Reinvent yourself, reclaim your essence

Reclaim yourself from the living dead. Life beckons”
Srividya Srinivasan

Until the last few weeks I had noticed myself saying, “This is not how I normally behave.” “This is so out of character for me.” “I don’t normally do this.”

It’s been fifteen months since the dissolution of my marriage, since my life change irrevocably in so many ways, for the better, mostly. In this time, I’ve become aware of and begun dismantling some of the habits, beliefs and behaviours that developed during the past 22 years.  Initially, I didn’t know how to define myself without the construct of that relationship around me. Who was I when the persona I’d built, to live within the confines of the relationship, was no longer needed?  How do I navigate the world as a middle aged single woman? It was all very puzzling at first because I no longer had to do many of the things I’d always done now that I was no longer in a relationship. My approach to life was different. Routines fell away because I realised I’d created them to provide a sense of control over my life when I had very little control over the direction or depth of my relationship. Interactions with people changed too. I became more patient with people and more gracious. As a result of my intense pain I noticed I was more accepting of others, willing to listen more, less quick to judge or dismiss. Then of course interactions with men changed too. I was able to have deeper and longer conversations. Spend time with a range of men, things you don’t do, well, I didn’t do, in a marriage. I could go out and not worry about being home at certain times. I could go out on a ‘school night’ even.

It slowly dawned on me that I didn’t have to follow the same rules. That I could choose differently.  I began to let go of “you must be who you’ve always been” and just watched where things led.

I’ve experienced things I haven’t before because of the situation I was in, but I can make different choices now.  If a behaviour doesn’t feel right, then I know that I won’t repeat it. If a thought doesn’t gel, then I won’t go down that road again. But just because I haven’t done or thought or said particular things over the last 20 years or so doesn’t mean I’m not being me or that I’m acting out of character, it just means I’m exploring the possibilities, nudging structures that may no longer serve me. And you know what? If I wake up disappointed with myself, I can always start over and begin again.

The last year has been like an experiment to create a new identity for myself. It’s work in progress, so I don’t think I’ll be bursting through a ribbon, at a convenient end point, proclaiming a bright and shiny new me. The process is more like a resurrection. It’s like a remembering and rediscovering of my truth, a truth that become hidden among the needs of others, a truth hidden in the recesses of memory and youth, if it ever truly had time to develop in the first place. I feel that I’m re-emerging and reframing my life.  I’m discovering that what and who I always thought I was isn’t necessarily true anymore. I am reclaiming the essence of who I am and redefining myself.

If you find yourself in a similar position, my advice is to: resurrect, reclaim, restart and keep moving forward.

 

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I stood on the edge of the world and magic happened

“Breathe next to me. And I will capture a piece of your soul along with mine.”
Marikit dR. Camba, 

Once, many years ago, I stood on the shore; quiet, desperately sad, with eyes closed, and magic happened. I became one with the ocean. I felt I was the ocean and it was within me. I felt the magnitude of the universe in those seconds. For an instant the whole universe was inside me, I saw it, I felt it, I travelled through it as it travelled simultaneously through me. I was connected to it in a way I had no comprehension of, no prior experience or examples. I did not experience it again. Until recently.

Sitting on the hill of a natural amphitheatre, alone but surrounded by approximately 150 000 people I felt a connection to the hearts of each of them, like I felt with the ocean all those years before. It was New Year’s Eve. I was at Woodford for the annual music festival, six days of music and noise, action, laughter and lots and lots of people. Candles had been distributed throughout the day and at 11:30 they were to be lit, followed by three minutes silence.  The idea of three minutes silence in that place was incomprehensible to me, but I was assured it was a ritual that was adhered to every year.  At 11:30 I passed a spare candle to a man sitting nearby.  He asked how we were meant to light them.  I told him that I believed that was part of the magic.  Within 30 seconds the amphitheatre was alight with the glow of thousands and thousands of candles. And a hush fell over the whole of Woodfordia and I wept.

In the silence, in our quietness we all came together and connected.  It wasn’t like we were holding hands, that’s not the connection, it wasn’t even like an embrace. The sensation began as a ripple then became a gentle, undulating wave that rolled up the front of my body, opened my heart and passed into the depths of me and surrounded me. It was like all those souls were gathered into gentle arms and sent lovingly into the night, into each other. In those three minutes I again touched the inky darkness of the night sky that opened to the universe beyond, and I soared, filled with the souls of those around me.

I wear my art on my skin — it’s the ink of my heart

“Our bodies were printed as blank pages to be filled with the ink of our hearts” 
― 
Michael Biondi

“Wear your heart on your skin in this life.” 
― 
Sylvia Plath

The study found that people who had three or more tattoos were likely to have low self-esteem.  “The findings of this study suggest that tattoos are not just fashion accessories but driven by a wide range of motivational factors that are significantly associated with self-esteem.”

Interestingly, Truman Capote agreed, “There’s something really the matter with most people who wear tattoos. There’s at least some terrible story. I know from experience that there’s always something terribly flawed about people who are tattooed, above some little something that Johnny had done in the Navy, even though that’s a bad sign…It’s terrible. Psychologically it’s crazy. Most people who are tattooed, it’s the sign of some feeling of inferiority, they’re trying to establish some macho identification for themselves.”

Reading these viewpoints, I wondered if I got my recent tattoos because my self-esteem was low.  Marie Randle, from Liverpool Hope University, who carried out the study mentioned above, added that “not everyone who had a tattoo had poor self-esteem.” I reflected back to when I got my other tattoos, more than 20 years ago, and while I couldn’t pinpoint the exact reasoning I believe the motivation was likely starkly different to my recent desire to ink my skin.

Other reasons people get tattoos include attention seeking, self-expression, artistic expression, rebellion, addiction, identification with a group, sentimental reasons or even impulsiveness.  In the past, tattooing was linked to psychological conditions and considered self mutilatory behaviour.

Was I seeking attention? I don’t think so. There are easier, cheaper and less painful ways to do that, right? I’m not trying to identify with a group, far from it. I am not recording any sentimental beliefs on my skin, it wasn’t an impulsive action.  I thought deliberately about them and took considerable time to discern the right size, image and placement. I shopped around for the right artist as well.

I was surprised to realise that I could see a leaning to self-mutilation but, again, there are other ways to do that too so, no, that wasn’t my motive. It might have been an act of defiance, for sure. The new tattoos are visible to the world. Part of me wants to stick it to the rules, the labels and the expectations of how I should show up in the world. I want to break free of repressiveness. To challenge expectations.

Johnny Depp said, “My body is my journal and my tattoos are my story.”  I guess, in some way, a story is unfolding.  My earlier tattoos were images I liked that symbolise freedom, joy and inner strength. The tattoo I got last year is a simple word that speaks for itself – free. It’s a reminder that I am now free to choose anything – but mostly to be fully and unapologetically me.  This year, to date, I have two more etchings. A Latin phrase that translates to “she flies with her own wings” on the inside of my right bicep and a small snake on my left foot a symbol of transformation. I thought I would get the Phoenix tattoo I have been considering for the last 14 months before ever getting a snake. So many snakes crossed my path in the last several months, whether real snakes, images of snakes, sculptures, paintings or stories of snakes. Snakes showed up in tarot readings and in oracle cards and messages from friends. There were so many occurrences that I simply couldn’t ignore that the universe was sending me a message. The message was to do with the power of snake medicine linked to transformation, life changes, healing and primal energy. Hence, I now wear a reminder that the universe has my back.

There are several other tattoos I am drawn to and will, over time, probably have them inked on my body.  They are symbols that signify who I am becoming and who I have always been at heart. My tattoos are a statement and a way to express myself though more than that, they are badges of honour. They are emblems of my strength and courage, of change and a time of moving forward, of breaking free, of creating a new identity.  These new tattoos have raised my confidence and are reminders to me of what I have been through and survived. They are reminders that I am strong, that I am brave, that I am a survivor and that I should be here in this world.  I may well be judged by my tattoos but, you know what? I don’t actually care, because my skin art, my ink, is a celebration of life and of me and I wear it proudly.

 

Finding True North, reconnecting with the Wild Woman: what would it be like to know your true identity?

Several things have come up lately that have me pondering what it would be like to know my true identity. What would it look like to strip back the rules and routines, the stories and habits, the over civilisation and learnt behaviours, the false fronts and the polite masks? What would it be like to know and be the ‘wild woman’ within?

The spark:

If you’ve read Women who run with the wolves by Clarrisa Pinkola Estes you’ve probably already guessed the book has sparked this curiosity. Every sentence spoke to me. The ideas expressed were truths I’d always known. It was like coming home to my grandmother’s kitchen, a safe place of love and nurturing. Women who run with the wolves explores the idea that in every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. She is Wild Woman. Dr Estes uses myths and stories to illustrate how women’s vitality can be restored through reconnecting with the Wild Woman archetype.

The kindling:

I remember a time when it was taboo to talk about female sexuality and sexual desires. It struck me last week that if it was taboo, in polite circles, to talk of female sexuality and sexual desire it was most unspeakable to discuss the sexuality and desire of older women. The lid is being lifted on these topics and women are beginning to share their inner most desires, laugh at failed escapades, lament lost lovers and discuss things polite ladies ought not.

I sat in a circle of women and listened to a 70-year-old woman talk about an emerging sensuality in her mid-sixties. She spoke unashamedly about being dry, going to the doctor for assistance and with the help of estrogen cream became juicy again and engaged in very sensuous sexual relationships.

As I looked around the table, many women were smiling. Those of us close to or enjoying middle age were encouraged that menopause did not mark the end of gorgeous physical connections. One young woman in her early twenties, however, was aghast. She was polite but clearly uncomfortable, a slight revolution and mocking were evident on her gorgeous face.  “Baby girl, I thought, you are so vibrant and fresh you don’t yet know how things change.”  Other young women were like acolytes, sitting at the feet of a master. They drank in her words and were reverent.

More kindling:

There is a tendency in women, as we get older, to contain ourselves more and more. Part of the over civilisation I mentioned earlier, I guess. A friend showed me a video of her toddler niece joyfully dancing in church. I asked, “when do we become so self-conscious that we lose that freedom?”  We agreed it may be around two, possibly three. We forget so easily that wonderful liberating freedom to move our bodies, to express ourselves so openly. We close up when we are told to behave. When we are told not to shine too brightly. When we begin to sense we make others uncomfortable. Be a good girl, we are told.

Years ago, my friend and coach Adam, told me I had to stop being the good girl. I didn’t understand because I didn’t see it. I didn’t think I was being the good girl. My body knew it. Eventually, it got sick. It rebelled. My mind got lost, my emotions unravelled, and sleep became elusive. For years.

The fuel:

I’m at a turning point. Alone after 22 years I’m discovering many false faces. There are so many routines, so many beliefs about myself, so many behaviours that I constructed to survive a reality I co-created, to align with the expectations of others over a lifetime.  The thing is, these habits, beliefs and patterns are no longer necessary, and they no longer serve me. Oh, I could keep the stories going, for sure. But I’ve seen the opportunity to let them go and see them for what they are. Just stories. But when you take away the stories, the habitual behaviours, the conditioning you start to wonder, “hang on, who was I before all this shit clung to me?”

I have shared this realisation with a friend over several months and she  has added the fuel to the kindling of my current contemplations. My friend has very lovingly encouraged me to take time out and to ‘go feral’ (sounds dreadful, doesn’t it?) and to reconnect with the wild woman inside me. She sees it. She knows it’s been leashed, restricted and stifled.

I now have the chance to awaken the wild woman and to discover who and what she is, how she thinks feels and interacts with others. It’s time to go beyond fear. I have felt her calling, in the distance, for ever so long. Perhaps that’s why I wake so suddenly from sleep and lay helplessly alert, sure my name has been called, in an empty room. I have been denying and ignoring a part of myself that needs to emerge. I have no idea what I will find. I’m a little apprehensive and I’m not entirely sure how to go about it but I’m also freaking excited.  And maybe, in the end, I won’t look a whole lot different to the way I look now, but maybe, just maybe, a little bit of the unruly and wild will keep the fire going, make my cells dance, allow my light to shine and with it create a freedom to live unrestrained, untethered and joyfully.