Hi I’m Warren, your resident people pleaser extraordinaire. That means my life is chock full of over–extending, getting pulled into every conflict I come across, and saying yes way too much. And of course, we can’t forget the full blown periodic burnout. An essential end result to the fawn response formula. Nothing better than a good ol hermit phase of binging on Netflix, spending a college tuition on uber eats and playing dopamine supercharged video games. Haha yep that’s me! Well, at least it used to be. To all the readers out there who choose to accept this reading mission, be prepared to join me on a little journey about how I found my way to being a sustainable caregiver once and for all. Well…mostly.
Like many people’s life story, mine starts with hardship. My mother left when I was just a wee boy. She taught me the foundation of how to be loving and nurturing, but with her leaving I was also left with a deep fear of upsetting people. As far as my 3 year old brain was concerned, when someone gets angry at me, it means no more momma, isolation and impending doom.
Luckily I still had two incredible sources of love in my early years. An affectionate sister and a special furry friend. When I was 5 we got two cats from a local farm named Zack and Annie. Zack was one of those pushy cats that tried to force affection onto your face while you were sleeping. Me and him “didn’t vibe” as the GENZ kids would say. Annie on the other hand was like the equivalent to a feline soul mate (her words not mine lol). She was stunningly beautiful, the Angelina Jolie of cats. Annie was an orphan (yes you just aged yourself…own it, lovingly) and just like me had some wounds. She was skittish. Didn’t like sudden movements. Only wanted to be pet certain ways. But fortunately the power of love was on my side. I trained myself for months to slow down, pay close attention, stay present and be with her in a way she felt safe. We helped each other through those tough years. Two abandoned kids learning how to trust love again. She was the second love of my life. Annie would end up staying with me right til I graduated and in her final years went back to the farm from where she was born. I like to imagine one day she drifted into the next world with grace and humility (maybe with cat wings…I’m still undecided). She taught me so many things. It’s hard to put into words how much she meant to me and the level of gratitude and love I feel for her. And to this day when I teach healthy masculinity workshops to young men, I know deep down I owe a lot of my ability to be a caregiver to her.
Fast forward to middle school and a kid named Otto from Amsterdam one day decided I was his new best friend and dragged me into the “cool kids” group. Next came 6 years of intense reprogramming. No more sensitive kind hearted soy boy malarky! In that friend group you either sink or you swim, everything was under scrutiny. What you wore, what you liked, how you talked, you name it. At any given moment everyone could turn on you and roast you like a turkey on thanksgiving. By the time I graduated high school I was a shadow of who I once was as a boy. A mind dominated, hypercritical, emotionally dissociated, hierarchical overlord that genuinely believed he had everything and everyone figured out in life. And boy o boy…I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After high school I moved into my mom’s house on an indigenous reserve in Canada and completely checked out. With the last bit of money I had left, I bought an Xbox and a copy of Halo 1 and dove into the world of being a hermit. Smoking copious amounts of marijuana and playing 8-12 hours of Halo a day, I ran from the world. Since no one taught me how to express / process emotions or how to ask for help I stayed stuck. A loop of constantly escaping in order to run from my past, my heart and my own body.
It took me 6 years but at 23 I finally broke my cycle of addiction and admitted to myself that I needed help. Within a week my life started to rapidly change. I took a job up in northern Canada working like a horse, breaking my addictions, making ok money and putting some really needed muscle back on my body.
When I got home I knew I needed to make some serious changes. I moved into a cousin’s unfinished basement and signed up for school. An arts and culture school where I could try many art forms and learn about my indigenous culture. This began my journey into personal development. After taking a public speaking course that led me to finding my current career of facilitating workshops I found a couple bodies of work that would lead me back to myself.
One day I found myself in a workshop led by a Nonviolent Communication trainer and relational neurobiology expert Sarah Peyton. With her warm presence and passionate intelligence she illuminated to me just how important our nervous systems are. How feeling emotions and being connected to our bodies is a key part in healing trauma and reaching our full potential. For the next 5 years I dove deep into Sarah’s work and Nonviolent Communication. I reclaimed my body and heart. The sensitivity I used to think was a curse as a teenager was becoming a major gift in emotionally supporting others and myself. I began to transform every relationship of my life and someone that others could depend on. My romantic relationships became incredible sources of healing, love and support. My career started to explode as a facilitator, making considerably more money than I ever have previously. I was doing workshops that I was crazy passionate about, getting into the best physical shape of my life. This was my happily ever after. I could have driven off into the sunset with ‘a whole new world’ playing in the background, myself, Jasmine and our new kitty Raja.
Oh wait… Did I mention I burned out though? Like Hard. I affectionately refer to this phase of my life as the raisin stage. Because every single drop of my emotional energy was sucked dry.
My 15 month relationship imploded. I gave too much of myself holding emotional space. A seven bedroom communal house that I started failed, with me trying to mediate all of the conflict. Right as my system completely crashed finishing the biggest and highest paying gig of my life in California, Covid shutdowns struck. At first it was relieving. But after two months of doing my usual hermit routine my energy wasn’t returning. At the age of 34 it seemed my ability to recover had slowed and falling back into playing intense first person shooter games was not helping the situation! Shocking, I know ;)
Over the next two years, I fell into my biggest depression since living in my mom’s basement at 18. It was really hard to find my way out. I accumulated debt. All of my relationships fell away. I did the bare minimum to get by.
Eventually though I started to come back to life. I made a big concerted effort to identify my ‘people pleasing’ tendencies and put as much energy as I could into making the genuine shifts needed to change for good. I’m a firm believer that life will keep bringing you the same lessons until you take the steps to finally change. The steps are almost always extremely uncomfortable. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I started by making limits on how many gigs I would take per week, and saying no to contracts that weren’t a full “frick yeah” to me. I brought mindful presence to how I was behaving while spending time with friends, house mates, dates etc. I practiced staying connected to my moment to moment needs and became willing to disappoint others. After every interaction I would check in with myself and see how I felt. Was I energized? Did I go into a fawn state of people pleasing in any way? I would visualize who I wanted to be and write affirmations over and over.
Over time I started integrating these changes, and newly cemented self beliefs followed. I felt more consistent and sustainable than I ever have. I’m able to care for others, hold emotional space, lead workshops, connect with housemates and romantic partners, exercise regularly and get this…still have energy left over! I know…what a world! A whole new world once again! (Aladdin was my favourite movie growing up if you didn’t already notice)
I can’t say I’ve got it all figured out, but I’ll keep doing my best to participate in this wild and interesting thing we call life and share what I’ve learned along the way. It’s what makes me feel best.
This month at CEC we’ll explore practices that support us to keep giving care where it’s needed (including to ourselves!) while staying balanced. ‘Til then, your resident ex (…well…almost) people pleaser Warren Hooley signing off!
*Warren Hooley is from the Okanagan Territory in Penticton, British Columbia. Having mixed roots of Okanagan (Syilx), English and Ukrainian heritage, Warren has consistently found himself in a place of helping people understand each other and move from polarity to deeper connection. For the past 12 years, Warren has passionately facilitated over 2000 workshops and presentations on the topics of Compassionate Communication, Indigenous Allyship and a Values Based Approach to Systems Change. Today, living in Vancouver B.C, Warren’s overall vision is to help create communities where everyone can thrive. Where each person can have their fundamental human needs heard, accounted for and supported in being met. Warren continues his best to compile a meaningful body of work to help create this vision. Warren likes to weave in fun activities, create spaces for authentic connection and help others create new strategies for an evolving world.