Friday, March 18, 2016

Taking flight: Finding faith in the turning points

My life, lately, seems like nothing but a series of changes.  I'm not talking about little changes.  Or medium-sized changes.  I'm talking about big changes.

Regardless, I am a week and five days into two weeks off...a recovery period.  It's felt like less of a vacation and more of a period of self-study, almost.  I knew I needed this time, but I did not know how deeply I ached for it until it came.  My days are spent re-learning how to breathe, and eat, and sleep, and feel present in my body again.  There's been a lot of walking, and cleaning, and yoga, and reading.  And there's also been some migraines and letting my body sort through the crap.  My body needed this time in ways that I hope never to get to again.  I probably will, honestly, because a lot of what I realized was...I don't know so many things.  I can honestly say, though, that I have learned a lot about what I can handle (it's a lot), what I'm willing to handle (not as much as I was), boundaries (they're clearer than they were), and what I'm willing to put up with (not nearly as much as I did).  

And I also learned that I can and do stand up for myself.  I am routinely brave.  I do very hard things - regularly.  I'm actually kind of a badass.  And I kind of did a shit job of taking care of myself in the process. 

I read this article - titled "The Wisdom of Shattering" - from the "On Being" blog the other morning, and it spoke right into the achy place.  This line, in particular, spoke so exactly to me in metaphorical ways, it's as if Ms. George knows my life.  Speaking of gymnastics, she wrote: "if my body was tense as I released myself between the bars, it was less about being in flight, and more about the weight of these toxic conditions."

And that's just it, isn't it?  The fear, the tension, the anxiety -- it's not so much about being in flight.  It's about letting go of everything that is preventing us from being able to fly.  The fear so often is about the fear of letting go of what is keeping us still and stagnant, and so much less about the actual fear of flying.  For me, the fear, the tension, the anxiety, is all about the weight of the toxic conditions.  Really, flying is easy when you aren't so busy being weighed down.

Ms. George also tells the story of being 12-years-old and beginning to ponder leaving competitive gymnastics.  She recalls the moment by saying, "As I was getting up the courage to say 'enough' out loud, to begin to even imagine saying 'enough,' I was told that admitting limits is precisely how one fails."

We all have those stories, don't we?  Stories of how, just when we were going to stand our ground, the wind was knocked out of us again.  Or how, when we stood up for ourselves, we were told exactly how wrong we were, and were made to feel so small. 

There is a difference between saying "I cannot do this anymore" and "I choose not to do this anymore." The difference, I think, has to do ones ability to see oneself in the after. 

Admitting limits -- to say "I cannot do this anymore" or "I don't think I can withstand this situation any longer" -- there is a weight to that, and a lack of imagination as to what can come when the intolerable situation has passed.  There is a heaviness that holds you still within the stuck point.

To embrace the limit, say, instead, "I am choosing not to do this anymore."  "This situation is no longer tolerable to me"--it releases the stuck point, triggers the imagination, and frees the flight.  Then, the conversation is no longer about the weight of the toxic conditions.  It is about flying.  


And, of course, there is also this (emphasis mine):

But I wonder if, at some point, letting ourselves shatter could be our bravest act.  Can a moment of giving up be that sacred turning point if we infuse it with faith?  When we acknowledge that we have feelings, that we have limits, that we don't have to be superhuman, that sometimes we experience things that do, indeed, for the time being, gut our capacity to go on -- can these moments of recognizing our pain and limits be our most courageous ones?

And oh -- how I love that question: "Can a moment of giving up be that sacred turning point if we infuse it with faith?"  Because, for many, many reasons, my past few months have felt like they have relied on faith.  Giving up, changing gears, imagining new possibilities -- and those moments between the bars, when I was not sure there was another bar for me to catch hold of -- those moments were so infused with anxiety, and fear, and self-doubt, and self-incrimination.  What if, instead, I had let that moment of shattering be a moment of bravery?  What if, instead, I had infused those moments with faith?

So for the past...long time, my body has been saying "you need to go back to yoga."  And I didn't.  Because I was so stressed, and anxious, and such a hot mess I couldn't even make myself eat or sleep.  Who the hell has time for yoga when they're not even eating or sleeping?  Not I.  I was too busy being a hot mess to go to yoga.  (Did I mention that I have a lot to learn?).

So this week, I decided I was done with the excuses, even though my body and I are just barely on speaking terms.  I went on Monday, and I went on Wednesday, and I had a moment -- particularly on Wednesday -- of just shattering.  Allowing myself to be in my body and meet myself, with all of the things I have been running from -- allowing myself to just breathe with the faith that I would continue breathing and that I would not shatter forever. 

You know, I want to make it sound nice for you here.  I want to make it sound like, "I did it.  I fell apart, there, on my yoga mat, and let my body shake and work through the crap, and I felt this beautiful infusion of faith, and it was a beautiful and lovely and holy moment of being wholly broken and holy broken as I allowed my larger, loving self to expand into the cracks."

And maybe that's what happened. 

Or maybe what happened was that I was courageous and vulnerable enough to land in my body and feel the way that my heart is hurting and scared.  Maybe this meeting of myself temporarily gutted my capacity to go on -- and yet, I did.  I do.  In this powerful imagining of so many afters, I focus myself on breathing, and on infusing myself with love in the turning points.

In that, perhaps, is the place from which I take flight.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Attempts at Feminism: A Series of Missteps

(Trigger warning: sexual assault)

Attempts at Feminism: A Series of Missteps

When the hair stylist is washing my hair, she asks me if the proposed cut has been approved
by my man. 
I ask "what" so many times, she changes her wording.
"Do you have a man, or are you trying to get one?" she asks.
"Woman," I say, quietly, inaudible under the running water.
"What?" she asks.
"Hmmm?" I say.
We fall into silence.
She quietly lathers my hair. 

I tell my boss I am going to the conference based in feminist psychology
because I believe it essential to my understanding of
power, privilege, oppression, social justice, public policy, activism...
and she laughs.
I watch the only black woman in the room get told,
"I understood what everyone was saying until you started speaking."
Meanwhile, our white, male boss hides cameras in the ceiling
and no one says a word.
Meanwhile, a client tells me she doesn't want those people around her son --
and I tell my boss I'm gay, so this conflict poses a problem.
She asks me to consider what would happen if the newspaper 
found out the institution has gay employees,
wonders aloud if the institute would support me,
or if somehow
my job could be on the line.
It has taken 7 months
and a new job to poem that.
There is fear
living in those words.

It's March.
A month when, already,
the smell of rain and
unseasonably warm days leave memories of
fingerprints blossoming purple like crocus around my arm.
My words come slow and
uneasy.  This week, I bite my lip.
It bleeds,
and I can smell him.
March brings a heaviness in my body that is not physical
or spiritual
but is just a thing that lives with me these days
so familiar
I could cradle it
if I loved it enough.
But I don't.

My mother gave my father a collection of every Cosby Show DVD for Christmas.
She said, "I just don't believe the man is guilty,"
told me I was "too sensitive" when I tried to argue,
and countered that I didn't understand because I
"didn't grow up watching the show."
My father then presented four rape alarms he had wrapped as he has
every year since the year I was raped.
My two sisters, mother and I open them under the tree between the
new pajamas and Amazon gift cards,
and I now
have five fucking key chain rape alarms
and an admonishment to "use them,
but don't rely on them and put yourself
in dangerous situations."
We've never had a conversation about what happened,
but when I hold the alarm between my fingers
as I walk to my car at night
I think, this.
This must be
what love feels like.