All of my life I’ve been a runner.
Not the short distance sprinter, firing out of the blocks with great gusto. More the Forest Gump kind. Setting off on an unknown whim one day, only to be brought to an abrupt halt many years later as I faced the breaking down of my body, the very thing that was carrying me along my journey.
Of course I am speaking metaphorically. I hate running. But for someone to dislike something so intensely, it was ironic that I had perfected it so well in the cognitive and emotional aspects of myself. In fact I was so good at it I began to stop noticing that I was doing it at all.
The truth is that for a large part of my life I have suffered from crippling anxiety. It was nothing that people external too me would find that obvious, for I buried it deep, or deep enough that I didn’t have to suffer the “shame” of people labelling me as an anxious person. Each decision I made was calculated according to the level of vulnerability it required me to expose; for the ultimate fear of anyone suffering anxiety is the realisation of abandonment, rejection or death in any of the forms they can manifest themselves in.
For a woman and mother such as myself, what results from this way of being is a life that can be perceived as utterly fulfilling and ‘normal’. The desire to achieve and to create abundance for those we love becomes the foundation for which all of your life decisions are drawn from. All in the hope of running far enough ahead of the abandonment, rejection or death that feels as though it is keeping pace behind you.
But the fallout from this way of existing is immense. I may have been keeping a steady pace along the road, but instead of looking up and enjoying the view, or following the path to where I wanted to journey, my head was down. The direction I was heading in was not based on decisions from my heart, but from overwhelming fear of what was behind me.
And who knows, maybe this is your life? Maybe it doesn’t look exactly like your life, but it’s still your life. Perhaps it’s the reflection of absent intimate relationships, or the pressure of your partner needing to fill the absence of any previous ones. Perhaps it’s the lack of ever being loving, present and intimate with yourself? Or it might be the longed for children that had to be pulled from your body during the labour you never surrendered to. You might see the over compensating love you pour into your child’s overflowing cup, need they ever see your empty one. Perhaps its seeking perfection in a career which bears no revealing of your true self, your feelings or desires, whilst daring to never love the children you do or do not have. Perhaps it is the nagging guilt of having a healthy family and comfortable home and gorgeous things and God “I can’t be this lucky for this long…something bad is going to happen because I have all of this”. Or “Hang on, I can’t enjoy this just yet, let me build up the veggie garden so we are completely self-sufficient and what was that parenting book I was Googling last week? I still haven’t started exercising (not to lose weight of course, just to be a bit fitter) or I’m still trying to get my partner to really see me (but not so much that I have to see myself)”. Or maybe it’s just the hot tingling panic that spreads through your veins and strangles the bowels of your stomach till the room is spinning and you can’t breathe and surely this is death coming to rip you away from those that you love. But it’s alright everyone, Mum is in charge, as you bellow “JUST KEEP UP AND KEEP RUNNING”…..Maybe you are some of this…maybe you are all of it.
In hindsight, my running career began to unravel the moment that my husband first saw me cry with my heart gaping wide open. My eldest son was a few months old and perhaps it was the transformation of birth that enabled me to expose myself to him in this moment. What I quietly whispered, just soft enough to make it audible, was the deeply rooted and consuming fear of one day not being with my children. The crumbling terror that was born from the idea of the death of myself or my children had finally surfaced from the small, vulnerable girl within and out into the world for another person to bear witness too.
And the beauty of speaking words and placing them outside of your body is that we then have the opportunity to face what is painful and hard and terrifying in life, so that we can consciously grow and heal as women, as mothers and as human beings. When we recognise life’s moments to stop, look behind us and face the demon who is keeping pace behind us, then our growth and the growth of those that we love can be determined by ourselves, rather than receiving the almighty sledgehammer that life throws down when we don’t see the opportunity to face our fears.
Because what are we if we do not sit in the pain and discomfort of life? What happens if we do not stop running? We are stunted, we do not grow. We become the straggling cherry blossom in the front garden of our homes with the potential for such beauty that becomes nothing but withered and small. The tree may begin to war against the beauty of the blossom next to it, which stands strong, and faces the winds and rain. For when we bring consciousness to what we run from, we realise that no matter how lashing and cold the storms maybe, it is the wind that strengthens the trunk of the tree and the rain that nourishes the roots that sink deep into the earth. If the struggling blossom refuses to face the gentle breeze that blows, or the light rain that moistens its roots, there arrives a storm that is pure terror and ugliness in its form. It comes in the smell of your husbands burning skin on an isolated mountain top, or the children who left your body too early as you writhe in pain on the bathroom floor, blood pouring down your legs with each contraction. It comes in the terror of your 8 month old baby crying tears of pain as its bruised and bleeding body is cradled in your arms, he’s body slowly internally bleeding. Or the storm is the blood curdling terror of your 4year old as he is pinned to the operating table for emergency brain surgery for bleeding you were in denial of, from a cyst you had no idea existed, wondering if he will wake up and come back to you as he once was.
Finally, if you are me, if you are still refusing to surrender and sit in the discomfort and fear of what you are running from, you may walk into an emergency department, your body ravaged with terror and mind breaking down to the point of hallucination. The very demon of abandonment and death that I had created in my mind all of those years ago had finally caught me in the race. And after running for so many years, one foot in front of the other, away from the very essence of myself, my body would no longer run for me. It was tired. I was tired. I no longer recognised any of my surroundings; I didn’t know how I had gotten to where I was. The classic nervous breakdown I heard someone say. I begged for death at that point. It would be kinder to myself and my children than to live like this.
In hindsight, it’s hard to measure the extent of how all of the exact moments in our lives contribute to the journey we end up taking. Perhaps various memories are more weighted than others, or the combination of a few together is enough to make us take a right turn instead of a left. But I knew in the moment of being forced to sit with the demon from which I ran, that I had created a running race that was built on the guilt and shame that the vulnerable young girl in me carried. It is something we all have chasing us at some point. Sometimes I see it behind you, I see you cowering from it when we pass each other on the school run, or in the coffee shop, or waiting in line at the supermarket. We might briefly dart our eyes and smile downwards to each other, life’s “business” getting in the way of the “shame” and “guilt” conversation we do not have.
So how does a runner win the unwinnable race? I had to sit in love with everything that my demon had brought me, which in the face of the physical, mental and emotional suffering of your children is no small feat. Any mother would acknowledge the absolute enormity of this. I had to sit in the presence of my child with his bald head and healing scars and let tears of utter sorrow flow, knowing that I could not take this for him, I could only love him through his experience. This for me was the moment of surrender I had been running from all of my life. In it I realised that love is truly enough and love is truly all that there is, even in the presence of illness and trauma and death. With the surrender and opening of my heart with the love that I had feared to ever let myself feel before, flowed rivers of connection to everything that surrounded me. And with this comes the realisation that we are all a part of the same whole. Fear, abandonment, rejection and death are all an illusion. We are born and we die on many levels, every day, but still we continue to be a part of the same whole, if only we have the courage to step into it.
You may think what would have happened if I had lost children? Mothers live with the absolute horror of losing their children every day, all over the world. For me I had to acknowledge I would see them in me, in the shape of my hands or the colour of my skin. I would feel them in the space of my womb from which they grew and I would feel them within myself as I lived a life of freedom from what I had run from, each one of them having gifted me the opportunity to transcend my greatest fears. I would have to live a life that held displayed great humbleness for the gifts they had given me. As my 5 year old often likes to mention… “Its all part of the cycle mum”. It is no accident that our children draw us in to truly face our greatest fears. So if we are to draw no meaning from their experiences, from their suffering, from our experiences, from our suffering, then what an absolute waste it has all been. And I love them too much to let it all be for nothing.
So to the woman running the race next to me, who is trying to find her way back home? Know that you can find your way back. Know that the journey begins with facing the demon that runs behind you, built on the imagination of the small girl within you. Know that to make the journey back to you, you have all you need to do this, for love is truly enough and love is truly all that there is. It begins with loving yourself deeply, openly and intimately enough to rid yourself of the shame and guilt you carry.
And you will find your way home.
And you will hang up your running shoes.
Sofie is a Loathing to Loving Member and a guest blogger.
Sofie is a wife, mother and Registered Nurse living on the Mornington Peninsula. After seeking a career helping others experiencing their own suffering, she awoke one day to realise she had completely avoided navigating her own Heroines' Journey. Sofie is passionate about the role that the feminine aspects of our psyche can play in assisting the navigation of life's great ascents and descents, whilst understanding how the connection to the subconscious layer of ourselves through myth and metaphor can facilitate the integration of ourselves as we move towards wholeness.