New Year. It’s really only another day, isn’t it though. It doesn’t have to be special, it doesn’t have to have this momentous hubris thrust upon it, it could just be another day. We can start our resolutions to be the best versions of ourselves at any time of year, it doesn’t have to be on 1st January. And yet, there is something momentous and worth reflecting on in the passing of one year, and the start of another.
And so, because however rebellious I think I am, I’m quite a traditional girl at heart, here, for the sake of posterity, are my reflections on my year, and my hopes for the next.
At the start of 2017, I was living in a draughty, mouldy flat, with the wallpaper peeling from the walls. The bedroom window was literally falling out of it’s frame, sinking into the rotten windowsill beneath. The stairs of doom, stairs that were steeper, narrower and higher than stairs should be, beckoned you up into the darkness, and at the top was my flat. It was a tiny village, where I knew no-one. In my eternal wisdom I had thought it a genius idea to move there the year before, save money on the London rents, but still be within sensible-travel-times into London, and of course it would be lovely to be out in the country, wouldn’t it. I am not a village girl. I was lonely and miserable, my mood taking on the qualities of the dank surroundings.
I finish 2017 living in my beautiful white house, a house with a whole upstairs and downstairs, and its own garden, in an also beautiful neighbourhood, fifteen minutes’ walk from the city centre. It’s not my home city, London will always be in my heart, but it’s my adopted city, and it suits me like a pair of well-worn-in Doc’s. I’m at home here. I feel like I can breathe here. I still don’t really know anyone but I don’t feel isolated – five minutes away there is a cinema, wine bars, restaurants. A further five minutes, the theatre. And they opened a huge John Lewis in a revamped shopping mall, seemingly in honour of me living here.
It is literally the dream location that I thought could only ever be a dream. And yet it’s real.
It had been only a faraway, seemingly impossible dream, at the start of the year, because at the start of the year, I was broke. I had gone full-time on my business ReConnected Life halfway through 2016 and it wasn’t making enough money to pay the rent, or begin to cover my expenses. The money from the lucrative contract I’d had previously had gone. In it’s place I had become a friend of interest-free credit. Which is fine, when you can afford to make the repayments that keep it interest-free. Not so wise when there’s no income and they switch to charging interest. I was overwhelmed with how to fill in the benefits forms, which ones I needed to complete, how to explain my income from two businesses and was I employed or self-employed, or something else entirely. I was searching bankruptcy, and contemplating how it’s even possible to empty a whole house of everything – can you donate the furniture, would the landlord want the plates? I made a list of friends on whose sofas or in whose spare rooms I might be able to stay. I tried to figure out how to put my life into one bag that I could carry and wouldn’t take up any space to outstay my welcome. I was broke.
And, then, a miracle. I got a job. And not just any job. A to-dream-for job. Totally serendipitous, one of those universe-synchronicities that make the cynical like me raise an eyebrow and mutter, yeah, right, but a serendipitous synchronicity nonetheless. A plaintive LinkedIn status “I’m looking for a job” led to a friend saying, have you seen XX, a mutual ex-colleague is hiring? I hadn’t, and when I checked, he’d posted that request a couple of months previously. But, I was desperate, so I hopefully contacted him to see if he still was hiring. Five interviews and two weeks’ later I found out I had the job, and I started a week after that. It was a miracle.
It’s not just the job that turned around my dire financial straits and enabled me to throw caution to the wind, prioritise happiness over saving, and move to my white house, but in doing what I’ve always done, it’s the best job I’ve had in my career. And I have had some great jobs in my career that I’ve enjoyed immensely. But this one has the golden combinations of working with lovely people, for a company that walks its ethics talk, doing things that get done and don’t just stay on powerpoint. And I get to work from home, which given my ongoing energy challenges is an absolute godsend. I don’t think my body would have the strength for the morning commute – well, I know it wouldn’t. I still struggle for 48 hours after I’ve spent a day out the house.
It’s a dream job.
I’ve done well at it too. I’ve won a departmental prize for my work on Customer Experience, written them three blogs (which is above and beyond my job description), one for international women’s day, and two which demonstrate that I might have been paying a little attention to my business mentors. I relaunched their Newsletter to 1.7m subscribers, and doubled performance. And whilst it’s a 4-day week job that enables me time to focus on ReConnected Life, my manager is very accommodating when ReConnected Life spills into his time. The autonomy we have to manage our time and deliver is unprecedented in my 20+ year career.
The first half of the year also saw me juggling the commitment to qualify for the One of Many Women’s Certified Coaching programme, fitting it into the mornings before work-work started. Monday to Thursday was always an 11-hour day, minimum. But I did qualify, and also graduated the Lead the Change programme at the end of June. That represented the end of almost two years of intense personal development, much of which has influenced my ReConnected Life Experience.
This year saw me add to my speaking experience, starting with putting Humpty Dumpty back together at the Story Party, then the Women’s Economic Forum, a totally surreal engagement to speak at the House of Commons for International Women’s Day, the charity ball for Who Will Hear My Cry, and panel discussions for Clear Lines, FiLiA, and Foreign Body (twice). I’ve also been featured on three podcasts, and the subject of three spotlight blogs. Four of my own blogs have been curated by others to use with their audiences too.
My profile as a silence breaker has also been raised considerably this year.
In February for Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness week I had ten pieces published, eight of them in the Metro. In March I appeared on BBC Breakfast and BBC 5 Live talking about Judge Kushner and drinking. Via the Angles project for On Road Media, the filming I did for the Independent in July, and for Channel 5 in August, culminated in both pieces going live in the same week of November, capitalising on the #MeToo momentum. I’m intensely proud to have been part of the Independent video series on ‘Life After Sexual Violence’. Being involved in the documentary ‘Raped: My Story’ really took it out of me, in a way I hadn’t anticipated. It was raw, going back there. But I don’t have words for what it felt to be watching it via Twitter and unable to keep up with thanking everyone for the support and positive comments. If you wonder why I sometimes don’t shut up about this stuff, it’s because of that. Because every time one of us speaks up, it comforts someone else. When I appeared on the Channel 5 News to talk about the documentary, the girl who was looking after us in the green room was overcome with gratitude and emotion to be meeting someone who could talk about it. It’s so important to be that role model and to talk about it.
Early this year I published my collection of blogs from my recovery in ‘It Gets Better’ and ‘Silence Hurts’, and the compendium of the two, ‘Desperately Hopeful’ as a paperback. In March I had the idea to edit a collection of real-life stories from the survivors in my ReConnected Life community on what it is to decide to report, or not to report, the crime of rape – and what happens when we do. ‘To Report Or Not To Report: Survivor Testimony of the (In)Justice System’ has subsumed most of my year: it is a total lie that editing a book is less work than writing one. Well, perhaps it is, I haven’t written one yet in that sense, but omg, editing a book is a lot of work! It will be published less than 11 months after conception though (not the originally planned six) with the launch party being hosted by my MP at the Houses of Parliament in February. It’s a truly powerful book, with powerful testimonies from the survivor-authors, and some extremely well-qualified and experienced perspectives from the part 3 contributors.
What I am most proud of though is…
What I am most proud of though, in my 2017, is that the mini-course ‘Taste of Recovery’ that I spent last November and December, and all through the Christmas break creating, that I launched on 6th January, has been licensed to RSVP, the Rape & Sexual Violence Project in Birmingham & Solihull, and that their service users, and especially those on their wait-list, will be able to get help, straight away, whilst they wait for ‘proper’ help. (Of course, my help is proper too, it’s just not face to face, one to one, counselling). It’s such an incredible endorsement of my work that I didn’t dare hope for. Coming into this space, not as a charity but as a business, and not as a counsellor but as a coach, I expected to be met with judgement. Which has happened at times. So, to have RSVP endorse my work is a huge shot in the arm for my credibility and my self-belief. And, the best thing, I know when I go to sleep at night, that my ripples are reaching those who I might never meet, people who need help and otherwise won’t have any, could be listening to my teachings, and getting comfort and empowerment for themselves.
2017 hasn’t been all work and no play though.
I visited my bestest in France twice, visiting with my not-niece and realising I need to learn French as a matter of priority. And now I have two not-nieces too. I also went away for a much-needed retreat in Wales, and I’m sure I’ll be back in 2018 when I need to recharge. I saw some shows: Lazurus, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Venus in Fur being the standouts, but also Bat Out of Hell, Ballet Black, Son of a Preacher Man and there was also TEDx at Covent Garden. Friends have visited me here in my new city too, something which was very rare previously.
When I look back at where I started the year, I’m blown away by my achievements and how much has changed, how much better it is now, than then. It gets better is more than just my mantra for recovery. It’s my mantra for life.
So, what’s coming in 2018?
Well, in some senses it will be more of the same. First up, ‘To Report’ needs to launch at Westminster. Towards the end of March I’ll be putting the whole ReConnected Life Experience programme into webinar format so that it’s available as a much-lower-cost option than my one-to-one coaching. In the second half of the year I want to be writing my book, so that access to what it means to be living a ReConnected Life, and how to do it, is available to all in 2019. I want to license Taste of Recovery to as many organisations who support with rape recovery as possible: its my vision that no-one needs to wait for support without support ever again. The potential for that is exponential and might create a way for my other dreams to come true. (I am in business, and I would like to own my own home one day). Finally, I am focused on making it to TEDx at Covent Garden again, but this time not as an audience member.
And there are some things I need to fix. I live alone and I work from home. This means that I don’t often ‘need’ to leave the house. I’m very sedentary. I still look about ten years younger than I am, but I feel a lot more than ten years’ older. I need to take my own advice and work on reconnecting to my body, to look after it, and become more active.
As I said, I live alone and I work from home. These are wonderful sometimes but can also lead to the loneliness trap, which has been very evident over this Christmas holiday period. I need to work on my social life, go to interesting things in this new city I’ve adopted, and meet new people. I need to make more effort to see the people who mean a lot to me already.
I’ve avoided dating for a long while. And I still won’t go online dating, although I ‘think’ it’s not because of ‘that’ anymore, more that I don’t want to be interviewed, or interview anyone, and feel that rejection from people I’m not even that interested in. It wouldn’t be good for my sense of self. So, I will find other ways, perhaps from when I’m socialising more.
Keep breaking the silence. Share my work with more. Move more. Socialise more. Love more. Those are my resolutions for 2018. Bring it on.
Live ReConnected. In solidarity and love, xx
THE SURVIVOR'S SURVIVAL KIT
The key tools to survive the everyday
This kit provides you with the start of some tools and techniques you can call on to help you feel able to rescue yourself
ARE YOU READY TO STOP SURVIVING AND START LIVING?
I developed the ReConnected Life Experience to help people just like you move from a place of self-blame and disconnection to a place where they can look forward to what the future holds, with a happy, hopeful heart.