When I was 20 years old, a few weeks shy of my 21st birthday, I found myself in the midst of learning that my soul was a dead space. While I presume others were celebrating ‘coming of age’ I was slowly awakening to my desperate need for healing through the love and support of Alcoholics Anonymous whose rooms I had ran into one Saturday night. This provided me with endless therapy sessions allowing me to deal with what was left when the drink wasn’t there to numb my emotional existence and an endless supply of life changing books.
For my 21st birthday, a friend bought me a present that helped me to understand even more about myself. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach fell off my shelf a while back while discussing favourite books with a friend on the phone. That book was given to me at a deeply traumatic time of my life for which I am now very grateful – I would have been sober for about two months and my entire being was coated in a veneer of grey self-loathing. I had no self-worth, no self-esteem and absolutely no self-belief. I was dead inside. My fighting spirit was lying in a pool of self-destruction unable to fight anymore, even unable to emerge long enough to get me through the night.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, this beautiful book, that still has yellow highlighter scrawled across many of the sentences that serve to demonstrate the excitement for the 21 year old reader as I understood something new, something that I could make sense of, is about the quest of a seagull to break free from the crowd, from expectations, from all that is uncomfortable and senseless – to seek freedom. I connected with it on such a profound level at the time and flicking through it again, nearly 30 years on in my journey of recovery, none of its’ meaning is lost on any personal growth that I have been fortunate to have had.
Sometimes, when we want to be different, it’s easy for people to feel upset or angry. Sometimes, when we absolutely believe that we are on the right path, someone wants to stand in front of us and try and prevent us from seeing the way forward. Sometimes, because of that, it’s easy to lose our belief and our ‘why’. The importance of having people around you who genuinely love you is immense.
Self-love is the cornerstone to everything and yet that is the very thing that can be so elusive when that has not been learned ‘in relationship’ during those developing years. Without being able to develop self-love, we can feel limited; it is harder to love others, to be kind and compassionate to ourselves and to others and to be less judgemental of ourselves and of others. It is in new relationships in our adult life that we have other opportunities to learn, providing we are fortunate enough to come by the right people.
The greatest piece of advice I was told when that recovery journey began, all those years ago was that I should find people who have what I want (it took me a long time to work that one out!) and remember that you are the shape of the closest people to you. In other words, be careful who you have in your inner circle! It matters!
The friend, who bought me the book back in 1991, has written inside “If circumstances are bad and you have to bear them, do not make them a part of yourself.” How lovely of her to write that and how these words are far more profound than I could ever have appreciated at the time.