My name is Anita Atherton [Hello Anita]. I have been doing yoga and meditation for about six months now [Oprah applause]. I just wanted to say that I wake up every day feeling happy and positive [Insert Oprah “Everyone in the Studio Audience is Getting a CAR!” applause].
But seriously, I am in a much better space than I was six months ago. I had no idea how bad it was until seeing how good it can be; but this is something I have to do on my own. I can tell people how great it is and what a change it makes – but most people don’t want to know.
At first I was terribly hurt and offended, but each day my wisdom, empathy and compassion grow and I appreciate that for me too, it wasn’t until I was ready to seriously make some changes, that I was ready to receive any help.
I remember a university teacher of mine telling me years ago to “take the Mickey out of yourself before anyone else can”. This was with respect to conducting a sales presentation, but it resonated with me for a long time. It became my “shtick” to overcome extreme shyness.
Growing up, I was shy and self-conscious – I am very tall, my ears stick out and I used to turn the colour of beetroot if anyone looked at me sideways; I felt silly. In high school – I felt like that pretty much all of the time. However, I was studious and conscientious and it paid off in terms of results.
I went straight into University after leaving school which is right about where the wheels fell off. The main thing I remember in the first year was hearing that Marketing graduates could earn up to $32k in their first year of employment. I was 18, I had my driver’s license and my first car, and this was my ticket to financial emancipation! So the subject matter was excruciatingly tedious and mind-numbingly boring (for me), THIRTY TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS? Where do I sign?!
Truth is, the subjects WERE incredibly dry – economics, statistics, accounting – I hated them all in their own special way. My work ethic went straight out the window, I failed subject after subject time and time again – but I made some firm friendships at the pub on campus!
Outside of school, I didn’t know that life could be enjoyed and not endured. No-one said to me that maybe I was failing at these subjects and partying too hard because I was doing the wrong course. Rather I came to believe that I was failing this fine course because I was partying too hard and not working hard enough. So, believing that I was not very intelligent or hard-working after all, I heeded the “Take the Mickey” sales advice and adopted a new persona to see me through the course and my subsequent career.
And everyone bought what I was selling. My self-deprecating humour was framed as “ability to laugh at oneself” – really a shield to protect enormous self-doubt and insecurity. Outwardly I was calm, confident, successful, funny, popular and easy-going. But that wasn’t really me.
The “real me” was the voice in my head telling me what a fraud I was. Every single day she reminded me that I don’t work hard enough, that I’m not intelligent enough, that I don’t really know what I’m doing. She told me I drank too much, smoked too much, that I am pathetic, that I am fat, ugly and lazy. She told me that my friends didn’t really like me because they didn’t know the real me. She told me my husband would leave me if he knew what I flake I really was. She told me I was a bad mother and my kids would probably end up alcoholics as well. She told me I was too weak to do anything about it, she told me it was too late to change.
She was a real bitch, actually. If she were an external friend I would have un-friended her on Facebook a long time ago! Instead, I put her in charge and believed every word she said.
Living with this inner turmoil was a living hell. I suffered with chronic anxiety. Medication and alcohol provided such sweet, sweet relief from that yakkety-yak that I turned to it more frequently and in larger quantities.
If my husband asked me to do even the smallest thing I could snap. That cow upstairs had such a long to-do list lined up for me, whilst telling me I was fat, ugly and lazy – and reminding me of every unkind thing anyone had ever said or done to me and devising knock-out blows for a revenge strike upon those unsuspecting persons… well! If HE thought I had time to fit in what HE wanted…it got ugly.
Weirdly though, for a long time the pain was of great comfort. A case of better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, I guess.
The pot of gold at the end of this bleak “rainbow” is that I took a small step in a different direction towards yoga and dabbled in meditation. Look, I can’t explain how or why it has happened for me, but that bitch upstairs has now left the building.
It is my aim here to be a yoga enthusiast, not a bore. Whilst here I feel comfortable sharing my experience, I have learnt to keep it to myself as well. I have found along the way that many people – often those closest to me – actually do not want to hear that I am happy and have actually lashed out in the unkindest of ways. While I’m looking up not down and smiling not frowning and all that – many people seem quite keen to throw me and my skipping rope under a lorry.
The cow who used to live upstairs would have told me that they were right. Who the hell did I think I was anyway? Did I think I was better than them? Why did I deserve to be happy? Why me anymore than the next person?
But I don’t care what she thinks.
I am not addicted to smoking, medicating, spending, drinking or people-pleasing anymore. I don’t desperately need people to like me. I like myself very much and I can say no. I don’t get on the scales anymore – this fabulous body delivered my two gorgeous children AND it can now do a pretty decent shoulder-stand. *I don’t suck my tummy in anymore because according to yogic principles a soft belly equates to a warm heart– and besides, tight abs hinder digestion. Hello! Is there a downside to this ancient practise?!
I know how to live fully within each moment – or drag myself back there if my thoughts carry me away. If the old tart that used to live upstairs pops in, I give her my best Buddha smile and offer her a cup of tea – but she never stays.
Until next time we meet,
Om & out.
* Stephen Levine, an American meditation teacher who has written extensively on healing counsels that the state of your belly reflects the state of your heart. By consciously softening your belly again and again, you can let go and open to the tender feelings in your heart.