I titled this blog Woman and Wild because, like most things in nature, I am bumpy, asymmetrical, imperfect, scarred, and yet living. And living is beautiful.
It occurred to me, as I read over it, that a lot (like, years—possibly decades) of thinking, learning, and growing came before this blog. I don’t want to sound like a bossy friend with “easy” answers for everything. ‘What I know for sure’ is still bumpy and imperfect, as was the learning process. Maybe that calls for an explanatory blog or two. But these words came from my keyboard today.
My adventure in the backyard helped me a lot and for a very specific reason: I destroyed stuff. Those toxic, invasive plants took over my yard and I Took. Them. Out.I physically grabbed them, cut them, bagged them, and bid them farewell.
At the same time, I worked on a gentler, parallel task. I challenged myself (with my husband’s full support) to be honest about my feelings…even when they weren’t “nice.” And by “nice” I mean the good-girl, pleasing, always-putting-others-first kind of “nice” I used to think I had to be to be liked, let alone loved.
During that time I said radical things to my husband. If he suggested going to out dinner when I didn’t want to, I’d get crazy and say, “I don’t really feel like going out tonight. Can we make something instead?”
Here’s the kicker: the world did not end.
My husband, who has been my enthusiastic coach through this project, has even been delighted by my ideas on occasion. And he’s even been grateful when I mention things like, “Hey! Why did you say that? That was kind of a rude comment.” He’s a pretty awesome guy.
Invariably, he just wasn’t choosing his words carefully (words are my thing, not so much his) and didn’t mean what I heard. And suddenly there was understanding in place of misunderstanding. It’s amazing how that works!
So what does this all mean? It’s great for the practical aspects of my daily life. I need to be a whole person, not just “nice.” Sometimes I have such profound anger and frustration that I need to tear stuff down, to make a mark on the world. (Invasive weeds are an AWESOME target.) I’m grateful for those practical lessons, but I am also a big-picture thinker. What does it mean?
I’m reading a great book on body positivity, which boils down to the idea that we should all love all of our bodies, all of the time. That’s a really profound and true statement. If you’d like to explore it, the book I’m reading can be found here.
Here’s the big-picture I’m reaching for, though: I think we should all love all of ourselves, all of the time.
I am in no way saying we can’t make bad choices or we shouldn’t bear responsibility for them—if I’d decided to punch people due to my frustration this fall, I’d be rightfully found guilty of assault. That’s a bad choice with consequences. I’m not loving that. I’m loving myself despite “undesirable” emotions, just like this quote I found only today--
"Unfortunately, we live in a culture where we believe painful feelings are a sign of weakness, or failure, or pathology. But if you can acknowledge that painful feelings have utility (sadness means you've lost something you care about; anxiety means "prepare," anger means you've been mistreated, etc.), you can listen to them and act based on them in a way that'll make you happy, and you won't have to feel like you've given up a part of yourself just to avoid an "undesirable" emotion." (Read the full article here.)
I’ll give you a light, fun example to get us warmed up. I am a terrible hostess in some ways. I have always kicked myself for that. When friends come over, I frequently forget to offer food or drinks or seconds or whatever. Why? Because I am so happy to have these beloved people with me that I focus completely on them—what they’re saying, what I’m feeling, what we’re doing. Lately, I’ve tried to love that about myself. I’ve invited people over—knowing full well that I’ll probably miss an obvious opportunity to “hostess”—and enjoyed their company greatly.
I love that about me!
Now I’ll give you a deeper example. I often, especially when I’m tired or stressed, lapse into hypervigilance. There are darn good reasons why that happens; I earned the “scar” of hypervigilance doing something I believe in, something that I’d do over again a million times. But I’ve always hated that it affects my children. I’ve hated that sometimes they tell their friends to keep their voices down in the car, because they know I need a certain level of calm to drive safely.
But you know what? I love that about myself now. I did something I believe in. It changed me. I’ve presented it to my kids as “something about Mom that isn’t like other people—and isn’t related to you or anything happening now.” And sometimes I’ve said, “Just humor me.” That’s awesome! I’m proud of all of it. I love that part of me.
None of that could have happened, though, if I’d kept trying to be the “nice” me. When I tried to ONLY acknowledge my gratitude, appreciation, hope, humor, optimism, etc, I created a monster of hidden anger, frustration, grief, and sadness lurking in the basement of my theater, Phantom of the Opera-style.
But I followed this awesome advice from Julia Spencer-Fleming's book, One Was a Soldier. “We’re all so in love with the idea of moving on and growing through loss and making lemonade when life hands us lemons that we don’t take time to mourn. Before you can move on, you have to stand still and account for what’s been lost. Sometimes, you have to throw the damn lemon against the wall and yell, I wanted chocolate chip cookies, not this bitter fruit. ”
Right now, I love being an editor and blogger, but I keep dreaming of a huge, meaningful career someday. I’m not really sure what I mean by that, but today I’m dreaming of helping people bring their not “nice” feelings to light. (I guess that’s a therapist, but I’m thinking of something a little different from traditional therapy.) I want to say to people, “Go ahead and look at that stuff. I guarantee I’ve seen worse. It’s all okay. You can look at those not ‘nice’ feelings and be a radically awesome person. It’s all good.”
I might want to be a professional Lemon Pitching Coach.
I want to throw lemons with people—and then go do something fun. Because when we love all of ourselves, even the lemon-throwing parts, we can move on. We can skip, dance, and run, feeling lighter, freer, and ultimately happier.