W09.02 Undoing Jerry and Becoming Me

Imagine this…

You are lying half naked on a bed: no underpants, no cover. Your legs are suspended in the air, both feet tied with ropes so you can not move them. You lie like this for hours, for days…. For three months you are never allowed to move, never allowed to stand and walk.

Now imagine you are only two years old and can not understand what is happening to you. Why I am tied up? Why can I never move? Month after month you lie like this... Inside is huge fear, anger, confusion, sadness, desperation. And yet the people around you are kind. They try to cheer you up, they give you food and affection. So you put on a good face for them, a face that jokes and smiles and hides the desperation building up within. You are so powerless, so weak – what if they stop being kind? What if they start to hurt me?

So you build a lovely face to show the world. You create a personality that is appealing, that makes other people laugh. You clown around, show people you are OK, hide everything but your lies that re-assure them you are totally OK. But of course you are not totally OK. Inside a monster is born. A raging, avenging monster that wants to make others suffer for the injustice and cruelty they have measured out to you.

But you can not let that monster control you either. You must bury this monster deep, put this rage into a place where it can never be found. You stuff it so deep into your psyche that it takes more than 50 years before you can finally face again the anguish that sculptured your life. And if you don't, then your monster will take your life from you, or it will take life from others.

This is my story. I was on that hospital bed. Those kind people were the nurses and doctors and my mother for 30 minutes a day.

How did I get to be in this situation?


It is my earliest memory.

I am 2 years old and in our family kitchen. I am looking up at the table top, and seeing two large bodies. It is my mother and father sharing a pot of tea on a Sunday morning. Next to mother is a packet of cigarettes. I am watching them both, fascinated by the white smoke, curious about the way they are sucking this thin, white stick as the smoke curls into the air… So while they are talking, I reach my little hand up to the table and quickly take away the cigarettes and matches. Mum and Dad do not notice.

I hurry down the hall, excited by my new acquisition. Outside my father has racked a pile of leaves, and I want to make a fire like he does so I can light my white stick. I am in flannelette pyjamas, long before safety rules were made to ban them. Fire alight, I bend over the burning leaves, cigarette in my hand, trying to reach the red hot flames…

My pyjamas catch fire. I scream and scream while my mother charges from the other end of our house, looks in horror to see her first born son engulfed in flames. She wraps me in a rug and bundles me off to hospital… I am lying wrapped up in our Volkswagen beetle… I am feeling weaker and weaker… I wonder where Mummy is going…

Then I remember no more: the inside skin of my upper legs has totally burnt off.

This was 1957 and the technology for skins drafts was in its infancy. Luckily my mother had an acquaintance from her school days who was the Chief Surgeon at a large private hospital run by Catholics in Sydney. I had spent my first week in a public hospital in Hornsby, and every day my mother visited me, she could feel the life draining away from my face. I grew weaker and weaker: I was dying and she knew it.

So she plucked up her courage, rang her old acquaintance and begged him to save me. And he did. Even as I write these words, tears well up from my heart. He ordered an ambulance and I was sped 15 miles across Sydney to St Maters hospital. Within 15 minutes of arriving, I was in surgery completing the first of three major skin draft operations. They delicately removed skin from my buttocks and the good sides of the leg, then layered them in strips across the raw, exposed flesh of my upper legs. And then it was determined that I must not move my legs, for doing so would tear the new skin and jeopardize my life.

So it was me tied up in that bed. It was me at two years old unable to move. Uncomprehending, scared, in pain and stuck like a tortured prisoner in this exposed position for what was an eternity: I was tied up this way for three months. Try to remember what you were doing three months ago—think about that, then wonder how it would be for you to be tied up, without moving, from that time until today. This was the experience I had.

I spent another three months in hospital recovering – 6 months in all. I was told by my mother in later years, that I had forgotten how to walk. Once they untied me, I went again through crawling, standing and walking – but most of this is no longer in my memory. For so many years I could not access these experiences. Instead, I constructed a new face to show the world. I was Jerry the clown, Jerry the chatty one, Jerry who always had a new idea or a new thing to do.

I was racing around the world, trying to run away from my Self. But how can you run away from the one who is running? It is like trying to separate your Self from your shadow. For years I could never understand what people where talking about when they said things like:

"Be your true self".

"Your true self?" I would think, "What is that?"

I felt I had several "true selves" and each one served me on different occasions. What is wrong with that I wondered…?

Except I was never content, never quiet, never able to just be. Instead, I was always experiencing a background anxiety which I laid over with excitement. I was an excitement junkie – and very quick to get bored. In fact, I was terrified of getting bored, terrified of staying in one place, terrified of being attached to someone. Even to this very day I dislike carrying a bag, because I feel in some way I am trapped by it.

This is why we don't want to change, because to change we must face the face that we hide. For me – it was necessary to face my apparent boredom, and discover a dark well of forgotten emotions that had remained stuck in time. Your true self is always there, but somewhere you feel you are not good enough for others. You feel you must make another face that is "proper" or "dutiful" – a face that others can accept and love. And why are you driven to do this?

I understand it from my own experience on that hospital bed. I made a decision, deep within my heart, that something must be wrong with me. Otherwise – why am I treated this way? Every child experiences this, it is part of our human experience. To survive you must follow the group, you must rely on others, you must behave in a way that supports them. Yet as a child you do not understand such things. So when you experience the wrath of others, when anger greets your attempts to explore the world, you conclude that you are no good.

I am the one that is wrong.

So you start to construct a "new you" that you think is "right" and deceit begins. You learn to put on a face that pleases others. You have a survival instinct to be accepted, a deep rooted desire to belong. You fear being cast out, being ostracised from the group. You wonder, if that happened, could you even continue to live?

This is what I learnt in my hospital bed. In my case it was extreme, almost freakish. I sometimes wonder if my education actually began on the day I burnt my legs? I believe it did. One reason I am telling my story, is to let you know that I know about the pain of hiding your self. I understand deeply that it is what you add to you that creates your suffering – there was never anything wrong, except that which you believed about you. Do you know what that is?

It is my honest wish that I can help others discover what I have discovered through the journey of my life. On my hospital bed began the first lesson of my life: to feel the sickness that fear builds within my being when I deny the essence of who I am.

I understand suffering and pain, and I have experienced a lot of it in my life. We can be happy, I know that now. I am happy, although as I wrote this I still cried and cried, but in relief for finally knowing the boy I abandoned so many years ago. We need courage, we need education and we need love and support.

Remember – you are great. You have perfection within you. You don't need to do anything to fix your Self, you only need to stop denying your own greatness. What that is, how you stop it, and what comes next – that is the essence of my business coaching!

TOMORROW: How Being Successful in Business Becomes An Antidote to Self-Hate.

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