Years ago, when I was nursing myself out of one of my most violent heartbreaks, I documented how I was feeling and what was happening each day. There is a month that I have saved in a Pages document ~ I must have been between journals of which all have since been burned ~ that I revisited today searching for some clues on my romantic patterns. Re-reading those words I wish I had been more detailed not in what I was feeling but what the pragmatic events that were making me feel this way were.
Love is and perhaps always will be a prevalent topic for me. Familial love. Romantic love. The love between friends. Spiritual love. The love for an animal. Self-love. Love is also my most ubiquitous teacher. My relationship with love is steeped in passion, mystery and suffering followed ultimately by transcendence and growth. It is my greatest pain and my deepest pleasure. Perhaps that is the cause of my fascination.
When I think about love, I think about how love is not just words or kindness. It’s also respect, boundaries, care, consent, consistency, communication, vulnerability, honesty and so much more. The need to have messy compassion for myself and others as we waveringly walk our individual journies of life beside one another. It is the legacy we all leave behind through our daily words, actions and choices. It is the presence that we bring and the work that we do. Ultimately, love is everything.
It’s Thursday evening here in my little flat by the seaside, past 7 pm with the sun still high in the sky beckoning the summer days ahead. I’m sitting on the sofa, winding down, writing these words to you, noticing that my body feels tired. It’s more than physical tiredness. It feels like a resetting of my bones. I have changed.
The past year has offered me a respite from the external world in a way that I did not know I needed and now that I have tasted it I want more. Day by day I am unravelling and relearning how to create a life outside the standardised systems we exist in and instead allowing the soft, gentle nature of my being to guide me into a life that is truly my own.
One of the ways I am doing this is with the Her Way ~ Cocoon: a praxis for women who are disillusioned by the old paradigm, structures, stories and narratives and willingly offer themselves over to something greater to unfold through their work. For ourselves and others. Deconstructing. Remembering. Unfolding. This cocoon is an anthropological experiment. There are a few spaces left and if you feel compelled and drawn in, I’d love to invite you to join us. Doors close at midnight tomorrow. 17 hours from now. Learn more and register here.
Another way I am doing this is with Plannher, my timeless and undated planner-and-journal-in-one. Plannher is designed to help you let go of the rigidity of traditional diaries and invite your intuition to step into your journey. It is about organising yourself while feeling your own flow, the flow of life ~ for life has a lot to offer when we take action but also get out of her way ~ so she can show us her magic. It’s about knowing when to engage & when to give her space to surprise us. The new collection and its new home went live today and I am so proud. Please, allow me to introduce you to Honey and Natural.
The rest I am experimenting with quietly in the background, on my own. It’s not about being perfect, but about softly nudging my way back home. I hope the weekend ahead brings you pockets of peace and joy, and most significantly love that reminds you of who you really are.
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“Happy Birthday” read the subject line. I clicked on the email. The same two words were repeated in the body. “Happy Birthday”. Nothing else. It stung more than if there had been no email.
It’s been 6 years since I spoke to my mama. Every September I remember.
I love my mama. Every time I think of her which continues to be often, I send her love and wish her peace. I truly hope she finds peace. I also believe that she loves me. And that she has always done her very best. My mama has an undiagnosed and untreated range of mental illnesses. Her actions are steeped in trauma and wounding. And she has been unwilling to ask for or to receive help.
She was young, 21, when she had me. Crazily in love with a short, cocky Italian fuckboy (hi, papa, love you :) she wanted to have his baby. So she did. He didn’t care. He told her so. She did it anyway.
One of my earliest memories is toddling in line while a soft, round Spanish woman ladled milky porridge into bowls and asking for mas azucar (more sugar). She laughed at me with sweetness and warmth and gave me more. I must have been around 18 months. We were living in Tenerife on the Canary Islands and I spent the evening hours in night-care while my mama sold roses to the tourists and my papa sold weed.
My next earliest memory is in a small apartment in Salzburg, Austria, my birthplace. I want my mama to play with my big, blue 80’s style rotary dial telephone with me. But she’s crying. She’s always crying. She doesn’t have time for me because she’s too sad.
Looking back I realise that she most likely had anxiety and depression for as long as I remember. She was always stressed, anxious, worried, crying. I imagine she didn’t have enough support or help and she was scared.
When I was 6 she married a man 25 years her senior. I think she married him for safety and security. He verbally and emotionally abused me for the entirety of their 8-year marriage. In all the classic ways: constant insults and attempts to humiliate me, frequently being yelled and screamed at, blamed and made for feel guilty for everything, acting ‘nice’ in front of others but then saying the most hateful things to me as soon as their backs were turned.
She did nothing to stop it. “I did it to protect you!” she said. Silence is compliance, I say. During that time she bore two more children and suffered a mental breakdown I’m not sure she ever truly recovered from.
I forgave her. She was doing the best she could. Plus, she’s my mama.
But then, I recognised something else.
The abuse didn’t stop. It just changed hands. There were erratic mood swings and strange, inconsistent behaviour. There were days where she was so loving and kind. She really wanted to be a good mother. There were days where hate and anger poured out of her she would palpably vibrate with it. It was like something evil possessed her.
My world when I was with her was so confusing. She didn’t make any sense. I never knew what mood I would find her in or how she would react to the simplest things. Any question might set off a day of hostility or violent words for no clear reason. I had to tiptoe around her and her ever-changing moods, never safe, always with a constant sense of threat.
I accepted it all. It was all I knew. I thought it was normal. It took me years to unlearn the persistent tension in my body from the sounds of voices yelling, car doors closing with a bang, hard angry footsteps, or any footsteps, walking towards my room.
I stayed with friends and family often and then left home as soon as possible. The first time I was 16. But I kept coming back.
Like an addict seeking that next hit. I returned over and over again thinking that if only I was good enough, if only I loved her enough, if only I could do what she wanted, maybe I could help her. If I was better, things would be better. Maybe we could have the kind of relationship I had always wanted.
Across the next 17 years, I came back and tried to heal our relationship many times. The last time was 6 years ago.
It was 2014, I was in the first year of my business and struggling financially as I invested all of myself in making this infantile dream real. I had grown so much, I thought. If I stayed centred in my heart and open and loved her through all her ups and downs maybe things would change. I also needed a place to stay for a few months.
We had a few ignorantly blissful days, to begin with. The magic 3 days, I called them. It was always good for up to 3 days. And then it was not.
I tried to stay open. I wanted to be good. I had forgiven her so many times already. I just wanted to love her. But as the days and weeks passed and violent, aggressive words sprayed out of her mouth I shut down. My heart hardened. I stopped speaking openly. I never reacted. I just became silent, as I always did. It was not safe. Silence is my sanctuary.
A long time ago I learned a very effective coping mechanism: forgetfulness. I can’t remember everything that happened. I wrote all the stories in my journal. So I would remember. But I burned that journal as I always have with my others. What I do remember are tiny snippets.
I remember standing in the kitchen leaning on one leg with my left hand on my left hip. She suddenly turned and screamed at me that my stance was an attack on her. I remember being bewildered and sad and turning away.
I remember her creeping past my door listening to my telephone conversations and then bitterly accusing me of calling her a bitch to my friends on my phone calls. I never spoke of her to my friends. I was too embarrassed to tell them about her. She must have misheard me.
I remember her neighbours looking at me with pity when they learned that I was her daughter. I wondered what they said or knew about her.
I remember sometimes watching her scream at me for unexplained reasons and seeing something that looked like the ugly skull of a demon extend out of her face as she poured her rage out at me. I don’t know if it was real or if it was a way that my subconscious tried to make sense of something that didn’t.
And then one day, I gave up.
After 3 days of helping her landscape her garden she screamed at me when I didn’t help her cut down branches from some trees that belonged to the local council land appending her lawn.
“No matter what you say or do, I will always love you,” I said. “But you can’t treat me like this.” She muttered something violently with hostility on her face. I turned, packed my bag, and left. That was September 6 years ago. We haven’t spoken since.
I promised myself that that was the last time. I couldn’t keep repeating the pattern. It was insanity to keep trying. I had to stop. I had to let go.
It took me 2 years to grieve the end of my relationship with my mama and countless hours across a wide range of modalities to heal. I had to learn how to reparent myself. I had to learn how to have healthy boundaries. I had to learn to feel safe.
When I first started going to therapy in my early 20’s while studying for my psychology degree the therapist told me that sometimes people have children to try and meet their own needs for love, and make that child responsible for their sense of meaning and purpose. I never forgot that statement.
Every year she sends me an email for my birthday. “Happy birthday” it reads. Nothing else.
There were days in the earlier months of 2020 where my entire body ached for human interaction.
I moved to Brighton 2 weeks before the entire country went under strict lockdown rules for 3 months. I had a home. I had Danger Zone. I knew a handful of people but I wasn’t allowed to see any of them. It was hard.
From an educated perspective, I know that desire to form and maintain social bonds is among the most powerful human motives. ‘Belongingness’ as it is known in psychology is considered to be one of the 5 core human needs. Much of what we do across all cultures is done in the service of belongingness. The needs for power, intimacy, approval, achievement and affiliation, are all driven by the need to belong.
Over those long and sometimes sad months, I learned to be alone. This is how you deal with loneliness.
I also gained a new appreciation for community and made it my priority. Here are my 8 best tips on how to find your people when you move to a new place.
1. TALK TO PEOPLE
Most people are shy. And yet everyone craves friendship and belonging. I can talk to anyone if there’s a conduit. The other day I made friends with a man over a large wave that almost washed out towels away. We had a connection point, to begin with, and then we had the most fascinating conversation about love, missed connections and saying goodbye. It’s that simple.
The best place to begin is with your neighbours. They’re right there.
Know that not everyone is going to be your people and that’s okay. For now, you are just friend shopping anyway.
2. USE THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Instagram acts as my most ultimate friend-making app. You can vibe each other out without any awkward conversations and then make the first move by sliding into one another’s DM’s. I would say that 50% of my current deep-and-true friendships have happened because of Instagram and I’m so damn grateful for that.
3. USE PAST CONNECTIONS
Reach out to the people you know and ask who knows people in the new place you have moved to. Allow them to make a connection for you. I love when people I love introduce me to people they love. It almost always works out.
4. BE A GOOD COMMUNICATOR
When you meet someone, compliment them in a specific way, for example, the way they move with grace or their open-heartedness, or how genuine and helpful they are. People will always remember how you made them feel and when you make someone feel good, they’ll want more of that.
Share stories and let them be an intimate part of your life by sharing details. Listen to their stories with all of yourself.
Last weekend I spent 4 days with 3 other people, all single, in their mid-to-late 30’s. Together we were 2 girls and 2 boys.
Some days we spoke about being single. The boys bragged about their proficient activities across all the dating apps while the girls spoke of their frustration and resentment with their past experiences. I shared that one of my readers had requested me to write about life as a single woman in her late 30’s and that it kind of jarred me. I never thought to label myself in that way. Even though those words fit.
It’s been on my mind ever since. What is life as a single woman in her late 30s in 2020 like?
I really love men. I’m a committed heterosexual. I love cock. I find men funny and fun to be around. They can be useful for engaging dialogue and alternative perspectives, opening jars and lifting heavy things. Nothing turns me on more than a man that can make, build and fix things with his own hands. Plus, they are great ego boosters, loving companions and serve a pleasant side of human connection.
And yet, I hold some latent anger in my body towards men and what I have let them, and not only let them but enabled them, to do. I can’t believe the things I used to normalise and put up with. Like the boyfriend who told me he is a feminist and then requested I wax my labia and that when we have kids I would get a cesarian so I would “stay tight”. I have inadvertently reinforced the inequality that underpins men and women and it leaves me feeling furious. I suspect many women feel this way, without even knowing it.
I’m not blaming anyone here. Men were brought up and socialised to expect women to serve and obey them as much as I was brought up to be a good little woman and serve and obey. We were both playing out the conditioning of our ancestors. Except that women no longer rely on men for financial or physical safety and security, which was the only reason we were dependent and had to behave ourselves. My past experiences with men have only highlighted that I have plenty of de-conditioning and unlearning to do, so I can attract more equality and polarity in my relationships.
I’ve enjoyed many loves in my adult life so far. The university love who opened my innocent eyes to a whole new world. The hypnotic transient loves that I met while on the road. The safe love that offered me space to rest and reprieve when I was going through big personal changes. The love-of-my-life love which was the most passionate, exciting and difficult by way of trauma bonding disguised as soulmates. The comfortable love when I desperately needed to feel secure while life moved through some challenging twists and turns. The test love that came my way to make sure I’d really learned my lessons.
None of those loves had much in common except for one thing: I had to shrink and stay small if I wanted to remain in them. I have yet to experience a relationship container expansive enough to hold all of me. The moment I outgrew or no longer matched their projection of who they thought I was when we first met things fell apart. In recent years I’ve learned some big lessons including that love is not enough, and that you can both forgive and hold people accountable for their actions.
And now, 5 long(ish)-term relationships spanned across 20-ish years later, I find myself single. I’ve been single for two years, not counting the ongoing much-younger lover and that short 2-month error-of-judgement a year ago.
To be a single woman in your 30s is to receive a paradoxical message: It is simultaneously cast as empowering and courageous but also ultimately tragic. Relationships are considered essential for fulfilment and yet unless your ultimate goal is to start a family, also unnecessary. There’s pressure put on women to settle down and preferably, have children, in addition to biological urges that leave you wondering if you even know what you really want or if you’re just a reactive bundle of conditioning and hormones. All of this comes with the underlying assumption that, even if you are happy and fulfilled as a single woman, there’s still an unspoken hope that you will find a man and finally fit into the rubric society so desperately pushes us towards. Then, everyone can breathe a quiet sigh of relief: She’s finally been saved.
I know what I want, but it doesn’t fit into a recognised framework.
I crave intimacy and touch. Tender caresses, holding hands, kissing goodbye, making love. While I haven’t felt a strong impulse to have children, I at times fleetingly have considered it. I miss the simple, quiet, shared moments of being in a relationship. Dreaming up future plans, reading lines from a good book, laughing about an awkward encounter. The sweet devoted sharing of two lives lived side by side.
I also love living alone and being able to do what I want when I want without having to accommodate another person’s needs and practices in my space. Weird yoga when I wake up, working odd hours, brushing my teeth at lunchtime, eating pan-fried tofu in bed for dinner with nothing else. Full days in bed or at the least in bed-clothes. Furiously typing on my laptop keys in child pose on the floor when I have an inspired idea. Spontaneous dance parties in the kitchen while spooning peanut butter dipped in honey into my mouth.
At times I can’t imagine finding anyone who won’t annoy me enough to give up all of that.
Often I find myself daydreaming about how delightful it would be to fall in love again and give my heart and my little corner of the universe to someone who shares my inclinations and values but am disheartened when I remember how easily I have lost myself in past relationships and how little the men I’ve dated contribute to making the partnership a positive experience.
Why does it feel like I end up doing all the emotional labour as well as having to make sure I am turned on when it’s time for sex and run the household mostly alone? We’ve been sold the Disney love story with the heroic all-capable man and are disappointed that reality doesn’t work that way. But if you’re single you’re unfinished. If you’re content and single, there’s something wrong with you. “Find him!” they say. “He’s so close, I can feel it.”
I love being single and I want to be in a relationship. I enjoy other humans but I don’t want to deal with their weird ablutions and habits. I want to live in a flat by myself with my husband next door. I want to be wildly independent except for when I have to carry 500 books up 3 flights of stairs or need my washing machine replaced. Then I want my boyfriend to do it.
So, what is it like to be a single woman in your late thirties? Right now, in 2020 terms, a mix of palpable boredom and preventative ghosting. But overall it’s standing firm in my belief that the kinds of partnership I desire won’t look like a repetition of the unrecognised menial slavery the women in my family before me normalised, and I’m steadfast enough in my belief that there are men and relationships waiting in my future that will meet my eccentric hopes.
Proofreading, editing and rephrasing by Rosie Spinks.
…the human race.”
When I heard anti-racism educator Jane Elliot utter this profound statement I wondered why this simple truth hadn’t saturated our education since the beginning of time.
Allow me to preface the words ahead with: I am learning so much right now and trying to navigate all these issues that have risen to the surface with a dedication to do better and to change. And I’m going to fuck up along the way.
I didn’t know.
I didn’t know that in some parts of the world there are people who have to actively advocate for their lives when they do everyday things like go for a walk or use medical services. Having opted out of the traditional workforce before I even entered into it I had no idea that people of colour are sometimes paid less than white people for exactly the same job.
There is so much I don’t know and I recognise now that that is part of the problem.
Tucked safely in my privileged bubble, I believe in oneness, in unity, in inclusion. But I diligently excluded racism and racist behaviour thinking that if I erased it out of my view and didn’t participate in it, it didn’t exist. I thought that not being racist and ignoring those who are, was enough. I thought that not seeing race or colour was sufficient.
My neutrality made me complicit.
I’m embarrassed that it took this for me to be brought to awareness and more importantly, willing to take action. I have a lot of work to do around understanding how to encourage and support diversity, how to create inclusiveness in my personal life as well as my online business, while also remaining genuine and real without engaging in tokenism. I am committed to educating myself around how I can use my privilege in the world to enhance and empower the wellbeing of others to a greater extent than I have.
There are nuanced differences in how racism plays out from culture to culture, and of course, racism occurs across many skin tones, yet I am clear on two things. One, that just because it doesn’t impact my immediate environment that I have no role to play and two, that we can only dismantle things piece by piece and one by one.
When I teach clients to redefine their lives by undoing and unlearning their blocks and triggers we don’t say “yes, there are blocks and triggers in the way of me being a fully flourishing human being” and then hope that a blanket statement like that will be enough. No, we look at each one individually, break it down and replace it with a new narrative and new actions. The clearing of one might create a domino effect in clearing many but we must bring awareness to each one individually. In this case, we are looking at racism directed at black people in every nation. One by one we create systematic change.
I am deeply grateful for this wakeup call as I unpack all of this.
I am grateful to be held accountable for my actions. I’m grateful to add fuel to the already hard-burning fire around the systemic breakdown of our corporate culture. Racism is earned out of the greed for gain on the backs of human lives.
My intention has always been to liberate and empower women, all women, to be fully expressed, safe, and fulfilled. I have been privileged in my whiteness to never consider race. I thought that all women are equally oppressed and we all have the same dismantling to do. It never crossed my mind that my coloured friends might be fighting a battle that runs deeper in layers than my own.
It is my aim to make the topic of race and racism an ongoing conversation in my circles. I am educating myself on the lived experiences of people of colour in my communities. I am seeking out solutions to dismantle systemic oppression by learning and teaching methods that prioritise human lives over money, power and materialism.
I have a lot to discover, it’s going to take time for me to assimilate and integrate it all, and as and when I make mistakes I will apologise and course correct.
Here are some UK-specific useful resources I’m diving into at the moment:
ARTICLES & POSTS TO READ
BOOKS TO READ
- Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- The Good Immigrant: 21 Writers Explore What It Means To Be Black, Asian, And Minority Ethnic In Britain Today edited by Nikesh Shukla
- I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Braithwaite
- Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
- Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- “I will not be erased”: Our stories about growing up as people of colour edited by gal-dem
- Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
- Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri
FILMS/SERIES TO WATCH
All Day and a Night (2020
Queen Sono (2020)
Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker (2019) a personal favourite of mine
Miss Virginia (2019)
For Colored Girls (2020)
Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story
She Did That (2020)
Who Killed Malcom X (2020)
Kevin Hart: Don’t F**K This Up (2019)
They’ve Gotta Have Us (2018)
When They See Us
Dear White People
I Am Not Your Negro
Noughts and Crosses
OTHER THINGS TO DO
- Complete this important survey on the lack of education UK students receive on Black history, colonisation and slavery, The Impact of Omission – it only takes a few minutes.
- Watch Injustice by Ken Fero & Tariq Mehmood/Migrant Media.
- Support Black and minority voices by subscribing to gal-dem.
- Sign up to this free course by the University of Exeter.
- Diversify your feed with some brilliant voices, including but not limited to @MunroeBergdorf, @Akala, @EmmaDabiri, @UKBLM, @TravisAlabanza, @UKBlackPride, @galdemzine, @cocobyname, @ReniReni, @entrylevelactivist, @nirushika.
- Check out BFI’s Black Britain on Film collection, films tackling issues of race, representation and identity.
ORGANISATIONS TO SUPPORT
There’s a half-moon rising behind a building and people are clapping and banging wooden spoons on metal pots outside my bedroom window because it’s 8pm on a Thursday in mid-May during COVID-19.
It was 2 years at the start of this month that I kissed the lips of my last long-term love and said goodbye. The one I picked up on the side of the road in Australia in 2014. The one I moved to Canada and bought a house with. The one you said I was brave to leave.
I spent a month drifting through London streets, a zombie, only half-alive realising that love is not enough. I spent a month with one of my best friends Lily travelling through Eastern-Europe chasing umbrella-covered beaches and shreds of our former selves. Her recovering from harrowing final exams, me from heartbreak. I started the third month at a music festival finding speakers loud enough to drown out all the other noise to shake my body at until I was empty.
I wish I could say that I navigated the heart-wrenching path of transformation after ending a relationship with grace and ease. I did not. I was human and messy and hurt and it was painful and scary and awful.
A new life emerges from those in-between spaces. I came through it relieved. I found happiness again. I remembered what it is to choose, just for myself. Uncertainty becomes a treasured resting place.
So often, women who have been traversing life alongside me that past few years, will ask me “How did you do it?” “How did you leave?” “How could you be so brave?”. They want to soften the blow of their own bleeding hearts with some discourse that all these sharp edges are somehow worth it.
There are a few things that have helped me navigate the ending of a relationship that naturally preludes a new life. Mostly, they draw on my spiritual practices.
SURRENDER TO TRANSCEND
That last day before I left. The deep sadness and loss and grief I felt was infinitely excruciating. I couldn’t stop sobbing. I remember breaking down on the floor that I had just meticulously cleaned for the very last time, falling apart and letting the tears soak my sweater, a dripping wet substance from my nose leave snail-trails on my face. I knew I had to leave. There was no question about my choice. But the despair I felt was unbearable.
Sitting that hardwood floor I remembered that there is no way out of heartbreak (or any other affliction) than through it. I surrendered to the pain. I let myself fully feel it. The depth, the intensity, the pinch of it. I resigned myself to it. I yielded my entire body to the present moment of complete anguish. Within the intensity of feeling and falling into surrender, something happened. A spark of joy began to bloom within me. A deep gratitude to feel heartbreak, to feel such depths of emotions, to be able to despair for love. In those moments I transcended heartbreak. I reminded me of what it means to be humans and why we choose to have a physical experience and that even the most anguishing moments are filled with beauty.
Society told me that I had the perfect relationship. He was a very sweet man whom I loved very much. I couldn’t rationalise why I was so incredibly unhappy. It didn’t make any sense. But the body keeps score. In its infinite wisdom, it will remember and know all the times that you are out of alignment with your path. And that was the thing, I had veered so far away from my path that I didn’t know who I was anymore. Not knowing myself anymore was more painful than ending the relationship.
I had to trust my body when my mind was failing me. I had to believe that, as painful as it is, what is happening is for everyone’s highest good. I had to conclude that love is infinite and always expanding.
Months later, out of the bewildered haze, I started to see how I had started to shrink myself, cut part of myself apart, lose myself, just to stay. How I was severed and divided into feeling that I wasn’t deserving of more. That I was asking for too much when I asked even just for one thing. No wonder I couldn’t breathe. I was drowning in unspoken gestures that repeatedly told me “no, you can’t have what you want or be who you are”.
OFFER YOURSELF SPACE
I gave myself 3 months with limited work/life/expectations/commitments to just be with the grief. I let myself go through the messy process of separation which at this point is more about the emotional and energetic tentacles that we wrap around each other in communion. The physical process is swift. It’s the hundreds of promises, the tender words and the future dreams that take time to unravel.
Letting go and healing requires space and time. It is within that space that a new life begins evolving out of you.