners strike; seeing grown men who I knew, from our village being dragged bruised, bloody & beaten by police without collar numbers & thrown into arrest vans.

Labelled as ‘The Enemy Within, by a Government pushing an agenda, because the Miner had made the decision to strike in a desperate attempt to save his job & livelihood, while the world looked on.

I remember the men who barricaded themselves inside their homes, living in fear for their lives.

A house near by had metal cages on the doors & windows resembling a prison.

Paint was thrown on the outside, ‘identifying’ the house and the word ‘Scab’ daubed across the walls and windows, because the Miner inside had made the decision NOT to strike in a desperate attempt to save his job & livelihood, while the world looked on.

The narrative was constantly being pushed, the media portrayed ‘the opposing sides as ‘the good & the bad’, ‘the right and the wrong’, the selfish & the brave’ the Picket & The Scab.

Emotions ran high, there was so much at stake for all concerned.

Families & communities were torn apart as a result of the prolonged fight for jobs. Both sides struggled, as they watched their starving children queuing for food outside the makeshift kitchens of the Miners Welfare Clubs.

Friends became Enemies, Brothers lost touch, and like a pebble in a pond, the ripples of anger, mistrust, hurt & betrayal smeared the generations.

Two men with differing views suffering equally – both fighting against each others view. Both fighting for their rights to choose what they believed was the right choice for them.

Neither of them wanted to fight in the first place, that was never their intention; both parties were always just trying to save their jobs & protect their families and their communities from destruction.

This brings to mind another lesson from history; The unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914, when just 5 months into World War One, Soldiers along the western front from both sides, downed their weapons, calling an unofficial truce and enjoying a game of football together on Christmas Day. It suggests to me, that these men were not really enemies. They hadn’t wanted to kill and destroy each other, real hatred doesn’t stop for a game of football. They were both fighting for what they believed in, while being force fed a narrative – and, as is always the case, both side suffer loss in the end.

During the Miners strike, both sides were fearful for the future, and both sides had good reason to be because,  both sides lost everything in the end!

The lessons we should have been learned here is Respect!

Respect for each others opinions, respect for other  peoples rights to choose – even when they make a different choice to ours.

Never to fall for the ‘Us & Them’ narrative and to always remember –

We are not enemies- We are friends,

We are family, We are neighbour’s, We are colleagues, We are community, We are human, We are connected,

May we stay this way!

For my part;

I promised to always respect you and your choices, without question or criticism, without any intent to discourage, influence or override – either overtly or covertly,  regardless of any narrative being pushed.

And I trust that you, likewise will look beyond our differences, and equally respect me and mine.

Peace and Love to you and yours – always.

What is a Toxic Relationship.

When we talk about toxic relationships, it is important to understand that it isn't always necessarily the persons involved that are toxic. Quite often it can be the situation itself that becomes toxic because the characters of the people involved clash to a point of making the relationship a troublesome one. Once we understand this, it makes it easier for us to identify the problem without having to point blame from one to another and actually see that by withdrawing from the situation, no matter how difficult it may be, will in return better the situation naturally. For example, a couple who are constantly arguing and can't seem to settle their differences decide to split up. Given time for the initial hurt to pass, the same two people get to a point where they become good friends and can work through differences without the shouting and name calling. So it wasn't that the two are personally toxic, but more that the relationship itself wasn’t right for them and the clash of personalities made it difficult to be able to work together as a couple. 

On the other hand, there are unfortunately so many people who are living with unresolved traumas from their own childhood that refuse to acknowledge that their behaviours can also become toxic to others. Instead of realising their own accountability, they will constantly blame others and twist words and situations to make others look bad to protect the image they have of themselves in their mind. This alone is a toxic trait as it leads to traits of narcissism where they manipulate and control people and situations to their own advantage. This then becomes a toxic environment to be in until the unhealed person takes responsibility for their behaviour after acknowledging that they in fact are the ones with the issues that need resolved. Sadly, not enough people are willing or able to face their own inner self to begin their healing as they cant or wont admit that the behaviours they display hurt and damage the ones closest to them and this is where people actually do become toxic. 

Each and every one of us have our own unique characters, shaped and formed through the life we have lived and even going back through ancestral traumas that have been passed down genetically. We are all very different and therefore are not going to connect fully with every relationship we have. There doesn't have to be anyone to blame, it just didn't work out and no matter how long you stick around hoping things will get better, they never will and therefore we fall into the familiar comfort rather than actually working together and connecting on a soul to soul level.

Confusing love with lust is what leads most of us into a toxic relationship. We are so in love with the idea of being in love, especially if we have been neglected in our childhood that we are blinded to hidden motives and abusive behaviours. Ignoring red flags and bending over backwards to please people. 

We have all been toxic to someone at some point but that doesn't define who we are. Once we heal from our pain and can openly admit our wrongdoings, you are no longer that same toxic person. 

Daddy's Girl?

From as young as i can remember i was always a daddy's girl. He was always so gentle and soft spoken and never in my life did he ever raise a hand to me. He barely even raised his voice.

I recall the day he lost the custody case against my mum for us. We had been with my auntie and he had come to pick up my sister, brother and me to go back to his house. While stopping off at the local chip shop to get us some sweets on the way, my mum and stepdad - I'll refer to him as stepdad from here on as that is what he went on to be, had a kid with my mum and was with her for many years after - had followed us and while my dad was in the shop, they snatched us from his car and raced off up to their house. My dad was fast behind us and as we were being pulled out the car in a hurry, my brother just being barely a toddler was being held under my stepdads arm surfboard style while having my sister with his other hand pulling her along. My mum had a firm grip on my arm pulling me along too and i just remember the three of us screaming for our dad as he got out the car and tried to get to us before she got us in the house. It was awful!

The years that followed were filled with torment from her in her abuse and twisted games to hurt seemingly us as well as my dad. She would say we weren't going back to see him and that we would never see him again. He wasn't our dad anymore, blah, blah, blah. My stepdad had two kids too who were a bit older than us and i'm sure it was the strain of now having five kids under her feet that soon swayed her into letting us go back to see our dad just so she could get peace. It was all about what suited her at the time and less to do with just being a decent mother and letting her kids have a relationship with their dad.

I loved the weekends with dad. He would take us swimming, away on day trips or just taking us with him to see his friends. There was a Sunday market in the town and we always knew it would never just be a quick wander round. He knew so many people, being the local coal man and enjoying a pint in the local with the lads, that he would stop and speak to almost every second person. It would take sometimes hours to get round. I always enjoyed the time and it was always a bonus if we got to go to the pub with him. He would have his couple of pints after swimming or if we had been with him when he was playing football with his friends before going on to his for the rest of the day.

My dad was such a gentle man, a ladies man there's no denying but a gentle man all the same. He would never really shout at us. His lectures made more impact than any beating my mother would give. As i got older and was clearly showing signs of being a troubled kid, i always remember dreading what my dad would say about whatever i had done rather than worrying about my mothers reaction. By that point i had realised that words leave a bigger impact while bruises always heal.

By the time i started college, i could hardly stand to be around my mum. My sister was constantly snooping through my stuff and trying to find ways of getting me into trouble and i just didn't feel comfortable in that house. I sat with my best friend one day and we were talking about me wanting to go live with my dad. I had wanted to for some time but was always too frightened to ask my mum as i knew she wasn't going to take that well at all.  It took all day to build up the courage but i finally went home that evening and came straight out with it. I tried to be as gentle as i could about it explaining that i wanted to spend more time with him as i had grown up only really seeing him at the weekend so wanted to be with him more and get to know him better. It went better than i thought, she just said "pack you're fucking bags and phone him to come get you" i did.

I had already had a few warnings at college about my behaviour by this time but i tried to be better when i was staying with my dad. There was an incident in class where a girl had asked me what time the bus was and someone else answered. I replied to her with "Since when has your name been Sharon?" A simple statement but she went to one of the teachers and said i was bullying her so they took that as my last chance and kicked me for threatening behaviour. I dreaded telling dad as i knew how disappointed he would be but i was hoping that he would let me stay with him and i could get a job. He stayed out in the country and told me it would be best if i just go back to mums. I was devastated! There's no doubt in my mind it was my step monster (my dad had married his 3rd wife by this point) who had pulled the strings there and in later conversations with my dad, i had told him that was such a pivotal moment for me as my life would have been very different if he had just let me stay with him instead of sending me back to mums.

I was only back at hers a few months before she kicked me out again. I stayed with a friend for a few days before getting a place at the homeless unit. My family relationships had all but broken down, the only time i really seen my dad would be when he would come meet me and we would talk in the car for a while before he went home after work. I felt so unwanted, it was at this point i really started indulging in drugs and partying just to block out the pain.

I decided i wanted to make a fresh start for myself. I met a woman in the homeless unit who still had her keys for a house in the city. There was still 2 weeks left on the tenancy so she gave me the keys and said i could stay there until i found somewhere else. I packed my stuff and left town with nothing more than my personal belongings, bus fair and £5 in my back pocket. I found the house and stayed there for the night but it was cold and empty so next day i called a youth hostel. They had a spare bed and said i could come straight away.

There were some characters in there. We were all similar ages and from dysfunctional families so never a dull moment. I could handle myself well at this point so i was never too worried about any confrontation and to be fair, i didn't really get any hassle. However, being in this environment and the people i was meeting soon took me onto a much darker path and before i knew it i was mixed up with some very shady people getting involved with some very shady activities. I had started smoking heroin and taking methadone and things were looking very grim indeed. I spent that Christmas by myself, now in my own flat with nothing more than a Fray Benson chicken pie and a tin of boiled potatoes. No invite to go to any family so needless to say i was feeling lower than i ever had.

There was a knock on the door one afternoon. I opened it to find my dad stood there. "I got your letter" he said.  "What letter?" i relied. Turns out, one night when i had been so low and full of whatever substance, i had wrote a letter to my dad telling him the mess i was in. I had told him how bad things were and clearly needed help. He took me for a pizza, chatted for a while and then off he went home and left me there. I was even more devastated that he could just turn away and leave me in that state. I was no angel but i was his daughter and desperately needed his help. I have no doubt in my mind that again, my step monster had more to do with that as she made it clear she didn't like me and i was just a silly little girl in her eyes. The ironic thing there is she would look at me like scum for taking drugs yet there were times it was actually her son i was taking drugs with!  She wanted my dad to play happy families with her kids and grandchild and she clearly had the same opinion of me as my mother. I'm just Smithys little bastard, not worth the time of day.

By the time springtime set in, one friend who i had, seen how bad i was looking and felt responsible as he was the one who had first given me the methadone etc. We went on a two week camping trip in the Highlands where he shut me in a tent to go cold turkey. I will be forever grateful to him for that, as awful as it was it was necessary to get me back on a better track. I knew if i went back to the city it was very possible i would end up back in the same situation so i got myself a live-in waitress/housekeeper job in one of the hotels nearby. I only went back to the city to get my stuff and came straight back to start my new job.

I loved it in the Highlands. I really enjoyed my job and had made some new friends. Life was very much brighter there although i was still very much hurting and struggling with the rejection and lack of help or support from my family. I had my 18th birthday while i was there. My dad and step monster had come up to see me and we actually had a nice time. It was great to see my dad but i was struggling to be able to really talk to him properly by this point. I could feel there was such a void between us and it no longer felt like a father daughter relationship. The guy who id spent my life fighting my mother for, had left me on my own when i needed him most and i was beginning to think she had been right all along. He didn't really care about me and keeping his woman happy was more important than looking after his own kids.

My relationship with my dad was ever strained after this. I was moving about a lot, in and out of trouble and burning the candle at both ends was starting to impact my jobs. I was always praised at how well i did my job so got more chances than i should have with them but my late timekeeping could only be tolerated so long before i was finally sacked.

Years were passing and i hardly seen or spoke to my dad very often. I had a missed miscarriage - missed miscarriage being when the baby dies but your body keeps going as if it were still pregnant - in my mid 20s and had phoned to speak to him. "As long as you are OK that's all that matters" was the top and bottom of that conversation. No i wasn't OK, far from it. But there was no point even asking if i could go to stay with him for a while because i couldn't bare to hear what excuse he might have made. It was after the miscarriage i really started to crumble. I felt worthless, unloved, unwanted, rejected and hopeless. To be fair, i was getting on better with my mum at this point. I had gone through my pub management training and had settled into a good work life and i hadn't really had much to do with drugs. Maybe a cheeky something when i was out clubbing but certainly not using them as my crutch like i had done. It was because of that, the miscarriage hit me harder. I was struggling to cope and had worked on building bridges with my mum so the last thing i wanted to do was turn to drugs and fuck it all up again. So instead i tried to take my own life.

I came home after a night out and just didn't want to live anymore. I was tired of fighting, tired of hoping, tired of trying and just tired of pretending to be OK all the time. Working in the pub, i could hide behind the bar leaving my issues at the door, do my job, laugh and joke with the customers and as far as anyone was concerned, i was full of life, banter and fully loaded sarcasm. A completely different picture on the outside to what was really going on inside me. I had went into my flatmates room this night and asked for the medicine bag saying i had a bad head. She was half asleep so said to just take it...and i did...the whole damn bag and every tablet that was in it washed down with a bottle of sangria she had brought home from a holiday. I had left a note in the kitchen apologising for what i had done but explaining that i just couldn't cope with life anymore. The next thing i knew, i woke up in bed in a pool of my own vomit with my flatmate and her mum beside me and paramedics to take me to hospital. I really had hit my all time low.

I got back home from the hospital. My flatmate had asked if she should call anyone but i said no. Who really cares is how i was thinking at that point. As it happens, she called my mum and stepdad while i was sleeping and i woke up with the two of them and my sister stood at the bottom of my bed. I was kind of pleased to see them but felt so so low. My mum actually stayed with me for a few days and we probably spoke more about her own past then than we ever had. She told me that she had to have a termination when she was 16 and my granny had never known about it. For the first time in my life i felt like i was actually connecting with my mum. It was of course a short lived it always was but for that short time, i felt close with my mum and i loved how it felt. It had come through the grapevine that my dad had said one of his kids could be dead and he wouldn't know about it. I was really angry with him as he hadn't even bothered to call me when he found out what had happened so to make a comment like that was just pitiful in my opinion. He walked away and left me in the city when i had written him that letter, he sent me back to my mums first chance when i lived with him for a very short time and was quite dismissive of how upset i as over the miscarriage so to make such a comment when i finally hit my lowest point was fucking insulting to say the least.

In all my layers of pain i just wanted to feel like i was living a normal life. I was looking for love so desperately i ignored red flags and warning signs. I was soon getting married to the completely wrong person - i had a pub, he had a drinking problem - and had decided that i wanted my youngest brother to give me away. I had been quite close to him for all he was the golden child but i seemed to have a better relationship with him than my other siblings. My stepdad had been the one calling regular over the years to see how i was and keeping me updated with family news so i didn't want to chose between him and my dad. That was the last i heard from my dad until i was in hospital 3 years later pregnant with my son.

My marriage broke down...of course! I had tried to get back in touch with my dad and had phoned my brother for his number. I left a couple of messages saying i missed him and would love to hear his voice and he would have seen the missed calls but i never did get any response from him. More rejection and affirmation that he wanted nothing to do with me in my head. My self destruct button was activated. I screwed up my career and was back in the old familiar cycle of drug and alcohol abuse when i fell pregnant with my son. My stepdad had come to see me and told me there and then he was not going to leave me in the city on my own pregnant. It was music to my ears! Please just take me home! He had split with my mum not long before that as she had an affair with her best friends boyfriend. Just one of many she had over the years.

I had started bleeding at 32wks due to placenta previa - a condition where the placenta covers the cervix and generally results in a C-Section to get the baby out. I spent 16 days in hospital and it was in this time my brother had said my dad wanted to come and see me if that was OK. Of course it was OK! It was an awkward meeting but it was small steps back to building a relationship with him again. I had been out of hospital 4 days when my waters broke and i was back in hospital for an emergency c-section 5 weeks early. My dad had come to see me in the hospital but i was using my stepdads surname then and so he didn't bother coming in because he was upset at the surname i was using. When it came to registering the birth though, my brother had had a chat with me about not passing this generations issues into the next one and he as right. My son was registered Smith and from there i was slowly rebuilding bridges with my dad.

In 2015 my stepdad was diagnosed with cancer and after spending 6 months back and forward from his house, i held his hand while he took his last breath in the hospice at 11pm on 17th May 2016. It was from this point my entire life as i knew it came crashing down around me. My step brother and sister wrote me off after the funeral as if i never existed and to this day i don't know what ever happened to his ashes. I had taken my youngest brother in in his time of need. He had issues with drink so was warned he would only get one chance which he blew when he started waving a knife and shouting he was going to stab me if i didn't let him in the house. He was steaming drunk and we had kids in the house so he was told he wasn't coming in and the police ended up lifting him. This was the final straw in my relationship (i had been with my partner for over 3 years and he adopted my son so for a short while i had been quite settled and living a normal life) which also broke down for various other reasons but my brother being there was the final nail in the coffin.

I had moved into a flat, was hanging around the very people who could supply my old reliable crutch and was very much heading back to the same dark place i was all too familiar with. My relationship with my dad had been going well though so i was hanging onto that and my son was oblivious to what was happening with me until one day i finally snapped. I had a full on emotional breakdown in September of '17 and it was pretty monumental to say the least. It finished up with me up in court for 4 assault charges, one vandalism and a good ol breach of the peace. I came up from the holding cells into the courtroom and the first face i saw was my dad! I felt so ashamed. I was so angry with myself for what i had done and so ashamed of myself. My son had been out playing and thankfully missed the whole ordeal thanks to a neighbour who had taken him into her house when she seen what was happening but the street was out gossiping about it and so he was hearing the she's crazy, she's nuts, blah blah blah. I asked his dad to take him for a couple of weeks until i started getting help for myself.

It was then i was sent for a psychiatric evaluation and diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. My doctor put me onto anti psychotics. I told the doctor i didn't want to keep taking tablets. I had been on probably every anti depressant going throughout my adult life and was sick of it. I didn't want to keep taking them, i wanted to know WHY i needed them so started engaging in talking therapies for the next year. I cannot emphasise enough the difference this made. I had also started going to a womans group Reconnect, once as a court order and one off my own back to make sure i was really helping myself this time. While there, i applied to Citizens Advice to train as an adviser and it took a few months but i finally got a start date in September '18. By this point, my dad had been my absolute rock. He helped me a lot and we spoke so much about past issues. He told me he had heard this, that and the next thing about me and as i said to him, "why did you never come to talk to me about any of it. Why just believe what you heard without giving me any chance to defend myself?" There was no real response to that other than "i thought best just to leave you to it". We settled our differences anyway and were really starting to get back to the father daughter feeling again. I finally had my dad back!

I started at Citizens Advice on 5th September '18 after a great weekend at Lindisfarne Festival and was ready to take life by the horns again. My future was looking bright again. I finally started understanding myself and understanding why i was the way i was and therefore could start working on myself to turn it all around and finally get the peace i had craved my whole life. Having my dad there too, everything seemed to be coming together so well. I got back to my friends house after my first shift to a call from my brother. His wife had heard through the grapevine at work that my mum was dead! She had died of cancer. We spoke for a while on the phone about how we felt about it and wither or not we would go to the funeral as he hadn't seen her in years and again i hadn't spoke to her for over a year as she fell out with me after the incident with my youngest brother and the knife. God forbid i didn't put up with the golden boys drink problem! Anyway, i called her husband and it turns out she was actually cremated the day before. The golden child had decided the rest of us didn't need to know she was dead so that was that. I have no idea where her ashes ended up either.

My dad seemed more upset than we were as we didn't grieve for our mother the way kids should but how can you grieve for someone you have grieved your whole life for? To be honest, this is where my inner peace started coming through. It was like all my anger, all my resentment, confusion and bitterness just died with her. I had said many times through my life it would be easier if she was dead, at least then she wouldn't be around because she was dead rather than just not giving a damn about her kids. It was the most bizarre feeling but a life you have to have lived to understand. It was the fact the golden child didn't tell us that i was more upset about. No matter what any of our relationships with her were like, he had no right to keep that from us. Taking away our choice of how to say our goodbye and given the life we had with her, it was our right to have that choice. As my brother said, that was probably her last "fuck yous" to us. Not to let us know she was dying was one thing but to have the funeral without us knowing was just a very spiteful act indeed. We had our dad though and he was really supportive.

I got a call on the Saturday afternoon of the following week. I had been sitting at a friends house talking to her mum who was telling me about her dads passing when the phone rang. My dad was always big on his football, devout Celtic man and had coached local teams for a good few years. It was DAD that flashed up on the screen and as i answered it wasn't the familiar voice i was expecting but one of the lads from the football team. "Your dads collapsed on the football field and is being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, you need to get there quick" was pretty much the top and bottom of how the conversation went.I was numb! No! No! No! Please don't do this to me universe! PLEASE! I arranged for my son to stay with my friend until his dad could come get him and i took off to the hospital. I got there and the couple of lads who had followed my dad with the ambulance had just came to speak to me when the doctor came through and asked me to come into another room. I knew what was coming.

You see on movies and programs the painful cries when someone is told there loved one had died and i never thought i would ever make that same sound but when the words came out her mouth, that same painful cry came out mine. It was almost like i just felt my heart shatter into tiny pieces and my soul just collapsed. The first thing through my head was i needed to call my brother. How the hell do i tell him this? My brother and dad had always been the best of friends. They had such a strong relationship, this was going to destroy him! I could barely get the words out. I had never seen or heard my brother cry all our adult life but when i told him dad was gone, he broke down on the phone. It was devastating. He said he would get to the hospital as soon as he could. He lives a good few miles away and with traffic, it could take a bit longer to get there. I spent the next couple of hours waiting for them. I sat at my dads bedside, holding his hand with my head resting on his chest and just sobbed my heart out on his lifeless body.

The days and weeks to follow were just a blur. We gave dad the best send off he could have had with the lads from the football team doing their part and had the Champions League theme tune playing in the church...what an amazing sound that was! My dad would have loved it. There was an awesome turn out and the support we received from family and his friends was overwhelming.

I had a choice here, i could either go back to what i knew and fall into a pool of self pity or i could pick myself up and fulfil the promise i made to dad about sorting my life out once and for all. I made the choice to stick to my promise! I was going to make my dad proud even if he wasn't here to see it. I stuck in with my CAB training and seen it right through to the end. I got my Generalist Adviser badge and went on to get a paid position within the Bureau. It probably took me the best part of a year to stop crying. Id hold myself together when i was out an about or at work but once i got home there was just no controlling the tears.

The thing with death is, there are many revelations that come to light when someone dies. It was then i started hearing that the one who was running back to my dad with all sorts of nonsense was in fact my sister! And she had been doing this our entire life! The things she had said about me over the years was just vile. She said i had kicked a baby out of her. She accused me of breaking into her house. Any time i was back on the scene she was saying i was doing this, that and the next thing. She reported me to social services for neglecting my son. She got her boyfriend to call my work saying i was the biggest coke dealer in the area. She had just constantly lied and lied about me over the years and purposely made me out to be something terrible. Its no wonder my dad didn't know what to do with me. I just wish he had spoke to me about what he was hearing and i could have proved on every accusation that it was all wrong.

My sister had a nervous breakdown in her early 20s and never recovered. In fact, she went from bad to worse with her mental health  over the years. I was always the target of her spite and i can only assume, among other reasons, that there had always been the sibling rivalry between us. My very existence just bothered her. My confidence, resilience, strength of character and ability to get up after every fall was intimidating to her. She despised me for not ending up with the same issues she had and as a result, made it her life's work to put as big a wedge between me and my family as she possibly could with her stories and lies. And it worked!

We had fallen out in the summer after dad died as i had finally confronted her about something and she didn't like what i had to say at all. But from that...everything fell into place and suddenly my entire life started making sense.

It was 2 weeks before the Christmas of that same year when I read a local news report. A 41 year old woman had been found dead in her flat. I just knew in the pit of my stomach it was her! I called the police and gave my details asking if it was my sister. They confirmed on the phone that yes, it was her. She had always been mixed up with even worse sorts than i had been involved with over the years and had died from mixed drug intoxication. Spent her life pointing dirty fingers at me when she was doing much worse than i was and had used me to hide behind.

It was a kick in the gut that i had to clear her flat out and sort her crap, a week before Christmas, still very much grieving for my dd and trying to hold myself together for my son. Sadly, the family support we got for my dad was pretty much non existent for my sister. We were left to deal with that ourselves. I went into auto pilot in that time. Did what needed done and when Christmas day came, i only just managed to keep myself together until my sons dad came to pick him up. As soon as they left, i crumbled. Spent the day in a cycle of crying, drinking and sleeping. It was strange though, because just like my mum, it was almost a relief that she was gone. I no longer had the worry of what shit was going to come out her mouth about me next.

With all this trauma came a sense of freedom. I had just turned 40 and i always remember my dad saying "the first 40 years of your child's life are the hardest"...and i felt that! The first 40 years of my life had definitely been the hardest so i made the choice that life would begin at 40. I have stuck to my promise i made to dad that i would sort my life out. I pulled away from all the influences that did me no favours. I have worked so hard on improving myself and continue to do so and instead of playing the victim in it all. I want to use my experiences to support and guide others to their better days.

No matter how dark anyone's days get...with the right guidance and support...there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel if you don't let the darkness consume you. Find your strength, know your worth and hustle like a mf until you get the life you deserve because no matter where you came from, where you go with it is what counts.








Toxic Relationships

There's a common phrase that goes “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, but the sad truth is…..betrayal rarely - if at all - comes from an enemy.

It's the people who say they love you who are more capable of hurting and betraying you than any enemy you may have, in my experience. 

My first toxic relationship was with my mother! The very woman who gave birth to me spent almost my entire life tormenting me with verbal, physical and emotional abuse. The loving words i was raised with and heard so often it still sticks clearly in my head to this day. “You fat, ugly, good for nothing Smithy little bastard”. Can’t you just feel the love ooze from such a comment! I could never understand what I did so wrong to make her seemingly hate me so much simply for loving my dad when she no longer wanted him. In my school years, I  remember the day I got my report card home from school. I handed it to her in the kitchen, not too worried about it because yes i was a chatterbox at school and a bit of a daydreamer but i knew the report wouldn't be a bad one as such. She didn't even open it! She took it off me, ripped it in half and put it straight into the bin saying, “there's no point even reading that, no doubt it will be shit anyway”. Yet another kick in the gut to enforce her words that i wasn't good anything!

I played hockey for 4 years during high school and every Saturday we had a game on, most other players would have their parents there watching and supporting them but not once did i ever have anyone standing on the sideline cheering me on. Not even when we got through to tournaments. No encouragement, no support, nothing! When my periods came, now we are talking about the early 90's so sanitary towels were not the most comfortable of things to wear back then so I started using my mum's Tampax instead. When she realised, all hell broke loose! I was called a slut, a dirty little whore and a few other choice words to the point my step dad jumped in and told her she was being way too harsh and out of order. Not that she bothered about that. Now I really am just giving a rough outline on what I had to deal with where my mother was concerned and to add insult to injury….my sister seemed to enjoy watching me be kicked down which leads me to my second toxic sister!

She was only 18 months older than me but we had anything but a healthy relationship and certainly not the usual sister relationship...ever. I always figured that it was my very existence that bothered her as being the 2nd born, I must have just knocked her nose out of joint simply by being born. As kids, she was always finding ways to upset me, get me into trouble and tell lies about me all the while laughing at how pathetic i was because i cried a it any wonder?? I also began thinking that she did it to score points with my mum because it seemed they both enjoyed belittling me. I had asthma as a child and she once put a cushion over my face and kept it there til I was gasping for breath and then just laughed at me when she knew I was OK.

When I started smoking, more influenced by the fact both my parents, grandparents and other relatives we were around also smoked and less to do with any peers. My sister had found out about it and couldn't wait to go tell my mum. I got home from hockey training one afternoon and as i got to the top of the stairs, mum grabbed me by the she did often...and dragged me up the hallway, kicking and beating into me all the while my sister was stood at her bedroom door grinning and smirking at me like she had won a victory. The torment was ongoing and it became clear the older I got that I had actually built a resilience against them and rather than break down to the pathetic little piece of crap they wanted me to be, I slowly started detaching myself from them. I started spending more time with my friends and less time at home. I remember my mum once said she didn't know where I got my confidence from which I always found entertaining as she had tried her hardest to beat it out of me.

It was not long after my 17th birthday she kicked me out after being brought home by the police late at night...drunk! I'm more inclined to believe that was the night she knew she wouldn't get away with abusing me as easily any more as it was probably the first time I stood up to her. I wasn't aggressive or abusive towards her, but I did tell her if she was going to keep treating me like a 2 year old I'd keep acting like one. I walked out the house at that point and she packed my stuff and that was it.  My drunk bravery must have scared her and from that point on….i was no longer useful to her or welcome in her house. I was no longer an easy target now that I had stood up to her. She told my siblings i had been off my face on drugs and if she caught them talking to me that they would be out the door too.  I stood behind her in the queue in a shop one day, she looked me up and down like I was something she just stepped in then turned her back like she didn't even know who i was.

So, taking all this into account. Guess who then went on to have toxic relationships as an adult until i changed my thinking and realised my worth. It took me until i turned 40 to really believe in myself but i got there. When toxicity is all you have been familiar with, it's inevitable that you will find yourself in unhealthy relationships or false friendships because it has been drummed into your subconscious that it's all you are worthy of and therefore you believe that you have to do what is expected from others just to keep them happy. If your own mother says you are a worthless piece of shit and deserve to be treated as such it must be right. Right??

WRONG!! What I grew to understand was that I was never deserving of that treatment, not from anyone. The reality is….parents are only the previous generation of kids who grew up to have their own kids, many of whom are still holding onto unresolved issues from their own childhood making it very common that they would then inflict similar pain onto their own children. They don't automatically gain a right as a parent to belittle or manipulate a child because they have unresolved issues of their own and they are in fact the ones who have shame to bear, not us. It is in realising this, we can start healing from our past and make sure history doesn't repeat itself with our own kids. Parents are protectors after all.

It is only once we realise our worth, set our boundaries and start the journey of healing that we no longer tolerate the things we once used to. No longer do we feel the need to find validation from the outside world to feel good. Realising that we have given ourselves too freely to people who could see our “neediness” and took full advantage of us in our vulnerable times. Then we begin to understand that where we have come from does not define where we are going. 

The biggest challenge in this part of healing is the solitude we face. Breaking away from the familiar faces and situations we become so used to, it is almost like moving to a whole new country and starting again on foreign soil. After spending many years looking for comfort and short term pleasures in the wrong people/partners/friends, being on our own is a very daunting thought. However, it is such a beautiful transition we face in that time. Learning to love and understand ourselves, knowing who we actually are, realising we are already everything we wish we could be, it's just hidden under layers of negative self talk and years of low self esteem. Break through that and you uncover a whole new person who has been patiently waiting for their time to shine. It is in each and every one of us to find in our own time and in a way that works best for yourself….but you will...because you want to and where there's a will, there is always a way! 

Heal in such a way that the toxic relationships and people you once attracted, no longer take interest in you because your boundaries become clear and non negotiable. Some people may try to come back into your life but that's just so they can pull you back down again as they want you to be available for their needs rather than them acknowledging your own.  Of course, they then call you crazy when you say no thanks but that's a reflection of who they are. Growth can be intimidating to those who aren't ready to face or recognise their own shortcomings. To watch someone overcome their trauma and go on to live a happy life should be something the people around them applaud. Rest assured, if they mock, challenge or undermine your efforts, they are already seeing your potential and it scares them. Never set yourself on fire just to keep others warm. 

We don't come through this thinking we are better than anyone, We just realise our worth and that we are capable of more than what we could achieve while being in certain companies or environments. I simply outgrew my old life and am fully focused on what lies ahead rather than what i left behind.




Pleasure in Pain

You may or may not be familiar with Sigmund Freud' pleasure/pain principle which suggests that while seeking pleasure, people will also seek to avoid pain and for the most part that is true.  People generally go day to day working on their own self improvement, seeking pleasure from their efforts while trying not to hurt others in their process. However, things become somewhat messed up in this principle when dealing with cases of narcissism as these abusers actually get pleasure out of causing other people pain. What we would do well to understand is that the problem is never the person(s) on the receiving end of the abuse, in fact, quite the opposite. The abuser themselves are the ones who are filled with such a pain that blinds them to the fact they too have flaws and toxic traits, to the point where they feel they need to be belittling others just to feel good about themselves.

Through my own experience with my mother, i had to cause others pain to please her. For a child, this is a very emotionally and mentally damaging place to be. Every child wants to feel their mothers love and will do whatever is necessary to get that but for a mother to purposely put her child in a position of conflict for her own self serving reasons, in my opinion, she is not fit to be a parent.

After the breakdown of her and my dads marriage (i say breakdown...she had an affair and soon moved in with the guy and took us kids with her), we were soon being resettled into a whole new family setting. I as only 3-4 at the time and it wasn't the fact everything was suddenly changing that i remember troubling me, it was being told he wasn't my dad any more, that her new boyfriend was my dad and we were to call him that from then on. I remember that like it was yesterday, being sat on the stairs waiting for my dad to come get us for the day and she starts spitting out that crap. Of course i couldn't bring myself to call my dad by his first name as she had told us to, but when we were at home with her i had to call her boyfriend dad too. And this is where it all started.

Suddenly, unbeknown to me at the time of course, i became nothing more than a pawn in her twisted games to score points and hurt my dad. For a woman who claimed to be so happy in her new found love, why was she so bitter about my dad moving on? He also moved on after losing his custody battle for us and i remember all too well how she would call his girlfriend(s) all the nasty names you could think of. She would tell us to try and steal his mail when we were at their house. She would tell us that he didn't care about us and that his girlfriend was more important to him than we were and was generally just relentless in her attacks towards him. It is an absolute gut wrench to love both your parents but to have one constantly, maliciously, relentlessly attack the other, is just cruel to inflict on a child.

Ironically enough, to the outside world, she was always so well presented. Make up and hair always perfect and a friendly smile and pleasant demeanour for those who she spoke to but what a very different story behind closed doors and when no one else was around. This is why i trust very few people and am probably more suspicious of the seemingly "perfect" people than i am of the ones who are open and honest with themselves about who they are...flaws and all. I am not intimidated at all by what others have, what position they hold in society or how popular they are in their social crowds. Those are all just more factors to enable them to be sly coercive manipulators because they have more to hide behind and have portrayed themselves to be such lovely people, others become blind to the hidden agendas. We hear all too often the phrase, "i would never have thought they could do something like that", or words to that affect, when true colours are exposed.

I hadn't long started high school when the pressure of home life became too much and i finally snapped with a girl in my year who had started a rumour about my stepdad. I beat her up in the gym hall and when my mum found out, i didn't get into trouble...she actually praised me for it and that started a ball rolling i soon lost control of. She seemed to want to encourage me to be that person and for the love of my mother...its what i felt i had to do just to make her like me. I soon had an ego and attitude that made people very wary of me but i was becoming useful for "friends"..(i'll use that term loosely). I was becoming the defender so to speak.Id be the one who would fight battles for others, hurting others just to please the rest and as much as it seemed like i was part of the crowd, i really wasn't. I never felt like i fitted in anywhere so just went along with what was expected of me just to please others and stay part of the group.

I always knew inside as i got older that i didn't want to be that person, that wasn't who i was and i certainly didn't get any pleasure out of causing others pain. In fact, the only person i was really hurting was myself. I was falling deeper into a character that just wasn't me but without any real parental guidance or support...anger just became my defence. It was all i knew in protecting myself.

My life spiralled into a vicious circle of drugs, parties and criminal charges until the day came i was back in court...again, but facing a prison sentence for a serious assault. I was told by the judge that if i was to appear in his court room again he would have no choice but to impose a custodial sentence and it was then i knew i had to leave my home town. If i stayed there i was going to end up dead or in jail.

Years passed and my potential was being realised by various people who i worked along side. I trained up to pub management level with the company i started working for in the city. I had so much appraisal for who i was and what i was capable of on a professional level and it as music to my ears! I was being appreciated and recognised for who i really was under all the bravado but that trait of aggression and anger still firmly had a hold and it was my automatic default mode when things took a nose dive to go on the attack.

Things finally came crashing down after a failed marriage to a violent alcoholic, (a guy so quiet and placid out in social gatherings but a whole different ball game behind closed doors). I had tried to get back in touch with my dad after not speaking for almost 2 years but he never returned any my calls or messages so to me at the time, i just felt more alone than i ever had and so turned to the only thing i knew would give me a quick fix...drugs! I completely screwed up my job, hurt the people who had helped me and fell straight back into the cycle of destruction i knew all too well.

By this point, i was at the doctors begging them to just cut my mother out of me. I knew i had her traits, i hated myself for having her temperament and mannerisms and i felt a knife in my heart anytime someone said i was like her. I hated her, i hated what she had made me into and i hated myself for not being able to control it..and then i had my son! What an absolute game changer that was.

My son saved my life. It took a full on emotional breakdown and my mother to die for me to finally find my peace and start healing from my past properly but my son made me realise just how unlike my mother i actually was. I realised from there i had been conditioned and programmed to satisfy her twisted mind. As he got older, id look at him and wonder how any mother could hurt their kids the way mine did. I just couldn't comprehend how anyone could take pleasure out of causing their child so much pain with mental, emotional and physical abuse, and for what? Because i loved my dad! Parents who use their kids to score points against the other parent are in my opinion..absolute scum of the earth no matter how well presented in society they may be.

I'm far from being a perfect parent, we all are! But what i have made sure of is that my son has a great relationship with his dad no matter what happened between us. We co-parent so well and i respect his decisions and judgement when it comes to discipline as we are teaching him that despite us being separated, he needs to respect the different rules in the separate houses....and it works perfectly as he knows he cant play us off against each other and neither one of us would want to encourage that. I certainly would never want him to feel the pain i endured in my mothers games of twisting us against my dad. I am a strict parent, quite old school to be honest and believe that manners, morals and respect are fundamental in raising children. Its easier to build a strong child than repair a broken adult..i'm living proof of that! Any time i end up loosing my shit with him, once the situation has calmed down i will sit down and talk to him about why i was upset with him. I have no problem in admitting if i have been unnecessarily snappy and i will apologise to him when i need to. The earlier we can teach our kids its OK to be upset or feeling crap, but its never OK to hurt other people as a result of that, the earlier they can understand their own feelings and have a better understanding of how to deal with things better as they grow up. I want him to be able to take responsibility and be accountable for his actions. He has watched me do the same. Life will be so much easier and he can deal with situations far quicker if he learns early to put his hands up to his mistakes. As i told him, he's human, its OK to make mistakes as long as he is learning from them and not trying to always blame other people. We talk a lot in our house. If there's an issue, we sit down and talk it through until we reach a solution or understanding of where each other is coming from.

Its been almost 2 and a half years since my mum died and the change i have felt within myself in that time has been something else entirely. We don't realise the impact someone has on us until they are no longer holding the strings over us. Especially our own mother!  It feels like all the parts of me that i hated slowly dissolved, my peace became my priority and i just don't have a fight left in me anymore. Don't get me wrong, i'm still well aware i have triggers and am very much a strong minded woman but even that is becoming easier to manage and i work daily on myself to be better than i was. I don't even try to fit in anywhere anymore as I understand that most people only see things from their own perspective, i'm too honest and truthful about who i am and that intimidates anyone who puts on a false face. Not everyone wants to see you do well, there are those who get pleasure out of seeing others in pain and finally... you can't argue with fucking stupid!....these ones have a problem for every solution no matter how reasonable you try to be. But on the plus side, when you stop trying to please everyone and concentrate on yourself, all the right things and people gravitate towards you. This is where i am in life now, happy, stable, content and head over heels in love.

Sending love and healing to all who need it..........