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The Midlife Crisis

So y’all…been oversharing with almost everyone I’ve encountered lately (including near-strangers 😐) that I believe I’m going through my midlife crisis. I don’t think I ever had a clear concept of what all that entails. But yes, having a child at 39 and the ensuing identity crisis that came with new motherhood, and the recent job loss that left me with way.too.much.time on my hands and way.too.little enthusiasm about what my next “career move” might be…seem to have precipitated, along with a few other convenient factors, my entering into the real flesh and bones center of The Midlife Crisis.

It’s like all these layers of conditioning have been coming to the surface, these core beliefs that are way old, defunct, decrepit, irrelevant, and tired. These beliefs like “I’m not enough,” or “Why even try because I can’t possibly live up to my own self-imposed and completely inattainable standards of perfection,” or the ever straight-up in-your-face and mean, “I’m a fuck-up.”

Damn. These are some brutal words…and yet, I believe so many of us have similar tapes playing beneath the busyness of our everyday lives and daily distractions. And I realize how much energy is expended each day in pushing through the activities and responsibilities required of me, when I have these beliefs underlying every move I make. All the self-doubt, all the self-criticism, all the cognitive dissonance. When it would be so much easier to find new messages that actually make sense and align with the reality I know to be true.

That I am capable, tenacious, brave as f*uck, resilient, creative, adaptable, resourceful, and free…to choose the life I wish to live, to paint new pictures with nuances and dimensionality and wicked magic out of the ashes of the old verses I have burned.

That none of us is who “they” told us we were…the misguided teachers, the well-meaning parents, the people in power who abused it and abused us in some way. Look at what “they” are telling us now…the ones in the headlines running in dizzying blurbs across screens. Is it not more blatantly clear than ever that it’s all one big doodie-hole crock of shit?

That those who waved sticks haphazardly through the air when they were snotty-nosed kids now have bigger weapons and more broken spirits? These people don’t have the authority, or the power, to break us. I recently succumbed to the fear that is running amok and tearing through cities like Tasmanian devils on speed. It’s palpable as I cruise as calmly as possible through rush-hour traffic on Hendersonville Road, so I can get home and stare at job ads on indeed. Too corporate, too many hours, not enough pay…with the fear that I will lose myself, that I will spend most of my waking hours getting buggy-eyed in front of a screen and feeling disconnected from my passions, my heart, my daughter. Ultimately, a fear that those in charge are going to rob me of what’s most important to me.

In the midst of this midlife reckoning, I am sifting slowly and patiently, through the muck of a lifetime. The gooey, shameful ooze that still sticks to my insides and prevents me from dancing the dance of liberation my body is aching for. And I have all sorts of tired in my muscles, in my jaw, in my cells and brain crevices, from carrying the weight of these generations-old messages for so long. The messages that were always designed to keep us small and constricted and confined to obsequious “yes sir” mannerisms, bowed heads, shrunken selves.

I believe these times are here to set us free. It’s okay if our knees give out and we fall to the ground…if we crumble into a messy heap on the kitchen floor. That’s part of the process. Something’s gotta give. We can’t carry the heaviness of our ancestors anymore. And in being laid to the earth and breaking, we come back to where we came from, and who we truly are in essence and at core. And we gain humility, and we learn to trust in something different this time. Because we don’t believe the lies we used to live our lives by. We create new truths and build new structures…within our neural pathways and within the communities we live in.

And we come to see that we’re not alone, this isn’t shameful. This is human and vital and we’re all in this process of breaking apart and open together. And we reach out, hopefully for help and guidance…to the great beyond, to each other. We get past our pride and come raw and tender into lines at supermarkets and to playgrounds as we pick our kids up from school. We start looking one another in the eye and stop breezing by each other in our spells of doing too much, and stop to speak about what’s really going on.

Ya, so I may have gone on another soapbox spilling of guts here. But it’s what’s up for me right now. And I know at least some of you can relate. These are intense times, ripe with opportunities to shed skin and shift on tectonic-plate levels the course of humanity. It’s that big, folks. And it starts within ourselves…allowing ourselves the time and space and gentleness and bravery required to listen to these deep whisperings…these murmurs of Mother Earth and these cries of ancestors. It’s so worth it though. So very worth it.

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A Little Reflection on Unconditional Self-Love

When my daughter was a baby, she went through this phase where she would look at me with absolute adoration. Like she was in love with me, in awe of me, and so complete in her knowing that I was everything she needed.

And I had to lower my eyes–it was too much! Too much love! How could she love me so fully and openly and unreservedly when I was so flawed, so shameful, so lacking of so many things?

In her gaze I came to know unconditional love. And I had to examine how it contrasted with how I looked at myself at the time. We have this habit of picking out every little imperfection when we look in the mirror, see pictures of ourselves, review our own creations and work we have produced. This scrutiny gets to be so tiring, counter-productive, life-stifling.

In those early months of my daughter’s life, and through the sleep deprivation, I got to know my own shadow intimately–those parts of myself I’d spent years trying to run away from and staying too distracted to see. Those parts that are the hardest to love. When I felt scattered and ragged and lonely and broken, and engulfed in those ugly parts, my daughter still looked upon me with soft eyes and a sweet wee smile. Me, the broken one, who was supposed to be responsible for her precious little life.

Her faith and adoration eventually rubbed off on me. It was a long process, to be able to sit still long enough for all the unloved parts of me to feel safe enough to call out for attention. And when they came up, like some deep sea creatures breaking the surface for the first time…gasping for breath they never knew before, soaking in the warmth of sunlight never felt before…I was the breath and the sun. I embraced them, and soothed them, and loved them.

It’s an ongoing process, this self-love thing. Yet it’s in our nature to love ourselves…it’s just something that gets untaught along the way. I wish you all the ability to at least experiment with seeing yourselves in a gentler light, seeing all your beauty along with all your weaknesses, and loving it all.

Story Medicine

I wanted to share my final writing piece from a Story Medicine class I took with Meta Commerse earlier this year. Being in the class encouraged me to write morning pages before I did anything else each day, for the course of five weeks. Now if only I could get back to that discipline…

I have stories in my bones, and as I tilt and whirl through my days, the stories move and shift along with me. Sometimes they settle in to the rich marrow to marinate a bit more, and let the ancestors whisper in their lost wisdom, so that my story becomes a legacy, a history, an account of my lineage and the overarching experience of humankind. Sometimes the stories wish to be spoken, to be danced onto canvas, to find release through my limbs into space as they stretch to ancient rhythms made new again. And then there are those blinking-awake moments in the wee morning hours, when I get to feel my pen between my fingers and let the ink stain the pages, make marks where there was nothing before.

We have the opportunity to change the world with our words. Through getting thoughts onto paper, we can declutter our minds, set the weed whacker on the tangled, thorny thickets hanging out in corners, and find the glimmer-gold strands of truth. Grab onto them and hang on for dear life until we’ve pulled the length of them out of the muck and let them speak through us…in volumes, until we are empty.

The journaling in itself has brought the magic back. In writing my thoughts, my perceptions, my limited interpretations of the goings-on in my life, I’m able to discern more clearly what is mine and what isn’t, where certain beliefs come from and which ones need to change. I am able to find expression where there was silence, very much like digging under heavy heaps of dirt and roots to get to the eternal spring, the core, the self, that is life-giving. Wait, that is life itself. In writing past the static and jumbled mumbo-jumbo that is not me, I walk the razor’s edge again, where feelings are deep and raw, and my lungs expand with rain-kissed air. I am filled up, my skin breathes, my smile extends past the limits of my face.

I am coming back to myself. Story Medicine has been yet another jewel I have mined and plucked from the gracious earth and placed into my toolkit. My bag of stones and secrets that rests on my hips and keeps me steady and sane as I navigate this ever-changing world of ours. In sitting in stillness and finding solace in solitude, I am comforted by my own words. I am remothering myself so that I can be a better mother. So that I can stand tall and firm on my own ground. And I will continue to use the medicine, as the ancestors shift beneath the soil and their souls continue to fertilize our collective harvest. I will bend over blank pages as if in prayer, devoted to my continued unraveling, to my transcribing the murmurs of the ages through the strokes of my pen.

I See the Light!

With the cracking open of a brand new date book and 2015 receding into the gloppiness of an increasingly distant past…I am renewed. I have trudged through the bloodstained battlefields of early motherhood and I have survived, goddammit! I am stepping into the light of a glorious new existence, enwrapped in the translucent armor of post-postpartum strength and sanity.

I was completely clueless going into this. If I had known what the first two years would be like, I might not have signed up–knowing that the only exit clause was giving my daughter up for adoption, or abandoning her on a doorstep. And that, of course, was unthinkable. No matter how excruciating the sleep deprivation and loss of autonomy and freedom got, I was in it for life. And the more consecutive days without adequate rest I made it through, the more invincible I became in my mind. And that’s the key really: that it’s all in our minds to begin with. Our perception of reality determines how our lives will take shape. We create our own realities from day to day, and it’s a constant choice, how we choose to view the world. That piece of knowledge is both liberating and scary as hell. It gives us complete responsibility for our existence. No more blaming our mothers or our daughters or our inner critics even for sabotaging our selfhood.

Speaking of the inner critic…oooh boy, have I ever gotten to know her. I even gave her a name recently, and drew a picture of her: Skragoola. Such a haggard, tortured, crazy-haired creature is she. And, before she consistently got free reign to rear her ugly head so forcefully during my bouts of postpartum anxiety, she was but a constant buzz in the background. But she was there, sending messages to reel myself in, stay calm and controlled, small and safe. To disappear, essentially. I realized that I’ve lived most of my life wanting to blend in to the complacent, numbly nodding crowds.

There’s no fun in that. Inara turns two on Saturday, and my own inner tantrumy toddler is kicking and screaming her way back to life. The defiant wild-eyed girl who shouts “no!!” in the face of authority, just for the sake of defying authority. Yes, her. She’s back…and I’m choosing to put a leash on her. Not to hold her back, but to let her undiluted, pure force take me for a ride. She’s taking me back to that inner questioning of why rules exist, what’s the sense in propriety, what if all the beliefs we’ve been living by are a crock of shit. What if, on some very basic level, we’ve had it all wrong since we could first form thoughts? What if the messages we’ve received since we were infants were intrinsically f-‘ed up?

Then that shatters the mirror we’ve created as reality, and we’re stripped to the core. We’re naked and crawling again, looking for guidance and something to identify with for our sense of self. So this is where the exciting part comes in. In becoming parents, we are given an opportunity to completely reshape our reality, and ourselves. The struggles of the first years of parenthood–being in survival mode for so long, learning to completely reorganize and reprioritize our lives, learning to put self-care first while putting ourselves aside to care for our children (how is this possible?)–make us reevaluate what’s important, what’s vital to our being, and what has to go the f*** away. All the baggage, the inner demons, the hurting parts, the misconstrued identities, the programming from our childhoods…anything that doesn’t fit with who we are now, the brightest, most essential version of our selves, anything that gets in the way of our being the best parents we can be…just must go.

But it’s not always that simple. Like what about the inner two year old who was taught to stifle her self-expression? These bits and pieces that come up for healing need our love. We’re given this chance to remother ourselves. Whatever we lacked as children, we can now give back to ourselves. How? First of all, I’ve stopped turning my back on and running away from what’s hurting. I’m sitting down with it, embracing it, holding it tenderly as I would my own crying daughter. I am accepting her not as shameful and invalid, but as important and deserving of attention.

This is the blessing. And I anticipate so it will follow as Inara grows. I’ll have a chance to heal all the different wounds from my various stages in life that coincide with Inara’s development. I will keep unfolding out of and into myself. This gentle blossoming of my soul as I nurture all these different, delicate buds that never got to open. It’s big work. But it’s so damn worth it. For ourselves, for our children…for the world. We get to become whole again, so that we can do the work we’re here to do.

On Insomnia and Insanity

When I used to go out to Burner parties in Chicago, and was still spinning on the dance floor at 3 a.m. surrounded by hundreds of people doing the same thing, I thought I knew the night crawler. We were the ones who defied any possibility of a pre-noon Sunday wake-up time, creatures of the pitchest of black witching hour. We were the warriors who wore feathers in our hair and walked the streets in the dead of winter to catch the bus home at dawn.

Fast-forward about three years. Warrior of the night? I didn’t know shit about what that meant back when I had whiskey Cokes buzzing through my brain at the Freakeasy. The true warriors are the ones turning over in bed and whipping out a booby, or treading ruts into carpeting pacing back and forth in living rooms with babies in their aching arms, or looking pleadingly at the bottle of teething tablets, hoping for the magic remedy to soothe their babies’ pain. Sleep, for more than four hours at a time, becomes an unheard-of, deeply longed-for, luxury for these people…the moms and dads to not just newborns, but babies of many ages and stages who are stretching and shifting and neurologically leaping at the most inconvenient hours.

I have been severely sleep-deprived since third trimester. That’s going on a year and a half now. And through the many sleepless nights, and the days that slid by in a blur that left me scratching my head when Inara turned one a few weeks ago…I reached a point where I was functioning, somehow, but just barely. Much of this first year of Inara’s life I was in survival mode. And at several crucial moments along the way, I lost my mind. I was, I swear, skirting the edge of insanity at times. I started to understand why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.

One morning, I was lying in bed with a list of therapists in my hand contemplating going on medication (which I swore I would stay away from), and something told me to wait it out, that I was getting to the bottom of something big, or the bottom was falling out from something that just had to go. But something else told me that I was completely losing my marbles, and it was terrifying. The notion that I was losing control, losing my grip on reality, moving forward on a loopy, slippery road with no steering wheel and no brakes, had me reeling.

But that’s just it. I was out of control…and starting to understand that control is an illusion. As is reality. Reality shifts from minute to minute, depending on our perspective. One day I was feeling great and absolutely enamored of my baby and the sun was bouncing off of everything in the shiniest, happiest way. The next I had tumbled into another crevasse, and a new goblin had crept out of another crevice of my shadow self. My hormones were still in upheaval, my adrenals were in overdrive, and no rest was to be found.

This is the gift and the curse of the postpartum mama. It’s easy to drift between worlds, and the subconscious is so readily accessible, the veil thinned, because we haven’t had the sleep we need and our defenses are down. We are raw, tender, vulnerable. We often feel shamefully weak. But I argue that it takes so, so much strength and courage to come through this period, to sit still with your baby while she naps on your chest and you feel like weeping because it’s all too much, or running because you haven’t since she was born, or escaping to the Caribbean because wouldn’t a tropical drink on a beach be so much easier right now? And you stick with it. Because you have no choice. This baby needs you. And for the first time in your life, you have to show up for yourself, and take care of yourself so that you’re able to take care of your baby, in a way you never have before. You see that being selfish at this point is survival, and you get in touch with what you really need, and you reach out for support to strangers, and you make new friends with people with whom you thought you’d have nothing in common, but who have children and who get it. And you savor those glimmers…the glint in your baby’s smiling eyes as she triumphantly stumbles into your arms. The squeal of delight as she discovers she can get a morsel of food from her chin with her tongue. Her murmurs of “mama” as she reaches for you in the middle of the night (nothing has ever sounded sweeter). And then it doesn’t matter so much, that you are up again at 3 a.m., and there’s no dance party involved. It’s just you and your babe in the dark, breathing quietly together for a few heartbeats in time, before she rolls over and sighs in sleepy satisfaction.