Chapter : “Writing Speaks”
‘When you tell the truth, your story changes. When your story changes, your life is transformed.’ Mark Matousek
I’m seventeen with zero confidence or sense of self and my A-level English teacher, Mrs Henderson, has just handed my essay back to me, with every page crossed through in red, with large imposing words scrawled all over it.
I am shocked when I read what she has written in huge letters. Seven words,
‘this is a stream of consciousness rubbish’,
become imprinted into every cell in my body.
She literally throws the essay at me, showing her disgust, so I feeI like a piece of shit. I am so embarrassed I don’t know where to look. I don’t remember much more, until I get home and in my crippling anxiety and hopelessness, plead with my mother to help me sort this miserable situation.
I’m deeply confused as well. I’ve committed a heinous crime, but I don’t know what I’ve done. It’s always like this. I try to do my best and work hard, but I never know the rules and somehow end up in trouble. Teachers find me difficult, because I ask too many questions and they get rattled, but I’m just trying to understand what’s going on.
I have no inner buffers and there are always shocks that come from nowhere, when I least expect them. I think that I’m responsible for everyone and everything. I am the problem and Mrs Henderson’s red writing, just confirms this to be true.
I’m used to the teachers at school not supporting me. My champion swimming achievements are nothing to do with our sports teachers, so I am never praised in assembly. Even the headmistress refused my mother’s request that I do my homework in the school lunch period, because I was training nightly, suggesting that if she made an exception for me, she would have to do it for others.
My mother who is a history teacher, explains what is meant by the words ‘stream of consciousness’. She helps me understand the importance of structure, the concept of having a beginning, middle and end, as a way to contain writing material.
This is my first induction to limitations, containment and boundaries. I wish my teacher had been kind enough to do this, rather than defining everything with her harsh red words ‘rubbish’.
To my surprise, when the A-Level exam results come in, I am rewarded with a B. I can’t believe it, especially since everyone sees my brother as the bright one and expects very little from me. My mother seems pleased, but my teacher doesn’t acknowledge this result.
Regardless of my relief, I never really get over the shock of the red crossed out pages and the violent words, telling me, I don’t deserve to waste people’s time.
Years later I am in my forties, living in Devon, recently moved from London. My old world has ended, my social life in the village makes no sense and bores me rigid. I’ve gone from being a super achiever and socialite, to a zombie vegetable. My body is my enemy, wrecked by a horrific and debilitating illness.
Only months back, I was incapable of moving at all, bed-bound with the curtains closed. Any stimulus was too much for my shattered system. After a ten day fast in London, my brain fog has at least cleared. I can now read and study but my energetic bank account can still go into the red, with the smallest of things. Push it too far and I’m forced back to bed, unable to manage even the basics.
It’s hard to explain, but my energy can go completely, in a matter of seconds, so I can’t even speak or move a muscle in my face. It’s as if there’s some kind of demonic entity, brutally deciding that I have to stop. I cannot plan anything, because there’s no knowing when this will take place. It can happen with lifting too much shopping, with delayed food intolerances and sensitivities, with negative thinking, with being triggered emotionally, or a combination of all of this.
It seems to be multi-factorial, one thing affecting and interacting with the other, like wading through thick treacle, having gone nowhere. Despite having spent thousands, on every treatment and therapist possible, I show little real improvement. I’m not helped by doctors who killed off all my gut flora by giving me endless antibiotics, such that I’m toxic from head to toe, with unwanted foreign organisms that have set up shop in my system.
I am desperate, beside myself with fear and grief. I have to compromise with everything and on top of this, suppressed and intense emotions are continually surfacing, seemingly from nowhere. I can’t tell the wood from the trees, whether depression or mood swings are the result of parasites, mould and neuro-toxins, or whether it is the natural consequence of having my life ruined.
I suspect it’s both, but right now it’s simply overwhelming.
I want to scream so loud about the torture I’m in, that never lets up. Sleep is my saviour, but the shock of waking every morning is almost unbearable, the dread of another day back in my sick body.
My husband and our friends carry on as normal. Whilst I have new friends in the 12 step programme, no-one there is suffering from a crippling, mystery illness, on top of dealing with childhood trauma, which is a huge double whammy. It feels too much, way too much to handle.
The children are all that matters. In the weekdays, I rest during the day, so I will have the energy to greet them off their school bus, with a plate of food waiting and sufficient energy to smile.
In London, I would have navigated busy traffic for an hour to collect them. Here the bus drops them at their front door at 1730, after they have done their homework and had afternoon tea, which is a godsend. They share their day with me and I motivate them and manage their social life.
With my husband working in London during the week, I can just about cope from one hour to the next, but the deeper truth is, I’m so ill I want out, please God I want out.
I cannot let my mind dwell on this forbidden subject because I’m a mum. My children are my raison d’etre. They are what keeps me going.
In utter despair, I sit in the small tub chair in my beautiful yellow, handmade Devonshire kitchen. I pick up a pen and paper and I do something I haven’t done my whole adult life.
I write a poem…………… (see Puppet’s Betrayal if interested)
Three hours fly by, here in this holy broken moment, alone in my house.
I read it over and over. It is definitely not a ‘stream of consciousness rubbish’, as my English teacher wrote.
Some inner voice pinches me and says,
‘see, see, you are really good, look at what you have produced’
My poem sums up my awful reality in a poignant, powerful way. It gives me self esteem and protection, like having some kind of skin. This is MY unique poem, birthed from within me. It doesn’t belong to anyone else and no-one can take this from me. Ever.
Time seems to speed up, as if I am being shaken hard again, to let go of the shackles and old identifications saying I have no creative talent, no intrinsic value.
For the first time, I’ve something to show for my day. I have a deep sense that writing this poem, is a crucial first step in giving me permission to exist, to have my voice at last.
Filled up from what is my own emerging creative muse, when the children return home from school, I’m much more alive and present on every level, excited to hear about their day.
It’s the present day in Italy. I have a call with my coach scheduled for 1900 hours. All day I’ve been bombarded with different inner voices telling me,
‘What’s the point of your writing, give it up, because it will be a stream of consciousness rubbish, that no-one will want to plough through?’
‘Listen to me, you are way too intense and shocking for most people to deal with and it is wrong to expose your family in this way’.
I nearly sabotage myself by not preparing some writing to read and working too late outside, getting myself sweaty and exhausted.
I tell my coach that I would like to read something I have written, to see if I’m on the right track. After apologising for myself and prattling around the subject, in the hope to avoid reading anything, I begin.
As I read the first sentence, a kind of lifelessness overcomes me. Unknowingly, I’m preparing myself for disapproval, silence, rejection and/or annihilation. I blurt out that I’m sixty, crippled with unworthiness and I feel it’s too late. Mark is empathic, but not indulgent to this victim speak.
I read a few paragraphs very quickly to get it over, with sharing a pivotal moment in my life, when I crashed desperately sick at the supermarket cashier desk in Waitrose, in England and had to be carried home.
Mark interrupts me to say that my writing is powerful. Feeling exposed, I hear his words but don’t take them in fully, forgetting to breathe. I mumble something else in automatic gear, filling the space with words, anything to deflect the positive feedback.
My coach is encouraging me to stay and savour each experience in an ‘honest excavation’ of my visceral truth, rather than analysing my experiences, as a way to explain any insights I might have. He makes it clear, it’s not necessary to be politically correct, to prove that I’ve learnt my life lessons and been a good girl, or that I’ve come to a place of forgiveness for myself or others.
He wants me to write about each specific memory, telling it how it is from my lens. I don’t have to teach, inspire or awaken anyone, but instead am to go to the depth of the feelings and somatic memories. It’s this that will draw in the readers.
It really is that simple and yet for me this is radical.
I get shivers in my body, which is always a sign of when things ring true. I’m being given permission by someone I really trust, to tell the plain and simple truth from my perspective. It’s time to let go of the perfectionism that nearly killed me and blocked all creative outlets and intimacy as a result.
In the darkness of my bedroom some hours later, I’m breathing in Mark’s validation. He isn’t a miserable, second rate English teacher, telling me that my writing is a ‘stream of consciousness rubbish’, but someone who inspires thousands across the globe, changing the lives of so many in the process, a leading writing coach on the circuit, specialising in the field of trauma. He always speaks the truth, cutting through bullshit, which is what I admire about him the most.
I sink deeper into my body, feeling a heaviness dropping away. I feel more in charge. I take a deep breath, feel this expansion and lightness, noticing my inner slave driver, killer critic and protector/controller, stepping back to give me more space. It’s taken years for me to trust my body’s implicit wisdom, regardless of what other family members have told me.
My memoir is about giving myself this inner permission at last, to give my body a voice, to bring together all the fractured and missing parts. To be here on my terms, in my own right. Sharing my story with no self censorship, I want to show others who are also living in a crisis of faith, the liberation that is possible, if you begin to trust yourself and your Higher Power.
Suddenly I’m welled up, crying, as I really breathe in this truth, feel my life force return. I’m catapulted back to around twelve years of age, remembering how my mother stopped me reading Paddington Bear, because I was apparently too old for such nonsense and needed to grow up. I can still feel the shock and loss in my system, my love of those books, was and still is so intense.
Astoundingly, I didn’t read another book, just for reading sake after this, until I was well into my forties. Something in me shut down, a light went out and finally all these years later, this dimmed flame is being rekindled.
In the safety of my quiet space, tears stream down my cheeks and as I take in Mark’s warm words, my heart opens, I land in my body, feeling myself held by the Great Mother. Grace has entered again, when I least expected it, popped it’s little head in unbidden and done it’s magic.
I smile. I have faced both sides of light and dark, been sincerely led to God, to the divine, whatever name you choose for this source of life.
As I write in the pitch black in my bedroom, with my little terrier Chammy, snoring her head off, tapping away at my keyboard, I notice my heart beating fast, but it’s a welcome sensation.
I feel free and alive. I finally know that turning to myself is a sacred act of duty, after years of such self alienation. It doesn’t matter if I have a mystery illness or not, this deep passion and joy is way more mysterious and important.
This book is the story of my life, with all the messy bits included. It can exist and so can I, they go together, this uncensored truth that longs to be spoken. It’s the ordinary and yet extraordinary wisdom of my own journey, initiated through personal hardship and offered to whoever is meant to read it.
I also write this for my ancestors, those women in my lineage, who were violated, outcast and unable to speak. I honour them and am so grateful to be able to step out of my addiction to suffering and stand in full, divine human sovereignty, knowing that writing this, is the greatest act of service, I can possibly do for my children and their children going down the line.
This memoir is my journey to redeem myself fully, as the delicate and precious rose that at long last, is blooming in my own heart.