Letting Ourselves Go

Or, in other words? Simply hating ourselves; how do we move past that?

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My beloved husband will confirm, I read. Voraciously. Like, nearly everything I can get my hands on, though I do have preferences! This began, I believe, as a child seeking a means of escape. Or maybe it was because I’ve always been an inveterate info junkie. Or both? Who knows. Anyway. Why is this important?

It’s important because something I read recently made me start really thinking. The main character in this story, a middle-aged man, was reflecting on how quickly he healed, when he was younger. How much easier so many things were. His reflections led down the path of how younger men saw him and assumed he’d “let” himself get old.

Wow, I thought. Just … wow. I mean, that stopped me, right there. How many of us do, in reality, look at ourselves and others like that? I certainly look at myself that way. I’ve hated my body forever, but it’s been worse the last several years because I “let” myself get fat. Obviously, I had the means to control that, right? Well, maybe not, actually, but I’ll get to that. Let’s get back to the self-castigation game. I let myself become fat because I just don’t care. I don’t care about my health, right? I don’t care about my appearance. I don’t care what others think of me (ok, maybe that one’s true). I don’t care about so many things, which must have been what led to my getting fat.

Now, here’s the real story. Up until 1999, I was very active. I loved hiking, I loved bicycling, I ran Cross Country in high school (and still have dreams of just running, free, through the trees, as I did when I was much younger). I swam, I walked, I danced, I practiced yoga. I did lots of things. However, in September of ’99, I tripped over a hole and shattered my left ankle. Let me be explicit here: I broke both my tibia and fibula about three inches above my ankle, and I wrapped my outside ankle bone (lateral malleolus) around the back of my foot so that it was right next to my inside ankle bone (medial malleolus). I think that wrapping of the ankle bones came when I tried to stand on that foot, just to “be sure” it wasn’t broken.

Long story short, I had to go through a pretty significant surgery to try to repair the ankle, then went through weeks of highly intensive (and painful!) Physical Therapy so that I could be sure I walked normally. I regained about 85% of that foot’s abilities, which was more than the doc thought I’d regain. He’d estimated about 65%-70%.

Let me briefly explain how our feet are made. The “heel” of a foot is made of a bone called the calcaneus. On top of the calcaneus sits the talus, and on top of that sits the tibia, which is the long bone of our shin. Because bones don’t like rubbing directly on bones, there is a layer of cartilage between joints. What specifically affected my foot was the cartilage that existed between the talus and the tibia. In short, after about seven years, the cartilage just poofed. Gone, destroyed, finito. As the cartilage had been degrading, I’d begun building up calcium spikes around the top of the talus and the base of the tibia. These calcium spikes are produced when bones rub against each other, and they’re what we call arthritis. In short, by about 2007-2008, I was walking with these spikes of calcium constantly rubbing against the tissues in that area — ligaments, tendons, muscles, etc. Walking wasn’t all that caused pain, however; swimming, running, bicycling, turning, pivoting all caused pain. In short, every movement made by my left foot caused pain.

Now, if you haven’t lived with constant, chronic pain? Yay! You’re one of the lucky ones, and I am ecstatic for you! However, if you have? Then you pretty much know that not only is it, well, painful, but it’s also emotionally and mentally debilitating. You just get so tired of hurting all the time. However, during that time, my second marriage was falling apart and so that took precedence over everything. Further, I lost my sister during that time, had a holy hell of a debacle with my family, and well? Just didn’t have time to get the foot looked at.

Fast forward to 2010. By 2010, I still looked great, but I was at the peak of an emotional breakdown, and I also could barely walk without excruciating pain. Lots happened in my life during that time, lots improved, and by 2013 I could begin to look at getting the foot fixed. Went to the doc, got a diagnosis of End-Stage Arthritis. This essentially means that there is no option other than surgery in order to stop the pain. The choice became one of “Do I get it fused or go for a replacement?” In doing research to try to make this decision, I chose the ankle replacement. Why? Because, in short, fusion would allow me to run, but the replacement would allow me to do my yoga. I have knees that’re trying to go bad, so I went the yoga route.

Doc botched the surgery, had to (in his words) “yank out the prosthetic, shave more off the tibia and attempt to replace the prosthetic.” Look up ankle replacement techniques, I think you’ll be amazed. Anyway, fast forward to 2016. I could still barely walk. I’d gone to my doc several times because I thought the prosthetic was slipping out of place. The pain was so intense! He’d look knowingly up at the X-Rays, purse his lips, then say “the prosthetic is in correctly.” End of story. I finally, in 2016, went for a second opinion and found out the problem was tendonitis. Now, let me explain tendonitis to you. You see, our muscles begin as tendon where they attach to the originating bone. Then they become “muscle” or what we call muscle belly, then they become tendon again to attach to the bone they insert on. When you get tendonitis, that means that the muscle belly is spasmed, or shortened, or what we might call “tense.” Get that belly tense enough and it pulls on the tendons which attach it to the bone. Most often, we see issues where it inserts on the bone rather than where it originates. Anyway, in my case, my calf muscles (specifically Tibialis Anterior) was spasmed and it was pulling on the tendon in my foot, where it inserted, thus causing the pain. A regimen of Ibuprofin and PT was recommended and VOILA! I could, for the first time in years, walk without pain!

Ok. You’re asking yourself what all this has to do with body shaming, with self-hatred, yada yada, right? I’m getting there, don’t rush me! Let’s examine the facts. Catastrophic injury to the foot in 1999. Developing and then end-stage arthritis from around 2007ish until 2013, when the replacement happened. Then, 2013 to 2016 of living with tendonitis. So, those are the physical components. However, I also had emotional and other issues I was struggling with; the dissolution of my second marriage. The loss of my sister. The family issues. Entering a new relationship, picking up, moving several states away. Learning who I was. So on and so forth.

So, if I’m fair to myself, then I have to admit, I didn’t “let” anything happen. Life happened, and I consistently did the best I could with what I had. I could no longer do my yoga. Due to massive depression, it was often all I could do to get outta bed and keep the house up. To be succinct (because I’m well-known for this, amiright?), my lifestyle changed drastically, and between about 2010 and 2016, I packed on 70 pounds. Now, keep something in mind; my skinny weight is 185. Not kidding; at 185 I wear a size 12 pant, a medium top, and look very skinny, though still full-figured. I wear a size 10-11 ring, size 11 to 11.5 shoes, and am 5’8.5″. I’m buxom, I got back, and so on and so forth. No, tall and willowy has never been me, but yeah, I can be skinny. At 2010, I weighed my normal 185ish. Now? Well, I won’t put the number down, but you can do the math, right?

On to the body shaming. I’ve given this a great deal of thought over the years. First, let’s begin with when I was a kid. For the longest time, I was called Stringbean because I was so tall and thin. Then around 14 I began to develop. Immediately, I went from Stringbean to “fat.” “You’re putting on some weight,” my father would tell me. “Lose weight to X pounds and I’ll buy you some designer jeans.” My mother would poke me when I ate, telling me “You need to slow down, you’re getting fat.” Ok, gang. I’ve seen the pictures of me at this age, and on, and guess what? Nowhere was there an ounce of fat on me, other than the girls and the booty. My legs were thick, but they were muscular, as were my arms. For a woman, I have very broad shoulders. I used to take so much pride in the strength of my body; I was as strong as many men I knew, even being able to successfully arm-wrestle against many of them, and I was stronger than most women. I didn’t work at it, it just was. So I had a very athletic build, partly due to genetics and partly due to my constant activity. Additionally? Have I mentioned “buxom” and “booty” yet? Yep, that was me. But there is a difference between that figure, and fat. However, I think a lot of parents react that way when their daughters begin to develop. I know my first husband did when our youngest daughter started to develop; he and his new wife dressed her in baggy jeans and oversized, shapeless hoodies and sweatshirts and t-shirts.

So. What is really happening here? Are our daughters really getting fat, or are you terrified because they’re beginning to look like women? And then let’s not even talk about the media! I was watching a commercial for a refrigerator recently. It begins with a woman (skinny, noticeable thigh gap) opening her refrigerator as a woman narrates. It then goes to talk about her creations, and the pictures are all of dessert and pastry making. So, the message we’re seeing here is that a woman who loves to bake and prepare all these sweet tasty treats should be skinny as heck, and with a huge gap between her thighs. Why? Why are we doing this? I’m a gamer, and there was recently a thread in a new game I’m interested about character creation. One of the people asked whether the sliders would allow them to create a muscular woman. You should have seen the responses! “Women like that make me puke.” Or “Why can’t she just be a normal woman? I mean, looks like you want a woman who’s just gonna dominate the men she’s with.” Or this, my favorite — and it’s a direct quote — “Sounds like you want a man with a vagina.”

Why is this acceptable? Why is it appropriate for anyone to dictate a “normal” and then decry anyone or anything that has the audacity to step outside that normal? In what sane world does this make sense? Oh, wait, guess I answered my own question. Not sure we can consider this a sane world.

Now let’s wander back around to my original topic. Didja read the quote I posted? How many women do you know of who’ve been accused of “letting herself go”? Or, let’s look at aging. I’m a Massage Therapist; trust me, I see all kindsa bodies. I can tell you without equivocation that, almost always, aging causes changes that express themselves in women as a thickening of the waist, sagging of the breasts, and sagging of the booty. Additionally we have all the wrinkles, the development of a double-chin sometimes, greying of the hair. How much money is made by hair color industries by women who color their grey? I know I did, until about two years ago!

When did we decide that these trophies of a life well-lived were things that indicated someone “let herself go”? When did it become acceptable to view someone who didn’t pay out the wazoo for plastic surgery to “correct” these “deficiencies” in appearance as shameful? How many female celebrities do you know of who’re looked upon with frowny faces because they didn’t follow the plastic surgery craze? Why is this a thing?

I think it’s a thing because we are social creatures, and we seek to belong. It’s far easier to look outside ourselves at what society deems acceptable and strive to model ourselves to meet that criteria, rather than seek inward and determine what we consider acceptable. It’s easier to point to our bodies and say “I need to lose this spare tire around my middle” than it is to look inside our minds, our hearts, and say “I need to change my outlook so that I’m more positive about things.” Trust me, I know this. Further, our society has done two things in our recent history. First, it’s expanded nearly exponentially. Second, it’s become highly technical and, by association, highly “social.” I mean, the local small-town bar I go to and love even has our resident “Selfie Queen.” I call her this because more of her time in the bar is spent taking and posting selfies than it is interacting with the people sitting next to her.

This has led, I feel, to a crisis. This crisis is the ideology of “Normal.” Normal, now, is plastered on our televisions, on our social networks, in our games, and even in forums.  And what’s more? It’s accepted as “The Norm.” Step outside The Norm and you become outcast. You don’t fit in. And then, don’t even get me started on our ability to think for ourselves in our society! Our children are taught what to think, not how to think. So all these messages are being sent about The Norm, our kids see them and immediately measure themselves against The Norm, and find themselves lacking. Surely, if they have pouty lips, huge unreal eyelashes, perfect hair, and of course a vast thigh gap, they’ll be accepted!

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. But even when we know this, it is so very difficult to correct these beliefs, these behaviors. Trust me. I’m possibly the most self-analytical person I’ve ever met, and I still struggle with this! It’s easier for me to fall back on my parents’ messages about being “too fat” than it is for me to dive down inside and figure out what’s really going on. Further? It’s a habit now. Yep, I said it. Self-castigation and self-hatred is a habit. It’s a constant little voice in the back of my head, making snide comments and assuring me that if I’d just stop letting myself go, I’d be happy.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop this in my lifetime, but I’ve determined that I’m going to work actively toward it for the rest of said lifetime. How do I intend to do this?

Well. Let’s take it by the numbers:

  1. I am going to alter my diet. Wait, what? Does that mean I wanna lose weight? Actually, yes. But let’s look at my reasons. First of all, I’m aging, and I need to do as much as I can to age gracefully. I already live with a lot of pain, constantly, from inflammation and other issues. Changing my diet (and losing weight if that happens) will help with these issues. Also, remember — artificial left ankle. Being 50 pounds overweight just ain’t good for it (yes, you did the math right — I did lose 20 pounds recently).
  2. I’m going to start giving myself small successes. Today, I got out and worked briefly in the yard. Probably not enough to burn major calories, but certainly enough to give me a sense of accomplishment and achievement! Additionally, I redid my walking music mix, and I’m going to start walking again now that the weather’s good.
  3. I’m going to (try to) stop arguing with my beloved when he says “You’re beautiful.” Ok, yeah, that’s the hard one. But seriously, why argue? He believes it! Why don’t I just accept that, to at least one person, I’m beautiful? Doesn’t that mean that I can be beautiful? Maybe not by society’s standards, but pft. Who cares? He believes I am beautiful, and I can choose to allow myself to see myself through his eyes.
  4. I’m going to try to wear sleeveless tops, rather than hate the wingspans I have. Seriously. I could fly to Atlanta with these wings! I’m still outrageously strong, I just have extra flesh there. So what? If I wear a sleeveless dress to go out with my beloved, he’ll make sure I know he thinks I look beautiful. Really, who else matters?
  5. I’m going to start laughing at the commercial for the refrigerator, and remind myself “You can’t trust a skinny cook.” That’s an old-old saying, by the way, if you didn’t know it. Basically means that if a cook won’t eat their own cooking, you probably don’t wanna either. A pastry/dessert chef who stays skinny? Crazy genes, or a lie.
  6. I will, one body part at a time, start really seeing myself in the mirror and strive to accept that body part, then move on to the next

Yeah, tall order. Like I said, I may not actually achieve this in my lifetime. But guess what? I am determined to try.

I leave you with this last little visual. I’m sure many have seen it before … but maybe we all need to see it again?

friend

Rebranding

When new things are born

I’ve now been an active, practicing licensed massage therapist for just over a year, and what a year it’s been! I’ve learned much; I have great people I work with, who practice a variety of modalities, and are more than willing to share their knowledge and experience. Gotta love this industry; we’re in it to help people, and that includes other therapists. In any other industry, I’m pretty sure competitiveness would kick in, but here? No. It’s all about “Oh, I do this, let me show you how!”

I’ve worked, for the last year, for a large massage franchise. I know, I know; if you’re a practitioner, you’re probably cringing as I say that. I cannot tell you the amount of flack I get because I still, to this day, staunchly defend this franchise as a beneficial work environment for some. I mean, let’s take me. It’s given me a year now to figure out what to do, how to do it, and perhaps most importantly, what I don’t want to do any longer.

Let me explain. I go in to work on scheduled days, during scheduled hours, which I picked. My clients are lined up for me. I don’t have to solicit them, they come to us. The front desk associates strive to line up clients with me who want what I have to offer, so I seldom get stuck with someone who needs a lot of deep pressure, when I prefer to work at a light-medium pressure. I don’t have to worry about laundry, providing draping materials or any of the props/supports necessary to different types of massage, nor worry about music, ambiance, so on and so forth. In short, I go in, I do my hours, I go home. Life is good.

What’s not so good, however, are the pay rate (I do believe we’re very much underpaid) and the mess-ups that see clients paired with me who should be paired with someone else. This is a problem both for the client, who doesn’t receive the work they want, and for the therapist who often works outside his/her comfort zone, attempting to provide what the client desires. In some cases, this can actually cause injury to therapists.

In addition, I’m not able to specifically reach out to the client base I want. What’s that mean, you ask? Isn’t massage just massage, and what’s the difference? The difference really is that mindset. You see, most people come in and receive massage for two reasons: Either they want the stress reduction and relaxation that comes from massage (which is, in my experience, fewer clients) or they want some specific problem fixed. “My neck/shoulders/shoulderblades hurt.” “I pulled something in my back.” “I was jogging yesterday and something in my foot started hurting.” “My doctor told me I should try massage for my sore hips.” “My sciatic nerve is killing me!”

As you can see, the majority of these ailments are very physical in nature. Now, don’t get me wrong! It is one of the more gratifying experiences of my life, knowing that I can help with these ailments! But … and yeah, there’s always a but, right? These aren’t the ailments I feel drawn to reach out to, to assist with. In short, the ailments I feel drawn to help are more, I believe, of the soul-sucking ones. The ones that can destroy confidence, that can make one feel isolated even when they’re around people. The ones that are patently “abnormal” when compared to the rest of our society. These ailments are Anxiety. Depression. Stress. PTSD. ADHD. SPD.

And massage can, and does, help with these as well. However, these are not the majority of the clients we see at our franchise.

So, I took a chance, and reached out to a local Reiki clinic here, and was accepted there as a Massage Therapist. Yay me! This, now, will give me the opportunity to begin catering my business where I want it — helping people who struggle with the same issues I’ve fought my entire life.

Well, now comes the difficult part. You see, the call-in clientele for Massage Therapy at this clinic is small. This means that I’m in the driver’s seat now. I have to find my clients. I have to reach out to them. I have to overcome their natural, in-born defensive mechanisms — especially in regards to touch — in order to begin to demonstrate that massage can benefit them. In short? I have to drum up the business to pay for the education to continue the business in the direction I wanna go.

Whew. That’s a lot, huh? I gotta say, I’m amazingly grateful to my franchise. Not only did they agree to keep me on one day a week (I have clients there with whom I’ve developed a trust relationship that I cannot void), but I’m also able to put myself on the schedule for additional days. Thank you, thank you, thank you guys; despite what folk say aboutcha, I like ya!

I’m scheduled, August 15, to attend a Wellness Fair for a local school district. I’m pumped. And nervous. And and and … so many things! But this is good, I keep telling myself. You see, I want to reach out to people for the things I mentioned above and, sadly? Many of the clients I can help are children. So this could be very good, right? Yep, I keep telling myself that!

Small steps, then, I must remind myself. Progress is progress, and moving forward is moving forward. I’m not the first who’s done this, especially within my field, and I won’t be the last. It’s doable, and it’s right. The time is now. So just breathe.

Let me tell you, folks. When you step out, off that cliff, you know you’re going to fall. But you believe, even in the face of known physics, that you might fly. Right now? I’m stepping off, looking up rather than down, and believing firmly that flight is possible. This is an amazing journey, and I’ve been gifted by being allowed to take part in it. So anything else is just gravy, right?

Rebranding ain’t easy. It’s stepping out into the unknown. However, most of our lives involve that stepping out, taking chances. It also invariably involves failure. But our view of failure can change. We can choose to see it as a loss of ourselves, or we can choose to see it as a new possibility. As the ability to figure out what didn’t work, and move forward. Much as I figured out what I didn’t want to continue doing at my franchise. Much as I have figured out that sometimes, it takes a goad to get us really focused, and eliminate that fear of failure. I have to wonder; how many great ideas never came into fruition because I was afraid I’d fail? How many books unwritten, songs unsung?

Not this time. This time, I step off knowing I’ll probably fall. Assuming the cliff ain’t too high? I’ll pick m’self back up, dust m’self off, and climb back up. Only to step off, again.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m amazingly lucky to have reached the point in my life where I can see this, do this, and accept the falls.

 

To Take a Shower; or Not

Should be a no-brainer, right?

Seems a simple choice, does it not? Yet, when one is sunk down, buried under the weight and darkness that we label “Depression,” it is not simple.

It was with shame today that I realized just how many days it had been since last I bathed. A week? A week and change? Then, I began to reflect that that is actually one of the facets of depression, that shame. Depression seems to bring out the worst in us, and it’s usually forced inward, upon ourselves. So, the shame I felt as I stepped into the shower, that sense of “Wow, I’ve been so lazy, haven’t even taken a shower!” adds to the ennui that we struggle to escape from. The fact that I’ve also been struggling with a migraine? Yeah, that’s the icing on the cake. I ask myself, “Did the migraine cause this? Or did the depression cause the migraine?” Who know and, really, who cares? Double-whammy, here I come!

Then, there’s the current life. As you know, if you’ve read what I’ve written previously, I’ve a very good life. I love it. My husband adores me (and I adore him, in return); we have a new home we’ve settled in to, that gives us peace and safety and comfort; we have, between us, four daughters and three grandchildren whom we love and adore; we are, in short, very happy with our lives. So why, I must ask myself when I feel these dark clouds sneak up on me; why am I depressed?

I know that the first 40 years of my life were hell. I know that, I’ve accepted it, I’ve even moved beyond it, to a point where I can say “This is my life, and it’s a good life. This is who I am, and I like who I am.” So when those cloud-tendrils begin reaching out to grasp me, I feel myself shuddering, trying to slip from their grasp, to give them nothing to hold on to. Yet, those previous 40 years are no lightweights, and I find myself, from time to time, sinking back into that steeping mire. Under “normal” circumstances — that is, the circumstances that inform my most current past five years — I’ve learned well to ride these waves out. To myself, I’m able to say “This is ok. It’s a bump in the road. It won’t last forever, you’ve gotten through everything else, you can make it through this one.” That’s another gift I’ve been given, these last eight years or so. I know, now, that these periods don’t last. Somehow, that makes the act of slogging through them somewhat less difficult. That is yet another gift my beloved has offered to me, that knowledge.

But. And there is always a “but,” isn’t there, dear reader? But, I hate them. I hate the dark times. I still perceive them as a weakness of myself. I also know, very well, that sometimes, when the dark times hit, they bring with them thoughts or memories of that past life, and those thoughts and memories are rife with shame, with pain, with loss and longing. I hate, with a passion that seems well at-odds with the enfolding of nothing that is depression, these times. Which means, simply, that I castigate myself even more. I have everything! I shout to myself. I have everything I’ve ever wanted; why? Why must the past come back, drag me back under, have its way with me?

My beloved has made sure I’m always aware that these periods of darkness, these times of no-self, of emptiness and pain and loss and shame, are actually spreading themselves out. They happen less frequently, and they last shorter durations, now, than they used to. I know all this. And yet … they still happen.

This most recent one has been the worst I’ve experienced in a good, long while. I haven’t just stayed in bed for days on end; I’ve cooked, some. I’ve cleaned, some. I’ve done some things. But the doctor’s appointments I’ve needed to follow up on; the bills I’ve needed to pay; the work I’ve needed to do; all of it, fallen by the wayside for the past few weeks. My home, my lovely home? Neglected. I’ve not had the energy it takes to lovingly clean it, and care for it; that also shames me. And for the last week? The bathing I’ve so desperately needed, not done. The self-care that would help combat this, I haven’t even had the energy to do.

Depression is insidious. It sneaks up on you, and by the time you realize you can no longer escape its grasp, somehow it has wrapped itself firmly about you, and dragged you down into that stinking, sloppy pit of goo which defies your ability to drag yourself out of. I know this, I’ve lived it. But the bigger part of what it does is assists us in our own self-defeat, our own self-castigation. Our own losses, our own failures, our own missteps, all blown wildly out of proportion. Trust me, if you’ve lived it, you know of what I speak; if you haven’t, then you can’t understand how devastating it is. I wonder, somehow, if it’s even more devastating when you know you have an amazing life, that it still has the ability to sneak back up on you and take from you your day-to-day peace and enjoyment.

But. And yes, there is always a but. But it does not last. It cannot last, I don’t know that anything really can last. Good days, bad days … we know they come, and we know they go. We know that the sunlight brightens the day, following the gentle moon which makes our nights a little less lonely. We know that the seasons follow each other. We know that Nature wreaks havoc on our environment, as well as we know that new growth comes from that havoc. And as we know these things, I know that the depression cannot last. That knowledge sustains me.

My husband sustains me. My life sustains me. My hope sustains me. Depression … hurts. It is a soul-hurt. But life, life is joy! Life itself is myriad possibilities, unfolding and blooming all around us. Yes, life can also sustain us, even when we’re sunk so far down we wonder how we’ll be able to make it back up. And eventually, the pit dries and hardens, we’re able to force handholds back into the sides, and we begin to be able to climb back out.

Those of us fortunate to have someone standing there, on the edge of that pit, with their hands outstretched to us know a shining moment when we look up and see that hand. The one who stands there has waited with us, patiently, for the clouds to pass, for the gloom to lift, for us to come back to ourselves.

I’d love to say that I will never struggle with depression, again. I really would. But I know better; it is the legacy that is left to me. But I also know that today’s shower, small as that was, is a step back toward this life that I love, and that my life, and my appreciation of it, is all the sharper for having made it through yet another round. In a few days, or a week, or a couple of weeks, when I am back to myself, I will be able to look back on this period and say “You made it. Again. Welcome back!” I will be able to feel, even more richly, the joys and peace and comfort that are my life. I will confront my life with yet more gratitude toward everything.

So while I hate these periods, absolutely despise them, when they arrive, I must also be grateful to them, for allowing me to enjoy even more the richness that has come to be my life.

*Note* It may be confusing, the timeline I’ve given above, so I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify it.

Until I was 40 years old, I knew nothing of hope for myself. At 40, my second husband divorced me, setting me free; but I knew only the loss of failure in that part of my life.

I met my beloved during that time, and thus began the slog toward humanity. It took me a good solid three years to be able to embrace this new life. So, birth-40 was hell. 40-43 were my beginning of discovery of self. And 43-48 has been the last five years, the richest years in joy and celebration that I’ve ever known. I am now 48, and look forward to what the rest of my life can teach me.

“Mother is the name for God…

…in the lips and hearts of little children.” –William Makepeace Thackeray

To begin, Happy Mother’s day to all you moms & moms-to-be out there! I had the joy and  privilege, yesterday, to work on several mom-daughter combos who were celebrating their mothers and their motherhood with a nice relaxing massage, or facial, or both!

How special is it to be a mom? Words don’t even begin. We are given the privilege to carry you inside us for nine months, building up in our heads all the things we wonder … for instance:

  • Will you be tall? Short? Willowy? A boy, or a girl?
  • Will you have the blonde hair of your father, or my dark hair?
  • Will your eyes hearken back to our side of the family, or your father’s?
  • If your eyes are from my side, and hair from your father’s side … oh, how beautiful you’ll be!
  • Will you sing? Dance? Play sports? Read lavishly, as I do?

Then, you are born; even during the pain of our labor for you, we still wonder these things listed above, and so much more. And yet, when you are born — at that moment, just then, we realize “Oh. Oh, wow, this is a brand new human, and I am supposed to raise it to be self-sufficient, to be productive.” Talk about harrowing! The responsibility is seemingly insurmountable; I can barely keep myself productive!

All of this has been spoken of before, however. What can I offer, today, on Mother’s Day, that might be a bit different? How about I talk about some of the more amazing Moms I’ve known? I think I like that idea much better.

I can’t help but begin with my sister. You have to understand; my siblings and I? We were raised under what has been described as torturous conditions. Horrible abuse; you imagine it, we likely lived it. I was the oldest, so I was the “responsible” one, which just means I did better at not getting caught, most of the time.

My sister, Taura — eight years my junior, so I often felt very mom-like toward her. She grew up as hard as I did, and she fell into a very bad lifestyle; drugs, strip-clubs for jobs, you name it. When her children were 18- and 6-months old, she was arrested for abandonment of them. In July, in the middle of summer, in a mobile home that was completely shut up, she left them. Why? Because she was addicted to heroin. She went into prison and spent five years there.

And she came out of prison a new person. She had kicked the drugs, and set about herself with a determination to never go back down that road. She lived in Georgia and fought her way into jobs, including at times two at once — her main job and a job doing bookkeeping, or accounting, or whatever she could get. Further, she sent herself back to school. And even further? Well. My father had gained custody of her children; I fought against that, as I believed that he would do the same harm to them that he’d done to my siblings and myself; but the court decided it was better for him to have them than they be in foster care. And so he took them to California, where he lived. And my sister, while she was working two jobs and going to school, also pursued a custody battle to regain her children. A custody battle fought from Georgia to California; my father resisted, and made her fight hard for her kids, and it took her two years before she regained them.

She regained them in time to graduate from school, and finally land the job she’d been wanting forever. Landing the job gave her the ability to buy the house she wanted, and in this house, in this neighborhood, she became the quintessential neighborhood mom. We all know that mom, the one that has a yard and a way of being that all the kids in the neighborhood respond to. Her home was always overflowing with kids, and she was happy, in her element. She laughed as she cared for her children, and her neighbors’ children; she smiled, she fed, she succored.

She was taken from life, then; but in her life, she’d had the opportunity to completely screw up, then recover from that screw up and make something of herself. But her making something of herself was all focused on her children; on rejecting society’s labeling of her son as ADHD; rather than force meds on him — which she’d tried and found didn’t work as intended — she worked with him to begin helping him learn how to manage himself. She focused herself on being the mother her daughter could look up to and respect, rather than disdain. She focused herself on doing all within her power so that her children would always know her love. She was taken too soon, but the time between her going into prison and the time when she came out was all dedicated to becoming strong enough to teach her children how to be, and love, a strong woman.

I honor her for her determination, her stubbornness in fighting, her grace in saying “I will do this because I can do nothing else.” Her acceptance of what is, in order to achieve what she demanded life become.

Next, I think? My mother-in-law. Understand, I basically have no mother, and I’m too old to ask for a mother in my life. Further, when I met my future mother-in-law, I was still broken; it was difficult for me to interact with her. Compound that with her faith, her belief, her Christianity; I saw her as living within this bubble that didn’t include what I considered “real life.” She’d never had to struggle with the things I’d struggled with. She’d never had to deal with the torturous environment I grew up in. She’d not had to fight for her very sanity, for her ability to be a part of her childrens’ lives. In so many ways, I found reasons to remain separate from her.

But she was soft, and she was gentle, and she was accepting. Over time, as I’ve healed, she’s always offered to me the space I needed, when and as I needed it, so that I could come to a relationship with her on my own terms.

She has never demanded, never judged, never done anything more than offer me room to find my own way to some form of accommodation with her. I am not Christian as she is, yet she casts no aspersions on me. I smoked, when we met, and she met that without condemnation. It was as if I kept looking for some way to compare her to the example of “Mother” I’d grown up with, and that way was never found. But in the looking, I began to be able to see her as she is.

She is gentle, she loves, she cares, and she wishes to be of help, where and as she can. She is generous with her love, and with her self. She is very bright, and has a searing insight, but she uses that insight to build up, rather than to break down. Because of the very nature of who and what she is, I could not do anything except learn to accept, then appreciate, then love her for all she is, believes, and lives. I’ve learned that while she never lived my hell, she has lived her own, and she has her battles to fight, just as I do. But her example of grace is a truer one than anyone has ever shared with me before — even those who mouth the “grace” that they’re so generously offering. Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t speak it, she just does it. But she is an example of motherhood that I hope everyone has the opportunity to experience, some day.

Last, my daughter. Let me tell you, Moms out there, if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience your child as a parent — just hold on. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. It’s exquisite.

My grandson was born in October 2015; I was able to travel to see him that Christmas season. I had the wonderful opportunity to watch my daughter as she mom’d her son; as she held him close to her, so he could sleep. As she talked the gentle baby-talk to him that whispered love with every breath. As she made changing time special, by taking a bit of time after his diaper was changed to just put her face right next to his, as he lay on the changing table, and whispering gentle words of love to him. As she booped his nose, just to see his smile.

I’ve been able to keep in contact with them through Skype, and I hear little tidbits of her and their lives; her making crock-pot meals to put in the freezer, so she’ll have more time when she’s home with him. Her reading to him. Her giving him a counter to open with pot-and-pan lids made available for his inquisitive self. Her changing his room as necessary, so that he can remain stimulated, so that his ever-expanding mind always has something enriching in easy access.

In all ways, I consider her a perfect mom. But now, her world is shaking, and the more fierce side of motherhood is beginning to be awakened. Her husband, my son-in-law, is a drug addict; he’s lost his ability to pay for the prescription drugs that were his bailiwick, so he’s turned to the dirtier, cheaper drugs; a couple of weeks ago, he overdosed on heroin.

Now, I watch her pick up the pieces. I hear, through her sister, of her continuing on, of ensuring her son’s life remains as unspoiled as possible. I see, when we are able to Skype, her determination to keep her chin up, shoulders squared, so that her son is always put first. I grieve with her as she begins to have to make difficult decisions, decisions which will of course fully impact her son’s life.

And I believe in her. Because of what I’ve seen of her strength, her determination, and her abilities, I know that her son will suffer as little as she can help. Because of her fortitude, I know that she will overcome all the hurdles presented to her, and her son, and will both guard and protect him as those hurdles are exposed.

Not because of what I’ve taught her of motherhood, perhaps, as my examples weren’t always cogent, but in spite of what I’ve taught her, I believe she will surpass me in all ways, and I know her son will remain safe.

Three mothers. All different, all at different stages of their motherhood. The loss of my sister was great; the loss of these other two mothers will be equally great. But all of them, by example, can pave the way for other mothers, as examples of what is right, and beautiful, and loving and kind and generous and protective in a mother.

Happy Mother’s Day; may this day be a day of celebration for the mothers in your life(ves).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closed Doors

…can open windows to the soul

Last night, much happened. I came home from work and my beloved husband had changed out the video card in my computer. He’d also installed a programmable light switch in our media room that can be linked in to our Echo dots, so we can manage it with our voices; “Alexa, set the media room lights to 20%,” and so on. He described to me the confusion over wire colors from the old switch, and how he had to look it up, then get everything right, then he had to program it. In all, it was no small task, but he did it as he does all things he sets out to do — carefully, and completely. Yes, he has inherited that from his dad, who never gives less than his all to any task he begins.

Additionally, after 8:00, I received notification that a job I’d hoped to get wasn’t available to me. I won’t describe the whole sequence of events, but suffice it to say I think I irritated one of the managers there, before I ever got too far into the process, and I will always believe that is the reason I was overlooked; not because my skills nor anything else were lacking.

Interestingly, however, yesterday at work I had a client who put my feet a bit further on the path I am walking to open my own business. I thought, at the time, that perhaps if I got this great job, I might become a bit slack on pursuing my own business; I’d be making more money, so obviously the financial gain would help me buy the supplies I need; however, the time commitment would probably get in the way of what I’m trying to do, but because I’d be making more money overall, I’d get comfy and not push forward. So yeah, I think things happen when and how they’re meant to.

A very interesting result came about from this, though. It began as I was in the shower, and my beloved was getting himself set for bed. I decided that I needed to make sure he knew how much I appreciated his efforts, and how grateful I am to him that he takes care of these things. That was shortly followed by an epiphany of sorts; I am not the most volubly affectionate person out there. I say “I love you” only when I mean it, and every time I say it, I mean it absolutely. As I was getting ready to walk into the bedroom, though, it dawned on me that my husband, who is volubly affectionate, understands this about me. He understands the deep regard I hold for him, and he understands that I never say something I don’t mean, and always say exactly what I do mean. So when I thank him for his work, he knows I mean it. When I tell him — not as often as I should, I think — that I appreciate him, he knows from the top of his head to the tips of his toes how very much I mean it. And this is why he is content for me to be less effusive in my praise; he knows when I give it, I mean it from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.

This was followed by another epiphany, and this one larger. At this point, I’d left the bedroom to go camp on the magic couch that is guaranteed to let me sleep, and I was contemplating the perfection of the moment. A door closed, but that was ok and, in fact, it opened me up to continue on a path I’ve set myself. I had thanked my beloved, and he had glowed in the knowledge that I love him dearly, that I appreciate him, and it occurred to me that the greatest state of humanity is when we can share ourselves, so very completely and deeply, with another.

We humans, we are not meant to be solitary creatures. Even those of us somewhat reticent in our speech and affection are still designed to interact with other people. And I realized that the highest form of growth is the ability to help someone else grow. The highest state of happiness, of joy, is to help someone else achieve happiness and joy. It is not enough to obtain wealth, nor power over others — it is enough, it is sufficient, to be a valuable part of a team that works toward growth and creation. When you can share that with another, or with many others, then you are rich, you are sufficient, you are a part of something beautiful and wonderful and amazing.

That led to yet another epiphany of sorts (yes, last night was a busy night!). I was opened up to the vastness of the universe. One universe; regardless of the immensity of our universe, it is infinite, and infinite means there is no room for another; one universe. Or, in the vernacular of people whose faith is a part of their religion, one God.

Only one. Single.

But we, we humans, we little brief-lived scurrying things, we are many. And in our many, we interact, the universe within us interacting with the universe within another. Yet we are all born of the same one universe.

Is it not possible that this state of being, this physical incarnation we all share, is in fact the universe’s way of interacting with others, of seeing things through different eyes? Imagine that. Imagine one universe, all-encompassing — yet alone. Then imagine the teeming multitudes of lives on this small planet — human, animal, insect, plant. So many lives! And we, we small humans, we have the ability to interact with each other, to help each other, to build each other up, to build up and glorify all that is around us, even if it’s four-legged or six-legged or rooted.

Is it not possible we are the universe’s means of experiencing community? Think of the prefix com, which means “together” and “in association”. Then think of the word unity, which means “the state of being united or joined as a whole.” For me, this was a wow moment. A moment of depth, of realization hanging on the edge of perception. Together, united, joined as a whole.

I believe this is our natural state. I believe that we come from one source, and we return to that one source. I believe that our highest expression of our very selves is the expression that causes us to come together, to build up, to make things whole and complete.

I saw it. Wish I could explain it, but I saw the connections; the link between myself and my husband, myself and my children, myself and our furkids, myself and the stranger on the street with whom I interact. I saw these links, and I saw them spreading ever-outward, until the whole world is covered with these lines of connection. And then I saw all those links reaching out, back into the universe, and building. Ever building, ever growing.

Community. This is our goal and, for those of us who are aware of our place within that, of our responsibility to shape that community toward growth and love and harmony; for those of us who are quietly sure in our place in this growing community, nothing can be taken from us that doesn’t matter. You can take our possessions, we still have our connection. You can isolate us; we still have the knowledge of this level of beauty within ourselves. You can make our physical lives harder; it only builds up our spiritual lives, makes them stronger.

You can’t take anything from us we aren’t wiling to give, because the important things, the things that matter, aren’t tangible. They’re held within us and, when and as we can, they’re shared out with those around us.

We are part of a whole, not whole parts moving in isolation. Our strength is our ability to come together for common goals; our beauty is the universe being a part of this, within us.

All this, last night, escalating from one door closing.

On Growth

How do we cope with exceptional pain? We look forward.

For those of you who may not know me, I have two daughters. My oldest, at 28, is a mommy, so she may be able to speak to what I write; however, her son is 17 months old, so maybe there’s still some learning going on there. My youngest is 25, and she’s absolutely amazing.

Both of them, actually, are astounding women. My oldest is a scientist; she graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Meteorology, then went on to become a water tester with her state. She spends a lot of her time out-of-doors, making sure the drinking water in her state is safe, and taking some really phenomenal pictures while she’s at it. She’s recently gone through a very painful period; her husband, my son-in-law, is fighting an addiction. Doesn’t much matter what the addiction is; what matters is the way it was tearing their family apart, and the strength it’s taken her to hold her family together while people around her just hoped (for her sake, of course) that it would fall apart. You see, much of her father’s family doesn’t like, doesn’t approve of her husband. So she’s been fighting this battle on two fronts. I’d bet it gets very uncomfortable, there, in her household; in her mind and her heart. I have to commend her for her strength in keeping her sites set on her goal of having her family healthy. Of her husband being an integral part of their son’s life. Yes, my hat’s off to her, and I find, daily, new reasons to respect the woman she’s becoming.

Then there’s the youngest. She got sucked in to a relationship with a narcissist. I, myself, barely survived 10 years married to one. I can tell you, first hand, that in most occurrences, you don’t break off the relationship with the narcissist; they break it off with you, when they’re done with you. Throughout the years they’ve been together, he’s steadily and consistently played on her guilt, tormenting her with his “love” while he berated her for not trying hard enough, not being enough. Recently, very recently, she was finally able to make that decision, to call it off.

It’s been more difficult for her because he didn’t respond with anger. He didn’t respond with guilt. He did quit his job (not sure why), and he did tell her he loves her. I’m still waiting for him to begin the manipulation game again, but I could be wrong.

But none of that, exactly, is the focus of what I’m writing about, here. What is, then, you ask? Well, let me tell you.

During our conversation the other morning, when she snuck out of her home to sit in her car so he couldn’t overhear her, she told me of the breakup. Of his reaction. Of his mother, coming in to town before the end of the month (which is when she gave him to be out of the home), and her decision to leave her own home for the duration of his mother’s visit, so she doesn’t have to deal with both of them. During this conversation, she began crying, the deep, wracking sobs we who’ve had our worlds torn apart are familiar with.

The ones that feel like they’re going to split your chest right down the middle; there’s so much pain, so much agony, that you have to wonder why the world doesn’t just end, now. Why can we feel so much pain? And she asked me something along these lines; “Do people really feel this, all the time? How do they stand it?”

Therein lies the question, or questions, as it may be.

Yes, people really feel this. This depth of anguish. This not-knowing. This sense of stepping out, off the edge of the cliff, and falling with no surety of where we will land. Yes, people feel this. And then the next question, “How do they stand it?”

How can you not stand it? In my belief, the only way to avoid feeling this pain is to disallow yourself to feel anything; that, or to be dead. There is no other way. And we all know how hollow life is, when you choose to feel nothing. Pain isn’t as much, no, but it also crimps the pleasure, the joy, the laughter we feel. It affects us now, and it affects us later.

When we let ourselves feel the pain, let it flow through us, we actually allow ourselves the grace of being human. Of being weak, frail, and needing help. We are social creatures, and as such, we rely on some form of a support system that helps us as we stumble through our lives. So, feeling this pain? It helps us, though we can’t really see it at the time. Later, when we again feel pain, we can say to ourselves, “I lived through that, so I can live through this.” Later, when we feel joy, we can pull up this memory of this time, and we can smile, with love, at our past self, and we can say “You lived through this, and now we can enjoy this new life, this laughter, this joy, this peace, this contentment.”

Growth is not pain-free; no one ever said it was, nor that it should be. But it’s also not joy-free. Everything is two sides of a coin — head and tail, top and bottom, inside curve and outside curve. For all we can tell ourselves, “Pain goes away,” and “Nothing lasts forever,” we must also be cognizant of the fact that, sadly, joy doesn’t always last, either. For the duration of your life, you can be sure that you will eventually die, and you can be sure that sometimes you will laugh, and sometimes you will cry.

But these tears, these bouts of laughter; they add up to a rich weave, a complex dance between states of grace and of fear, that make us each individual.

Our current society seems to demand tales of pain, of heartache, of heartrending fear and terror, in order to point out what people have overcome. I say that sometimes, the day-to-day living is the heartache, the heartrending fear and terror. Sometimes, the decision to walk away from something painful is more traumatic and emotionally explosive than the quiet determination to make it work. Sometimes, the height of self-care is finally, finally deciding for yourself “I am not happy, and I wish to be happy.” When I asked my daughter what fueled her decision, that’s what she told me. Nothing about how he did this to her, or he did that, or he thought that, or he made her feel bad. Just a simple statement, “Mom? I’m just not happy.”

I say, my beautiful daughter, that you have surmounted staggering odds, just in finding the ability to say “I am not happy.” I say to you, proud DaughterBeast, that you have surpassed what most of us are able to do, in your situation. It would be easier, dear one, to just let it go until he got tired, and walked away. But you? You stood up for yourself. You decided to care about yourself. You decided to take care of yourself. You made the decision that you are worthy of this level of care.

There is only one way to go from here, dear child of mine, and that is forward. Slow, fast, steady, sporadic — progress is progress. Be proud of yourself. Be aware you’re not alone, and stand fast for yourself. I am here … we, all of us who’ve trodden this road ahead of you, we are all here. We all believe in you.

And we all share your pain. We’ve lived through it, and we rejoice for that moment, in the future, when you will feel the corresponding joy and laughter.

On Healing

Note: Normally, I try to keep things lighter; this subject, however, cannot be treated lightly. Be prepared before you start reading, but make it to the end; the end is the message of this blog.

The last couple of weeks have been nothing short of revelatory. I suppose, to fully do this blog justice, I should start at the beginning, but I find sometimes that it is difficult to pin down that “beginning.” Was the beginning when I was born? Was it when I was six weeks old, and my mother attempted to drown me so my cries wouldn’t wake my father? Was it the life I lived as the older sibling, struggling to care for two younger children and to, when I could, protect them from our parents? Was it my teenaged years, when I consistently broke every knuckle on the backs of both hands, bashing my hands against concrete walls to try to contain the rage, the anger that ran through me? Was it my first marriage, which granted me two amazing daughters … or my second, which finally broke me?

Was it my third marriage, where I began to learn, for the first time, just who I was, whom I wanted to be, how I wanted to shape my life?

I can’t tell you these answers. I can tell you the results of them, though. I can tell you that I’ve lived an entire lifetime rigidly holding myself in control. I learned to distrust decisions made in the throes of emotion; therefore, I clamped down on the emotion, hid it, buried it, and made decisions from a purely intellectual perspective. I learned that talking to people about my “issues” put a burden on them; either they felt compelled to help, or they saw me as weak, and disregarded my struggles. So I found ways to project all the things I admired — strength and determination, wit, joviality — and I pushed down all the things that I saw as weaknesses — care, compassion for self, grace toward self. Pushed them down, put them in a box, and slammed down the lid. Then piled on top of that box everything I could find to keep the lid down.

I can tell you that I did what so many horribly abused women have done; I became promiscuous. I became a party girl. I learned to open my mouth and discuss the banalities that everyone around me was discussing, and to hide any higher discussions for those very, very few whom I friended who were like me … struggling to stay whole in a world we couldn’t very well understand. I hid my shame, my sense of worthlessness, behind drugs and alcohol. I sought my understanding of love in the arms of many who could love me for a moment, only.

I developed, as so many traumatized people have done, coping mechanisms. At three years old, I began compulsively eating. I would sneak down to the kitchen, in the middle of the night, open the refrigerator, and find inside the bags (yes, you could buy them in bags in those days) of Chunky candy bars; thick, dense bars of chocolate that sometimes had nuts, sometimes not. I learned how to take one, or two, depending on the fullness of the bag, and leave the rest. I knew my parents would each think the other was eating their treasures. I also, at this time, began eating my food as a convict would — arm curled protectively around my plate, fork shoveling as much food into my mouth as I could get, as fast as I could get it there.

I have always enjoyed foods. Varieties of flavors, of textures; the silk of a mousse combined with the rich tartness of raspberry; white chocolate icing the top, making a delight for my mouth to enjoy. Crispy meats, the fat still sizzling from coming off the grill. Eggs, cooked in butter, served on buttered toast; the delicious flavors combining with the myriad textures to make a delight my mouth could lose itself in. Sadly, however, I never until recently allowed myself to actually take the time to enjoy these things. It was necessary that I eat, then that I be prepared for whatever came next; protecting my brother, cleaning my sister, taking care of the dishes, cleaning up so I could put the kids to bed … so on and so forth. So, for me, the compulsive eating allowed me to substitute quantity of food with quality of enjoyment.

At eight, I took some cough medicine; I’d read the label, and took what was recommended. However, my father saw me putting the medicine back and he pounced on me; dragged me into the bathroom, slung me over the toilet, and proceeded to put his huge finger down my throat until I vomited up anything and everything in my stomach. And I clicked. I was, at eight, stick-thin, but beginning to eat everything in sight as I was growing; also, because I was a compulsive eater. My parents had begun, even then, to chide me for watching what I ate, so that I wouldn’t “get fat.” And this, this episode with my father, taught me how I could eat as much as I wanted, as often as I wanted, without fear of getting fat.

Coping mechanisms are just that — they allow us to cope with something that is bigger than we can handle, at the moment we must handle or endure it. You get beaten, then your mother covers your mouth and nose with her hand so you can’t scream, and you learn to self-soothe with the Chunky bars. Or you get awakened in the middle of the night, you and your brother dragged down the stairs to find every single dish in the kitchen laid out on the floor; you have your parents screaming at you about a dirty dish they found, and telling you “clean and put away every single one before you go back to bed.” And you learn to nibble on the bread left on the counter as you do this, offer some to your brother, so that he won’t cry anymore.

You learn that when you hate yourself, when the shame is more than you can bear — if I were a better child, my parents would love me; if I were a smarter, stronger sister, my brother would not be hurt — when the shame of constant failure becomes overwhelming, you can punish yourself for not being enough. You can eat, then you can force your finger down your throat and vomit up every bad thing you believe you are. You deserve this; you deserve to not enjoy your food. You deserve your food to be your punishment.

Coping mechanisms serve their purpose; they allow us to endure what should not be made to be endured. But when their time is past, they become a weight on the soul that drags you down. My bulimia allowed me to live my life as thought there were nothing wrong with it. We won’t even talk about the cutting; perhaps, another time, though I think maybe not.

When one pursues healing, one must find ways to make sense of what is insensible. I never deserved what was done to me; no more did my brother, or my sister. We never deserved to be beaten, to be sexually abused. To be locked in our bedrooms for days on end, with everything but a mattress removed. We never deserved to be turned out of our home, half-dressed, to march up and down our neighborhood asking neighbors if they would be our Mommy, because our Mommy didn’t want us anymore. We never deserved watching our father nearly kill our mother because she antagonized him, and he had no ability to control his own anger.

Yet, in order to manage our parents, I assumed responsibility for all these things. Let me be a good enough daughter, and we won’t be beaten. Let me be smart enough, and my brother won’t be hurt. Let me be strong enough, and I can keep my sister from suffering the same fate my brother and I suffered. The truth, however, is that none of these tasks were mine, and I could not manage them. My parents would always be who and what they were, unless they decided to change; I couldn’t change them. My brother would always be hurt, regardless of what I did, until my parents stopped hurting him.

It is difficult, but not impossible, to separate oneself from this tyranny of should, to accept what is. What does that mean? I struggled for so long to be what I thought I should be, in order to protect myself and my brother, and those struggles always ended in failure. How could I see myself as anything other than not-enough?

Recently, I took my Advanced Reiki Training (ART) class. Just before taking it, I’d reached out to one of the instructors from my school, for accupuncture. You see, I’ve reached a point in my life when everything tells me I should be happy, content. I should be able to just relax, grow in my profession, move forward … yet I found that bulimia still had a strangle-hold on me, literally. Failures, setbacks, stress — all would trigger a bout of compulsive eating; the only method I had of fighting back was to refuse to stick my finger down my throat. Not fun, that … cuz ya know what? That’s how ya get fat. And I, now, am fat, which led to yet one more reason for me to hate myself.

In my ART class we learned a technique that can help one release emotional pain and trauma. I won’t go through the whole procedure, but I will say that as I was learning this, I was crying. I could see an application here, for myself; however, I didn’t know the people in the class with me, so I couldn’t allow it to be done for me, then. I contacted my Reiki Master, who graciously consented to work with me on this.

I went to her home office, and she performed the procedure. I was frightened; I mean, we all know when you take something away, something else has to take its place, right? If I took away this coping mechanism, what would fill its place? How hard would it be for me to give up this, my earliest coping mechanism? My earliest means of self-soothing? As it turned out, it was gentle. It was … I can’t say easy, but it was definitely gentle. Slowly, I felt it diminish, this weight of self-loathing and -hatred I’d always carried. I felt it just drift away from me. She followed this technique with a Reiki session; during part of it, I felt as though light flooded me, clearing out the darkness that I’d used to hide everything I hated about myself. Where that light flowed in, I learned love. Love for self. Grace for self. Forgiveness for self. And healing, for self.

I walked away from that, literally, a new woman. I can look at myself now, see my fat stomach, and my over-developed arse, and I can touch them and say “It’s ok. I accept you. It’s ok.” My relationship to food has changed; I think it may be more correct to say that my relationship to me has changed and, thus, my relationship to food has changed. I can slow down, now, enjoy myself as I eat my food. I can stop, when I recognize my stomach is getting full, and be content. I can finally, after nearly 37 years, not feel the urge to shove my fingers down my throat and purge myself of all the perceived “badness” I’ve felt I carried, all my life.

I can just be. If you have never experienced the joy of feeling grace for yourself, find someone who can work with you, help you, help you find your light to fill in your dark places. For the first time in my nearly 48 years, I am at peace with myself. I have no expectations of myself, except that I live. That I treat everyone I meet with kindness and compassion; if they don’t wish that, then I choose to have no truck with them. For the first time in my life, my life is my own, to choose what I do with.

For the first time in my life, I am finally able to spread my wings, look into the sunrise, and choose the direction I will move in. The heights I will fly to. The shadows I’ll make on the ground as I pass over; I can choose how light or heavy they’ll be. I can choose … well. I can choose anything.

Healing is amazing. It’s a lifelong journey, sometimes a struggle to attain; but it is also just the beginning. Now that I’m here, I’m even more excited to see what each day will bring to me.