Steve Cragg - Fit50

My Journey so far: Steve Cragg

I was designed for the first-half of life. Simple fact. Shaped by genealogy and lineage from both sets of grandparents who had come to the African continent from Britain, either as members of the colonial service or for business prospects, some titled with British knightage and peerage too. Birthed into a loving, stable, yet, typical of it’s time and era, traditional and patriarchal home, with a Type-A, ex-British Army officer for a father and a gentle, fun, loving and supportive woman for a mother. I was ready at the age of 5 to thrive in a western-culture that would keep rewarding and fast-tracking me up to ascend any mountain that I could imagine and set for myself to climb. This is my journey.

I was wired for goals, Right from day one!! It was just in me. Innate. Right from that first day at junior school when the gold stars came out in the classroom and that first sports-day, when I saw the trophies on offer on the table next to the sack race. From day one I went hard, driving myself. Wanting it more than others. Wanting to be better and go higher than others. Needing it more than others. Whether ticker-tape, gold stars, badges, trophies, awards, houses, companies, sports-cars, sales, deals, bank balances – it was to feed me for decades to come. No-one pushed me to be like this. It was always just to be my journey. Makes no sense. Just was.

My upbringing and training at home was typical of that found in many ex-pat households. It was loving. It was safe and conservative, with a lot of rearing centred around building discipline, duty and responsibility. But still it felt exciting too.I was proud of my family and our extraordinary upbringing. We were always on the move and the transient nature of it taught me the skill of rapidly adapting to change through the accessing of multi personae, allowing me to build early ‘independence’. By 21, I had lived in 5 countries, over 25 homes, been to 4 high schools – Catholic and boarding from the age of 14.

I am not sure whether it was ‘drive’ or an unconscious desire to seek approval through ‘doing my bit, my assigned duty, but it soon became apparent to me that, even as a young boy, I was able to repress, shut down and detach from literally anything other than that needed to keep me climbing and pushing for the goal I craved and obsessed over. An unconscious mission and mantra was emerging – building and deepening the grooves within my brain – to do whatever it took to push away from the merry band of the mass on the ground, the ‘ordinary’, the crowd, the troops, the followers, the staff, the team and head on up higher to be in the 1%, the extra-ordinary, the successful, the captain, the commander, the originator, the elite, the play-maker,the performer, the entrepreneur, the game-changer, the officer, the head boy, the director, the one chosen, the one on the podium, on the stage, the DJ, in the limelight, the provincial sportsperson, the manager, the leader, the one on TV, the one with the plan, with the microphone, with the pretty girl, the controller, the organiser, the overseer, the CEO.

I don’t think this is uncommon at all.I see this ‘spirit’ deep in many of us humans. It is the prevailing spirit of youth. Of the 1st half of our natural cycle. But, like anything, it is only healthy, when integrated, balanced out and tempered.

From those early memories at 5 years old right up until I was around 45 I don’t think I ever stopped. Didn’t have to. Life let me go out and get at it. Kept rewarding me. I kept setting heights to scale and going up. Away from the ground, To the goal, From the here and now. From others. From my “self”. I guess, choosing the realm of ‘impressing’ rather than ‘expressing. Towards performance. Hunting. Chasing down. Acquiring. This was my true North! And I loved it. I was confident and had a more than healthy ego. I was energetic, attractive and charismatic enough, popular, well-travelled, reasonably educated, moderately comfortable with risk and when alchemised with a drive to push myself forward, was fortunate to continually be blessed with ‘outward’ success in many aspects of life, at least as we know it in the western world. Yes. I was built for the first half of life! Didn’t hurt that I was enveloped within a strong faith community and practise and believed I had the grace of God on my side too. Talk about a winning formula. Talk about getting the inside track.

I never read the warning signs. And they were there from 13 years old already. How was I to know that pushing too hard for a ‘good’ thing would actually also give life to something of a ‘bad’ thing. As I pushed for more in the outer world, with no respite to balance out that one-sided ‘spirit’ and energy, an opposing and compensatory shadow persona was increasingly casting itself across my inner world, But don’t be fooled. Nothing fuels a drive for more success in the outer world than a burgeoning inner shadow. It became my boiler furnace. Fighting inner battles against growing and hungry demons makes you unstoppable in the outer jungle-world. I have learnt later that our inner world, however imbalanced will just leave us to ‘be and do as we wish’ in our years of youthful unfolding. Allowing us to go up and out into the world. Towards the goal, the light, the sun, the peak, our summit. Until the turning point of mid-life arrives when finally it cannot take any more and forces us (often through a process of knotting then dismantling) to begin the move in and back down, all the way towards the ground. Back to base camp. To hopefully the reinvention of a totally new reality, a new, vital, fresh way of life. Finally, towards our True South. To hopefully a life of more balance, of centring, attachment, grounding, connection, presence and love – for self, others, nature, the divine, life itself, past and present.

I won’t go into details of my shadow world. My valley. We all have them. How fragile we all are. Am sure mine is no different to most. But if you set for yourself a mountain to climb that is high, at some point it is only you that also has to come down that mountain.  I couldn’t see it then, but if I look back now, I was fast-becoming a bit of a machine – detached, controlling, over-analytical, over sensitive, over creative, way too much in my head, instinctively manipulative, over-judging of myself and often others, consistently pushing myself and others away towards ‘so-called’ peak performance. My internal system was in a battle with anything that would have actually perfectly balanced me out along the way and I scorned and looked down on everyday normal socialising, fun, joy and ‘just chilling’ as a bit of a waste of time – pretty much because it was all a world I felt foreign in. Weak in. A world I couldn’t really relate to. Couldn’t feel. That I couldn’t find a way to express in. Didn’t have the words or even a voice to add to. That made me stressed and anxious. It triggered so much self-doubt and ruminating, I felt I was becoming a bit of a socio-phobe. And so I chose to rather keep pushing to impress, not express. Move myself to a quantifiable world that I knew I could live and thrive in. New ideas, deep ‘profound’ thinking, duty, responsibility, control, discipline and effort manifest outwardly in businesses, territories, accolades and achievements. Soon all I really wanted was to do that. Keep climbing. It was obvious I was becoming increasingly less and less equipped for the beautiful unfolding journey, for the sensuality of a full life, for depth, for connection, for fun, for joy, for intimacy, for communion, for beauty, for love of everything including the present moment. In a way I was numbing, fast-losing a part of what made me truly ‘human’. I didn’t buy into the adage that ‘all work and no play could possibly make Steve a dull and numb boy” even though that was what was actually happening.

Imbalance manifests itself as behavioural disorders and I was no exception. But when you are still youthful and going up your mountain, you don’t experience the consequences of your negative behaviour yet. Rather they are all stored. Deep in your bones. In the memory of every one of your myriad cells. In your soul. For a later date with destiny. With the living God. For the passage down into the valley, when your time at the summit is over and the descent must begin. A delayed kind of karmic appointment.

Yes, I had an incredible 1st half and I am eternally grateful for just how blessed I have been! I met and married, almost immediately, the most beautiful and incredibly loving, grounded, gentle yet steadfast and unbelievably strong woman and we were blessed with 4 amazing children. I often ask people to define the exact moment in their life when they planted their ‘flag’ into the ground at the top of their summit. For me it was December 2009. I was 43. We had just had an incredible run of fortune at our group of multinational advertising agencies and we had decided to go off as a family (with four young kids between 3-8) on a 6 week beach and alps holiday / sabbatical which was to also double-up as a time for us as a young family to construct a book of recipes, photos, personal stories and anecdotes for us to share with friends on our return. I remember waking up one morning, looking out across the ocean in Mauritius, with the smell of coffee and home-made croissants, wafting through from the kitchen to our bedroom, thinking to myself: “It can’t get any better than this”. No words. Pure bliss. And Love. And Gratitude. That same feeling you get when you are on top of any mountain looking down at the splendid view below you. I was at the summit of my outer life. I had got there. But I never knew it. I still wanted to go higher. Wanted more.

We are not in control of much of our life. Little did I know that my descent was about to start. A private and hidden journey where I would be called down into the valley of my soul back towards base camp. My own ‘Job-like’ meet-up that would end up taking me to the edge of near loss and self-destruction of everything that actually in the end really matters. Of pain and heartache – both caused and received. Of inner and outer battles. Of letting go of my faith and God, and then coming all the way back home again.

The first step down started with my Mum’s unfortunate twist of fate. My Mum had always been so youthful, so loving, so lovely, so caring, so kind and so filled with life. All Mums are giants. Mine certainly was. She was a picture of kindness, humility and joy. All 5 foot 2 of her! At 70 she was so vital and healthy. She still went to gym, played tennis and squash, ate very well and went for daily long walks with my father. Then, at just 70 years old, against all the odds, she suffered a debilitating brain haemorrhage that tragically left her in a quadriplegic and quasi-vegetative state – nursed around the clock by my father and a team of nurses, only able to communicate, via blinking, for most of it – for 8 years, before passing away at 78.

From that moment, I felt that my 1st-half contract with the source of life was starting to change. I was 45. From that moment on, all hell seem to break loose in my body and in my inner world driving me to doctors, hospitals, specialists, neurosurgeons, neurologists, pastors, therapists, psychiatrists, addiction counsellors…you name it.

Apart from struggling emotionally and psychologically to accept my Mum’s suffering, the psychic hurt I had caused myself, and others, over the years was to now manifest itself in my physical body. It seemed my past was coming to pay me a visit. Concussions and injuries from typical youthful activities began to show their teeth as extreme and incessant neck pain and brain fog and dizziness consumed me almost every minute of the day, altering my central nervous system, driving me to a life of habitual head and neck self-adjustments and contorted facial movements which were eased temporarily only by daily pain killers, occasional beta blockers and even, at times, harder sedatives. If only it ended there! I sought out momentary coping highs to escape the relentless pain that was starting to fill my entire body, even if it were just for a short while, through compulsive behaviour. My journey down saw me wrestle with the usual suspects of shame, disappointment, self judgement, regret, envy and anger somatised as body pain, pneumonia, a tearing of both menisci in my knees, sciatica and back spasms, never-ending sinus infections, breaking 3 ribs, puncturing a lung, suffering with more than 30 boils all over the surface of my body, styes in my eyes and furuncles in my nose all which drove me into a deeper state of disconnection, anxiety and depression. Then, just when I thought I was through the worst, I suffered uni-lateral sudden sensorineural hearing loss – waking up to total ‘unexplained’ deafness in my right ear – at which point I spiraled right down to the bottom, eventually being diagnosed with, and medicated for, Bi-Polar 2 depression. During that time, I also undertook 2 QEEG (which reads waves in different parts of the brain) tests to see what was actually going on in my brain and to determine where the inefficiencies were. A summary of the results confirmed what I knew all along:

“very low calm-focus, finds it difficult to relax, indications of anxiety and rumination, indications of hyper-vigilance, possibly caused by long term stress and post traumatic stress, strong potential for obsessive type thinking and compulsive behaviour,”

But it was not the physical pain that took me to rock-bottom. It was the separation from something bigger that lived in me, the loss of my innocence, the loss of my childlike faith and belief, the realisation that I was weak, lost, hurt and broken. With no idea of how to just be joyful in the world. The loss of a sense that everyday life, just in itself, was beautiful and magical. My once brilliant, shining True North was now burning me every time I seemed to head towards it. And I had no idea where else to go.

Now aged 57, and after support and love from family and friends and professional help, guidance and coaching as well I have accepted that, whilst I no-doubt caused some of those brain, neural and personality imbalances and inefficiencies through going ‘UP’ too much, I also more than likely, inherited some of them too: from my genes, my environment, my culture. I have finally learnt to accept and love this but have also taken responsibility to, ‘epigenetically‘, try and change it. The way I view it. Not an easy task at all.

I do now openly own my past. The good, bad and the ugly. It has made me ‘me’ and I am grateful for the up as well as the down. I am now ‘sort-of’ on my way back down towards ‘terra firma’ at base-camp. Yes – I have a few burnt bridges (both inner and outer) to still walk back over and help rebuild. But I am doing that now. I do still struggle daily but finally, I can feel that I am held, loved, accepted. Always was. Just for being. Finally, without thinking I have to do anything standout, big or ‘impressive’.

I still know I am weak and I know now where there are triggers and traps to snare me, snatch me back to take me up a ‘so-called’ high, a new mountain, away from the divine gift of my present life right now, my base camp, my very moment in space and time, my home, my place where the divine meets me, in my body, in nature, in my home, with my soul-mate, the love of my life, with my family, my children, my friends, my people, my community, my roots.

I now know the lure of originality, of novelty and of new ideas easily seduce me, but also hurt me as they unleash the ‘beast’ of destructive energy that still wants to force, compete, attack, control, dominate, win. Too much time on my screens and laptop also tempts me away. I don’t want long, big goals anymore. Don’t want too much head and intellectual stuff anymore. Don’t want too much pressure. Don’t want too many words, ideas, concepts anymore.

That being said, I will always be a high-energy, creative, planning and goal-centred being and, no doubt, will always wrestle with ego-centric behaviour, as I try and bring ideas to life through drive, control and activation. That is quite simply who I am. I am like an artisit that needs to get the art out. Or else. Walking this tightrope is my life’s dharma. My opus. But now I intend for that side of my personality to ideally not take me too far away from my base camp, to make sure I am not being directed totally by my True North anymore but also by my True South. By God. Yes, I have to keep pursuing and originating ideas but only as long as they can cycle-round and be embodied quickly and simply in the outer world in the name of joy, service and love…. not out of fear of the future, or done for the sake of my or others’ ego, identity, performance or a mere striving for success.

I am also now aware that it is my inferior side (Being, Participating, Feminine, Expressing, Feeling, Surrendering, Introvert, Instinctive, Perceiving, Form) of my personality where my True South resides and so I try and inch more and more towards it every day in the hope that my 2nd half is not a ‘doubling-down’ of the 1st half game-plan but rather takes on a freshness and vitality, yet to be embodied. Even though it is so difficult. That exact polar opposite part of me that my dominant (Doing, Originating, Masculine, Thinking, Controlling, Extrovert, Intuitive, Organised, Judging, Function) True North side relegated into the dark corner almost 50 years ago with almost no support, care and nourishment.

I have a few small very ordinary rituals that also seem to be beginning to help me in my new season as a wounded healer:

  1. For the last 3 1/2 years, I have chosen to go down and inwards every single day by practising, in my own time and space, a simple 20-minute Body Work-In practise (drawing from Yoga, Pilates, Tai-chi, Mindfulness Meditation and Prayer) as a way to daily discipline myself to transform my high energy away from possible destruction towards one of potential construction. As a way to quiet, calm and still my over-active mind. As a reminder of the call to surrender and forgive myself. As a way of getting my body strong again. As acceptance of my ongoing vulnerability. As a reminder of my tiny, tiny, tiny place in all of this. It also serves, as a daily intentional practise to try and embrace living a new ‘balanced’ and centred way and most importantly as a way of privately retreating to pray, commune with God, expressing my deepest gratitude for all that I have been blessed with and allowed to experience in my life.
  2. I still live within a certain amount of pain-body but in gentle daily aerobic exercise – like walking, swimming and light weights – I do at least have a great antidote.
  3. I also feel certain healing and nourishing take place when I have the will, courage and confidence to say ‘No’ to the immediate mission at hand, ‘No’ to duty and responsibility and give myself permission to purposely carve out time away in my day, week, month and year for me and my soul: to unplug, retreat and re-wild: to be, to be alone, to be with family, to be with friends, to be with like-minded souls. I know I feel good when I can live simply, when I am in nature, next to a fire, in the deep outdoors, walking barefoot on the beach, swimming in the ocean, feeling the warm rays of sunshine, hiking in the bush and up on the mountains. I know I feel good when I sense I am at the meeting point of my true nature, every time my innate True North and my ‘discipled’ True South get to meet in the centre. When I have those moments that I sense I am receiving, owning, accepting, appreciating and finally loving it all.


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