All the women I've been before

"How are you really doing?"

Once upon a time, I got on the phone with a coach, she asked me that question, and I burst into tears.

I had been holding it all in for so long. I had been trying so hard to hold it together.

On the outside, I was. And on the inside, I had no idea what to do next.

I was at a crossroads, and I knew it. That was why I had booked my session with her.

I was heading down a path that wasn't really part of "the plan" career-wise, as I knew I had something else to build, and create, inside of me. One that would weave together my academic work with my winding story and offer up a body of work meant to set us all free.

A path that would eventually take me here, writing to you, this Friday love note, as part of my deeper exploration on what it means to uncover who we truly are, to be fully ourselves, to free ourselves from what has kept us from feeling sexy, alive, and free, so that we can have lives we adore, share the message we are here to share, and experience wild, deep love.  As I moved forward, I grieved for all the things that had been part of my journey, and that I had left behind. People, places, versions of me.

I had started graduate school at 21, moving up to Yale for my first taste of New England, wanting to be like Rory Gilmore. 

I was dating the man I'd marry not long after, my best friend & safest crush, who I was certain was the one.

Everything was ON TRACK. I was studying sex trafficking and was certain I could help, we were going to change the world together. We were both passionate about our faith and our beliefs and our desire to make the world a better place, and I spent my two years in my master's program planning out all the good we would do in the world.

We had just left out one thing: our own connection.

By the time we had cut our wedding cake and I settled in after our honeymoon to the first days of my orientation for my PhD program down in Washington, DC, I was already writing in my journal that I knew something was wrong, 

We were missing something I hadn't even known to look for: that deep love, that passionate connection, the wild romance.

I felt safe, and grateful, and scared out of my mind.

I realized I had made a lifelong commitment to someone who might not ever love me the way I needed to be loved to fully blossom.

We had followed the rules, we had waited and waited, and then the dust settled and we saw each other clearly as what we had been all along: just friends, holding hands, trying to figure this thing out. 

The life I had worked hard at dreaming up had evaporated when I had found myself writing in my journal, 

"Everything is going great, except I don't think we like kissing each other very much. I'm not sure he likes me at all."

I didn't know exactly what I was missing, but I could imagine it: butterflies, chemistry, connecting... attraction... orgasms?

I didn't even know how to think what I was thinking. 

But I look back and see that girl, that version of me, with so much compassion. I see how scared she was of her own body, and why this sterile relationship had sounded so safe after years of feeling scared.

I had jumped in to this safe relationship gratefully after being a terrified college student at a wild party school, and like so many women, I was surrounded by violence. At 17, venturing out into Isla Vista, I was shaking. In my first semester alone, four of my friends were sexually assaulted. By the time I left, I knew fewer women who didn't have a memory of violence than did. 

So I found the safest person. Someone from church. Someone who wouldn't touch me.

I see it all with soft eyes of understanding now, and it makes so much sense. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was protecting the part of me that was terrified of sexuality, that thought it was a weapon and a liability, and that wanted to keep everything under wraps so I'd be safe.

Leaving was painful and it still makes me cry to think about it.

Which is why I don't tell this story that often. And it's hard for me to know what pieces belong to me, truly, and what are not mine to share. But I know this part:

I nearly stayed because I couldn't bear the thought of hurting someone I loved.

And then I realized, staying and pretending was still hurtful. The only way through was out.

I was divorced before I could legally rent a car, but I had never felt younger. More Alive. More myself.

And, it was hard to lose the world I had made. The one I had thought would keep me safe.

Fairytale wedding, rule-following, and planned.

I had girlfriends from Church who just couldn't follow me, to this new foreign place.

It was scary AF for them to see the way we had unraveled, confirming the worst fears that you could try hard, play by the rules, be the good girl, and it still might not actually gaurantee us anything. 

We might wait and wait and then just keep waiting.

Waiting for life to start, waiting for it to get better, waiting to feel like we had won the prize at the end of the long list of rules for the game.

But, then eventually they saw, too:

I was on fire. I was me, uncovered. I had uncovered a part of myself that I couldn't hide again:  I had started to listen to what I wanted.

I fell in love with my life, even as my carefully planed image & safety bubble crumbled around me. 

I had been in mysterious, chronic pelvic pain for years that had hospitalized me & even sent me into surgery thinking I might have endometriosis, but it immediately lifted when our relationship ended. I could walk, dance, play, and use the bathroom without it hurting. It felt like an actual miracle.  

I truly think it was all that fear, knotted up in me, shutting me down.

I searched for passion and beauty everywhere, wandering through used bookstores and art museums, falling head over heels in love with life and poetry and a dark haired Shakespeare student who had been my parachute out of the burning building of my marriage. 

It was a messy story, but it was mine. 

The next decade included even more plot twists, beautiful moments, and heartbreaks.

But I made it from 21 to 31 intact, and along the way I collected more pieces of who I was. I learned more and more about the story I'm here to tell. I found a way to reconnect to my body and my soul every time I thought it might be too painful -- as I lost my brother, as I healed from heartbreak and sexual assault, as I refound myself.

As I learned that safety isn't something I needed to find in someone else, or insure by turning off my sexuality, or by hiding from passion. Safety was something I could source within myself. I had had it all along. 

I am so grateful for all the versions of me that got me here. I am so grateful for all the teachers I had along the way and all the ones still to come. Pain, fear, heartbreak, stormclouds, surviving. 

How are you, really?

Are there parts of you that need to be seen again, called into the loving light, and shined upon? Are there places to grieve and remember, and ways to thank your former self for doing all she could to get you here in one piece?

I know it wasn't easy. And here you are, in spite of it all. Whole, free, beautiful.

Cheers to you.

And if it feels like part of you is still waiting to be uncovered, let's do the work together. I'm really good at it now, after all this practice.

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