“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” -Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I’ve shied away from this blog for a while. The summer of 2016 has been one of the hardest, messiest and yet most enlightening periods of my life thus far. I’ve struggled with what to share with whom and when. I’ve sat with waves of raw, real, sticky emotions that felt nearly unbearable. I’ve cried all the tears my body could seemingly produce. I’ve reached out and received the most tender support. I’ve reached within and discovered a grace & forgiveness I thought would never manifest. My heart muscle has been worked to exhaustion. AND YET: HERE I AM. That is the gift.
I spent my 46th birthday doing something I had planned to do solo, and subsequently threw out the window altogether as my fitness and emotional energy seemed entirely lacking for such an endeavor. 75 miles from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail, in one push. The universe gifted me with an opportunity to do it anyway, with friends. It was just what my heart and body needed.
I left buckets of sweat on that trail. Along with a few tears and a good amount of self-doubt, self-loathing, regret, fear. Hiking along an exposed ridge at 2AM, crossing a raging river over a very precarious log, hours of scree-traversing in the hot sun with no water….In these moments I asked for help. Not my favorite. The beauty of asking for help, I’ve learned, is that it cracks my heart open EVEN MORE, revealing a well of generosity that I never knew existed. Asking for help is a gift given to both the giver & the receiver. On the final sad little 2 mile section of the 75 mile journey, I was so dehydrated that my mind was creating all sorts of images in every bend of the trail. 2 miles seemed IMPOSSIBLE. To see my sweet mom running up the trail with a backpack full of water and Coke nearly made me crumple to the ground in gratitude. The concern on her face, the tender love in her eyes.
I am not alone.
Last week I began my Master’s program. Working full-time, single-parenting and earning this degree is obviously a lot to take on. In the grand scheme of life however, I am just goddamn lucky to even have the option to work this hard. I have a job. I’m able to provide for my son. I own a home in a safe and beautiful community. I am pursuing a dream I’ve held in my heart for years. I GET TO DO THIS. None of these opportunities magically emerged from the dust. I have extremely supportive parents. I have a lovingly sensitive teenage son. Friends who are wise beyond measure. My colleagues at work could not be more kind and understanding. My mom has relocated to the island to be near us. She makes my time away from home almost seamless for my son as she tends to his needs. Seriously HOW DID I GET SO LUCKY? I don’t take any of these blessings for granted. I see them as hands on my back, underneath me, gently guiding and pushing me TOWARDS MYSELF.
On July 13th, my ex-husband and father of my son, went to the ER with complaints of abdominal pain. The next day he was scheduled for major surgery to remove a mass from his colon. He was diagnosed with Stage 3b colon cancer. He is 44 years old. After a successful surgery, he has begun 6 months of chemotherapy. I have yet to hear one single word of self-pity or complaint from him. Only grace and strength. Grace IN strength.
Just a year ago, this scene above may not have occurred. Liam’s dad and I have spent the years since our divorce in 2005 moving in and out of various degrees of resentment, anger and estrangement. We barely spoke. Liam drifted further and further away from him. Something shifted in the past year. Hearts softened. We reached a common area between us where lovingkindness sat. No anger. No hate. Only forgiveness, curiosity, and an awareness of a shared past and the beautiful human being growing before our eyes. A few short months after we reconciled as friends, he got sick. I felt the universe prepared us to support him. My response to hearing of his cancer was simply a laser focus on HIM. In that moment my ego disappeared. That is love. That is family.
This little bug starts his Sophomore year in high school tomorrow. He turns 16 in 2 weeks. My heart is physically pinched each time I remember that this journey of 18 years is nearing its close. Slow down, wee thing!
One of the lessons from my MA program which I have already embraced full-on and yet feel challenged by multiple times a day is this: My ability to know myself and remain in the “here & now” will determine my effectiveness as a therapist. Authenticity, self-reflection, presence: these are my goals. My heartbreak, my challenges, my fears: these are my teachers.
“The world-changing warrior looks at the world and then she looks into her heart. And then she asks: what is it out there that breaks my heart? Each day, she runs toward her heartbreak, not away from it. And that makes all the difference. The warrior knows that her heartbreak is her map.” – Glennon Doyle Melton