Three years ago I chose the word Empowerment as my Word of the Year. Sleeves rolled up, I was all set for a year of accomplishments.
In the Beginning
Posting regularly on my blog, I was happy at the prospect of building a portfolio that would help me get published in magazines or gather enough material for a book. My coaching practice was developing and the clients I worked with flourished in many aspects of their lives. I was back in University studying part-time for a Bachelor of Science in Sociology, hoping this qualification would enhance my credibility as a coach and enabe me to earn more for talks and workshops. The talks I gave were well attended and I received good feedback from audiences. As the President of my Toastmasters club, I was expecting another year of winning speeches along with awards for the club. Newly minted as chairperson for community engagement for a grassroots association, I was honoured to be serving my community.
When Things Start to Fall Apart
Yet it all started to unravel halfway through the year when I met a man that bamboozled me for both his inability to be straight with me as much as my uncontrollable desire to be with him every moment of the day despite this. I clung to the charming start we had had when he had adored me like I was the most captivating woman in the world. I felt like I could do anything then and was sure he was the only one for me. I brushed aside the fact that he would not confirm when or where we were meeting until just a few hours before often changing things so I would leave my house then have to come home again to wait because he wanted to meet later. Even if I arrived late in anticipation of his running late I would still be kept waiting in bars, restaurants and in front of nightclubs. Then the snide remarks and put downs began. Photos surfaced on Facebook of him with other women. Photos I would not have seen except that he sent me a message to say not to get upset, which of course then prompted me to look at them and get upset. Once while we were at a dinner he left me to be with another woman without saying a word. I turned around and he had disappeared from the table and was nowhere to be found in the room. This is not to mention the blatant flirting in front of me. It did not feel good to be disrespected but I did not know how speak up for and protect myself. I was so worried about being judged or disliked and had so much invested in being an agreeable personality that I could not express my upset. I was more concerned about upsetting and being unfair to him. Memories of my last relationship where my boyfriend had been physically abusive and other abuse I had suffered when I was younger were triggered and I froze in terror, afraid that the same would happen again. In this desperate battle between my better knowing and fear of confronting the situation, I began to break apart at the seams.
Curled up in the corners of my bedroom floor or in the salty sweaty sheets of my bed, I intermittently hoped I was dying of cancer or that my pounding heart would give out because it would be a sweet release from all the anxiety and despair.
I can’t fall apart I thought.
I really can’t fall apart.
But I fell apart.
The voyage across the laminate floor from my bed through my bathroom door to wash up was impassable. I forgot how to dress. I had to stop work and take a leave of absence from my voluntary commitments. Embarrassed at my state I avoided social and family gatherings.
Like a soldier outnumbered and outgunned, I was defeated by my dissonance and the spoils of this battle were my sense of self, my confidence, focus and the purpose of my life. I even lost the ability to get out of bed. When I actually did make it to the kitchen in the morning, I would stare glassy eyed at eggs trying to recall how I had previously transformed them into a meal.
The Road to Recovery
Over the course of the following months and a large part of the three years that have followed since, I sat with the feelings and thoughts that did not make sense to me and loved myself as best I could through untangling the chaos that was my mind and heart. It was neither pretty nor easy. When I could not love myself, I let family and friends love me. When more support was needed I sought out counsellors, coaches, hypnotherapists and healers. I started my own support group for survivors of abuse to reach out to others and as a recovery tool for myself.
On the journey through my own confusion, pain and shame, I uncovered the wounds that caused me to be repeatedly attracted to relationships and men that were hurtful and hurt me. I judged myself for not knowing better. Closing in on middle age, I wondered what was wrong about me that I did not seem to be ‘getting’ this thing called life. All around me my friends were married or happily paired off, investing in second homes or their children. Here was I still single and living month to month, struggling to let go of a man who didn’t even want to be with me.
I began to see how my past experiences of abuse had informed my current choices. Also having grown up in a wounded family dynamic I was naturally inclined toward wounded souls. It was familiar to me to be dismissed and have angst directed at me. I began to see that I had a part to play because I had accepted this role. To avoid their own fears of being out of control and insecurity, others had belittled or tried to control me. But I felt some twisted sense of purpose in that at least I knew who I was because it gave me an identity, even if this identity was scapegoat. It was painful to really see and accept but freeing to realise they had acted out of their wounds. Then I made different choices about how I showed up in my family and other relationships.
Bit by bit, new hope emerged.
To Infinity and Beyond
I signed up for voluntary work, helping to sort out and sell second-hand shoes for an animal shelter. When I got more confidence, I organized and hosted community lunches then lent a hand with larger community events and galas. It felt good to help and focusing on other people meant I was not focusing solely on my stressful thoughts and heavy emotions.
Spending time in a monastery meditating gave me access to the peace and wholeness already inside of me when I am still and silent. A cleansing fast helped me detox from any residual anger, resentment and blame I was holding onto and removed my attachment to food as a way of numbing out my feelings and I became even more present in my body and then in the moment.
I left University (for the second time), stepped down from the committee of the grassroots group and did not renew my membership to the Toastmasters club. Instead I certified as a master coach and started giving corporate talks and workshops. A community gathered very organically around me and we began to practice meditation and mindfulness together.
With a much more grounded and humbler view of life, I began to feel gratitude for just being alive and healthy, for a calm heart and clear mind, for the meaning and purpose I felt when I was coaching and facilitating classes or workshops to help participants become more conscious and connected to the peace and power within themselves.
I did not feel empowered at the end of 2012 in the way I had intended to be. But after three years I can see how that intention laced itself through my life tenaciously tearing away at my fears of embracing the expansiveness I belonged to. I began to see that I did not need any qualifications, external achievements, position or validation from a relationship to feel empowered. It became clear that true empowerment was not something I could control or make more of by my actions, getting a degree, award or recognition. It is a force that uncovered itself once I attended to wounds that created feelings of unworthiness, shame and pain. It is an energy pulsating sweetly and steadily from the subtlest depths of my being, stewarding me back to the magic and power of pure existence.