When I met my partner Ian thirteen years ago, he had been diagnosed with Pancreatic and Liver cancer nine months previously, and had been told there was nothing that could be done and to come back for palliative chemotherapy when the pain got too bad.
He was 40 years old.
Meeting Ian was the beginning of my descent into a ‘dark night of the soul”, a period where life as I knew it, my comfortable, secure life, was completely and utterly ripped apart.
It was as though an unseen hand picked me up and shook me violently. Everything I thought I knew about myself, about life, and about God was shown to be completely wrong. I discovered that I had no idea who I was, no idea who or what God was, and no idea how to really live.
I was completely broken and very, very afraid.
This dark night of the soul lasted for almost two years. I was saved from a complete mental breakdown only because I intuitively knew that it had to happen, it was part of a Divine plan, and that I would get through it. Without this “knowing”, I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to survive it. I guess you could call this grace. Even with this knowing, there were many times when death seemed like an easier option than living.
I realised that I was very afraid of death, but I was even more afraid of life.
I could clearly see that I had lived in an underlying state of fear for most of my life and I made a vow that if God was a God of love like people were telling me (and this had not been my experience), then there must be a way to live in this world without fear, without suffering, and I was going to find it.
I didn’t even know if it was possible for me to live without fear. At that point I couldn’t even imagine what living fearlessly would be like – it was totally incomprehensible.
What quickly became apparent to me, was that it was my thoughts that caused my suffering. In one sense it was distressing to discover that my mind was the cause of my suffering and fear, because I had no idea how to break the habits of forty years of thinking, but on the other hand, it was empowering because I dimly understood that this was the way out of suffering and the solution was in my hands, (or rather my mind); whether I suffered or not was not dependent on circumstances outside of myself, much of which I had little control over anyway.
At this point in time, I was so broken that I had no sense of empowerment at all. I simply wanted someone else to fix me. Someone, please take away my fear and make me empowered. I was terrified to take responsibility for myself and my own emotional healing but I knew that I had to. “Someone” couldn’t do it for me, although many people were helpers on the way. I had to do it myself.
I understood that I needed to reprogram my thinking. I had been exceptionally insular mainly because of the teachings of the church I had been in since birth, so this was really, really hard for me.
And so began an initially agonising journey to find myself and a healthy way to live in the world without suffering.
Fast forward eight years, and I am driving to Perth – a 170km trip. Ian has been flown by the Flying Doctors to Perth, vomiting blood. I am not sure if he is going to be alive when I get up there to the hospital. He is my Soulmate, my Love. Suddenly I realise that I am peaceful. The only thoughts going through my head are that everything is perfect – everything is unfolding exactly as it should be, all is well. I just need to be open and allow it to unfold. It dawns on me that all the work of reprogramming my mind, of digging deep and acknowledging the emotional wounds that had kept me in bondage for so long, that this work had brought me to this place of peace. It seemed to me that if all I feel is peace at a time that would be universally acknowledged as being extremely stressful, then this proved I had found a way out of suffering.
Ian did not die in Perth.
He died three weeks later back in our home town. He was 49 years old. He had lived for nine and a half years with pancreatic and liver cancer. A miracle in itself.
My peace continued, even during his dying and after.
There is much, much more to this story that I will probably share with you later.
I just want you to understand that if I can come from a place of constant fear and anxiety to a place of almost constant peace, then anyone can do it.
You just have to want it enough.