February 2018

I hope everyone had a wonderful Xmas and that you were surrounded by family or loved ones. As Andrea wrote in the last newsletter, I was off travelling so I'm only getting the chance now to reflect on Christmas and New Year. More about my adventures overseas later and let's discuss this crazy and sometimes silly season a little bit more.

It's often a time of year fraught with stress or sadness for many people; those who have lost loved ones around this time or the stress that comes with financing Xmas. I fall under both categories and worked hard this year in not allowing my emotions to run riot. I wanted to stay in control of how I felt and reacted. I found that many of the stresses I have around Xmas are of my own making. I put too much pressure on myself to make everything right for my family. I've lost my parents and their anniversaries are both in December, so I tend to get more emotional during this time as grief rears its head each year. I have felt obligated in the past to make sure Xmas stayed the same for my children and those around me. Subsequently, I go overboard with gift buying and that's often left me short for enjoying summer in January.

In previous years I have baked traditional Xmas treats with the intention of giving them away; yet I have been known to make double batches of everything because I can't be trusted with the baking and eat too much of it. I have learnt that much of the stress and worry I have had in the past is unnecessary and there is a simpler way. This year I planned things differently to avoid the stress. I didn't do any Xmas baking. I pre-bought a lot of my gifts over the past 5 months leading up to Xmas; little by little, and was completely finished by mid December. I only bought for those I really needed to and didn't worry about getting everyone a gift. Rather, I went and spent time with friends and relatives, choosing connection over gifts. I spent less on gifts overall, not feeling obliged to get all that I used to. I spent time alone thinking and remembering my parents rather focusing on the grief of losing them. Smiling at so many of the memories I have of them has been a huge comfort to me because I still remember them and can honour that memory.

While I travelled through third world countries this summer I was able to actively reflect on much of what's associated with this time of year. I was able to observe what it really looked like to have very little in life and still be happy and grateful. This was truly humbling to see and I thought how often we get it so wrong. How often is success, self worth or happiness measured by the size of our pay packet? Why have I felt the need for more stuff as a way of feeling fulfilled? Here I was looking at people who materially had nothing yet they seemed so rich in other ways. There's a lot I believe we could learn by sitting alongside people who have very little and life is hard. For one, it makes me feel very grateful for the life I do have and secondly it helps me question what is truly important to me? What can I live without. And inevitably the answer lies in less of the stuff and more to do with connection. It's the people in my life which give meaning to my life. Not the stuff I have or the money I make.

What gives meaning to your life? What can you live without? What are you prepared to settle for? Or not? I think pre-surgery I settled for the life I could barely tolerate, let alone enjoy. I constantly questioned myself, my place in the world and my own self worth. It's taken years of therapy to unpick my story and truly understand who I am and why I react and behave in certain ways. Since starting work at the FOHL retreats I have taken this further and think I understand myself pretty well now. I've unpacked my values and beliefs and now know my life is my responsibility. If I want my life to look different then I am the only one that can change that picture. It's up to me. And travelling through these third world countries solidified much of these feelings.

If you want to understand who you are more and want to make changes to your life, then consider booking a retreat. You won't regret it and you will even make friends with people on a similar journey to you. Go on. Because you are worth it xx

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