Like just about everyone, the story of my life so far includes fear and courage, love and loss, rage and delight. It traverses deep grief and profound joy. It involves forgetting and remembering who I am and why I’m here.
Like just about everyone, I’ve lived with some trauma imprints. My mother was 11 weeks pregnant with me when a drunk driver hit my parents’ car head-on. It was 1970, just before seatbelts became compulsory. My mother broke the windscreen with her face.
We both survived, but I felt all the terror and shock that moved through my mother’s body… and my brand new consciousness decided this world simply wasn’t safe.
It’s not safe to live in my body. Strong emotion and energy are overwhelming. It’s not safe to feel good, because everything good can disappear in an instant. It’s not safe to relax. I always have to be on guard.
It wasn’t safe to just be held by my own soul because that made me vulnerable to the sudden, unexpected horror I believed was inevitably coming. All this conditioning was buried deep in my cells and nervous system, far below my conscious awareness, until I was 40 years old.
So I spent 40 years in a state of permanent watchfulness, on the run from terror, before I remembered it hadn’t always been that way. Which started the journey of soul rediscovery and integration I’m on now.
When I was nine, my younger sister was diagnosed with leukaemia. After moving into and through remission three times, she died when I was 16. Although we all did our best, no-one in our family knew how to deal with loss. For 25 years, a part of me secretly believed I should have died – that she deserved to live more than I did and that I’d failed to protect her. I’ve had to befriend half a lifetime of suppressed grief and shame.
When you’re trying to avoid feeling shame, you tend to make really shitty choices. For a long time, I walked away from things – like singing and reading and nature – that brought me the most pleasure. I consistently chose things – like recreational drugs, lots of caffeine and binge drinking – that were toxic for my physical, mental and emotional health. Worse, I kept choosing things – cities and jobs and relationships – that I secretly hated. I equated spirituality with religion and despised both. I was a very angry atheist. It was a subtle but consistent form of self-punishment for being alive.
At 30, I started working for Microsoft. Back then the company was famous for a hyper-competitive culture that mirrored Bill Gates’ social awkwardness and intellectual superiority. Our financial compensation was tied to out-performing each other, including (and especially) other members in the same team. Some people – often the most successful senior executives and those who aspired to get there – were viciously cutthroat. I often felt like I was preparing for war when I went to work each day. I would get up, put on my armour and prepare to fight for my life. When not crippled by self-doubt I was fairly competent. I worked with some incredibly bright and decent human beings… and I encountered more than a few genuine corporate psychopaths. For 10 years, the environment I chose to work in often confirmed my deepest fears about the world.
When I was 34, I left an unhappy marriage. Although I couldn’t see it then, I danced along a fine line between sanity and disintegration for almost a year. My mind, used to having total control, fought hard against the changes my soul was trying to orchestrate. I became quite neurotic and alcoholic (though relatively high-functioning), at times barely managing to hold down my corporate job while in almost-complete meltdown. My first therapist – a woman called Annie who I saw every week for 18 months – can claim some credit for the fact I’m still here. In our first session, she told me I’d been holding my breath for a long time.
After I’d been seeing Annie for about a year, I spent a week at a holistic health retreat. I walked in the rainforest and danced and laughed and cried and felt the swirl of life force energy in my body for the first time in forever. And after the retreat, some of the changes stuck – I began to drink less and stopped taking drugs and started meditating a little bit. That was pretty much the moment I started giving myself permission to move away from pain and towards things that gave me pleasure. It was also the moment I started to spend a little less time in my head and a little more time in my body.
Six months later, I moved to Singapore to work with a couple of smart, funny men who I genuinely like and respect. Although still working for a company I didn’t feel proud of, in an emotional and energetic office environment that often didn’t feel safe, the change of location gave me the chance to reset some life boundaries. I gradually stopped binge drinking and started doing yoga. I detoxed. I started meditating regularly. I explored Traditional Chinese Medicine, which finally gave me some relief from acute endometriosis. I had a lot of deep tissue bodywork. My intimate relationships were still a string of barely-controlled disasters, but the men became a little more kind. I began to make peace with the idea of a god-like force that might exist independently of organised religion. And yet I still hadn’t touched the grief and shame because it was tucked safely away, deep in my body.
At 37, I had my first emotional clearing process using The Journey: an NLP-based modality that helps release cellular memories from the body. I relived a forgotten childhood memory – the day I first learned it was possible my sister was seriously ill – and I felt deep sorrow. Although I didn’t recognise it at the time, that was the point of no return. I finally had a sense I’d been living in black and white – numbed out to pain, but also numbed out to joy – and that a technicoloured life was available, if I was prepared to choose it. The following year, I bought a little house in a health retreat in Thailand, as an ‘insurance policy’ in case I needed to quit my job. It was the first admission I might not last much longer in the corporate world.
At 39, I moved to London for work. I sat in a photo booth on a platform at Paddington Station on a cold September afternoon, winter looming over me, wondering what I’d done and why I’d come. This photo was taken that day. It’s a pretty accurate representation of my mood and energetic state in that moment.
I look like a ghost, because I wasn’t really there.
A month after I arrived in London, I went to my first weekend healing retreat to learn The Journey. I connected with a lot more grief and came away convinced that I needed to immerse myself in that work. So I dived in, joining and finishing the practitioner program in a year. At a week-long retreat, I re-experienced my parent’s car accident from my perspective as the unborn child. It helped me begin to realise how profoundly I was held hostage by my own fear and what a constant presence anxiety was in my life. After another week-long retreat, I found and released some of the guilt around my sister’s death. It had been stored in my neck as a kind of slow-release death vow. For a little while, the Journey community became like my family and I felt like I belonged somewhere.
When I’d done just enough Journey work to clear some of my survival fears, I began to find my corporate office unbearable. I felt sick every time I walked into the building. So I quit my job, leaving a month after my 40th birthday. I planned to take about six months to travel before returning to London and finding a different, more rewarding role with a new company.
Four months later (while staying in my little house in Thailand) some test results indicated my nervous system was fried and my body was close to collapse. I decided not to return to London. I also decided I was prepared to spend all my savings and as much time as necessary on my own healing – because I couldn’t be truly useful (to myself or anyone else) as long as the old fear-driven patterns were still in place. I thought it might take a couple of years to fully heal.
The next four years read like my own personal version of Eat, Pray, Love. At the end of 2011, I went to India on a sacred pilgrimage with a group of Journey practitioners. I dunked in the ice-blue-green Ganges near Rishikesh, melodramatically inviting Ma Ganga to “take it all, and leave only love”. (Note: this later proved to be a very foolish request because when issued that kind of invitation, those Hindu deities do not fuck around.) I kissed the sandals of a departed laughing guru in Lucknow, inhaled dead people in Varanasi and sat on the ground where the Buddha preached his first sermon after becoming enlightened. I fell in love with a long-dead Indian saint and spent a couple of months visiting the caves where he’d spent most of his life, melting into emptiness. I learned to do nothing but drink chai. I got very quiet, for a while.
The quiet didn’t last. I hooked up with a complicated sociopath – a charismatic, gifted healer and ex-special forces soldier who was full of grand stories and outrageous contradictions. He had a tricky relationship with the truth… and a death wish. After the first week, I never completely trusted him. But it took me a year to leave him.
Four weeks after we broke up, I went back to India to see my favourite saint and invite Lord Shiva to dance on my ego some more. My recently-ex boyfriend came to the same healing retreat. After 10 days of spiritual fireworks I finally realised I was terrified of him… and that I had to leave Thailand, because I needed to put several thousand kilometers between us.
So I rented out the little Thai house and came back to Australia. My mother let me stay with her, which turned into a year of me living in her spare room (thanks Mum). With help from a team of practitioners, I gradually recognised that my body was addicted to fear – hooked on cortisol and adrenaline and all the other drugs that get released when fear is present. That addiction had fuelled the attraction to the complicated sociopath, my ten-year love-hate relationship with my corporate career and my pathological fear of stillness and stopping.
When I read Sera Beak’s book Red Hot and Holy in 2013, I sobbed all the way through the chapters on spiritual bypassing. (Actually – I cried through most of the second half of that glorious book.) I saw that I’d been using my favourite talking and visualisation therapies to bypass the day-to-day reality of what was happening in my body. I recognised all the symptoms of soul loss and finally had a name for the “something is missing” sense that had stalked me forever – even after I’d spent a lot of time getting intimate with the infinite. It felt like I couldn’t heal my fear addiction using the tools I’d learned to abuse. It was time to get real, I thought.
So I entered a 12-week intensive program with a woman in Australia and for three months, I was in process 24/7. I did 20 minutes of rebirthing (conscious connected breathing) every morning and night. I uncovered aspects of my shadow that were more frightening than anything I’d seen before… and then I painted pictures of them. I had wild dreams of death by fire. But the program still wasn’t the silver bullet I was looking for. By the end, I wasn’t enlightened (or even particularly happy, most of the time).
Shortly before that program ended, I fell in love. Cam gave me nowhere to hide because he could feel what I was thinking. It was the first time I’d allowed myself to be vulnerable with a man. In 2014, we went on an adventure. I sold my little house in Thailand and we moved to San Francisco. He pursued his dream of creating a technology platform to help people change the world. I picked up three or four different business ideas in the space of a couple of months and dropped them all – nothing would stick. We drove through the California redwood forests to Portland for the World Domination Summit. I started writing the tinybrave blog.
And two weeks later I went to Montana for the Soul Fire retreat with Sera Beak. I got hitched, shit my pants a little bit, found my voice and fell into a completely different kind of love affair – with my soul. Later that year, Cam went back to America and I stayed in Australia. Ever since, I’ve had to drop – again and again – any illusion that I was ever in control of my life. It’s a painful and exquisitely beautiful path of surrender.
By 2015, I really thought I’d arrived somewhere (spiritually speaking). I found the self-directed compassion tools that I use now and trained as a practitioner, including lots of 1:1 session work. Every week for a year, I flushed out and processed memories that felt like past lives. I finally had my spiritual shit together, apparently.
I had no idea that the darkest dark nights were yet to come.
Much of what I lived through over the next five years is so outlandish that if I wrote it as a screenplay for a fantasy sci-fi film, it’d be rejected on the grounds it was too unbelievable. Dancing with true and false light, including having fake Jesus and Magdalene blow smoke up my spiritual ego’s ass for a year. Remembering some of the ongoing relationship that extraterrestrial beings have had with this planet, while learning from an indigenous medicine man in Central Australia. A relationship with a spiritual teacher who I eventually came to recognise as both a narcissist and a predator, from which I escaped once again to my mother’s house (thanks Mum). Finally remembering an ancient pattern of servitude to an empire represented by Hollywood as fictional archetypes (see Star Wars, Star Trek’s Borg and The Devil’s Advocate) but active for real in this world and especially in corporate America. Getting punched in the head at 6am on a quiet suburban street by a man possessed, which prompted a deeper dive into the pre-natal “I’m not safe” trauma imprint still held in my cells (and prompted me to take kung fu classes).
What I didn’t anticipate was the suppressed, unacknowledged grief I would need to acknowledge and encounter about what evil – those forces that are anti-life and work to suppress life force in others – has done to me and to this planet. The realisation of what I had done to myself was even more devastating, because of what I’ve tolerated and how I’ve colluded with evil in order to survive. My daily reality now often includes the phrase: what would allow more life here?
And through it all, my soul was there. Finally. With me. Loving me. Even when I couldn’t see/hear/feel it.
Which means the past five years have also contained many of my happiest moments, which are far more ordinary than the kind of spiritual fireworks I used to believe were most valuable. Like the first time my baby niece locked eyes with me. Every time I walk with my sister on the white sand beach of our childhood. Realising that people use the word “empath” because not everyone feels what other people are feeling (I seriously thought everyone had that, until quite recently). And then falling apart while giving the eulogy at my grandfather’s funeral, crying and choked up yet overjoyed because I hadn’t shut down and I could still feel everything.
Right now, despite everything going on in the world, I’m doing well. By listening to my soul when it nudges me to take seemingly counter-intuitive steps that make no sense to my mind, I’ve built a life that contains space – inside and out. I live in the country surrounded by trees and birds, near most of my family and the beach I loved as a child. I have interesting, flexible work that draws on my corporate experience while allowing for experimentation with new offerings of my healing gifts. I’m learning to love inhabiting my body. And I have an active online social life, checking in with soul family around the world on a regular basis to marvel at the latest crazy turn this upside-down reality has taken. It really is a grand time to be human.
Thank you for reading my story. I share some of it because of the chance that for someone, it might suggest that a path to healing is possible – even if that seems hopeless. If you’re interested in my work you can check out private sessions, the group calls for super-sensitive humans or book an informal chat to see if I’m the best person to support you, right now. And if we never get to speak, I wish you the best life has to offer.