Written by Sarah-Jane Grace
I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about the life I’ve lived, the life I’m living and the life I would like to live as there are so many incongruencies between them.
A great deal of the time, I’ve felt as though my sense of self had slipped away and vanished down the plug hole. I have written about some of this before, but the words seem keen to be re-explored once again – it seems I still have lessons to learn! I think it was Shirley Valentine who said: ‘I got lost in my unused life’ and those words seem to capture me so well.
There are so many things I’ve wanted to do, but I’ve felt weary and weathered by the challenges that have hit me one after the other, after the other. Every time I felt as though I could take a breath, something happened before I got the chance and I slipped away from myself again. It’s a bit like in my childhood when I nearly drowned, every time I reached up for air, the waves sucked me beneath them again. Even though the sea finally spat me back out onto the beach, I think it is an event that has stayed with me throughout my life, and I lived this event energetically in a kind of repeating cycle.
In many ways my life has felt transparent and redacted, it had a kind of bleached, monotone quality, lacking in colour or vibrancy. I’ve often wondered why this was the case, and came to the conclusion that the real deal (i.e. life) was simply too much for me to process. Yet, this monotone life wasn’t a life, it was a sense of hollowness, of not being fully present. And of being disconnected from the emotional kaleidoscope of being human. Even now, looking back, there are large swathes of blank space: missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of my life.
My inner disconnection left a smiling façade where the fabric of my being was being ripped apart by forces I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. As a result, I began to fear my inner world and denied it as much as possible, trying to ignore my failing body and refusing to acknowledge my truth. Inevitably, the void between me and my true essence grew inaccessible to the point where I just didn’t know who I was anymore. Of course, there were moments when my inner turmoil surfaced and clashed into the façade like two icebergs colliding, and each episode would leave me feeling shattered and broken.
I’ve always been keen to dig deeply to explore the core of my being, but in truth, without ever really exploring the core of my being. It’s not that I’ve been false in anyway, it’s just that I haven’t been sure how to face that thundering chaotic maelstrom within. When I looked into my core, I seemed to fall into a hole inside of myself, which was like a void within a void: an echo chamber.
I’ve spent my life sitting on the broken threshold of my own existence, despairing at the pain and misery I could see in my heart and soul, not knowing what to do with it and never venturing into it, and, as a result, spending my life not living. Over time, I became ever more isolated from my heart and soul, and I lost me somewhere in that process, and the spark of life called Sarah-Jane just wasn’t there. I felt safer in a mindset of pain, hiding from life; and this kept me emotionally impotent and spiritually crippled. I never ventured beyond the self-created gates of the prison I’d built for myself. I turned into a silent watcher; a translucent observer of myself, detached from the experience.
I had days when I felt like I was drowning, and each time I tried to reach up for a gasp of air, I was sucked back beneath those waves. During those days, I felt here but not here, alive but dead at the same time. I felt like a ghost, silently watching life, but not having the courage or strength to be visible, to be heard or be seen. As the waves pulled me deeper and deeper, my struggle to keep my head up faded and withered away as it was simply too exhausting to continue.
As I travelled deep within my soul, I sensed a whirlpool of emotions that twisted and turned with such ferocity their power shook me to my core. In the past, my shadow self was a place I feared to even acknowledge, let alone visit, as it felt so cold and hostile, frozen, and barren: like artic tundra. Although when I looked more closely, I could see that life still existed, even in this barren frozen wasteland, but the cold ran so deep, it felt as though all life had been suspended and put on pause.
I denied this part of me for years until the denial entombed me with pain and grief. When I finally turned to face this part of me, I felt a surge of emotions bubbling under the surface, each one trying to break free and be released. Sometimes I was on the outside looking in on this festering, smouldering powder keg, and other times I was fully immersed, feeling overwhelmed and buried alive by the intensity of it all.
After a long period of energetically staring into space, trying to figure out what to do, I let go and realised the key was in allowing nothingness to embrace me. Most of my life I had struggled to do more, be more and achieve more, but this was a time to let all of that go in order to consciously step into the moment. It was time to take ownership of this part of my soul, and to tenderly embrace it as a part of what makes me, me.
As I searched through the remnants of my soul which had been scattered around me as though they have been tossed into the air without a care, I realised just how much of me is still unlived potential and unspent emotion. These pieces of me resisted being knitted together because the sum of the parts was greater than the whole. I pushed away so much, it felt as though there was no room to bring it back to me.
Yet, awareness of these fragments was a sign that I did have more than a pin prick of self-awareness, and my soul was perhaps not as frozen and barren as I tended to believe. I realised I needed to learn how to feel what I truly felt, not to feel what I thought I ought to feel or to try to accommodate the wants and needs of everyone else, but I needed to let myself be me. I needed to trust myself first, but I also needed to learn the art of turning outwards, of trusting, of reaching out and asking for help; I am not an isolated island. When I shut myself away to survive, I was only existing, I wasn’t living. In those moments I reminded myself that there would be a time when I looked at the world and thought it was beautiful again.
Although I felt so broken, I was still fascinated by life, but I’d lost the richness and texture, and I feared I could never get that back, if I ever had it in the first place. The watercolour of my existence was shades of grey rather than beautiful hues of a life well-lived. I was hiding in the gap between the breath – in that moment between the in-breath and the out-breath where we are doing neither one nor the other. I felt as though I slipped into a crack in the pavement of existence and stayed there. Yet, despite this, I still had hope of one day becoming a willing participant in life, to feel safe to sit in the silence in between each breath and to breathe freely. Despite my disconnection, it was hard not to contemplate my own sense of mystery, of the quality and depth of my own imaginings of myself.
I had reached a turning point; I didn’t want to keep on pretending and smiling, hoping that ‘one day’ things would get better as life is so exquisitely short and I wasn’t getting any younger. Seeing my body crumble with dysfunction and my emotional world spiral has been challenging, but spiritually I came to realise that I am more robust than ever. I spent a long time denying my spiritually, feeling angry for the hand I’d been dealt, and feeling frustrated with the spiritual world I had found myself in which felt judgemental and cold.
I spent time in a kind of spiritual no-man’s land, pondering the meaning of life and seeking out some form of sustenance that brought me a sense of connection. I also spent a great deal of time feeling totally alone as though I was the only soul in the universe and there was no one to reach out to. This fed some deep dark nights, which flowed into months of torment. It all got too much on more than one occasion when my body, mind and soul reached saturation point and I just wanted to end. It felt paradoxical that I wanted to die because I couldn’t live, but I struggled to feel comfortable being alive. Yet, I didn’t want to die, I just wanted to find a way to end the pain and torment: I wanted to live, but I wasn’t sure how.
It took me many months, years, to realise that ending the pain didn’t mean eradicating it, it meant turning towards it with love; denying it was just intensifying the suffering. Finding peace with my pain meant taking a chance on living as my unspent life was ripping me apart. I’ve pushed so much away for decades, but I wanted to not only be alive, but to be happy that I was. I had so much I still wanted to do that had been kept crammed inside of me; I was bursting with unspent potential and unused dreams.
For many months, I was entrenched in a smog of confusion, processing the unfathomable, unable to connect, unable to write, and feeling switched off from the world. This spiralled further after a string of continuous stresses and losses, and it felt like the floor was falling out from beneath me. I had reached critical mass and I was at a significant decision point in my life: to continue not living or to be the instigator of change and find a new path to walk. It may seem like an easy choice, but it’s unquestionably hard to find the momentum to create change when living with the pressures of illness and pain. How could I create the energy to change when I felt hollow and empty?
I believed my soul was fractured and shattered, broken and beyond hope. As a result, over time, I had run further and further away from myself, and I knew it was time to acknowledge that this was intensifying the pain, not relieving it. So, something had to change. This time, I stayed with the discomfort, and gently called myself back home; each time I tried to step outside of myself when life felt too much, I called myself back. I’m not sure why, it just felt ‘right’. Standing there, fully present wasn’t easy; it was hard to see the truth in the cold light of day, but I didn’t judge, I just allowed the process to unfold in its own time and in its own way.
Over time, I slowly made some important realisations about myself and my life.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to eradicate pain and suffering, trying to heal myself, and trying to be the person I felt I needed to be to feel useful or be loved. I tried to nurture a culture of balance and positivity, feeling like a fraud, but never really considering the idea that I needed to cultivate peace and happiness, or that I needed to stop avoiding my inner world and instead dive in and love myself exactly as I am. I realised the need to accept myself exactly as I am, to embrace my illness as a part of my whole and to choose to live anyway. Striving for perfection only ever left me feeling ‘less than’, accepting imperfection allows for so much more.
I’ve acknowledged the intrinsic human need to feel safe as a basic foundation for survival; yet, feeling safe is not the same as not living. Life cannot be sanitised and sterilised to avoid risk, it’s not a pick ‘n’ mix of emotion, I have to embrace it all. Sometimes that means taking a chance, sometimes it means getting it ‘wrong’, but sometimes it means something truly delicious and wonderful.
In truth, I still have absolutely no idea who I am.; I am still learning. Do we ever truly know ourselves absolutely? So, what do I have to lose by letting go and taking a breath? The emptiness no longer sustains me, not that it ever did, and, as I gradually let more and more of me out, there are days when I feel like I’ve got no skin as I feel so overwhelmed with my life and the possibilities before me. It’s both exciting, but terrifying at the same time! That desolate wasteland in my heart and soul is no longer barren as there are green shoots bursting through as the sun creeps over the horizon. The once deafening silence feels peaceful and nurturing as I step out of the winter slumber I placed myself in many years ago.
I am still fragile, and I am still processing the intensity of the journey I’ve been on, but it’s made me appreciate the simpler things in life and it’s also taught me that not being okay is okay. It’s okay to put down the façade. It’s okay to be real. It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to let others see my vulnerability. It was time to make a choice to be me, not the person I felt I needed to be or ought to be. I am still discovering exactly what being me feels like, but I am seeing my life with fresh eyes and possibility.
I can hear whispers of life calling to my heart and soul as I move beyond the frozen state and back into the sunlight once again. I have wholeheartedly and lovingly dived into my unused life and acknowledged ‘I am worth it’.
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Articles: Sarah-Jane Grace
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