I am not a big fan of ‘New Year, New Me’, but I do like the idea of using the new year as a point of reflection on the past 365 days; what I liked, what I learnt, and what I will never do again.
One of the highlights of 2021 was my best friend getting married, and her hen do in particular. It was quite a day. It included: a bottomless brunch, tears in TGI’s, angry tarot, and her dancing naked to the Hamilton soundtrack, (I’ve only just been able to listen to that soundtrack again recently - PTSD). There was also a male stripper, and whilst my friend had the time of her life, more questions regarding my sexuality were settled in that 15 minutes than have been in the past 5 years.
I also took the boys on holiday for the first time in years, experienced theatre again, hugged people, ran 10k and in building It’s Ok Susie it has meant that career-wise, for the first time in my life, I feel like I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing, and that’s a really good feeling.
Now for the juicy bit
The things I will not be taking with me to the new year, most notably, alcohol consumption. After lockdown, I hit the town and the bottle hard one night whilst out with some friends. This was fun for about 10 minutes and then resulted in vomiting, a panic attack, and the most severe case of hangxiety I have ever experienced. If you haven’t experienced hangxiety before, it's an overwhelming feeling of regret for what you did, said, felt, plus dread for everything that's to come in your life. It's different to a hangover, it cannot be alleviated with a fry up, rehydration and a day in bed. They are dark, dark days, and in my case, weeks. Hanxiety left me making an assessment of the night itself, my reasoning behind that amount of drinking in the first place and how I was going to prevent it from happening again.
I felt like I had been hit and then backed over by a bus, physically, emotionally and mentally. What the fuck had happened?
I have never been one who drinks much. I might do on the odd night out with friends, but I don’t drink at home, and I rarely think about alcohol. But this night was different, it was as though I was trying to achieve some sort of high after being locked down for so long.
I spoke to my friends after and in reality, I didn’t do anything horrific; I didn’t offend anyone, I hadn’t stripped naked or texted an ex. But the panic attack and the repeated statement I made throughout it was something I obviously needed to address. I was in my friend's spare bedroom, holding onto her collar bone (still not sure why, but at the time I was apparently insistent), repeating four words over and over for hours…’I don’t feel safe’.
I know that this might be a strange concept for some people, especially for those who have never questioned their safety. I am not sure how to articulate it other than, we often talk about finding your puzzle piece, and that usually takes the form of another person, once they come along the missing piece slots perfectly into your soul and you feel whole and complete. My missing piece wasn’t a person, it was a feeling of safety and trust within me. I realised I had spent my time looking for another person to do this for me and every time it didn’t work out, I felt shattered into smaller and smaller pieces.
I grew up in chaos, albeit with the most amazing mother anyone could ever ask for, but my Dad was an alcoholic and his behaviour was erratic, unpredictable and if I am honest, abusive.
It has made me into a hyper-vigilant person.
I can sense a person’s mood when they come into a room because I had to when I was younger, I needed to know what mood he would be in to determine whether I should run and hide. I should imagine this contributed heavily to my feelings of unworthiness. It has also given my sisters and I the most wicked of sense of humour; nothing is off-limits in joking about, and I wouldn’t actually change that.
It is complex because I still love my Dad and I have all sorts of compassion for him, he was a never-recovering addict. He died at the beginning of 2020 and grieving a parent who never acknowledged, let alone made amends with the things that had happened, has been one of the most challenging things I have had to deal with.
I am fully aware that addiction is an illness and very complicated, it was of course not all of him, but the effects it has had on my family’s lives has been hugely significant, and I am learning it is the reason I haven’t felt safe, probably ever. It’s the reason I have held onto relationships that haven’t served either of us, and it’s the reason I have felt anxious and depressed.
But self-awareness isn’t enough...
...it’s what you do with it after that creates impactful change. So I decided to make this my focus, creating safety within myself, so I never again look to another, or find myself clinging on for dear life to my best friend's collar bone, unable to see any light.
I should imagine this looks different for everyone but for me, two things make a difference.
I found the best way to ground myself in those moments of panic was to breathe deep belly breaths, it takes me from my racing, anxious mind, back into my body. I practice the Wim Hof breathing method and it helps, I’d even go as far as to say it feels pretty magical. There are tons of benefits to deep belly breathing including pain relief, stronger immunity and regulation of your nervous system, which in turn helps relieve anxiety and depression.
The Wim Hof Method
I also sit with the uncomfortable feelings when I feel able to, and I have discovered something; it’s the resistance of them, for fear of feeling pain, that actually creates the suffering. Because once I stopped resisting and I started feeling, I learnt that the difficult feelings would flow through me and more importantly that they would pass…who knew?
Implementing these two things into my life has made a huge difference to my wellbeing, they have built up a sort of self-trust. It feels like the puzzle piece I was desperately trying to fit into place with partners, and on that night, with alcohol, was inside me all along.
In practising these things I have found what I was looking for; to feel safe in my own body. After living without it for so long, this basic human need feels like luxury and is not something I will take for granted.
Dermot Kennedy - Days Like This
As I enter a new year, I will enter it with a sense of safety, security, and steadiness within me, and when I don't, I'll breathe and feel my way through it. So maybe I will enter this year as a newer version of myself, a woman who finally feels safe, and that feels pretty powerful.