Posted in Be The Change

I’m not scared of dying…I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

I am a strong, authentic woman who really does make an effort every day to show up congruently with courage and vulnerability.  And most of the time I believe that I am doing a pretty good job in that department.  I place personal development high on my list of priorities, as it makes me a better woman, partner, friend, coach, businesswoman and leader.  And yet there are just some things that are difficult to deal with…this week was one of those times.

Since getting sober, I also started to get well.  This means taking care of my physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual wellness.  So as part of this I take myself off for the advised annual check ups.  The stuff that we all dread, and sometimes because of that we slip into some sort of denial and postpone and delay.  However, I do believe in the marvels of modern medicine and have had a couple of health scares in the past so I make the appointments and hold myself accountable for my own (physical) health.  Alright, it takes me a bit of persuasion to get to the gym regularly…

My last few mammogram experiences have been a little scary, because of the last three before this one there were growths and I had to undergo an FNA (fine needle aspiration) on two occasions.  And erring on the side of caution my doctor recommended that it’s better to know rather than not.  And both times the results were benign and on we went.  This year when I went back, there had been a bit of growth in the lumps and the doctor suggested that I undergo the FNA once again.

The words lumps, too much vascular activity, growth and lab testing immediately creates all sorts of fear.  No matter which way I tried to look at it I was scared.  When I arrived the following day the doctor called me into his consulting room.  For me being called into someone’s office creates all sorts of anxiety and has since I was a young child.  The strange thing is that I have never really been in trouble with any sort of authority figure over the years.  Even seeing the metro police stopping drivers on the side of a highway makes me double check whether I have my seat belt on and glance at my license disk.

So in my pink hospital gown, he informed me that they were going to perform a core biopsy because he was concerned about the growths and wanted a definitive answer on whether there was a problem.  I like to think that I can sense people’s general energy and I was pretty sure I was feeling something verging on genuine worry.  I’m not going to go into details about the procedure other than to say the medical staff were loving, kind and supportive throughout.  Okay, my brain was not happy about what was happening, but 5mg of Valium and I was back on track.

The thing about any sort of investigative procedure is that the tissue samples (in this case) need to go to the pathology lab and that means waiting.  And that’s the worst part of it all.  Monday to Wednesday this week were horrendously emotional.  I vacillated between overwhelming fear and enormous strength.  There were moments when I was already dead at the hand of some aggressive form of breast cancer and others when I was quite logical and present and exploring what my next steps might be if the tumours were in fact malignant as I was medically advised they might be.

There were times when I felt as though there was no way anything of this kind was going to be my story and others when I felt emotionally hopeless and unable to control the tears.  I know how to bring myself into a present, grounded state of being…it’s all part of my personal work.  And yet there were hours over the week where I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, unable to breathe or think.

The truth is I have always been scared of death and it’s something I really don’t like to think about at all.  So when faced with a situation like this which brings mortality front and centre, I am confronted with my single greatest fear.  I get it – we all die.  But if I got one wish I am clear that I would ask to live for 1,000 years.  I reckon by that time I would have done and seen everything I want to.  It’s not adult or reasonable, but hey.  There’s a Woody Allen quote that has stuck with me since I heard it in high school, “I’m not scared of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

So it’s not the thought of being sick or weak that bothers me, it’s just that thought that after that there is nothing.  And while all these thoughts are careening around in my head, I have already made up the end of the story for everyone I love.  How they move on without me and get on with their lives.  This is of course exactly what I want from my tribe if I am not around, yet I feel immense sadness that it could happen.  I’ve made my partner promise to honour my life in that case by getting on with his, and the thought of this makes me cry just thinking about it.  So this was my week, with all sorts of waves of sadness, fear, anger and anxiety.  Interspersed with moments of calm where I am so focused on wellness and strength that there is nothing that is going to get me.  No matter what the outcome.

I don’t really sleep; I can’t really eat (that’s an extremely rare thing for me); I don’t want to be alone; I cannot focus on work!

I am a not a person who sees the worst-case scenario normally, but as you can hear this was not one of these instances.

And after a few calls back and forth with the doctor’s assistant, I get the call to say that although I do have tumours in my breast and they have frightening, impossible-to-say names, they are in fact benign.  And that was the second time in my life I nearly fainted.  The relief that ran through my body and mind was intense.  I cannot explain how uncertainty is my biggest trigger other than to say there is nothing that puts me more into my flight-fight-freeze state than not knowing.  This is where my personal work is…

I need to be present and grounded in my life to achieve the things I want to achieve.  I need to be mindful and responsive if I want to get the most out of my personal and professional space.  So I work towards a quiet mindfulness and presence in my life, and when I am not able to achieve that then I do take the opportunity to learn from the experience.

So, today I am so grateful that I am healthy and that I am able to move forward.  I am grateful for the people in my life that have loved and supported me this week.  Times like this remind me of how loved I am and how many wonderful people I have in my life.  This is a time for me to refocus and move forward in a present and mindful way, remembering to pause and breathe when life gives me challenges to learn and grow from.

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Posted in Be The Change

Cross my heart! Hope to die? Stick a needle in my anxiety!?

I’ve been living with anxiety for as long as I can remember…and it sucks!! I’ve read the books, listened to the podcasts, incorporated the tools into my life, and the list goes on. I understand anxiety and I can talk about it in all sorts of different ways and yet when I wake up on one of “those mornings” almost nothing I know, understand or have learned equips me to deal with the feeling. As my eyes open I feel the steely grip of it around my stomach and the mechanical wings of robotic butterflies hammering against my chest. The thing is there isn’t always a reason as to why I should wake up to greet the day with the slightly acidic taste of vomit in the back of my throat, but hey, there it is!!

And no matter how I think or try to ground myself I am like a trigger-ball just waiting to snap at something and spiral into the depths of despair for no other reason than I am awake and the world is out to get me! Logical – No! Real – Yes! I have done the work around my disorder and have a plethora of tools and methodologies to use when it strikes, but when it’s a really bad attack nothing that I seem to know is enough to get me back into a space where I am able to tap into the wisdom, logic and executive thought processes of my prefrontal cortex – the part of my brain where all the good stuff happens. I know what it feels like to “flip my lid” as Daniel Siegel explains and go into that part of the brain where I am being held captive by my amygdala in a state of fight, flight or freeze. I have the “mindsight” to see what’s going on and yet my brain goes into runaway-train mode and I feel like a helpless heroine from a 1920’s train robbery silent movie.

And over the years it’s got better with all the personal work and learning I have done, consciously and consistently incorporating practices into my life to keep me present, grounded and tapped into pre-frontal part of the brain where I am thinking like a rational and reasonable human, and not reacting like an impala under attack by a pride of lions. And still there are days when the the world closes in around me and I am slave to the neurological processes of my ever-complicated grey matter!

What I am not trying to do here is excuse the fact that I become irrational, unreasonable and completely over-emotional in these times. The period between these attacks has got longer with the more practices and tools I use, but still it happens. And in these times not only am I freaked out and impossible, but I have a severely negative impact on the people around me. I become needy and seek affirmation and assurance from anyone within a twenty metre radius, but don’t necessarily believe the words that I hear. It’s really just a nasty emotional quagmire to be in!

And yet I never stop looking for ways to calm my brain and psyche, and develop new behaviour that is supportive of me being in a present, grounded space in my life. Among other things I exercise regularly, follow a healthy sleep and recovery regimen, eat a very balanced and nutritious diet, abstain from alcohol, narcotics and nicotine, journal, do plenty of personal spiritual, emotional and mental work, and follow a number of intellectual pursuits of a personal and professional nature. I am fully aware of my triggers and have a strong system, structure and scheduling process in my life. So it’s not like I am not aware of what needs to be done. The purpose of all of this is to support my well-being and personal recovery, and to ensure that my anxiety is under control on an ongoing basis, and yet I still get struck by the horrible debilitating disorder periodically!

Well, that was until fairly recently…let’s call it a month! And then I was introduced to the wonders of Acudetox otherwise known as sticking needles into one’s ears!? A method of using acupressure points in the ear to detoxify the body and enhance well-being. The reason I was interested to begin with was to help me wean off my prescription of Wellbutrin which could possibly have run its course and actually be adding to the anxiety, although there is no definitive evidence of this and confusing wording like “research suggests…”. On the morning of my first treatment I was having one of “those days” crippled by insecurity and my special brand of crazy thinking. When I get like this it’s like being an astronaut whose become disconnected from the spacecraft, floating around in the ether without any communication or oxygen, and knowing where I need to get to, but being unable to do so. I’m flailing in mid air, fighting the zero-gravity effect and feeling helpless!

So I arrived in a tearful and panicked state. All I really want in these times is to be able to pause and get back into a state of presence and calm, where I can reason, rationalise and respond to my life. I shared the space with my partner who is severely impacted when I am trapped in the anxiety spiral, and the practitioner quietly put the needles into my ears and then left me to sit for 45 minutes. I could feel the anxiety slipping out of my body as the minutes ticked by. To be honest merely being able to sit still when I am so anxious was a feat in itself, but something was happening. I could feel my prefrontal cortex coming back online so to speak and the irrational thoughts and fears ebbing away.

When the time was up and she had removed the needles I still felt the residual effects of my morning – it’s like an emotional hangover when I have a really bad bout. And although the rest of the day I still felt raw and uneasy, the following morning I woke up in a completely different space and time. There was nothing in my stomach or my chest…just a wonderfully peaceful empty feeling. And it was in that waking that I realised that even when I am not in full-blown attack mode, I actually live with the feelings of being anxious on a daily basis…it’s just my normal. Over the past fours weeks my world has changed considerably.

Although I have fleeting feelings of anxiety, my days are far more centred and manageable, and I have been having weekly sessions with the Acu-Angel.  I have been more present, grounded and calm than I have been in ages, even with a chaotic job and a lot of pressure in my life. I am dealing with my triggers more effectively and handling my stress in a far healthier way, and all has been well. Until through unforeseen circumstances I missed my last appointment and along with a special set of stressful circumstances, I had a day!! A horrible, dysfunctional day where nothing I did would keep my in the space of being a responsive, thoughtful woman. And it was in that day when I undid so much of the good I’d done in the previous weeks, I realised just how powerful the treatment I have been receiving is.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that anything works in isolation. I don’t think that taking meds and sitting on the couch is going to create mental health and well-being, or that going to the gym will get me a great body if I don’t do anything else. I am sure that a combination of practices, habits and behaviour is what is needed to be in a state of holistic wellness. But wow! With all the work I have done over the years, I feel as though acudetox is the thread that pulls it all together. Because while I can be cerebral about my life and what needs to be done, it feels now as though there is something chemical and physical that the needles are taking care of. I don’t know enough to be able to fully explain it, but the feeling of aliveness, energy, well-being, peace and presence I have experienced over the past month or so is nothing short of miraculous for me!

Of course I will continue to use the sessions along with my practices and processes, but the combination is returning all sorts of incredible dividends. My days are calmer and more focused, my sense of self is more realistic and loving, my personal relationship is stronger and happier (as is my partner), and there is a new level of clarity and responsiveness in my professional space. So although I did have an atrocious day on Saturday, and there is some damage control to be done, I am relieved that if I continue with my treatment, these days will eventually be nothing more than a memory as I move into an exciting new chapter in my personal and professional life, free of the shackles that have held me back for what really feels like forever…

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We offer acudetox sessions at The Foundation Clinic, Oaklands with registered practitioner Kim Margolius every Thursday morning.

For more information about rates and to book a session, please contact Leigh-Anne on (010)900-3131 or email leigh-anne@thefoundationclinic.co.za

Posted in Life Coaching

On Particularly Rough Days…

I am  actively working on myself…and have been for some time because what I know to be true is that there is no end point to the work that I am doing.  No final destination or goal that can be achieved where I get to sit back and say that I have accomplished what I set out to do in my personal work.  The truth is that the more work we do, the more I realise there is to be done.  Okay, maybe calling it work makes it’s sound like a required tedium.  I love the process of getting to focus and experiment on myself – even when it’s difficult.

This afternoon I was having a quiet, pensive conversation with a friend of mine who is a true inspiration to me and has been an essential part of my spiritual, emotional and mental growth over the years.  The conversation was about important things that are going on in our lives, not just a chat about the weather, and we inevitably started talking about where we with ourselves and our more challenging situations.  The word acceptance kept coming up from my side of the conversation.  Acceptance about where I am in my life with regards to a couple of personal financial challenges that I have been facing.  Because the thing is that I am being extremely proactive in building my business and creating new opportunities in the work that I do.  It’s not like I am sitting on my couch and waiting for business to fall into my lap.

My Wheel of Life looks amazing at the moment.  Well except for that like wedge labeled “financial”, but that’s where the acceptance is being practiced (or is it tested) at the moment.  Acceptance in the fact that the situation is not permanent, and it’s definitely not personal (one of the habits/skills I am focusing on learning and deepening).  And also practicing the spiritual principles of faith and believing that the hard work will pay off.  That like my recovery, my body transformation and my relationship, consistency is the key to success.  Well one of them anyway.  That if I follow my path with courage and passion, the rewards will follow!?

I’m not talking of financial success, but wealth that is measured in other innumerable ways.  Riches that comprise of gratitude, love, acceptance, wisdom and understanding are actually abundant in my professional and personal life.  But there are times that I find the world a very complex, confusing place and then I start to forget that wealth and success are not merely about money and financial stability, but also about the universal truths of integrity, honesty, compassion and kindness.  That success is about honouring my values of education, knowledge, service, connection and adventure, in a way that touches the lives of the people that I work with.  That being given the privilege of holding a space for those who are ready to find their true voice and live with courageous vulnerability, is nothing short of a daily gift.

And yet I get caught up in the challenges of daily life and forget to be grateful for the remarkable space I get to work in.  Where I get to work and walk with people who are reinventing themselves, their relationships and their purpose in life.  Those seeking out their true sense of self so that they can move forward with congruent integrity.  I get to learn about lives that are so different from mine and no amount of reading could ever bring me the knowledge and insight I get from being part of my clients’ processes.  These are the blessings that I need to remind myself of when I am feeling overwhelmed by the business of life.

I never profess to be some sort of expert in the field of human behaviour, able to apply all the learning and tools to my own life in an effortless way.  My personal process is a collection of triumphs and challenges, situations that go swimmingly and others that teeter on the brink of disastrous.  At times I can be as present and centered as an enlightened being, only to be knocked out of my moment by something completely trivial.  And then spend ages trying to refocus and breathe in a way that resembles normal.  The reason I am saying this is because what I do believe is that there are no experts when it comes to how to live life.  There are just those who are much much better at it than use mere mortals…the Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and other such spiritual masters being on the high end of the “I get this life thing” continuum.

I have had hysterical calls in the middle of the night from people who present very differently in their professional lives as business people, lawyers, executives and leaders, and their lives or those of their loved ones are in in a state of messy.  What this has shown me is that we are all just people trying to make sense of the inexplicable situations that life throws at us at times.  And we may be equipped with all sorts of skills, tools, practices and habits, but that doesn’t mean we hit the mark with our behaviour every time things go awry.  It’s one thing to observe and assist in other peoples’ lives and a completely different situation when it is happening to us.  So I have to remember that humility is an essential spiritual ingredient in my personal and professional life.

Because in my own life I don’t get to be the coach, I just get to be the woman.  That I also get triggered and scared, and there are things that upset my equilibrium.  Just because I know how which tools and methods to use when feeling upset, angry and reactive doesn’t mean I always get it “right”.  There are times that I lose my temper, react rather than respond, and even say something mean and thoughtless.  And just like everyone else I have to take myself back into the situation after losing my shit and apologise for being insensitive or irrational.  In fact often knowing what I should have done makes screwing it up even harder.  But that’s the inner critic coming out to have a loud word in my ear!

I guess what I am trying to say is that I really am just trying to navigate through this world as best I can.  That there are days when I just don’t get it… Days when I find people and communication complex and confounding.  Days when I want to slip under my bed and pretend that I am hiding from a fire-spewing dragon.  Days when even my best efforts end up not working out like I had hoped or planned, all communication missing the mark and pretty much it all just being a huge SNAFU!  And it is on these days in particular where I need to stay in my authentic self and just let the chips fall where they may, even if that is in a big messy pile all around me.  Only then can I start to catch my breath and my bearings and decide on the way forward.  Where maybe I have to shallow my pride and take responsibility around the part I have  played in the dysfunction.

I’m not saying that this is an everyday event, but what I am trying say is that it happens.  No one has a perfect score card when it comes to good days!  And on particularly rough days when I’m sure I can’t possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100%. And that’s pretty good.

Rough Days

 

Posted in Be The Change

You’re Just too Good to be True!?

Call Valentine’s Day whatever you like, but I have to be honest that I like a little bit of romance…  Of course, I don’t think we should wait for the price of roses and teddy bears to increase 1000% in order to be able to show our person that we love them, but I really love the idea of a day that’s all about love.  I genuinely believe that the world would be a better place if we spent more time engaged in love; self-love, romantic love, love for friends, family and colleagues; but for now, let’s talk about the romantic, intimate kind of love that we all seem to be so focused on so much of our lives.

Memories and moments are created around love…first love, first kiss, first date, not necessarily in that order.  Birthdays, weddings, funerals and anniversaries are essentially a celebration of love and connection.  And almost every song I’ve ever heard has been about some kind of love…  But what is it to truly be loved?

I’m no expert in the matter, having spent much of my twenties and all of my thirties as a single-something.  There’s was other stuff going on in my life at the time, like travel, drinking, adventure, drinking, partying and drinking, and that’s not the ideal situation in which to find true love as I learned.  I fell in love many Friday nights, only to see that maybe that’s not exactly what it was in the stark light of a hungover Saturday morning.  And so passed the time.  With me always secretly hoping that just one of those encounters would develop into something – anything – resembling a real, loving relationship.  But alas that was not to be my rom-com happy ending.

And for many years that was where my ideas of love and romance were born – by watching movies.  I also stopped drinking when I was 35 and then any interaction with the opposite sex was whittled down to some very nervous, awkward conversations and exchanges as I relearned to socialise without the help of alcohol.  Never one for half measures I chose sexual celibacy while I worked on myself and how I’d like to show up in my next relationship.  I was later to learn that the only way to get relationship-fit is to be in a relationship and that five years of celibacy is more caustically referred to as being sexually anorexic…not profound personal development as I thought.

What I did do during that time was to really think about what I was looking for from a partner.  The kind of guy that I wanted to share space and time with, and who I was prepared to be vulnerable, authentic and congruent with.  And around 40 I met a guy who I thought was that guy, but after three years I realised that I was never going to be his priority and there were a dozen things that came before me on the emotional, mental, social, spiritual and physical to-do list.  I walked away at the right time after fighting to be seen for the last 12 months of the relationship and am exceptionally grateful to him for the lessons I learned.  One of the biggest was that being really seen by the person that said “I love you” was a non-negotiable for me.  And I mean really seen…

I learned that I needed to be considered, the be respected, to be prioritised and to be acknowledged.  Not simply by words, but most definitely in actions.  With my love languages of quality time and acts of service that means I’d rather he stood with me and cooked dinner after doing the grocery shopping than buying me an expensive meal.  And the most life-changing lesson I learned was about self-love, because if we don’t love ourselves then how can we possibly ask and expect someone else to love us.  It’s really difficult to love someone who doesn’t see their worth and what they bring to the world…

So, the relationship ran its natural course and I walked away with the intrinsic knowing that it was the most self-loving thing that I could possibly have done.  And walked into the most unexpected relationship I never saw coming.  It’s a complicated story, but what I have learned over the time we have been together is what it truly means to be loved…and it’s nothing like I expected it to be.

It’s been a whirlwind, in the style of a typhoon, that bends strong, preconceived ideas to the limit and breaks false beliefs that have no place in a relationship.  But for the first time in my life, I know how it feels to be part of something genuine and authentic when it comes to love.  I know what it feels like to have someone courageously and vulnerably tell me how they feel, rather than dribbling out the sentiments when the right amount of time has elapsed.  Being really seen by a man for the first time has been an amazing, yet overwhelming experience.

No one in their forties can hope to come into a relationship unburdened by past experiences, and what I have come to learn is that’s what a real relationship is about.  It’s a beautifully messy meeting of minds, hearts and souls, so totally perfect in it’s imperfection.  It’s about a deep knowing that the person in front of you will be there for you when you need them the most, and that they’ll hold your hand just to be there holding your hand on a difficult day.  But they will also challenge the hell out of you and call you on your bullshit and incongruity immediately as they see it.  They won’t give you a free pass to project your bad day onto them, but they will love you unconditionally for who you are and forgive you those silly outbursts that were brought on for no apparent reason, or maybe some over-inflated life situation.

Only living with a man for the first time in my forties has come with a whole special set of hockey-stick learning curves.  I thought we’d just slot into cohabitation effortlessly, knowing where we belonged and who did what…I was a little left of reality.  And it took time some time to figure it all out.  I honestly didn’t know the household chores, duties and responsibilities needed to be discussed…that never happens in the movies!!!  I guess I was completely naive…surely love would simply allocate shopping, cooking and cleaning to the right person and we’d live blissfully in our universally-assigned roles.  Who knew that men didn’t simply assume the “take out the rubbish” and “change the light bulbs” role!?

What I have learned in this time is that the only way to work all this stuff out is to talk it out, which was “unromantically” surprising to me!!  Wasn’t moving in together and being in love just some exciting series of moments and memories??

#tbtBut in all the logistics of it, I have come to know what it means to be truly loved.  That a disagreement over the most trivial or important of issues does not mean that the relationship is going to disintegrate in a couple of minutes or hours.  That the stress of daily life continues, but that there is someone there to come home to and feel the feeling of real safety and certainty.  To know beyond knowing that if that horrible lump in your right breast were to turn out to be malignant, that he’d be there with you every single step of the way.  And yet, it doesn’t mean that he’ll accept bad behaviour or put up with endless rounds of ineffective communication.

So yes, there are the fairy-tale parts to the love, the magical moments of blissful synchronicity where it feels as though our souls are locked in wordless conversation.  There is connection, togetherness, deeply felt emotion.  And there is action…lots and lots of doing, talking and showing up to express our love to one another in an everyday, moment-to-moment kind of way.  There’s also all the messy stuff that makes a grown-up relationship.  The missed conversational nuances at the end of a long, hard week that sometimes lead to silly arguments.  The misconstrued, unintended projections that happen from time to time, and really piss the other person off.  Yet none of that can ever take away from how it is to truly be loved.  To stand in the chaos of life with a deep, knowledge and certainty that I am seen and loved for being exactly who I am (as long as I am working on the not-so-okay stuff).  And that’s much better than being in a Hollywood rom-com any day of the week.  To look into the eyes of the person who truly loves me and know that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be and that no matter what comes up he’ll be there with me; maybe holding my hand, maybe kicking my butt, but he’ll be there and that’s how it feels to be truly loved.

 

 

Posted in Be The Change, Life Coaching, Recovery Coaching

Are You Living Courageously?

Recovery Coaching

The theme of the week has been courage and vulnerability...and without sounding like one of Brene Brown’s PR team, it really does keep coming up over and over again with the individuals and groups that I coach.  And so often this last week, the conversations have gone to where people feel they need to show up courageously in their lives and be able to ask for what they need; emotionally, socially, spiritually, mentally and physically.  Being vulnerable as an eight on the Enneagram is extremely challenging for me at times, as this requires me having no control over what might or might not happen in any given situation and learning to be comfortable with that.  And believe me that scares the crap out of me on a good day, never mind a day when I am feeling a little insecure about myself.  And those days come even with all the tricks, tools and techniques I have at my disposal as a coach.

Of course, there are plenty of situations in any given day or week that require me to allow my vulnerability to be tapped into as a personal strength.  Whether this is asking my partner for support or love, reaching out to a colleague on a project or letting down my guard with the clients that I work with in the addiction treatment centre.  And when I do this, the most incredible things happen and I feel authentic and congruent within myself.  It’s when I feel spiritually connected to myself and the world around me, as if hooked up to the universe by a powerful force of love and acceptance.

Then all of a sudden I can be disconnected from this sense of presence and belonging, trapped in the crazy of my thoughts!  And try as I might, there are times when getting out of my head and into my body can be extremely difficult.  Personal development, conscious living and awareness are wonderful when I am plugged into the world through my executive thought functions in my prefrontal cortex, but when something short circuits in the inner workings of my brain and I suddenly go “offline” because of an event that has triggered me, it’s not always easy to come  back into my body and reconnect back into the universal energy.  That’s when having the mindsight to see what is going on, and how I am not doing what I know works, can just be frustrating!

There is no magic to any of this.  It’s about using those little tools and tricks that I’ve learned, and teach to others, consistently and patiently.  I’ve never professed to be a master at any of this, just another soul navigating the roads, avenues and boulevards of life.  I know that hitting the pause button between stimulus and response is incredibly effective – when I am able to find the sometimes elusive pause button. This doesn’t always happen! Of course there are times when I am able to catch myself and S.T.O.P. (Stop–Take Three Breaths–Observe–Proceed) which is one of Deepak Chopra’s little tricks to bring ourselves back into the present.

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And I have learned to T.H.I.N.K. more often, before I fire off a series of reactive retorts in the heat of the moment.  So I S.T.O.P. and ask myself, “Is it TRUE?  Is it HELPFUL? Is it INSPIRING?  Is  it NECESSARY? Is it KIND?” before being thoughtless with my words.  Often I don’t get past the true bit, and it’s a wonderful tool when I use it.  But as I have mentioned I am perfectly imperfect when it comes to keeping it all real, and of course there are times when I say and do things in that cowgirl-style of mine, having to go back later and sweep the debris off the saloon floor after the verbal gunfight!

The real power though, is if I allow myself to remain vulnerable with myself and the people around me.  I find it less likely that I am going to feel under threat from the people I interact with when I adopt this mindset.  That if I am courageous in my daily life and speak with a gentle compassion to myself and others, I have the ability to stay in my authenticity.  And the irony of it is that when I am being vulnerable and open, I feel incredibly strong.  By exposing my softness I am actually more protected than if I put on  masks, build walls and armour myself in preparation for how the world’s going to, maybe, fuck me over.

So, going back to my original thoughts; over the course of the week as this theme was discussed in the coaching groups that I facilitate, I realised that there are so many people letting down their fake personas of strength and infallibility.  Watching vulnerability and courage finding their voice in men and women who have long been silenced by the guilt and shame of addiction is nothing less than an honour and a privilege.  As mothers and fathers talk of breaking the cycle of substance abuse in their families and showing up for their children differently to their parents, I feel the genuine desire for change.  When individuals allow their truth to find a space and explore their deepest core beliefs and values, I am humbled by the tenacity of the human spirit.  Many times over the last week I have seen people share from places deep within them, bringing fears, insecurities and humility into the light, instantly diminishing their stranglehold on their hearts and souls.

And the more vulnerably I show up in this space, the more unspoken permission there is for real healing and growth.  When I am authentic and congruent, speaking my truth, others are shown that there are no rights or wrongs when it comes to being ourselves.  Rather that each and every person has the personal power to show up and be heard, seen and loved if they are ready to allow themselves to drop the shields we all carry and let their courage, authenticity and vulnerability guide them towards their true purpose in life, whatever that may be for them.

Posted in Nutrition & Lifestyle Coaching

The Greatest [Weight-Loss] Love of All…

This was originally posted on Alex Campbell Transformation as Alex is my nutrition and fitness coach, and an enormous part of my process.  Without his support and knowledge, I would never have achieved these incredible results!

A couple of weeks ago I was away at in the Eastern Cape.  A much-deserved break from the frenetic pace of Johannesburg and the intense year I have had.  But I want to focus on my year in light of my weight- and fat-loss, new exercise regimen, changing mindset around diet and exercise, and some of the learning that I have experienced.  If you’ve read any of the other posts I have written over the course of this year then you’ll know I have lost about 30kgs since late 2016, shed dozens of centimetres, and found a new value and focus around health, nutrition and well-being.

And it’s not that this time I was introduced to anything too revolutionary, I simply changed my mind about what it is all about to lose the equivalent of sixty blocks of butter!  I didn’t have to learn to cook in a different way, avoid certain foods or entire food groups, kill myself in the gym, or spend all my money on meal replacements, supplements or diet aids.  What I did have to do was get some perspective!  I needed to find a well-balanced approach to losing the weight and keeping it off.  And I have found that way with the help of Alex and “Flexible Dieting”.  Basically this means that I count calories with the help of the My Fitness Pal app, make sure I get sufficient protein, fats and yes, even carbs, and have a strength-training programme that supports fat-loss and muscle gain.

I HAVE NOT GONE WITHOUT! What I have learned is that healthy weight-loss takes time.  And it’s not about the time the weight takes to disappear, it’s about the time it has taken me to understand my relationship with food, change my thinking around diet and exercise, develop some new skills and habits, and do all this is a way that is self-loving and sustainable.  And being enjoy the occasional chocolate brownie, pizza or other delicious treat while I am doing it.  It  hasn’t been about avoiding anything really…well except maybe for those party packs of Doritos that I would binge on in the height of my lonely, Friday night food addiction days!  I have learned how to eat in a way that means nothing is really off the table.

But it wasn’t really about the food, it has been the biggest lesson in self-love.  I have always been able to blame my weight on outside forces!  Too busy to get to the gym, too tired from work to shop, cook and eat properly, too exhausted to try another diet…  And then justify my choices and feelings of failure by insisting that people shouldn’t love people for the way they look!  And on and on and on…

The real truth was that I didn’t love myself nearly enough to find time for me.  And of course I was way to busy helping others to make the time…a partial “truth”, but an avoidance nonetheless.  Because as a coach working primarily in the field of substance abuse treatment and recovery, taking care of myself is essential.  But avoid myself I did, making all sorts of excuses about how it just wasn’t the right time.  The truth is that losing weight is not just about the food we eat and the exercise we do, it’s also about how  much we value ourselves.

In 2016 I spent time working with a wonderful coach, which was definitely the start of the process.  We spoke of awareness, intention, values and self-love, and how all these were directed by the critical inner voice that has always been so loud, abrasive and just downright mean in my case.  The “you’ll never be good enough” voice that echos from my childhood.  And wherever that voice was born, its words have always been laced with loathing, hatred and self-deprecation.  As we spoke of personal worth, intrinsic values, core beliefs and how we show up in the world, I started to have a very different feeling about myself and my body.

0 (1)I was allowing the inner critic to become the outer manifestation.  I started to realise that I was somehow punishing myself with my own form, and giving myself reason to dislike my human body.  It wasn’t about whether anyone else loved me, it was about whether I loved myself.  And I don’t mean in the mean-girl, bitchy way, I mean in the gentle, nurturing way.  So, instead of looking at my need to lose weight as aesthetic, I started to see it in a more holistic, health-based way.  The fat wasn’t just what was visible,  it was also growing around my internal organs, affecting my longevity and putting me at risk of weight-related dangers like diabetes, heart attack and strokes.  That was when my focus began to shift…slowly at first, but the momentum built pretty quickly, as did a series of events and choices that have changed the entire path I am on.

I started exploring my core beliefs about myself and my values around living (and dying)!  Did any of this have anything to do with will power, time, effort and commitment, or was it simply that I didn’t give enough of a fuck whether I loved a long, healthy life, or dropped dead at the age of 44?  After all I didn’t have kids, wasn’t in an overly committed relationship, and was struggling to get professional traction.  But something deep inside me must have been awake to future possibilities, and started to speak out in a kind, determined voice that this wasn’t my fate and that it didn’t have to be my story.

I fumbled around for some months with a dietitian who I couldn’t get honest with, and wasn’t really showing me anything new.  And then something magical happened…  I started to make myself vulnerable to the idea that there was more to this then simply calorie-cutting and a better exercise approach.  That it was time to drop the idea that if I was bigger (literally), that people would be intimidated (or revolted) by my weight and size, loud voice and bossy demeanor.  That the time had come to get real and courageous in my life, and start letting down my guard.  As an Eight on The Enneagram, I am prone to this kind of behaviour when I am unhealthy (emotionally, spiritually and mentally, as well as physically), using overt  bossiness to make my presence felt.

What I began to learn, was that the hardest part of losing weight is not what I was eating. Along with the disappearing kilograms, I needed to develop a new idea about who I am.  I have seen this with my clients who have a long history of substance abuse, and the fear that comes with having to create a new, healthy identity.  I couldn’t hide behind my overweight body anymore, and use it as a shield against the world, which I often find cruel and dispassionate.  I had to start showing up differently, and that has been my greatest challenge this year.  Learning to love myself more, believe that I am deserving of a healthy body, accept and cherish the love of a man who looks past the physical, and becoming a better form of myself has been an emotional roller coaster.

Of course I am still essentially the same me, though a spiritually, emotionally, socially, mentally and physical version.  I have learned not to hide behind my excuses of being undeserving.  And I feel proud of the work I am putting into me…whether it is the food that I cook, the training that I do, the sleep that I ensure I get, or the way I am trying to show up as a woman.  Of course there are times when I get it all horribly wrong, because as I have become more vulnerable, I have leave myself a lot more exposed to the world.

This means that there are times that I don’t get what I want, but at least I am  learning to ask for what I do need.  My weight-loss has been about wanting to be part of the world, not because losing weight has made me more acceptable, but because it ensures that I will probably live a longer, healthier, more self-loving life.

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I no longer try and hide in the folds of my own body, but step forward a lot more, even though I don’t always get picked for the team.  I constantly push myself to show up in a growth mindset, being courageous and vulnerable, even though the chances of getting hurt or rejected (my biggest fear) are so much higher.  And there are times that I fall flat on my face, but the way I see it right now in my life, “sometimes I win and sometimes I learn”.

And I have learned a helluva lot about myself this year, some of which have been some difficult lessons.  I am grateful and blessed as I move forward to 2018 with a healthier body, a much-improved self-worth, and a knowing that if I value myself and my contribution enough, then I can achieve what I set out to do in the coming year.

As always thank you to Alex Campbell for the part he plays in my ongoing process of learning, growing, accountability and health.

Posted in Nutrition & Lifestyle Coaching

The five most important lessons I have learned…from my food addiction.

0 (1)Looking at myself in the mirror or glancing down at my legs I hardly recognise myself at times, which is a weird experience.  Sometimes when I look at my jeans I wonder how I am ever going to get into that size 12 rather than the former size 16/18 I was wearing this time last year.  And even the 12s are getting a little big!?

Sometimes when I browse through the clothes stores (no shopping at the moment) I will look at a dress or outfit and wonder if they’ll have it in my size or if I’ll fit into it…and then remember that my body has shed almost sixty 500g blocks of butter in the past year, and of course I will!  Shopping has always been a horror experience for me, taking a range of clothes to the change room only to discover that even the size 18 is a little small in some part.  Avoiding full eye contact with my reflection because I was embarrassed by my own self…thinking that I was lazy and useless to not have been able to stick to yet another diet plan and lose the weight that had crept on over the previous 12 months or so.

One of my biggest realisations over the course of my process has been that a big part of my inability to successfully complete a programme comprised of a couple of elements:

  1. The diet was restrictive and unsustainable, eliminating whole food groups which I love (insert carbs here).
  2. The expectations I placed on myself about the results I was going to achieve and the time frame I was going to achieve them in were completely unrealistic.
  3. The mindset I had around nutrition and exercise where fixed, which resulted in seeing every little slip, scale gain and  plateau as a failure and a chance to give up.
  4.  I did not know how to create accountability around my process, because if I couldn’t get it “right” that must mean I was lazy and incapable.
  5. I just didn’t love myself enough to see it through to the end!

Nothing earth shattering there! And what a load of complete and utter BS!  I have come from the school of dieting that is all about getting on a diet and sticking to a diet until you have achieved the required results.  No erring!  No mistakes!  No excuses!  If you are following the plan/programme, sticking to the instructions and eating the food you are supposed to you WILL LOSE WEIGHT.  So if I was doing all that and wasn’t getting the required outcomes then I  must have been doing something wrong.

Often after a great start of weight loss, I would quickly plateau in my scale losses.  I would become disheartened and frustrated that nothing was changing, and when I would ask the programme leader, dietitian, nurse or facilitator I was working with what was going on they’d always answer with a raised eyebrow and something about “Sticking to the programme!”  These comments and attitudes would leave me feeling uncertain and then I would start to question myself…my will power…my inability to do it right…my frustration at feeling deprived and unhappy…and sure as anything I would  be throwing in the towel and back to my old ways!

My old ways included self-deprecation for being so useless, criticising myself for not being focused and motivated enough, considering myself a loser because I just couldn’t see anything through.  And back I’d go to eating for all the wrong reasons.  The problem with any sort of dysfunctional eating behaviour, is that abstinence is not an option!  Unlike substance abuse, we can’t simply give up eating.  So, I would abuse food in the same way that I abused alcohol.

Depriving myself of anything nourishing or healthy when it came to what I put in my body.  Hiding my eating habits from my family and friends, which included chronic binges that left me feeling sick, guilty and ashamed (not unlike the way I would abuse alcohol in my twenties and early thirties).  The Friday evening shopping ritual was like a visit to the bottle store, piling my trolley with the most highly palatable food I could find and the I’d isolate over the weekends and eat, to the point of physical sickness.  I wasn’t bulimic because it didn’t happen every weekend, and like with drinking I could go for days without being dysfunctional.  But then the urge would strike!

This usually happened when I had nothing planned for the weekend, and I was feeling lonely or excluded, I had not been taking care of my stress, or I was just feeling I needed a reward for a long, hard week.  I’d get home and unpack all the food onto my kitchen counter and plan how I was going to eat it.   How I would have a little of this and one of those, maybe a small bowl of ice cream and just a few of the potato chips.  And it would start of well enough, just like the first couple of drinks in the years gone by.  But then something would happen and my brain would take over, and I would be lost in a hopeless cycle.  I would tell myself that I was only going to have one more brownie and leave the rest for tomorrow, only to end up eating the whole pack and then feeling immensely weak and out of control.  And so it would go until the food was finished or it was all in the bottom of the toilet.

This pattern of eating really got intense over the last few years leading up to when I started to identify that I was actually dealing with a cross-addiction in my life.  As a coach working in the field of addiction recovery, it was an extremely difficult realisation to own that I was abusing food in the same way I had abused alcohol years previously.  I was no longer eating for enjoyment, nourishment or reward, I was eating to punish myself, to hide away and to release negative emotions.  The similarities were difficult to ignore and the consequences were just as negative.  Feelings of self-loathing, isolation, emotions ranging from helplessness to rage, guilt, shame and a tattered self-esteem.

Ever move I made I was conscious of how I hated my body.  I was unable to walk into a room without feeling like everyone was judging me for being fat and lazy, because I was unable to control myself and stick to a diet, lose some weight and get myself into a gym.  Every week I promised myself that I was going to make changes, only to end up slipping off to the kitchen to eat slices of cheese behind the half-closed fridge door!  Not that there was anyone to see me doing it.  It all felt so dark and secretive, so damaging and yet even with a set of tools and practices, I felt powerless to do anything about it.

LEIGH 3 monthsThe challenge with certain addictions though is that the only option is moderation management.  Learning a way of reducing the harm that I was doing to my body, mind and soul through this destructive behaviour, was going to be my only way out of it.  Learning a new set of habits, skills and behaviours that were supportive of change; long-term, sustainable change.  And then I reached out…and like with any recovery that was the beginning of finding my way forward.  I didn’t get the right support for me off the bat, but I did start to make changes.  But what I did get right is that I started to get honest!  I stopped talking about the food and I started addressing my intentions and underlying motivations around the way I used food.  Making changes to my narrative was an essential part of the process, and learning to listen to the quiet, gentle inner voice rather than the angry, destructive critical one became a turning point for me.

In September 2016 I had a real breakthrough with my personal coach when I started to explore how I spoke to myself, and it was there that the real change started to happen.  I wrote about this in my blog post “How Do You Speak to Yourself?” and that was the day that I realised that the only way I was going to move forward was to do something new and different.  Something that I hadn’t tried before…  And so began my real recovery into finding and loving myself.

And after 12 months what I have learned is this:

  1. An eating plan can be as inclusive and exciting as I choose it to be, with all the food groups, and yet healthy and sustainable.  Thank you Flexible Dieting!!
  2. The expectations I place on myself are controlled by me, and need to be realistic, achievable and self-loving; only then can I expect to achieve them.
  3. That if I embrace a growth mindset in my life, then everything becomes a learning and an opportunity for growth and development, and there is no beginning or end just the process I chose to follow.
  4. I have created accountability and support through allowing myself to be vulnerable and reach out, because there is no right or wrong, just finding a way that works for me.
  5. And my biggest learning has been that I am deserving of the love and attention that I give to myself.  That the choices I make are ones that nourish and fulfill my bod, mind and soul, and I am worthy of making those choices and loving myself!

My name is Leigh-Anne and I am a recovering food addict and a flexible dieting convert…

Posted in Be The Change, Nutrition & Lifestyle Coaching

Want a Chocolate? Have a Chocolate!?

Dreams_ActionAnd who would be surprised if I said that the biggest challenge in my recovery recently has not been relationships (although there have been a few major changes there), work (also a stressful, chaotic space at the moment), or my personal growth and development (the Enneagram work I am doing has been enormously grounding), but rather my health & fitness…AGAIN!

I was looking back through my posts and in “It’s not the substance that’s the problem…” I talk on this very issue with such hope and optimism.  At the time I was on a very extreme medically-assisted diet, and I was doing great!  I was on the pink cloud of weight loss and completely unconcerned about how I was going to sustain the drastic, low-calorie approach with daily supplements and self-administered injections…I really had no intention of thinking it through as the kilos dropped off.  Which is not unlike the same phase that many of my clients go through in early recovery.  This is great!  I feel great!  Everything’s great!  BANG!!! I just ran into a wall.  And surprise, surprise that is exactly what happened to me.

I had a bad financial run at work, the injections, weekly consultations and supplements became too expensive, I was battling with the 650 calories a day and extreme hunger and I just became plain miserable.  On top of that I was “not allowed” to exercise and I’ve never needed much encouragement to avoid the gym.  Needless to say I relapsed into old behaviours, and about 14 months later I had regained the 15 kilograms I had lost and a couple extra.  So there I was back in the same place, feeling guilt and shame, battered self-worth and considering myself a complete failure, with a cupboard full of clothes that didn’t fit properly.

And so began the process all over again…  I don’t understand the science of nutrition or what’s really going on with my metabolism, so I once again I deferred to an expert.  Motivated, willing and more than a little desperate I booked a series of appointments with a dietician.  I mean, after all, I have been on Weigh-Less, Atkins, Scarsdale, low-fat, high-protein, no-this and no-that diets, with more than a few medical diets, and a period of starvation, so I thought I’d try something new.   But at the end of the day it’s all exactly the same…a completely unsustainable approach to eating that fills my kitchen and bathroom with another set of ingredients, most of which I am not particularly enamoured by, and a stack of supplements, vitamins and concoctions that  don’t come cheap.  And after weeks of minimal weight loss, I am left feeling despondent and frustrated, with the implied narrative that if I had more willpower and discipline, I would be doing much better, “But don’t worry just try harder this week!” Try harder than what?

And of course, the determination that was there in the beginning starts to rapidly wain and I still cannot fit into my clothes (or afford to buy new ones).

By December 2016 I was so fed up with empty promises and weight-loss failures, I was more than ready to throw in the towel completely and work my way towards a size 20.  But then something amazing happened…  A client that I had  been working with offered to help me, by looking at everything food, nutrition, diet and exercise from a completely new perspective.  And instead of telling me what to do or how to do it, he simply explained that there was another way!  And then he started to work with me in an open, honest accountability partnership.  With the use of “My Fitness Pal“, weight and measurement tracking and certain targets around nutrition, we began the process.  And instead of being prescriptive and authoritative he began coaching  me around the emotional, physical and mental aspects of healthy diet and exercise.  The diet is a calorie-controlled diet, but with the use of technology the process has become remarkably simple and sustainable.

Want a chocolate?  Have a chocolate!  Just remember that it means you might have to eat smaller quantities of your other food during the day.  So it’s about sometimes being able to have that little treat, without feeling guilty about “cheating”, while at the same time starting to develop a really healthy mental and emotional relationship with food.  Instead of seeing food as good or bad, it’s simply food, with a certain amount of calories, carbs, protein & fats.  Either I have the available calories to eat it or I don’t.  It’s been a liberating few months, coupled with almost daily exercise as I am coached and educated around nutrition and exercise.  Not once have I been sent to the treadmill for an exhausting 45″ power walk, but have had the opportunity to do short(ish) workouts using weights and machines.

The results have been amazing as the centimeters have started to fall off, my clothes have been brought out of the “skinny clothes” cupboard, and I have a completely different sense of self.  I feel more intentional, self-assured and grounded as my body awareness deepens.  I am not constantly obsessed by what I can’t eat and am now working with myself from a space of compassion and self-love.

And as I go through the process, once again I see how without the right environment & resources, it’s really challenging to get well and stay well.  The right  kind of support system plays an essential role in recovery and wellness, because getting healthy is one things, staying healthy is something else entirely.  Education and understanding are proving to be invaluable tools for me, rather than simply being handed a formula and told to stick to it.  Being given a degree of flexibility and not being told to give up my daily cappuccino has been revolutionary.  There’s balance and accountability, and I am starting to see exactly how essential these are to me in most areas of my life.

So, instead of feeling stressed and deprived, I feel grounded and supported.  Rather than feeling judged and criticised I am feeling accountable and responsible.  And unlike all the other times I have felt self-loathing and shame about previous failures, I know feel understood and personally empowered.  I have been given the space to get honest about my relationship with myself around food, body image, health and fitness and it’s been a game changer.  Knowing the power of the coaching model it’s actually not that surprising really, but as with anything else that we want to change, it starts with an honest conversation and a willingness to make the necessary changes to move forward in life.  And for that I am extremely grateful to Alex.

For more information about Alex Campbell Transformation, email alexcampbelltransformation@gmail.com or visit Alex’s Facebook page.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Being the Change…

So many thing have happened in the three years since I’ve become a full-time coach.  And in order to keep up with the ever changing world in which we live, I decided to give my coaching business a new look.  Recovery Coaching SA has been rebranded as Be The Change Coaching.  The reason behind this that as my coaching business has grown, and so have my areas of interest, personal development and expertise.

I’ve not only learned more about life, but I have also entered into a business collaboration with Alex Campbell Transformation, which specialises in nutrition and fitness coaching,  I have definitely had my challenges in those areas over the years, but working with a coach has been life changing and hence the decision to partner up in this area.

I am passionate about living my own authentic, congruent life, and have decided to also include more life coaching in my practice, as much of the work I actually do revolves around empowering people to live purposeful, fulfilled lives (whether or not they are in recovery).  Watching people learn about themselves, their personal needs, wants and values, and actioning and moving towards their aspirations and goals is both personally and professionally fulfilling.  I am blessed and grateful at having found a life of meaning and purpose in my personal recovery, which feeds my soul on a daily basis.

In the coming weeks and months, I will be blogging about life, recovery and lifestyle.  I’ll be sharing my personal and professional insights, and through this engaging with people who as passionate about change as I am.  Because in life I have realised that what lies between my present reality and my envisioned future is action.  So I will continue to be the change I wish to see and through that support and inspire others to do the same.