At 17, I would have run away with anyone, I was so desperate to escape the conflict and abuse at home. Luckily, my husband Jerry Kingett was a good man. His death from leukaemia after 32 years together was definitely not what we, or our three children, had on the menu.
Without my cornerstone, I fell apart. I took up drinking as an active sport, threw myself at any available man and moved house down-market, feeling unworthy of a big des-res in a ‘nice’ neighbourhood. All my insecurities came back to haunt me. Within a couple of years, I hit rock-bottom and decided that the kids would be far better off with their happily married and financially secure guardians, rather than their waster of a mother. I’d even worked out that if I hit the central reservation of the M25, it wouldn’t be classed as suicide and they’d still get the insurance.
Then one cold, grey day in Brighton, along came Hoffman, shining off the page of a free mag I’d picked up in the local wholefood shop where I was buying some milk thistle to sort out my liver. ‘Are you repeating negative patterns of behaviour you’ve inherited from your parents?’ sang a strapline. It seemed to have been written just for me, the failure who seemed hell-bent on screwing up her kids in the family tradition. It was on New Year’s Day, with only the dog and a hangover as companions, that I Googled and signed up. The location was near enough to Brighton in case it all kicked off at home, Florence House looked suitably comfy and middle class and the testimonials were from well-known people I respected. Plus the cost seemed to indicate a certain level of full-on experience and involvement.
What I did not expect was how long-lasting the benefits would be. Or how much I would learn about tools and techniques I could use in the future, to cope with whatever life might throw at me. Or how, instead of only seeing myself through my parents’ eyes as the crazy, unlovable and ‘just not good enough’ child, I could see what my husband saw – the strong, beautiful, intelligent and powerful woman hidden inside. The difference for me between the Process and other counselling, workshops and therapists, was that I finally empathised with my parents’ childhood. I wept for their childhood traumas, loneliness and the lack of love that had thrown them together to make a family of four children without positive family experiences of their own. I physically released the pain in my body and that’s what made the change. When I wrote the eulogy for my mother’s funeral and visited my parents’ graves – they died within three months of each other – instead of anger, rejection or a feeling of failure, I felt compassion and love.
What reassured me and encouraged me to participate fully in the course during that extraordinary, exhausting, exhilarating and life-changing week on the Sussex coast, was the impressive way the leaders so gently and intuitively facilitated the daily workshops. They always ensured that the dynamics were well-balanced, acknowledging the needs of every one of the participants. They allowed us a safe space to each find our authentic voice, gaining confidence to express ourselves more clearly and openly – but group therapy this most certainly was not. I never felt exposed or diminished because everything progressed at my own pace; there was no pressure to share anything I didn’t want to. Unlike my childhood, I always felt that I was the one with the power and if I wobbled, someone would catch me if I fell. The diversity in ages, backgrounds and financial status of the people on my Process was refreshing and added to my feelings of acceptance and support. I felt safe, respected and able to be honest with myself and others without fear of ridicule. The leaders’ patience, professionalism and attention to each and every one of us taught me so much about managing and achieving success for the participants on the therapeutic writing workshops and retreats that I now run.
Today, it’s more than 15 years since I completed the Process, and since then my life has not been without drama or sadness. I’ve learnt from an abusive relationship – leaving with greater self-awareness, no anger or resentment and with confidence to try again. I’ve survived a heart attack and then surgery and treatment for breast cancer. I have also completed an MA, launched a new business and supported my children and my friends in ways I am proud of.
In my work as a writer and workshop and retreat facilitator, I’m grateful to share with others what my time with Hoffman inspired in me. I teach those who doubt their creative abilities and their self-worth to value their lives and the importance of sharing their stories. Together we can learn from one other and find cause to celebrate. We can let go of the past, stop panicking about the future and live in the now – with confidence, gratitude and joy.