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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Beware Of 'Other' Esteem And Know How To Heal The Shame That Binds You

I am not entirely sure why I was so desperate to go to South Pacific Private , I know what reasons I gave when I checked in, but the original desire came from perhaps just owning a curious mind. For years I have done battle with the dogs that barked in my cellar. I had gone over, under and through all my old wounds step by step, all those little bits and pieces of psychological garbage you collect over the years and heap into a swag where from time to time you stop, sift through them, and often weep.

As a child I was very sickly; an asthmatic, a bed wetter, prone to accidents and highly sensitive. These are the easy to identify pockets of shame we carry with us. However, this didn't explain why nothing I was able to achieve in the external world was able to make me happy or content within. I was endlessly dissatisfied with life and increasingly so, and that, perhaps, was the sole reason I found my way to SPP in hindsight.

Whether I have settled my dogs remains to be seen. I am a work in progress and by no means completed until I have closed my eyes on this earth, or as I frequently dream, fallen from the sky in an aeroplane crash inferno. But, I would like to make a solemn statement of gratitude for the staff at SPP.

I walked in a few weeks back depressed, unable to see a clear way forward in life, showing early stages of alcohol dependency, overweight, sleep deprived, angry, frightened and disillusioned. I have come out the other side as complex as I was going in, but with a deeper understanding of who I am and less resentment and shame towards who that person is. I am in great debt to the kind and compassionate team at SPP who revealed to me the 'toxic shame' that was doled out to me as child by people around me who should have known better. My story was not unique, not more or less valuable than those that were my peers going through. I got a fair wack of humility slapped into me from the get go as I discovered just how dysfunctional many families are and how much we are forced to minimise our shame as we're often told 'there are so many people worse off than you' or else that 'you just ought to roll with the punches in life and stop dwelling in the past'.

It is true, we must roll with the flow of life. Depression is living in the past. Anxiety is living in the future. Today, to be present, this is the way to live. But, minimising or putting aside those things which rip apart and tear at the fabric and construction of your formative years is a very dangerous thing to do because unless you own the reality of those things that were done to you and get yourself into a state of recovery, then you are a ticking time bomb. Perhaps you may die without ever having confronted and knowing your shame and moving on, or worse still, perhaps you will perpetuate it by passing it on to the next generation.

Every day inside those treatment rooms I learned more and more about the human condition; about emotional, physical, psychological and sexual abuse. About men and women who suffered at the hands of people within or near to their family. I watched as layer upon layer of the onion was peeled back on even the most hardened and seasoned patients of psychotherapy. The more battle hardened and walled, often the more gripping and gaping a wound they carried. Things which can't be repeated on this blog and remain inside those rooms where the content filled the air like a fog of emotional discharge.

To try and dispel this I often used humour to placate the tension. I imagined the therapists to be like lions and lionesses, that each day they would enter the room to find unsuspecting zebras (patients) lapping up water as they read affirmations from the communal books in the centre of the colour coded therapy rooms. Then the zebras would look up, knowing that at one point or another the lion was going to take one of them as prey, but which one neither the lion nor the zebra would know until the final moment was upon them. Anything could change in those rooms, an admission, a rebuttal, a reality shared, a casual off hand remark, then the direction would change almost instantaneously and the patient would look up with the horrific look of 'oh know, it's me, I will be the kill today'. But, after the tears and the pain were allowed to sit and dissipate, there was an almost divine feeling of connectedness that made the room united irrespective of age, sex, race or for that matter, their presenting problems. You would often leave the rooms lighter but with temples throbbing as though parts of your brain were re-wiring themselves presently and that new information was being written in the brain and lighting speed, that synapses were strengthening ties between the joints, that new pathways were being opened up like new information highways with data being stripped and replaced by a new operating system all in real-time. Walking the Curl Curl sands in the late afternoon it was as though the whole vista was filled with brand new colours never seen before, that the lapping waves against the shore line held some meaningful cadence that spoke of a life eternal. All the while the temples were throbbing from the sensory connection of those stories filtering in.

If there was one key personal lesson that I took from SPP it was the concept of 'Other Esteem' as described by Pia Mellody in her seminal book 'Facing Codependence'. She described genuine self esteem as like a pilot light that sits inside all of us which we then cocoon with our boundaries and systems. But genuine self esteem is not something you can 'kind of' have'. It's binary, it's either on or off. For those of us who don't have it, we then use 'Other Esteem' to derive our sense of self worth. Common examples are the jobs we have, the friends we keep, the car we drive, the woman we squeeze, the children we have, the house we live in, our education, our intellect, our family. For most of us we can appear to have a full life just because of these things - but what happens when you strip all that back? What happens when you lose your job, your wife leaves you, the house has to be sold, the mind fades. What have we then? The truth is that more often than not we cling to these things far more than we care to admit. What I was forced to confront is that I didn't have my pilot light on. And so it didn't matter whether I had this or that, whether I had a pretty Instagram account or the customers I kept or the pride I took in my fabrics. If you don't have genuine self love and self esteem, it's worth diddly-squat.

I doodled something on my journal paper whilst I was on the inside and I processed it as a vector this evening. I hope it somewhat conveys what I saw inside SPP. I certainly hope it resonates with anyone who feels they have a hole in their heart or that finds they are in a funk. To give my mind some respite was a wonderful feeling and I hope in due course that as confronting as this blog post might be, as absurd as it might be to some who stop by to read menswear content, we are all human, we are all imperfect, we all need to reach out from time to time.

And, thank you SPP.

Please see one of the more interesting videos I watched during my treatment.

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