“Sh*t! Where’s your mic?!!
”“Oh…”“Hang on a sec!”
the AV guy runs off then returns, out of breath, with the headset.
“There you go… got it?”
The audience of fifteen hundred are roaring with laughter; Andy’s on stage working his magic, his talent for creating rapport unextinguishable but my heart is pounding and my stomach is sick with dread. Its dark backstage and I’ve been trying to sneak a peek around the curtain so that when I walk into the light I won’t be frozen in shock.
My legs tremble, my arms ache, my hands are freezing but my face is on fire, my scalp is fizzing… it’s fight or flight and every nerve cell in my body is screaming at me to get away fast.
The sensation is not new to me. As a classical musician I’m used to being under the spotlight, but this is different. ‘This time she’s back… and it’s personal…’
“Please welcome onto the stage… Rachel… Roberts!!!!”
And somebody walks on.
Oh, it’s me.
I’m writing this article for two reasons; to hold myself accountable for what I believe in but what often feels like a struggle, and also in the hope that, maybe, other people can take something from it that is helpful.
Rachel playing the violin
It’s unusual how the mind plays tricks on you.
In times of extreme stress, I get this image of beautiful peacock feathers.
Of the inky blue and rich turquoise melting together in exquisite, long, tapering lines.
But my association is of terror and dread – of a drunken, raging man leering over a bewildered 5-year-old girl telling her that her pictures contain the ‘evil eye’ and now that she’s drawn them, she is cursed forever. Yep, that’s me and my dad… and those raging episodes continued for years.
They were exacerbated by my aptitude for music and only became worse and more frequent, more aggressive and more explicit after my mother died. Let’s cut a long story short.
Let down by many authority figures including social services and extended family, I managed to survive.
But let’s fast forward away from those darkest times. At 26, as a single mother with a mortgage, no friends or family to speak of, with one of the most sought-after musical jobs in the country and an au pair my own age, I realised that there was something wrong with me.
“I couldn’t feel anything except sadness, isolation and anxiety. I couldn’t connect to other people and, most tragically, I couldn’t love my beautiful boy. I was numb to good and bad”.
And that’s when I found Maggie. Maggie didn’t have a business card, I heard about her from someone at work. If I wrote her business card today it would say, “Guiding Vision of Light”, or perhaps, “Wonderfully Enlightened Amazing Person,” or simply, “Saviour”.
On my son’s seventh birthday I had an ‘accident’ with a sharp knife – I severed my right index finger, almost removing it from my hand. Not a good move for a musician, and possibly a classic ‘incapacitation’ manoeuvre. Maggie did save me. She revealed a path to a world I didn’t realise existed, and she gave me the courage to walk it. Her business card actually reads “Transformational Life Coach”. Twenty years later I’m still utilising the techniques Maggie taught me: “Can you see this from another angle?” “Who do you want to be in this situation?” “What’s underneath this experience?” “What do you notice about yourself as you consider this?”
As I uncover my ‘coaching self’ I notice that I’m drawn to work around identity. I’m drawn to the work of groups and their constantly shifting tapestry of connections and dynamics. It seems second nature to ‘reframe’ experiences and I’m curious about which of the client’s ‘selves’ is in the driving seat at any point.
My mission is to empower young people leaving the ‘Looked After’ system which, statistically speaking, seems to be negating the inherent resources within this group. I believe that part of happiness lies in doing more things you love than those things you don’t so my framework is to offer group coaching in the form of rapping workshops, graffiti workshops and vision boarding. As rapport builds I’ll provide a one-to-one coaching space combined with, where necessary, a creative, therapeutic space held by qualified creative therapists.
And how’s this for reframing?: I’m grateful for the time my father drunkenly hung me by the ankles out of the attic window, Mahler blaring passionately at full volume. He wasn’t angry, and that meant I felt safe. I sense you recoil with horror. But I was with the full moon against the black sky, I was seven years old in the treetops listening for the owl, flying deep, breathing in the heady scent of the night air. It’s a memory I now treasure. I wouldn’t be who I am without that and many other memories that touch on the darkness and the lightness of being alive.
I believe it’s a tremendous gift to inhabit a body and get to feel and experience the physical world. That’s a thousand times better than being a disembodied soul – either as a metaphysical concept, or as a dissociated human being. I want to explore this life, not shrink away from it in fear or bitterness. That’s my choice and who knows where this path will lead me. Well… it led me to tell my story in front of fifteen hundred people the other day.
But we are more than the stories of the past. There’s the future and what we choose for it – whether it’s the re-run of an old repeat with altered characters, or whether we’re brave enough to create an original new series. Whatever we create, let’s meet our selves with love and acceptance and play from the heart.