The Size of my Thighs; The Art in my Heart

tape measure

“To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.” Simone deBeuavoir

In fifth grade, I thought I was fat. One of my classmates told me I was, so it must be true. Suddenly, my geometric print leggings weren’t just unfashionable, they were now off-limits because my body didn’t deserve them.

girl mirror
“Even the models we see in magazines wish they could look like their own images.” 
― Cheri K. Erdman

To be clear, I wasn’t overweight. The script that girls are sold, though, is that you can never be quite thin enough, no matter how hard you try.

This script starts early.

When I was eleven I ordered a book from the back of Seventeen Magazine, called “The Final Solution”. It was touted as a guaranteed way to shed unwanted pounds. I wasn’t fluent enough in European history at the time to recognize the horror and terrible irony that came along with naming a diet and exercise book aimed at teens after the Nazis plan for systematic genocide.

girl barbie
“A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience.” 
― Naomi Wolf

That book was my companion well into high school. I would refer to it on occasion, whenever I was feeling particularly motivated to achieve some level of perfection, which I thought would translate to peace. Because God knew my black-only wardrobe and taste for obscure music weren’t doing me any favors in the popularity department. Maybe if I had a tight, toned, my-thighs-don’t-touch-or-jiggle figure I’d get there.

But, despite the messages to the contrary, there is no peace in the struggle for ‘perfection’.

In elementary school, I wore basically whatever I wanted. In middle school, I’d transitioned to baggy skater clothes, the better to hide my weird body with. By high school, I’d found some kind of middle ground: I could wear tighter shirts, if my pants were super baggy. I could get away with the occasional pair of belled leggings, if my shirt was three times too big for me. Because as much attention as I called to myself by wearing vinyl and spiked collars and anti-swastika patches, I still didn’t want anyone to see the way I was shaped.

sarah infrared
Me, at 20, convinced I was carrying at least 20 extra pounds.

Through these years I would try on different diets, often following in my parent’s hopeful steps. The Atkins diet was particularly memorable. I would eat hot dogs without the buns, dipped in mustard. Slices of packaged cheese. Artificially sweetened anything. Then, I would pee on a little strip of paper and hope hope hope that it turned a dark shade of red, indicating that my young and developing body had reached a state of ketosis.

 

Exercise came into my life only sporadically. My dad liked TV, my mother liked books, so even though we lived at the foot of the Pikes Peak, we weren’t an outdoorsy bunch. When I did get active, it would be alone, in my room, usually with a slender volume I pilfered from my mom’s bookshelf: Callanetics. The cover featured the middle portion of a slender woman in a leotard, with the title resting in her curves. The exercises themselves have merit; my approach to them, however, was rooted in low self-esteem and the search for a magic body bullet.

Aside from that, I didn’t play sports or go on hikes or really do much at all beyond reading and writing and (failing at) ‘rithmetic.

goth sarah
“Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” 
― Naomi Wolf

These were the same years that I learned to use my body as a commodity. Any contributions my personality could bring to a relationship paled when compared to the contribution this body could offer. Consequently, if I wasn’t hooking up with at least one guy, I didn’t consider myself worth much at all.

This method of trade immediately broke down when applied to my friendships and my intimate relationships with women. By and large, I wasn’t sleeping with the people in my friend group. And when it came to having a girlfriend, well, I was just so damn confused by the whole thing that I had no idea what to do.

Because this idea of sex as my primary value was so strong in my mind, it became incredibly difficult to navigate any relationship that wasn’t between me and a guy who wanted to sleep with me. I would occasionally have a kind of close female friend, but not often, and not for long. I would try to seduce most of my male friends from time to time. It took more than a decade after I got out of high school before I learned how to really have a friendship, no sexy strings attached. To this day, maintaining those friendships is a challenge. I still wonder what I could possibly have to offer.

cat barbieMy story is not unique. It is, in fact, distressingly common. Girls who wreak havoc on their hormones by going on unnecessary diets. Women who wonder what they’re bringing to the table, if they’re not opening their legs. Lives defined by the vehicle we were granted for this incarnation, rather than the soul it carries around. Bullying and advertisements, parents and peers and presidents, all telling us that we are only as good as our stomach is flat. Even that isn’t a winning score, though, because you’re still just a body. An object that belongs to someone else. Someone who knows what you need.

Here’s the thing: I’m a human being. All those people trying to tell me what I need? They’re human beings, too. And there is no way in hell they could be more knowledgeable about my mind, my body, and my needs than me.

So, hands off. This belly, these breasts, this smile and this heart are for me.

If I like you, a lot, maybe I’ll share.

bikini
The first bikini I’ve owned in nearly twenty years. And rocking it.

 

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The Necessity of Doubt

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/74444001@N00/
Kitty doubts Buddha. Be like Kitty.

 

“Doubt everything. Find your own light.” Gautama Buddha

 

About four years ago, in the forests outside Darrington, WA, I found God. Or maybe, God found me. I’d been searching, and, according to the Hindu proverb, when we take one step towards God, God takes seven steps towards us. I was primed. The experience of plugging into Divinity left me reeling.

I was already at least half convinced I was losing my mind, by that point. The things I was feeling (my soul shining through my bones; messages emerging from the natural world as clear as graffiti on a train car; utter dissatisfaction in all the ways I’d been living my life) were foreign and uncomfortable and challenged all of the precious philosophies and belief systems I’d so carefully cultivated.

You see, for a while there I thought I had it all figured out. I had The Answers. Not just for myself, but for everyone else, too. And as long as I lived my life by these Answers, I felt in control.

But I didn’t feel okay.

And, after a while, that sense of control left, too.

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tzutzu/
Not my real office. But, come on. Aren’t they all just…

 

I can pinpoint the day I knew I needed to change something. I was in the habit of going to work early so I could write in a quiet office, just me and my coffee. I usually got there an hour or so before my boss. On this day, I made the hour long drive to work, sat down at my desk—and suddenly found myself curled in the fetal position under my desk, hanging out with the wires and dust bunnies while sobs tore through my chest. This was not okay. And it sure as hell wasn’t the control I thought I had.

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nmaicas/It took another couple years before I started getting into the woo. You know what I mean. Crystals. Shamans. Sage bundles and deities and chanting.

God.

Or, to be more precise, fingers pointing at God.

Over the last four years, I’ve studied a number of different approaches to Spirit. I’ve come to see that in every religion, philosophy and practice, there lies an element of Truth. Christianity, for example, is absolutely drowning in layers of corruption, misrepresentation, violence, and bigotry. And yet, there is a reason beyond propaganda that it has become one of the strongest religious paths in the world. There is love, not in the dogma humankind has built around it, but in the teachings of it’s namesake, Christ.

“The church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.” —Rob Bell, author and former pastor

So, too, we can look at Islam. Once again, dogma has created a rigid set of standards that leads to violence against women, children, and those outside the faith. And, once again, once the architecture of control has been shaken from the core of this faith, the love at its core becomes clear.

“Islamism is not Islam. Islamism is the politicization of Islam, the desire to impose a version of this ancient faith over society.” —Maajid Nawaz, British activist and author.

The problem comes in, as I see it, when someone decides they know The Answers. For myself, when I had The Answers, I then felt like it was my duty—as a daughter, a friend, a sister, a concerned human being—to tell everyone. Then, when they (inevitably) began to question the veracity of my Answers, I would get defensive.

Come to think of it, I still do. Just last night I was talking with my partner about an issue we’re navigating in my community with an unsafe person, and as he was questioning some of the conclusions I’d come to (Conclusions), I began to get progressively more upset, when he was primarily just trying to understand my viewpoint better.

So. I’ve still got work to do. (Yay! That means I’m not dead!)

Doubt.

Everything.

Doubt even your own answers. Shine light on every angle and see whether it glints off with the diamond shine of truth, or if it shows the flat reflection of falsity. Ask questions. Poke holes. And don’t be afraid of other people doing the same.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/vbryant_2012/I’m not saying to attack for the sake of attacking. Rather, examine, in search for deeper answers, for more integrity, more beauty. When we stop looking, we start solidifying. Growing rigid. Moving out of the flow of the Universe.

“Great marriages have an ease about them, a back-and-forth nonreactive, nondefensive, open, and ongoing flow in which you never stop talking and figuring it out together.” —Rob Bell (again) (I am loving his work right now.)

I love this quote, but I would expand this to say great relationships show these qualities. Our relationships with each other, with ourselves and our ideas, and with the world around us.

Doubt.

Everything.

And in so doing, find your own light.

Fiction Not Fiction

the house blog 8.1
Because I couldn’t think of a better fitting picture, here is a photo of my old house, wherein the vaguely referenced events happened. Plus cats.

 

About a week ago, I set down to write a personal essay about an event that happened shortly before my then-husband asked for a divorce. The essay flowed out of me in one afternoon. It was not an easy afternoon, and the process of writing it all out, revisiting that time, left me in a bit of a daze.

 

A few days later, with the essay still bouncing around in my head, the thought of fictionalizing the essay’s topic came to me. It seemed like a really good idea. Write what you know is one of the most often repeated pieces of writing advice, and what do I know better than my own experience? Besides, I thought, maybe turning it into fiction can help me process some of the guilt that writing the essay stirred up. See, the event in question didn’t just precede the request for a divorce; I believe it was a contributing factor to the request.

I wrote the first scene. Hated it. Decided to come at it from a different angle. Still struggling, but I figured that just came from not having written much fiction in the last few years. That’s the easy answer, the one I could rest against. But it’s not the truth. Not the whole truth, at any rate.

What is it about this piece that’s making me want to avoid it? Shame. And longing. During one afternoon in my married life, I chose to pursue something important to me, through a person that wasn’t healthy, in a way that was hurtful to everyone involved. Including myself. Like seeking out sustenance, deciding to get fast food, and then stealing that fast food from someone else.

Except, life doesn’t get summed up so neatly in these little metaphors. My actions were also a cry for help. An act of revenge. A desperate expression of need.

How do I capture all this in a short story?

How do I navigate all this in myself?

I guess the answer is that distressingly simple-but-not-easy approach: one word at a time. One moment at a time. Until I’ve moved through some of it, or enough of it that I’ve learned something new and can leave it on this spirally path until the next time it comes around.

For the last couple house meetings, I’ve made it a point to set my intention for how I want to move through the meeting. It strikes me that this would be a good idea here. Then I’ll have something to aim for when I feel stuck.

My intentions for writing this short story:

  • Practicing fiction
  • Release some of the heaviness I’m carrying around from my choices
  • Forgive not just myself, but my ex, and the other people involved. Even just a little bit.
  • Treat everyone in the story with dignity.
  • Have some fucking fun!?

If I can bring even one of those into fruition, I think I could be satisfied.

Especially that last one.

Never lose sight of the joy.

 

 

On Dark Days & Making Choices

 

framed woman 3 tony rubino
Framed Woman 3 by Tony Rubino

 

I close many of the Yoga classes I lead by bringing people into the fetal position for a few breaths. This is the pose that our bodies first encountered, as we developed in our mother’s wombs. Here, I like to remind them—and myself—that one of the beautiful things about being a human is our ability to choose, and in so choosing make each moment new. Continual rebirth.

What I don’t talk about in those restful moments is just how goddamn hard that idea is to put into practice.

I had a dark day recently. The first day of my cycle is always challenging. I’m in pain, I’m exhausted, I’m navigating a veritable shitstorm of hormones. My go-to coping mechanism is marijuana and movies. I’m well-versed in all the things I can do to make the day go more smoothly: gentle Yoga, journaling, drawing, going for a walk. But when it hits, all that stuff seems to be almost impossible to actually accomplish. Yesterday, my shining moment was walking to the grocery store, and I nearly passed out at a couple points during that adventure, which made me feel incredibly insufficient and weak.

child sarah
The author, before my fear voice had developed to the point where I started questioning my own worth. With my older twin brothers.

Feeling weak is both anathema and constant companion for me. One of the loudest and most persistent voices in my head is the one that tells me my methods for handling my life aren’t nearly as good as they should be. I should eat healthier. I should exercise more. I should be more social. I should write more, draw more, pick up an instrument, clean my room, make more money, etc etc etc. Sound familiar to any of you?

 

I’m betting yes.

When I am in a situation where my whole self is weakened, especially by circumstances out of my control (my cycle, getting ill), that voice gets louder. It’d be super nice if it would recognize that, hey, I’m already laid out, maybe you could back off a while, but no. It’s like a relentless hunter, waiting for any bit of wobble in order to double down its attack.

My counselor calls this voice the Inner Critic. It is ever-present, always talking, and rarely useful. But, like all things in nature, it’s not entirely useless. This voice stems from our protective instincts. It’s the voice that said look out, I smell a saber-toothed tiger. It’s the voice that said don’t go any further down this alley. It’s the voice that said this guy is going to hit you if you stay with him too long. It has a place. It can keep us safe.

trappedProblem is, it doesn’t know how to tell the difference between life-threatening, and literally everything else. Elizabeth Gilbert describes this voice’s refrain as a monotonous, unending no. That’s the answer to every possibility: no. Am I doing enough? Am I worthy? Am I okay? No, no, no. Can I succeed? Do people love me? Will this work? No, no, no.

It’s stifling. It can be debilitating. But dammit, above all it’s so. Fucking. Boring.

So. We have the incredible ability to choose, it’s true, and that is a beautiful, wondrous thing. It is the only instrument we have when we want to change our lives. Everything else flows from this ability.

Riding next to the ability to choose is this occasionally useful but often just awful distillation of fear. For me, more often than I’d like, that voice has its hands firmly on the steering wheel, while my ability to choose is left riding shotgun, or even relegated to the backseat. It’s not that it isn’t there, it’s just that this mean, chattering monkey is in the driver’s seat.

But, but—this voice says—you let me get behind the wheel. All you have to do is tell me to move.

sunAnd this is the same message I get from many self-help books, articles on self-care, and discussions with well meaning people. It’s just a matter of taking control. Making those choices.

Only, this rhetoric reinforces the voice. If it’s that easy, and I don’t do it, that must mean I’m weak, broken.

And round and round she goes.

I don’t have an answer. Not of the magic bullet variety, at any rate. It seems to me, though, that it all comes back to love. Those times in my life where I’ve felt most in love with myself are the times when making those healthy choices have been easiest. In turn, making those healthy choices helped me more deeply recognize my love for myself. The cycle moves in both directions, towards darkness and towards light. Too, those cycles are never-ending.

Life is the constant miracle of joy triumphing over despair. And the constant heartbreak of despair overcoming joy. So it goes. So it always has, so it always will.

Continual rebirth.

Which is to say, if it’s dark now, hang on: the sun will rise again, and there are lessons in the night. And if you’re basking in the glorious light, give thanks, give thanks, give thanks.

Existential Crises On The Road

nacho
Our valiant steed, Nacho. Look at the tires on that baby. Rawr.

“The people who are crazy enough to think they

can change the world are the ones who do.”  

Rob Siltanen

We were wild. We were free. Just him and me and our truck full of Peruvian imports, touring the West coast in search of a new kind of life. That which we sought felt, too often, just out of grasp. Still, we reached, because what other option is there? Giving up and settling back into the familiar path of job, apartment, A to B to C and then you wake up twenty years later and wonder where your life has gone… it wasn’t tenable for either of us. We’d gone through our years of sleepwalking, and the process of crawling out of that comfortable deathbed was both painful and seemingly irreversible.

truck setup
Get yer alpaca here! Can’t imagine why so few people wanted super warm sweaters in 90° weather.

We spent the summer driving from one festival to another, volunteering our time in exchange for a ticket and, occasionally, food. When I wasn’t working, I might spend time hanging out with the tailgate of the truck open, our wares laid out for purchase. Thick alpaca socks, brightly colored alpaca hats, tiny alpaca sweaters—are you sensing a theme yet?

More often, though, I’d spend my off time reading. Most of the festivals we found featured music and crowds that I had little interest engaging with. I’d done a lot of the discovery footwork, and while I’d managed to find a couple shining exceptions, most of our scheduled work landed us at bluegrass festivals. Nothing against bluegrass in particular—the skill I saw on display was mind-boggling—it’s just not my jam.

By late July, I felt burnt out and discouraged. We hadn’t made much money selling alpaca gear, the people we were surrounded by were often drunk (we were at festivals, after all), and the strain of summer heat and long hours in the car was getting to both of us.

truck feet
Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of amazing. Like waking up here.

Wild and free didn’t feel so wild or free. It felt like scrabbling up a rock face, fingers bloodied and muscles quaking.

 

After yet another discouraging festival (which we left as soon as our volunteer shifts were completed), we drove to Colorado to spend some time with my family. Spending time at the old homestead is always a difficult endeavor, whether I’m with my partner or alone, and this was no exception. Morale continued to slip.

We drove north and spent the weekend working gate security at a bluegrass fest in beautiful Lyons, Colorado. The setting was spectacular, the festival itself left me feeling like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The whole summer seemed pointless. Nothing was working, motivation had fled, and the prospect of a desk job had started to sound almost feasible.

This was, as we refer to it in the writing world, my long dark night of the soul. I was nearly ready to give up, pack it in, accept the ‘truth’ of what I’d been hearing all along: stepping outside the norm is ultimately a fool’s errand, and can only end in pain, destitution, and calamity.

We couldn’t leave Colorado, though. We had one more festival booked in the state before we would make the mad dash back to Washington what was slated to be our last festival of the year. So we rallied our spirits and headed up to Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO.

arise rainbow
Thank you.

We checked in, found a spot for the truck—and turned around to find a huge double rainbow stretching over the lake at the far end of the parking area.

 

Everything changed for me, for us, for our focus, in the next few days. While other festivals left us plenty of time to hawk our wares from the back of the truck, the Arise Festival was saturated with music, workshops, classes, and presentations that appealed to just about every aspect of who I am as a person. My partner, too, found himself poring over the schedule, circling so many options that there wasn’t a spare minute left in the day. And while we’d made connections with people at the other festivals, within half an hour of pitching our tent we’d found kinship with a fellow festie that felt more real and more enriching than any other person I’d met along the way.

I’d been looking for Spirit all along, aching to find some sense of the Divine in dusty makeshift parking lots, air-conditioned casinos, and other people’s empty beer cans. (No glass at the festival, please!) Of course, the Divine is in everything.

It’s also true, though, that you become the kind of people you surround yourself with, and we’d spent precious little time in the company of others specifically looking to engage with Spirit.

Until we got to Arise.

flowersA Sacred Fire burned throughout the festival, attracting Water Protectors from Standing Rock, Storytellers weaving joy out of words, elders leading ceremony, and, of course, people eager to get warm after chilly Colorado storms. This space made the festival for me. The music was great, the workshops and yoga classes I attended were lovely, but the Fire and the environment it created were what took me from hopelessness to having more ideas than I knew what to do with.

We drove away from Sunrise Ranch early one drizzly morning and spent the next few hours brainstorming all the ways we wanted to change the world. I filled the pages of our glittery gold notebook with ideas for new forms of education, ways to expand our business by following our passions of wildcrafting and creating, thoughts about community action and political activism. The world felt like it had opened up, after feeling so very, very small.

Finally, we were wild. We were free.

More than anything, we believed.

“She is repairing herself, hour by hour.”

collage 2

This essay comes from the prompt “The Beginning of the End”, in which we were asked to replay a memory, working with its birth and termination. I’ve been experiencing huge shifts in my energy in relation to my divorce, things rising up that demand attention, and this is just one manifestation of these curious and difficult earthquakes.

“I want a divorce.”

The sounds of early morning chatter and silverware scraping ceramic plates, children fussing and the squeak of wet shoes on tile dimmed around me, the world narrowing to the tiny piece of table that stretched between my husband and I. Forty-eight inches that might as well be a mile.

The words were not unexpected. They were years in the making, perhaps had even been bubbling up since the very beginning. It’s hard to say. Either way, these words marked the end, as they have a million times before. In the days that followed, I would contemplate that moment, replay it in my head until I couldn’t not feel the hard wooden seat beneath me, or see the tired droop of his mouth when I laid down to sleep. A mouth that, years before, made me fall in love with him.

I’ve always been a believer in love at first sight, for the very simple reason that I’d experienced it multiple times. This is not ‘love’ as in ‘this is the person I will be with for the rest of my life.’ It is ‘love’ that can take many forms, love that strikes deeply and demands an audience.

hands
A photo from the ceremony. I still have my stuffed goose, packed away in a box full of memories.

My relationship with my former husband—we’ll call him Adam for sake of ease, though I reckon most people reading this know his Christian name—started in much the same way. Only, the sight that struck me came not from our first meeting, but from me finding a photograph in his apartment, laid absently in an otherwise empty fruit bowl. He posed beside a young woman, wide smiles lighting up their faces. I saw that smile, and knew in that moment this was a person that would be in my life, even though I’d never actually met the man*.

What was I doing in the apartment of a stranger, pawing through his personal belongings? Let’s just say we knew someone in common, and gloss over the insanity that was my life at that time.

There was something in Adam’s smile that activated the familiar gut-tug of falling in love. I figured the woman in the photo was his girlfriend, though, and since I was wrapped up in my own relationship from hell, I thought my chances with this guy were slim to none.

I learned, over the next couple months, to never underestimate my gut. (A learning that I then proceeded to ignore with a steady conviction throughout most of our marriage.)

The woman in the photo turned out to be his sister, and that smile from the photo was soon aimed at me. I basked in it, like a flower emerging from the depths of winter to find the warm rays of the sun gracing it’s delicate petals. His smile held the world in it, I thought. His smile held me, and I needed nothing more at that time than to feel held. Supported. Safe. My relationship with Adam gave me all of those things, and so much more.

wedding kissIn time, though, I would realize that the payment for security is, too often, freedom. That being held can feel like being trapped. That what once felt perfect and complete can dissolve, like metal exposed to the sea air, rusting away until collapse is inevitable. None of which invalidates what was. I’ve come to understand that the success of a relationship can’t be judged by the length of the relationship, but by the health of it. Had neither of us uttered those four words-like-coffin-nails, and we somehow continued down the road we’d been going, there would have been precious little happiness. What’s the point of celebrating twenty years together if both parties are unfulfilled?

I want a divorce led to an eventual blossoming in myself and, as far as I can tell, in Adam, as well. I followed my dreams. I wept buckets of tears, yes, but the extreme pain of grief and renewal were far better than the prolonged pain of stagnation.

From a smile in a photograph to a wedding on a hill to a breakup in a diner, with countless stops in between.

*That I’d never met him before isn’t technically true. Our first meeting involved me being very drunk, in a Walmart, at midnight on Halloween, and is a story best left for another day. Suffice to say I didn’t remember meeting him.

The Weight Of Guilt

pnw winter
The cottage cheese skies of winter in the Pacific Northwest.

After a few days of being sick in bed, I found my way back to Leap of Words, the online writing group I’m working with. The challenge was to write an essay about what it feels like to experience guilt, and whatever else comes up with the practice.

 

This would likely be a heavy piece at the best of times. At this particular moment in my life, it ended up being especially dark. We’re in the middle of a Pacific Northwest January, which means cold air, rain rain rain, damp socks in the morning and chilly feet at night, and a sun that rises late and leaves early. I find it almost insurmountably difficult to get outside during this time of year, and I don’t have a comfortable space for a home practice at the moment, so my physical exercise needs have not been getting met. (This is a Really Big Deal, I’m coming to realize.) I’m in a transition state with my living situation in many ways, and I’m also being confronted with some deep stuff I’m not really prepared to face (though I trust that I am capable of doing so) (mostly).

Add to that lingering illness sniffles, a poor night’s sleep, and some internal struggles/misgivings about an important relationship in my life and I end up with a sleepy, slightly grumpy, Sarah afflicted with an acute case of self-doubt.

Fun stuff.

Hands
I custom ordered that ring. It never quite fit, and he stopped wearing it after a while.

So I sat down to write this piece about guilt and of course what came out is my divorce. Or, more specifically, the reasons leading to my divorce. I didn’t cheat on my husband, technically, but with the way the emotional power dynamic was at the time, I might as well have. And that, my friends, was the death rattle of our marriage.

 

Honestly, the marriage was over well before that. He told me, at some point a couple months after we filed, that he’d given up on our relationship well before that point. He “stopped trying”. Which, as I write that, makes me wonder why. What was it about me, about us, that made him give up?

And then, will it happen again?

Am I fated to find myself years into a relationship where I am given up on?

Back to the topic at hand: guilt. So, yes, I felt guilt for cheating. More than that, by a long shot, is the guilt I felt and feel over the desires and needs that led to the cheating. To feel loved. To feel wanted. To feel sexy, and admired, and empowered. To express those feelings through physical contact of all kinds, and through conversations that are less about words and more about connection.

I chafe, big time, when I feel like my relationship dynamic has become that of friends who happen to share the same bed. Who say I love you, but don’t say I want you. When eye contact becomes sparse. When the preference is to focus on anything but one another.

So the guilt comes into play when I find myself in that situation, with years of history and promises made. How dare I ask for more? How dare I want more, when I have stability? When I have a sense of security?

lightbulbUntangling this mess requires going way back, and honestly, I’m not sure where to start. With my father, probably, because it always starts there. The first relationship where I felt like I’d been given up on. Without his influence on my life, without that through-line of feeling like I was broken and awful and defective running through most of my childhood, I probably wouldn’t have cheated on Every. Single. Person. I dated. I probably wouldn’t have slipped down the hole of drugs. I probably wouldn’t have felt the need to become the smallest, spikiest ball of anger I possibly could. (I’m not blaming him. He did the best he could with what he had. We all do. That doesn’t change the scars that I have to carry.)

Maybe if I’d been told I deserved joy, and freedom, and love as a child– no matter what I believed in, how I wanted to dress, or who I came to love– I’d believe it as an adult.

Maybe if I’d seen my mother treated as if she deserved those things, I could have internalized it for myself.

trailI have to move forward with what I have. I have to find a way to move forward that doesn’t just translate to running away. Because that would be easy, to sprint as fast as possible in the opposite direction whenever I find myself in a situation that pushes on these points. I’ve done it before. More often, I get a running start, then chuck a grenade behind me to make sure I can’t go back.

I’m tired of blowing things up. I’m tired of settling for less. I’m tired of not knowing how to navigate the space between the two.

I think being able to write this shows an uneasy but undeniable progress. And I’ll take any progress I can get.