This is what 40-ish years of friendship looks like!
But what do I see? In my vanity, I see me. I see pudgy fingers, too full face-chin-neck, an oversize sweatshirt stretched over the too round belly. I see fluffy white old lady hair. This is not the me I want to see. This me doesn't look like... me.
Little N picks on me mercilessly about my current weight and size. He calls me "fatty" and criticizes my too big butt. His father, L, didn't talk to me exactly that way, but he, too, made it clear to me that I didn't look the way that he wanted me to. According to him, and to Little N, I used to be beautiful. I must complete an ambitious series of changes in a short amount of time in order to be beautiful... and worthy, and not teased or criticized, and good enough, again.
Usually I can resist the harsh criticism of my appearance. I can say back that I'm working on my health and that human bodies change with age. I can tell myself that the ideal they are comparing me to is a societal norm and unrealistic. But then I see a photo of myself and I'm startled and sad to see what I've become.
I don't like how I look.
I don't need to look young. Right? I need to look like me. So what does "me" look like at 40+? What do I want my physical appearance to convey to my partner, my friends, my critics, and everyone else about myself?
I want to exude qualities like: capable, competent, strong, smart, creative, present, attentive, real, genuine. Translating these things into cultural or societal parlance is tricky. Because so often they are only seen as young and thin. I'm not getting younger. I may get thinner but I doubt I'll ever be thin again. So how and where do I, as me, show up?
There's another piece to this besides how I look. I'm 43 and a half. My father was 44 when he died. So I've set myself a goal of practicing good health habits in such as way that they're my baseline lifestyle by 44. Roughly six months to adopt all the good information I've learned from the naturopath and therapist and make it mine. Make it me. Six months to transform my body inside and out.
It took years for my body to take on its current appearance. Years of struggling with an unsupportive spouse. Working dead end jobs. Wrestling with my mental health. Comforting myself with food. Flailing in the absence of the skills and information necessary to make my body healthy.
So I don't expect six months to return me to a lithe 120-ish pound size four with a lustrous bob and stylish clothes. I do expect to improve my bloodwork for sugars and cholesterol. Shed a few pounds. Drop a size (or two...). Decrease my windedness. Increase my stamina. Live a more active lifestyle. And generally feel more like me.
My hope is that when I feel more like me, then I'll look more like me. A makeover from the inside out. Where the inside is more important and urgent, and the outside is granted patience and grace. From me, to me.
I haven't been writing here in a regular way for ages. Real life occupies my mind, time, and energy so much. Here's what I'm doing now:
What is my problem!? I wondered, from the midst of a low day. I scribbled my way through it, through the lens of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
My "problem" isn't my brain - at least, not in the same way as - my emotions. Big. Overwhelming. In-My-Body feelings. And in response to those big feelings I do something. Usually something unhealthy, or in DBT-speak, something Ineffective.
It's Ineffective because it blocks my route to my Goals. My Goals come from my Values. Although... these days it feels like my Goals are being adopted and incorporated from the naturopath and my dismal health numbers. It feels a little backwards. My Goals are actually determining my Values. They're good Values - Health, Longevity, Fitness. They just didn't start in me.
Priorities and Values can change with time and circumstances and new or renewed insights. For a long time, with L, my Value was survival. While at my last job it became Interpersonal Effectiveness. That continues in my current position, though I have some mastery of it now, relying on my good manners plus prompt response time. But the Naturopath and my numbers indicate that my Value needs to be Physical Health.
I've never been an athlete. And it's a very long time - 15 years or more? - since I felt strongly connected to my body. I do experience my strong emotions in my body. But then I tend to do something external to try and change how I feel emotionally. Eat. Smoke. Watch TV.
Mindfulness, I guess, is the tool or skill for acknowledging the big emotions in my body, then letting them pass, while I remain present in my body. In my senses and physical sensations. The Wise Mind process is how I sort out what's going on and choose actions that are Effective for body and emotions. Effective for my Value of physical health.
And... this scribble suggests... my Value of Emotional Integrity...
I thought about calling this post "part 1... of infinity" because I think that there are that many opportunities to catch a glimpse of and understand self-care. Because I think that there is that great of a spectrum of what self-care means. For now, I'm starting with what I'm learning in therapy sessions, naturopath visits, and my inconsistent, fumbling practice to take care of myself.
For a long time, I believed that this is what self-care looked like - the gentle drowsing in a hammock. Decompression. Rest. Recovery from the work-week or workday. Checking out from responsibilities, roles, and relationships.
I still maintain that going slow, for me, is part of self-care. And... my work with the naturopath tuned my ears to hear something else. Self-care is also doing the good, even challenging, stuff that I don't feel like doing. It's taking action now, and again, and keeping it up, using my calendar, smartphone, gold star stickers, rewards-along-the-way, falling-off-the-wagon-&-getting-up-again to develop the healthy habits that care for my body, mind, and heart.
Weekly sessions with my new counselor harmonized with the naturopath's voice in my head. My counselor calls it, "a life worth living." It's a concept I've been toying with for years. I even own a book titled Creating a Life Worth Living. I've been moving this book into every new apartment, setting it on the shelf, staring at the title, and not reading it. I so want a life worth living. I haven't any faith that I can have it nor imagination of what it looks like.
Until, maybe, now.
When my counselor talks about a "life worth living" he's referring to a life that embodies my values. He points to "self-validating" actions that make me feel good just for doing something that embodies or reinforces one of my values. Then he requires that I get concrete in my answers as to what those values and actions are.
For example, I was recently diagnosed with "metabolic syndrome." It's the All-American coexistence of truncal obesity, high cholesterol, borderline high blood pressure, and pre-diabetic levels of blood sugar. I'm a stroke waiting to happen. It's discouraging. But! I value health, vitality, active longevity. So! I commit to and practice the new habits that align my body with my value. That means taking on some challenging and occasionally boring new behaviors that I don't always (or maybe ever) feel like doing. In fact, right now, at the starting point, they feel like more work and not like the lounge-y self-care of my daydreams.
Fortunately, I have a smart, supportive care team - the naturopath, the counselor, a nutritionist, and even my son and my ex-husband. Together, these folks provide me with the information, accountability, and motivation to get my actions in line with my value. With their help, I'm exercising to a sweaty degree, refining my diet to cut sugar and increase fiber and nutrition, drinking gallons of water, and generally incorporating daily habits that demonstrate and embody the value of my health.
Today, it's a heavy lift. Change is hard. Change that requires me to plan and adopt new activities within my limited schedule - feels impossible. I'm already worn out, how can I possibly be expected to plan meals, cook new recipes, log a food diary, work out... and not reward/appease myself with sweet treats and vegging out! How can I truly care for myself and inhabit a life worth living if I don't make these changes? I dust off my calendar and find the time to take care of myself in new ways. I practice mindful breathing during my bus commute. I prepare and pack healthy meals to eat at the office. I pull on my gym clothes as soon as I get home and start moving along to the work-out video that makes me sweat heavily and laugh at myself, too.
Change isn't just repopulating my schedule with healthy activities. It's also reassigning value to different things in my mind. What's a sweet treat in the post-sugar lifestyle? What's relaxing after raising my heart rate to a beet-red-face level? These are new delights to discover and enjoy. Even the idea of work as self-care is a new idea for me to unpack and understand. And that illuminates other areas of my life and other values I say are important to me: creativity and play, connection and compassion, community and service...
I still love the feeling of being held in a gently swaying hammock. Maybe in six months (or two years...) I'll love the feeling of a hot work-out after a day at the office. For now, I'm clumsily, reluctantly, grateful to my care providers for the gift of a new-to-me way of doing self-care.
I resumed treatment with the Kind Naturopaths several months ago and I just received back some lab work on my blood. It’s not good. I’m nearly diabetic and have ridiculously high cholesterol. Like, one of the categories could not be calculated it was so high. That news, through the lens of my family’s history (Dad losing his fight with heart disease at the age of 44), felt like a death sentence. My mortality jeering in my face, demanding that I respond.
I’ve been struggling with making changes to my eating and physical movement habits for a few years. A one baby-step forward, two giant-steps back kind of struggle. I’m an emotional eater who comforts herself with food and lounging on the couch or buried under my covers in bed. And while I’m getting better at feeling my feels it’s not happening quickly enough for my physical health.
I expect that lots of American women are in this place. Life is hard and I don’t imagine that I’m so unique. But the numbers tell me that I’d better get unique when it comes to making big changes for my whole health, my whole life. My son’s life with his mother.
It’s a lot terrifying and a little bit exciting to take this on like a challenge. My body wants me to win. It’s giving me information that says, “Tend me and here’s how...” I’ve collected enough data to form a response. It will be a creative, mixed media type of piece applying body, mind, and heart.
Here are some of the ways that I’m working with my whole life to heal my body:
That’s where I’m at today. There are more good things to add to this list but I need to be gentle and realistic. A long list feels overwhelming and exhausting to me right now. The list is part of remembering myself, putting myself back together, with the good stuff that’s nurtured and engaged me in the past.
In this way, my blood is reminding me who I am and how I want to live. It’s a good message via a hard medium. And it’s got my full attention.
I've been away from this space for well over a year. It's been a full and challenging time. So much learning.
Learning the people of a new job. Learning to establish and hold healthy boundaries. Learning a new, much heavier, body. To love it. To take good care of it. To patiently change it into a more physically fit and cherished vessel. Learning to co-parent with L. To tend Little N with him, my most precious person with the person I least want to share my life with. And there's more that won't fit into one tidy post.
Old memories are rising - both painful recollections and wise encouragements from my past. The memories point to how I got here. Intimating the sources of deeply held beliefs. Recalling me to nurturing habits I once held sacred and practiced regularly. If I resume those old good habits they could carry me into and beyond this new phase of learning.
Back in November, I posted that Samhain to Imbolc would be a season of sitting still with the life that I live. Oh, but I am a wriggly little worm. Much of this dark season has been resisting the life that I live. So mundane. So uninspired. I've been looking ahead to a season of action on resolutions.
I came across the above image in my Facebook feed and it did inspire me a little. I'm thinking a lot about my health. About managing my weight, getting a grip on how I feel before reaching for food, about how I want to feel, and about the things that I enjoy, that feel meaningful, and that make me feel connected. This colorful image opens my lens on health to include all of those aspects and their interconnections. Plus, I read a quote (also in my FB feed) that basically said we overeat not because food gives us pleasure, but because it doesn't give us enough pleasure. I hunger, really, for pleasure, happiness, good relationships, a sense of the presence of the Divine, meaningful work. In the absence of these things I reach for a chai tea latte and a cheese danish and head back to my job.
This season of action prompts a long list of To Dos in order to reach for the full health that I want and need. Eating healthfully. Moving my body in a way that's enjoyable and repeatable. Playing with my son after work each night and reading to him before bed. Checking in with friends for Mama-dates and ritual. All things that I am capable of and have done before.
And - this season of action calls for discrete inactivity. Sitting. With my journal. With my life. Recalling and recounting my blessings. Perceiving the fissures in the mundane where the special and inspiring whisper through.
In addition to being a time to recall our Beloved Dead, Samhain is also referred to as the "Witches' New Year." This really works for me. I appreciate the cohesion of a year ending while the earth is going into a cold, fallow state. In fact, I see the time from Samhain to Imbolq as a period where the year is dying. When the light and the plants start to rebound in February, I perceive the new year beginning.
This year, I've approached Samhain with a mind of letting go. A whole dark cold season of letting go. A time to compost, mull, and brew. No resolutions for January 1 - they will wait for February's light.
I am letting go of my marriage as I complete final paperwork and prepare to stand before a judge for the final decree of dissolution. I've been preoccupied with doing the work of this process and the emotions have faded from my perception. In this dark season I will pause and say goodbye to married life. Lay it down, with all its expectations and disappointments. Let it rest.
I am loosing my desire to lose weight, right now!, and slowly surrendering to my emotions. I may need the entire dark season and the entire new year to learn this practice. Where in my body do I feel my feelings? How do I experience my emotions? Time to lay down the perfect body and inhabit the one I am today.
And somewhere in the back of my mind I'm wrestling with our culture's prescriptions for age and timing and worth. That by X years old one should have achieved, purchased, defined Y, Z, and Q. I'm 40. I have a job that is neither a career that defines me nor my heart's work. My job is low paid and my heart's work goes unpaid. I have a home that I rent. Purchasing a home is not in view, despite my age. I have no partner. I am mother to a young child with special needs. I am short and fat with greying hair and no make-up on my face. My life is out of sync with the culture's preferred order and significance. This year has surprised me with the realization of how much those guidelines mean to me despite how little I've consciously subscribed to them. I will lay these down, too, and sit with the life that I am living.
The promise of spring lingers in another segment of the Wheel of the Year. There will be a fresh season for incantations and invocations. Part of me very much wants to skip over the slow still dark and rush into the bustling of resolutions and new habits. But a deeper hunger rumbles, calling my attention to the value of this current season.
On Sunday afternoon my Pagan circle celebrated Mabon, the holiday of the Autumn Equinox. Mabon is the second harvest festival we recognize, this one for later crops like squash and apples. We gathered to give thanks for the light that has sustained us and the bounty of the land, and to prepare ourselves for the coming darkness and cold. Already we observe darker evenings and cooler temperatures.
This new season we are entering is referred to as the time of the Dark Mother. She is the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess. Marked by her sickle and scythe, she comes to reap what has been sown, in the land and in our lives. She has many names in many cultures including: Demeter, Inanna, Kali, Tiamet, Hecate, Nemesis, and Morrighan.
The story of Demeter and Persephone is particularly relevant to Mabon. Demeter, the goddess of grain and harvest, loses her lovely daughter Persephone to Hades, the god of the underworld. Either abducted or perhaps descending voluntarily, Persephone is resigned to six months of each year with Hades. Demeter grieves the absence of her daughter and the land is barren. That change, from lush to loss, begins at Mabon.
For our ritual, we decorated the altar with garden fresh vegetables and fruit. Bright Mums and Oak leaves stood out in a vase. We crafted candle holders from apples and placed them on the altar to note the four directions and god and goddess at the center. Our meditation focused on seasons of our lives – which season are you entering and how are you preparing for it? We used a Talking Circle to shape the individual sharing and later group discussion around our altar.
I’m entering a season of partner-less among the partnered. Now, more than ever, I feel like our culture places heavy expectations on us to have a partner. The expectation peppers our popular culture in music, television programs, and even commercials. The love-interest. The love unrequited. The love lost.
I started dating when I was 13, and while interspersed with solo phases, have usually had a partner or some love interest in my little sphere. Even in those times when there wasn’t a partner, and they were good for me once I adjusted to them, I assumed that there would be again. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve drawn some (a lot?) of my sense of worth from being partnered and possessing partner potential. Not so these days. Who wants to date an overweight, 40-year old, divorced mother of a child with special needs? The culture tells me the options aren’t good. So I look ahead and assume a long season of singleness. A season of belonging to myself. I’ve grown to like the idea. I’m choosing how to live in that season and claim it as my own.
I think it starts with treating myself as I would a good friend, in my thoughts, words, and actions. I tend my close friendships with time together, authenticity, listening, fun, sharing, patience… and so I will treat myself. It means developing personal practices for my body, mind, and spirit. It includes returning to my dreams for 2014: improved health and weight loss, feeling and expressing my emotions in healthy ways, hosting mini-retreats for women, cultivating a good divorce and co-parenting, and returning to my creativity – especially writing. It stretches to imagine new dreams of confidence, good work, and community.
So where I previously experienced loss and confusion, facing this season of living partner-less, I now feel excitement and anticipation. I am a true companion to myself. Composting the distractions, lies, and cultural hubbub, to tend something true, vibrant, and vitally my own. This is my season.
Note – The Fall Equinox has only recently been named Mabon. It received the name in the 1970s from Aidan Kelley as he wrote Crafting the Art of Magic. He deemed it a useful tool in helping modern Pagans to conceptualize Pagan religious ceremonies. This is interesting to me because it speaks to how contemporary Paganism is both an old religion of ancient myths and symbolism and a young religion that is still being created. I think about that seeming dichotomy a lot as I imagine all the little circles around the country, or around the world, gathering and recognizing the symbols and seasons of the year in their own unique ways, borrowing from the past and infusing it with their own personalities, creativity, and desires. I appreciate the malleability and personalization of this religion because it allows each person to honor Spirit in his or her life in his or her own ways.
My little pagan circle celebrated Lughnasadh/Lammas this weekend. It's the first of three harvests that we recognize as pagans. I was high priestess, for the first time!, so it was also a big deal for me and the roles I play in our group. Lughnasadh/Lammas is a crossover holiday originally celebrated by pre-Christian society and later adopted by Christians.
Lughnasadh began as a celebration of the god Lugh. He is described as a multi-talented, multi-skilled god, excelling in everything from swordsmanship and blacksmithing, to history, poetry, and harp playing. The holiday was either a recognition of his death day or that of his mother, depending on which accounts you read. It was honored with ritual games, religious ceremonies, matchmaking, legal contracts and more. The holiday also comes at the time of the first harvest, celebrating the abundance of the land and the ongoing survival of the people who depend upon it. Versions of this holiday continue with festivities in parts of Ireland today.
As Lammas, or "loaf-mass", the Christianized holiday focused more on the first fruits of the harvest. People made a loaf of bread from the early crop of grain and brought it to church to be blessed. It's rumored that the loaf was then carried home and used for magic.
In our circle, we focused our attention on the harvest aspects of the holiday. We recognized the little crops coming up in our gardens and the seasonal fruit filling our grocery stores as well as the personal growth coming to fruition in our lives and the letting go of what has not bloomed in the time span that we had hoped. For our craft, we made smudge sticks. These small bundles of healing herbs, like rosemary, lavender, and sage, bound together with cotton thread, are used as a tool for cleansing a person or a space for sacred work and connection with the Divine. We also chanted together, raising energy to send to the children at the US border in the form of compassion and courage for the journeys yet ahead of them. We closed the circle with a potluck chat about what we are harvesting in our lives, both the tangibles like fresh zucchini picked that morning and the intangibles like gratitude.
For my part, I served as high priestess for this ritual. I don't think of myself as a public, out-in-front leader, but in ritual the role is more subtle and supportive. It's about moving the group through the different pieces as the energy and attention of the people warrants. It's about holding space for folks to have time to complete a given piece and then host the transitions between pieces. So I guided the group from one focus or activity to the next. I also shared the meanings of the holiday, the attention we would be giving to it, and information about the Border Children to whom we were sending our energy and good will.
But what about my harvests at this time? I've written a bit in other posts about the dreams I'm working on in this season of my life. This holiday offers a time to reflect on where I'm at in those projects and processes. I haven't lost the weight yet, which I shrilly lament, but I am harvesting better health thanks to the Kind Naturopaths and the Beloved Therapist. I'm still working on a Good Divorce with my ex. In my view, that would look like less cranky conflict and more clear communication and agreements. We're not quite there yet - and maybe we'll never be there but always working on it. As long as we can protect Little N from the conflict and crankiness I'll be able to call it good.
I am finding my voice, again, too, a fresh harvest that I hadn't consciously planted but am grateful to find growing up through the cracks. I hear my voice becoming clearer and stronger in many places. In responding to my ex. In my journal. On this blog. Through my un/healthy habits. In our little pagan group. At my job. It requires good work for me to be able hear my own ideas, opinions, feelings, and perspective on a given experience and then give words to it out in the world. It makes a good rich harvest that I'll be tending for the rest of my life.
What about you? What are you harvesting these days?
Out of the Attic
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