Sohie CherelThis is not a success story and I have no advice to give you. All I have are a few impressions emanating from two facts: one, I did the Hoffman Process and two, my life changed completely. That’s not miraculous; it’s not even out of the ordinary. Life changes. Life is change. The amazing thing is how hard we fight that.

Like baby birds bored of their nest, we have to be pushed out. Only then do we discover the wider world. The thing is, occasionally, our wings don’t open…

But enough about birds. I’ve got to lay my cards on the table now and that doesn’t come easily. So allow me to start with Tintin. In The Land of Black Gold, the incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson get lost while driving in the desert. After a time, they find a set of tracks in the sand. “Praise be,” they say, “we’ve found our way!” They follow the tracks, and soon more tracks appear, and more: “This is a highway!” It turns out, of course, that they’re following their own tracks. They’re going around in circles. That was me, before Hoffman.

When you’re lost, it’s very reassuring to follow (what you think are) other people’s tracks. Other people know better; other people are not lost. So I’d handed control of my life over to someone else, and I just followed – well, I tried to follow, but I could never quite catch up. I ran and ran, and I fell further and further behind. I was trying so hard to please that I completely lost touch with myself. I didn’t even have the capacity to ask myself how I was feeling, never mind what I wanted in life.

Tracks in the sandWell, going around in circles gets frustrating. And the desert is hot. I was metaphorically dying of thirst. I felt as If I didn’t stop NOW, I’d make such a mess, there’d be no cleaning it up. It would be about as pretty as a pile of crushed bird bones.

So I took a gamble and did something completely out of character. I bet everything I had (admittedly, not a lot) on Hoffman, based on something I was told by somebody I barely knew who’d done a course that involved bizarre rituals and some sort of cushion-thrashing antics. “Finally, for the first time in my life, I can be myself.”

Well, that’s all I wanted, really. But this so-called Process sounded like group therapy, and I hate groups. Also, anyone claiming to offer ‘spiritual growth’ arouses my deepest suspicions. I don’t just shudder at the words ‘life coach’, I howl.

This harks back to when I was ten and the nuclear fall-out of my parents’ divorce brought a series of ‘gurus’ into my mother’s life. Developing her own brand of said ‘growth’, with a generous dollop of self-care, she went so Ab-Fab I actually have a newspaper cutting of her bungee-jumping off a cable car in Venezuela wearing nothing but a cleavage-intense pink swimsuit and neon-green leg warmers. She looked fantastic. Meanwhile, my siblings and I were packed off from our home in Venezuela to boarding school. Which brings me to the last thing that antagonised me about this so-called Process. Set in a ‘splendid country manor’ – a former boarding school – it was bound to be rife with spoilt brats (not to say posh gits) feeling sorry for themselves.

Sophie CherelStill. It was that or blindly jump, certain I’d hit the ground and splatter. So I said goodbye to the sunshine and surf of my Canary Island paradise and got on a plane to London. I hadn’t set foot in the UK for over a decade and a familiar feeling of dread settled in my stomach, like I was going back to boarding school.

At the station on the way to the venue, I met the first of my fellow inmates; “What are you in for?” we dared not ask each other. As we crunched up the tree-lined manor drive on a misty night, I felt like I was stepping into a Dickens novel, and the eccentric, excited, embarrassed chap next to me would most likely turn out to be my unknown, long-lost brother. He wasn’t; but in the week that followed, he did sometimes feel like a brother. I saw him, as I saw the others (who weren’t posh gits after all), in his pain, his anger, his joy; crying, screaming, hitting cushions – yes indeed! – laughing, dancing, acting, even standing up and reciting his own poetry… And I did all that too (minus the poetry). Even though it was out of character. But that’s the whole point, I guess: dropping the ‘character’.

It still took a full three days for my deep-seated suspicions to die out. What did it? The obvious sincerity of the people who took charge of us. Far from being cult leaders, they were open, kind, honest people, who seemed to have understood a few things and were doing their utmost, with astonishing warmth and charisma, to transmit that knowledge.

For me, the hardest part was acknowledging my anger and letting it out. My God, the damage it could cause… I used to have fits, you see. When I was little, we lived in the Congo, and one day, my mother came home to find me standing very still at the centre of a broken glass table, shards pointing inwards. “She’s possessed,” the nanny explained, adding that she couldn’t touch me, in case “the devil appeared”. Because sometimes, when I didn’t get my way, my eyes would roll to the back of my head and I’d thrash around on the ground. The doctor said I was just seeking attention and recommended a helmet. The fits stopped but I kept the temper – “la petite bête”, my father called it – and somehow, I’ve always feared that maybe I really am the devil.

So, I’ve done my best to get rid of that ‘beast’; I’ve pushed it down, and I’ve been nice to people when I didn’t feel like being nice. In other words, I’ve been fake. I am not a nice, submissive, mild, even-tempered person. Ask my sister. I am temperamental, emotional, moody, impulsive. Actually, I’m completely in love with life – I don’t want to miss out on any of it! And so, the part of myself that I locked away got furious. While I smiled sweetly, obeyed, and did my best to be good, she was having plenty of devil’s fits and trying to kick down the walls. Those cushions took a proper beating, let me tell you… It cleaned me out. Afterwards, I felt so light I thought I might float away. It turns out I’m not evil after all. What a relief.

But enough reminiscing. You want facts. Was it the Process that changed my life? Who knows. The best I can do is give you a quick before and after. Before: I was stuck in relationship that was pure agony, I had no social life, my career was flat, I couldn’t stand my parents, and I’d stopped laughing, playing, dancing. After: the relationship ended (as lovingly as can be; radiation contained and collateral damage minimised by the Hoffman tools). My friendships are much deeper; I now actually enjoy meeting new people; the boxed-up-devil-girl is out and her creativity is giving my career new wings; and my parents… Well, my dad was deeply touched by what I told him after the Process and we’ve grown closer. My wild, bungee-jumping mama? She moved here, to the Canaries – something I could never have imagined before the course – and she’s doing things she never did when I was a teenager, like picking me up after a night out, telling me off for dying my whites pink, making lasagne… And she’s now a hands-on grandmother to my son.

Last but not least, I laugh a lot, I’m silly again, and I’m dancing. The tracks in the sand have gone; now I’m using my compass.

To find out more about Sophie, click here. We’re particularly enjoying her fairytale blogpost: The Princess and the Hoffmouse