Space, Light & Redefinition

Spring is here and today is turning out to be beautiful. I'm sitting here finally, in the dull, cosy hum of a coffee shop. Shafts of sunlight pierce through the windows highlighting the dust particles floating through the air. No kids, no attachments, the netbook battery is full, the wifi is free.

And I'm concentrating on the white space of a blank screen.

For so long I've wanted to pursue this dream, to earn my crust, to find some self-worth, to be a writer… to finally take this shit seriously after having to put everything on hold for so long. The truth is, I've found it hard to switch off from being a Mum. I'm so used to interruptions that when I finally get some space, my head tries to interrupt me with niggling doubts.

What am I doing? Who do I think I am?

In October it will be two years since I arrived in the UK from Switzerland and I suppose the words I would use to define myself then were: shocked, heartbroken, penniless, frightened and alone.

In my conversation with Karl James from The Dialogue Project, I told him of a piece of advice I once heard during a positive thinking course I attended. The piece of advice was this:

"Don't become your story."

And, contrary to all past beliefs I held, the ones I spoke of so earnestly to Karl that day in Switzerland, I feel that I've done precisely that. I've defined myself in a negative way for far too long now.

I've defined myself as broken.

When once I told people I'd been raped before telling them whether I took sugar in my tea, I merely replaced this by telling people I'd been made homeless.

Why was I doing this? Because I was so angry. So hurt. I wanted to say "Look at me! Look at what's been done to me!"

And by definition, I was continuously affirming to myself that I was beyond repair. It's been a very dark place.

Some months ago, I hit the blackest of the black. I revisited a place that I hadn't been in a long time.

I self-harmed.

I took a knife from the butcher's block in the kitchen and heated it very thoroughly on the electric hob.

By the third cut I was being quite brave and was starting to make a real mess of myself. Maybe sense kicked in by then, or I had simply done enough visible damage to myself, I'm not sure.

Either way, I stopped.

I cleaned myself up, put a bandage on my arm, cleared up my "tools", took a blanket and a pillow from the airing cupboard and proceeded to fall into a surprisingly peaceful sleep on the sofa.

I didn't tell anyone. I didn't shout about it. I didn't tweet about it.

Until now, the only person that knew about it was my boyfriend and only because he was staying with me at the time. (Plus I have always been 100% honest with him and no matter how bad I felt I wasn't about to stop that.) He woke me on the sofa the next morning, really worried. I showed him what I had done, cried, apologised profusely for worrying him and promised it would never happen again.

Two things happened:

He went as white as a sheet and shook…

…and I didn't do it again.

You see, that night, self-harming wasn't about attention, nor indeed was it a cry for help. It was a symbolic gesture; a kind of contract. One between the outside me, the one that everyone else sees; the giggling, smutty-joke-telling, pint-swilling, "I can survive anything"… (if you know me at all, you know the rest….)

…and the inner me; the one that hated myself with a vengeance.

I was the enemy. No-one else… just me.

When I saw the state of my arm the next morning, I knew that I had to write myself a new contract.

Thankfully, there must have been a shred of my former strength, a chink of light left inside me somewhere, because at that time I found myself making some decisions again. I knew that with physical movement comes a shift in the horizon. I told myself I was no longer prepared to accept my situation, my environment, my misery… and I took steps to change it.

I needed to see some light in my life again.

Months later, I've finally got me and the kids settled into a lovely home, rented from a trusted school friend; one that I can imagine us in for years, if that's what we need.

It's sunny, warm, comfortable, quiet and private. The neighbours are friendly and welcoming. Every morning when I wake, I feel like I've woken up on holiday.

I am surrounded by space and light; an environment for good things…for creativity.

And for the most part, my mood has lifted.

But the bit that's left, the fearful feeling that still harbours within me, well, that's a really odd thing. All I can say is that now, perversely, I have begun to fear things going well. Because I learned nearly two years ago that stuff can get taken away from you really quickly. And there is sometimes nothing you can do about it.

I want to shed this ridiculous fear of mine, this fear of failure, of success…of living. It's been an oppressive cloak around my already weighed-down shoulders for too long. This fear sounds its warning bells at me continuously. It tells me that anything you build up can get torn down in a heartbeat.

Since everything got torn down the last time, I think I've proved I'm a survivor. But now I want more. I don't just want to "struggle on". I don't just want to "cope". I no longer just want to be a survivor; someone collecting up the fragments of who I used to be.

I want to be a success.

I want to be a writer.

I am a writer.

This is who I am.

Please watch this space.


I'm sitting outside now, in my garden, having a drink. I have a gigantic thing I bought from a cheap shop called a Moon Chair. A big circular canvas contraption on foldaway legs, so large you can tuck your legs under you and really get comfy. This is the first night it's been warm enough to sit outside and so I'm out here with my vodka and coke and I'm in my PJs.

The chair is placed right up against the exterior wall of my house. If I tip my head back 90 degrees and turn my face towards the sky, I can see that it's the most beautiful night. It's like an optical illusion, a mind-game; my head against the wall, following the brickwork up towards the guttering and then my vision free-falls into midnight ocean of stars. It's breathtaking.

Among the constellations, and being pursued by my swirling breath in the damp atmosphere, I can see the pulsating pinprick lights of an aeroplane, making its way stealthily across the night sky. I estimate the number of passengers. Minimum 200 people on board, I imagine.

And each and every one has their thoughts, their difficulties, their fears, their hopes…each and every one has their story.

Do these people find it as difficult as I do to escape their own story?

It's moments like this that I love; when you realise just how tiny and insignificant you are in the grand scheme of it all. It makes me appreciate just how wonderful the universe is.

As I'm smiling to myself about this, I see the Plough above me and I'm struck by a very vivid memory.

Some of you may know that before I met my ex and had children with him, I was in a previous relationship for 10 years. I met the guy who was to be my husband when I was 20, married him, and left him when I was 30. Let's just say I didn't leave him because I no longer loved him. We just couldn't agree on the important stuff, simple as that.

He was in the Army and spent a lot of time away. But we had this thing; we would say to eachother, "Look into the night sky, look for the Plough, and just remember that I love you, I miss you, and someday soon we'll be together again." We kept this up for the best part of 10 years, during which time he was in Germany, Bosnia, Canada, America and Antarctica.

And I was alone an awful lot.

There came a time, eventually, when I no longer looked up into the sky, because I wanted to start living again. I wanted to take my life off "hold".

Many things have happened since; another relationship, two children, another break-up. Another new relationship. It's been colourful, at best.

And now I find myself looking up again at the Plough, as three horizontal scars on my left arm fade from red, to pink and finally begin to blend in with all the other scars from years ago… from my story.

As I look skywards, I'm pleased to say that I no longer wish for anyone or anything…

…because everything I need and want, everyone I need and want, I already have here with me.

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