Friday, 30 January 2015

Broken, But Not Forever…

The human spirit is incredibly powerful.

But the ways in which we behave can test that spirit beyond belief.

If you've read my last blog Life Sentence, you'll know that when I was 18 I was in car accident that left my best friend dead, and my boyfriend in a coma. And you'll have read that I made a choice to break up with my boyfriend because his family had made it very clear that they didn't want me around while he was still so fragile.

But a friend asked me this week; "Why would anyone ostracise the girlfriend of their son when they would have known she (me) was obviously grieving?"

Well, there's a whole bunch of reasons why, and I'm about to tell you what they could have been.

Now, obviously I don't have access to another person's mind, so what I'm about to tell you is simply speculation. I've had a long time to think about all the why's and what for's of the accident and I have spent a lot of time doing just that. So when it comes to understanding what his parents were going through, even though there's no way I could possibly know for sure, the one thing that makes me feel authorised to share what I'm about to say is that I have no bad feelings towards them whatsoever.

Literally none.

But of course, that wasn't always the case…

As I drove away from S's house after breaking up with him, I cried a river. But like I said in my last blog, I also felt relieved. Somehow I had just set us both free. Well, maybe not him in the immediate sense because he would now probably go through a grieving period of not having a girlfriend, but looking at it through a big picture lens, his family would now be able to parent him in the way they saw best.

When I got home that night I stumbled through the door into the hallway of my parents' house and immediately broke down. Remember, I had already been signed off work for having a nervous breakdown and I was still a complete and utter mess. My parents were distraught at how upset I was. I told them I just had broken up with S because his parents were treating me so badly and I couldn't take it anymore.

Prior to the accident it wouldn't have been very often that even my parents would have seen me cry, so having them witness me in floods of tears must have twisted their hearts like a knife.

They knew how much I was hurting from losing my friend and from essentially losing my boyfriend. And even though we never talked about the accident (my family don't necessarily speak their love, they show it in other ways), they could see how broken I was.

It was too much.

As the three of us (my mum, my dad and I) stood in the hallway, with me still sobbing uncontrollably, my dad picked up the phone and called S's parents. The poor man was torn apart seeing me so heartbroken and he very lovingly tried to relay his thoughts over the phone. I remember him telling them that every night he saw me coming home and bursting into tears. That whatever it was they were saying or doing to me was not on. He wasn't yelling or shouting, but he was firmly telling them that he wasn't happy with the way they had been treating me.

Thank you Dad.

I don't know what was said on the other end of the line and I don't recall much more than what I've just told you, but the phone conversation ended and I felt loved and supported by my parents. My dad had just said what I wasn't able to say and I was glad that he had been able to articulate some of my pain to them.

I hated them.

But that's still telling my side of the story, and it's not explaining why they would have been so "mean" to me.

It took me a long time, but once I had processed most of my own grief and had managed to move from victim to warrior, I began to imagine what it must have been like from their perspective.

I considered: what must it feel like to be the parent of an 19-year-old son who was driving a car with two passengers, one of whom is no longer alive?

That's pretty full on, I thought.

That would be terrifying, I thought.

Especially when you consider Maybe your son was the cause of that accident? Maybe he did something that caused those two vehicles to wind up in a head on collision? And maybe he will be charged with manslaughter or whatever legal term there is for causing the death of another person because you misjudged a situation while in control of a car?

Hmm, things started to look a little different…

The more I thought about it, the more their situation became "clear" to me. I use inverted commas here because like I said, this is still only my version of how it could have been for them.

But the fact is: they have a son in a coma. The fact is that a passenger of his vehicle is dead. The fact is they are legally not allowed to contact the parents of D until the inquest, which at this point hasn't had a date set. The fact is, they are not even allowed to attend Ds funeral.

They didn't know D or her parents, but put yourself in their place: I imagine they would have wanted to show their respects. I imagine they were terrified that their son might be charged with the death of my friend. And I can only imagine how utterly distressing all of that must have been, especially when they are having to visit their son – who's in a coma – and that they have no way of knowing whether he'll ever come good again.

When I started to look at it like that, it became somewhat easier to understand where they might have been coming from when (once S had come out of his coma) they told me they didn't want their son to know what had happened. And that I was under no circumstances to mention the accident to him.

I'm guessing they didn't want me to influence their son's thoughts about what had happened. And I'm guessing that at that point, I was the biggest threat to that situation. What if I told him something that he then repeated that would incriminate him? Having me around must have felt quite dangerous to them. They wanted to protect their son (what parent wouldn't?), and if I were to say something to him that might make him remember the accident, or believe that he was responsible for the death of D, then there was a chance that by the time the date was set for the inquest, their son might be charged with manslaughter.

I don't think you need me to point anything out here, right?

So, all that aside, yes, they were pretty mean to me, and at the time I thought they were horrible for doing what they did and was glad I never had to see them again. I wasn't glad I would never get to see S again, but I had made that choice and it felt right.

But today, 25 years later, I have nothing but compassion for those people. I have completely turned around any venomous thoughts I had for them, and can see that all they were doing was protecting their son the best way they knew how.

Granted, it wasn't particularly sophisticated or compassionate (towards me), but I think it's fair to say they were in an extremely stressful situation. And when any of us are under stress, particularly as immense as this would have been, we tend to make "interesting" decisions.

When your entire world has just turned upside down and the outcome is at best unclear, and at worst could be called your greatest nightmare (your son, who comes out of a coma gets locked up for causing death by driving), well, it's a lot easier to accept that being less-than-kind to your son's girlfriend isn't necessarily top of your priority list.

Really, I get it.

I mean, I don't know the real story here. So like I keep saying, this is pure speculation on my part. But it kinda adds up doesn't it? Whether the details of what I've surmised about what they were thinking are true, and even if they had always hated me and just wanted me out of the picture (which is another possibility), I can totally see that what they were doing came from a love for their son. And I'm confident that in the cold light of day, once their own grief and stress about the situation had diminished, that they would never choose to be unkind to me.

They were simply human beings dealing with an horrendously difficult situation.

And I am totally OK with that.

Because I make mistakes too.

And, I don't know how I would have responded under their circumstance.

Of course, there is still so much more to this story. Like, what happened at the inquest? What was the outcome? Did S get charged? Was it his fault?

I'm ready to tell the whole story and I will do that. But for now, I just wanted to get clear on the fact that I hold no hard feelings toward S or his family. And that's why I can comfortably write this blog.

I have nothing to hide.

Forgiveness has provided me with an incredible freedom to tell this story. A story that is etched deep into my cells. And a story that I hope will help other people see that even when life seems hard, unfair or downright f*cked, that if you find the right lens, it's always possible to see some light. That underneath even the darkest, most traumatic experiences of our lives, there is always a star shining a beam of love.

And if you keep searching, I promise you, you'll find it.

Choose love x

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Life Sentence

So, having exposed in my last blog: Defining Moments that I survived a car crash 25 years ago, I'm slowly becoming ready to reveal some more about that time…

Like I said, the incident that occurred (the death of my friend and the head injuries suffered by my boyfriend), branched out and touched many people's lives. At D's funeral, the church was packed to the brim.

She was 18. Too young to die.

A part of me died that day too, but a bigger part of me began to grow and has continued to grow ever since. One of the lesser-discussed aspects of accidental death (or any death) is the outward ripple effect that causes the people left behind to act in "strange" ways. I say strange in inverted commas because when it comes to stress and trauma, I don't believe there's any such thing as normal.

And I'd know…

The person I am today is not who I was 25 years ago. I'm sure you can all relate. Thoughts, actions and behaviours at the age of 18 are guaranteed to evolve by the time you're 43. But our essence often remains the same. At my core I would describe myself as having a childlike spirit and being hyper-capable. I'm an eternal optimist. I see life as a playground and it takes a lot to throw me off course, but when I do "lose it", I lose it big time.

Doing things by halves has never been my style. I'm not one of those "I'll just have one square of chocolate, thanks" kind of people. I smash the whole bar, no matter how big. Same goes for life. Whatever I choose to do, I put everything into it. Exercise, work, friendships… It's all the same to me.

I live my life at 100% all the time. That's not to say I do a lot of stuff. I don't. I'm essentially an introvert who likes to do one thing a day max, but whatever that thing is, I do it wholly and completely to the best of my ability. And that includes being in love.

Or at least, it did, once upon a time.

Which is what this blog is about. My first love. Who I walked out on after we'd been in a terrible car accident.

Here's my story…

S and I had been dating since I was 16, so by the time the accident happened we'd been together almost 2 years. I don't know about anyone else, but I'd only dated guys for 2 weeks at the most before I met someone who I fell in love with. He was a great guy and we got along like cheese and crackers.

As with first loves, you share an incredibly strong bond. You're both learning; neither one has baggage yet, and love flows freely and easily. I loved S in the way any teenager loves their first: wholly and completely. He was my world. We did everything together. Life was great.

After the accident, S was in a coma for a number of weeks. You can imagine how distressing that was, adding to the fact that my best friend was no longer alive, it was a difficult time for me. I felt like the only one who knew what had happened (later, during the inquest, I was the only witness). I felt like a lone survivor – who had walked away from a horrific scene with barely a scratch. (There's actually a reason I managed to remain unscathed but I'll save that for another blog. It's a long story…)

While S was in hospital I visited him religiously. I'd drive to the hospital before work, back again at lunch time and then, after zipping home for something to eat, I'd be back until visiting time was over. I loved him and wanted to be there with him.

Tensions were high among those of us still alive and well. D's parents were absolutely distraught and S's parents were doing everything they could to be there for their son. Which, when someone is in a coma isn't easy. How does anyone know what to do? None of us had ever been in that situation before. So, understandably it was a tough time for everyone involved.

Lots of incidents happened while S was in hospital and all of them had a huge impact on me. I learned a lot about life, sickness, health and healing, people's response to trauma, and mostly about who I was during that time.

Turns out I'm not the most conventional when it comes to coping.

Coping is a very personal thing. We all do it differently. Some people falter, some weep, some avoid, some deny or minimise. To list all the ways would take a whole blog. Me? I cope by coping. I become extremely practical, get things done, make sure everything is running smoothly, I observe and listen. And then, when I get behind closed doors I fall into a massive heap and sob uncontrollably. Or scream. Or both.

From the outside looking in, it can seem to anyone involved that nothing phases me. I'm one of those people who always seems to have my sh*t together. But that's because for most of my life I would cope impeccably in public and only indulge my vulnerability when I was alone. I'm sure some of my oldest friends have never seen me cry. (I've since changed and can openly cry these days…)

Like anything, that old coping mechanism has pros and cons. The down side is that sometimes it can appear (to people who don't know me) that I'm doing OK. Or that I am cold. How can she still be functioning? I never see her cry. She obviously doesn't care.

Unfortunately for me, that's how my boyfriend's parents perceived me.

On one occasion, S's mum actually tapped the metal railing on her son's hospital bed and venomously said to me "You're as hard as that, you are."

Hard as steel.

Maybe on the outside, but little did she know that inside I was dying.

Over time, S's health improved, and after a couple of months he emerged from his coma and was allowed home. And that's when the cracks really started to show. S was now in a healing phase, still very unsteady, and by his own admission had a "fuzzy head" but he was definitely on a path to recovery. Thank. God.

His parents had firmly told me that they didn't want S to know what had happened. That I was not to mention the accident. I didn't agree with their thinking, but being 18 and wanting to be loyal to their wishes, I conceded. We weren't even allowed to walk to the shops unaccompanied. I'm guessing that was incase I spoke of the accident… but who knows.

Either way, keeping their wish became the hardest thing I ever had to do.

As S continued to get better, he and I would spend time in his room chatting and hanging out. He was a shadow of his former self, and by no means the boy I had known prior to 8 December, but nonetheless, he was my boyfriend and I loved him.

On two occasions he asked me if I'd seen D. She's dead, I would think to myself. I'll never see her again. But I had his parents' wish to honour and so both times I said "No, I haven't seen her."

At least I didn't have to lie.

Thankfully and remarkably, S continued to improve, and his head injuries, obviously healing, enabled him to speak and think a little more clearly.

That's when the clanger came.

"My mum said you only visit me because you feel like you have to."



I don't recall what my response to that was, but knowing me at the time I'm pretty certain I would have told him that I was definitely there because I wanted to be. Because that was the truth.

During this period (about 3 months after the accident), I had a nervous breakdown. One day while I was at work I had a sensation that was like being in a Hitchcock movie – the foreground panned out as the background closed in. I didn't know where I was. I burst into tears and had to be taken home.

I had finally "lost it".

No denying, I was a complete mess. From the outside I'd been "coping" but all the while I was dying inside. Knowing that my boyfriend's parents wanted me out of the picture hurt me to the core. I had nothing but love for their son, and they seemed to be doing everything to keep me away from him.

It killed me.

I was promptly signed off work for a week.

But, far from being able to rest and seek help, I had a contract with S's parents to keep. He wasn't to know anything was wrong. (I didn't even tell his parents about my breakdown. I felt they didn't trust me so what would they care how I was doing.) Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time, I was 18 and was doing the best I knew how with the resources I had back then.

So, as per usual, while being unable to work because I was a total mess, I would get into my work clothes and drive to see him, morning, noon and night so as to keep up the facade. In hindsight, I can see this wasn't the most useful move, but again, I was 18 and didn't know how else to deal with the situation.

As you can imagine, it wasn't long before even bigger cracks began to appear.

I no longer recall the timeframe between this happening and my walking away but I'm guessing it was a matter of weeks. Knowing that S's mum was feeding him negative information about me, when all the while I was keeping her wish, became more than I could handle.

I recognised that his family needed to heal in whatever way they saw best. Which definitely didn't include me.

So I made a choice. I walked away from the man I loved more than anything. From my first love whose bedside I had been at morning, noon and night. But who I could no longer be around because it was breaking up his family. They wanted shot of me.

I still remember the day I went round to his house and broke the news: that I was no longer able to be his girlfriend. I was broken but relieved. As I drove away, filled with tears and completely torn between doing what I felt was the "right" thing and what I wanted to do (which was stay), I decided I would live with my decision and get on with my own healing.

That task has taken 25 years.

On the recent anniversary of the car crash, I had a sense that something inside me was shifting. I meditated on it and became clear that my "abandoning" S was something I had paid a price for. On some level I realised that I had unconsciously made a pact with myself that I would serve a Life Sentence for that deed. I walked away because I thought it was the best thing for S and his healing journey (I still do believe that). But the consequence would be that I would not allow myself to fully love another man until I had served my time.

Unbeknown to me at the time, the sentence I imposed was 25 years.

But now I'm free. My karmic debt has been paid and I feel different. I know now that I am once again free to love whoever I choose. Wholly and deeply, just like the love I had for S all those years ago.

And if that isn't in keeping with my 2015 theme of miracles, I don't know what is.

Choose love x

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Defining Moments

Defining moments are a universal experience – we’ve all had them: the first day of school, the day you lose your virginity, graduation day, finding your first grey hair etc. Not all of those will apply to all of us, but you know what I mean.

There are certain events that occur in life that we remember. Vividly. Some of those events stay with us forever: usually, it’s the highly emotional ones. Because emotions make feelings stronger – they heighten your experience. A dull day becomes a technicolour memory whenever high levels of emotion are involved.

It’s easy to get caught up in the emotional side of things which is why I want to talk about my most vivid defining moment. It happened 25 years ago…

There we were, driving on a cold December night on our way to collect my friend D who would be coming out with us to the Angel pub for some pre-Christmas jolliment. We weren’t going to drive to the pub – drink driving wasn’t our style. No, we (S, my boyfriend, and I) were collecting D, heading back to my house 5 minutes away, and then my mum was going to drop us at the Angel and head out with my dad for their Friday night at a workman’s club.

Only things didn’t quite pan out that way.

S, D and I never made it back to my house that night. What happened instead was horrific and I’ll never forget it. Talk about defining moments. This is still my biggest and most vivid.

I still remember what D and I were talking about the split second before I looked out the windscreen and saw a truck heading towards us. “Watch out for that lorry,” I said.

And then everything went black.

The taste of that moment still haunts me, in the sense that I can still clearly recollect it. Whenever I hear two cars collide, no matter how big or small the ding, I get that taste, the metallic taste of blood and broken glass. For me, that sound is a multi-sensory experience: I taste the sound. That’s what heightened emotions can do to you.

I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess that the criss-cross of sensory input occurs for many (if not all) of us when we experience a defining moment. And the more heightened the experience, the more the crossover occurs. For example, I’d bet that for most people their wedding day or the birth of their first child is one of those times. A time when everything is happening at once and, to put it bluntly, a time when you don’t know if you’re going for a shit or a haircut. Everything is crystal clear and a blur all at the same time.

So, that night, 8 December, 1989 is my most vivid. The crash occurred in a fractured moment, but that entire day is still so clear to me. Not to mention the ensuing months, although they have become somewhat foggier over time.

But why am telling you all this?

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure, other than having reached the 25-year mark and because I feel a sense of reaching a new moment. One that I can choose to define rather than have etched into my cells simply through happenstance.

A story such as this has many arms that branch out in a vast array of directions. But I’m not going to go into any more details just now.

However, I do feel a great urge to tell my story. Not just this one, but many of my life’s moments. And not because I love talking about myself but because it helps me understand who I am when I write things down. And I enjoy phrasing my feelings in a way that other people seem to relate to and benefit from.

When I started this blog I had no idea where it was going. I played around with a few ideas and my writing took a few twists and turns that I enjoyed observing as much as partaking in.

I tried writing about life coaching but I gotta tell you, that idea ran out of steam pretty quick. I can’t make it about anything other than the simple events of my life.

The experience of having my entire world pulled from under me at the age of 18 was by far the worst and the best thing that has ever happened to me. That defining night laid a foundation for the person I am today. It gave me an opportunity to know how strong I am. It gave me a platform on which I can lay every other experience and know that it will never come close to being in the accident and emergency ward, knowing my best friend is no longer alive and that my boyfriend is in a coma. My best friend D did not survive the crash and my first love was in a coma for a number of weeks.

That moment and the moments, days and months that followed, gave me the greatest gift I could ever ask for: knowing that life is a miracle.

If ever I need to look for an answer as to why something is happening or if I find myself wondering will this work out ok? All I have to do is remember that night 25 years ago when I was given a second chance at life. Because as soon as I recall the miracle that is my life, I know that whatever happens today doesn’t matter. Not in the sense that it is insignificant, but because life is life and ultimately I have no control over it. Just like I have no control over whether you like this blog or not: and that doesn’t matter either.

I write because I love to write. And I write about my personal experiences because that feels right to me. And easy. And fun.

Even when I’m writing about the most traumatic night of my life.

One day I will write about the details of that night and all the events that followed, because they are incredibly interesting and shine a light on human behaviour: the good, the warped and the ugly.

But for now, I just needed to give myself permission to do what I love: to write for the pure reason that it feels good.

I’m theming 2015 the year of miracles, which seems fitting to me. What theme will you give your year? What vibe will you choose?  Whatever it is, I invite you to make this year one that is filled with defining moments of your choice. Make this a year that really means something to you. Choose uplifting emotions and really focus on the good stuff. Bad stuff is OK – shit happens – and defining moments don't have to start out joyful, but it is possible to make every moment meaningful in a useful and worthy way. No matter how bad they seem at the time.

If you can, I really encourage you to spend some time considering how you’d most like to feel during 2015. I'm focusing on seeing miracles so I'm going to heighten those feelings and emotions even when nothing's happening. Maybe you can do the same with your theme?

Because, ultimately, we never know if this moment might be our last.

With love x