When I was growing up I clearly remember a lot of times when I was told by my mum, ‘You can’t.’
You can’t go to the fair because the rides are unsafe, you could get hurt or die.
You can’t go to the beach in summer, you’ll burn.
You can’t go out after dark you’ll get attacked.
You can’t go to a friends house without being invited, people will think you’re rude if you just turn up.
You can’t have friends around because it means more work for me.
The list was endless. I was told ‘No’ far too often. Yes was not a word I grew up with. Being allowed to explore life’s secrets, dangers, surprises and joys was not a pleasure that was afforded me. I never failed as a child because I was never allowed the opportunity to even try. I lacked knowledge and experience in the very basics of life. And then, thankfully my teenage years kicked in, as did my hormones and I started to experiment; with cigarettes, with alcohol, with boys, with sex, with ideas and with dreams. I started to break the rules, I began to challenge authority and I jumped onto the path of self-discovery, even though at the time I didn’t realise it.
I started to say an emphatic yes to the craziest ideas that popped into my head. I had a ball. I laughed until I ached. I loved with a passion. I danced. I sang. I played. I partied. I got pregnant. The craziest ideas defined who I was and who I wanted to be. They had the potential to define my future. Some did — getting pregnant was, to most, a crazy idea. To me, it was a lifesaver. It was the best idea I’ve ever had but then I became responsible because as a parent you have to but with that responsibility came back the old ghost that I thought I’d exorcised: You can’t.
You can’t go out partying, you’re a mum.
You can’t get drunk, you need to set a good example.
You can’t go out to work, you need to stay home and be a good mum.
You can’t have boyfriends, it will damage the kids
and on and on and on and on and on.
Except for this time, the ‘you can’t’ didn’t come from anyone except me and that’s how I’ve stayed.
Twenty-three years later, with a lot more scars and heartache from telling myself no too often and from allowing life to become a thing to fear, I rarely say yes. I say yes to my children because I know that it’s good for them. I say yes to them exploring life and finding their own truth but what I don’t do is say yes to me. I still tell myself certain things.
I can’t date because it will damage the kids.
I can’t go out partying because it will set a bad example.
I can’t get remarried because the kids may feel pushed out and unsupported.
Over the years it’s evolved to adding in a dose of self-hatred and low self-belief
I can’t create a career I’d like to do because I’m not good/clever/trained/experienced enough.
I can’t put myself out there, career-wise, because I may fuck up.
I can’t have a relationship because I may get hurt.
I can’t make a decision in case it’s the wrong one.
And so I stay. I stay in this place that I’ve occupied for the last twenty-three years. Admittedly it’s a place that’s very comfortable, very comfortable indeed. It’s also a place that brings me a life of lack. I have no romantic love in my life, I have no career, I have no money. My life lacks because of “I can’t” and because of all the fears behind the “can’t” that maybe aren’t even my fears to own and even if they are mine, they may not be true. How would I know? I’ve never even tried. Again.
The best part though is that all I need to do is change one little word, even if at first it’s only a gentle whisper in the breeze, I just need to repeat it until it’s a foghorn of sound bellowing at me and from me “I CAN!“
I can go to the fair. The rides are safe, everything will be ok, it will probably be a lot of fun.
I can go to the beach in summer, I can apply sun cream, I can relax, read a book, play in the sea, feel the warm sun on my skin. I can enjoy it.
I can go out after dark, I know to be careful and to use taxis or stay within a group of friends.
I can go to a friends house without being invited because my friends will welcome me anytime because they’re my friends.
I can have friends round, it may mean tidying before they come but that’s ok, I like a tidy house.
I can go out partying, even though I have children. They’re old enough now to look after themselves for a few hours. They’re even old enough to look after Annie for a while.
I can have a drink. While I don’t want to set the example of drinking all the time, it’s ok for the kids to see it happen occasionally.
I can go out to work and still be a good mum. I can work around the kids and still always be there for them.
I can have boyfriends, it will help the kids see that I am more than just a Mum and that it is ok and normal for me to have a life outside of them. It may help them view me separately from them and therefore give them a stronger self of self away from me.
I can date, it will be fun and will give me back a zest for life and for love. It will help me to open up to love again and will eventually lead me to happiness and fulfilment.
I can go out partying because it will set the kids a good example of how to act as an adult. That it’s ok to go out, have fun, make friends and still be responsible and a good mum.
I can get remarried because I will ensure I choose a good husband who will respect and honour my needs and those of the kids. It will help to restore the kids’ faith in love and marriage after learning from experience that love and marriage are not rewarding. It will teach them that they are.
I can create a career I’d like to do because I’m am good/clever/trained/experienced enough. I also have natural gifts that often help a lot of people and it’s ok and right to be earning money from my natural abilities.
I can put myself out there, career-wise, because even though I may fuck up, that’s ok. I will learn from my fuck ups and not let them hold me back. In fact, I will use the fuck ups to propel me forward in a positive direction.
I can have a relationship because it will be good for me and good for the kids. A relationship will bring a different kind of happiness to my life that I don’t currently have. I may get hurt but that’s ok. I’ve been hurt before and I survived and came out stronger because of it. I can withstand any pain that a relationship may bring me, knowing at the same time that it may not.
I can make decisions. If I then later find that my decision isn’t working I can then change it. Making a choice doesn’t mean I have to stay on that path for the rest of my life, it means I can if it feels right and I can make a new decision if it doesn’t. There are no wrong decisions, only experiences to be had.
This realisation has come about because of my friendship with Phil because when he’s in my life it makes me challenge my thoughts and feelings. It makes me see how self-limiting I am. Phil opens my eyes to where I could make changes and where I’m avoiding making changes. He helps me see into myself and he helps me view myself and life in a different way. These are also all of the reasons why I don’t like having him in my life and all the reasons I have ejected him from my life, time and time again.
I love having Phil in my life until I don’t. Until challenging my thoughts and feelings becomes more uncomfortable than I can bear. Until the changes I allow myself to dream about and start to implement, even if just a very tiny bit, start to shake all of my fears around until they get to the point of expulsion and then instead of letting them explode and dissipate, I push Phil out of my life and I pull all the fears back in where I can control them and keep them safe, comfortable and I go back to ‘I can’t’ over and over and over again.