Remembrance Day, 2018.
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them” – Elizabeth Gilbert.
Before I left London I burnt the journals I’d kept since moving there: 17 years worth of words, to be exact. As each page went up in flames I said, “Thank you” – not for the words each page held – but for what each journal had held me through: My first months of living in London, my divorce – both the grieving and the healing process – and then as I created a new life for myself. Not just once, but repeatedly.
But there was one journal I couldn’t let go of. I bought it on my 39th birthday, 9 January 2013.
I was less than a week away from starting the final full-time contract of my corporate career. I already knew that once that six-month contract came to an end, I wouldn’t renew it. I was preparing to make the leap from my 20-year career in communications to work for myself as a personal stylist. I had entered my final year of my thirties. I was ready for something…I don’t know, something ‘new’. Definitely something that looked different to the way my life looked that day.
Six months went by without writing a single word in that journal.
Sure, I opened it up a few times. I’d sit – pen poised over the blank page – and then I’d close it again. For the first time in all my years of journaling, I didn’t feel comfortable with all that space. It was so much easier to distract myself, rather than sit with my feelings and thoughts. So, I worked long days, I poured over fashion blogs as a means of escapism, scrolled hours of my life away on social media and as I’d made a conscious decision to quit yo-yo dieting for good during this time, I had days when I ate and ate – I told myself I was learning how to eat ‘normally’ again, but looking back, I know a lot of that eating was really done in an attempt to numb my feelings and thoughts away.
Finally, on a beautiful summer’s evening in late June, I walked away from my corporate career and towards a new future for myself. Except I didn’t feel the excitement I’d been expecting. Instead, I felt confused and uncertain. I’d spent a decade putting my life back together after my divorce. I’d remarried, owned a fabulous home with my husband, had a so-called ‘successful’ career I was fortunate enough to be able to choose to walk away from, and yet…I’d lost myself somewhere along the way, again. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be married or have the house or that I didn’t feel proud of what I’d achieved in my career, but I knew I wanted something different, too. I just couldn’t articulate what ‘different’ was, exactly. I had a big vision for my life but it felt so far from where I was and I’d also lost my confidence; I’d spent 10 years chasing dreams that weren’t really mine to begin with, so was this big vision I had for my life, really mine at all? I’d forgotten who I was and where I’d come from and I wasn’t entirely convinced I knew where I really wanted to go – although I was afraid to admit it, at the time.
I spent the next six months travelling and in doing so, I filled the quiet space in my life with noise of a different kind from the noise my corporate life had provided; I went to the USA and Italy and home to Australia for several weeks, followed by a month ‘living’ in Paris. It was a truly wonderful season of my life, but at the same time, I was aware of a throbbing undercurrent of dissatisfaction.
So, at the beginning of 2014 I made the decision to stay in one place for six months. No more travelling, no more distractions; it was time to launch my personal styling business.
I also picked up the notebook I’d purchased the year before on my 39th birthday, and I committed to a regular writing practice.
The first few pages of that journal are filled with words I felt I could hold onto, words that were pointing me in a direction I couldn’t yet see; positive affirmations, beautiful and inspiring quotes, gratitude lists and poetry that spoke to me, a list of books to read.
A few months later, I read about morning pages. After that I woke up each morning feeling like my brain was exploding. I had so many ideas…things to be, do, say and write. I couldn’t think or record them fast enough; the notebook is filled with pages and pages of these ideas, the words scribbled in haste as they tumbled out of me. I always felt a sense of release after writing, but sometimes I also felt unsure of what to focus on first or what to do next – I had so many ideas, but no idea what to do with them all.
There were questions, too: Who am I? What do I think I’m doing? How am I going to make this work?
What are you willing to leave behind? I spent time looking back into my past in order to understand who I was and where I’d come from in an attempt to not only better understand where I really wanted to go, but to see what I needed to release first.
What stories are you telling to and about yourself? I took painful stories from my past and I re-wrote them with loving words.
Are you speaking to yourself like someone you love? I returned to the positive affirmations I’d written in my journal, I wrote my own mantras, I worked hard to replace the negative thoughts and words that continuously ran through my heard with positive ones.
I continued to focus on building my business. I worked with clients in London, Australia, Paris, Amsterdam and the USA. I spoke and wrote about fashion and style and was living what many would consider a ‘dream life’. Yet it didn’t feel like a dream, at all.
Because I could feel another life burning deep inside of me: A life I was ignoring.
18 Months later depression raised its ugly head. A number of experiences led me to feel like I was headed for a breakdown. I stopped seeing personal styling clients and in doing so, I created space to just be.
I decided it was time to get brutally honest within the pages of my journal.
I decided it was time to learn how to be still and sit with myself and all that I was feeling and thinking, to stop overriding those feelings and thoughts, and to listen to my intuition, no matter how uncomfortable it all might be.
And so, I began to sit in the space, in the quiet, and I began to listen and write.
I asked myself new questions:
What makes you happy? I wrote my answers down and was stunned by their simplicity.
What are you afraid of? I listed my fears and in doing so, I felt less afraid.
How do you want to feel? This question was crucial. I spent hours with my journal, capturing what I longed for and being completely honest with myself about how I wanted to feel each day, from the moment I woke up, until I laid my head on the pillow again at night, and what I’d actually have to do to feed those feelings. This exercise gave me some tangible actions I could put in place immediately. In doing so, I felt like I was taking back control of my life.
I continued to create space in my life. I kept sitting with myself no matter how uncomfortable it felt. I kept listening. I kept writing. I followed clue after clue even though I wasn’t always sure where I was being led. I tried many things that may not have made sense from the outside, but I gave myself permission to play. Eventually I wrapped up the personal styling side of my business and decided to focus on my work as a coach; I’d been coaching on and off in the 10 years since completing my initial accreditation and I’d always been curious if a full-time coaching career might be just right – finding out felt like the obvious next step to take. In the end, coaching wasn’t right, for me. But I don’t regret my decision; there was no way of knowing until I tried.
All the time I kept writing. I kept wondering. I documented my doubts and fears in my journal and every night I said the same prayer from A Course In Miracles, “What would you have me do, where would you have me go, what would you have me say – and to whom?” I filled the pages of that notebook with new ideas for articles and blog posts and e-courses. I set intentions. I finally wrote down my deepest desires: To spend a year travelling, to write a book.
Today I stood in a stationery shop in Hanoi and I picked up a notebook; an exact version of the notebook I’d purchased in London almost six years ago. I held it in my hands and I saw what treasures I’d unearthed through journaling, through writing for myself. It took my breath away.
I thought about the woman I was then and how – in that moment in time on her 39th birthday – she would not have dared to believe she’d be living the life she lives now.
Journaling has been the foundation for everything I’ve created in my life. I no longer eat to numb uncomfortable feelings and thoughts and instead I healed (for the most part) my relationship with my body and food. I live a day-to-day life that makes me feel more like me than I’ve ever felt – not just because of where I am and what I’m doing, but because I honour my most basic, non-negotiable needs – although I am living my dream of travelling full-time and I am writing my book, albeit very slowly. I finally birthed my first e-course into the world, something I’ve longed to do for a very long time, and I’m working on my next one, certain I can make a living from the business my heart longs to create. I’m living a life true to myself and it feels like home. I also believe everything I’ve done since I started that writing practice in early 2014 was leading me to this very moment, that nothing is wasted; everything that came before makes perfect sense now. Yes, I still have days when I experience doubts and fears and shame, but I know whilst it’s human to avoid uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, it’s better to sit in the space, in the quiet, and to see what they have to say. So, I continue to listen and write, knowing there are far more jewels to be found.
I love journaling and believe it’s a powerful tool, but I also know how difficult it can be to create space in your life and to sit with your feelings and thoughts – which is why I created The Sacred Page. This 40-day e-course is a journey of gentle self-exploration which will set you on your path to a regular journaling practice. I’d love it if you joined us. You can find all the course information here.
© 2018 Esther Zimmer