When The Outsides Don’t Match The Insides.

Originally Published on http://www.iloverecovery.com

I find myself lately, missing my house. The house I lived in ten years ago, when I was married. The place I thought would symbolise a functional, abundant, happy life. It was spacious, and decorated how I liked it. It had a big kitchen that I loved to cook in and a dining room that could seat all our family members.

It had a huge garden that backed onto fields, with hedgerows abundant with different plant life each season. Snow drops and bluebells in Spring. Flowering wild fruit trees in Summer. Crab apples and slows in the Autumn, and even in winter the red holly berries appeared like little red jewels against the receding greenery.

And the peace. Oh the peace and quiet. Sounds like an episode of Little House On The Prairie. But reality was, we were far from the Ingalls family.

One day, it was necessary for us to leave. I packed what I could into my car, along with my two children and we left. While our home appeared beautiful and peaceful, our lives were not. The external picture of our world most definitely didn’t match the internal.

We left, and we never went back. I still cannot drive by that house to this day because it is too painful. I’m grieving still for my home. For a home. And I’m continually searching for ways to have a permanent and secure place for my children and I. It is the last raw space inside me. The part where I feel most vulnerable, most inadequate and where I am still letting my children down. Yuck. The shame I have around it is sometimes unbearable.

This area of my life is a work in progress…..and all that stuff.

There are times in everyone’s lives when something happens that we perceive as bad. We feel like the bottom has just fallen out of our world and we are in a freefall tailspin to impending doom. But often, the doom we are so sure is coming, never actually arrives and we find we stay in unbearable situations because of the great job, the gorgeous house, and the illusion that without these things we cannot survive.

I have a meeting tomorrow to discuss plans for a new business venture. Yes, it’s another attempt at security for us. I’ve gotten to know this person over the last few weeks, and it looks like a promising project. I’m excited about working with her. I’m excited about the possibilities and a new adventure.

As I spoke to her on the phone this morning giving her the address of the house we live in now, I found myself apologising for it. I heard myself saying, “it’s just rented, and so it’s not very pretty”….yadda yadda yadda.

Immediately she said that instead of berating myself, I should be very fucking proud of the person I am, the lessons I’ve learned and the experience I’ve gained in the past ten years and that no amount of external fanciness can depict that adequately.

And you know what?…she’s 100% right.

Despite what I see as a grotesque failing in me, what I have gained following the loss of our home, is quite astonishing. Where loss is, there is also opportunity. A void is left that you can fill with absolutely anything you want. It leaves space for things that perhaps there wasn’t an inch of room for before.

Once, I was obsessed with curtains and matching cushions. When all that was forcefully taken away, it left room for my writing, which led to travel and meeting people I never dreamed I would meet. It opened endless opportunities, most of which I’ve grabbed with both hands. It afforded me a choice of expansion in my thoughts and experience and the development of myself.

Sometimes, what we attach ourselves to, what we identify ourselves with, limits our growth and expansion. Be it houses, jobs, people, places or things, the external is worthless without the internal being solid.

Most days I don’t look so shiny on the outside, but the inside is doing better than I give it credit for. I guess that never judging books by their covers is something I should pay more attention to.

So Just How Brave Are You?

At the Women’s Wisdom Healing Circle that I facilitate every Sunday on InTheRooms.com (please come join us at Noon EST), we like to get deep with our topics. This past Sunday I chose to open up with a brief personal experience of going from shockingly low self-esteem, barely being able to keep a roof over mine and my children’s heads and being so depressed I could barely wash myself most days, to where I am now….

….living fully.

But what does that even mean?

Is it just another guru-esk phrase to bamboozle our brains?

Or is there something to this that none of us can afford to ignore?

In my experience, the latter is true. I could not and cannot afford to ignore this concept. By doing so, I am, in essence, ignoring everything that I authentically am. I have searched and searched for the answer to happiness and fulfilment. I’ve now discovered I’ve had the answer all along.

If this sounds too love and light for you, here is the layman’s way of saying the same thing.

Living fully, in my estimation, is getting so brave that you scare the hell out of yourself most days of the week. You do this by stepping outside your comfort zone, out of that strategically placed box that has been created for you, and living life with you at the helm.

And I know you know what I mean. I know that as you read this, you recognize the discomfort rising in you because you have that internal voice too. You’re clean and sober. You’ve quit overeating, you’ve got your sex addiction, smoking, spending all under control….

….but that gnawing, gut churning, irritating feeling won’t go away. It can be hellish at times. Repetitive thoughts that seemingly come from nowhere and give you a burn in your soul, haunt you.

What the hell is it?

Well, that would be your calling my dear. Your life purpose; the reason you were put on the planet, begging and demanding to be heard after years of being drowned out with whatever substance or behaviour you’ve been obsessed with. Now, at last, there’s room for it to make itself known to you.

And it’s impatient and loud and pissed off with being tossed aside. Now your fearful, limiting thoughts and your deep inner knowing that you have important life’s work to do, are in hand to hand combat. As one woman put it at the Womens Wisdom Healing Circle….”I have two versions of myself living inside me.”

Can’t we all relate to that? The mental push and pull we deal with every day between what we feel obligated to and what our true life’s purpose is.

The question is….which version of yourself will you pick?

Well let’s look at the options here.

Your first option is, a life lived mediocrely. You will be somewhat happy. You may have a great job, a great family, and life looks good on the outside. But there’s that something missing. A burning, a creativity, a dormant part of yourself that you know is there but you haven’t met yet.

Your other option is to live fully. To choose a path that isn’t always easy. Where you decide to take action, and scare the crap out of yourself on a daily or weekly basis, until that fear becomes joy. On deeper investigation, I discovered that fear and joy are one and the same thing….it just depends on your perspective.

Living fully takes sacrifice at first.

You may need to survive on less money and work less hours so you can dedicate time to your passion. It may mean working long hours at your job and then staying up later to pursue that dream. It may simply be buying that material to make that dress, or sing that song, or paint that picture. It could be to write a novel.

Or it just may be being brave enough to say hi to that girl you’ve always wanted to talk to, or sit in a café by yourself despite feeling socially awkward.

Bravery is living fully. To ignite your heart and soul with feeling fear and doing it anyway becomes a lifestyle. It will take you to places inside yourself that you never knew existed. To practice bravery on a small scale will open you up like nothing else can. It will then snowball until you have no choice but to have a new and brilliant experience of life.

Is your inner dialogue going to continue to be “I’ve always wanted to do that but”….and you then list a million reasons why you can’t do that thing?

Or are you finally, after all your hard work and slog and turning your life around, going to allow yourself to live the life you’ve always dreamed of?

It’s your choice. It’s your life. I hope you live it fully!

 

Originally published on http://www.iloverecovery.com and featured in Recovery Today Magazine

The Women Who Showed Me The Way

Originally posted at http://www.iloverecovery.com

Today, on this, International Womens Day, I want to honour the women who have helped and inspired and nourished me along my sometimes pretty horrific path. Long gone are the days of hiding away in shame, anonymous and afraid that someone may find out we have had issues with addiction, mental health, domestic violence, eating disorders, various kinds of trauma and sexual violation. We women are recovering and thriving in the face of multifaceted adversity and at a time in HERSTORY, where it’s never been more important to join together in solidarity with our sisters, the fierce feminine is arising in all walks of society.

I have been fortunate to come in contact with women who taught me that recovery, independence and real freedom is possible. My decision to seek a better life and different understanding of the world, opened up infinite possibilites for me. Some of the women I have met are directly connected to the recovery world, some are not. Nevertheless, each of them has given me invaluable gifts in the form of wisdom, knowledge, support and encouragement.

Here are some of the women who have inspired me to change my life forever:

Anna David, Author and creator of Afterpartychat.com. I approached Anna in 2013, when I had just started blogging about my own recovery journey from substance abuse and mental illness. I was in awe (and still am) of her success and work ethic and I wanted to know her secret. It so happened she was on the lookout for writers for her new website and so I became the first ever writer for her Afterpartychat.com website. She gave me the confidence to really give writing a shot and became my mentor. Without her taking a chance and giving me a shot I don’t think I’d be running my own website today.

Trista Hendren, creator of The Girl God. I met Trista through social media in my quest to redefine my femininity. Trista created The Girl God series of books after a conversation with her young daughter about God being a girl. Trista produces books on all aspects of Femininity, Female Divinity and the struggles of women in modern society. I have been lucky enough to have my work published in two of her books. Her memoire “Hearts Aren’t Made Of Glass” tells her story of living with an alcoholic and trying to recover hers and her children’s lives after complete devastation. She has encouraged and inspired me deeply and is the personification of The Goddess in all of us.

Jamie Marich, Author of Trauma and The 12 Steps and Clinical Therapist. I was introduced to Jamie through InTheRooms.com and had the privilege of meeting her in 2015. The first time I heard Jamie speak it felt like at last someone understood what was going on inside my head and heart. I knew all about my ill mental health and substance abuse, but there were some issues at the root of this that I couldn’t fully articulate. Jamie Marich provided the language and held the space for me, and many others, to finally communicate the full extent of my pain. You can listen to our podcast here.

Carolyn Elliot, Author and creator of WITCH and several online courses. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am drawn to witchy stuff like a moth to a flame. Therefore, when I came across Carolyn online, I fluttered straight to her unafraid of getting burned. And boy was I set on fire. Through her course, Influence, I discovered the true power of our shadow side, our unconscious. It’s the driving force behind our entire lives. Love and light is all fine and dandy, but we have darkness too that cannot be ignored. Carolyn Elliot changed my entire perspective on the world and I shall never be the same again…….thankfully! Read her interview here.

Dawn Nickel, Creator of She Recovers.  Dawn is one of those no bullshit business women that I have always been in awe of…….but with a ginormous heart. She and I share much of the same philosophy regarding women in recovery. Dawn has dedicated herself to creating and holding space for women in recovery to connect with themselves, and with other like-hearted women….and she does it brilliantly. It is her, no-such-thing-as-can’t, energy that inspires me to be the best I can be. She and her team hold retreats around the world for recovering women. Her New York City event in May, with speakers such as Marianne Williamson, Nikki Myers and Gabby Bernstein is completely sold out. However, She Recovers just announced that the event can be accessed through livestream, right around the world.  Click here for details of the event and to purchase livestream tickets.

Of course there have been scores of women whom I have connected with – friends, family, health professionals, passing strangers who offered a smile, writers, poets, activists, therapists, lawyers, women in the rooms of recovery from all over the world, who have helped me along my way. I am convinced that a reignited connection between women is the way to heal the world and all it’s inhabitants.

Today I wish all of the wonderful women in my life love, freedom, empowerment and strength. Thank you for showing me the way.

Lessons In Love

“You’re Gonna Have To Face It You’re Addicted To Love”

I really love that song. But it also kinda makes me cringe because it reminds me of how I used to think about love. I wasn’t addicted to love. I was addicted to being owned, admired, shown off. Plastic love with no depth. I’ll preform how you want me to and then you’ll love me. Yuck, I feel ill. Real love is not an addictive thing in my opinion because it is not remotely attached to anything negative…including addiction.

In our obsessive, all consuming desire for the ever illusive true love, so many of us lose ourselves and fail to even understand what love is. It’s Impossible to define because it seems to mean different things to different people. I’m not an expert on love in any respect, but I can guarantee you, love from another person is not ownership, control or conformity. Neither is it admiration of your ass, your breasts or diamond rings.

We all have a need to find deep, respectful, mutual connection with another person. But for too many of us, that connection never gets past the first layer of makeup we apply to try to make ourselves remotely visually acceptable, in our visually obsessed world.

So what is real and healthy love and how do we connect fully to another person?

It’s not hard to find the answer to that one. There’s a million articles and another million books written on this topic. But instead of recounting what these articles and books tell us, I’m going to share the things that I have learned about love along my path.

You come first: It is that simple. Self-care, self-realisation, self-awareness. I could go on with the self stuff. Somewhere along the line caring about and developing ourselves became a negatively selfish act. This is more crapola that should be totally disregarded. You do you!

Narcissistic control is not love:  This is an issue not talked about enough at all. I’ve seen these relationships destroy people to such an extent they never recover. These relationships become so crazy that the victim doesn’t talk about it….because nobody would believe them. Well I believe you. If you are questioning your own sanity, your own sense of reality, your self-worth and your abilities since you got into a relationship, then you’re probably dealing with a Narcissist. You cannot win with a Narcissistic Personality. I strongly suggest you educate yourself on this disorder, starting with this.

Make your boundaries: If you have boundaries in place, you are less likely to become consumed and obsessed. If you have boundaries already and they aren’t working, then raise the bar. It is so important to know what is acceptable to you and what is not. If you keep accepting things that are just not ok with you, you will end up resenting yourself more than the other person. You must be able to trust yourself. Making boundaries and sticking to them helps that internal trust and self-respect.

 Abusive behaviour is never ok: I’ve learned the hard way, that when someone shows you who they are the first time…believe them. It doesn’t matter if it’s mental, emotional, verbal, physical or sexual. Do not, I implore you, ever accept any kind of abuse. The recovery from it is long, arduous and sometimes recovery is incomplete.

Your instinct is everything: Listen to it well. Oh how many times have I ignored my churning gut when I met someone for the first time, only to pay dearly for it later. Your instinct is flawless, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Lust and love is not the same thing: But we already know that right? Or do we? The intensity of lust is addictive. It is my experience that lust, not love makes us do stupid, insane stuff. Now a mixture of love and lust, is of course, Heaven on Earth….which will still make you do stupid, insane stuff. Caution is advised.

Kindness is the foundation: You cannot put a price on a kind partner. Kindness is in the little things. The cup of coffee in bed in the morning. The unexpected herbal remedy from the health food shop when you’re sick. The phone call first thing in the morning to see if you slept ok. And you notice that they practice kindness towards other people too. In other words, genuine concern for you and the world. If there’s kindness there is the potential for happy ever after. But a word of warning. There’s a big difference between kindness and point scoring!

No change required: You are perfectly acceptable to them on your worst days and your best days. They encourage your mad schemes and support you when they fail. It’s not an issue that you cry or laugh at inappropriate times, or that you swear incessantly. There are no conditions required for them to love you. That’s the real deal!

To listen and to be heard: If there’s a lack of or ineffective communication then there is nothing. Believe me. To have someone really hear you and to be able to really hear someone is a rare thing. To have mutual understanding means a deep connection is possible.

Compromise: There has to be ongoing give and take. However, when the other things I talked about are in place, in my experience, compromise is not a big deal.

Sex…the good kind: YES YES YES…..It totally has to be there. That is all.

I don’t believe there is a one size fits all formula for navigating relationships but I do think that if we keep what is most important to us a priority, then we can be fully present in our own lives and have a happy life with a partner or partners or part-time lovers. However you want to role is your choice.

What I am sure of is, that if we know and love ourselves deeply first we are on the right path for a great love relationship, whatever that looks like for you.

Seven Years Without A Drink

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Today, 23rd January 2017, marks 7 years for me without drinking alcohol.

The celebration of my sober anniversary is a weird thing for me this year. It feels different than any other year and I think it’s because the dynamics of my choice to not drink has shifted in my consciousness. Now, it just doesn’t seem that big a deal. Celebrating it seems a bit too luxurious at this point.

Not drinking alcohol has become just a small part of life my life. I’ve settled into it comfortably and it is now my normal. If I’d been asked several days before I stopped drinking if I’d be booze free for the next 7 years, I’d have laughed hysterically, or been so appalled at such a thought I’d have fainted.

But now my life has become enormous. Simple, but enormous.

Then, drinking alcohol was my normal. It served many purposes in my limited experience of living. It was my motivator, my tormentor, my joy, my pain relief and my laughter. And I saw nothing wrong with that. The bars and clubs were full of people doing exactly the same thing as me. And peoples living rooms were occupied in the evening, by wine drinking mothers, just like me all over the globe.

Numbing.

Just totally normal….right?

At some point, everyone is forced to face themselves. That point for me came when I basically had no choice. My life was catastrophic at best. But something else had changed too. The desire in me to excel at life became much stronger than staying in that wasteful, pitiful limbo I was in. Peace was not available to me. I was stuck between either facing crippling pain, or forever numbing it with alcohol.

I had to make a choice.

I chose to face myself.

Choosing to face ourselves brings with it a great freedom. We then have a choice about what we do with what we see. If we find ourselves in a situation where we need to be picking ourselves apart with microscopic precision, then there’s definitely been some prolonged and very uncomfortable occurrences and realizations to bring us to the greatest challenge of our lives.

The challenge of change.

I had nothing to lose. Whatever I chose was going to be painful. The difference between one path and another was that quitting drinking and facing my malignant, internal pain was going to lead somewhere – probably a fulfilling and functional life. Not quitting and continuing to numb was going to lead to – more pain – that would require further numbing.

Numbing is expensive, life threatening, wasteful and creates the need to be a complete asshole to contain the pain. Who the hell wants to live like that? That’s not living. It’s maintaining existence. The street light outside my house exists. The pavement exists. My house exists. At least they all serve a purpose. Me living in a substance abuse bubble served no purpose, except to self-destruct.

I wanted more than mere existence.

And now I have it.

But sobriety is so much more than an abstinence from chemicals. If that’s all it was about I’d be eagerly waiting to celebrate each anniversary. It would be just about counting and accumulating days of being booze free as a signifier of success. Sobriety for me has to be about insatiable joy or it’s just not worth it.

My successful sobriety is defined by what I do with those abstinent free days. I’ve filled those days with purpose and passion towards the things that matter. My children, my writing, my passion to help other women empower themselves and my own self development is what life is about for me now. In short – liberation is the theme of my life.

Joy.

The forward momentum of growth I have created rapidly detaches me from my past and towards liberation. I’m grateful for that detachment. But I will never conveniently forget how hard the past was.

Anniversaries used to be a big deal for me. Something that I defined myself by. I used to be a sober alcoholic. Now I’m Nicola O’Hanlon, a strong, driven, compassionate, empathic, fierce woman who happens not to drink.

I also turned 42 on January 20th. That is far more significant for me. Being 42 and the kind of woman I used to admire and aspire to be is a big deal. Looking at myself in the mirror and liking what I see is a big deal. Trusting myself is a big deal.

Could I be that woman without removing my alcoholic anaesthetic?

Absolutely NOT.

I highly recommend it.

 

Originally posted on http://www.iloverecovery.com

Does Advocacy Like Carrie Fishers Really Reach The Ordinary Person?

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Despite being born into movie star fame and wealth, Carrie Fisher still didn’t manage to escape addiction and ill mental health. She was an outspoken advocate for both throughout her life and wrote books and screenplays about the issues. Carrie Fisher was the daughter of movie star Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, some of Hollywoods most elite. The often associated situations seen as contributing factors towards addiction and ill mental health, such as poverty, lack of health care and access to life’s basic needs, were not present in Fishers life. Of course there were other issues, most notably the breakup of her parents, apparently because of Eddie Fishers affair with Liz Taylor.

A line from one of her books, Postcards from The Edge, a semi-autobiographical and comic story of a girl in rehab stood out for me in relation to the false notion that certain conditions need to be present for ill mental health or addiction to occur. The Line is “You know how I always seem to be struggling, even when the situation doesn’t call for it?”

That line highlights for me also, the awareness Fisher had regarding her own mental illness and those of us who struggle will relate on a deep level. When ill mental health afflicts you, even the most mundane tasks, like brushing your teeth, can be a monumental struggle whether you live in extreme wealth or extreme poverty. Ill mental health and addiction are not ruled by socio economic backgrounds, movie star names or dollar signs. Unlike many in her industry at the time, Fisher chose to speak out about her experiences, crushing the idea that glitz and glamour protect humans from the reality of being human. Even for someone like princess Leia humanness was an unavoidable thing.

And still, despite the efforts of people like Carrie Fisher, in almost 2017, we still absolutely know that stigma towards ill mental health and addiction is suppressing and killing those who suffer. But is it easier for the famous and accomplished in our world to speak out and advocate for such universally and still socially unacceptable topics? Is the fact that the people speaking out loudly are largely from the entertainment or sports industries and therefore leaving a divide where the ordinary people still cannot relate to them?

Of course it is helpful when we see huge stars get real about their issues. They get important  conversations started and bring awareness. They encourage others to speak out and seek help and are hailed as heroes for their bravery. However, they are also afforded the best treatment and support available. They don’t have to worry about how they will feed their children or who’s going to take care of them next month because they need to go away for 28 day treatment. That’s if they can access treatment in the first place. They don’t have to worry about being shunned by society for being nuts, because well, the greatest and most talented artists are the whacky ones right?

The contrast of consequences pertaining to the same illness between the rich and famous and the ordinary person is stark and life altering….and usually not in a good way. The fact of the matter is, that for a normal person to speak out openly, the negative consequences often outweigh the positives.

Lets say you’ve been through and survived some of the most horrific experiences due to addiction or ill mental health. You decide to start a blog or share some of these things on Facebook in the hopes of helping others. You may receive great support and “well done you” from your friends and family. Or maybe not. On the flip side, your new perspective employer decides someone else is now more suitable for the position they offered you last week, and wishes you well on your career journey. I’ve been asked many times to remove articles from The Café by writers because they didn’t want employers to see them.

You start to notice that people aren’t so friendly anymore. They avoid you on the street, your phone stops ringing like it used too and suddenly you realise that people don’t want to be associated with you anymore. It’s not that they don’t like or admire you, but being connected to someone who had addiction problems or mental illness makes them look bad. You become one of the untouchables.

The reality on the street is that telling your story impacts your life in uncontrollable ways. It impacts the perceptions people have of you, your children and your extended family. You could be in the best health you’ve ever been in, but the general public will still look at you in a different light. The one thing I do know for sure is, that many people will quietly and privately relate to your experience, but they may never admit that. It may encourage them to seek help and feel a whole lot better about themselves. And if like me, that is your goal in life, then it is a remarkable thing.

However, the life of the rich and famous, despite sharing a similar illness, is still not the reality of the lives of ordinary people. Prejudice regarding certain social taboos do not apply to those who are already in high standing and hailed as icons. If you have struggled with addiction, ill mental health, domestic violence, sexual assault or any other horrific life experience and it’s known by the wider public, it is a rare occurrence to be hailed as a hero or receive awards if you are just another person. Most often the experience is one of rejection, exclusion and intolerance.

This is not to take away from the monumental work that has been done by the famous in relation to the plight of addiction and mental illness. Nor is it to diminish the struggles famous people have with getting well. Their demons are as dark as any other persons and so often they are enabled to self-destruct rather than helped to get well by those who profit from them. I have friends in the entertainment industry who use their talents and past experience in the most wonderful ways to help others and they are to applauded for that.

But we do need to get a reality check regarding the stark contrasts of the famous and not so famous when it comes to the most tragic of life issues. Really taboo subjects are where we as ordinary people struggle to connect. We are fighting stigma still on the ground level of society where we need to address it in solidarity and unity. Stigma will continue to kill until the ordinary human can wake up to their own prejudice and false pride. We love to talk about how open minded, inclusive and accepting we are. But are we really?

Carrie Fisher was undoubtedly an incredible woman who has taught many to live with mental illness without shame. Her legacy both personally and professionally, is one that will remain, hopefully for a long time. She will be greatly missed.