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Campfire Bugle: Reflections of life at 60 : Q&As to self

8 Minute Read

It’s hard to start any article written on the day I turn 60 without resorting to clichés and platitudes, so I thought I’d try a different approach. After spending a fair amount of time reflecting on life on a recent sojourn to Greece, I thought that I’d actualise some of those reflections and put myself on the casting sofa and attempt a few ‘Q&As to self’

Read the full story here: Campfire Bugle: Reflections of life at 60 : Q&As to self

How to Break Unhealthy Relationship Patterns and Find Love

5 Minute Read

Are you always attracted to unavailable men or women, to commitment-phobes, people living on different continents or to those already attached to someone else? Do you struggle to find emotionally healthy people attractive and run in the opposite direction as soon as a decent prospect wants to get serious?

In short, are you tired of repeating the same mistakes in your romantic relationships and getting the same results? If so, there’s no time like the present to change.

Dating for me used to be like banging my head against a brick wall. Why did I keep falling for commitment-phobes or unavailable types? Why couldn’t I fancy the good guys who were into me? And where have all the eligible men gone anyway?

I spent many a Valentine’s Day single, staying home to avoid all the red hearts or arranging a night out with my female friends. I had a good life and was content in many ways but I wanted to be in love. I thought things would never change.

But they have. I’ll be spending this Valentine’s Day with my partner, to whom I’m engaged. More importantly, I feel settled, confident I’m with the man I want to spend the rest of my days with and certain that there’s enough love between us to cope with whatever comes our way.

For an indecisive, restless soul who always thought there was someone better out there and who couldn’t stop looking over her boyfriend’s shoulder for the next guy, my newfound peace is nothing short of a miracle.

So how did I change my unhealthy relationship patterns and find love?

I first had to understand where I was going wrong. For years, I blamed the men I met for being emotionally distant or scared of commitment. What was wrong with them? Eventually, I discovered there was something wrong with me.

I was drawn to unavailable types because I was emotionally unavailable myself. I fancied commitment-phobes because I was terrified of commitment. Dating someone who wasn’t willing or able to give me love made it easy for me. It meant I could avoid getting into a true, intimate relationship with a man, and therefore avoid getting hurt, which was what I was scared of the most.

After years of personal development work and lots of therapy, I understood that my first relationship with a man, my dad, had set me up for a lifetime of self-sabotage. When my father sat my eight-year-old self on his knee and told me he was moving out of our family home, my heart cracked. The experience hurt so much that I resolved never to repeat it. I would never open my heart again. I would never get that close to a man.

I took something else away from that painful experience – the idea that I wasn’t lovable, valuable or good enough. This is what we do as children. We assume everything is our fault. We assume there’s something wrong with us.

My decision to avoid pain at all costs and that core belief that I wasn’t enough formed the basis for my future relationships. Unavailable types were safe to date. Available men who were up for commitment were dangerous so I ran away from them. And I didn’t believe I deserved love so I accepted crumbs and allowed others to treat me badly.

To change those patterns, I had to change how I related to myself.

I had to connect with the painful feelings from my childhood that I’d run away from for years or numbed with excess food (I had an eating disorder for several decades). That meant learning to slow down, sit still and allow the hurt to surface. I thought the feelings would kill me if I let myself feel them. But they didn’t. I’m still here. By feeling the pain, I could begin to heal it.

I had to learn to love, accept and respect myself wholeheartedly, to believe that I was enough and that I deserved a healthy and loving relationship with a man who could love me back.

I had to learn to trust that I could cope if I loved deeply but then lost someone again, to realise that I was a resilient adult now, not a vulnerable child.

I had to truly understand the root of my unhealthy patterns and talk about them with others who had similar experiences.

And I had to dig deep and find the courage to change those patterns.

I helped myself by building up a support network around me and by setting healthy and loving boundaries for myself whenever I went on a date. So I would try to avoid alcohol, which clouded my faculties and got me into scrapes with unavailable types. I would try to keep first dates short so I wouldn’t be tempted to end up in a man’s arms before I even knew anything about him. And I would try to move forwards at a steady pace, always alert to my history of self-sabotage, always questioning whether this relationship was good for me or whether I was repeating the same mistakes.

I say try because I messed up so many times. I am a human being after all. But every time I did, my awareness grew. Gradually, I began to date more mindfully. I began to choose who I spent time with rather than letting myself be chosen. And I began to give myself love and care so that I didn’t crave another’s love so badly. Cravings had always got me into trouble.

Awareness was the key to my transformation and I believe it’s the key for all of us. Awareness opens the door to change. By identifying and owning our patterns and by understanding why we cause ourselves pain, accept less than we deserve and run away from happiness, we can recover and heal.

That is my wish for you this Valentine’s.

Emma Freud: “I’m Not Interested in Spending My 50s Pretending I’m in My 40s” |

1 Minute Read

My amazing mum was 90 last month. She’s been an actress for 70 years—and on her big day she performed two theater shows before hosting dinner for 30 people. She swims every morning, goes tap dancing every week, and has nearly mastered the names, if not the sexes, of her 18 grandchildren.

When someone recently asked her how she is still sparkling at her mighty age, she suggested it might be connected to her lunchtime diet, always the same: a packet of potato crisps and a glass of red wine. She’s sharp, funny, and beautifully eccentric.But each time we talked this year about her 90th birthday, she asked me not to mention her actual age. “I don’t want people knowing how old I am—they’ll write me off,” she said, in a 90-year-old way.

So, in that incredibly patronizing tone that only a 55-year-old can use when addressing her nonagenarian mother, I had a massive talk to her (to her, not with her—she’s my mum, remember).It went something like this: “Mum, if you’ve arrived at 90 with your health and your faculties intact—not to mention your insistence on sunbathing in a bikini and your refusal to wear clothes to bed—surely that is something to celebrate rather than hide. You fought for female liberation in the ’60s—you can’t now be part of the conspiracy that women are valid only when they are young. We’ve moved on from that. If people are standing up and openly saying ‘I’m LGBTQI’ or ‘I have mental-health issues,’ then surely we should say ‘I’m old’ with pride?”

Read the full story here: Emma Freud: "I’m Not Interested in Spending My 50s Pretending I’m in My 40s" |

My Voice Lost and Found

6 Minute Read

Some things you just take for granted. Me being able to sing was one. When I was young I was one of those kids that used to get up and sing in front of my parents friends to entertain them. When I was in High School I was chosen to be part of an exclusive group of singers to perform madrigals. For a couple of years a dozen of us would go 'on tour' to Spain or Germany to perform in secondary schools in front of kids our own age. I loved singing those medieval songs almost as much as the mischief I made on those school trips. I remember more than one occasion, stripping off my horrible costume, a tartan floor length A-line skirt and matching waistcoat straight after a concert, and climbing out the hostel window with my friend Laurie so we could go in search of the young men who had come to see us perform.

At University I was rejected from singing with the school’s jazz band because I wasn't doing a music degree and that was the criteria for anyone who wanted to sing with the group. And in my twenties I did lots of session singing, eventually rejoining Laurie and her sister to perform complicated three part harmonies that Laurie had devised as the band ‘The Dirty Blondes.’ We had a blast, singing at various pubs and clubs where I’m sure nobody really knew what to make of three twenty-something young women singing Andrew Sisters and Rogers & Hammerstein tunes when punk was all the rage.

By my late twenties I’d moved on, teaming up with a pianist where we would perform jazz standards for hours in tiny wine bars across the city. Singing and music was in my blood. My mother had sung on the radio as a child. My uncle played drums for Janis Joplin (whom I met when I was 6) and a distant cousin was Stan Getz.

In 1988 I met my husband who was not musical but was a total music geek and photojournalist. Although he was obsessed with music, he could never understand why I would want to sing in some half empty wine bar all evening for the price of a decent steak. So I stopped singing except for humming along to tunes on the radio or a Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald record. I gave birth to a couple of kids, my youngest of whom also inherited the family’s musical gene, and put my own singing years behind me.

It took a trip to Cherry Grove, Fire Island, and a good ten years into my marriage, to re-awaken my voice. I’d gone there with a man with whom I’d been having a long distance affair. He was a born and bred New Yorker and, being August, he suggested we spend a week there to get away from the heat of the city. The place was populated almost exclusively with gay men, so much so that we quickly got a reputation as the only straight people on the Island. It was Friday night when we popped into a piano bar. One after another, guys got up to perform show tunes or jazz standards. They were mostly buff, young men who were taking a break from a Broadway show and so the bar had been set pretty high for me. I hadn’t sung for over a decade but I’d told my lover enough that he knew that with enough provocation, I’d want to have a go.

I’ll never forget that night, I went up to the pianist and said, “My Funny Valentine. Key of G.” He started playing and all those years of being silent just fell away. Suddenly the room grew quiet. When I’d finished, I went to sit down and lots of guys came up to me and asked me where I performed in the city so they could hear me sing again. “I don’t perform,” I said. “I haven’t sung for a decade.” I started to cry. I suppose I felt cheated, that I’d stopped doing something I loved so much, just because my husband thought it was a bit silly. Although I still didn’t return to singing despite feeling validated that evening.

Then the menopause arrived, and along with hot flushes and sleepless nights, I lost my singing voice. When I tried to sing to songs on the radio, all that came out was a strange and unfamiliar croaky sound. I couldn’t hit the notes I used to and I couldn’t find my way around a tune. I grieved the loss of my voice much more than my sex drive or my waistline. Singing was just so much a part of me, I just never thought there would be a time when it was something I could no longer do. I stopped singing along to the radio because it was just too painful and derived pleasure listening on the sly to my youngest son and his beautiful, soulful voice as he sang along to R&B songs in his bedroom.

Over the last year I decided to try something new, I dropped down an octave, sounding more like Barry White than Barbara Streisand. I wasn’t ready to let go of the singer in me and discovered I could still carry a tune despite not being able to hit the high notes,

Recently my friend invited me to a burlesque karaoke night. I didn’t know what to expect but when they passed the book of songs around, I worked out that it wasn’t the burlesque performers who would be singing along to the backing track, it was the audience. After a drink, I decided to have a go. I picked my signature tune and one that I’d sung with the Dirty Blondes thirty years earlier - Fever. I dropped the song by an octave and, recalling that evening in the piano bar in Cherry Grove; I could feel the room go quiet. After I’d finished, a few people came up and told me how good I sounded. At the end of the night, I got back on stage (at the audience’s request) and sang another song. I felt transported back in time, only this time with my new, different voice.

That’s the thing about getting older. It’s about acceptance and celebrating that transition. I won’t lie. It’s been hard getting used to not being able be sing like I used to, but hey - I can still make a room go quiet. And I have a new voice. That is something to relish.

Roadmap to Compassion

9 Minute Read

Recently, somebody asked how I found my way to The Fields of Kindness. This is, as much as it can be, my reply.

I was first diagnosed at thirteen, and even though I grew up (eventually) and became a psychotherapist, I was particularly blinded to my own baseline and lifelong depression.

Through the prism of hindsight, I can see chapters like hills gently rolling out my little life. Childhood ended when I was sectioned into a psychiatric hospital. After that came what I call the drug years, or the lost years. They certainly were that. During those sixteen years, aged fourteen to thirty, I missed a few things. The vortex of addiction is a particularly narrow tunnel. The horrors of Thatcherism largely passed me by. I missed out on two opportunities to get Australian citizenship, just by showing up at an amnesty with my passport. I threw away a woman who loved me when she asked me to choose between her and the drugs.

Having taken myself to the very edge of the human world, I defied the odds and stayed alive. A third chapter opened. I was wretched and wrecked and it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to stumble back into the realms of the living.

Not in a Hollywood whoosh, but slowly and blindly little bits and pieces started to move, like metal filings pulled toward Home.

While in Rehab I’d been taught to go to Narcotics Anonymous, so that’s what I did. In the meeting rooms, some were talking about going to therapy, so I did that too. Looking back, I can see more clearly, just how ravaged I was. Commitment to drugs will take everything a person is or can be, and I had utterly given myself up to it. I had no capacity for self-reflection. I didn’t know what was going on inside me, or around me. I didn’t know that I was managing self-hatred as big as the world, the only way I knew how. I was held together by a few Leonard Cohen songs and a taste of something elusive I sometimes found on the MDA fueled dance floors with the gay men.

Coming out of that, almost dead but not quite, after multiple suicide attempts and all manner of unlikely failures at dying, there wasn’t much left. I’m taking a moment to look back at her now, from thirty years on down the track and it makes me wince. I don’t quite understand how I moved from there to anywhere.

Only possible, I think, because of the 12 Step Fellowship. Thank you Narcotics Anonymous, first in Sydney and then in London, for holding me. It was basic stuff. Go to a meeting every day. Or even two. If it gets bad enough, go to a third. Don’t use. Get a sponsor. Keep It Simple Sweetheart was KISS. The way we held hands at the end of meetings and said the Serenity Prayer.

I stayed drug and alcohol free and used the 12-step formula for six years. It was, to paraphrase Mr. Cohen, a Temple where they told me what to do. It was my first experience of being received. I was welcome and understood. I was offered some guidance, but not in a top down kind of way… I kept hearing versions of my own story. I got a taste of resonance and I liked it.

I didn’t know I couldn’t think, or that I couldn’t see myself at all. I went to therapy and slowly began to translate some narrative meaning. The story of me started to make sense. I was immensely moved, as I came into focus, not only by my desperation and suffering, but by the processes of self-rescue, and the intimacy of psychotherapy itself. I found myself training without ever having asked myself if I wanted to be a therapist. Some years later when I did stop to ask that question, I found the answer was yes.

As for depression and me… now that it’s achingly simple, I have to concentrate and focus to remember the wracking labour pains.

I didn’t like the word Depression in relation to me. It felt like a judgement and a terrible failure. I should have worked it through or healed it. Or, God help me, translated it. I did so much cathartic bodywork and was always disappointed not to get rid of my heavy. I worked like a dog with a bone… I did family constellations, all manner of group therapy, shamanic healing, rituals, prayers, plant medicine, laying on the couch three times a week, periodic (secret) antidepressants and then Tantra and 5Rythms dance.

Every single undertaking gave me succour. I was very hungry. If I gaze back at all my endeavors, I feel touched by my appetite and longing to be healed and whole, even as I was partially trapped in my own prescription for that. I was nourished, though. I ate a lot of light. I found a sense of place, or the beginning of one. I met with my own homelessness and started to welcome grief.

What did for me, was that no matter how much light I ate, and how much good medicine nourished me, I was still waking up each day with the weight of the world on my chest and the taste of defeat in my mouth. I didn’t even want to call that depression, which is a little bit daft for an experienced psychotherapist, but hey.

The worst symptom of depression is the relentless narrative voice. A violent and unforgiving self-rap. The head-fuckery of it. The impossibility. The fact that it is never, ever going to be okay, to be here like This.

I moved through life and life moved through me. Sometimes with more ease and sometimes with less, but never free from the weight of myself. Never able to make myself well in the way I had in mind and vision.

Something happened. After all the fighting, the twisting and spinning in the wind, and after every trick in the book was exhausted, there was just nowhere left to go, so I fell. It was a palpable fall. My system gave up and I lost my grip on it all. It was a relief.

I didn’t know where I’d landed for quite a while, but when I started to get my bearings, was born. I didn’t know much, but for the first time, that didn’t seem to matter. It seemed I had fallen, not from Grace, but directly into it.

This is my first Postcard from the window-ledge and I called it: Forgiveness.

There is a wide divide
between an idea of me in my life
and the truth
and I have tried and tied
myself in knots
with medicine and meditation
to make a better fit
and rearrange the pieces into
much more satisfactory shape
I did not understand why I kept failing
and falling, or see the hopeless, helpless
circles and cul-de-sacs of trying to make
a brand new cut out of old cloth.
I had to unlearn the tyranny of healing
and find my own
that didn’t have so much to say
about healing and transformation
rebirth and renewal
and especially about surrender
oh, how I had to stop trying to surrender right
the pitch perfect surrender
like chasing an impossible orgasm
Somewhere between a daughter being born and a sister dying
I have found that I can love life
and long for death, at the same time
that both are true and I am as full of tenderness
as of despair.

The last frontier was about my attachment to an idea of episodic depression rather than the baseline kind. If I was going to be a member of the depressed tribe, I really wanted to believe in, on and off, good and bad, in and out, alive and dead… you get the picture. I wanted to have episodes of depression, in between which I could be well, wide open, productive and even happy or joyful. This was quite a showdown. The truth is that I’m not an episodic depressive, though I have forced myself into that construct on occasion. It has been the source of so much suffering. Finding in myself a welcome state of well-being, I couldn’t ever let that be in co-existence with the bleakness in my bones.

Depression Is My Home Address. It just is. Of course, I am thoughtful about this. Nature and nurture, generational mental health and all manner of self-diagnosis. But this thing called depression, the sheer weight of it, and its particular quality of darkness, have always been with me. Having spent so much of my life trying to get rid of myself, it feels so good to stop.

When I fell, I landed in The Fields of Kindness. I don’t really know how that happened, but suspect it could only happen in that tiny beat of surrender. In that precious moment when I couldn’t go on and gave up on everything, the thing that was trying to happen, could.

These fields were here all the time, just waiting for me. I have to tell you though, that they are not warm and fuzzy fields. They exist in an elemental world, rather than a Disney film. The wild winds blow in and the grass often tastes of salt. These fields though, they are so kind and so damned inclusive.

Radical simplicity: it is just This, over and over, breath by breath. I was here all the time. And depressed without the internalised voices making it wrong, over and over, is a much simpler kettle of fish. Embodied rocks, laboured breath, the darkest, almost starless night sky, and all the sighing and moaning that living with a dog and a cat forgives. What if there’s nowhere to run from? Or anyone else to try and be? What if there is nothing to fix?

Sometimes I can’t work out if my little life got smaller, while knowing for sure that spaciousness happened. I’m always saying, thank you, Life, and loving the absurdity of having so much gratitude for a life I also long to be done with and out of.

If I have anything to contribute to the dialogue about depression, it’s to do with compassion, kindness and welcome. What if there really is nothing to fix? I know it’s controversial and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but absolutely nothing else worked until I put out the welcome mat.

I have to tend to that mat, pick it up and bash it against the wall once a week, and brush off the debris. I reckon it’s a lifelong practice of remembering to welcome the one I’m with and keep giving myself up to This, especially when This is not what I had in mind or plan.

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