I Am Water, I Am Sunlight

I remember seeing an interview years ago on Oprah that shocked me. Dr. Laura Berman was being interviewed, and the gist of what she was saying was this—as parents we should be teaching our young girls to masturbate. I think the age she recommended was between the ages of 10-12.

Gasp.

Her reasoning—if we teach our daughters to pleasure themselves, they will learn that this is something they can do FOR THEMSELVES. So when the first boy comes along who does the things that make her toes curl, she will not associate this kind of pleasure with another person. She will know the pleasure is coming from HER OWN body. She will know that this boy IS NOT A WIZARD (forgive me, I’m paraphrasing). A girl may be less inclined to stay with a boy who doesn’t treat her well, or less inclined to be constantly seeking that NEXT boy to engage with sexually—because she will know that, like Dorothy, SHE has the power all along.

At the time, I had a two year old and a newborn—both girls. Talking about sex with them was a long ways off (not so much, anymore). I found myself sitting there in complete conflict about what I was hearing. My mother NEVER talked to me about sex. We never even talked about menstruating, never mind about masturbating. I can’t think of anything more mortifying than having had that conversation with my mother. Still, it made sense. I filed it away in my mind as something to consider down the road. Something to chat about with other mothers of girls. Probably not something that would end up in my mothering repertoire.

As the years passed I found myself in an increasingly unhappy marriage. A marriage wherein affection was sparse. He never told me I was beautiful. Or smart. Or funny. Or kind. Or a good mother.

And I needed him to say these things in order for them to be true.
(Read that again.)

I was a shriveling houseplant.
He was water.
He was sunlight.

I posed for a photo shoot done by some friends who were trying out a new concept of helping women to feel seen through photography. To feel empowered. They posted my photos on Facebook. I sat on the couch with my computer in my lap, watching as my Facebook blew up with lovely comments over the photos of me. Across the room my husband was looking at the same pictures and his first comment was, “Whose shirt is that you’re wearing?”

“Look at ME!” I screamed silently through the internet….from the other side of the room.

An old boyfriend reached out to me on social media, and we began to chat. He would write that I was incredibly sexy. And the smartest woman he knew. That he respected me. Admired me.

I was hooked.
He was water.
He was sunlight.

We never saw each other in person. And at a certain point I messaged him that we couldn’t communicate anymore. I wanted to work on my marriage. I knew that I was spending too much time thinking about him. Too much time thinking about the version of me that HE TOLD ME I WAS. I didn’t love him. I loved HIS version of ME.

Despite therapy, nothing changed in my marriage. And after a while I resumed the messaging. I’m not proud of that. I was so thirsty.

I needed water.
I needed sunlight.

Where else would I get them if not from him?
Surely THIS is where it is kept?

When my husband told me he knew about the messaging, I felt like a scorned child who’d gotten caught playing with something she wasn’t supposed to. I was ashamed.

Looking back I realize this was the moment I knew our marriage would not be saved. Not because of the “emotional affair” as he called it, but because he had known for a long time about these communications, and had said nothing. And then—when he told me he knew—it was in an email, sent while we laid side by side in bed.

Where was the passion? Where was the jealousy? The outrage?
It was further validation of the fact that I was unworthy.
Of water.
Of sunlight.

And the old boyfriend? I was only irresistible when I was unattainable. When he saw my marriage going down he did not want to be counted among the wreckage.

No more water.
No more sunlight.

About a year after my divorce, I went on a date. The man was poetic and dreamy and said the words I needed to hear about myself. “You are so beautiful.” “I wake up in the middle of the night longing for you.” “You are a wonderful mother.”

He was water.
He was sunlight.

When he took it away abruptly, I begged to have it back.
Just a splash. Just a beam. Please.

Just when I thought he would never feed me again—I’d feel a drop of rain, a flash of light. And then I’d wait, with my hands cupped. With my face tilted to the sky. Thank you. This will sustain me a while. Surely there will be more to come.

Upon refection I have come to realize that this pattern did not begin with my marriage. I chased after a man—a boy—from high school all the way up until he became engaged to be married ten years later.

He was water.
He was sunlight.

Another man in my twenties, the same…I coveted him until he was no longer available.

He was water.
He was sunlight.

Recently this particular man returned to my life—offering water, and sunlight. But I didn’t want it. If he was offering it so freely, I thought there must be something wrong.

I’m SUPPOSED to beg. I am SUPPOSED to be dying of thirst.
Doesn’t he know I am not worthy of this kind of abundance?
This is NOT how it works.

This pattern has been a hard one for me to recognize or acknowledge, because I have had no fear of being alone. I’ve spent way more time single than I have in relationships. I am independent. I am not lonely.

I do not seek to have just ANY man in my life in order to fill a need. What I do instead is to appoint someone as the assessor of my self worth. (I think you can guess that this person has NEVER been ME). They may have this job for many years, until the torch is passed to the next man I deem worthy of this title.

How does one gain this dubious honor? He must simply water me and warm me in the light of his affection…and then, take it away.

Tell me I’m worthy, and then make me doubt it. I’ll be hooked for years.

This revelation has been—as you can imagine—unsettling. I’ve been in a bit of a tailspin about it. How do I get to a place wherein receiving love freely and abundantly from a man will feel…normal?

To where I don’t feel there must be something wrong with him if he thinks I’m worthy…not just in the beginning, but——STILL?

To where, upon having someone withdraw their affection, I won’t be inclined to believe this simply means I must work harder to prove my worth?

To where I won’t place my beliefs about what I deserve in the hands of someone who may never have even volunteered for the task. (Whether it was a willful endeavor or not, it was never his to have.)

This morning I sat with my coffee, reading a book by Brene Brown, “The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.”

And I don’t know why, but I thought of that interview years ago, with Oprah. TEACH THE GIRLS THAT THEY HOLD THE POWER WITHIN THEMSELVES.

And I had this Aha moment about my life.
About my loves.
About sunlight. And water.
And apparently—about masturbation.

It seems to me that teaching our daughters how to self-satisfy goes WAY beyond sex. I know that feeling powerful when it comes to sexual pleasure is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a woman’s self esteem and personal power. But teaching our girls ownership of and appreciation for their own bodies seems like an excellent idea, doesn’t it? Just one more way of teaching them that they don’t need someone else in order to feel good about themselves.

And I must teach my girls to appoint no one but themselves as the ASSESSORS OF THEIR OWN WORTH.

I understand wholly and humbly that I can ONLY teach them by example.
By being worthy…of myself.

I want each of them to know she has EVERYTHING she needs WITHIN HERSELF. What a man chooses to offer—or to withhold—is no reflection of her worthiness.

SHE is water.
SHE is sunlight.

img_6181-1

Humanity on a Train

NYC bound we happened to sit behind a young man traveling alone. An older man took the seat next to him, and I smiled as the young man got up to help this stranger lift his bag into the overhead compartment. 

As we headed toward the city these two talked and talked. I wasn’t paying any attention to what they were saying until I heard the young man say, “Well, what if I told you that I am gay?” The older man said, “Then I would pray for you.” And the the young man said, “Well I would pray for you, too.”

And the discussion continued. And for the next hour I listened to this young man calmly and intelligently object to this older man’s bigoted, homophobic and misogynistic views. I mean, this guy was UNREAL. From claiming AIDS was created by God to punish homosexuals, to claiming women are going against their innate design by working outside the home—therefore ruining society and causing themselves and their children great psychological harm.

He said that children of divorce have no one to model love for them and therefore become SAVAGES.

(I have to admit, at that I literally laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it.)

There were moments when I wanted to slam my feet against the back of this awful man’s chair. But this young man—he remained calm. They both did, actually. Never was a voice raised between them. Never did I feel that I needed to leap to his aid, either.

“That’s simply untrue,” the young man said repeatedly, and he would argue eloquently against each point. Respectfully.

It was clear to me that this polite and intelligent young man was NOT going to change this older man’s opinion about a damn thing. I’m sure he knew that too. And he could have chosen not to engage. He could have shot the conversation down after the man obviously said something derogatory about gay people. Or he could have reacted in an angry, or sarcastic way.

I can’t say anyone would have blamed him for that. I wouldn’t have.

But…I am so glad that he didn’t.

Because behind him sat my daughter. A child of divorce. The daughter of a single, working mother. The daughter of a trans and bisexual father.

And she was listening.

Ultimately the young man said, “Well, I am not a gay man. I am straight and catholic, actually. However, within the last hour you’ve managed to insult nearly everyone I love. I think we’re done here. I’ll pray for you.”

And I looked over and winked at the incredibly loving little savage in the seat beside me, grateful we were witnesses to this exchange, however ugly one man’s opinions were. Because it showed my daughter that resistance does not always have to be loud, aggressive or hostile. It can simply be a soft spoken young man on a train, respectfully and intelligently defending humanity on a Thursday afternoon.

train shot

I am Not the Buddha

The following quote by poet Tyler Knott Gregson came up on my Facebook memories this week…

“To begin again, sometimes you have to take life down to the studs, knock down all the walls, and pull out the insulation that kept you from the world. You must get dirty and feel the ache in the muscles you used to pull the house down around you. You must stare wide eyed and grinning at the mess you have made, seeing through the rubble to the clean floor that will emerge when the work is through.

Now, now is the time to destroy the foundations of fear and apprehension, the walls of waiting and wishing; now is the time to begin again. Laugh at the piles of the past you stand in, knee deep and smiling.”

I so loved it at the time I posted it. Reading it again brought me back to that moment in time. It was two and a half years after I had split with my husband and moved out of our home. I had – we had – torn it all down. It was not working. We were not happy, though we had tried and tried. I had already gone through the grieving, much of it while we were still together. I was, at that point in time, ready “to laugh at the piles of the past in which I stood, knee deep and smiling.”

The date was February 2016.

About a month later, my ex-husband (and the father of my two girls) came out as transgender. Nine months after that, my beloved father died suddenly. Nine months after that, my mother was diagnosed with BRCA and stage 3 cancer.

Let me be clear – I am not comparing my ex being trans with death nor with cancer, but I list it here because…well because when the person with whom you were in a relationship for twelve years reveals this kind of secret – when you realize you didn’t know, percieve, understand…have an inkling of something so fundamental about your spouse as his gender – it has the power to shake one’s foundation. As is, for my girls and me, navigating the outward changes of our loved one. When you think about it – what is more fundamentally true to a child, than that Dad is a man? (Or to a woman, that an ex-Husband is a man, for that matter?) Love is love…and what is revealed within that can still be a wall rattler; a soul shaker.

Once again I found myself standing in the rubble that was once my life. However, THIS time – I hadn’t asked for it. I had not held the sledgehammer in my own two hands and swung wildly, hungry to tear it all down. I had simply woken up one day to find a big hole in the roof, and then I watched helplessly as the foundation cracked, and the walls buckled, and everything seemed to crumble all around me.

The question I find myself asking is – Is it possible to approach the rubble we’ve willfully created in the same way that we greet the rubble we did not? The rubble we never asked for? The rubble we never saw coming?

The Buddhist answer would be yes – simply greet what is. Embrace it.
I can assure you, I am not the Buddha.

As I have stood in the piles of the past, I have grieved. Heavily. I have cut myself on the jagged pieces of the past as I tried to fix what was there. I have tripped and fallen as I tried to hold up the pieces that were still hanging on by a few desperate nails. When you never wanted the destruction, it is hard to accept the fact that nothing can be put back exactly as it was, in its imperfect perfection.

Whether the rubble was intended or not, Gregson was right about looking THROUGH it all, “to the clean floor that will emerge.”

Because it will. It is there, beneath it all. It is always there. Whether we brought on the demolition ourselves, or we helplessly watched as everything fell apart. Either way, we must rebuild.

We have no choice, as we stand there in the rubble, but to get to work cleaning up the mess and to begin again…and again, and again.

Such is life – learning to push up our sleeves and do the work…

The work we asked for, and the work we didn’t.

I still may not be able to greet both with a smile – to greet them equally with gratitude as bits of the house that once sheltered me cling to my hair and dust my eyelashes – but I do understand that it’s the building and rebuilding of my house that will teach me the most about myself.

Above all I must remind myself that I am not the house.
Its destruction never has to equal mine.

Day 308/365 Are You REALLY Okay?

Once, when I was twenty-two, I was duct taped to a board for several hours.

[I thought that might get your attention.]

Okay fine, I am sure it wasn’t actually duct tape…coulda been some kind of a strap, I suppose….and maybe it was actually some kind of spinal board EMT’s use.

It probably wasn’t a couple of hours, either, but it sure felt that way.

I had been in a car accident…a really bad car accident. I was hit nearly head on at a four way intersection, causing my car to do a 180. Later, when my Uncle Ed saw the car, all he could say was “HOLY. SHIT.

The whole front end was crumpled in like a tin can.

I was alone in the car.

People came running and were yelling, “Are you okay?!? DON’T MOVE!”

I remember thinking, “I don’t know….AM I OKAY?!” It didn’t seem to anyone present (including, for a moment – me) that I could possibly be okay.

I did a full body scan – ten fingers, ten toes…limbs still attached and intact, no apparent hemorrhaging…

“Ugh….yeessss? Yes. YES, I AM OKAY!!! I AM!!”

(They didn’t believe me.)

When the paramedics got there, despite my claims of being okay, they duct taped me to a board (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). One strap went across my forehead so I couldn’t turn my head, another across my upper arms, and then one across my hips.

At the hospital, I remember being placed in a holding room. I was still attached to the board, which was now on top of a gurney. It seemed like forever that I was in there, all alone, unable to move. That part felt scary.

A nurse came in and asked me who they should call. I was nearest my Aunt Anne and Uncle Ed’s house in a different state, so I said they should call them, instead of my parents. I knew my aunt would lose it if she got a cold call from the hospital about my having been in an accident, so I insisted that the nurse dial the number and hold the phone up to my face so I could tell her for myself.

“Hi, Aunt Anne.  I am okay, but I had an accident and I’m at the hospital.” On the other end of the line I heard a gasp and then, “Oh Dear.” (Classic Anne.)

I could feel the tears streaming down my face and collecting in my ears (because I could not turn my head nor lift my arms to wipe the tears away).

“Really, I’m okay,” I reiterated. I’m just…duct taped to a board.”

I really was okay…pretty sore for a few days, but no worse for the wear, as they say. (Unfortunately, the same could not be said for my car.)

img_4850

Why am I telling you this story? I am telling you because I couldn’t help but think of it today. Here’s why…

This morning I woke up with two little girls in my bed. As usual, they had snuck in with me in the night. They were snuggled up to me on either side. I laid there for a while just thinking about the amazing little beings that they are. My God, I love them so much.

I thought about everything they have had thrown at them in the past few years.

Frankly, it seems like enough to have done some pretty serious damage…their parents’ divorce, the death of someone they adored, their Nana battling cancer, and then there’s the matter of their dad revealing he feels he is really a woman…

These are not small things.

I wondered…are my girls really Okay? Really?

Like my accident, it seems nearly impossible for them to walk away from (or through) all of this unscathed. Should I be duct taping them to a board or something?! (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)

I was still pondering this at the bus stop, where I found myself bringing the question to my friend, Michelle.

“Are my kids really okay?  They seem okay. Is that…really the truth?” 

Never one to shrink from a question, she kindly reminded me of a few important things…

First – My girls are more than okay….they are pretty incredible.

Second – Life’s challenges build compassion, gratitude, and perspective.

Third – No matter what a child goes through, knowing that someone has their back – come hell or high water – is what makes all the difference. It isn’t what a child goes through, as much as it is about them knowing they never have to do it alone. 

blessings

 

Day 306/365 A Nice Ring To It

The other day, while out at breakfast with friends, I noticed one of them wearing a really beautiful engagement ring. She has been married for a couple of years now…so the ring wasn’t the news of the day or anything. It’s just that I happened to notice it, and to think of my own beautiful engagement ring…which has been tucked away for over four years now, on account of the whole not-married-anymore thing.

img_4839.jpg

I really love my ring…or at least, I did

I did when I said, “I do.”

It was bright and beautiful, just like I hoped my marriage would be.

Funny, I don’t remember taking it off for the last time to stow it away. This seems a little sad in hindsight, like it should have been as impactful a moment as the one in which I first slid it on.

I decided that when I got home, I was going to dig it out and wear it again. I could wear it on my right hand.  Why not? It seemed like a waste to keep such a beautiful piece of jewelry hidden away.

After all, it is just a thing – a material object…

Except when it isn’t.

My mother has been wearing my father’s wedding band since he passed away over a year ago. My recently widowed friend is wearing her husband’s ring as well, on a chain around her neck. These things mean something beautiful when they represent a love that has endured.

So…what of a love that hasn’t?

I’ll admit, I had the whole blog post drafted in my head before I even dug out the ring…I would write about how I am so evolved and healed now (insert eye roll) that when I look at this beautiful ring, I am only reminded of the beautiful parts of my marriage. Ah yes, I would celebrate the love with which the ring was given (and received) by wearing it proudly.

Then I put it on…and that lasted about an hour, tops.

As much as I can reflect on my marriage and fully appreciate the beautiful bits (especially the two beautiful bits tucked into their beds as I write this)…for me, my ring now symbolizes hurt, disappointment, failure, confusion, mistrust, sadness….hypocrisy.

These are not feelings I wish to conjure every time I look down at my hand….regardless of whether it is the left hand or the right.

I have done a lot of inner work and healing over the past few years. When I look at the person I married, oddly (and gratefully) he does not evoke in me the same negative feelings conjured by the ring. We’ve moved on. We parent well together, and we still laugh quite a bit. There is love.

But that ring…ugh.

I just can’t imagine a day when that ring is going to conjure happy thoughts for me. It’s sad but true…that once bright and beautiful, now tarnished, ring can never again be just a thing.

Not to me.

Day 293/365 Fear is a Needy Neighbor, Maybe I Should Fix Her Up

When you have dealt with fear a lot over a short period of time, there are some benefits – the biggest one being, it is not an unfamiliar sensation. You don’t have to go through that, “Oh shit, what is this feeling? inner dialogue.  You know...and you usually understand why it is being revealed in a particular moment or circumstance.

For those of us who have made its acquaintance somewhat regularly, fear becomes a bit like a needy neighbor with a penchant for “pop ins”.  We didn’t invite her over, but it is the compassionate thing to do to invite her in, to see if we can’t ease her suffering in some way. Sometimes just giving her that little bit of attention is all she needs. Other times she camps out on the couch for so long we’re afraid she’ll never leave…and boy does she ramble on and on.

My own needy neighbor doesn’t seem to do this much anymore – the camping out, that is. It helps that she doesn’t need to keep reintroducing herself. I know her pretty well, and she’s not all bad.  She does usually bring with her wine and desserts, and she spurs some interesting self-reflection, so I mean…she tries to be a good guest.

The other day my needy neighbor showed up unexpectedly (as she is want to do). It seemed like she was making herself pretty comfortable on my couch, when I grew bored with her chatter and decided to distract myself with a book. I picked one up, flipped through it and read this passage…

“When gripped by fear or anxiety, the reflex is to hold on, speed up, or remove oneself. Yet when we feel the reflex to hold on, that is usually the moment we need to let go. When we feel the urgency to speed up, that is typically the instant we need to slow down. Often when we feel the impulse to flee, it is the opportunity to face ourselves.” – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I don’t know about you but I can think of so many times in my life when I reacted to fear and anxiety by doing all of those things – holding on, speeding up, or removing myself. 

I know for a while I hung on to my marriage out of fear. I labelled it loyalty or commitment…but I see now that it was just my old friend, fear. I did not want to face myself. I did not want to hear myself silently screaming that I didn’t want to be there anymore…telling me that being afraid wasn’t a reason to stay.

What was I afraid of?

I was afraid of being seen as a failure, afraid of emotionally damaging my children, afraid of not being able to support myself, afraid of starting over.

Unfortunately being steeped in feelings of fear within a relationship creates a pattern – a conditioned response. Do you remember, I wrote a while back about creating an account on a dating site? How I panicked when I was asked to describe myself? I couldn’t go through with it. The only man I have allowed myself to want is someone who would never let me close. I hid there in plain sight – emotionally unavailable on account of wanting someone who is emotionally unavailable.

How clever of me.

What am I afraid of?

I am afraid of making the same mistakes. I am afraid of thinking I know someone and finding out I don’t. I’m afraid of rejection. I am afraid of that cold, painful purgatory we find ourselves in when love is replaced by obligation, and bitterness is all we can taste on our tongues.

Fear knocks on my door whenever I even think about risking myself in this way. She really considers herself to be an expert on the topic of love. She has twisted love and fear up in my head so insidiously that I almost believe they are the same.

But I know something she doesn’t.

I know that when the right person arrives, I’ll muster the courage to introduce him to her (it’s only polite, after all). I suspect he’ll make an introduction of his own – his fear, to me. Perhaps his fear and mine will keep each other company, and they will be less likely to pop in on us unexpectedly, and…

When they do show up…

I hope we will try – to let go when the urge is to hold tightly, to slow down when the urge is to speed up, and to stay…when the impulse is to flee.

To use our fear as an opportunity to face ourselves, together. 

Artwork Foraged and Photographed by Meredith Brower Photography.

Available at www.630photo.etsy.com and at The Power of Juice.

Day 269/365 He was She

you were so afraid

of my voice

i decided to be

afraid of it too

-rupi kaur

The other day I went into a bit of a tailspin, worried over the idea that I may have offended someone I care about. It was silly, really…but boy, did I get whipped up.

I realized later that while the idea that I may have hurt his feelings worried me, it was the worry that he wasn’t going to be honest about it that caused even greater dis-ease within me.

That he would be upset, and pretend he wasn’t –

Be someone he’s not.

No, you did not hurt me.

(I think I did.)

Whenever I find myself getting into this hyper-sensitive state, it fascinates me to try to figure out why I’m there.

What’s this about?

This unwillingness to believe that Everything is fine?

I care very deeply about the man to whom I was married, and being married to him was really hard. He was not a communicator. I knew this, going into the marriage, but when we are young and in love, we manage to convince ourselves that love will conquer all.

At least, I did.

(It doesn’t.)

As life became more complicated, and there were more abundant and more complicated things to discuss, our relationship became harder and harder.

He did not like to talk about his feelings.

He would not reveal himself to me.

If I said or did something to upset him, he would push it right down.

Everything was Fine.

(It wasn’t.)

I always knew when he was wounded (…angry…frustrated), but I often didn’t understand why, and I didn’t feel understood, either.

Understanding was never something with which I was indulged. 

There’s a long story there, and it begins long before we met – a lifetime of keeping secrets and hiding in plain sight.

I never stood a chance at really seeing him.

When you are not ready to reveal yourself – the core of yourself – I suppose pulling back the curtain in any small measure is much too risky.

I was never able to help him become more comfortable with expressing himself.

It wasn’t my job.

(It was hers.)

It wasn’t a lie.

(Was it?)

It was an omission.

An omission of soul rocking proportions –

He was never the man I married.

He was she. 

She was the one who was hiding, all along. 

img_4600
Drawing by Rupi Kaur

So what is the impact on me?

Me, who married a soul-shaking secret keeper –

Someone who said Everything is Fine, when that was so far from the truth?

It is this –

Honesty and transparency will become like air to me.

(They have.)

I choke and struggle and gasp if I feel I am being deprived of them – by others and from within myself.

Maybe that is why I am here…

Telling you. 

 

{For more on this topic, click here.}