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BEGINNING

In the beginning, I wasn’t afraid.

In the beginning, I was a blank slate eager to be written on.

It was kindergarten, the beginning of my formal education and I remember it well, which is remarkable considering I was only four years old.

I was overwhelmed at first. So many things packed into one room so well organized and so neat. Tiny desks and chairs arranged in straight, orderly rows. Brightly colored abacuses on shelves and scores of bins storing an array of toys and gadgets. Large letters and numbers and flowery pictures decorating the walls. The teacher’s desk looking official yet inviting set off to one side in front of the blackboard.

When I see the piano, my new teacher notices me noticing it and invites me over to try it. Her name is Sister Christine. She teaches me scales and how to play the only song I can still play today. She exudes kindness and warmth and empathy and unconditional love. She supplies me with fat crayons and rounded scissors and Elmers glue and Play-doh on demand.

Play-doh is still my Prozac. Whenever I pry open its cover and inhale I am right back in that classroom, back to the beginning when I wasn’t so afraid. Its unique aroma reassures me and gives me the courage to begin again. There would be hundreds of new beginnings after that exhilarating first day of school but none where fear didn’t play a factor.

New beginnings always require us to let go of something, which is why they can be so scary.

It’s strangely comforting to know that at four I was unafraid to let go of my mother, but then again she wasn’t holding on. By that time she already had eight children, the oldest eleven and the youngest about eighteen months old. I’m sure it was a relief to her when the six of us got on the bus together leaving her alone with my two younger siblings and a moment or two of peace to do the million other things that she was expected and counted on to do every day.

From that day forward I would have countless other new beginnings, some forced while others were freely chosen, but ultimately it didn’t matter, they all registered varying degrees of terror.

During the few years that my own kids attended elementary school and I was left home alone with more free time than I knew what to do with, I got it in my head to write a novel. It was an idea I had kicked for years never imagining that one day I might actually do it. Since I was now able to get my paid work out of the way pretty quickly every morning and was no longer constantly being interrupted, I figured it might be the perfect time to try.

I had a lot to say but no idea how to go about it, so I just sat down one day at the computer and began. I got as far as typing the working title before I froze, suddenly paralyzed by fear.

I wasn’t delusional enough to think that my first attempt at writing a novel would ever end up being published, so I couldn’t understand what the hell was holding me back. My resistance was powerful; it registered in my bones. It felt like a force field freezing my fingers in place preventing them from typing another word.

Eventually, after several more attempts, I was able to push past it and begin again. Soon my paid job started to interfere with my writing so when I learned that an uncle had left me some money upon his death, I didn’t hesitate, I knew what to needed to do.

I took the three thousand dollars I’d inherited and used it to take a three-month leave of absence from my job so I could devote all my time to my writing. Three months and four hundred or so pages later it was finished and so was I. After letting a sister who I am very close to as well as my husband read it, I took all four hundred or so pages along with the flash drive I had stored it on, over to the fire and tossed it in.

I had spent hundreds of hours delving into my pool of pain to write it and had emerged victorious for having completed it, but I had essentially splayed myself wide open for all the world to see. My vulnerability morphed into a monster that would lock me in a cage if anyone else were to read it, so I did the only thing I could think of. I destroyed it before it could destroy me.

Years later I would begin again. I was homeschooling both my kids by then so finding the time to write was extremely challenging. I was met with as much if not more resistance each time I would sit down to write, the familiar fear never far away.

Somehow, once again I was able to push past it, yet once again the result was the same. Four hundred more pages of rubbish. Kind words were relayed by my husband and my sister once again for having the fortitude to finish what I’d started, but I knew in my heart it would never see the light of day. I was warned by both not to burn it this time, so I packed it into a box where it now sits on a shelf in my closet, out of sight but never entirely out of mind.

Third times a charm and soon after I am beginning yet again.

My son was attending a trade school, my daughter was now in college, and I was no longer working as a painter from home. I was not going to give myself the option to opt out. People were beginning to talk. They were suddenly asking, “What exactly, do you do all day now?” and I needed to be able to give an honest answer.

This time I did my homework. I was no longer naive enough to believe I knew what I was doing. I cared deeply about this now, and it deserved a more honest effort. I read what may have amounted to every book ever written on writing determined as I was to give it another go.

Somehow word must have gotten out because this time that all-powerful force known as Resistance wasn’t messing around.

“Beginning is difficult, and our procrastination is a fine ever-present measure of our reluctance in taking that first close-in, courageous step to reclaiming our happiness.” – David Whyte Consolations

This time I had to make sure the house was vacuumed first and the dishwasher was run, and the dogs had been walked, and wasn’t I going to paint the upstairs bathroom? Didn’t I just get done saying how badly it needed a fresh coat of paint? Shouldn’t I be doing that first?

I was turning into the queen of procrastination in regards to my writing until the day I finally recognized it for what it was. That’s when I wrote the following on Post-it and stuck it in a prominent position above my desk: FUCK RESISTANCE! It was suggested in one of those writing books I’d read, and now I understood why.

It was a constant struggle to push past all the distractions, but after three long years, I had finished writing my third novel, Relish. I was sure that this was the one. So sure I started designing its cover: a canned jar of relish being held in an old woman’s hands.

I should have waited for the dreaded feedback first. I should have known better; the first draft is never the last draft. The confusing part was that it received overall positive feedback from the story coach I had hired, but much less of an enthusiastic response from my trusted editor, my same sister who must have been a glutton for punishment after agreeing to help me out once again.

So I completed the second draft and believed it to be even better than the first. It was painful, painstaking work and proved to be much harder than the initial writing of it. But in the end, it was still a bust. It was going to require a third draft, but I had had enough. I was a hamster spinning on my wheel, going nowhere fast. It was time to take a break and take a step back from years and years of laboring.

I was pushing so hard to give birth to something new but now I had major doubts about its viability.

Maybe the conditions weren’t right for it to take root, maybe it was time to transplant the thing, find a new medium for it, find a way to nurture it again and bring it back to life. And so it was that this blog was born. It sprouted out frustration and failure, and its survival was tenuous at best. Nevertheless, the seed of the story was still alive.

I had a second chance at a new beginning as a result of my novel coming to its end. I was immediately and unexplainably enthusiastic by the prospect of it. Once again I had no clue what I was doing, no idea how to even go about setting up such a thing, but by its nature, this new beginning implied a forward momentum, and I was all for not looking back.

Only now I am required to both.

With each new week and each new word, I am traveling back in time to reexamine and rewrite the stories that have shaped who I am.

Writing each post is scary. I often wonder, do I really want to go there? But it’s the reading of it after I’ve hit publish that is the truly terrifying part. I hate the thought of something I might say hurting someone I love, for that is the very last thing in the world I would want.

Still, I feel compelled to continue.

Somehow I have circled back to the place where I began, and surprising no one more than myself, I am no longer afraid.

“There occurs in effect, a form of internal corporate downsizing, where the parts of us too afraid to participate or having nothing now to offer, are let go, with all the accompanying death-like trauma, and where the very last fight occurs, a rear guard disbelief that this new, less complicated self, and this very simple step, is all that is needed for the new possibilities ahead.” – David Whyte Consolations

 

I am telling my story. I am unlocking parts of myself from rooms that haven’t seen the light of day in decades, and I am setting them free. I am letting them go despite the death-like trauma involved. I know I have something new to offer the world and I am exciting by the new possibilities that lie ahead.

Two steps forward one step back, every word a brick on a new path that I’m excited to follow.

 

NEXT WEEK: BESIEGED

BEAUTY

As a young child, I remember being told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

It was usually said in a derogatory way prefaced with “I guess,” when someone was not capable of seeing the beauty I saw plainly.

I was young, and still unafraid to share how I felt about certain things without fear of being ridiculed. I emersed myself in nature as often as I could so I understood how beauty affected me and was surprised and often baffled when others didn’t agree.

I might find a snakeskin stuck to a log being hauled in for the woodpile and be so mesmerized by its beauty that before I knew it, I was being yelled at to stop daydreaming and get back to work.

For whatever reason, dead things fascinated me. An owl pellet demanded dissection; the picked apart skeletal remains of the mouse it shit out was a beautiful puzzle begging to be put back together.

A petrified bullfrog found in the road after a heat wave may have been fascinating and beautiful to me but was better left outside to finish rotting like the disgusting dirty thing it was, according to whoever happened to be in charge.

Even my body was beautiful to me way back then. Back during that short, bittersweet period when I believed the well-defined muscles in my thighs to be a thing of beauty allowing me to outrun anyone who dared to race me (like the boy in this picture) while doing it barefoot to boot.

Over time as I got older, much of the beauty I was accustomed to and had so appreciated, began to dull when I started spending more and more time with my studies and less and less time outdoors.

Long before I was even a teenager, I was already sneaky copies of my sister’s beauty magazines. That’s when I discovered a whole new kind of beauty and quickly became fascinated by the beautiful women gracing the glossy pages who left me feeling woefully inadequate but satisfied for the chance to drink in their beauty.

My fascination rather quickly turned into an addiction. I skipped right over anything that had “teen” in the title. No Teen, Seventeen, or otherwise. I went straight for Mademoiselle and Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Cosmopolitan and of course SI’s famous swimsuit issue.

Christie Brinkley, Paulina Porizkova, Kathy Ireland, and Elle MacPherson, just to name a few, all became my idols as did all of Charlie’s beautifully fierce Angels. Since I was one of only two blondes in my small circle of girlfriends, I had the good luck to play either (Jill) Farrah Faucet or (Kris) Cheryl Ladd whenever the mood struck us.

It seems like overnight we went from walking on romper stompers to teetering on heels.

From playing with our super elastic bubble plastic and playing “house” with our baby dolls one day to plastering each other with makeup stolen from the pharmacy up the street or an older sister’s stash, the next.

By the time Naomi Campbell and the rest of the supermodel crew hit the scene, I was a full-blown beauty addict clamoring for a fix.

I tried everything those beauty magazines prescribed, but in the end, my beauty regime consisted of Noxema and rubbing alcohol every night before bed, no exceptions. Followed by an application of the newest cellulite or bust developing cream and the reliably ineffective “I must increase my bust” exercises.

Gone were the days of hiding out in the woods alone, now it was all about being seen.

Once, during the middle of a sixth-grade science class, my best friend and I were marched out of the room and told to wash the clown makeup off our faces. It was that or go right to the principles office, so we begrudgingly complied.

I was only ten years old at the time but already felt naked without my mask; naked and ugly when all I wanted was to feel as beautiful as all those women.

By the time I was fifteen and had had a few boyfriends under my belt (but over my jeans) I quickly figured out most boys weren’t all that interested in looking at your face.

By sixteen I had the benefit of being in a committed relationship and soon realized I didn’t need all that. I was never going to be as beautiful as them anyway, and besides, I had more important things to worry about, like getting a full-time job and finding a place to live at the age of seventeen.

Fast forward three years and I’m married. Four years after that and I’ve had my first child. Time blurred like a distorted photograph; it was passing so fast.

Giving birth to my daughter changed everything I thought I knew about beauty. The long sought-after superficial beauty I had strived for vanished like a rainbow disappearing in the sun when I looked into my daughter’s big blueberry eyes for the first time.

When my son was born two years later, he once made a grown woman cry just looking at him; he was that beautiful.

“Beauty is an inner and outer reflection living in one face.” -David Whyte Consolations

They were a triple threat. The embodiment of truth, beauty, and goodness; made with love and exuding pure love from the moment the took their first breath.

Not only did they pull back the curtain and show me what real beauty was, somehow, they immediately reconnected me to Nature, my surrogate mother and I saw that our connection had not been severed and that we still were and always would be connected by the root.

After they were born, I tried to spend as much time outside with them as possible. I was fortunate to have a good paying job that allowed me to work from home, so they never knew what it was like to not have me around. When they were both still under the age of five, we sold our house in the city and moved in with my parents who were kind and generous enough to take us in, while also helping to take care of the kids while we began building our new house in the woods.

We were finally going to put down roots, but I sensed it was more than that. We weren’t just building a house; we were building our home.

I was growing a taproot that would connect us to this land for the rest of our lives.

I moved out of the house of my parents and back home to my surrogate mother where she welcomed me with open arms. It was an overwhelming reunion that brought me to tears on a regular basis.

I wasn’t aware of how deprived of beauty I’d been until I started seeing the world through my children’s eyes. Turning over a rotten log in search of salamanders filled us all with wonder and appreciation for the natural world, and holding one of these delicate creatures made you feel like you were holding God’s hand. Not the vengeful guy with the long white beard that I never believed in, more like an essence or presence of pure love.

“Beauty is the harvest of presence, the evanescent moment of seeing or hearing on the outside what already lives far inside us; the eyes, the ears or the imagination suddenly become a bridge between the here and the there, between then and now, between the inside and the outside; beauty is a conversation between what we think is happening outside in the world and what is just about to occur far inside us.” -David Whyte Consolations

During the few short years my kids attended public school, I missed this harvest of presence so much I was soon starving, so with my husband’s full support, we made the daunting decision to pull them out of public school so I could homeschool them instead.

Declaring that I would be wholly responsible for their education inspired many unsolicited opinions, less than a handful of them positive, and most days had me feeling like I was treading water – way out past the deep end – unsure as I was as to how it would all turn out.

I had no idea what I was doing but knew I could rely on my inner compass for guidance, trusting that it wouldn’t steer me wrong. And I was right. And we flourished. We had our days of course, but looking back on it now makes me realize it may be the single greatest thing I’ve ever done with my life. This teaching gig was reciprocal; they taught me as much if not more than I ever taught them.

Our classes were held in natures classroom, and every day there was a new lesson to learn. Collected tadpoles and monarch caterpillars not only taught them life cycles and metamorphosis but the virtue of patience as we anxiously waited to release frogs and butterflies back to the wild.

The curriculum included daily walks in the woods and climbing trees, and rescuing the occasional gosling or baby wood duck that had gone astray. If I could only teach them one thing it was going to be, to appreciate the overwhelming beauty that surrounded us every day, knowing someday they might be called upon to protect it.

I had the extraordinary privilege of teaching these two beautiful creatures I’d given birth to, and in the process soon realized I was also giving birth to myself.

As they became more intelligent, I was gaining intuitive intelligence about who I was and what I was always meant to be. I was finally letting that persistent voice inside my head be heard for what felt like the first time in my life, and I trusted what it was telling me.

When it told me to stop paying to lease a horse for my daughter from a barn nearby and build a shelter in our backyard for her to have her own horse instead, I questioned my sanity, but soon enough we did just that, and until very recently we never looked back.

We had the privilege of taking care of two beautiful horses at our home for sixteen years, and in turn, they took care of us by enriching our lives with beauty in ways we never thought possible.

Not long after that, I was being nudged in the direction of photography, so I took classes at an art school nearby and had a light-bulb moment while working in a dark room for the first time.

I held my breath and watched nascent images come into existence before my eyes, and teared up at my newfound ability to capture fleeting beauty permanently.

Beauty was never more so in the eye of the beholder then when capturing an unusual image and showing it to someone who’d initially scratch their head unsure of what exactly they were seeing.

“Beauty is an achieved state of both deep attention and self-forgetting of seeing, hearing, smelling or touching that erases our separation, our distance, our fear of the other.” -David Whyte Consolations

 

I once achieved a state that completely erased my separateness from my surroundings. It’s not a feeling I’ve ever been able to describe, but I will try.

I was walking alone, without my dogs through a field in early fall and for a brief moment the fruity pebble foliage took my breath away and replaced it with a full body knowing that I was intimately connected to everything I was seeing and feeling. The wind became my breath as I stood still no longer there, gone for a few brief moments to join everything that ever was and ever will be.

It was a moment that will stay with me forever for at that moment a seed for a new story was planted. A story I finally knew my place in, not only as a character but as its author.

It’s taken me a long time to trust myself to tell it, but I think it was worth the wait.

 

NEXT WEEK: BEGINNING

 

 

ANGER

I once gave myself a bloody nose during a screaming match with one of my sisters. I don’t even remember what the hell we were fighting about, but it’s one of my earliest memories of feeling enraged.

Maybe she was brave enough to use my curling iron or my hairspray without asking – who knows, after all, we were seven pre-teen and teenage girls living under one roof at the time. While I doubt it was something that trivial, whatever it was, lightning stuck the white-hot core of me that day, and like a long-dormant volcano, I erupted.

A flood of warm sticky lava gushed out of my nose and down my face forcing me to surrender. The fight was called, and we begrudgingly went back to our respective corners.

Occasionally I would summon the courage to re-enter the ring if I found another worthy opponent, but more often than not I would swallow my anger instead, pushing it so far down and out of the way that it changed who I was becoming.

I heard on a daily basis that I should quit acting like a smart ass and start acting like a proper young lady, but my budding breasts were no match for my blossoming rage.

And it wasn’t just my parent’s telling me this, the nuns at school had a hand in this, too.

More times than I could remember I was told, “You are a bold, bold child!” from a hateful nun with a surprisingly thick mustache who enjoyed pointing her fat middle finger in my face for emphasis. Sadly, I believe her tactics worked. Day after day I was berated and punished until eventually I became subordinate and resisted confrontation by making myself small so as not to be seen.

I recall an even more vivid memory of my anger now. I have crawled out my bedroom window with as many lightbulbs as I can carry. No one else is home; I am alone.

I carefully lower myself down onto another roof below and begin arranging my fragile arsenal.

I wish I could remember what I was so angry about, but the only thing I remember is the adrenaline rush I felt as I began hurling expletives along with 100-watt glass bombs with all my might onto the asphalt patio below.

And I remember how it made me feel.

My animal rage was violent, and it scared me more than the idea of being caught.

Watching and listening to them shatter, made me feel powerful. It was a foreign feeling, a rush of blood to the head, and I immediately wanted more.

Somehow this breaking of things was making me whole again.

Despite being unable to remember what had set me off, I take comfort knowing that I found a satisfying release for my anger that day. Still, I wish I could remember what had prompted it.

I can smell the smoke, but I struggle to find the fire.

It’s like one of those underground ones with a neverending source of fuel that can burn for decades until occasionally and violently it breaks through the surface when the right conditions present themselves, which still happens more often then I care to admit.

I find the first hollowed out blackened cave still smoldering after all these years. The charcoal hieroglyphs depict many different stories, but all share a unifying theme.

Injustice of any kind flipped my switch and turned my anger into rage, forcing me to bury it so I wouldn’t get burned.

When the cave was no longer big enough to hold my anger, it spread deeper still. It was insidious and silent and far-reaching.

I was fragile, so I was bounced on men’s knees.

I was painfully shy, so I was pinned to the wall and forcibly kissed.

I was overly sensitive, so I was tortured. One particular uncle was so fond of tickling me that he refused to release me from his strong grip until I relented by peeing my pants. Game over. He won. He always won.

I learned from an early age that men would never give up dominance easily, not even when they are dominating a little girl.

The older I got, the more of an expert I became.

Men controlled everything.

The more powerless I was made to feel by having a vagina the stronger my anger became, and every time I swallowed that anger indifference rose in its place.

My father, a kind, loving man whom I love dearly, had taught me to fish but made it a boys only club after my brothers were born. I was no longer able to join them on fishing trips now that I lacked the correct equipment. Yes, I had a pole, just not the right kind of pole.

While the girls were stuck doing all the chores, the boys reaped all the rewards. The girls felt the sting of his belt, the boys a pat on the back. My father’s business ended with & sons not daughters.

When I accepted the position into the FAA after beating out almost three thousand other people, most of whom were men, my father was not congratulatory or proud. He was upset. Upset that I would even think about leaving my new husband to go halfway across the country for a job when the only job that mattered was to stay home and take care of him. When I returned home after only two weeks, he assumed I had failed, and I never bothered to correct him.

I was thin and pretty, so I was hit on constantly and predictably by grown men who were strangers to me. But since it had been ingrained in me since birth that it’s not okay for a women to be angry, if I had the nerve to shout something back I was called stuck-up or a slut or a bitch in order to silence me while at the same time being made to feel guilty for shunning the affection I was told I should be grateful for.

Enter guilt, stage right.

I cultivated my guilt like a garden. Every well-attended bud remaining tiny and tight, never knowing what it felt like to bloom. How dare I question a man? Not my father my brother my uncle my cousin my teacher or my boss. Especially that one teacher who was fond of addressing the classroom from a seated position on a small desk directly in front of my face, with his legs spread wide every day for my viewing pleasure. Or that one boss who constantly felt the need to press his body up against mine citing a lack of space in an aisle plenty wide enough for him to get by.

I learned that if I knew what was good for me I’d stay small and quiet and stunted, but by all means stay thin and pretty, and be grateful for the attention I was getting.

So I remained silent, swallowed my anger and spent the rest of my time trying to look pretty.

Occasionally, the bottled up pressure proved to be too much, and I would erupt then inevitably feel guilty for my lack of self-control.

Intolerant organized religions, sexism, misogyny, racism, discrimination, and plain old willful ignorance all had the potential to light my fuse, but none so much as a woman still not being considered equal to a man in the eyes of the law and worse the thought of a woman’s right to control her own body being forcibly taken away.

Forcing a child to be sexual or forcing yourself inside of a person against their will is an act of violence, just as forcing a woman to carry a baby that is unwanted or could be a danger to her life is every bit as much of an act of violence.

I was not put on this earth solely to satisfy the needs of a man or be someone’s mother. I may choose to do both, but it is up to me to decide, just as it is up to me to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term.

We are the only species with the ability to chose to be pregnant or not, and we have been making that unimaginably difficult choice for thousands of years in every society that’s ever been studied. We have a long track record; we can be trusted to know what is best for us and by extension our families.

In my case, my body made the choice for me. I had two spontaneous abortions in the span of two years. Does that make me a monster in the eyes of the religious who claim abortion is murder and thou shalt not kill?

What about all the real murders that take place every day? Where is their outrage? Why aren’t these same people protesting in the streets for gun control? They like to call themselves pro-life, but they are not pro-life, they are pro-control. They read their bibles and deem themselves soldiers in God’s army, meanwhile innocent people, men, women, and children, continue to be killed every day, and we’ve become so numb to it, that we largely turn a blind eye.

No person in a position of power will ever relinquish control willingly, yet we continue to hope that things will change. That things are bound to get better when the reality is they’re only getting worse.

I have learned that hoping for something essentially makes you powerless. We need to get rid of hope in order to turn away from the fear that holds us back. Only then can our collective anger contribute to meaningful change.

Maybe that’s what I was so angry about when firing all those glass missiles at the ground that day. Maybe I was pissed off at how powerless I’d become.

“What we have named anger on the surface is the violent outer response to our own inner powerlessness, a powerlessness connected to such a profound sense of rawness and care that it can find no proper outer body or voice, or way of life to hold it.” – David Whyte Consolations
 
Being born female and not the male they had longed for, stripped me of my power at birth.

Growing up a girl whatever power I had left with was chipped away at until I was made empty, powerless as a sieve that can never be filled, though it hasn’t stopped me from trying with all sorts of things that never work.

“But anger truly felt at its center is the essential living flame of being fully alive and fully here; it is a quality to be followed to its source, to be prized, to be tended, and an invitation to finding a way to bring that source fully into the world through making the mind clearer and more generous, the heart more compassionate and the body larger and strong enough to hold it.”  -David Whyte Consolations

I believe there is an untapped deep well of anger that burns in the heart of women all over the planet, and that we must allow it to come through the surface and unleash its fury if we will ever ignite real change.

“Anger is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable, and all, possibly about to be hurt.” – David Whyte Consolations

All that time, all those painful stories, all that long-buried anger finally being felt, have taught me that I had what I needed all along, I just didn’t know it.

I know it’s not possible to change anyone but myself – and that’s a hard enough – but at least now I know where to start.

I know that for our stories to change we must change. And we can begin by using our anger in service of that change.

 

NEXT WEEK: BEAUTY

AMBITION

Ambition is a tattered chapter in the story of my life. So many long forgotten earmarked pages, so many roads never taken.

Regrettably, many pages were violently torn out and tossed away, forgotten like a dream upon waking.

They were the stories that pointed toward possibilities, ambitions that never came to fruition, at times of my own volition and other times out of my control. Ultimately it didn’t matter if a particular choice was mine to make or made for me, the result always felt like a failure.

When I was seventeen years old, I chose to drop out of college after attending for only two weeks. I was always an ambitious student, with aspirations to accomplish something great with my life. But after meeting my soon to be future husband during the summer before my senior year at the ripe old age of sixteen, I happily let him derail me.

I was deeply and madly in love with this young man whom both my parents happened to hate at the time but knowing this only made me love him more. So instead of pursuing my dream of going to school on the west coast, I chose a local college ten minutes away while they allowed me to continue living at home.

That lasted exactly two weeks. I had been kicked out of the house for minor infractions several times during that last year of high school (like refusing to walk to the store to buy a gallon of milk), so it didn’t exactly come as a surprise to anyone. The writing was on the wall.

I immediately began working full time and found an apartment. We were engaged on my eighteenth birthday and married two years later when I was just twenty.

But my ambition to accomplish something great with my life soon felt thwarted, and I struggled to find my purpose. Without a degree, I would hover at or below the minimum wage for years until I happened upon a job offer from then-president Ronald Reagan and my ambition in life shifted. I no longer cared as much about making a difference; I cared about making money.

Starting pay for an air traffic controller was almost fifty-five thousand dollars a year no degree required. The application and hiring process was strenuous lasting almost a year before I was finally accepted. I left for the academy in Oklahoma City, all the while asking myself, was I sure this was what I wanted?

My answer was always the same. I didn’t want the job I needed the job. As a young woman without a lot of choices, I felt like the choice had already been made for me. I needed a way to contribute, and this was it. It had to be.

Two weeks after arriving there I dropped out and returned home.

I was doing exceptionally well in the program but one afternoon I happened to overhear a woman in line in the cafeteria talking about how much she missed her babies and how difficult this type of career would inevitably be on her, and at that moment something inside me clicked.

The very next day I booked a flight, packed my bags, then handed back the keys to my apartment and flew home.

Another story that had taken me so long to write was torn to pieces and discarded.

A couple of months later I was pregnant. But since it didn’t require hard work and determination to achieve my pregnancy, it never really felt like an accomplishment.  Yes, I would now be someone’s mom, but still, what was I going to DO with my life?

As it turns out I’d have to wait longer than I’d planned to find out.

I miscarried on Christmas morning. I was fourteen weeks along when, without warning, the sweet story full of promise and potential that I’d been telling myself, suddenly and without warning morphed into a nightmare as I labored to give birth to what was already dead.

Eventually, I would have my happy ending, but I would never trust that it was a given ever again.

I gave birth to my beautiful daughter three days before Christmas the following year, and for the first time in my life, I felt fulfilled. I’d never felt happier. I had found my real purpose through pain.

Another year later and pregnant again, as the heat from the candle on our daughter’s first birthday cake warmed my face as we sang happy birthday to her, I felt an eerily familiar warmth spreading between my legs.

Another spontaneous abortion. Another story ending before it began.

Defiant, we tried again and a little more than a year later I gave birth to our beautiful son. We had our two precious babies, and I was their mother. It was and is a job that I never exactly felt qualified for, but no other single thing has enriched my life more.

Still, I always felt the tug that it was not enough, that I was not enough. It felt like something was missing. I still had to prove myself to the rest of the world, didn’t I?

Looking back on this now is so painful. I’ve been so hard on myself for so long how could I not see this and stop this sooner?

I would start working full-time from home to be with my kids and would continue to do so for the next sixteen years, but it wasn’t enough.

I would design and help build our new house, but it wasn’t enough.

I would homeschool both my children – my daughter until she started college and my son until he started high school – but it wasn’t enough.

I would help both my daughter and my son start businesses, but it wasn’t enough.

I still felt like I was required to do more.

Until now.

“What is worthy of a life’s dedication does not want to be known by us in ways that diminish its actual sense of presence.” – David Whyte Consolations

I understand now that there is more to the story, to my story. Much, much more.

For all of my adult life I have wrestled with my ambitions or more to the point – lack thereof, but now, when I allow these words to wash over me and sink in, I see what’s been unseen for so long.

What I’ve been doing behind the scenes all these years has taken dedication and determination and yes, ambition, and all the while I couldn’t see it and appreciate it for what it was.

My purpose then and now has always been to be the best human being that I can be.

To be who I am.

To be the best possible version of myself.

And that is enough.

And I am enough.

“Everything true to itself has its own secret language and an internal intentionality with a secret surprising flow, even to the person who supposedly puts it all in motion.” – David Whyte Consolations

I even have a tattoo at the center of my back that says “be who you are” drawn in my handwriting at the center of which reads “Love.”

And the name of my daughter’s equine massage business that she began at the age of sixteen happened to be called Go With The Flow.

Both signposts that I ignored before now.

Now, when I reframe my story to reflect this, I feel validated and supported in ways I am unable to describe. I feel ready and willing to go with the flow and allow the rest of my life to unfold instead of always questioning it or fighting it.

“We find that all along, we had what we needed from the beginning and that in the end we have returned to its essence, an essence we could not understand when we had undertaken the journey.” – David Whyte Consolations

I’m beginning to understand this now, and I like the new direction this story is headed.

 

NEXT WEEK: ANGER

ALONE

My immediate reaction to the word alone is visceral. It is a deep ache that comes from feeling invisible. Unseen. Unimportant. Not mattering.

The story it conjures is one of abandonment. Not of being physically abandoned mind you, just feeling abandoned by my parents.

I am the sixth of ten children, seven girls, and three boys in that order.

I know what you’re thinking. How could I possibly feel alone living with eleven other people? I didn’t have my own bedroom until I was sixteen, and even then I was kicked out of the house only months later, so I had very little time to enjoy it. Unless you count all the times I would crack my window open and smoke a cigarette from my bed. I loved that it made me feel as grown up as my older sisters.

I started smoking in fourth grade. My apologies to my children who might be shocked and saddened to learn about me. I’ve always told them I didn’t start until around eighth grade because it felt too awful for me to admit the truth.

I was eight years old, but my parents never acknowledged this disgusting habit of mine until I was sixteen and smoking cigarettes from my bedroom window and only then because by that point I didn’t care enough to hide the evidence.

I would grind out the butts on the window casing and leave them there for anyone to see until the sill was full and I was nauseous from the stench. I’d already been smoking for many years by that point and often drinking by then too, but neither of these facts warranted a blip on their radar. I was a ghost ship, and unless I torpedoed someone or something else, I remained invisible.

To be fair they were dealing with not one but two teenage pregnancies by that time and a host of other challenges having ten kids will bring, so looking back on it now I can’t say that I was ever surprised.

Most times to capture the attention of my mother I had to capture her. I would feign being sick in the bathroom and then quickly shut the door behind her, locking us both in until she heard me out. But even that tactic turned into a competition for attention when other siblings inevitably began banging on the door.

When Helen Reddy sang, “I am invincible! I am Woman!” I substituted “invisible” and made it my anthem.

I could pretty much do anything without fear of having my parents find out, still the steadfast Catholic soldier in me, for the most part, kept me on the straight and narrow.

For feeling alone as I did on the inside, on the outside, my physical body felt like a depraved animal seeking shelter from a storm. I longed so desperately to be left alone.

Whatever bedroom I happened to be sharing with however many other sisters, I always claimed the closet as my territory.

Thinking about this now has me marveling at the way they all, for the most part, respected that about me and for the most part did leave me alone. Though I do remember sleeping in the bathtub once after being kicked out of the closet by a sister who wanted our whole room to herself, closet included.

Closets were my only means of escape when I couldn’t be alone in the woods. They were the only place I could find refuge from the chaos that was my family. I spent as much time as I could inside them, sitting Indian style and reading by the light of the bare bulb hanging overhead or else talking to myself with a rapt audience of unconscious stuffed animals to keep me company.

But being alone in the woods was my preference. It was the one place I felt seen and welcomed. It felt sacred. More sacred than any church I’d been forced to enter. There, Mother Nature became my surrogate mother. Alone in the woods, I felt like I finally belonged.

As often as I could, I would pack a pb&j into a brown bag and picnic – a party of one – inside an enormous hollow tree in the woods behind our house, temporarily filling its empty space while it returned the favor.

Alone in the woods, I shed my skin.

“To be alone for any length of time is to shed an outer skin. The body is inhabited in a different way when we are alone than when we are with others. Alone, we live in our bodies as questions rather than a statement.” – David Whyte Consolations

The pain of shedding so much of my skin as a child is still felt now. To say I am highly sensitive is putting it mildly.

In situations beyond my control, situations where I am seen, and worse yet, heard, my skin goes an embarrassing bright red, flush as if recently burned and I appear raw.

And in many ways I guess I still am.

This is my story. It’s one I’ve been telling myself for a very long time. It’s a story I accepted at face value. I judged this book by its cover, Poor Me.

Poor me. The story of an invisible girl who didn’t matter.

But when I crack open the tight spine of it and beginning reading it with fresh eyes, a very different story emerges.

Be Who You Are. A profile in courage.

I am that person precisely because I’ve spent so much time alone.

One of my first jobs was delivering mail in a rural town nearby. I look back on it fondly for the freedom it offered for I was now getting paid primarily to be left alone.

After my kids were born, I left the corporate world and worked from home – alone – instead. I painted tiny figurines that sold in specialty shops all over the country, and I was able to make a pretty good living from it.

I did this for sixteen years while simultaneously homeschooling my two children, and for all those years I relished the freedom it offered us and the solitude it offered me.

While painting alone in my office in the wee hours of the morning, I would listen to books on tape and dream about what to do with my life once the kids were grown and gone.

But with the passing years, I came to prefer my sweet confinement and was reluctant to step outside my bubble.

When I eventually did, most often, I’d still be alone. I would go away for the weekend to hike in the Quabbin Reservoir and sleep in the cheapest motel I would find. Candles helped mask the sour stench of the well-worn carpets, and it was there that I began making lists of what my life should look like in five years and then ten and so on.

When a weekend away wasn’t enough I rented the tiny cottage in Cape Cod that our family of four vacationed at, sitting solitary on the beach day after day relishing every moment of the peace and quiet it afforded me.

To be alone is “…..to live something that feels like a choice again.” -David Whyte Consolations

When I read those nine words, something deep inside me clicked.

I didn’t have many if any choices on what to do with my days back then. The kids ruled my life, rightly so. But the few times I stepped away from that life – however briefly – did feel like something of a choice. It felt like freedom. Pure, sweet freedom from that other life to one where I slowly began to recognize myself again.

Then in 2005 – the season of making your wildest dreams come true, courtesy of Oprah – I summoned the courage to do just that. I didn’t win the sweepstakes mind you, but I accepted the invitation. It turned out to be the push I needed to finally make my own lifelong wildest dream come true. I was going to Africa. Alone.

My kids were twelve and ten at the time, and I knew there’d be no better time for me to travel unless I was okay with waiting until they were adults. I was not okay with waiting. All my life I had an irrational fear of being too late to that party. I always knew I would go – someday, but I feared if I waited too long, there would be nothing left to see. The animals I so dearly loved would have all vanished, and I would be left with a gaping hole where my heart should be.

So I did it. With the help and support from my husband who took time off from work to take care of the kids while I was away, I traveled alone to South Africa to volunteer on a reserve where my job would be to monitor their lion population.

All those hours spent alone dreaming about my future were about to pay off. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid.

I wrote this poem late one night while sitting around the fire with the other volunteers and gazing up at the Milky Way for the first time.

To Live Like A Lion

Eat when your belly is empty
and sleep when you feel the need.

Your family will be there to protect you
though at times you may need to lead.

Be strong, be confident, be sure.
Let your lover make you roar.

To live should be that easy.
So why do we always want more?

Years later I would deepen my already strong connection to silence by attending a ten-day silent meditation retreat, then another five-day one soon after that.

Throughout all the years of my life, every moment spent alone has made me stronger by letting me know who I am, and ironically, by letting me know that I am never really alone and never have been.

And knowing this changes my story.

The early stories I told myself of not being seen or heard or valued don’t ring true anymore. They were stories of pain and suffering, stories I identified with and let identify me. But no matter how busy my parents were and are with their own lives, their own problems, their own forgotten dreams, in the sacred space of my aloneness I always knew I was loved. Loved by the animals and the earth, the water and the wind, and yes by my parents, too.

For that, I am profoundly grateful. For that is a story I can relish.

 

NEXT WEEK: AMBITION