Time and time again, I would seek to understand what the meaning of life was. Searching the recesses of my mind asking myself “Who am I? Why do I operate the way that I do? What is my purpose?”. The questions may not always look so deep and meaningful they may have been quite negative, more like “why am I such an idiot?” Or “why me?”. I spend a good portion of my life feeling sorry for myself, blaming my outer circumstances on growing up in housing commission, experiencing abuse and the effects of mental illness and addiction within myself, my community and family.
I wanted more than what I was seeing around me. I knew it was possible. There was evidence suggesting the possibility of change - I had heard Oprah Winfrey’s story and I knew it had to be possible (for the record, Oprah’s story was a lot more complex than the very basic version I knew when I was a teen which was that Oprah grew up in poverty, was abused as a kid and somehow managed to not only break that cycle but become one of the most powerful women in the world). Back then we didn’t have access to information in the way that we do now. I knew the basics of Oprah’s story but I didn’t know the details. I didn’t know the steps she took or the ways that she operated or the mentors she had or her mindset or anything. I didn’t know the how. So I just had to hold onto the hope that if she could do it, I could do it too. I would just have to figure out the rest. It makes me glad that we can now hear other’s stories in things like podcasts where we can really go deep into how growth happens.
The figuring out how took a long time for me. In fact, as with many people who are surrounded by the very examples of what they don’t want to be, I became just like them. I remember knowing from an early age that ‘you become like the people you associate with’ but I don’t have any recollection of how or why I knew that. I just knew it. However, I was a teenager and I couldn’t relate to kids my age who were ‘normal’. The idea that while I was worried about how I was going to pay my electricity bill they were worried about getting in trouble over not doing their homework just put a gap between us as large as the Grand Canyon. They could never understand what I was going through, they would never be able to understand why I felt the way that I did. At the same time, others who were struggling too at least could relate to me. They were usually about five years older than me (or more), and I didn’t feel like I had to ‘compete’ because I was so much younger. The expectations were lower. I had this thing in the back of my head saying that I needed to find people who would bring me up, bring out the best in me, inspire me and grow me but I had no idea where to find those people. All I really knew is that I hated my life and most of the time I hated myself as well.
I thought (as many people do) that the recipe for success was to get a good education, get a good job, find a good man, buy a good house, make good babies (or lots of money). If I could do this, then I might be happy. Then I might be worth something. Then I might be worthy of friends who were happy and well adjusted because I will have earnt my place at the table. The only problem with that theory was that it was incorrect and based on some pretty shaky foundations. You could do all of those things and still be a serial killer right? Well then how could that guarantee my worth? Turns out it didn’t; I had ticked all those boxes before I turned 24. I played the right parts, I wore the right face, I earnt the money, owned the house and birthed an amazing little boy. However, I still hated myself. I had no purpose, no self worth and no f*cking idea what to do next.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table with a knife in my hand. My son was in his bedroom up the other end of the hallway, asleep, and I was sitting there convincing myself that he would be better off without me. I was awful you see. Not worthy of love, not worthy of anything and not worthy of being his mother. Through all of the achievements I had still managed to carry this tortuous burden of self hatred. So the recipe clearly did not work. I am very grateful that I didn’t possess the ability to follow through what would have been a dreadful mistake.
It was only after I got sober, attended lots of 12 step meetings, and got some intensive counselling and really did the work that I came to find a new respect for myself. I had to get out of the way. I had to stop telling myself that it was the next big thing that would make me happy. I had to stop making problems for myself. I had to stop waiting for proof that I was worth something. I had to stop thinking that who I was was tied into what I had done, or what I owned or what I had achieved because who I am is none of those things.
“I’m not what I do, or where I’m at in life,
I’m not how I look ‘cos that changes all the time”... (lyrics to my song ‘More’)
I had discovered who I wasn’t. I just didn’t know who I was.
Elkhart Tolle talks about this stage in his book “A New Earth”. He talks about the discovery of all the things you are not, and in that discovery how you can find who you really are, which is none of those things and even more intriguing that you are not your thoughts. That had never occurred to me, but it makes perfect sense. How can I be my thoughts when I am aware of them? I am the (thing/being/spirit/whatever) that is aware of those thoughts. If that didn’t just bend your mind I don’t know what will.
This was interesting to me on a few levels. First and foremost, this idea that my thoughts are not me, thus my thoughts on what I have or don’t have are also not me, nor are the thoughts anyone else has me either. All these labels, he says are the work of the ego. The ego is depicted as the small self. The small ‘I’. Which I totally get. My ego is the one going off at someone refusing me entry into a lane of traffic. My larger self or higher self or ‘real me’, is the one who notices me behaving like that and observes it. It’s then easy for my ego to trick me into then beating myself up for behaving like that, but that again is the ego too. Becoming aware of this mental activity, this incessant noise, is one of the first signs of your spiritual evolution. Thank God, because I thought it was simply going crazy.
Self hatred can only come when you don’t know who you really are. When you are mis-identified with the things that you are not. You are not the sum of what other people think of you. You are not what you have done, or what you will do or have or where you’re at. The only way that you will discover the truth of who you really are is by letting all of that stuff go and learning how to move past the distractions and behaviours that distract us from listening to our higher self. Sometimes that takes getting help, going deep, digging and doing the work to get clarity, to develop inner peace and to come to know stillness. But it is there, under all the layers and voices that say that you’re not enough where you find that still small voice who tells you that who you really are and that that person (spirit, being) is enough and worthy of loving. It can be uncomfortable figuring out how to get there but that place is your home. The one place outside of time and space that doesn’t exist in the physical world - but it still a place of belonging and worth and stillness and it is everywhere you go.
You might not be in a place in your life that you’re proud of right now but that place isn’t you. You are more than that. You just have to find your way home.
Some suggestions if you are feeling lost;
Oprahs Supersoul Sunday (lots of different amazing people explaining lots of different spiritual principals so if the first one really doesn’t resonate you can find another one).
Find a spiritual community to belong to (church group, organisation even group therapy).
Find a mentor (someone who has what you want who is willing to help you to get it).
If drugs or alcohol are a big issue try AA or NA or a similar style 12 step group
Try to surround yourself with spiritually healthy people (you can tell them by their lack of judgement, general state of gratitude and positive nature). Even someone who is a little better at managing life than you is better than surrounding yourself with people on the same page - you want to grow then find people who will stretch you.
The main thing is to stop striving for approval. It’s easy to think that your purpose is some super huge goal that everyone is going to be in awe of and that if you’re not well on your way there then you’re failing miserably but what I believe is our collective purpose is to embark on the journey of self discovery, deeper meaning and self love because when we arrive at self love, we engage in self care and care for others and then all of our resources and mental ability comes to life and we begin to live our purpose before we even realise it.