I once did a language experiment that changed me in ways from which I never recovered.
I hope I never do, because the freedom on the other side is too good to discard.
I gave up trying to control what others thought of me and my life, the story they told about me to confirm what they needed to believe about themselves, the barometer of approval and disapproval. What I found was a quiet revolution inside me, strong enough to become the foundation from which to build a life I get to call my own.
It was shortly after I left an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship, the kind that twists and distorts, where doubt and fear, accusations and invasions are routine and become so familiar you almost forgot what it was like to live a day without worrying about how something would be perceived and later misrepresented, and so you have shrunk so far inside yourself that you don’t know how to recognize the sound of your own voice.
And so you finally leave.
I finally left.
Then came the aftermath, like purging poison from memory and veins.
The work of reclaiming myself and going deep into the dark to grieve the parts of myself lost and the tremors of still remembering what it was like to live so censored and small.
And so, the choice to change my language.
The experiment was this: for two months I stopped defending myself, as if my life required an explanation or apology. I would watch the compulsion surface in me, to explain because I was afraid of being misunderstood, or to offer further details as to the reasoning and why, or to give a whole big story on what I was feeling as if it wasn’t enough just to be in the presence of its passing through.
I would watch the impulse arise, which I learned was far more often than I had even imagined, and I would choose to not justify myself…which usually meant I just stopped talking.
In the quiet, I watched as the truth of my experiences and point of view, my feelings and my choices, came to take up all the space, standing still and strong in the center of a room, no longer requiring a defense and detailed reasoning.
The freedom was exhilarating, bone-deep safe and provocative in its subtly, like the small slip of skin exposed when a woman crosses her legs without saying a word. Letting go of the need to be perceived in any certain way, to achieve or maintain permission from anything outside myself, my life now belonged to me.
It turns out, I was good with who I was, and loved the woman I had been and was becoming.
After two months, there was no reason to stop because the learning was so good. So two months became two years which simply became part of my ways of doing and being. It is not exactly the same as it was those days and weeks when my ear was trained to hear the moment the fearful justification slipped from my mind and into my mouth.
Now it is simply integrated into my experience of being here human, free to live.
For you, for me, for all of us—here’s a love list for self-liberation.
These are things for which you need not explain, justify or defend.
The good ones and the ugly ones. The knotted nest ones and the simple smooth water ones. The fear like a fist in your throat and the terror that lives on the underside of the rib cage from horrors that happened a long time ago and yet never go all the way away.
The ecstatic eruption and the distancing of disappointment. The impulsive smile waking up next to her and the restlessness of not knowing what comes next. Sublime joy. Irrepressible longing. Sick skin of shame and weight of regret.
Sad that comes for no reason and finds comfort only in open roads and wide expanse of space.
Stair tumble and released wings of falling in love.feelings are a kind of language and can allow for the most aching intimacy when shared with another. But they exist as weather, coming and going, loving and leaving. and they are yours, belonging to you, not requiring a defense for the way they decided to show up on your doorstep and invite themselves inside. Fully feeling them, without demanding you explain them, is like walking out into the rain and letting it wash all over you, sinking into your cells nameless knowing.
2. Who you love and how you love.
3. What you eat.
Why you don’t eat carbs or why you chose to start eating meat again. Your love of sugar or your juice fasts, your shopping carts and your refrigerators.
The obsession with food and the fear of food has created an entire culture that feels compelled to explain to everyone around them why they are eating what they are eating or not eating, and the way their food or lack of food changed their life. but really, it’s your body and you get to decide what to put in it, for your own reasons, because it belongs to you.
4. Your “no.”
It is a complete and full sentence, all on its own.
5. Your needs.
We all have them, and sometimes it is a frightening thing, to have needs, to name needs, for fear we won’t be met and will fall into a void of intolerable absence. And yet they are the one thing that also connects us. Because though the needs may be distinct for each individual, we cannot escape their existence.
So maybe we could stop apologizing for having them, and let each other meet them.
6. The relationship you have with your child.
Parenting is hard, and sometimes it is so meaningful in its messy reality that I want everything to stop and freeze so I can sit and memorize every moment and how his hair kept falling in his face and instead of brushing it back he just kept shaking his head to the right until it tumbled off his eyes.
There are a great many ways to be with your child and to love and to make and create and sustain family. We get to send our kids to public school or unschool them, co-sleep or tuck them into their own bed at night, breast feed or bottle feed or both, have rules or no rules about screen time and cursing and barbie dolls.
We get to try things, and learn, and make mistakes and say we are sorry. We get to not know all the answers and burn all the systems and wander around feeling half way lost. We get to love them, these people we are choosing to walk through this life with connected in shared narratives and meaning made and left behind.
We don’t need to explain why we do any of things or none of things.
We can just love our kids instead.
7. Your weight.
Your weight loss, your weight gain. your number size, your curves, your muscle tight beneath skin, your thin shoulders and cup size, your wrinkles or sudden lack thereof, your jeans that no longer fit.
8. Your feminism.
9. Your body hair.
Waxing, shaving, leaving it alone to grow as it grows.
The choices as well as your body belong to you, and being asked to prove your femininity or sexuality or empowerment against the porn industry is all controlling and it’s bullshit.
There is nothing to prove.
There is just you, being you, doing what you want and what feels good.
10. Your marriage.
Your staying; your leaving.
Your hurt heart and your waves of relief.
Your questions and your coarse fear. your choice, your choice, your choice.
11. What you wear.
Your lipstick or the length of your heel or the burning of your bra.
Your men’s jeans or your inked skin or your fishnet stockings. Whatever meanings others want to project upon your presentation and performance of gender, it is not something you are required to dissect for them or defend.
12. Changing your mind.
13. Your writing.
Your words. Your art. Your expression. Your creation.
14. Your choice to have children, or not have children.
To terminate a pregnancy or carry a pregnancy to term. How you birth, Where you birth.
Who you want present at your birth.
Telling a woman what she needs to do or has to do or should do with her own body is oppression. Choosing to do as we do, make our own choices within our own values and needs, without defending or justifying those choices, is to refuse to participate in our own oppression.
15. Your personhood.
Do you feel this? How sometimes it seems we are asked to explain our very personhood, our right to be here, embodied, occupying our own space and lives. How the living can come to feel like an apology just for breathing and being.
Your personhood is irreplaceable. You matter. You matter. You matter.
16. Your expression of your own sexuality.
Who you have sex with and how you like to have sex and how often and where and in what way.
17. Why you left for two months to walk with other pilgrims.
The name you gave yourself.
What you saw on the other side of the woods that night.
18. Your want.
The taste of it and how it comes scratching at the door, slipping inside the open window like a cat coming home after prowling through the alley at night.
The unexpected rush of it, when you were just going about your day, standing there sipping your coffee in the elevator and then the door opened. The swell of it when standing by the lake, watching water blur with sky.
The shape it takes, the feel of it in our hands, palms exposed and clutched tight. The impossibility of it and the awakening. the terrible vulnerability it reveals in its shadow, how no matter what we tell ourselves we think, in the end, we want what we want. And we can choose what and where we go with it, but we don’t choose it’s presence or its substance. is anything more voluptuous or terrifying? and yet it’s here, and it’s yours, and it does not need a defense.
It just wants a witness.
19. The relationships you want to give your very limited time in this world to.
The work you’re willing to show up for no matter what, and the joy.
20. Your boundaries.
Taking time to explain yourself from love can be so very lovely. But if someone is continually asking you to explain in detail the reasons and whys of your boundaries, it’s usually an indication that they are not honoring them.
21. The second (or third, or fourth) cup of coffee.
Come back to bed with me.
22. Your past.
The choices you’ve made that brought you to here.
The regrets and the extraordinary perfection of the days you spent painting your bedroom in the summer heat, eating sweet strawberries by the carton full.
That you said yes, that you knew what you needed.
That you knew when it was complete and time to be released.
The year you spent reciting promises to yourself while practicing your back bend and every time you opened the door after you had done the deed and come away more broken but still better. The catwoman you claimed as your protector and the wolf woman whose instincts saved you and then released you to your life. the two nos and the one yes.
The storm chasing and the driving after him in a truck, screaming and cursing and the unending laughter of true loving even when you knew you were going to leave and not come back. The choices made and how your skin still has the scars that speak of your undoing. the complete and utter conviction that you would do all of it, every last moment, again, to come to right here in this moment where the first thunderstorm of the season came and shook sky and bodies, surrendered to what feels good.
23. The present.
This day. This moment. Your life.
The hard cider and the hot bath. The big X marked on the wall and the questions that just won’t leave.
The fog and the steam and the way the water rocked. The white shirt and the words that wouldn’t come.
The comfort with discomfort in not having assurances, but lavished in conviction in what is real and true and belonging to you. The stories you intertwine with the telephone pole and the fear of dependency and the clack of typewriter keys and the rose water.
How you sometimes still sing mass and you somehow forgot how many homes you’ve lived in and there are moments when you remember the very first words she ever wrote to you and you open your eyes.
More awesome from Isabel:
The Buddhist Four Reminders:
Author: Isabel Abott
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Shanon Wise at Flickr