In the late summer of 2012 I gots me a new job, it was at a tough school in inner London but I was up for the challenge. I needed a new start, a different story, in order to try and move on from the disaster zone that had been the previous academic year. Anyway, I landed a job as Head of Department and I was due to interview people the following week for the Art Teacher role at my new school. My housemate at the time, Hayley, helped me go through the applications. I read out parts of applications that I thought sounded good. I read one out that mentioned “Rockabilly” and an interest in ‘Vintage’, Hayley looked at me and said “you’re going to marry that man”. We laughed and nothing further was said, probably because we were distracted by ‘Elementary’ and a large amount of Rose wine.
At this time I had just started to undertake my therapeutic journey towards healing my emotional and mental scars. I cannot express enough how this one lady, Cindy, changed my life. Actually I think she saved it. She was able to really understand me in a way that other therapists had failed to. Other therapists had basically tried to get me to stop questionable behaviour, such as allowing controlling men to manipulate me, rather than getting to the root of what was causing it. She was able to give me the tools I needed to battle my demons. Some of these included naming and visualising them, which enabled me to recognise the behaviour first and then try to change it.
First little blighter we started to combat was “The Voice”. “The Voice” was my inner dialogue, that evil critical voice, that constantly told me I was “fat”, “useless”, “ugly” and “lazy”, among other things. “The Voice” generally liked to pipe up with its nasty sour comments at about 4.27am every morning, and just long enough to make me then toss and turn. I was allowing “The Voice” to speak to me in a disgusting and disrespectful way, and worse, I listened to it, I believed it. Other therapists refer to this as the “Poisoned Parrot”, a stupid, toxic bird that has no evidence or basis for the bile that comes out of its beak. One of our first jobs, was to try to silence that “Voice” by first of all acknowledging its existence (naming it) and then starting to work on telling it to, metaphorically, SHUT THE FUCK UP (I wasn’t about to start yelling, out loud, in the middle of the night, I think my housemates may have had me committed). “The Voice” had no proof of any of the things it said about me and I needed to start challenging it. My beautiful friends helped me with this. They would contribute to my word cloud art work by giving me positive words I could say about myself. Also they reminded me that if “The Voice” was talking to one of them, the way it spoke to me, I’d go bonkers and tell it where to go. “Gemmy, you wouldn’t speak to us the way you speak about yourself.” I had to admit the logic behind it and slowly me, Cindy and my friends started to battle “The Voice” and it started to sound more sheepish and less confident in its convictions. “The Voice” unfortunately never completely goes away, it’s still within me, and still has a knack of waking me up at 4.27am from time to time, but I am more aware that it is just spitting out hateful bile because it doesn’t know what else to do, like an angry child. It was maybe panicking that if I started to love myself it would shrivel and die. But likewise I had nurtured that “Voice”, I was worried too that if I stopped listening to it I would become a giant fat, alcoholic, couch potato. What if my self-flagellation was the only thing keeping me in line? It was terrifying, but I knew I had to let it go. I was exhausted from being inside my own head all the time. And do you know what? I actually realised that “The Voice” was like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the more I listened, the more I felt the need to sleep, be “lazy” and do stupid shit, like go out with controlling men or drink a gallon of rose wine.
Also during this time I decided that I would give internet dating a try again (because it had turned out SO well last time… yeah good thinking Gemma). So I tried POF. It was exciting and a silly bit of fun and I thought “sod it! You don’t know until you try”. It didn’t really occur to me that I wasn’t quite through the healing process enough to do this, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind and I was still exhibiting the same self-destructive behaviours. One date I went on was a coffee meet up with a very nice chap, absolutely no chemistry and he turned up on a fold up bike, which gave my housemates weeks, months, nay even years of amusement (I still get stick over it and I am married!). But Fold-Up Bike guy was me dipping my toe and there were certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon, than having a glass of wine in Greenwich. Another date I went on was a disaster from start to finish. I had actually chatted to this guy (we’ll call him Barry), on the phone, and he was a bit of a “geeza” but he was funny and friendly. I wore what I called my “chilli” dress that night, a dress I loved, but had no clue it was about to publicly shame me. I got off the train at London Bridge and made my way over to All Bar One. A gust of wind decided to take my entire skirt up and almost over my head. This resulted in a round of applause by a load of workmen waiting for their bus home. I suppose at least they were entertained and it took the edge off the nerves as I was now just simply mortified. I met my date and we had some drinks, as I regaled him with the story of the wind in the willows. He was nice enough, but right off I just didn’t feel it. I stayed the course of the evening, even moving pubs, he was nice enough company. I then found myself in a situation. As we sat across from each other, Barry’s face changed, there was a look and I thought “oh fuck he is going to kiss me”. I headed him off at the pass, and explained that I was not prepared to kiss him, now this is where I went wrong. I should have stopped there. “I don’t want to kiss you, thanks”. But I didn’t. The people-pleaser in me gave an excuse. “because I don’t want to be kissing across a table, in a crowded pub”. Almost immediately the table next to us became available and he insisted we move. I accepted and then felt obliged to kiss him. I didn’t have the stones to say no. he didn’t force himself on me, but I wasn’t comfortable. Soon after I made an excuse to leave and he insisted on walking me to the train. More awful, awkward kissing. I was so relieved to get on the train. I fell asleep and he texted me on the train. When I didn’t respond, he went a little “bunny boiler” on me. Suffice to say I politely declined another date. But this is what I meant by not being ready to date. I allowed that to happen, I thought it would be like when I was a teenager, when snogging randoms was fun (in fact as I look back on it now, it was more to gain social status than enjoying it). But it was awful and I didn’t have enough self-esteem to say “no, I don’t want this”.
I also self-flaggelated by being attracted to people who weren’t interested in me. Guys that took what they needed from me, emotionally, and to hell with what I wanted. One of these particular incidences was named by me (and one of my Besties) as “Schrodinger’s Cat”. This followed an episode of The Big Bang Theory (in its very fledgling state), where Penny didn’t know whether to go out with Leonard. Sheldon explained it was like the theory of Schrodinger’s cat, where a cat was placed in a box, with poison gas, where there was a 50 % chance of the cat being killed by the gas and 50% chance of the cat surviving. Now until the box is opened up, you will not know which way the experiment has gone, so whilst the box is closed the cat is both alive and dead. This was the same for me, I kept on in my self-destructive behaviour and thinking that things would change because I was refusing to open the box. It’s also like Einstein said “the definition of Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. This was me with this situation. Then something changed. I decided not to open the box with my inappropriate suitor, but with Cindy. One day a switch flipped and I opened that box, and whilst I loved kitties, I was glad to see that it was not only VERY dead, but it was just a pile of ash. I had determined my worth on how much someone seemed to need me and rely on me, than what I was actually getting from the friendship.
My Toxic Baby
So, apologies if the next part of this is triggering or upsetting, but the term “Toxic Baby” is the name I gave to my negative feelings about myself. This was not a choice but something that came from visualising all the nasty, awful things that I felt I looked like. I realised that I carried them so close, it was also like I was nurturing them like “The Voice”. I had become so reliant on those feelings I had almost grown to think I loved them. Like one would a belligerent pet or a creepy doll. This creepy baby doll was constantly feeding off of my low self-esteem and draining away any ounce of self-worth I had. But I couldn’t let it go. I had to keep pretending to feed it from one of those never-ending milk bottles we had as a kid (although I still managed to drink mine by accident, I was a weird kid). This doll-like creature was a fetid, green, oozing pile of white blankets; it had a bad temper and stared at me with cold steely eyes. I could not sate this demanding creature. Then I started to realise I didn’t need it, it needed me. It needed me to stay in my place, much like the controlling men I had a penchant for. I started to see that I could put the baby down and leave it. It wasn’t real, it was a doll and it was ugly.
Now all of this might sound like the ramblings of an insane person, but I was clinically depressed and years and years of self-hatred had overwhelmed me. And, as I said before, my belief system of ‘being thinner would fix everything’, had been rocked to its’ core. Giving things a name had helped me to recognise them and to start to put in place intervention when they threatened my emotional and mental health. It was this type of therapy that taught me to start saying “yes” to myself more and “no” to others. To say to my family, that I couldn’t cope with when they all started yelling, to say I can’t manage to do things at the drop of a hat for friends, family or work. I started to value my time, and if that time was lying on the sofa with a glass of wine then that was not laziness, that was me listening to myself and “The Voice” could just fuck off.
My therapeutic journey led me to places I never thought I would go, back to my past, analysing my present and being able to see a brighter future. It would also lead to New Orleans (that may be a whole post in itself!), a new job and eventually a husband… one that liked Rockabilly….
By the way, did I tell you…? You might be exhausted, you might be scared, but if you have a ‘Voice’ or a ‘Toxic Baby’, they don’t deserve YOU! Kick those fuckers out or at least turn down their volume. You are bloody marvellous and you can say “Yes!” or “No!” to whatever makes YOU happy, not others.