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"As I laid there, feeling the first tinge of okayness I had in months, I laughed with the kind of realization that you feel after finally getting a lifelong inside joke. I spent so much time believing that softness was a close cousin to weakness and needed to be eradicated from my body. But softness, and by that I mean earnestness and vulnerability and kindness, was the only true antidote to suffering. And the only way to cultivate softness is to throw yourself into the fire of suffering and metabolize it; let it nourish you and others."
- excerpt from #softasfuck by Nada Alic from You Care Too Much - Creative Women on the Question of Self Care
I have thrown myself at my fair share of metabolic fires lately, especially in this past half year. After years of staleness and stagnation and stubborness, something in me finally clicked and I was like: no more.
I figured it was high time I met myself and learned to love what I found there and not settle for anything less than love in return.
I'm writing you this post, very late at night, past my bedtime actually, mere moments after slaying a personal dragon. I'm finding it a bit difficult to put words on the page, because I'm still basking in the afterglow - that very particular lightness of being that occurs when you act in discord with your past and in perfect harmony with your soul and the future it desires. I told my soul it could go frolic in my mind field all it wants as long as it doesn't bother me while I write. When I'm happy, I don't tend to express it very largely, but I do have a field in my mind where my soul does things I would never do in real life, like somersaults, backflips and Maria von Trapp "The Hills are Alive" twirls. That's what it's doing right now as I type.
So: dragons. Softness.
Let me take you back in time a bit. I'm in high school and on stage during a tech rehearsal for the spring musical - it's my solo, and I'm the only one on stage. They keep asking me to sing the same line over and over to get the levels right on the mic. In the auditorium aisles, members of wardrobe mill about adjusting costumes with pins in their teeth, and I can hear the muffled stage management undertones of "standing by for cue 121" followed by the requisite: "standing."
Weaving in and out of the tech worker bees is one person in particular. He is tall, sandy-haired, and handsome in the way high school boys are handsome on the covers of teen novels from the 1950s. We are friends. The kind of friends who skip class and go to the park to talk about life sitting on swings facing opposite ways so we could look at one another. The kind of friends who save each other seats in the cafeteria and who would ask one another to prom if we both weren't so shy. I stand on stage and watch this friend walk up the aisle, away from me, completely oblivious to my fine-tuned ability to recognize exactly where he was at all times.
In this scene we're rehearsing, I play (believe it or not) a Magical River. I am the voice of the river, and the song is one of longing and hope. I think to myself: the magic of my voice will make him turn around. The magic of my voice will make him turn around. The magic of my voice will make him turn around. I sang my next line of this lilting river melody with such passion and longing and fullness, it stopped him in his tracks, and he turned around and looked at me.
OH, the elation. The bliss. The power of that moment.
Later, at the cast party, both of us found ourselves in the master bed of the conveniently absent parents. Me, thrilled by his proximity in this intimate setting. Him, asking me to sing. I sang for him in the way in which I had always imagined a scene like this playing out in my fantasy. Tenderly, lovingly. I finished the lullaby, confident that it was an invitation not to sleep, but to be kissed. I let the silence fall between us, my heart beating so very fast.
"Another one. Please, it's so beautiful."
This was followed by more silence, followed by a request for another, followed by more silence.
So, I kept singing. The magic of my voice will make him want to kiss me. The magic of my voice will make him want to kiss me. The magic of my voice will make him want to kiss me. I sang to him, tenderly, then desperately as he lay there, eyes closed, inches away. Any time I stopped, he would mumble...mmmm...don't stop. So, I kept singing. No kisses.
At one point, voice hoarse, I let the birds take over. It was morning now. He had long fallen asleep.
I can't tell you how many times I've shared my personal brand of magic - my tenderness, my nurturing, my ability to see into souls, my warmth and my passion - with those who gladly took the songs but not the singer, metaphorically speaking.
The pain that accompanies this realization is intense. Metabolic fire intense.
Unrequited love is painful, sure, (I'm an expert!) but it hurts in that addictive way where you keep going back for it because it feels so good to feel so bad. But, actually feeling the pain of the truth that what you have not been loving is yourself - that is the real thing, the real thing with the healing inside.
It is the kind of pain where it hurts enough (finally!) for you to vow never to hurt yourself like this anymore. That you will do anything to alter the script and rewrite the story, no matter how accustomed you are to the comfort of the discomfort of the ending.
There comes a time, a moment from within this pain, where you recognize that you are the antidote to your own poison. As stated in the quote above, this manifests as softness, earnestness, kindness, the willingness to be vulnerable, with yourself first, followed by with those you cross paths with.
Tonight, I spoke with an old friend who had connected seemingly 'out of the blue' (which I always read as: 'a concept strategically conceived by the universe following any personal vow to ask: oh, but are you SURE you meant that? Are you POSITIVE you've suffered enough?').
He wanted me to sing.
The old dragon rose: the magic of my voice will...the magic of my voice...the magic of...will do FUCK ALL to change the way things are between us.
Nurturers, I did something I've never done before in this situation - I softly, earnestly, kindly, and vulnerably told him: No.
You might be thinking a story like this doesn't really have that romantic, pre-Valentine's Day feel. I couldn't disagree more.
I strongly believe that stories like this - the ones we feel shame around and lingering sadness and confusion about; stories exploring the healed and the unhealed parts of our relationships with others and how that affects our relationships with ourselves - these need to be spoken. Shared. Felt in the bones. They ARE love in action, which is the best kind of Valentine.
I couldn't have found a better kindred spirit in this willingness to be raw as an act of true love than Erin Klassen, editor of the anthology You Care Too Much - Creative Women on the Question of Self Care and publisher at With/out Pretend. We met over coffee and about a zillion things in common after being set up by a mutual friend. Her ability to divine the necessary truths from those she gathers around her as inspiration, motivation and creative feminine initiation is extraordinary.
We were lucky to include copies of this book in our Self Care Starter Kits at our fall retreat and I brought mine to the bathtub with me one night and got so lost in these women's stories and art that I let the water get cold. I was enraptured by them, moved, shaken, even alarmed, but in the best of ways. If we tell our stories, if we share and listen and learn, we can feel less alone in our suffering, and deeply nourished instead.
Get yourself a copy of this book. I'd loan you mine, but it's the kind of book you develop a relationship with, so I'm a bit reluctant to share. If you're looking for real love amongst the cliches and empty gestures running rampant on this upcoming holiday, this book is a great place to start.
p.s. Many of you have been asking about the upcoming spring retreat. I've been busy behind the scenes gathering an exciting group of facilitators together and (obviously - remember who you're dealing with here) getting started on the menu. ;) If you want to be the first to know when the dates and early bird special launches, make sure you sign up to the newsletter, below!