I’m feeling an emergence from the cocoon of this season, with wet wings and renewed sparkle.
The dark night can feel like death, but I suppose I’m here, in part, to prove that it isn’t, always. And to be honest about the fact that it sometimes feels like it might be, and about the overwhelm we so often fail to acknowledge, even though a mighty mass of us are swimming in some configuration of it.
Quarantine and its facets have unearthed much that is raw here under this roof and these feet, aspects of which have bloodied my hands and heart.
Great losses have pierced these months, with the most recent being the passing of my sweet grandmother, MaMa. Described for years as the most loving woman I’ve known, she is the measure that comes to mind when I’ve felt—especially as a mother—that I may stretch to the point of fracture.
Raising eight children in the Appalachia of West Virginia and living off of her own garden and livestock, her softness was punctuated by humble strength untold. Her matriarchal spirit guides and covers. As she was laid to rest, a breath of life ignited a new chapter within me.
This is the story of a death. And of another death—which somehow equals life.
As I shared with my partner that my grandmother was passing, I noticed an odd pull within our dynamic. The distance he kept was baffling to me and stirred the neurosis that had developed throughout our tumultuous, passionate, inconsistent relationship.
I clearly recall the moment I knew all hope was lost, when I told him that he was the only person in my life who could just hug me, hold me, and let me cry. I could not expect this from my children, and I had centered much of my life around him, even more so over these isolated months. He stood, military style, with his hands behind his back and his chest out, staring at me with an indescribable smirk that broke something loose within me.
I realized in that moment that he actually found pleasure in my suffering. I also realized that I could no longer unknow what I now knew.
It’s hard to trust when you know that you can’t trust.
I had been living in a chaotic state of spinning, attempting to support transformation and therapy, holding to the bond we had formed in the midst of a multitude of transgressions. A soul tie. Trauma bonding. The buzz words. But there was what I believed to be true intimacy, and I was shocked and pierced by this hostility.
I mourned the loss of my MaMa without hugs, alongside the loss of this man to whom I had gifted my heart—alongside the loss of hope that change was possible and that the treasures embedded within our connection could be salvaged, alongside…years. An old agreement kept rising to the surface, that I finally called out: “You will always be essentially alone in this world.”
I had carried this false truth like an armor over my heart. Not enough. Too much. Echoes of his words through the years: “Your whole life is drama.” “You are a handful, baby.” “You can reach out to me if you need something, but I know you wouldn’t even if your life depended on it.” These messages came in the midst of apologies and love bombing and promises and false hopes. It was all rather exhausting.
My thousands of requests for gentle presence had left me here, in a pit of despair. And I realized, strikingly, that I had been telling him, “I need tenderness!” while refusing to offer it to myself.
That day, I repented. I turned. I changed. I have been crawling around like a naked hermit crab, freshly molted and without a shell. The old had to crack to allow the emergence of growth. A new wineskin, perhaps. I realized that I had made this agreement years ago and that it is factually false in my life. I’m surrounded by beautiful souls who have invested in me, and I in them—a recognition of depth and sweetness and compassion and joy and pain. The whole rainbow.
I broke that agreement, and this is the declaration of my truth.
These months will be a time of reflection, of asking hard questions and allowing space for answers that hurt my ego and feed my soul. Inquiring of those who really know me, where do you see a need for growth? How can we most fruitfully hold space for one another?
The first two lessons that washed over me, rather instantly once that door flew open, were these:
1. Reach in.
2. Reach out.
Just like the breath.
No one can do my work for me. Therefore, no one on this earth can mend my heart other than my sweet and fiery self. If I do not make my own healing a priority, it will continue to get lost in the shuffle. Resentments will continue to build. My heart will harden, and my body will scream and cry even more loudly at these unmet needs.
A dear man, Stephen, who blesses my life through somatic therapy and acupuncture, reminded me that my points of pain are guarding my heart. The aching is the need for safety and nurturing. Sometimes I’m slow to listen (as in slow, slow), but I am choosing to change that and be present with myself first.
I rather love my presence. And I will relish this season of nourishing my heart and soul.
More than a couple of people in my life have pointed out that my independence has been detrimental to my own health as well as the health of my relationships. Ouch. And, thank you.
When I was sitting in the loneliness of a rejection beyond what I could wrap my mind around on the day of my MaMa’s funeral, crying in my car in pain—physical and emotional—all the way home from his place, I wrestled fiercely with the dichotomy of my knowing that there was nothing remaining and the draw within me to just be held. It is a wildly crazy-making place to be in relationship that walks that not-so-thin line of disdain and idealization.
Pacing in this pain, like a wounded animal, I wept. And wept. And wept, for a few days. And in that weeping, I did a brave, newish thing: I called upon my tribe. And they showed up. One of my forever loves said to me, “Jess, you know that I would have driven to you and held you on my lap as you cried. You just had to ask.”
I’m finally learning this simple, hard lesson. And enacting it.
The road ahead will be a kaleidoscope. My congruity is returning, and it is singing to me a new song. Banners of hope, and life-granting quiet and joy, are flying over this household in gifts that come serendipitously.
Such as this lightning bolt:
“I remember that ache in my belly. I used to think it was for another person, but now I see I was aching to come home to myself.” (Thank you, dear Kate Force: you beautiful storm of a being.)
As I was hopping out of the shower a couple of days ago, I caught my reflection in the mirror.
Then this light, this voice:
“That is a beautiful woman.”
Not talking pretty. Talking beauty.
The kind of woman I want in my corner.
It’s about time I devote my life to living like it.
And P.S.—since I’m embracing my identity as a wise woman, I will no longer be answering to “Baby.”