Nesting

With a blog named “Life on the Skinny Branches,” you might surmise that I have a thing about birds. And you’d be right.

I have always felt drawn to birds of all kinds. I think the connection began when I was young when I was first introduced to the great poem by Maya Angelou, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

The free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wings

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with fearful trill

of the things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn

and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

Maya was speaking of many things, experiences that I do not pretend to know about. But also, for me, she spoke about something that I knew firsthand: feeling locked in a cage, grounded, longing for freedom. You see, I, too, know why the caged bird sings. (Maybe in some ways we all do.)

Perhaps that set up my lifelong affinity for and sense of connection to birds, and flying.

In 2016, my words for the year – for what I was calling in for myself – were: Emerge/Celebrate/Express/Reveal. It was a year all about self-expression, growing confidence in myself. And it definitely was that kind of year. I started this blog last year — it was a big deal for me to begin to share my words in a public way. I began intentionally living on the skinny branches, and it has been thrilling.

This year, when I soul-searched for the words to guide my year, they were: Daring Greatly/Stretch/Curious/Creative/Depth/Credibility/Courage. So I expected to be soaring, having jumped off those skinny branches. I expected to be flying high.

And the year started off strong. I was in a play. Then a play reading. I did a short film. Took an incredible trip to Spain.

And then, in March, I was suddenly grounded.

Literally. My whole system shut down.

It was if my body went on strike on behalf of my spirit and said “No more, sister. You are gonna stop and sit for awhile.”

I was forced to stay home. A lot. This was not easy for me. I have always been driven. Have always sort of hurled myself through life, a bit desperate to make up for lost time.

It was humbling to have been so completely drained of vitality that walking down the street was a challenge. But that was my reality.

So I had to stop many beloved activities. And somewhere along the way, I began to listen to whatever it was that my body and soul needed me to hear.

(I also sought professional medical help, and received it. I made many changes in what I was putting into my body and began to look at how to approach my life better, aka how to lesson the internal stress I create for myself as I interact with the external world.)

I am realizing now that it was in this being stopped, it has been in this time of recovery and healing, that I have learned to appreciate the nest.

When I got stopped, I got quiet. I had a great deal of solitude. I have been depressed before. This was not that. It was…me with me. (It was awful at first because a part of me feared I was “losing” more time. That part of me fears it is already too late. That part wants me to run around like a chicken with my head cut off. That part is misguided. I help it along today with a firm but loving hand. No more shoving myself through the world.)

In time, I began to see that this being stopped was helping me to ask new questions and to also really listen to the current answers of old questions. The answers have changed since the days I first asked them. Who knew my body was so very wise? She made me listen. She made me pay attention. She had lots for me to re-cover.

And slowly, I began to heal, and my vitality began to come back. I can say with joy today that I am almost 100% back. But I am not the same.

I cannot run around like I did before. I could, but I do not want to. I am finding new ways to do the things I want and need to do. I am giving myself more time to do these things, to process, to absorb. I am nipping stress in the bud — I simply do not want to waste my precious life energy on certain things any more.

It is a new day. It is a new me. I am finding out all sorts of things. I have much to do, but it will be on new terms. I think they are much better, frankly, than the old ones.

I appreciate the life force that calls me to soar, to live life on the skinny branches and beyond. It is a huge part of who I am.

But every bird also needs some sort of place to call home. A place to hatch their young. A place to refuel.

And so, it is so very clear to me now, do I.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: nest

To the Core

I used to hate myself.

Seriously. I hated just about everything about me. I was fixated on the way I looked: I felt like a monster, something grotesque, misshapen, disgusting.

This was painful, and difficult. It is hard to relate and be in the world when you have that kind of hatred for your body.

But as I look back, the most painful kind of hatred I felt towards myself was the hatred I felt for the ways I felt and thought. I felt tormented by my own mind and feelings and sought escape in every way imaginable, including close contemplation many times and one failed attempt at ending my own life. I could not get away from this internal self I so hated. I felt like a freak trapped inside a monster’s body.

I wasn’t born with that kind of self-hatred. It developed slowly over time in my early years following trauma that created a kind of split from my own core. Losing connection to my core made me vulnerable to the outside world in a way that was devastating.

With a healthy core intact, dealing with bullies and the other social pressures at school is painful and impactful but does not warp one’s self-perception.

With a healthy core intact, a person can withstand the challenges that exist in most childhood homes where there are people with untreated mental issues, and where there are emotional, sexual and physical abuses or neglect as a result of parents who themselves were abused or neglected.

Without a healthy core intact, the affect of these kinds of external forces become stronger, louder than one’s own innate internal sense of self, sense of well-being, of any innate self-support. As a result, these events, people and experiences bend and shape one’s sense of inner and outer self and reality.

The best way I can describe living without that connection to my core sense self is to have been like a tissue blowing in the wind, this way and that, getting stuck wherever the wind took me.

I do not have multiple personality disorder, so I cannot speak to what that experience is like, and I do not mean to offend anyone who does. But I have sometimes imagined that what I experienced was somehow related. I could not hear my own internal voice most of the time. I was “hearing” the world, and it was loud and dangerous to me.

Living when you are disconnected from your core is terrifying. It is suffocating. It is lonely. It is deadly.

I am lucky, because even though that connection was severed, there was always somewhere deep within me some sense of something to keep fighting for. One tiny shred of connection to a core that I could imagine if not feel or often hear. I didn’t trust it or understand what it was. But it was there and I could sometimes hear it in the very darkest moments.

Like the moment some years ago now when I had the razor blade that I had bought and planned to use in my fingers and held to the skin of my left wrist, ready to end my suffering. That tiny shred began to whisper to me, “What if I am wrong? What if it could get better?”

That tiny shred, and the realization in the moment that followed that I was reneging on a promise I’d made to my two cats – whom I loved desperately – that I would always look after them, that they would never know fear or be homeless again after their difficult early lives feral on the streets of NYC, saved my life that day.

I have written about coming home to my own core within myself in previous posts Dormant Child and Cutting the Cord.

The work of healing my fractured soul has been profound, difficult and beautiful. It is on-going work, but I have come such a long way.

To re-connect with and then feel a permanent connection to my own core self – to know my own essence – has been at times a shockingly powerful and painful process. And at the same time, the most intricate, exquisite and intimate experience I have ever known.

One of the greatest gifts of this this connection to my core, this freeing of my inner selves (every age I have ever been) and this healing of the traumas of these selves into wholeness, has been a growing love and appreciation for my self.

I have learned to love my body for what is does, not how it looks. I have grown a gratitude for my physical abilities and strengths, and try to find joy in moving my own body, using my own voice. Today, I have reverence for all that my body contains. It contains multitudes and is wise beyond my mind’s own wisdom. It holds the Truth, and it never lies.

I look for the miracles within and without, and because I have cleared away what I can of the detriment that is not of my true essence, I find them. The detritus that remains from my past does not clog my joy as it once did. I love the detritus, too, for it holds important information. There is often even gold to be found in what remains.

I genuinely enjoy my own company today. I like the way I experience the world: my own peculiar sense of humor, the unique way I think and feel. I am no longer tortured by my own thinking. I am no longer tortured by being me.

This is huge. Not to say I do not experience anxiety, racing thoughts, negative or critical thinking (the Inner Critic, the Critical Mind, the Ego, whatever you want to call it.) I do experience all of those things and more (panic, depression, the pull towards self-destruction.)

But I am no longer a tissue blowing in the wind.

I am a mighty tree, strong and constantly expanding into the world around me. Yet I am flexible and can withstand whatever weather comes my way because I am rooted, and those roots go deep. I take nourishment from the elements that support my growth. I no longer look for sustenance from sources that can not provide what I truly need to thrive.

I live in light today. There is darkness, yes, but it is a different kind of darkness. I no longer fear the dark places, because I am always there. I trust myself to see myself through whatever comes my way.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: peculiar

With much love and thanks to the gifts and work of Suzanne Connolly.

Inhabitant

This body o’mine

Through her I’ve met the world

She’s been gentle with me

But her, I’ve pushed and hurled

She’s taken hard knocks

From without and within

I’ve treated her rough

Lived a life full of sin

She’s asked little of me

Given me all that I’ve asked

Less-than-loving I’ve been

At times, she’s been trashed

I’ve wasted so much time

Hating parts I deemed flawed

The time has come to make peace

And to treat her with awe

I see her now as she is

A miraculous home for my soul

I thank her daily and nurture her

She’s a beautiful part of my whole

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: inhabit

Harmony

There was once a cacophony

Of thoughts that were in other people’s heads before mine

A terrible discord of voices

Some loud and bullying, others plaintive and pitiful

Others I could not identify (that was the most frightening of all)

I thought I was losing my mind

But I could not yet hear my own voice

Or discern my own thoughts from the din

So I got very quiet and began to listen to all of the voices, one by one

Until I finally found my own

Now there is a symphony

I still hear many melodies in addition to my own

But there is music where there once was just noise

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: symphony

Control Much?

I developed a disordered relationship with food practically from birth.

Food and eating have long since been very complicated for me.

Food was never just food. Sustenance. A source of energy.

The act of eating was never just a means to satisfy physical hunger, fuel the machine, fill the tank.

It was security. A best friend. My lover. My mother. My father.

Relief. Comfort. Excitement. Joy. A distraction.

A way to protect my self. A weapon. A protest sign. A lockable door. A “Fuck you, world.”

It gave me a sense of well-being. It gave me something that felt essential to my very ability to exist on this planet.

But above all else, and most importantly, it have me an illusion of control.

And this, above all, was crucial to me.

As a child, my world was out-of-control. Everyone in it seemed out-of-control. Every thing happening seemed out of my control.

Inside of me, good gravy, things certainly felt out of control. Feelings, thoughts. Wants. Needs. All felt huge and to a small person who felt they had no voice and no power, they were simply more than I could comprehend or cope with.

Enter food.

The one area I felt I had any say in was with food. What I ate and how much.

Especially how much. Any hint of the slightest suggestion that I might begin to think about considering becoming open to the idea of portion control still brings up a deep revolution within me. A protest begins without my having to even rally the troops. Big signs flashes in my head: “Fuck you!” “Over my dead body!” “Not while there is still breath in my body!”

You’ve got to be kidding. I’m supposed to let someone else tell me how much I am allowed to eat? What?!

Seriously, I get so defiantly enraged at the concept I literally feel nauseaus.

To a non-disordered person, it may be very hard to comprehend. It may seem or sound absurd.

But trust me when I say that my being able to eat or not eat what, when, and how much of something I wanted was (and sometimes still is) of incredible importance to me.

Almost feels life and death to me to be able to choose and act as I want in this one area of my life. It looks very much like addiction and obsessive-compulsive behavior because it is very much both of those things.

As you can imagine, such a relationship is doomed from the start. It is not healthy. It is instincts gone awry. It is a coping mechanism that brings an initial and momentary satisfaction followed by an ever-deeper, never-to-be-satisfied longing.

Such a relationship with food and eating skews all other relationships. It is a poor substitute for a real solution to the problem. And the problem, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the food or eating. They are merely the symptom.

So the solution, for me, has not and never will be portion control. I do not weigh and measure my food. (That still sends waves of dread through my body.) I do not label foods good or bad, or blame dieting or fad diets for my problem. Fad diets and the “diet” industry are only potential triggers or tools for my own kinked relationship to food and eating.

The problem was not and never will be my willpower.

The problem is how the funky-ass relationship to food and eating developed the first place. What was missing that led to the kink in my connection to regular eating?

There were circumstances. Maybe something ancestral, genetic, sure. But truly, there were circumstances and my response to them. My best solution for coping happened to be really distorted and led to many years of suffering.

Around all of that, I have done a great deal of work. But in terms of healing, it has come  down to this: addressing the part of me that developed such a relationship in the first place.

What did that part really need? How can I help that part trust other ways of meeting those needs? (The second question is almost more important and takes a great deal of patience to answer and to implement.)

I began asking these questions, and learned to really listen for and then to the answers.

The needs and wants came first.

The answer I heard most is that part of me wanting something for herself, just for her, that no one and nothing can interfere with. In unlimited amounts.

This seemed key to the whole thing, this need.

This longing for something just for me, that no one else can have, that only I can have, that no one can take away, mess with or hurt.

Woah. Logically, it is clear when I really lay it out like that that food and eating never had a chance at solving that problem. They do not contain the ability to solve it.

But that part of me was working from a different logic that makes total sense to the information it had at the time. Given the limited resources and the level of maturity of that part of me at that time, I can see how the dots were connected to the one thing that was available and that seemed to work.

Problem is, that part is hungry for something that food and eating can never satiate.

But that is where the real work lies. But as in all things, hard work does pay off. Yes, it does suck to have to do anything at all about a problem that I wish had never started in the first place. But that is just reality and once I accepted that, things began to get better.

That is my job now. To give myself that indefinable…something…and to give it in unlimited amounts.

Sometimes it is my own attention. Support. Kindness. Comfort. Bolstering. Appreciation. Soothing. Excitement. Stimulation. Fulfillment. Fullness. Rest. Recovery. Quiet. Peace. Stillness. A sense of being ok. Safe. Whole just as I am.

These I can give myself whenever, however I want in whatever quantities that part demands, cries for, deserves. I get to pour unlimited amounts of these things into myself, and no one and nothing can interfere or mess with that.

But what about the act of eating? What about that part of it all? That part of me wants to consume, wants to be filled, wants to take in and become one with something.

No, I cannot actually physically have the experience of filling myself with something, taking a substance into my body and becoming one with it.

That is the physical aspect of the whole, and there is another series of solutions to address that part. That I can satisfy in other ways. That is a different blog for another day, perhaps.

But the rest of it, I got in spades to give. Unlimited amounts.

It took some experimentation to help that part of me trust that letting go of the old mechanism for the chance that something new would ultimately be better and actually, really work, for real. That is where patience and gentleness and compassion pay off.

But it is all worth it. The meeting of those needs of my self by myself — that, my friends,  I am in control of.

At long last, I have the power that I have so craved.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: portion

For JC and anyone else who hates the idea of fucking “portions.”

On Being “Childless”

via Daily Prompt: Ruminate

There are things that I ruminate on, like the way my tongue cannot keep itself off of the sharp, spiky tip of my left incisor.

One of those things that I touch on again and again despite its spiky sharpness is the subject of being childless. It is uncomfortable terrain, but I go there again and again anyway.

I hate that term, “childless.” As if by not having a child, you are less somehow, than those who have had them.

Some people prefer “childfree.” That doesn’t quite feel right to me, as if children are something that I wanted to avoid for health reasons, like gluten, or sugar.

I love children. I think they are the greatest people on the planet. I have many children in my life.

But no, I am not a mother.

And boy, is that complicated. For me, and for most people in the world, it seems. So I must, in sensitivity to other people who do not have children and have their own personal relationship to this issue, offer a disclaimer.

I, in no way, speak for other people who do not have children. There are many reasons why people do not have children, are not parents, do not give birth. I cannot speak for anyone but myself. And I cannot know what anyone else’s feelings and experiences around this issue are, and would never attempt to represent them.

I am also not writing here about all the experiences I have had over the years around this issue and my decisions. I am not trying to explain or defend in any way my choices. (I actually am not even going into the reasons for my choices.)

I am writing about what still can get to me around the whole “childless” thing.

It is a continually odd experience to be in the world as a person over a certain age, married, and not to have had a child or children.

I have come to terms with my choices to the best of my ability. I stand by them. They are mine, and they make absolute perfect logic for my unique-to-me life.

Usually, I do not feel less than around this given, this fact that I have not had/do not have children. I do not feel odd. Being the one living my life, my choices are perfectly normal to me.

Yet. There are those moments, when people ask me, “Do you have children?” when I admit that sometimes I doubt myself. That self-doubt can be devastating, for it is as if I turn on my self without meaning to because of my own social conditioning. Let me explain.

Someone I am just meeting or have been getting to know asks me if I have any children. I calmly say “No.”

Well, today I calmly say “No.” There was a time when I would be so uncomfortable leaving it there out of such fear of what they might say, that I’d make an attempt to avoid it by sort of explaining without explaining (as if I owed anyone an explanation!)

“No, no kids. Just didn’t…um…nope.”

(I learned in time that that seemingly small abandonment of my self to avoid the discomfort of answering the question carried way too high a price. That it actually chipped away at my soul. I learned that tolerating the discomfort that followed my simple “No” was a far better choice.)

Back to the story. To recap: they ask “Do you have children?” I say, simply, “No.”

Then it happens.

You see, there is always a small pause before they say something polite, like “Oh.”

In that pause, I can hear the wheels of their mind turning. I know that they are quickly scanning for possible reasons for my lack of children and that they then jump to conclusions and judgements about this fact, this given.

In that pause, a part of me suffers a little as I sense one of three experiences they are having around this information they’ve just been given.

In scenario one, it is as if they are considering I may be/have been barren (what a horrific word) as in there may be a biologic reason for not having had children. I can often detect a hint of pity and sometimes even shame on my behalf. If there was a thought bubble above their head it might read, “Oh, poor thing. She was defective in some way and could not conceive.” “Oh,” they say, in a somewhat reverent tone.

Ahhhh. Message received. So I am less than a woman – a normal woman, a woman who’s able to bear a child – a mother. I am not that. I am somehow not able to be THAT, to be a whole woman. I am lacking. I am deficient. I am tragic.

Scenario two. I sense in that pause that they jump to the conclusion that I chose my career first, because why else would a perfectly healthy, “normal” woman not have had a child? The bubble might read, “Oh. You were too busy putting yourself first to have a child. Hmmph. Yep. Selfish.”

Ahhhh. So they think I am self-absorbed because I did not procreate as expected. I did not do my part in populating the world, in completing God’s will for me as a woman. I am hard, selfish, self-absorbed, self-involved. Perhaps it is better than I did not procreate since clearly I am missing the mother gene. Tragedy averted – perhaps I am not fit to have been a mother, since I clearly lack the generosity and the ability to put someone else first ahead of my ambitions.

In that glance after the voiced “Oh,” I sense a subtle aggressive relief. They are glad that they have put this together and can “place” me in their minds. Now I make sense. I am one of those career women. Hmmph. They can relax again, calmly feeling their own subtle superiority over me. Again, I am somehow deficient. Some genetic aberration made me not want kids enough or at all. Again, I am not a real woman. I am someone to perhaps forgive for her unwomanly ambitions, like a quirky aunt or an eccentric character.

Scenario three is the worst of them.

In those instances, they say, “Oh,” with a quiet tenseness, a slight narrowing of the eyes as they size me up. In their “Oh” is the sneaking suspicion that there is just something wrong with me, not biologically, but morally, ethically, mentally. That I am some sort of deviant.

The bubble reads simply in those times “Oh.” And I literally feel them slightly withdraw physically from me, as if what I have may be catching. I am categorized as a kind of leper, a social misfit. I am not to be fully trusted as I must be off in some way that is perhaps even dangerous because these people cannot fathom my “otherness” without finding it wrong on some level.

I have experienced all of the above multiple times on my own, and as part of a couple, in the world. Nothing is ever spoken aloud. But the messages are there, nonetheless. And they are affecting.

I find it interesting that it is rare that anyone goes beyond the initial question – pause  and “Oh” response to actually ask me or me and my husband “Why not?”

To me, that is proof of the social stigma placed on people who choose, for whatever reason, not have children.

In that lack of further questioning – that invisible social moat that is suddenly drawn separating them and me/us – there seems to be an unspoken agreement that this subject is something to be skirted. Further questions are to be avoided. Suddenly, my/our privacy is to be respected, as if I/we have a chronic condition.

It’s as if it’s just been discovered that I/we had recently lost a loved one and it would not be polite to ask how. It is something for people in my/our lives to query behind closed doors but never directly to me/us.

Worse than my own self-betrayal that can happen in the moments of these interactions, is the fact that I am guilty of this stigmatization against myself and others, sometimes even simultaneously as I am a victim of that same stigmatization.

In my own mind when I meet people who have not had children, I find myself making the same search for reasons to explain their status, the same judgements and conclusions to be able to categorize them in my mind.

I am guilty of judging my own relatives who fall into this category in the same ways that I have felt judged. How disturbing is that?! I find myself thinking of them what I hate feeling others think of me.

I hate this most of all.

But I know that this is a result of deep, almost cellular, societal encoding that I, like all of us, have been surrounded by and immersed in since birth. These aren’t conclusions that I have come to, they have been absorbed by me from others and nurtured via cultural messaging on every level. So through no fault of my own, I am pre-disposed to a bias, even against my own self.

And I have come to understand that those who respond to me the way they do have also been born into those same pre-dispositions.

When I wanted to select a graphic to include in this blog, I could not find one. All that I could find were either pictures of couples or singular women looking down as if sad and shamed being without children. Or oddly aggressive attempts at someone’s idea of humorous art: an image of a child in a red circle with a line drawn through it. Or that yellow yield sign for car windows that says “Baby on Board” re-drawn to read “Baby Not on Board (so you can destroy my car!)” A very sad-looking empty nest. “Child-free by choice!”

None of these images reflect my truth. I cannot find popular culture that reflects my story. I don’t fit any stereotype. There is no club to join.

And so I ruminate. I soul search. I practice forgiveness of my self and of others for our lack of expansive vision.

And often I am able to see the Truth that is beyond the narrow expectations of the social norms that so shape the world. I can see who I am and know that I make sense and that there is nothing lacking in me, no aberrant gene or deviant peculiar twist in my making.

The truth is that I love my life and have no regrets. I mother other peoples’ children as an aunt and as a friend. And I mother the world as best I can.

The question, the “Oh,” and its aftermath gets easier and easier as I get clearer and clearer.

I am whole and healthy and as normal as anyone, but I am not the norm. That is all.

#onnotbeingamother #wholeandhealthy

In response to Daily Prompt: Ruminate