How Coaching Is Reinventing My Experience Of Myself, My Purpose, and My Life

  • * Rough Draft *

 

Just 22 months ago, I could never have envisioned that I’d soon find myself investing over $13000 towards the closest thing I’d ever had to a dream, much less a dream that felt like my purpose in life. I had never known what it meant to dream and purpose was something I would spend my life elusively and desperately pursuing. At that time, back in early 2014, life had long since become a routine of begrudging tolerance. But it  was finally comfortable, and safe. I was 10 years married with a toddler hanging off each pant leg and 13 years service in a soul crushing but, if nothing else, stable public service job as a corrections officer that I’d long ago resigned myself to as the pinnacle of what would have to be considered success for someone like me. “Someone like me” would always be an ever struggling victim of my mental health disorders doing the best I could in spite of it all. Like the chicken or the egg, I’m not sure which had lead to the other, the anxiety or the depression, but they both came early, fast and hard in life. Regardless which had come first, I was reasonably sure they had worked together to create the avoidant personality disorder that I’d only discovered I had a few months earlier in Jan 2014 had informed my entire experience of life growing up.

Despite that, my life 22 months ago was still in a better place than I had been in growing up when my future represented to me a wildly frightening mystery that I would rather die than face.  There was never a moment in my life that I felt comfortable in my own skin. My humanness represented a deep source of shame to me and I had a vague perception of it as my prison rather than my home. Emotional neglect by well intentioned parents may have played a role in that as well as physical and emotional abuse from classmates and caregivers. It didn’t help that, from the get go, I was just a highly, highly sensitive child. There is very little I remember about the earliest years of my life, up until I was five or six. I may have been a happy kid up until that point, although I doubt it. Either way, I really don’t know. Whatever else had happened to me by that point, if anything, I found myself retreating into a fortress like shell from which I’ve been struggling ever since, in one form or another, to free myself.

In my high school years, I could be found in only one of two places when I wasn’t at home with my head in a book. I was either at work or at school and I was only at those two places because my parents hadn’t left me a choice in the matter.  Both represented hell on earth to me. Both exposed me to other human beings, which is significant, because people scared me, almost literally, to death.  In these places, I was expected to relate to other human beings, beings who seemed to me to be everything I wasn’t but was expected to be: happy, cruel, vulgar, worthy, confident, competent, shameless, athletic, strong, intelligent, hateful, intolerant, fearless, selfish, talented, arrogant, loved, beautiful, impulsive, expressive, successful, greedy. Which raised the questions: If I was, apparently, none of these things, what was I exactly? I had no real concept of who I was behind an all but crippling depression and mental health situation. Furthermore, if everybody else but me represented these qualities to varying degrees, where would I ever hope to fit in?  I didn’t.  I could not relate to them. More significantly, they could not relate to me and they expressed their intolerance of my differences in one of two ways. They either ignored me or they tormented me. Both responses invalidated me as a human being, something that confirmed my experience of how I had always felt about myself. This was a pattern that had played over and over in my life since I was a child. I could tolerate being ignored and neglected but the emotional, physical and mental torment had me praying for death, and so I focused my entire way of being in the world on ensuring that I was as invisible as possible. This was how I survived. This is also how depression and anxiety evolved into what I would discover only decades later had been the infancy of my avoidant personality disorder. I was hypersensitive to rejection and criticism, emotionally distant, mistrustful, extremely shy and anxious in social situations, plagued by inadequacy and inferiority, highly self conscious, and suffered from incredibly low self worth and self esteem. I didn’t know how to talk to people. When spoken to, I answered in one word answers or short, clipped phrases and then smiled and sometimes laughed awkwardly at things that usually weren’t funny because I didn’t know what else to say or I was too afraid to say anything that could leave me even more vulnerable to their judgment and torment. The only relationships I allowed myself to have were with my parents and my sister, and those were by no means perfect, but relative to the world outside my house, they were safe.  I wanted desperately to kill myself but I knew somehow my suffering wouldn’t stop with my death.  Just as importantly, my family would suffer… It felt very much like I was trapped here.

Most of my life I had had only a vague concept of who I was beyond my identification with myself as a product of my life experiences and my mental health challenges. That vague concept of who I might have been without my mental illnesses was a largely subconscious knowing that my sensitivity and my empathy and my struggle were somehow meant to be my gifts. But more than that, I knew there was a deeper purpose to my suffering presence on this planet.  Nothing else made sense to me.  Somewhere buried deep amongst the overwhelming confusion I experienced growing up was a knowingness that suicide was not a final solution and that more importantly I wasn’t what my experience of life was trying so desperately and overpoweringly to convince me I was.

This is why I experienced an awakening of sorts when I first heard the paradigm around the age of 20 that “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience”.  That’s when I realized that I had always been connected to myself as a spiritual being and that this vague awareness I’d had growing up had been my source of strength and courage to keep moving forward when my depression was relentlessly screaming at me to pull the trigger.

This realization didn’t cure my depression and social anxiety.  But it helped me move forward with my life.  This was a significant period of growth for me even thought I wasn’t able to acknowledge it as such at the time.  Life still felt like a struggle and the prayers for death were only slightly less prominent in my awareness.  Intense shame and unworthiness still informed my experience of my life.  But life was slowly becoming tolerable.  And there were signs of progress I couldn’t ignore.  My marriage and my job, and much later on, my children all represented experiences I had truly never believed myself capable of experiencing growing up when all my hopes for the future hung on a premature death if God willed it.

I remember the date, 22 months ago, May 1, 2014. That date marked the beginning of what would turn out to be an incredible, transformational journey and the beginning of the end of my lifelong identification with myself as essentially nothing more than a victim of my mental health. This was when I discovered coaching through a mobile app I had stumbled across in the google play store and installed on my phone. The app was called onehealth and it was connected to a recovery network website, set up like a social network, that offered support to sufferers and survivors of substance abuse, mental health disorders, sexual trauma. As I explored the site and read various status updates and threads and stories and blogs from different members, I felt like I’d found a home. As I continued reading and exploring, I was struck by one frequent commenter and blogger in particular, who would often encourage me and others to share vulnerably and whose words of support shone with love and compassion.  Her profile picture identified her by her handle as “beverlysa” and as a “coach”.  Whatever else the word coach meant, it was obvious she was working for the website. Then I read her blogs and her story and came face to face once again with the paradigm I’m a spiritual being having a human experience.  I wanted to know what this paradigm meant beyond my intellectual understanding of it and here was a person who, from what I could see, was embodying it and thriving. And so I did something I realize now that I was being called to do by intuition, although at the time I had no connection to my intuition, at least no conscious connection. I connected authentically with her. And life would never be the same.

When OneHealth shut its doors almost a year to the day after I’d discovered it, I was disappointed but not devastated.  I intuitively knew my coaching partnership with Bev would continue. That’s what it was, a partnership of equals. Coaching had supported my mental health process in a way therapy never had for me. Bev never treated me as I saw myself, something broken needing to be fixed, but rather, as an equal full of untapped potential.  It was clear from the beginning that she wasn’t going to be responsible for healing me. That job fell to me alone. Hers was to hold a safe, loving, nonjudgmental space from which she could challenge my perspective of my experience and I could explore what felt true for me. And that was the foundation from which my healing process would be built and flourish. It became about owning my experience of life which meant taking responsibility for every part of it. If ever I saw myself as a victim of anyone or anything, past, present or future, I would know I was making a choice to give my power away. It would require a shift in perspective and a different choice to take it back. My relationship to depression and anxiety was starting to shift from one of challenges to opportunities. They were beginning to appear as my gifts, just as I had felt throughout my life they had been meant to be. As I surrendered myself more and more to the process, I came to trust it and appreciate it for what it was in any given moment.  Good or bad, what was in my experience was part of my process and it was present in service to my conscious evolution.  I was distinguishing my self from my Self and closing the gap between the two seemingly separate entities.  I learned how to challenge my self judgments with truths. I began meditating and writing. My humanness, that I was so detached from and ashamed of, became the vehicle through which I was meant to express my unique soul, my authenticity into the world. I was perfectly enough as I was and I began a process of learning to accept myself and others from this perspective.  As I honored myself just as I was with love and compassion, I was able to extend that out to others and hold the space for them to be who they were.  It became this beautiful, supportive process of lovingly, compassionately and patiently deconstructing the pieces of my concept of myself and challenging the limiting beliefs that I had misinterpreted as my true self for almost 40 years. I learned that my seemingly dysfunctional patterns of thought and behavior in the present had in the past served a positive intention in preserving love, safety and belonging and that returning to these patterns was a more comfortable, safe, and familiar response to triggering events than risking the unknown that change represented. This was when coaching exposed me to the power of risking a new choice to move outside of that comfort zone that I had created me. What had once seemed to serve to keep love, safety and belonging intact was a belief I now held that was limiting me from my potential to be my best version of myself. Coaching helped me uncover how my avoidance, my withdrawal and isolation from life was the best idea I could think of as a child to protect what little love, safety and belonging I had.  This was all I knew at time and it became dangerously comfortable to relate to my world from this space.  I knew who I was here.   Coaching supported me in risking discovering who I could be when I risked to step outside of my comfort zone.  Risk is where the growth was possible. Where fear had once been a sign for me to keep myself hidden , it was now becoming a sign of what I needed to confront in order to grow.  I was shown how I had created the version of myself that I identified all that time with as the truth of who I was. Now, it was time to create a version of myself that supported my best vision for myself. This is essentially how coaching supported and continues to support my ongoing mental health process.  There’s still a lot of healing left to be done.
Increasingly, I was coming to relate to my sensitivity, empathy and mental health struggles as having been intended all along to connect me with my purpose of being a healing presence for others. So, when Bev brought up a coaching training she was enrolling in that I might be interested in as, if nothing else, a personal growth opportunity, I found myself making the decision within a day to invest $6000 in the course. It was a risk but I really wasn’t seeing it that way.  It was more than a personal growth opportunity.  It was a chance for me to explore coaching as it might be related to my sense of purpose in this world.  I adopted an attitude of openness to the whole process without attachment to any expected outcome. I’ve since invested even more in further training.  I still don’t know where the process will take me but I’m open to wherever it leads and aware that whatever comes from it will, for better or worse, be created by me.
I’m seeing now how all the individual, seemingly unrelated pieces of my life, of my entire struggle, were invisibly linked together in service to my awakening in the present moment, the only moment there ever was or ever is. At any point in the illusion of time, had I had the eyes to see, I could have made a different more empowering choice that would have sent me down a different path. I was always and am always in the perfect place, provided by spirit with the perfect set of individual circumstances, to step into my God given potential as a piece of the universe experiencing its own contrast…. We all are. We’re enough now just as we have always been. How we choose to use our potential at any given point in time as God experiencing Himself, to me, represents the entire point of what it means to be human.

Every point along my journey was leading me to discover coaching and the power coaching has to transform lives. That was no accident. Nothing ever is.  Depression and anxiety are no longer who I am.  They no longer come up to oppress me but to teach me. They are no longer the entire story I tell about who I am but a reminder I need to make a different choice that empowers me to create a different experience of my life. Above all, what my sensitivity and my empathy and my mental health struggles were meant to be all along was a call to serve in a healing capacity. .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journey into 2016

“2016, I hope to serve you. I pray for the strength to be true to myself, the focus to do things that matter, the presence to be grateful, the discipline to serve with excellence, the heart to be a force of love.”

– Brendon Burchard

I came across this above quote from author and coach Brendon Burchard. And since I’d been looking for an excuse ie. a topic, for a blog, it just seemed to me to provide a good framework for writing about some of the lessons I learned throughout 2015 and that I intend to carry forward with me into 2016 as they relate to each part of the quote. My intention is that it serve as a review of how each desire mentioned in the quote (and used as subtitles below), has manifested in my life in one way or another this past year and the meaning it holds for me moving forward. So here I go…

I pray for:

The strength to be true to myself

Being true to myself no longer means what it once did. I used to equate the expression with staying true to my values which was only a small part of it. It’s a part I did well. Too well, as a matter of fact because my values had formed my identity as a “good boy” and so I never questioned them. If I did, it was a threat to my ego and who I thought of as “me”. It threatened love, safety and belonging in the only place I knew it was guaranteed to me, however dysfunctionally, in my home and with my family. There was no flexibility on my part to be able to change the quality of my experience or to grow beyond this narrow, confined conception of myself as someone “good” but also small, powerless and victimized. This past year has taught me that what it really means to be true to myself is to take responsibility for my experience of life. I could see how I had worked perfectly to produce the results I was getting, whether I wanted them or not. It became clear that the sum total of all the choices I had made in my life had worked in perfect unison to bring me to where I was, at any moment in time. It was even more clear to me how making a different choice in this moment from one that I would habitually make, usually subconsciously and out of fear, would give me a different experience of my life. It was a risk. Courage and strength were required to move me beyond my comfort zone, to do something that had always scared me. But I learned along the way that there was no such thing as failure. Failure had only been a misunderstanding of mine that I would choose to use as an excuse to regret taking the risk and return to old, conditioned behaviors that didn’t serve my true self. Now I would choose to perceive the undesired outcome as feedback, not failure, as information I would apply to the next risk or action step I would take towards my original goal. I learned that a different experience of life is only ever a different choice away.

The focus to do things that matter

I didn’t discover what really mattered to me until I discovered my process, my spiritual journey. Before that, the things that mattered were my day to day responsibilities: family, job, home. And, of course, those things matter, greatly. And I was committed to doing them. But the focus was missing. There had been an existential void that I felt frequently, daily, in the pit of my stomach. It was a void that told me I wasn’t living a life of purpose. It manifested in my depression and anxiety. I couldn’t escape the feeling that whatever my attention was focussed on in any given moment was taking me further away from my true self, whatever that was. When I discovered coaching and got into my process and really began to believe in it and trust it, I came to realize that it’s all part of my process. Every bit of it. Whether it’s meditating, journaling, paying the bills, being stuck at work, playing with my kids, writing, or whatever the case, it was all part of my journey towards evolving my consciousness. It could all be in service to my realization of my best self in that moment if I chose to open myself to whatever I could learn from the situation. And as I evolved further in my process, and learned how my limiting beliefs were keeping me attached to an old story of myself that wasn’t serving my authentic self, I could see more clearly how what really mattered to me was taking small, empowered action steps that stretched me beyond fears and habitual ways of behaving. There was a new energy about me that had me excited about living and growing into who I was always meant to be.

The presence to be grateful

The presence to be grateful manifested in my appreciation for things as they were, myself included, as I learned what it meant to be enough. I’m worthy just as I am in this moment. We all are. There’s no magic destination that I need to arrive at. If I’m not enough here and now, I never will be. By perceiving myself as anything less than enough, I was operating from a point of attraction of lack which inevitably attracts more lack. Lack of confidence. Lack of worth. Lack of love. And so I learned to be grateful for whatever was present in my experience, the good and the bad. I tried to be open to my challenges as my greatest teachers. This is what it meant to have the awareness, the presence, to be grateful for every situation, circumstance and experience as being what I needed in that moment to learn what was necessary for me to evolve spiritually. This came with the realization that I, like everybody, am a unique expression of God. I am the universe experiencing itself through the contrast of my life to all others. How could I, or anyone, be anything but worthy seen from that vast perspective? And for that matter, grateful.

The discipline to serve with excellence

Serving with excellence means bringing my best self to everything I do. It doesn’t mean perfection. Excellence is recognizing myself as being my best self by living my truth to the best of my ability. It views my life as being in service to not only my awakening but that of others as well. And this is done through, as often as possible, being a living example of the change I want to see (and forgiving my ego for the times I’m not.) This is where discipline comes into play. It’s always so easy to fall back into old patterns of behavior meant to protect my basic need for love, safety and belonging. Becoming aware of this tendency and recognizing what doesn’t serve my best version of self allows me to repeatedly make new and better choices in alignment with how I want to show up in the world. Discipline refers to my willingness to check in with myself and my feelings and to be honest about whether I am serving with excellence. From there, if the answer is no, it’s a matter of self forgiveness and choosing a better feeling thought that raises my vibration and moves me into alignment with my highest self.

The heart to be a force of love

To me, this has meant, first and foremost, learning to really love myself. I could only be a loving presence for others in so far as I could love myself. Learning to see myself and everybody as inherently worthy of love as contrasting manifestations of the same universe makes it much harder not to be the loving. For myself, I try to remember that love is the absence of judgment. As I forgive and love myself where I’m at, without judgment, I’m better able to accept and love everyone where they’re at in their process. I’m better able to “see” the invisible life circumstances that shaped them into who they are and to honor where they’re at in their own unique journeys. We’re all doing our best given what we know to do at the time.

All of these lessons remain a work in progress, as do I. And as I move forward into 2016, my focus remains my process and my continued conscious evolution. This is what I’m bringing with me into the new year.

Letter to my Inner Child

I’ve been a father to my own children for 5 years now. They’ve been a gift, a catalyst for some amazing transformations in my life. I no longer had the luxury of selfishly wallowing in self pity and victim consciousness. I had become responsible for introducing two innocent lives into a world I intensely resented, something I had always secretly cursed my parents for doing to me. However much I didn’t think I would ever or could ever bring children into this world, I had, through no fault of theirs, and it was time to show up for them. For them, as much as for me, the time had come to take responsibility for my experience of life so that they could have the best experience of it possible. That’s why I find myself now writing this letter to you. Until I started being present for myself, I hadn’t truly heard your cries. I had always thought they were my cries….I want you to know I hear you now. I’m here now and I’m in a place in my life where I can be the parent to you that mom and dad tried to be in the only way they knew how and might have been, had they responded to their own inner child. I want you to know I’ve been taking care of you for the past 8 months. That’s when I first heard the phrase “be the parent to your own inner child” and took it to heart. Until then, I thought you and I were one and the same. I’m sorry I didn’t realize sooner that you were a part of me but I wasn’t in a place yet to receive you. That phrase really resonated with me at the time. It would have been easy for me to say that I don’t believe in an inner child but the fact was it made perfect sense to me. I could feel you there. You’re the part of me that has carried the brunt of the intense hurt and pain that has accumulated over the years. You were the wounded parts of me that were never allowed to heal because life would re-open them over and over and over again. I knew that because I was learning and experiencing for myself how my thoughts influence my world and in so doing, healing…. You’re safe now. I want you to trust in that. There’s no need to be afraid of people any longer. They’re like you, on similar but very different journeys, some awake to the path they’re on and some still lost in the world. They wear layers of masks, just like you, because they feel they can’t let the self the world sees betray the inner self they can’t understand. The ones that hurt you were lost themselves and the pain they inflicted on you was never about you. I know that realization wouldn’t make it any easier on you then but it makes all the difference now. You’re not that pain or the mask of silence and isolation that you built to protect yourself any longer. You don’t have to be ashamed of your being. You were born into the human body you were meant to be born into and the life you were meant to live. None of that was within your control and you were never meant to live in shame of it. You were meant to celebrate your being and evolve your consciousness through it. Be grateful for your humanness, with all its faults and foibles, because it is only through the gift of your humanness that you are able to realize your authentic self. I know it must be hard to understand how all the depression and anxiety and negative events of your life were occurring in service to your awakening to your Higher Self …but that’s not for you to worry about any longer. It never should have been and I’m sorry you had to carry that burden on your shoulders for as long as you did. I acknowledge and honor you for the courage, that at the time you took for weakness, that it took to hold onto your values in the face of a world that, with its voice, said were its values too but through its actions, said exactly the opposite. That was no easy task and it caused you a world of pain. Believing yourself to be dumb, wrong, incompetent, worthless, afraid, friendless, unlovable, unacceptable, amongst other things, all in the name of staying true to what you believed was courageous. And I’m proud of you. Without that, I don’t know that we would be on the path we’re on now… We are spiritual beings having a human experience. That’s what all of this has been about all along. And my promise to you is that your cries will always serve to remind me of that. Your cries will be a sign that something is occurring that depending upon what I choose, is occurring in detriment to my false self, depression, anxiety or in service to my Higher Self. From now on, I’ll always choose Higher.

Living In Possibility

For the month of January, I’m taking part in a challenge to perform at least one daily meaningful action step in support of the best version of myself possible.   It can be such a small step.  In fact, it usually is.  Just risk doing something that scares you.  Do something you’ve been putting off for a while.  Read a book or a blog that resonates with who you are.  Take up a new hobby. Make a choice to show up differently in your relationship and see what happens.

It’s a challenge I’ve done before with my coach.  The fact that I’m here now attempting to blog at all came about as a direct result of this challenge. And for me, the results have been life altering.  I’ve discovered how much power I hold in creating my experience of life as I’m coming to embody this shift from victim consciousness to creator consciousness.  It’s been about making conscious decisions to choose my own path. And its been empowering. It became habit forming, long after the challenge was over.

For the first time in my 40 years, I know what direction I want to go. I’m expressing myself through writing, without judgment or attachment to expectations. In February, I’ll receive a coaching certification from a training course I jumped into blindfolded as a result of an earlier challenge but that aligns me with a sense of purpose and authenticity. I’m open to really hearing my intuition and following my process, however it unfolds, trusting that it is doing so in service to my highest good.

What its really helped me do is to live more in possibility and less in fear. As a result, I’ve never been happier.

Where I’m Coming From

I thought about checking out a few of these “Day One: Introduce Yourself…” blogs that a few other members have already published to see how I should proceed with mine. And not that there would be anything wrong with that, but I decided against it. Reason being, a big part of why I’m here and looking to blog is self expression and self discovery. Doing so just seemed somewhat contrary to these ideals.

Writing has long been an interest of mine. It’s only been very recently that I’ve actually put pen to paper, or more precisely, fingers to keyboard to actually express myself through the medium. In my case, this started a little over a year and a half ago with a little known, now defunct website/social network/mobile application called OneHealth, and shortly before it’s demise re-christened ViveraeHealth. Essentially it was a support network for people from all walks of life who struggled with said life in one way or another. It covered survivors of everything from substance abuse to sexual abuse to mental health issues to trauma and everything in between. My particular albatross fell under the mental health spectrum.

As a lifelong sufferer of clinical depression and social anxiety, and having just diagnosed myself with avoidant personality disorder after having stumbled across a Wikipedia article on the subject, the discovery of OneHealth turned out to be a game changer for me and the beginning of an amazing healing journey. I connected with a recovery coach who held a loving, non-judgmental space for me to explore the limiting beliefs that kept me from realizing my potential and worth. Her paradigm for her own amazing recovery, and one that struck a deep chord within me, was “I’m a spiritual being having a human experience.” She resonated strongly with my self expression through our private written correspondence and encouraged me to be vulnerable with other members of the site by owning and expressing my story through the “blog” section of the website. It became an extraordinarily cathartic part of this new and wonderful healing process that I was finding myself consumed by. Despite the closure of the site, she remains my coach today and I continue my healing journey in partnership with her.

My blog is intended to reflect this process, both for my continued conscious evolution and as a support for readers who might relate to my experiences. I want to connect with readers and dive deeper into my own experience of life. I want to continue challenging the narrow confines of my identity and keep stepping into the best version of myself.

My name is Wes Richards. I’m a husband and father to 2 young children who have been an amazing catalyst for the process of change I find myself in the midst of. I’m also an aspiring life coach. More to follow as my process unfolds.