Re-Invent your Self

“You have got to force rock bottom”, this was the professional (and personal) advice from an ex-addict running a recovery and rehab programme on how not to enable your loved ones to continue along a path of self destruction. The tough love approach is the only way to go apparently and although it is quite harsh, I have to agree.

1690 words= 7 minutes

I remember my rock bottom. It might not have been as dramatic as that young woman, I was not considering suicide (yet) but it was evident that the thing I treasured most I was busy destroying. The one person I could not bear to lose had just walked out on me and our pending engagement.
It might not have been his conscious choice to deliver me with some tough love but his walking out on me definitely forced my rock bottom.
It was only in that unexpected moment that I connected with my own vulnerability and got really honest with myself about where my life was headed and who I was destined to become. And it wasn’t pretty.

I never suffered from substance abuse, it was a different kind of addiction. One of an emotional nature. A desperate neediness for men’s approval and validation. My ego couldn’t get enough of it. It wasn’t a coincidence either that I made a career for myself in the perfect industry to feed my addiction. Fans and followers are easy to come by when you work as an international model and even easier to mislead into the fantasy that one day their turn will come to be by your side. Thinking about it now makes me cringe in embarrassment at how self absorbed and egocentric I was then. It wasn’t sex I was after, just the validation and confirmation that I was desirable. Lovable. That was enough.
I had heard myself referred to as a man eater but took it as a compliment in the same way a man sees being a Casanova as an honour.
It’s all fun and games disposing of people like old rags when there is another one waiting in the wings to tell you how amazing you are.  (I know, it is despicable).

It only started to sink in that I was really unpretty when someone I adored opened my eyes enough to see I was an ugly person. He did that without naming, blaming or shaming me. He simply left. “I love you” he said, “but I cannot live with someone who is always going to need men stroking her ego to feel good about herself- it makes me insecure and I don’t like who I become when I feel that way. I am not asking you to change, you are who you are, I just can’t live with it anymore”. He closed the door gently behind him.

What does one say to that? At first I denied that it was me who had a problem until a dear friend reminded me, “But Shelley, that is who you are, you have always been like that.” Yikes, did I feel like garbage. Really? That’s who I was? Rock bottom it’s called. That’s when you can’t stand to look in the mirror and see the reflection of someone looking back whom you despise. Someone unworthy, a person crammed with guilt, shame, humiliation and other self-hating emotions. Paradoxically, it can also be the pivotal point for honesty, vulnerability, hope, Self-forgiveness and Self-compassion as well as a desire to be more and want more for yourSelf in your life. The first time we have an honest conversation with ourSelves.

The penny dropped when my soon-to-be-fiancé left. It occurred to me I was not the marrying kind. It also dawned on me it was unlikely that I was ever going to give up my ways even if it caused endless troubles in my relationships. It was ‘innocent’. I was ‘right’ in my innocence. So what if I was a master of deceit? A wizard at sending mixed messages? I reeled men in and out as proficiently as any fly-fishing expert. It was all about me; me feeling desirable, me feeling good enough, me feeling adored and valued and… and…and. Aha! I didn’t care about them. And I didn’t care about my partner either. I only cared about me. I would probably never be the marrying kind. Nowhere in that equation was there was a considerate thought for how my behaviour made my partner feel. Isn’t that what addiction is all about? A single minded concern for satisfying one’s own needs whenever and however it suits you. Even if it costs you more than money.

The irony of it all. A teetotaller -who gets drunk on the whiff of a glass of wine- with a dependency as controlling as any other. It didn’t bother me- only my partner suffered. Until he decided ‘no thanks, not for me’ and I realized that this was going to be the story of my life. “What a miserable future I have ahead”, I thought to myself. So then I did what addicts do. I blamed my parents and my Dad’s lack of emotional presence in my childhood for my awful behaviour. That was a waste of time. I didn’t really have a ‘poor me’ story- it turned out he did the best he could with what he had at the time and more than that one cannot ask.

And then I found my coach. My recovery journey began: The leopard who changed its spots. He helped me put the dots together and to take responsibility for the state of my life. He helped me to see that I could create any life that I wanted for myself as long as I knew what I wanted and the skill set I needed to achieve it, it could be done. I learnt from him that I had to get honest with myself first about who I was and who I wanted to become and be okay with the chasm between the two.  I began to get clear when I was aligned with the person I wanted to be and when I was way off. When I relapsed I took ownership of my bad behaviour and unpacked the precursors that triggered me off. I started to identify my pattern and the conditions which supported my ‘weakness’ -and then avoided them at all costs. It was a process but I really started to like and trust myself again. Best of all, I started to attract back into my life the respect of the one man I wanted. My ex.

I don’t think many would have put up with as much nonsense as I put him through in the early days. He was/is a gift to me. My husband supported me through it. He watched as the men whittled down in numbers until they were reduced only to one. I have become the woman I was hoping to be and the wife I thought he deserved to have. Twelve years on and 9 wedding anniversaries later I am proud to call myself a devoted and loyal wife.

When I changed careers it was because I had experienced firsthand the power coaching. In a short period of time I shifted what traditional therapy had not done for me in years. A shift in perspective. A new life. A new me. Personal and now professional experience (7 years as a qualified coach) shows without a shred of doubt we can re-invent ourselves and our relationships.

Yes, it is a process not an event. It is usually only after a moment of unconsciousness that we notice we have slipped back to our old ways. But then we have the benefit of learning from that experience. We discover with whom we need to be on high alert. The situations and contexts that have us operating on automatic pilot. With practise, we create spaces between ‘me, my thoughts and my actions’. We understand ‘I am not my thoughts and actions, I am the observer behind the thoughts and actions’. We develop awareness/mindfulness of who is showing up in any moment. We start to distinguish the ‘previous me’ from the ‘work in progress me’ from the ‘mindful me’. Relapse is part of failing forward.  That is the only way to learn, to grow and evolve. Some bad habits we can go cold turkey but unfortunately for others (like eating and love addictions) it is more a process of weaning yourself of the bad stuff one day at a time. Each day is a new day to redefine who you want to be.  Each day we get the opportunity to live life more deliberately than the day before.

It was a bit of an AHA moment for me listening to that keynote speaker on addictions. I too am an ex-addict who takes people through recovery and rehabilitation -of their Self worth. I have been ‘clean’ for over a decade. I created new friendships with people who were not vested in me staying the same. I avoided places and things that kept me stuck until my empowering inner voice was louder than the destructive voice. The re-invention of my own life has me passionate about the fact that people can change and re-invent themselves. When the WHY is big enough, the how is not an issue. When we feel like we have sold our souls because we have sacrificed our honour and integrity, we haven’t. In the words of C.S. Lewis ‘We don’t have a soul, we are a soul’. We cannot sell our souls, we can betray the essence of who we are. Until we don’t. People make choices and their choices make them. Making a new choice to preserve our integrity, to respect our Selves and those around us happens in each moment. When we have the courage to take stock of our lives and have an honest relationship with ourselves, our spiritual development blossoms. Addiction is a symptom. There is hope. Get honest. Get open. Get vulnerable. We can re-invent ourselves any day, at any time in our lives.