The fact that I haven't updated my blog for almost 5 months isn't because of being busy or lazy. It was more of a case of losing my focus. Ironic, considering that my website is called Allie's Eye.
I can't really pin down what led my spirit to break so spectacularly. Perhaps it was a combination of my father enduring and surviving two heart attacks, watching my 29 year old sister bravely fight and thankfully beat bowel cancer, followed shortly by ovarian cancer claiming the life of my beloved mother. Losing a baby, job redundancy, setting up my own business during a recession, separation from my husband, choosing to live in a very small town in a country (Dahab, South Sinai, Egypt) where enjoying a "normal" relationship is difficult to say the least. I think all of those milestones played no small part in what I now consider to be a breakdown in some shape or form.
I didn't take time off work or start locking myself at home, slowly rocking backwards and forwards, muttering to myself. it was far more insidious than that. Most people on the outside would never have guessed anything was wrong in fact as I can play the game well. Sociable, fun loving, eccentric, moustache obsessed, globe trotting Allie was the same as ever. Although my family and friends, particularly in the UK, didn't hear from me so much. My excuse? Because I was "busy" with work, outings, life. I made no real effort to get in touch, so communication tended to be very one-sided.
Inside I was hurting. In fact at times I felt as though I was dying. I no longer took real pleasure in my life, despite living in a beautiful part of Egypt with some of the world's most positive and happy people, spectacular beaches, deserts and mountains. What drew me to Dahab ended up being ignored and replaced with staying at home most of the time with the occasional outing to see friends. I've always taken great pleasure in the Bedouin children here, who used to make me smile every day of the week. But now I even started to avoid them. I felt as though the more I went out, the more likely the real me would somehow be exposed. I needed to wallow in my own misery. At times I actually felt truly desperate, and perhaps this was the catalyst for what came next.
In May my amazing 92 year old grandmother, Hilda was very sick, so I flew back to the UK earlier than planned to help look after her. I clearly remember driving away from Dahab and feeling as though I was going into the lion's den. My family and friends would see me and the game would be up. They knew me too well to not notice that I was a complete mess in so many ways.
As I went through yet more emotions watching my grandmother deteriorate badly for a few days, I made a decision to book the Hoffman Process. I'd heard about the course a few years ago, as I know two people who completed it and I'm still astounded by the changes I see in the way they live their lives. The thing is, I never thought I'd need to do it one day too, but by this point I was psychologically hurtling a cosmic black Ferrari at 200 miles an hour towards a huge brick wall.
I'll let you do your own research into what the Process is, and the theories behind it but one course graduate is spot on when she says, "Hoffman is about a New Start. This beautifully researched and ingenious process allows you to discover the painful baggage that has weighed you down and supports you into letting it go.”
Another thing that convinced me is that the course is recognised by well respected psychologists. For example this article by Oliver James in the Observer suggests that the government should fund it over and and above cognitive behavioural therapy. You can find more news, press articles and research here.
After I'd completed my 6 hours of heavy but very enlightening pre-course work (usually in Hilda's kitchen in the early hours of the morning before she awoke), I was raring to go. Old wounds had been opened. Scabs had been picked. I was wide open to my emotions, and it wasn't a pleasant feeling.
The thought of bashing pillows with wiffle bats until my fingers bled didn't particularly appeal to me, but anything was better than where I was at that particular point in my life.
After a week of locking myself away first at Hilda's and then at my Dad's, where I had to find old photographs and momentos of my childhood to take with me, I did a stopover with my sister again to say goodbye. She gave me one of my mother's old diaries, the warmest of hugs, and then sent me on my way to Florence House, Seaford, Sussex at sunrise on a beautiful, warm Good Friday. My heart fluttered as I drove down the M4 watching that fiery red ball rising above the trees and hills, but I already had a sense of calm. For once in my life I was doing something positive, for myself and nobody else.
And it's here that my journey really began. On arrival, I had to surrender my trusty iPhone and Mac to the Hoffman team and spend the next 8 days with 23 complete strangers. Anyone who knows me well will realise that for this workaholic who usually has her phone practically glued to her ears or hands, this was no mean feat.
My nickname on the Hoffman Process was "Smiling Caretaker". In other words, I'd learnt to always care for others with a smile on my face, ignoring whatever I was going through in my own life. I'd learnt to hide my emotions and ignore my real needs. That worked for as long as I could remember, but what led me to book the course was the inability to do it any more. I didn't love myself, I felt unlovable, and I didn't have the energy to caretake anymore. So who was I?
Again, I won't go into detail as to what the Hoffman Process entailed. There's enough information across the internet for you to research and I would never want to give away some of the shock tactics that make the course so effective. But what I will tell you is that I've never sobbed so uncontrollably or laughed from my heart so much in my entire life. The techniques that the tutors use are tried, tested and effective. They brought me to my lowest ebb, and then gradually built me back up again. Think of stripping a dead and rusty classic car, then rebuilding it piece by piece with shiny new parts, a complete oil change and a brand new 1000 horsepower engine.
Learning to deal with the patterns I'd developed over 40 years was a revelation. I finally realised exactly how much damage I'd been doing to myself without even knowing it, and I gave my spirit a voice. She sounded wonderful.
The people who attended the Process with me were a joy to get to know, and I count each and every one of them as a very close friend. Due to the nature of the course, we didn't sit there chatting about our jobs or favourite holiday destinations. We were encouraged to talk about our feelings, worries, hopes and dreams. We opened up to each other in a way that I'd never really encountered. And that creates a very strong bond that is hard to describe. Since graduating we've constantly been in touch via our Google Group, Skype and email, checking up on each other and opening up about how we're getting on in our normal, day to day life.
And now? It's been almost 3 months and I've noticed the difference. This isn't a quick fix - it takes time and a lot of hard work to use the tools that I'm equipped with to make those changes permanently. But on my return to Dahab, I've re-introduced myself to the things that make me happy. I'm connecting and re-connecting with friends on a very different level, taking joy in photography again, and my web consultancy business is thriving. Yes I'm still caretaking but I choose the people I want to help very carefully. I'm allowing myself more time to sit and be quiet, to think. Sometimes it was all too easy to keep busy and surround myself with white noise to block out what my heart was trying to tell me. That's a hard habit to break, but I'm getting there.
As for my family and friends in the UK, I appreciate them more than ever. I know that there was a time when they were concerned for me and wanted me to move back to England to live a "normal" life. I had become very selfish in my depression and I neglected those I loved badly. Those days are over.
The Process isn't cheap by any means, but in my opinion if you're willing to pay the same amount for a new gas boiler, then isn't fixing your head just as crucial if not more? Staged payments and bursaries are available too.
Who knows what the future holds for me now. But what I do believe is that I'm in control of my own destiny and that the Hoffman Process will help me follow the right path. Or the right path for me, anyway. That includes (a) being mindful, so appreciating everything I have in my life, and (b) keeping this blog updated far more often... ;-)
A Hoffman friend sent me a great link a few weeks ago, which you might enjoy: 22 Things Happy People Do Differently.
If you've found this article interesting and would like more information, please feel free to contact me by email or go straight to the official Hoffman website to arrange an informal chat with one of their fantastic advisors.