Lemonade Pt 3: the longest night.
It sure is an interesting time to be a woman. I bet every generation says that, but when smashing the patriarchy and slaying become standard vernacular for the average thirteen year old girl, it's obvious that something big is happening.
I'm the byproduct of war. Of generations of internal and external battle, so the idea of smashing anything reinforces a narrative to me around fear and violence. But endorsing the alternative wouldn't be as powerful a change agent, and I get that. We have a lot to fight for right now. If Beyonce had written, "I nap, hey I nap, you should nap, let's all nap" and shot a video all curled up in her pajamas, it wouldn't have gotten anyone's attention (though I'm sure she slayed some serious naps while she was pregnant with twins).
You don't get bumped to warrior goddess status by writing about the realness of adrenal exhaustion or how bad we all need self-care, things relevant in smashing patriarchy but not as impressive as, say, smashing windshields.
So today I woke up thinking, "How do I slay?" I have mad for respect for Queen Bey, but I'm not the Amazon she is. I'm sensitive and cry easily. I worry more than I used to and have to work at relaxing. I've spent a lot of time on my knees praying (which rhymes with slaying) and bowing to uncontrollable circumstances. In fact I can't recall a more humbling period of life, maybe ever.
This year it became obvious that saying I got this wasn't serving me anymore, and I would have to let people in, accept help, and embrace things that don't fit the strong woman archetype.
Maybe because society confuses vulnerability with weakness and stoicism with strength, admitting we don't got this is one of the biggest spiritual challenges we face as women. I've spent too much time comparing myself to other people, wishing I could handle things differently when I'm actually doing the best I can with the tools I have. I've inherited some not-so-great beliefs about self sufficiency and what it means to be "strong." I'm ready to let go. Instead of keeping up appearances, I'd rather be keeping it real.
So that's it. Fierce self compassion and humbling honesty is how I slayed 2017. Sometimes gracefully, but mostly in a state of awkward discomfort, I accept who I am when I'm not constructing a public image or branding myself as this or that. I listen to my body. I'm receptive. I ask for help.
"Life is uncertainty. Life is change. Life is growth. So I came to know that I did not know. The twist is that once I surrendered 'knowing', I was free to enjoy what life presented. And I learned to trust more and more the process of life." -Catherine Ann Jones
As always, my clients have been some of my greatest teachers, and I've been blessed with very wise, very brave women asking for support, wanting to get real. Women who struggle with vulnerability just like I do. Women who are bone tired but still manage to show up and do the thing day after day. I've listened and learned so much from your stories, taking it all to heart, and I feel humbled by the trust you've placed in me.
Our world is going through such an enormous paradigm shift, replete with the turbulence and trauma that all massive change pushes to the surface. We are at the crossroads, releasing the old, birthing the new, figuring out what we want to carry over and filing it all into context while it's happening. Patriarchy wounds all of us by de-sensitizing and robbing us of our softness. If you have the energy and the gumption, then by all means... go out there and slay like an Orisha. But don't confuse slaying with betraying your intuitive, emotional, and life-affirming feminine nature.
This morning the sun moved into Capricorn, marking the first day of winter. The rebirth of our sun on the Winter Solstice is symbolically my favorite time of year. A time of restored hope and deepened faith that everything comes back around, darkness doesn't last, and life is a great big spiral.
Capricorn brings much appreciated stability. While the sun is in the archetype of the engineer, we can use this time to draw up juicy plans for the spring. But first...
Catch up on some rest.
And remember that you are the gift. May the warmth of my heart join yours on this longest, darkest night.
The context of things.
Life is rife with existential dilemma. No one really knows what's going on here, but we go about our business as though we do. We ignore the fact that we are floating in space, held together by unseen forces, animated by energies that we label yet don't comprehend beyond our limited powers of reason and observation. I mean, what the actual fuck is happening?
Our eyes open after a period of deathlike repose where we do something called dreaming. Science boils it down to nonsensical brain activity, but shamans think otherwise. They understand the non-duality of existence. Have you ever smelled something in a dream... felt something as though it were touching your skin or woken up in tears?
Our brain diligently registers and compartmentalizes every single thing we experience. The maddeningly loud drip of a leaky faucet. The emotional tone of a text message. The bitterness of a rancid walnut.
Functioning in this paradox of constant uncertainty we learn to rely on the finite nature of things. Experience teaches us that every sensation has a beginning and an end, that life goes on despite a precarious balance of odds.
This summer I took a trip to visit family that answered many important questions about my health, specifically in terms of genetics. The trip made it abundantly clear that I come from a long line of neurotics, and I say this with the utmost tenderness. Imagine an entire culture recovering from generations of war and genocide. From the sadistic witch trials of the middle ages to the unimaginable horror of the second World War. I love a lot of things about German culture. The cheesecake. Impeccably efficient infrastructure. Milli Vanilli. But beyond the happy color schemes, neatly tended window boxes, and the milkiest chocolate on earth, there is a darkness.
On my trip I went to the village where my grandmother retreated with her children while her husband was at war, and in case you are wondering, he, like most civilians, was forced into military service and not a supporter of Hitler. There was no voluntary enlisting for poor folk back then. You were a man so you went to war, the end.
During air raids over the village they all hid inside of a bunker- essentially a man-made cave no bigger than the entrance to a house where one might find a butler and a coatrack. Small, dark, narrow, and covered with tree branches for camouflage. It was here they would pile, waiting for hours at a time, as bombs raped the surface of their fields. One of my mother's earliest memories was watching a cow being blown to shreds as it stepped onto a landmine. She was sent out to beg for eggs, butter and milk with her great grandmother, Oma, who was said to keep stale pieces of bread hidden in her apron for her great grandchildren. Upon hearing the explosion, Oma fell down, her face covered in gravel and blood, as my mother stood in terror. My mother remembers this as though it happened yesterday, and even now, almost 70 years later, will freeze at any unexpected sound.
Needless to say, my experience was humbling and gifted me with a new sense of compassion, and traced back to their original context, the behaviors and rituals I grew up resenting suddenly took on new meaning.
"Remember that to remain stuck is to believe that the past is more powerful than the present. It isn't." -Catherine Ann Jones
Before leaving, my therapist reminded me to practice curiosity and welcome the intuition of the moment rather than default to my old pattern of hyper-vigilance. Easier said than done, but I managed to stay mindful whenever anxiety (mine or someone else's) began to rattle my sense of equanimity. She also sent me off with an aromatherapy necklace, which I found immensely helpful. As soon as I arrived in Frankfurt I found an apothecary where I bought an ounce of therapeutic grade essential oil. When the energy in the room became overwhelming (after all, I am an empath and I feel other people's energy as though it were my own) I would lift it up to my nose and inhale. It's amazing how pheromones can trigger old neural pathways. And how a small piece of cotton soaked in Swiss Pine combined with slow breathing is enough to interrupt any pattern.
All the women in my family have some degree of anxiety disorder, and most of them suffer from one chronic auto-immune disease or another. Come to think of it, most of the women I know suffer from low-grade chronic anxiety. Some are on prescription medication, and the ones who aren't are either white knuckling it or using alcohol, marijuana, sex, work, or even their children as alternate coping mechanisms. Alcoholism, addiction, incest, physical or emotional abuse, or some other on-going trauma, and according to recent findings the odds of developing an auto-immune disease by the time they reach the age of 45 is staggeringly high.
When healing from complex trauma, the goal is to support the nervous system while it learns to file things into proper context. This process does not happen overnight because damage to the pre-frontal cortex of the brain (where our emotional center organizes and evaluates information through our senses) takes a really long time to heal. Meanwhile, a noise that someone else tunes out keeps you from being able to concentrate or hold a conversation. Because you're wired like a cat your body remains in high alert until your nervous system gives clearance which might take seconds or days. And when you don't function the way other people function, the stress and fear of being defective can stall progress.
Maybe the hardest thing about healing from trauma is not being taken seriously by those who don't understand or who don't want to be reminded of their own vulnerability. Being shamed for a process that you have no control over because it's rooted in neurochemistry is one of the hardest, and most common, things people go through. Often, the very people who use shaming tactics are the ones who passed these traumas down to us. Our families.
Growing up I heard, "Don't be so sensitive" more than any other phrase. And today, I can understand why. Being sensitive was a weakness that my mother, her mother, and her mother's mother could not afford. In the absence of compassion and information, the only way to get through trauma was to walk around it and never speak of it again. But sadly that thinking led to behavior that was self abusive and abusive to others.
What my ancestor's needed to survive is not what I need. And by freeing myself, I honor them.
I believe most disease is linked to genetic memory stored in our DNA- the neural software we're born with. I also believe that taking action steps to reinforce new and different perceptions, patterns, and reactions is how our cellular intelligence re-organizes itself and heals. In other words, Nancy is on to something. In my DNA lies the remnants of historically traumatic moments. Like a virus, they have the ability to remain dormant until the right cocktail of sound, smell and fear arouses them into wakefulness.
When you begin to take yourself seriously, healing begins. Trust that you won't be exploited, ridiculed, or lose credibility as the result of honoring your body's honesty. Trust that setting boundaries is sometimes the kindest, most loving thing you can do in your relationships. These are the things I hear myself telling people healing from adrenal fatigue, complex trauma, and general life weariness.
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