The following is an extract from How To Stop Feeling Like Sh*t, by Andrea Owen.
In early 2007 I found myself at my own rock bottom.
The man I was dating had convinced me to leave my job and my apartment to move away with him. As we were planning our move, I found out he’d lied about everything during our relationship, including fabricating a story about having cancer to cover up his drug habit. He had drained thousands of dollars from me, and that same week, I was holding a positive pregnancy test in my hand. About a month after that, as I was completely out of money, he left me. I had been conned.
I was humiliated, not to mention broke, jobless, had nowhere to live, and pregnant. To add insult to injury, the year before all this, my husband had left me for another woman.
The pity my family, friends, and colleagues had for me was unbearable. I could feel the discomfort of them around me — they didn’t know what to say or do. Some people even avoided me — it felt as if they didn’t want to get too close for fear they would catch my defectiveness. I hated my life and hated myself for what I had put up with that had brought me to where I was.
The loneliness and shame were crippling. It seemed like everyone I knew was either happily married and having babies, or if they were single, they certainly weren’t a giant hot mess as I was. I felt like damaged goods, not to mention the dumbest woman who ever lived. I asked myself over and over: How did I get here, and how could I have been so stupid? What is wrong with me?
In retrospect, I know now that in the years leading up to that all-time low, I had built a life in which I had made myself into something I thought other people wanted me to be. My spirit was shattered, and I had no sense at all of what my own value might be. I was petrified of the world. Panic-stricken over what would happen if people saw the real me. Terrified at the thought of people knowing just how much I didn’t know. Scared they would find out how desperately I needed other people and wanted simply to love and be loved. I had built my life around perfectionism, self-sabotage, and the need for control, habits and behaviours I thought would keep me safe. Until they didn’t.
Slowly but surely as I began to heal and piece my life together, I found out I wasn’t the only woman who had built my life around all those habits. As I built my coaching practice and began helping women who reminded me of my former self, I realised so many women were also engaging in exactly the same self-undermining behaviours I had. And they wondered why they felt like shit.
In fact, as time went on, I began to see that there was an actual pattern of habits that kept women down, and they were immensely common. As I spoke to other women whose hearts were hurting and souls were wounded, I found they were all suffering from [a number of] detrimental thought and action behaviours, and I began to put names to them.
Once I saw [those habits] come together, I began to understand that while life knocks us down, it’s these habits that keep us down, and by paying attention, identifying, and putting an end to these habits, we can empower ourselves to find our way back to strength and happiness.
When I started my own work and even after I began to teach others, I thought there was a wrong way and a right way to "do life".
Some self-help books will tell you that what you put out into the universe you’ll get back. That your energy and attitude dictate your circumstances and reality. I used to believe this, but the more I looked around and heard people’s stories, I realised that sometimes...
Life just happens.
Crises happen, people are assholes, we get dumped, toddlers throw tantrums, teenagers keep us awake at night worrying, the doctor gives the diagnosis we didn’t want. You’re not doing life wrong; you don’t have a "bad vibration". It’s just how it is.
But you wonder if you are doing it wrong because other people seem to have it all figured out and you don’t, so you end up feeling lonely and confused.
When that happens, you might buy some self-help books and listen to some empowering podcasts, hoping for some answers. They’ve got to be out there, right? The secrets? The explanations? You compile your list: meditation, yoga, green smoothies, follow this person on Instagram, and read all the books.
But here’s what I know to be true: that checklist won’t make you happy and joyful. The "answer" — the key to your happiness — lies in connecting the dots from your past to your current behaviour and shining the light on things that hurt. It’s about facing the obstacles, working through and processing them, and loving yourself along the way. It’s about accepting all the feelings and emotions that come along with it (even if they don’t make sense and feel wrong), and starting the whole process over and over again. That is freedom and peace.
My book is about how to recognise a shitty habit, choose a different one, and practise the new behaviour. Get it wrong and try again. Rinse and repeat. It is about taking action. Not just reading about it and thinking, "Hmmmm... that sounds good". No. It’s about thinking, "Hmmm... that sounds good, and it sounds a little uncomfortable. I’m going to do that. And I’ll probably mess it up. But I’ll keep going because I’m tired of feeling like shit."
How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t: 14 Habits That Are Holding You Back From Happiness by Andrea Owen is out now, published by Running Press