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.

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Day 323/365 Totally Doable

Lately I have been feeling really happy…

Sunshine-y, even.

I have been in a make-sure-you-tell-people-you-love-them (and not because you’re afraid they’re gonna die but just because you love them) kind of mood. A random-acts-of-kindness kind of mood.

A mood of expansion, a gesture of openness….a heart open wide to life and love, and their infinite possibilities.

I think it all started when we were in Florida. I experienced a shift.

We were nearing the end of the trip (that time when everyone begins to dread leaving paradise and coming home) and I had this revelation…

“Home” for me is a pretty amazing place.

In the most literal sense, we live in a beautiful town in coastal New England. I have settled into a home that feels like a sanctuary to me, but…home is more than a town, or a house.

Home is my beautiful family.

Home is my passionate work community.

Home is my incredible friendships.

Home is also within me.  I am feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin. 

Home is…truly a gift. I am beyond blessed.

I see that. I feel that.

Going “back to reality” isn’t so bad. In fact, reality is…at the moment, pretty damn good. 

Throughout all of the challenges I have had over the past two years, somewhere inside of me (sometimes way, way inside of me) I did always know that the darkness wouldn’t last forever.

Life is a pendulum after all, and things are always bound to swing the other way sooner or later.

Which is what worries me now…in my sunshine-y place.

{Ha…will she ever relax, you wonder? Um…nope.}

Now that my pendulum has swung toward happiness, I can’t help this niggling feeling (or knowing) that the upswing can’t last forever, either. It goes both ways, for better and for worse. That’s how it works, you guys.

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I went on a field trip with Beau‘s class this week. We went to the zoo. Throughout the trip I somewhat compulsively counted heads like a good chaperone…making sure everyone was safe and accounted for at any given moment.

One, two, three, four…WAIT, WE’RE MISSING ONE! Oh, nope – there she is. ALL GOOD!

That’s the best way I can think to describe this niggling.

I feel like there’s a little piece of my brain that is always actively “counting heads.” Everyone I love can’t possibly be safe and accounted for…so I count…

One, two, three, four…

Really? ALL GOOD? Can it be? Better count again, just to make sure. 

Look, I don’t know if I will ever stop counting heads. Experiencing major upheaval and loss will do that to a person. I’m okay with it.

What I am learning to do is to enjoy the sunshine just the same.

Right now, right here –

I’m home…and everyone is accounted for. That’s more than enough.

“DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!” may never be my mantra.

But this

Is TOTALLY DOABLE.

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.

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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.

The Thing About Jaime

The world lost a beautiful man last night. I struggled writing this, as it just seems so wrong…writing about him in the past tense. I kept writing “He is” and having to go back and correct myself…He was.

It seems impossible that someone who shone so brightly could leave us so soon.

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I remember a story about when Jaime met Melissa, his future wife. He told her that his name was spelled Jaime (rather than Jamie), because “J’aime” means “I love” in French.

Honestly, we had a good laugh about that, because – Come on! What a line!

But…the thing about Jaime was, although I’m sure he delivered this explanation of his name with a grin and a twinkle in his eye…it was the truth.

He loved.

The love and devotion that Melissa and Jaime had for each other was always plain to see. They really cared for and respected each other. They still looked at each other like people in love. They also had fun – they made each other laugh every day. Jaime was always quick with his wit, and Melissa loved that about him. Even when he was experiencing the worst days of his life with his illness, he loved to make her laugh.

They loved the life they built together. Melissa, and their children – Ryan, Gavin, Maeve and Michelle were the center of Jaime’s universe. He was so proud of each of his children. He always smiled broadly whenever he spoke of them.

He loved. 

His love was big enough for his whole community. He really cared…about everyone. If you were talking to Jaime, you had his full attention. He had a way of making each person feel like they were really important to him – because they were.

We all were.

Over the years I have heard so many stories about things that Jaime did or said to help others, and you know what….not one of those stories did I ever hear from Jaime. Not one.

He was so humble.

Nothing he did was ever for recognition or even for a thank you. It was because that was who he was. He knew no other way to be.

He loved. 

I am sure in the coming days and weeks, so many more stories about Jaime’s big heart will come pouring out from the community, because not only did he love…he was loved.

So loved. 

 

Day 217/365 Like a River

My dear friend, Nichole, and her love, Jay, asked me to write something to be read at their wedding last weekend. I was very intimidated by the idea at first.  I thought to myself, why would they want a single, divorced person to write something about love and marriage? I’m not exactly an authority on the subject.

It was daunting.

I thought about marriage, and what might be different about it the second time around…particularly as a parent. Nichole brings two boys of her own into the relationship, Jay brings a son as well, and together they added a fourth boy to their brood.  This marriage is about combining their families, just as much as it is about becoming husband and wife.

With that in mind, here’s what I wrote (shared with permission from the bride and groom)…

Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hahn wrote, “If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform themselves.” 

There is something very beautiful about a couple coming together in marriage after they’ve done a fair amount of living. When we are younger and in love we may have an unintentionally narrow and somewhat selfish view of the world, of love and of relationships. As we experience life and love, and parenthood in particular, our hearts and compassion for others expand. We truly understand what it means to love unconditionally, and to give selflessly to others. We understand more deeply what it means for “I” to become “We”.

Nichole and Jay have come together with their children, Pierce, Wyatt, Christian, and now Beckett to celebrate the joining of their lives with one another. 

Like the river, their love is not small and confined, but rather it expands outward – surrounding and nourishing them all.

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It is hard for me to imagine myself ever getting married again, but if there is one thing I have learned in my life it is that you just never know what might happen. Marriage or not, I hope for a love that is like a river.

Congratulations Nichole and Jay!

{Photo by Meri Keller}

Day 207/365 If Not Now, When? {Later, That’s When}

“Hey, it’s love month, isn’t it?” my friend, Greg, said to me the other day.

I had no idea what he meant by that (I know I’ve been scattered lately, but I still know it is October, not February).  It was on the tip of my tongue to correct him and say, “Actually, I believe it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” when I realized what he meant.

Two years ago, I had my astrological chart read by Elizabeth Spring. At the time I had been divorced for two years, and I was very keen on the idea of romance.

When Elizabeth told me (back in September of 2015) that she thought my next opportinuty for a significant relationship would be in the fall of 2017, I was not exactly thrilled. Two years seemed like an awfully long wait.

Little did I know how incredibly full the next two years would be.

A lot can change in two years. Some days it feels as though everything has changed.

As for her prediction, I don’t feel as though I am open, or ready, right now to let a relationship come into focus. I am taking good care of the people that matter most to me. I would not want it any other way. It fills my heart and my hours…and at the end of the day, I am tired. I don’t have the time, nor the heart space for any new demands to be made upon either.

Tonight, for example, I hadn’t realized how bone tired I was until I got into a hot bath.  I lay there until the water turned cold, shivering, but too tired to heave myself out.

“Love month. That doesn’t seem likely now, does it?” I smirked. “Anyway, I’m not ready. I don’t have anything to give right now,” I said, almost defensively….

{Don’t make me do it! I seemed to scream inside.}

“Do you know what Michelle [his wife] said when I told her I wasn’t sure I was ready to become a father?” he asked.

“Um…I’m pregnant?” I joked.

“Ha, no! She told me, ‘You’ll never feel completely ready. Nobody does. So, guess what, we’re doing this!

He added, “She was right, of course.” (They now have three children).

“Sooooo…?”

“So…Get ready, it’s LOVE MONTH.  I can feel it!”

“UGH.”

It isn’t that I don’t believe in love. I LOVE love, actually.

Still, I’d prefer to let this particular love month pass me by…stars aligned or not.

I know there will be other opportunities.

Now, can someone please inform all the men who have been beating down my door this month? 

Go away – you’ve been misinformed!

{Smirk.}

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 192/365 Short & Sweet

Last night Beau and I were laying in her bed together. We shared a pillow, gazing at each other, our foreheads practically touching. I brushed the hair back from her face with my fingers.

“It’s funny about LOVE,” she said, sleepily.

“What do you mean?” I asked, always intrigued by her mind’s inner workings.

“It’s just…it is such a small word for something SO BIG.

It feels like LOVE deserves a bigger word.”


As usual, she’s right.

That one little word is…everything.