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I don’t think it’s possible to punish ourselves into a sustainably and authentically improved life. I just don’t. For years, I punished myself for being too gay, too trans, not trans enough, too fat, too smokey, too boozey, not a good enough veg*n, too boring, too loud, not enough fun, not intellectual enough, not brave enough, not content enough to settle down, too lazy, too buzzy. That punishment didn’t make me less gay, the right amount of trans, it didn’t change my weight or size, it didn’t help me quit smoking or drinking or … you get the idea. It didn’t help in any way, except to make me feel just that bit shitter about myself. And occasionally I’d go all in, set eighteen different goals and commitments, “fail” at the first hurdle, and then give it all up.
Now I’m not saying the prospect of a stick up my bum doesn’t sometimes keep me on the straight and narrow (LOLZ I’m neither), but the crucial thing for me is being aware of what that stick represents. If I go out (or stay in) and get wasted, no-one’s going to shout at me, no-one’s going to take me into a corner and speak to me in a low voice about how disappointed they are in* me (more on this in an upcoming article), there’ll be no outsider berating (as long as I keep off Twitter and possibly Sobergram). I’m the only one in charge – but I’ve had enough of the self-flagellating, and beating myself up for perceived “mistakes” (generally just an entirely human inability to achieve perfection) – society does enough of that to us all (particularly women and the gender non-conforming), I’m not doing their work for them.
So what does help me to carry on moving towards my goals? Number one – having one. Knowing the direction I want to move in, whether that’s to do with body (hello second puberty, thanks for the soft skin, you can keep the spots), booze (521 days and counting) or business (mostly for the alliteration, but I’m finally allowing myself to be seen as an actual coach, a real person with shit to say and an effect to have on the world – and dream and act accordingly). Number two – rewarding myself. Constantly. Whether that’s with tasty food, gadgets and trinkets around my house or body that are useful and/or pretty, saving money, allowing myself the time to visit Schitts Creek, buying plants and taking longer and longer to kill them (one day I’ll grow one from scratch, just watch this space!), making donations to causes I care about … I’ve learned the power of a good, regular reward. And allowing myself to enjoy this process is what's helped me stick with it for so long!
How much time, effort or money does it take us to congratulate someone else on an achievement of whatever size? Hardly anything. And so we often do it – we say thank you, we say well done, we cheer them on. We get inspired (or intimidated) by them for a minute, and then we go on with our day, while they get to smile thinking of their achievements, counting those pats on the back. And yet one of the things we tend to struggle with the most is congratulating ourselves, allowing ourselves a little smile of pride. "Pride comes before a fall." "Don’t get cocky." "Don’t get too big for your knickers..." This is a hugely – and stereotypically – British attitude, but from the work I’ve done with people all over the world, it appears to be something people from many different cultures struggle with.
How many times did I say “I’ve had a hard day, I deserve this!” about my first glass (OK, bottle) of wine? Or “yay we must celebrate, CHEERS TO THAT!” about someone’s achievement, clinking and clanking those drinks and dranks? A BILLION TIMES. The alcohol industry has done a sterling job at marketing itself as the cure-all and end-all, creating a virtuous (for them) and vicious (for us) cycle while letting the addictive liquid take hold of as many possessions as possible. Where was the reward or celebration when I was on bottle number two, three, four, when we couldn’t remember what we were fêteing, when the bar bill far outweighed the extra money from the promotion, when the headache and hangover hatrocities coming out of me from pre-existing and newly-created holes ruined the holiday I was so excited to cheers to the night before? Where’s the "reward" then, brain?!
And so I turn to different forms of reward now. The kind of rewards I probably sneered at a couple of years ago – forms of relaxation, ways of making my life easier, gentler, more comfortable, healthier, “nicer”. And I can hear my old limiting belief voice whispering "you should be ashamed of yourself, trying to have a "nice life", when there's children starving in Africa (and Birkenhead ... and Villeurbanne ...", but honestly - if we only have one life, who doesn't want it to be nice?! Therapy is a reward – it’s hard, it’s confronting, it’s essential at the moment to my survival, thrival (look it up) and all the evolving that’s going on. It’s a reward that keeps on giving – the best kind. Finding ways of bringing in gentleness and peace for others is another kind of reward for me. I get to interact with multiple people every single day, from the comfort of my own home most of the time, and help their day, week, month, year, life be just a smidge better. Or watch in the wings as they completely turn it around. I get to reward myself for hard work, and I get to enjoy the rewards. They don’t bring me headaches or debt.
What do you want out of life? Where do you want to see yourself in six months? In a year? Next week? By the time you’re 100? If we’re lucky enough to make it to tomorrow, the only way we’re going to get there is through today. Spending today regretting yesterday’s choices is a waste. I am not suggesting everyone live a life free of consequence, but rather that we focus on the consequence we want to have. What mark do we want to leave on the world? What marks do we want the world to leave on us?
Fuck waiting for the “right” shaped or sized body for having fun at the beach. Fuck spending three weeks running off that delicious tarte au citron. Fuck waiting for the right house / bank card / partner / cat basket before I allow myself to be happy with my lot. Fuck spending my sober future regretting and rehashing my boozy past. I’ve had enough mornings (and afternoons, until that hair of the dog …) full of regret and remorse. That’s what drew me to coaching initially – the idea of taking the present, however it is, and working from it to get the future we want. The past is there for lessons and memories, nothing more. I’m not using it as a stick to beat myself with, I’m using it as a springboard to make it to the future I want. And finding joy today does not mean I can't or shouldn't also work for more joy, more health, more happiness tomorrow, it just means I allow and encourage myself to find enjoyment here, now. Carpe Diem, motherduckers.
I didn’t train specifically in sober coaching - my background is in language, linguistics, sociology. The way we talk about shit affects the way we think about shit. And that combination, with the additional NLP training, the Transactional Analysis, the NVC, the positive psychology with a hefty dose of pragmatism, real-talk and some sweary well-placed jokes, alongside everything I’ve learned along my own sober adventure and therapeutic journeys … that’s what makes me dedicated and well-placed to accept this crown of Mx Sober America. I promise I’ll make you proud.
We can do serious work without taking ourselves too seriously. We can do hard stuff, and still enjoy the process. In fact, I’d go one step further and use one of the Banned Words … we should find ways to enjoy as much of the process as possible, because otherwise what’s the point in going through it?! It’s all about the journey … My vocation isn’t, and has never been, to make anyone be sober if they don’t truly want to be. My absolute passion is in helping you find and define that “want”, and running all the way there with you, with sober shits and giggles along the way (THEY’RE SO MUCH BETTER SOBER OMG).
Visit www.zesobercoach.com if you want to know more about my 1:1 sober coaching, contact me (Jo Walduck or email@example.com) to talk about joining The Deep Duckpond (my dedicated safe sober support group for women and queer folk where we’re committed to doing the work on the shit that drove us to drink in the first place), and keep your eyes peeled for information coming very soon about a new limited 6-week adventure, launching May 1st. I’m both terrified and so excited I could burst.
Yours in enjoyment and reward –
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Dear parents of trans* kids (of whatever age)
When you sit in shame and awkwardness as a parent, concerning your trans child’s name, pronouns, transition, life, news … it is often felt on the deepest level by that child. It is an extra layer of guilt, of shame, of awkwardness for them to carry – a perceived confirmation of their fear that they’re making things difficult for you, instead of being able to focus on themselves. Society already makes things difficult and dangerous enough for people sheltering under the trans* umbrella, so it is your job and duty as a parent to be as openly and visibly supportive as possible – not just when talking to your child, but when talking about them publicly. Following the idea of Circles of Grief and Ring Theory – comfort goes in, dumping goes out. Comfort, support, recognise and affirm your child – remember how much it will have taken them to trust you with this. And when the child is safely asleep, away, out of earshot … that’s when you dump out. Turn to your friends, ask for help, advice, support. Read the books, join the groups, cry your tears, do your therapy, live your grief for the one who won’t be, and your apprehension for the one who will. But don’t let your child see that. This is time once again for you to be the strong parent, the unflappable one, the unquestioningly supportive one. You made the choice to have a child - now is your chance to support them, wholeheartedly, as they navigate their life's path.
Below is a response to the question from many parents, who ask what they should say to their friends, their family, their community when their child comes out as trans:
Tell them the truth.
Tell them you’ve never heard me sound so happy and so sure, despite all I’m going through.
Tell them you’re scared to make a mistake and hurt my feelings, but you know that not talking hurts me more.
Tell them you’re confused by some of the words and terms, that you still slip up. That it’s OK. That you’re learning, you’re trying.
Tell them you’re proud of me for everything I’m doing, even if you don’t always understand.
Tell them of your fears, of your concerns. For me, for you, for us.
Tell them you miss me. You miss seeing me now, and you miss seeing me as you thought I was.
Tell them you miss my old face and name, the ones you had so many dreams for.
Tell them you’re realising those dreams you had for me were just that – your dreams for me.
Tell them my name and my pronouns.
Tell them I’m transitioning, I’ve transitioned, and put the full stop wherever you need to after that.
Tell them only what you need them to know, but tell them all of that.
Tell them if they really knew me, they’d know I’m exactly the same person. I’m becoming more me, not less.
Tell them you’re conflicted and confused, and it’s OK. Ask them for help, support, advice, an ear.
Tell them as hard as it is to bear the loss of who I never was and never will be, you’re glad to bear it for me as it means I finally get to be who I’ve always wanted to be, who I’ve always been underneath.
Tell them the things you don’t tell me because you know how heavy my load already is to carry.
Lighten your load.
To my own parents, I want to add:
Tell them I'm no longer suicidal. I'm no longer exploring slow death through booze and nicotine, nor am I thinking of faster means to get there.
Tell them my name is Jo, my pronouns are 'she' or 'they' (but never 'he').
Tell them how they can help you. How they can help me.
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C/W: sexual assault, violence
I'm writing this at 2am, unable to sleep, thinking about the murder of Sarah Everard - allegedly by a serving Metropolitan police officer - and the millions of other girls and women who have been hurt, violated, traumatised and killed.
I haven't known how to talk about it from within this body and life, without over-centering myself, my story, making it all about me, me, me. And then I saw a tweet reminding us that we don't have to share our experience for said experience(s) to be valid, and asking people not to exclude trans women and nonbinary folk from the conversation. I don't even know if I'll post this, but I needed to write it, so here we go.
I had the pain and privilege to pass as a guy - a 'girly' guy a lot of the time, but a guy nonetheless - for most of my adult life. The vast majority of my friends were and are women, and although the "text when home" reflex was there, it wasn't so many years ago that I was shocked to find out why a girlfriend wouldn't wear headphones on an evening run. For guys who don't know the answer to this - it's so she can always hear someone running up behind her.
I knew never to walk behind a woman alone at night, to always cross the street. Even if I was terrified too - my appearance could be enough to spark fear for her. I always tried to make my walk and face look as queer, safe and approachable as possible when I did have to walk near women alone, and did make some 'best friends for the 20 minute walk home' that way. There were a lot more women I didn't interact with, because my giving space was accepted for what it was.
I was, even when presenting as a gay man, and remain, scared of men. I never wanted to be lumped into the same category as them, and was probably guilty of a few 'not all men' statements, finding myself in a weird feminist-off with myself and the world when it came to those conversations. Not out - even to myself - as trans, as nonbinary, as trans-femme or woman (where I stick the tail on the proverbial donkey of that gender mess is still TBD and may remain undetermined forever), I found it hard to say "me too" (both with and without the #), without detracting from the fears and voices of "real women". And yep - this is from a person who said - and believes - trans women are real women, get over it. I still have a lot of unpacking and damage surviving to do in therapy!!
Looking back on my life through the filter of trans identity now, everything is clearer. The panic attacks which started when I cut my hair short for the first time in my adult life. The way some guys would look at me or talk to me. The knowing that they could see something in me that I was still desperately trying to drown out, to ride out until it was 'safe' to see it, to act on it. The comments on the streets. Catcalls and insults. The guy on a motorbike, Place de Clichy at 3am who called me over for "help", then grabbed my scarf and tried to force me to kiss him. The 'relous'. The dangerous. The ones who are attracted to us gender benders, queer kids, the ones who colour and blend in the lines, and who hate both us and themselves for that attraction, letting their violence out on *us* as an easy scapegoat, instead of dismantling the systems of norms and power which bring them only shame, blame and guilt. And anger and desire and start it all over again.
I wasn't taught how to keep myself safe as a kid. That's not a dig at my parents, it's just a fact. It wasn't something that necessarily came up. I was assigned "boy" at birth, and boys are assigned safety at birth. No need to learn something that's normally just automatically accorded to you. So I learned to put up walls and to put on armour and to go - and latterly stay - only where it's safe. The fatter I get, the less likely anyone will want to, or be able to, fuck me or hurt me. The faster I walk, the more stompy badass bitch walking down the runway I make my 'leisurely stroll', the less likely anyone will be able to stop me. The more disarming and offensive and defensive and charming I am in our communications, the less I can get hurt, physically or emotionally. And the more I stay home, the less exposure to potential danger. 'Safety' sure can have a limited, and limiting, view. And still we can get raped and beaten and kidnapped and abused and heckled and scared and murdered.
If I go outside dressed as 'boy', I get misgendered, called 'monsieur', and my heart breaks. If I go outside dressed as 'girl', I'm thinking constantly about how safe I am. If I go outside presenting neutrally, the looks and stares are ever more intense, trying to find which box I can 'safely' be put into. That dude on the scooter who passed me, turned around and is now coming back - does he want to punch me or fuck me? Or both? How do I navigate this in the light of day? And late at night?
The anxiety I have is something I'm working on - again - in therapy. But it really fucking sucks to have to pay hundreds and thousands of euros for *me* to feel safer and more 'right' in my own head, skin and clothes outside ... only to then walk out into the rules society has created for women and femmes. To keep them 'safe'. No clothing they can grab onto. Turn the music down or turn it off, but keep your earphones in. Don't make eye contact. Don't be alone. Share your location. Don't go anywhere remote. Don't engage. Don't antagonise. Don't let him see where you live. Don't be so far from home you can't run to safety. Don't be smaller. Don't be weaker. Don't ask for it.
How about: don't rape. Don't abuse, don't heckle, don't catcall, don't insist, don't push, don't pull, don't corner, don't grab, don't kill.
Men. Please do better. Please talk to your guy friends as well as your girl friends when talking about this. Please talk to your sons about it just as much as your daughters. Please be open to hearing things you don't want to hear. Please be open to learning. You don't need to go on a rampage for 'the few bad ones' - elevate ALL your conversations and actions, and make sure the men and boys in your life are doing the same.
This is not just about murder, although it is. Or kidnap. Or rape. Or sexual assault or abuse or intimidation or threatening or manipulation or touching or being handsy. It's also about the missed opportunities. The perfect apartment not chosen because it's on an unlit street. The perfect job not applied for because the firm has a history of not taking harrasment complaints seriously. The parties not attended because there's no night bus afterwards. The mountains and woods and beaches and cities and parks and whole damn lives left unexplored because it's unknown and therefore even more unsafe than when it's known. The hours, the years of life completely wasted on worrying about safety from men. Not bombs, not cancer, not mountain lions, not earthquakes ... men. On top of all the rest. Add to that fear extra bricks of fear, dismissal, discrimination to be carried by those of colour, who are trans, or living with disabilities ... that's a lot of fucking fear.
The amount of cortisol and adrenaline running through the bodies of women, femme-presenting and gender-non-conforming people, it could change the direction of the world if it was allowed to be channeled elsewhere. If we were just allowed that basic feeling of safety. If we didn't have to assume, and prepare for, the worst. Not all men, sure. But it could be any man. So it might as well be all men.
This is an issue for all humans. All. But one side has been talking about it for centuries, and the other half hasn't yet pulled their weight in the right direction. At all. Please do so.
Sarah Everard. Blessing Olusegun.
All the others. The named and the unnamed. The known and the unknown, the found and the unfound. You will not have died in vain. Rest in the power and safety that should have been yours while you were on this earth.
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"What else is true?"
This is a question, brought into my life by the beautiful soul Laverne Cox who incorporated it into her life through her trauma healing work. It's a really useful question to ask ourselves, and Laverne asks it to her interviewees/collaborators at the end of each episode of her wonderful podcast. For those of us living with pain, anxiety, trauma, depression - it's a way to allow ourselves to honour what is hard and wrong and sad and painful, and to also recognise that other things, neutral and even positive, can exist at the same time.
Despite my training as a coach having deep roots in positive psychology, I talk fairly often in The Deep Duckpond and with my 1:1 clients about how important it is to not Pollyanna over everything, ignoring the dark shit we're experiencing or have lived through. It can lead to bitterness and resentment, burnout and chandeliering, and doesn't recognise the beautiful mess and variety of existence as a fully-rounded human. It can stop us from acknowledging our own thoughts and feelings, and create a barrier to real, deep connection with other souls. All our feelings are valid (they are not necessarily facts, but they are valid). And we, as beautiful humans, contain multitudes. Simultaneously conflicting thoughts, beliefs, and desires. And that's okay.
So comes the question, "what else is true?" - after acknowledging the dark side of the moon of our existence ... what else is true?
It's a way to get ourselves out of a negative spiral, to find some hope, some light, a positive branch to cling onto and grow with. A tool to open up that door to life and breath and opportunity and otherness.
It ties in quite nicely with a metaphor I found while working with my old therapist (we did quite a lot of parts-therapy), where I imagined my "me" and my "voice" as being made up of many different voices in a choir. And I get to choose where I put the mic. Some voices are, through nature and nurture, societal 'norms' and personal practice, more powerful than others. They carry further, they know the timbre and pitch to get those wine glasses tingling. But I'm in charge of the mic. I get to find ways to amplify the quieter voice, the gentler voice, the voice of that little novice nun who lets her power burst out when Whoopi gives her the look of love in Sister Act.
What else is true? Where do I want to put the mic?
It's important to be able to hear all voices. Doesn't mean that we have to listen and give reason to them all, but being able to hear and learn from them all is a way to honour that stunning complexity of our human lives, loves and losses.
Next time you find yourself giving an 'absolute' truth about yourself, particularly if it's 'negative' (I'm not using 'negative' with any judgement here, I just mean a truth that concerns sadness, anger, guilt, regret, pain, shame, fear, ...), remember this little prompt. Especially in times of heightened anxiety or despair ... remember to ask yourself the question: what else is true? Go into your body, find another truth.
We're not trying to negate the 'hard' emotion or feelings ... we're just recognising that it's not the only one there right now. And this can sometimes be enough to pull us out of that anxious doom-spiralling.
I feel anxiety every time I leave my house. What else is true? I feel better almost every time, rejuvenated when I get home by connection, movement, mask-filtered fresh air.
I worry about how my transition is going to affect my family relationships. What else is true? I'm touched by the ways my family are finding to support me.
I'm still intimidated by the power of 'never' when it comes to booze, despite being over 500 days sober and a fucking sober coach!! What else is true? I don't have a single regret about my sober journey so far, and can't currently think of a single positive effect going back to the booze could have for me.
My body hurts and can't do everything I want it to. What else is true? I feel more at home in it over this last year of transition, pain and fatigue than I did in any of the 35 previous years.
I love you all.
Thank you for seeing and supporting me. If you are able to contribute a little financial support via my Patreon, I am always grateful for those who allow me to spend my time and energies focussed where I'm supposed to be. Here is some more information on why I've chosen this platform and this approach - it truly does take a village.
(image description: a photo taken not far from my house with a big mirrored building, in front of which are some trees - two still with their winter wardrobe in full effect, and one showing off the splendours of spring, with gorgeous white blossoms covering its branches. Both states - wintery and springy - are true, valid, and simultaneous)