I never really liked red roses.
They always seemed cliché. And they definitely didn’t signify love for me. Which is why it came as a surprise this year when I selected red roses in a sea of colors to purchase for myself two days before Valentine’s Day.
I remember the pseudonym my prior therapist gave me, the one who wrote a case study on me—Rose. She stated how beautiful I was inside and how I had all these thorns on the outside to protect me. Thorns that were causing me pain, thorns that were causing others pain. I vividly remember her smile, genuine compassion through her eyes, and the joy when revealing this name to me. She said she saw me as a rose that was budding, that I was beautiful, that my heart was beautiful.
I remember a parting gift from a different therapist—a rose quartz crystal. It came with a small piece of paper explaining the crystal’s properties. It symbolized self-love and calling in love.
I remember my mom’s perfume—rose. I remember despising the smell. I remember a visceral reaction, the nausea, and the headache every time I entered her car and it embodied my senses. I grew to hate the smell of roses.
My relationship with my mother was tumultuous, anger-fueled, and at times chaotic. It felt like there were infinite walls between the love my heart sought and the love her heart desperately wanted to give. That very smell at any candle shop, perfume shop, or on any person I came in contact with, was enough to send me into a tailspin of re-traumatizing myself. Every. Single. Time.
And when I would go home to visit, despite years of therapy with my mother actively doing the work to improve our relationship, too, that smell still brought me back, haunted me, corroded any feeling of healing within me or between us.
Until one day it didn’t. Healing works that way. The work is long and slow and one day you notice a shift. This shift didn’t take place overnight, but in one moment you can stop and stare in awe at how far you’ve come. An old trigger presents itself and you watch yourself unfold with different reactions. It’s a beautiful thing.
For me, the trigger would have been anything rose. And awareness of my shift occurred Christmas morning when I smiled while watching my mom beam from ear-to-ear after opening a gift from my stepfather—her favorite rose perfume. I told a story of how she had bought out the store two decades ago when she found out the perfume was going out of stock. I remembered my dad, who passed away while I was a kid, I remember he loved the way she smelled.
I remember finally becoming in touch with true intimacy, with my sensuality, hell even writing an article on Elephant Journal about it, all starting with a blindfold and a single red rose that I moved and danced along my skin. I remember the fake red roses that I felt drawn to tie around my fingers during a burlesque class last week, again becoming in touch with my true self, my sensuality, my intimacy, my own love.
Tonight, I found myself in a bathtub filled with rose petals, the very ones I bought before Valentine’s Day. I placed a few drops of rose oil in my palms, turned on a guided meditation, breathed in the scent, and closed my eyes with an eye mask on. At the edge of my feet to the left was the same rose quartz I was gifted years prior.
I breathed into my heart space, opening and closing my chest, my hands crossed on my heart. I began opening my chest cavity, bigger and bigger. Without thinking, my hands began pulling the rose petals together to make a pillow on my chest. I kept pulling and padding, pulling and padding, a weighted blanket of rose petals resting on my heart. And I think, this is where another level of healing begins.
A mother’s love, the relationship between a child and their mother are so telling of one’s potential to love oneself and love another.
We form a bond in our mother’s womb, attached by a chord, nutrients from her body make us into the living beings we are. We are sustained by the milk her breasts produce. We are kept alive by the body of our mother. And yet, so many of us have a tense, disastrous, unloving, resentful, disengaged, angry, or difficult relationship with our mothers. Can we truly love without healing this aspect?
Can we truly love without forgiving our mothers? Can we truly love ourselves or another without allowing our self to love our mother first, despite any of the ugliness and pain she may embody?
Can we love the ugliness, the pain, the trauma, the hurt, the tears, the desperation, the mere fact that a mother may never be what we wanted and what we deserved? Can we love that? And if we don’t, will true love ever find us, or will we find it?
Will we ever be able to bask in real, raw, authentic, unconditional love without taking the step of first loving whatever our mother is, or whatever our mother isn’t? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I strongly believe asking questions is far more productive than searching for all the answers.
What I do know, is that I personally have layers of healing to do surrounding the bond with my mother. My relationship with her is quite good nowadays, but there is still this pull, this barrier, this protective shield I unintentionally place around my heart.
I do believe that the strengthening of this bond, the healing of my past, and the ability to love the human that she is, the human I wish she was, the human she will never be, and the human who made mistakes is essential to my ability to accept any love into my heart, including my own.
Do I love the smell of roses now? Do I want to bathe and soak and surround myself in it? Not particularly.
In fact, I don’t care for the smell at all. But tonight, I allowed my soul to lead the way as by some trickery from the universe I found myself engulfed in all things rose.
And bit by bit this smell no longer shackles me to trauma, doesn’t give me headaches and nausea, nor reminds me of all the painful memories with my mother that I carried for so long in my bones.
As I type this, I’m still here, in the tub, with a pillow of red rose petals piled high on my chest, protecting me and easing me into a mother’s love, my love, and perhaps a partner’s future love.
After this, I plan to use a lotion massage bar. Do I even need to tell you the scent?
And with that, I feel free.