Having just said goodbye to the pioneering women who took part in the first ever Gateway Women Coaching Group this Autumn, I have been profoundly moved by the power of truth and trust to change our lives. And that got me thinking about the power of truth and trust in my own journey from an unhappily childless woman to a happily childfree one…
The opposite of truth is, in some ways, denial.
Denial gets a bum rap in self-development and recovery circles sometimes, which is a shame. Because denial is a very powerful and effective psychological defence mechanism that protects our emotional reality from a truth we’re not yet strong enough to deal with. It’s why our first response to the death of a loved one if often “No, that can’t be true!” It usually takes a while for the truth to sink in.
Sometimes, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are so off-the-wall that if we felt the full impact of them in one go, the shock alone would kill us.
Denial is part of human resilience, not human weakness.
When I turned 40, about seven years ago, I was in denial about how unlikely it was that I would marry again and have that much longed-for family. This was in spite of the fact that:
(a) I’d been trying to conceive for 11 years and was only 2 years out of a long marriage destroyed by my husband’s addictions
(b) I hadn’t been dating since I was 21 and had zero street-smarts when it came to dating marriageable guys
(c) I was completely ignorant about female fertility post-35 and the shrinking chance of popping out high quality eggs for IVF
I was blissfully ignorant about the whole goddamn lot, including my blissful ignorance. It wasn’t until I was 44 that it dawned on me how much I’d been in denial about my chances of becoming the Cath Kidson wife and mother that some antediluvian part of me seemed to be craving. I was an infertile single woman in her 40s with relationship and life issues that needed a bit of an overhaul. I just wasn’t ready to cope with the truth before then.
If the opposite of truth is denial, then the opposite of trust is control.
Disciplinarian, autocrat, dictator, tyrant, nag, slave driver, Big Brother, gatekeeper, martinet… these are just some of the synonyms a thesaurus came up with for ‘control freak’…
Control freaks are, it seems, deeply uncool and very unsexy. Well, I think it goes deeper than that.
I think control freaks are scared. And that there’s nothing freaky about that.
Scared of what others might think, scared of what others might do, scared of what others won’t do, scared of allowing people to get close to us, scared of allowing people freedom, scared of our own freedom…
We live in a sharp and pointy world in fragile, fleshy bodies and the only thing we’re sure of is that we’re going to die. This is not a slogan that sells. Hence the seductive illusion of control.
Trust is the antidote to control. Not some hippy-dippy dream-catcher trust in something ‘out there’, but a deeply felt sense of trusting that however life turns out, you’ll cope just fine.
We are all much more adaptable than we realise. And you’re not the only one who hates change. Everyone does. It’s part of the human condition. It’s just that some people hide it better than others.
When I let go of control and chose to trust that whatever happened, I’d be able to handle it, it was as if I stepped out of my own narrow self and back into the world again. I no longer saw my future as a black-and-white place where it’d all be OK if I got married again and had a family, and it’d be a disaster if I didn’t. You’d think the marriage I’d been through might have given me some pointers, but myth is powerful juju.
As Gloria Steinheim famously said “Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry.” Now, it didn’t stop her marrying in later life, and her radical attitude continues to make her at 70-something a thought-leader who rocks. She, and millions of other less well known women (like my mother), who fought for our right to have access to birth control, abortions and careers could not have foreseen one of the unintended consequence of such advances – namely that our dreams, ambitions and careers would be based on the male pattern of working your arse off in your 20s and 30s and starting a family in your 40s – and how that would lead to 1:5 women in their 40s being childless, many of them not by choice.
There is always an element of chaos in change. If I hear another person compare transformation to a caterpillar coming out a chrysalis I think I’ll garrote myself with a friendship bracelet.
Because who’s to say the liquefaction of the caterpillar into some kind of protein soup before it rebuilds itself into a butterfly doesn’t hurt like hell?!
Now, I’m not saying I’ve got it licked. Trusting that you can handle whatever life throws at you doesn’t mean that catching those balls is fun. Shit happens. And keeps on happening. That’s life. Doesn’t mean you’re living the wrong one. And it doesn’t mean that the life you thought you wanted would have made you any happier.
Denial. Yes. I definitely chose not to look this issue in the eye until it was too late (I’m now 47) but I was always too ‘undecided’ to take radical action.
Denial is all over the place out there even between #nomos themselves. I have emailed Jody’s excellent article from the Guardian to 4 girlfriends, 3 of whom are #nomos. So far the response has been… a big fat zero. Are we looking at one of the very last taboos? Even those who are #nomos find it too hard to discuss? I guess they may be in ‘the tunnel’ – but if we don’t discuss this stuff between us, how can we help each other through?
Denial is a coping mechanism at some level, but sooner or later it runs out of steam. Then the interesting stuff begins…
I’m also in the midst of coming to terms with an unmarried, childless life. Writing about it here: http://thebitterbabe.wordpress.com/
I love your blog – it has the raw ring of truth and the writing is beautiful. Thank you for sharing – I’m going to put it up on the Gateway Women Facebook page. Jody x
And she does it again! Another beautiful piece of thought-provoking, encouraging prose! I’d never thought of the male model of being able to consider having a family in our 40s, after ‘having it all’ with a career. So true.
And I’ve been hiding from sorrow behind denial for many many years, which has protected me in some ways, and denied me a different life in others. I realise that I haven’t yet come to terms with that, nor fully embraced my childfree future with a sense of joy, but at least I know it’s possible.
Thanks, Jody x
Amy – thank you for your comment.
Indeed, there is a lot of cultural and historical baggage wrapped up in what’s happening to our generation of women in their 40s – and it rarely gets taken into account when by women who feel totally responsible and ‘ashamed’ for making the ‘wrong’ choices.
We are less in control of our destiny than we’re comfortable with. We’re also less able to predict what will make us happy than we realise, so it’s probably not always a bad thing!
Hope to see you in the New Year and hatch some plans for a GW Coaching Group in Buckinghamshire!
With love, Jody x