Six Things I Learned from a Year Sober

One year ago, in 2019 I did dry January.  Now, I was not a problem drinker at that point but the truth is I have been in the past. 

In my teens I routinely and addictively used various substances, pills and powders, and when the shame of that became unbearable I switched to the socially acceptable substance of alcohol.  At the time this felt like an improvement because I was mainstream – I was in ‘normal’ society now.  I believed that now I could be accepted.

This wasn’t a random thought.  During my teens my father had told me to ‘go away and come back when you don’t take drugs anymore.’  I’ll say more about that later, in another blog.  

Throughout my first marriage I continued using alcohol in less-than-helpful ways and more than once – mostly before and occasionally during my ‘trial run’ (thanks to my friend Vicky for that phrase!) marriage – being drunk put me in situations and places where I was incredibly vulnerable, and less than pleasant things happened as a result.  At best I would have apologies to make for things I could barely recall doing, at worst I would have bruises or sensations on my body that did not make sense.  It is hard to write and acknowledge this, from my vantage point of ‘healed’ and ‘recovered’.  It is hard to look at the person I was, making the mistakes I did, and hold them up for viewing and judgement.  I am glad to be alive.  

I didn’t realise that I had simply switched addictions, and hadn’t really looked at what was underneath the drive for addiction.

In my late 20’s the marriage to my first husband ended, and with it ended the level of drinking I had been doing.  Also at the end of my marriage I smoked cannabis for a while – a revisit of an old habit that felt more like revisiting an old and familiar friend I hadn’t seen for a while, only to find out said friend is still messed up, passed out on the sofa and won’t go home.  

I stopped again and continued drinking in my new reduced way.  Weekends, celebrations and a glass of wine with dinner now and then.  

The thing that didn’t change was the sensation of ‘one is too many and ten is not enough.’  

At any given time when out and drinking I would crave more and the next.  I would go to unusual lengths to be able to continue drinking rather than call it a night and go home.  Once the claws of alcohol were in me, I just wanted more.  I do not believe I can moderate.  All I could see at that point is that I was so much better than I had been in the past.  I recognise now that this was a stepping stone on the way forward through my healing journey. 

I trained and became a counsellor working with addiction and recovery.  I still believed in moderation back then, and I was at least using alcohol without making myself vulnerable any more.  I believed I had it made.  I had resolved my difficult relationship with alcohol to a take-it-or-leave-it status quo.  I didn’t bother to question if I can take it or leave it then why on earth would I choose to take it?  It is a toxin, it causes significant problems in the body and the mind.  It literally kills. I will explore this question in part two of this blog.

So back to dry January 2019.  With the encouragement of my friend Vicky, I embarked on doing a dry month.  I was glad to do it because I had been overdoing things for the month before.  I had my rules of ‘only drinking at the weekend’ which had gone out of the window temporarily for December 2018.  I recognised I emotionally, mentally and physically needed a break from socially poisoning my body.  

I read quit-lit.  ‘This Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace has become a go to for me to recommend to others.  It de-bunks the myth that we need alcohol to have a good time.  I still recommend it now. 

Somewhere in the middle of dry January I recognised that I was learning, or unlearning, things that were more than to do with alcohol.  

Also in the back of my mind was both a conversation with my daughter and a conference I had attended a couple of years before –  ‘Generation Next’ in Adelaide.  During this conference they had highlighted that many of our young teens are opting not to drink alcohol, but subsequently find themselves ostracised as a result.  The conversation with my eldest daughter had confirmed this.  ‘I don’t think I want to drink alcohol Mum,’ she had said one day whilst we cleaned up together in the kitchen, ‘I don’t like the sound of it.’  

I want to be a parent that supports this decision. 

I needed to be the example that demonstrates abstinence is a real option, and still has a connection to social networks and friendships.  I wanted to show her that abstinence does not equal isolation.  Dry January easily became dry February.  At the beginning of the year I told people ‘I want to see what it feels like to have a year without alcohol’.  At the end of the year I told people ‘I think this is me now.’  It turns out I really, really like being sober.  Here is what I have learned in my year without alcohol.

  1. I was only drinking at weekends but I was in a relationship with it all week.

During that first month I realised my default was to be thinking about Friday when I would ‘reward’ myself with alcohol for successfully abstaining all week.  From Tuesday onwards, I would plan which wines I would have.  I might even chill them down in the fridge, in preparation and anticipation of my weekend ritual.  I would occasionally feel the need to have a mid-week gin.  I would reach out and then congratulate myself on not succumbing.  Even this success was still measured against drinking (or not).  

In NLP we have a phrase ‘don’t think about a pink elephant.’  You’re probably thinking about a pink elephant right?  We say this to demonstrate that the unconscious mind cannot process negatives and that even negating a thing puts emphasis on it.  

In this way I spent the whole week in a relationship with alcohol, even when not drinking it.

  1. I am a better parent without even a little bit of alcohol

In those first months I realised a motivating factor was my teenagers.  As I said above, I want to be the parent that can model alcohol as an optional extra – not a necessity –  when it comes to social interaction.  What I didn’t realise until I caught myself in the act is that I was also a better parent to my younger children, who rarely saw me drinking alcohol.  

We were at Junior Netball on a Saturday morning.  One of the other parents had made an offer that she would collect my daughter and bring her to netball.  I had already refused this offer (as no alcohol on Friday means no need to avoid being awake on Saturday morning).  If this wasn’t enough evidence of being a ‘more present’ parent there was what happened next.  One of the other parents gave me a flyer for a kids disco that night.  Now, ordinarily if we put this next to the ‘Mummy has a drink at weekends’ version of me and I would have been shoving that flyer in my pocket so we could ‘have a think about it.’ (read ‘forget’ about it and apologise later ). 

Without thinking any of this I immediately showed the flyer to both of my younger children.  ‘Hey girls,’  I said, ‘Do you want to go to a disco later?’  

Now I know in the world of potential muck ups and terrible experiences that some addict’s children go through, that missing a disco or two barely registers.  I am also grateful that much of my addictive tendencies were pre my first child, so I am not in any way attempting to minimise the trauma of being an addicts child. 

I am recognising that even this simple act – taking the children to a disco without any eye rolling or martyrdom is a shift in a much better direction for me as a parent.  In the (promised and much referenced) later blog I will talk about how I didn’t really have much of a model for this.  I’m pretty much winging it all the time and in the past have leaned upon what I learned professionally over anything I had experienced personally as a go-to for how to parent.  So for me, this was a huge win.  

  1. People are more tolerant than you think about abstinence.

One of the regular questions I find online are ‘What do I say when people ask why I don’t drink?’

I am a member of a fine wine and food group called Chicken and Chablis.  This lovely group of women meet monthly to enjoy food and matched wine and it is both a social and learning experience as we discuss and learn from each other about the different wines.  For the last year I have continued to attend this group and any other social event without drinking.  

Now don’t get me wrong, there has been some debate on this and I rather sensibly opted not to take the role of president this year (thanks to a dear friend stepping forward into the role at the 11th hour).  That said, the group has responded with open curiosity and acceptance of my decision to abstain.

It could have so easily gone another way, and I know for some others it does.  I think people saw that this was a deeply personal decision for me, and not a judgement on their choices, that drove my sobriety. I think three things helped me.  a) I chose to focus on the positive responses and not the rare negative ones.  b) I recognise people are usually very generous spirited if you allow and give them opportunity to be.  Finally c) People will follow your own response to a thing.  I was confident in my decision, people saw this and subsequently mostly didn’t question it.

On the rare occasion I have been asked to justify my decision I have a couple of responses.

‘Isn’t it funny how alcohol is the only addiction we have to explain not having’,

and,

‘No-one is more surprised than me, it turns out I really like being sober!’

That seems to do it.

  1. Alcohol was my way of dealing with past trauma.

Actually,  substances were strictly speaking my way of dealing with trauma.  Alcohol was simply the latest in a long line of substances.  In Felitti’s Adverse Childhood Experiences study the correlation between trauma in childhood and addiction is evidenced strongly.    For me, beginning my foray into substance use wasn’t even a stretch.  I grew up in a time and an area where high unemployment and crime rates also meant high substance abuse and trauma.  It was not unusual where and when I grew up to see wives or husbands or children with bruises. 

My brothers who had been raised in the care of the local authority came back into the home when I was three and a half. My grandmother who was the reason I had not been taken into care, because she had stepped in to help raise me, died a year later.  Amongst all of that in the privacy of my own home I had a violent father and a mother who had just checked out – spending days and sometimes weeks in bed.  My strong suspicion is that both of them have undiagnosed Personality Disorders.  Food became their means of controlling us and locks were put on the food cupboards.  We were frequently hungry. In the backdrop of all this I was being sexually abused.  I can reflect now that all parties were traumatised and as the third child to two parents who were aged 22 when I was born they were poorly equipped to deal with their own trauma of violent backgrounds and abandonment.  This did not make it easier for me as a child. 

I recognise the amount of interpersonal work I have done to overcome this has paid me back in droves, I feel vulnerable but not a victim.  I am a work in progress and still have work to do, but I know I am equal to it.

I also recognise that the loving start and secure attachment I had to my Grandma gave me something that my brothers never had – it gave me a place to return to.  I had a secure base and a sense of what this feels like.  I spent many years with a part of myself knowing that something was off, that being treated the way we were was not okay.  My brothers did not have this and although theirs is their own story to tell but I will say that I have managed to overcome many things that they still struggle with.  

  1. The traumatised parts were ‘preserved’ by the alcohol

In many areas of Psychotherapy we have the concept of ‘Parts’.  The basic premise is that our self – or our Psyche – gets fragmented as a means of managing trauma.  In the most extreme examples of this an individual might end up with Multiple Personality Disorder, more recently named Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). 

Even without fully blown DID where fragments of the self have their own identity and function, we all have parts that serve a purpose and a function.  This is usual.

In extreme trauma the part will attempt to seperate itself from the rest of the individual’s psyche and wrap itself up in amnesia – believing that the rest of the personality is not strong enough to deal with whatever it was that happened.  When life settles down these parts begin to make themselves known.

I find clients at any age can come to me with these parts as they have started to emerge.  Sometimes in the form of dreams or flashbacks, other times a straightforward remembering, and frequently (although not always) triggered by a life event or something they saw on tv in a film or on the news.  

I have done a lot of work on myself over the years.  In my training as counsellor and later as I became a Psychotherapist this was not a process of looking at people as if they are in a petri dish – seperate and to be observed in clinical conditions.  It was and still is the process of being in it.  Of walking my talk and having the experience of going through things and taking things to my Clinical Supervisor and going back to therapy if needed.  Thankfully as time has gone on the confrontation of this process gets less and less. 

When I stopped drinking in January 2019 without the usual distraction of being pregnant (the only other times I have cut back or down on alcohol). I found that there were parts that had been ‘kept at bay’ with my weekly tipple.  One drink at the weekend was the perfect way to keep my 5yo part who was still grieving for my Grandma, or my 7yo part who was deeply saddened by the things that are happening to her, at arms length with ‘just the one.’  

These parts remained untouched, not so much preserved by alcohol but by lack of interaction.  They still grieved, they were stuck, and with alcohol to distract me they would have forever remained so.  

This year I have been on a search and recovery for the parts that got left behind in trauma, and I am fully aware that without being completely sober I would never have been able to do this.  It has been confronting and difficult at times – at one point being triggered in the middle of a training with professionals and peers – but so, so worth it.

  1. I really like being sober

This isn’t just a glib phrase.  I really like being sober.  I sleep better, I have less work to do to manage my emotions, I feel more authentic, more myself than I have done for many years.  Part of this has been revisiting a geeky, nerdy version of myself that I abandoned age around 12.  She’s awkward, and clunky and doesn’t always make the conversation flow.  I love her, because with her came back my permission to love nerdy things and the zero shame of being me.  I missed her and she disappeared when the ‘lets get high’ me appeared.  I’m finding space for both of them and giving the latter a new role.  

 

So I’m writing this at the end of January and this may be being read by fellow newly sober enthusiasts.  If this is you, feel free to comment either on here or on FB or insta with your own observations!  What has abstaining from alcohol added to your life?

So You’re a People Pleaser?

I always know when I have a people pleaser in my office by one main trait: they’ll tell me they have so much to do for everyone in their life, and they feel immense pressure from others. However, when we begin to investigate this pressure we’ll discover that it doesn’t exist at all. We realise the pressure is self-made. 

Do you feel pressure from people around you and tend to feel burdened by all that you have to do? If so, then this is a sign that you have people pleaser tendencies. 

There are other signs too, such as:

  • outwardly agreeing with people when you don’t actually agree 
  • feeling responsible for the way others feel
  • apologising often 
  • having a hard time saying no to others
  • not admitting when your feelings are hurt 
  • going to great lengths to avoid conflict

What is people pleasing? 

People pleasing is the desire to meet the needs of another, often at our own expense. It is thought to derive from feelings of inadequacy and or a need to belong and attach. 

I took the following definition directly from Websters Dictionary: (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/people%20pleaser)

people pleaser 

variants: or less commonly people-pleaser \ ˈpē- pəl- ˈplē- zə

Definition of people pleaser : someone or something that pleases or wants to please people

often : a person who has an emotional need to please others often at the expense of his or her own needs or desires

How does people pleasing look? 

If you are a people pleaser, an interaction may look something like this: You find yourself on the phone or in the company of another and they ask you if you’d like to do x, y and z.  

X, y and z are very boring with no real reward for you and are not interesting or meaningful to you. Nonetheless you find yourself saying, oh yes sure that would be great, what a wonderful thing to do, and then later (usually as soon as you’ve hung up the phone or walked away from the person) you realise immediately that you have no desire to do either x, or y or z. 

You see a people pleaser cannot connect with themselves while they are physically connected to another. In order to understand their own feelings about whether they do or do not want to do something they have to be physically away from the person asking. Let’s investigate why this is so. 

How does People Pleasing form? 

People pleasing occurred developmentally because of messages we received as we grew, particularly at around 12-18 months of age when we were still highly dependant on our parent or caregiver.  At that time many of us learned that in order to create a relationship with the other we had to disconnect from ourselves.

I’ll use an example to explain how this could have happened:  

Let’s say a child fell over and hurt themselves. The child felt pain physically and also emotionally, i.e., they may have felt unsafe. Upon seeing the child cry, the parent came in and said something like, “Oh come on, you’re fine”. 

As the child experienced their personal feelings of fear, hurt etc, another message came from the caregiver. That message was different to the one coming from his or her own body. Because the child depends on the relationship with the parent for survival, the child disconnects from the self (and the self’s feelings) to appease the other. 

Over time the child loses the connection to his or her own inner messages as they look to the parent for how they feel. As they become an adult they bring this trait with them. According to Eric Berne, creator of the Transactional Analysis theory, people pleasing is one of 5 main drivers that result from our developmental years that we continue to play out in our adult lives. 

Beware of Projection

A further complication of people pleasing is that we are often projecting onto the other what we think they need. (read more about projection here https://positivefutureself.blog/2019/07/21/the-art-of-knowing-nothing/). 

This means that what we think they want may not actually be true. For example, we may tell our partner that we are heading out for dinner with a friend. They may say okay, and we project that they don’t want us to go and we begin to feel pressure to come home early, change the plans, or appease the partner in some way. 

There are a myriad of reasons for why the partner may have said the word okay. Perhaps they were thinking about what they were doing for dinner. Perhaps they’re missing their own dear friend and thinking about calling them for a catch up too. Perhaps they’re thinking, “Oh yay, a nice night home to do……”. There is only one way to know what they are wanting from us, and the only way to find out is to ask. 

When we people please, we project onto the other what we think they want.  In doing so we disconnect from ourselves in a desperate attempt to meet the needs of the other, when those might not even be their needs. 

How can we learn to stop? 

Letting go of people pleaser tendencies is probably easier than you think. This is because, as discussed above, a people pleaser must physically disconnect from the other before they can connect with themselves. Which means that as soon as they do connect with themselves, the real answer is crystal clear. 

Here are two simple steps to releasing people pleasing. 

1. ASK to avoid projection

If no one has directly asked you for something (as in the example above where you find yourself wanting to come home early or not going to an event because you think the other person doesn’t want you to) STOP immediately and ASK 

Asking is as simple  “Hey, what would you like from me?”. In other words, get crystal clear about what they want you to do rather than relying on what you think they want you to do.

2. Say, I’LL GET BACK TO YOU

When someone directly asks you to do something ALWAYS make your answer, “I’ll get back to you”.  

For example, a biz associate calls you and says, “Hey, can you take on this huge new project, we’ll pay you xxx and blah blah blah”. You say, “Let me get back to you on that”. You let them know when you will get back to them, by tomorrow, or next week, or in 5 minutes. You go away to reflect on the proposal and to your internal feelings about it. You go back to the person with what you want at the time you said you would. 

You must do this every time someone asks you for something. A simpler version might look like this: You’re in the kitchen and someone asks, would you mind peeling the potatoes? You say, “hold on one sec I just need to run to the toilet”. You leave the room, ask yourself if you want to do that, then come back and say, “I actually need to finish baking the cake so it’d be helpful if you could do that” or “sure, I’d love to jump on those taters” or “I can, but I need to make the coleslaw first”. 

If you make “I’ll get back to you” your absolute 100% default state all of the time then you’ll be home free. Remember, it could take a solid year or more of practice before you retrain yourself to automatically check in with yourself first. Once you feel confident you’ve retrained to check with you first, you can drop the method. 

Two things that make my job easier.

Over the years, I’ve been asked many times how I handle being a therapist and if I find it hard not to take my work home. 

The truth is, I don’t take my clients problems home. There are two main reasons for this. Both of which are beautiful lessons we can learn to make our lives lighter. The first is that it’s not really about them, and the second is that the problem is temporary.

If it hurts, it’s not about them

If something my clients says causes strong emotions or impacts me in some way, I know and trust that it’s coming from me. Often we mistake our emotions as being caused by the other person. We blame and point fingers, when the reality is your emotions can never come from someone else. 

Your emotions are always about you, not them. The other person is simply the trigger for something that already exists inside of you. They are a gift, showing us where there is still work to be done. 

When a client triggers a strong emotional reaction I look inside to see what part of me is in need of healing. Often this requires me to seek my own guidance or therapy, usually in the form of clinical supervision, which is the professional requirement for therapist mentorship to debrief on client load. 

When we keep the focus on our own healing we don’t get so swept away and bogged down by the pain of another. We keep our boundaries firm and from that place we are actually more effective at offering guidance and support. This is similar to the airplane theory: you must place the oxygen on your own face before you can effectively assist others. 

The problem is temporary 

Almost every client that sits across from me holds tight to the delusion that their problems are solid. Yet I always know something they do not: their problem is temporary. This keeps me positive and afloat as I constantly reflect on the truth: that one day, they will look back on this very time and be grateful. 

Though they can’t see it while they’re stuck in the darkness, they will one day find themselves standing somewhere, feeling so happy with what they are currently doing. They’ll look back and reflect over the tough time and realise that the difficulty was a stepping stone that led them right to where they are. 

They didn’t just pass through the troubled time, they didn’t just make it, rather the hardship was a direct contributing factor to where they are now. They are stronger because of it, and more equipped. The problem was actually a solid building block that laid down the foundation they stand so stable upon.

Working together 

When the above work together magic happens. You see, the key to healing is that we take a lesson from the difficulty instead of sweeping it under the rug, pretending it doesn’t exist, drowning it out or blaming someone else for it. This is taking responsibility (knowing it’s always about me). 

When we take responsibility for every one of our temporary problems (because they are always temporary) we learn the lessons that lead to massive growth and transforms hardship into building blocks instead of a demolition crew. 

Understanding this process is exactly why I don’t take home what a client tell’s me. I don’t get depressed by my clients depression, because I am seeing clearly that there is a point in the future where my client will be thriving and grateful. I keep that image in my mind and heart as we work together, holding that faith and positivity as a beacon of light to guide us both. 

How to do it  

LOOKING FORWARD

Problems can seem permanent, especially when they last years, yet it is important to remember that everything eventually passes. Even though it may be hard to look to the future when we feel stuck, the trick is to get curious about that inevitable future point. 

What is happening now is only one chapter in our life story. Like all good stories there is a part where we are lost, afraid and struggling. Then we learn the lesson and return home a better version of ourselves because of what we learned and overcame. Then we find a happy ending. The point in the future has all of the blessings.

Asking questions about this point in time can be extremely uplifting and supportive. We ask, what will it be like then? What will I have learned? This is called reframing, taking a negative view of the world, ourselves or life and offering an alternate positive view. 

You can access a future view by asking the following questions:  

How will I be better for having had this problem? 

What is in this situation for me?

What lessons are here? 

What could the future hold because of this? 

What skills will I have gained once I am on the other side of this situation?

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

To reframe our victimhood (it’s about them) it helps to consider a difficult person or situation as the bringer of a gift. When we consider a difficulty this way it takes us out of blame and into taking responsibility for our selves (it’s about me). This brings us healing and happiness. 

I like to tell my clients to play the hand they have been dealt, instead of complaining about it.  I remind them that life is like a school, and every single experience is part of the curriculum. Whether or not they are paying attention in class is up to them. 

Right now you can ask yourself, what are you not paying attention to, the learning of which will set you free? 

You can also remind yourself as often as you can; No one else is doing anything to you and your emotions are your responsibility.

This is how I stay enthusiastic, awake and thriving as a therapist. I don’t take on my clients problems because I don’t see them as problems, I see them as gorgeous building blocks that are creating the best future version of you.

How to Lose the Plot 

When reviewing the title of this article you may be asking yourself, why the heck would I want lose the plot? The answer is simple, the plot is overrated. 

You see, in this context the plot is the “norm”. It is conformity, the right way to do things, and all that is expected of you within your assigned life roles. The plot is what your ego thinks you are and have to be. The plot is how we live according to expectations and ideas. It is thoughts like “I am a stay-at-home Mum so I have to do it this way”, or “I will wear these clothes to church because people know me like this”, and “I will help out at school because I am a good parent”. 

Why the plot doesn’t work 

The problem is that as human beings we are always learning, changing and growing. What worked for us ten years ago is not necessarily what will work for us now. As humans we are not objects. Rather we are a process, ever changing and evolving. We are verbs, not nouns. 

The plot is stagnant. These ideas of who we should be and how we are supposed to act can keep us stuck and imprisoned. We can become miserable living out a life that no longer serves us. I often have clients show up in my office begging to be released from the life they created. They want something new, different or better but feel imprisoned by the expectations that come with their roles. 

Lose the plot

I would like to suggest that the right thing to do is to lose the plot. This doesn’t have to be a big dramatic breakdown though sometimes that is exactly how it looks. A better way to do it is to prevent the stagnation by constantly re-evaluating where you are. This method avoids the extreme problems of depression, breakdowns and massive unwanted life upheavals. 
A good way to shake up your plot is to start asking questions. These might sound like 

  • Why do I have to be the stay-at-home Mum, the hardworking Dad, the poor person (insert role here)?
  • What is a newer, more improved role that suits my current desires?
  • Are my life’s actions in alignment with who I am now?
  • What needs to change in my life to match how I have changed?

We are temporary 

Because we are a process that is ever-evolving we need to make a habit of constantly questioning ourselves and our beliefs. We need to ask, “Who am I now?’, because who we are is always changing. We are temporary, meaning each moment is a new moment and each moment brings about a new us. When we question our plot on a consistent basis then we can allow the plot itself to evolve with us. 

One of the reasons we get locked into the plot is that we may believe that others have expectations of us that we need to fulfil and we may now want to disappoint the people in our lives. The reality is that the people around us will accept whoever we become as long as we accept it first. The key here is that you have to accept the change fully first. 

Preventing the breakdown 

When we take part in this kind of questioning openly and willingly, we prevent the subconscious mind (the deeper eternal being within each of us)  from stepping in and immobilising us instead. This is usually what has happened when someone has a breakdown: they have outgrown the role they were playing but haven’t allowed themselves to evolve or adapt. We need to learn to flow with the ever evolving nature of our humanity in order to prevent those big breakdowns. 

So how about you? 

Are you currently feeling locked into a role that no longer serves you? Have you outgrown the outdated versions of yourself and haven’t allowed the new you to flow? If so get curious and start asking questions. We’re here to guide you on your ever flowing journey so if you need a hand, get in touch now. 

Law of Attraction – Part 2

This article continues on from our last: “Law of Attraction: not just for the good stuff” so if you haven’t read that one already please go back and read it. 

In this piece we take a deeper look at the Law Of Attraction by focusing on what we hold in our unconscious mind. This is the past of our experience that we don’t have much control over unless we learn to heal. This may be the stuff that you can’t actively hear in the voice of your thoughts, such as a deep belief around how you will always be poor, unlovable etc. 

Anything in our unconscious mind attracts into our lives, whether it be positive or negative. As brilliant and influential psychoanalyst Carl Jung says, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

What is in the unconscious mind usually includes unresolved pain and trauma and this is tricky as we will often do anything to avoid looking into our dark places. If you haven’t already it might be a good time to brush up on our article on pain (https://positivefutureself.blog/2019/09/29/bound-to-pain-and-why-thats-a-good-thing/) which offers the helpful outlook that our wounds are where the light gets in. 

This is especially true when we consider how our pain affects our unconscious beliefs about ourselves and our world, thereby attracting more negative and painful experiences into our lives. By resolving our pain and trauma we can remove the minting and unhelpful beliefs that the trauma had given us. 

Let’s use an example to explore how this works: 

Julia (a totally made up person) experienced a neglectful single mother. The neglect was so extreme that Julia came to believe that she was not a person of any worth. She also believed that she was inherently unlovable and that women were untrustworthy. Julia, like most people in the world, had no idea that she believed these things. As a child she coped by becoming highly independent and capable and had a good relationship with her older brother.

All through Julias teen and early adulthood she struggled with relationships. In high school she was ostracised by the girls around her and thus made friends with a quiet boy from her class. Later, as Julia entered the workforce she struggled with her first big position under a female boss. As each incident occurred Julia took the lack of friendship and connection with the women around her as further confirmation of her existing belief that she was unlovable and that women were untrustworthy. 

What was really happening is that Julia’s beliefs were causing her to be aloof, disinterested, fearful and anxious around women. She unconsciously assumed that they would not care about her. She overcompensated using independence and high-achieving methods thus further pushing away and kind of support of caring that could have helped develop relationships. 

In Julia’s late twenties, after a number of years of unexplained anxiety and depression (coupled with loneliness) she sought therapy. Through some intensive work Julia was able to see the beliefs that stood in the way of closeness with women. Through learning to trust that her beliefs were outdated, unhelpful and untrue, she began to develop the kind of love and friendships that she had long desired. 

Julia’s unconscious beliefs were attracting into her life the very thing she most wanted to go away: neglect from women. This is how it is with all of us. We are constantly attracting into our lives what we think and believe. 

Victimhood vs responsibility.

When we are victims we ask “why does this keep happening to me?”. We can’t see or don’t want to see that we are attracting these experienced into our lives. When we are in victimhood there is no possibility of healing the past traumas that keep us limited. 

When we take responsibility we can ask, what do I want to be different and how can I get what I want? We open ourselves up to doing anything to heal and resolve what is holding us back. We open ourselves up to attracting more good in our lives. Julia took responsibility when she went to therapy. She knew she wanted life to be different and she took action to make it happen. 

Talking full responsibility for our lives means we acknowledge that we attract all of it- the good and the bad. If negative experiences occur we ask, how did I bring this in? And, what beliefs and thoughts need examining in order to attract a more desirable experience in the future?

Attracting the bad for resolution 

Sometimes we may attract negative or painful experiences so that they can become a lesson, and opportunity to heal and a way to access our peace. This can be difficult to believe in when we experience great tragedy, like the death of a loved on or an abusive experience. However if we look at everything in our lives as an opportunity to heal we can find great peace. 

Because we live in ego we forget this truth. As one of my great teachers Ken Wapnick says, “It is compelling and inviting to luxuriate in the ego.”  The reality is that when it comes to the unconscious mind, we don’t get to pick and choose our experience. All we can do is heal our wounds as each circumstance arises so that we can go on to attract more peace, contentment and calm into our lives instead of more hurt, anger and suffering. 

In this way, the only work there ever is to do is on the self, no one else is out there anyway. 

Law of Attraction (Why manifesting isn’t optional.)

Have you heard of the term Law of Attraction? It was made popular in the early 2000’s by the film (and book) The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. In addition, manifestation gained widespread hype through the 70’s and 80’s through the likes of Louise Hay (You Can Heal Your Life) and Esther and Jerry Hicks (Law of Attraction, the Vortex). Even before this recent craze, ideas that include manifestation and law of attraction concepts have been around for centuries.

The Law of attraction is known as a pseudoscience, meaning that there is no current scientific proof its effectiveness. Whether it does or does not “work” we will leave for others to fight over. With this article I would simply like to offer you a basic understanding of what the Law of Attraction is so that you can see for yourself.  It is my belief that we can reap great benefits from understanding the fundamental nature of manifestation and, most importantly, how we are always manifesting whether we are conscious of it or not. 

Since the Secret’s publication, manifestation has become well-known but also widely misunderstood. The most common misconception is that we can use it as some kind of magical power to get the good things we want: like bringing large sums of money into your life, or finding a brand new shiny house or car. 

While bringing in a million dollars overnight may or may not work for you, I’d like to offer a far more important understanding of the Law of Attraction that can bring you peace and contentment no matter how much money you have. Let’s being by understanding what the Law of Attraction is and how manifestation works.

What is the Law of Attraction? 

The simplest definition is that the Law of Attraction is the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on. The Law of Attraction is considered a fundamental law of the universe that cannot be altered and is not dependent on your age, sex, religion or social status. Like all laws, it simply is.

The Law of Attraction takes whatever is in our thoughts and materialises them into reality. This is based upon the law that all thoughts become reality eventually. Both humans and thoughts are made up of energy and when it comes to energy like always attracts like. The results of positive thoughts are always positive consequences. The same holds true for negative thoughts, always leading to bad outcomes.

Manifestation 

The Law of Attraction dictates that whatever can be imagined and held in the mind’s eye is achievable. The real power is in believing that what you desire for your life is already true. This is manifestation: we can consciously create something by believing that what we want for our life is already how it is. If you want to be 60kg, then you must believe that you already are, by feeling the joy and positive emotions that are associated with this outcome. 

As spectacular as this sounds it only takes one look around the state of our planet to notice that something is amiss here. If we could all create the exact life we want, then why is there so much misery, poverty, violence and disease? 

The answer is simple. The world is full of suffering because whether we know it or not, during every second of our existence, we are manifesting. Every moment of our lives we are acting as human magnets sending out our thoughts and emotions and attracting back more of what we have put out. The real problem is that during most of this process we do not know we are doing it and this means we are often attracting negative outcomes. 

Unconsciously Manifesting 

How often have you driven to the grocery store and as you are pulling into a parking spot you realise you had no idea how you got there? You were not paying attention to the drive. Rather you were up in your head thinking about the past or fantasising about the future. 

How often could you actually recall what you were thinking about? If you could recall it, was it negative or positive? Were you believing that great things were possible for yourself and that all is well in your life? Or (far more likely) were you reliving an awful thing that happened to you last week or expecting the worst from an incident you perceive will arrive in the future? Were you thinking wonderful things about your body and health, or were you engaging in self-criticism and hatred? 

You see, every second of every moment of every day you are bringing towards your life whatever you are thinking about. Often our thinking is fear/survival based and therefore focusses on the negative. We spend far more time concerned about how little money we do have, and far less thinking about how blessed we are and what is possible for our financial future. 

Perhaps we obsess about the state of our romantic life and where our relationships are headed. We may fear the worst out of our innate desire to protect ourselves from hurt so we guard ourselves from being too open or loving. This negatively affects our relationships and pushes those we love, and those we meet, away. This is how like attracts like. 

Solutions 

  • Awareness: Becoming aware of what we are thinking about is a key component of changing what we attract. Once we see the kind of negativity that exists in our mind we can begin to replace it with more positive thoughts. Meditation or quiet activities in nature help us to become aware of our thoughts. Creating some space in your life is key to this process. 
  • Gratitude: Being appreciative is a great way to swing the mind out of its negativity bias. We can do a formal practice by writing what we are thankful for each night before bed, or making it a part of the family dinner as a kind of grace we say to each other. We can even create a friend group that we text what we are grateful for at the end of every day. 
  • Therapy: Sometimes we discover that we have deeply ingrained beliefs from childhood or from trauma that we have experienced.  This is where coaching or therapy can be extremely influential. Having someone to guide us is very important in learning how to let go of old beliefs and create new ones to take their place. 

There are many books and teachers out there that will tell you that you can have anything you want (even a million dollars) as long as you believe it is already yours. I’m not here to tell you if you can or you can’t. I’m just suggesting that what you think is truly what you become. 

Perhaps you can give some new thoughts and new beliefs a try and see for yourself what happens. Who would you be if you believed you were blessed, wealthy, healthy and happy? Whatever you believe you will find the proof to support. So take a look around at your life and look for new evidence. 

Bound to pain, and why that’s a good thing.

“The wound is the place where the light enters you”. 

Who would we be without our wounds? What would life be like if all the pain and darkness you had even felt had been removed? These were the questions I was left pondering while recently reading a bookclub inspired novel The Binding, by Bridgett Collins. 

The Binding takes place in an alternate reality where books are different to how we know them here. In their world books are for all those things that people feel destroyed by and cannot live with in their lives. They are filled with actual peoples memories, their secrets, grief, and pain. The books are hand crafted and once the bad memories have been carefully bound inside the book they are erased for good. 

Our local bookclub meets to discuss the books we are ingesting. During our meetup for The Binding the discussion went deep as we explored what it would mean to have our deepest troubles, our abuses and the most painful events of our lives removed. Would we be happier? Would life be bliss? Or would we lose the very substance that makes us who we are? 

I was adamant that our pain is our greatest treasure and should be kept. I believe the wounds I have inside of me are the very reason I have been able to experience healing, feel compassion, develop wisdom and grow strong. I know I am the woman I am today because of all of the suffering I have endured in my life. I cherish the alchemy of pain to growth. 

As I drove home from bookclub that evening I recalled the beautiful quote by Rumi, “The wound is there the light enters you”. Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet, Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic who has become one of the most famous poets of all time. He believed in the use of poetry, dance and music as a way to find union with the beloved, or with God.

The quote comes from a larger piece that I will share with you now:

“I said: what about my eyes?

He said: Keep them on the road.

I said: What about my passion?

He said: Keep it burning.

I said: What about my heart?

He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?

I said: Pain and sorrow.

He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

This longer version gives us understanding that the short quote cannot. You see, it would be easy to misunderstand that our pain alone can transform us. But this is not the whole picture. Transformation occurs only if we are willing to stay with it. This is a key distinction when you consider that every single one of us has experienced pain, but not all of us have grown from it. 

The light enters us because we find a way to be brave enough to stay with our wounds. 

What does it mean to stay? It means that we surround ourselves with the resources we need to fully feel the pain we carry within us. Every single careless word, physical assault, rejection, abuse or neglect is inside of us whether we choose to feel it or not. 

Sometimes it is smart that we haven’t felt it yet. Perhaps because we weren’t resourced, like when we were children and didn’t have the capacity to handle what we were experiencing. In this case we closed off and simply chose to cope. 

Or perhaps something we experienced was so overwhelming (the death of a partner or child, a sexual assault or violent abuse) and our heart knew it was too big for us to feel right now. So it closed, created walls and protected itself. 

This ability to protect is a beautiful quality that we possess as humans. The consequence however is that we feel less of everything when there are walls around the heart. We can’t access the same kind of joy either, or love or compassion or release. In the words of Kahlil Gibran, “Your joy can fill you only as deeply as your sorrow has carved you.”

At some point, we may want to open to the fullness of life again. Perhaps we are tired of numbness and of the half-life we are living. When we have the resources around us we can begin to open to the pain, let the light flood in and crack the walls around our heart. 

Many of us may wish that we could give away our pain to a leather bound book as in The Binding. But if we remove our wounds we would be losing this place of transformation, alchemy and light. How can we stay with something if we won’t acknowledge that it is there? How can we let it mould us into the divine, holy, compassionate being that we all are deep inside? 

I say leave the pain where it is. Be proud of your hurts. Find a way, however you can, to really feel what has troubled you the most. Find the wound, open it up and let the light enter you.