self-determination

Celebrating singleness

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Today is February 14th, the dreaded Valentine’s Day.

Not many people really enjoy this holiday (if they were being totally honest). And if you are trying to recover from an abusive relationship, it can be painful and depressing.

While many single women might be feeling lonely or forgotten, desiring some male attention, I am celebrating singleness.

Singleness to me means:

  1. Independence
  2. Self-determination
  3. Focus on self-care
  4. Healthy selfishness
  5. Choices
  6. Freedom

I grew up watching Hollywood’s version of the male/female relationship, one in which a female waits for a male to find her desirable so that he will choose her. Validation always came from a male, and was something which women needed in order to feel valuable. This is the perfect set-up for an abusive marriage.

Desirable women were portrayed as glamorous, sexy, and alluring. Marriageable women were portrayed as quiet, demur, and subject to the wishes of fathers and suitors. Women were presented as virginal, sluts, or eccentric.

But let no one misunderstand: the independent ones usually ended up alone.

Now 56 years old, I feel that I am much wiser, and, at the least, much more discriminating. I critically evaluate attitudes and cultural norms found in entertainment. I have worked to discard many of the values that I picked up from such influences.

On this Valentine’s Day I can declare that I am happily, almost giddily delighted to find myself single and alone (relationship-wise — I have a house filled with male offspring).

I am not mourning the loss of my marriage (anymore). I am not feeling sad and alone (anymore). I am not beating myself up because my marriage failed (anymore). And, most of all, I am not feeling abandoned, discarded, rejected or unloved (anymore).

I enjoy my own company and thinking my own thoughts.

On this Valentine’s Day 2017, I am celebrating my freedom to choose where I go and what I do. Instead of this being a holiday that focuses on romantic love, for me it is more of an independence day.

I think I’ll buy myself some flowers. Daisies, I think!

My favorite things: wheels

Written Wednesday, January 4, 2016.
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Backroads of Connecticut are really fun!

I learned to drive when I was 15 years old. My mom taught me. My poor mother.

I got my driver’s license on my 16th birthday.
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My first car was a hand-me-down 1969 Plymouth Sport Fury, 383 V8, dual exhaust.

I quickly realized that a car meant freedom.

I was the only one in my group of friends who had a car, so we would all pitch in to buy a few gallons of gas to feed the beast and then go as far as we could.

As an adult, my car provided greater employment opportunities. I didn’t mind a long commute. I love to drive.

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My 1975 Honda Civic

After moving to the Austin area (Cedar Park to be exact), I bought a tiny Honda Civic. My dad’s Honda Gold Wing had a bigger engine than this little 4-speed. No air conditioning, no power steering, this car was, however, fun!

I drove that car all over the Texas Hill Country. I loved to explore!

I commuted into Austin for work before getting my own place in the Rosedale neighborhood. This car was a blast on the hills and curves when I took the back roads.

When this car bit the dust, I struggled for years to find another dependable car, or one that was as much fun.

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Mine had 10 years and 200k miles

A move to St. Petersburg, Florida and me without wheels left me feeling trapped and claustrophobic. I found an old, worn-out Oldsmobile station wagon, a monster with floaty suspension (and another V8). I paid $250 for that thing and loved it. I could load the kids (I was up to four) and go anywhere which we did, often.

When the kids were on the verge of making me crazy (which was quite often), we would pile into the car and go on an adventure. One of my favorite places was across the amazing expansion bridge that connects St. Pete to the mainland and drive around in the rural parts of west Florida or head to Tampa where we had a family membership at the Florida Aquarium. Having a car was necessary for my sanity!

A year or so after that, I bought a Mazda MPV minivan. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was what my husband wanted me to have. It wasn’t large enough, really, for the kids and stuff.

I never liked that minivan.

When I was separated from my husband the first time, my MPV gave up the ghost for good. I spent a month searching for a replacement vehicle and found a really nice, used Toyota Sienna. My brother-in-law loaned me the money and I made payments for the next few years. This was the first vehicle that I bought driven, pardon the pun, by pure self-determination and not practicality alone. I know, another minivan. But this was the best vehicle I had ever owned — it wasn’t a junker, really old, or a basic model. It was loaded. It drove like a car, had a powerful 3.0-liter V6 and ran without ever giving me any trouble.

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2007 Road trip from Connecticut to Austin, Texas. Seneca Rocks, WV.

I took the kids on a 3,800-mile road trip to Texas and back in the Sienna, much of it on back roads through beautiful Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and then Texas. Yep, that mini-van represented freedom.

Then my 19-year-old totaled it when someone cut him off on the highway on his way to school.

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My next car is my favorite to this day: a 2003 Saab 9-5 station wagon–my first turbo. Yes, I like station wagons a lot. I had kids, a dog, needed to haul my trash to the transfer station and occasional bicycles to and from kids’ friend’s houses. I paid almost nothing for this very used vehicle, but loved it (still have it sitting off the driveway waiting for me to find the title so I can sell it).

This leads me to what I am driving today. I found another used Honda, an Accord this time. It has dings and scratches, and a black interior which I detest, but it is a dependable, decent car. It always starts and always takes me where I want to go.

See, my Saab quit being roadworthy at the beginning of 2016. I went without a vehicle for seven months. A friend of a friend sold me a very sad, poor condition Chevy S-10 pickup to use until I could scrounge up enough money to buy a decent car. Never buy one of these. Total junk. But it allows me to haul off trash and junk as we prepare the house to sell (when it is running, which isn’t often). This truck was all I had to drive until September when my 26-year-old son found me the Honda Accord.

I miss driving my Saab a lot (sport mode)! But I fully appreciate the freedom a dependable Honda Accord affords me.

This afternoon I am using that car to pick up my daughter and granddaughter from the airport in Providence. She will, in turn, use that car to visit all of her friends while she is here.

Knowing that my car is sitting out there in the driveway waiting to take me wherever I desire is glorious. Having wheels is definitely one of my favorite things.

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Texas Hill Country

My favorite things

I have been singing “My Favorite Things” from Sound of Music all morning.

 

When I became a mother I believed that my children had to come first, no matter the cost to myself. For awhile this devotion made me happy.

I bought into the motherhood = martyrdom myth.

I have since dismissed this particular concept and replaced it with one that is much healthier.

I believe in the importance of my own happiness and its pursuit. And the hard truth is that no one else is going to make me happy.

Although I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, I have decided to make the focus of 2017 my own happiness.

This is not the same as discovering what causes unhappiness.

This is a much more positive focus.

What makes me happy? Is it stuff, experiences, choices or money?

What do I need to do or not do to be happy? Is it an active pursuit or merely learning to appreciate what I have?

I will try to share something at least once a week as I make discoveries. I would love to hear what you do to make yourself happy, too.

Wounds that don’t heal

IImprisoned Spring by Arthur Hacker (1911)Heartbreak and loss come in many different forms: the death of a loved one, rejection by a lover or spouse, abandonment by a parent.

As a wounded woman, I know what it is to hurt.

I won’t bore you with tales of woe from my childhood, but all was not well at home.

By the time I was a young adult, I had been exposed to some pretty bad stuff, much of it a result of our male-dominated culture (exposure to pornography, sexual predators young and old, and male criticism of my female form and personality).

I was bullied by other girls, all older and bigger than me. I was also bullied by my family.

By the time I was 21 years old, I had what was termed”a serious chip” on my shoulder.

Believe it or not, I was judged harshly because I was not all smiles and compliance all the time.  Because I tried to fight back. Girls shouldn’t do that, don’t you know.

I knew the world was screwed up even when I was young, but I never knew how to express my concern. It festered. It fermented. I didn’t understand my discontent.

By the time I was in my early 20s, I wore a pretty hard, protective shell designed to keep me from getting hurt.

And then I found a church that promised “inner healing.”

Was there a chance that I could be freed from the pain that I worked so hard to keep hidden away?

I found a husband who was supposed to be loving, caring and a positive expression of patriarchy.

I believed that in this relationship, those wounds would finally begin to heal. I was in a safe relationship, a safe place, finally.

I let my guard down and exposed many of my wounds to this man.

I trusted him.

He used his power to control instead of love.

This is not a cautionary tale. I am not advocating the growth of dragon scales as a way to protect oneself. We can never truly love others if we don’t allow them to love us. And no one can love us if we don’t let down our guard.

From a psychological point of view, I am most likely dealing with abandonment issues exacerbated by fear of rejection. In a nutshell, when my father left me and my family when I was 7 years old, it affected me profoundly.

Back in the late 60s, it was not common for parents to divorce. I grew up in what was called a “broken home.” I carried that shame with me everywhere.

Thinking back, when my father was home there was an awful lot of yelling and fighting. I’m pretty sure things got physical. I don’t remember much. I liked the quiet better.

I heard a lot of stories from both of my parents over the subsequent years well into my adolescence when I finally reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I eventually refused to see my father anymore. That estrangement lasted for about two years.

I got pregnant. I got married. I had a baby. I got divorced.

I needed the quiet.

When it wasn’t quiet, when there was conflict and discord, my wounds opened up and all the pain came flooding back.

Here’s the thing: we all have wounds. My wounds are probably nothing compared to someone else’s wounds. That doesn’t matter.

We are talking pain levels here and tolerance for pain.

In life, the good times are supposed to outweigh the bad times.

Everyone suffers. Everyone struggles. Everyone has pain.

The real issue is how much pain and how often. Does the pain ever stop? Are there respites from the pain?

For some people, the answer is “No.”

I didn’t understand the insidious nature of chronic pain until a few years ago after contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite. I ended up one of the small percentage of people who experience long-term symptoms. Mine include chronic fatigue and chronic pain. I know what it is like to live with pain all the time.

The physical bite site, the terrible wound that I had from that tick bite, did heal after three weeks of antibiotics. The cause of the initial wound (about the size of a softball) moved away from the bite site and penetrated deep into my body’s tissues and even my brain. There was no healing.

Too Much Pain

The other day, I woke up and realized that I didn’t have any noticeable pain in my body. I breathed deeply and smiled. What a happy day. I want more pain-free days. Who wouldn’t? I thoroughly enjoyed that day. But such days are rare.

There is more compassion for those who suffer from physical pain than emotional pain in our society.  If someone has a back injury and must take opioids, no one holds it against that person.

For those who suffer loss and are wounded by it (and how can one not be wounded by loss???), healing is supposed to take place over time, but there is an expectation of some conclusion where the person affected finds relief and can move on with no more symptoms of grief.

For most people, grieving a loss takes time and the support of loved ones. In most cases, the pain of the loss lessens until it is merely a memory with occasional bouts of suffering that abate after a day or so.

What happens when grieving doesn’t end? Sometimes the wounds just don’t heal.

What happens to those who never stop feeling profound and unbearable pain?

There are many different endings to this kind of story.

Many can find relief through mental health services: therapy, medications and lifestyle changes. For some people this works.

Some end in the body giving up and the person fading away (yes, people can die from a broken heart). Some end in self-destructive behavior that results in death. Some end in suicide.

For some people the wounds just don’t heal. For some people the pain never stops. The thought of living a life of never ending pain is unbearable.

But wait…

 

Even though many wounds don’t heal, there is hope.

And it starts with taking back one’s power…

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I wouldn’t have seen the double rainbow if I hadn’t gone outside

 

 

Hearing voices

obey submit conformI have heard a variety of voices from many different sources over my 53 years: growing up, into young adulthood and well into middle age. I admit that a majority of those voices have been denigrating and controlling. I have never had a cheerleader in my life, EVER. Until now, that is.

Over the past 2-3 years, I have developed relationships with individuals who are cheering me on. I don’t understand those voices’ motivations, but I gratefully accept their positive impact on my life.

Sadly, I had to dismiss all of the negative chatter in my life before I was open to hearing new, positive voices. I don’t know why an emotional disconnect was necessary, but it is a definitive truth for my own experience. I still guard my emotional ears, protecting myself from family and friends who, usually due to misguided allegiance to an impersonal religion or adherence to childhood labels, believe that conformity to a random norm is necessary for my life.

Growing up, religion didn’t play a part in the controlling negativity I was surrounded by most of the time. But, thinking about what I just wrote, I wonder if it did–religion that is.

One side of my family grew up in the Church of Christ, a denomination that believes legalistically that if something is not mentioned in the New Testament, then it is not allowed in any aspect of religious life. I don’t quite understand how they justify reading the Bible in English or using hymnals printed on a printing press, neither of which were available or used in the first century A.D., even, but that is the nature of legalism. It is man’s attempt to create some kind of order out of the apparently-confusing edict by Jesus Christ to love one another, one that seems completely disordered and impossible unless man builds a structure to contain it.

Love one another: Oh, that means I must tell you what you can wear if you are to be acceptable to God.

Love one another: No, a child born out of wedlock is not accepted by God.

Love one another: Musical instruments are not allowed in worship.

Huh?

Maybe some of the voices I heard growing up were influenced by religion after all. In young adulthood, I admit that I invited those voices in and allowed them to impose new, even stricter norms. And this is where I met my husband. Yikes!

Controllers, often referred to as co-dependents, cannot be satisfied with being the best person that THEY can be. No, they focus outwardly, attempting to create structure for themselves through the lives of others. Maybe someday I will research this idea. I know that my estranged husband cannot function within a family where he is not completely in control. He moved over 700 miles away. It is easier for him that way. He still controls as much as he can, not letting even a penny out of his cold hands unless it fits his narrow view of family and responsibility.

I pity people who need to control the lives of others. Some do it by gossiping. There is typically one member of each larger, extended family who keeps the failings of their loved ones up for discussion so everyone can ignore their own flaws. There might be a strong patriarch who controls the family fortune or heritage (my family refused to help me work on discovering my roots as punishment for not speaking to another family member when I was at my worst physically and emotionally). There may be a matriarch who rules by terror or the withholding of affection and approval. Controllers are miserable people who are not even the least bit happy unless everyone around them is equally miserable.

For those emerging from a life that is no longer acceptable to them, whether it was in an abusive relationship or merely the decision to seek a different, better life, determining which voices you hear is vital.

How can you find your own voice when all you hear are the voices of others?

Silence the voices of dissent and negativity.

Embrace the positive voices out there. If you can’t find them, then you have not successfully silenced the raucous clamor of negativity yet.

Did I mention that I listened to music every waking moment of my day for at least a year after my second, permanent marital separation? Music was essential to silencing many of the voices that tormented me, voices that spoke to me even when they weren’t present. This was one of my favorites from that time:


 

Stupid Boy by Keith Urban

Well, she was precious like a flower.
She grew wild, wild but innocent.
A perfect prayer in a desperate hour;
She was everything beautiful, and different.
Stupid boy, you can’t fence that in.
Stupid boy, it’s like holding back the wind.
She laid her heart and soul right in your hands.
And you stole her every dream and you crushed her plans.
She never even knew she even had a choice,
And that’s what happens when the only
Voice she hears is telling her she can’t.
You stupid boy, you always had to be right.
And now you’ve lost the only thing
That ever made you feel alive.

This song tells a sacred story: little girls are precious, beautiful and a gift to mankind. They are not put on this earth to fulfill man’s idea of womanhood. If man is created in the image of God, male and female He created them, then that girl, that woman, that mother, that sister, that daughter is a sacred being to be treasured, respected, and honored.

I was born a spirited, sensitive, barefooted, exploring child who loved life. When I got married, I opened myself up to another person, loved and trusted like I had never done before in my life, only to be criticized and rejected for who I was as a person, all with the goal of making me submit before God to some ethereal model of religious womanhood. I was crushed and nearly destroyed before I tore myself away from that path and put myself on a new path to self-determination, one in which my personhood was paramount and my voice valid. Anyone or anything that does not respect who I am and who I want to be is not welcome in my life. Period.

What voices do you hear?

Vulnerability

Leaving class yesterday, I found myself in a conversation with a fellow student, one that is older than me even. During class discussion on the mythology of the family, the mother and the father, I had disclosed something personal to make a point.

It is interesting how some men, and occasionally women, feel that a personal disclosure is an invitation to freely give advice, copious amounts of advice. Although I enjoyed the conversation because it was a personal connection with another human being that went beyond the superficial, I also walked away with a sense of dissatisfaction. Something was amiss.

It took a night’s sleep to identify the source of this feeling: there was a tone of patriarchy in every comment he made about my life. Allow me to explain.

I had disclosed that when I separated from my husband (instigated by me, by the way), I was suddenly faced with an identity crisis. I had been a wife for over 20 years. Suddenly, I was not that person anymore. If I wasn’t a wife, then who was I?

This fellow student (an older black man) and I talked about our educational dreams where I disclosed my desire to graduate from a Texas university, hopefully one located in Austin (my favorite city in the whole world).

I know that in his misguided way he was trying to be supportive. But it went way beyond that when he started delving into my personal attitudes and dreams. I hadn’t invited him in. In analyzing the conversation, I believe that some sense of patriarchal protectiveness, me being the weaker female sex, had kicked in at some point.

Vulnerability will send signals to some people that we, as women, need to be rescued, protected, and guided if we are to find our way in whatever new world we find ourselves. It is no mistake that I spent a full year pretty much locked up in my house after my second, permanent separation from my husband. I felt that no one in my life was safe to be around while I figured out who I was and what I was going to do.

I was so raw, so vulnerable that any voice, no matter how well-intentioned, could assert itself into my vulnerable, very susceptible self, and I would have been powerless to resist. The only way I could survive with my self intact was to limit outside voices.

I was grieving, mourning the loss of an identity that I had built over a 20-year period. That self was dead. That was the day that I began to build my new, independent, determined self.

A year ago, an interaction such as yesterday’s might have set me back quite a bit, leaving me to sift through the words of another to find out which were true and which were not. In the past, I had been so vulnerable that I might have considered his advice as one that should be given great consideration.

The bottom line is that this man is not my friend. He is a fellow student in a class that I am taking. We had one conversation. He had some interesting points. Because I am very polite, I didn’t just blow this guy off and tell him he was full of shit. I just don’t do that (though I probably should more often).

When rebuilding a life after abuse or a serious life change, women must be careful which voices they give credence. It is okay to listen, but we must guard against well-meaning advice that is no more than that: casual advice.

If the voices are too many or too loud, it might be necessary to pull back and shut them out for a time so that that tiny inner voice can begin to speak. As mine did, it might start out as the softest of whispers. Until it is louder, shutting out the noise of others may be necessary.

Had I been able to find one that I could connect with (I tried), a therapist would have been an amazing tool during this stage of reconstruction, or redefinition. [After taking Psychology my first semester, I realized that I had needed a psychologist that used the humanistic approach.]

I am still finding my way. I do not feel that my future is determined yet. Why would I think that? Who can ever really say what the future holds? I know what I dream of doing. I know what I think I want. But I am on a journey, not on a particular road to a set destination.

So, how I get where I am going, if I even go there, is kind of up in the air.

Today I celebrate the fact that my voice is no longer a soft whisper; it is strong!

Choices: Self-Determination for Women

For a woman, self-determination is a subconscious desire. When men identify, acknowledge and validate this primal need, everyone is happier. Wise men acknowledge this basic need and work it into their relationships with women. Not controllers. Controllers end up driving away the women in their lives, or killing them, sometimes emotionally and sometimes physically. When one person needs to exert control over the life of another, the end result will be either subjection or rejection.
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Subjecting another to one’s will might seem desirous if one feels he or she is correctly oriented and the object of subjection is incorrectly oriented. What right does any person have to determine another person’s life? More importantly, how does a man earn the superior position of “head” or relational boss over a woman? Because the Bible says it’s so? I reject that position. It doesn’t fit my right to equality and my desire for freedom from oppression. That doctrine does not fit my belief that I have a right to self-determination.

Rejection is my final choice. If I refuse a life of subjection to the will of a man, then I must reject his doctrine. I have stated previously that a controller cannot function within a relationship in which he does not have control. He flounders, struggles, becomes completely depressed and eventually lost. Without external control over others, he cannot find any kind of internal control over himself. In my case, I must reject the man. He cannot love; he can only control. I do not need to be controlled; I need to be loved. With no understanding of this basic concept, there is no viable relationship. So I must choose.

Choices . . . I have made many of my life choices based on ideological concepts. Although living this way often causes hardship for me and my children, I cannot live any other way. I chose to keep my first pregnancy (against the sage advice of some resulting in judgment and rejection of me), lived as a single mom for nine years before remarrying, and then chose someone that I felt would share my life goals. I look back, as only those who have reached my age can, and see many mistakes I have made. I do not, however, regret any of my choices. I am who I am today because of every one of those choices.
dothisMy choices have, however, unwittingly caused my family emotional difficulty. My family cannot understand why I choose as I do because I am not in possession of their experiences and their values, ones that are more calculated to the results than the perceived right and wrong of the situation. Again, I tend to be an idealist. It is hard being an idealist. Oh, that is an entirely different post, one which I must explore separately. I have made many choices based on wrongly idealistic concepts. But they were mine. I believed thus and acted on that belief. I own those choices.

I celebrate that I can make tough decisions separate from the expressed desires of my extended family. On the other hand, I mourn that I haven’t received more respect and support from my family–do I have a right to expect this when I reject their advice? We all do this to some degree, I think. Some more boldly than others. I am lucky that I don’t care what people think as much as some. Not caring gives me a certain amount of freedom. Deep down inside, though, is that little girl still waiting for someone to notice her, delight in her, and celebrate her as their precious little girl. I never felt this and mourn this lack. This (lacking approval) has been a motivator for many of my choices. It has given me much freedom to make choices apart from a desire for approval and acceptance while deep down yearning for approval and acceptance. Oh, the conflict.

Choices . . . I will continue to make them based on my value system even as that system shifts. I do try very hard to understand the motivations and values of others in dealing with them. I cannot allow myself to be subjected to the values and beliefs of others, though. I am struggling with the age-old need for self-determination. I have given up a lot to gain this right. A lot. When I am 85 years old, I wonder if I will think it was worth it all. For now, it is what I must do. I can live no other way.

Self-Determination

According to Self-Determination Theory, the following is believed to be true:

“Within SDT, the nutriments for healthy development and functioning are specified using the concept of basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. To the extent that the needs are ongoingly satisfied people will develop and function effectively and experience wellness, but to the extent that they are thwarted, people more likely evidence ill-being and non-optimal functioning. The darker sides of human behavior and experience, such as certain types of psychopathology, prejudice, and aggression are understood in terms of reactions to basic needs having been thwarted, either developmentally or proximally.”
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In a system where self-determination is disallowed, I believe moral and behavioral standards are threatened and personalities become twisted to some degree. We all acknowledge that overly controlling parents often raise a rebellious child. A man who attempts to control his wife often ends up with a wife who runs away or sneaks around. If the controllers had been less controlling, would the children and wife have developed differently, been able to be true to a moral standard of obedience for the children and faithfulness in the wife? Can we blame the wrong behavior of one person on the oppressive behavior of another? In some cases I believe we can.

What happens when a people are faced with a dictatorial ruler? A black market emerges. A resistance is formed. Lawbreakers are created either way. When prohibition was in effect in the United States, we all agree that it was a factor in the development of organized crime. Many believe the same situation has emerged because of the war on drugs. And now we have hundreds of thousands of new felons in Connecticut because of their refusal to register their legally-purchased and possessed long guns and high-capacity magazines. We can see what Stalin did in Russia when he declared the private ownership of land void and that the product of personal effort belonged to the state. Riots, rebellion and millions of deaths as Stalin endeavored to eliminate any threats to his plan for collectivism and Communism.

On a personal level, when one person oppresses or controls another, the results are often perceived immorality. For myself, I had to reject my church, my husband, and my extended family to some degree in my quest to be free from an emotionally-abusive marriage. I had to do what is considered taboo in America. Women just don’t leave their faithful husbands here. He didn’t deserve that. I have been told over and over again that he loves me and wants me back. Control is not love.

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And yet, in my quest for self-determination, freedom from oppression and rejection of subjection, I am true to myself. I suffer a lot for this choice as any woman does who fights to escape an abusive marriage. I risk financial devastation, potential loss of my children, and even death for standing up to a controlling, abusive husband. A woman is most at risk when she is fleeing an abusive husband. I know women who had to leave their children behind with an abusive husband to preserve their own lives. What horrible choices abused women face.

The good news is that here in America, a woman is free to seek escape from an abusive marriage. The courts support her right to be free from emotional and physical abuse. The police will enforce orders of protection, and when necessary, a woman can protect herself legally by owning a gun. I don’t care what you believe about gun control, a woman does not stand a chance physically against a man in hand-to-hand battle; a gun equalizes her chances of survival in many cases. I chose not to purchase a gun for protection when I was fearful but appreciate that I had the choice.

Self-determination is a basic human right, one that has been denied to women for thousands of years; it is a right that continues to be threatened by religious doctrines and controlling men even today. I celebrate my right to make choices for my life. I celebrate that I am free to make good and bad choices, and acknowledge that I will live with the consequences. Someday, maybe, women will feel even more empowered to reject male domination in our culture (entertainment, advertising, consumerism, career choices, politics, education). Controlling men are weak men (another blog post). Women who shake off control are strong women who pay a high price for their freedom and for their right to self-determination.

May we all be free to make choices about our own lives!

Out of control

TMI alert! If you don’t like to read about female reproductive issues, don’t read any further. Click off, so to speak, to a less graphic place.

TMI

One theme that I am focused on in my life is self-determination. I want the ability and resources to make decisions for my own life without the requisite campaigning, begging, cajoling, and typical refusal I see as normality for me. I am sick of it.

So what in the *#@$ does my body think it is doing? I am 53 years old. That means stuff is going on that is new for me. I was fairly comfortable with the typical insanity of monthly menstruation. It has been mostly painless, though never regular. Well, that isn’t completely true. For years I had a 45-day cycle. That is a blessing unless you need to calculate due dates for pregnancies. Then it gets a little challenging (and doctors tend to tell you that a birth is early when it isn’t). Aside from that, the secondary infertility I suffered for a few years, and the years of very heavy flow after the birth of my second-to-the-last son, my reproductive issues have been minimal. Compared to what I am dealing with now, that was all a walk in the park (oh, the joy of time blurring memories).

The Change of Life: Really?

Now I am going through “the change,” in the throes of peri-menopause, seeing a new season of life ushered in and an old season coming to a close. Good grief, I am so sick of the euphemisms used to describe the living hell that women go through because they are child bearers. We bleed, we hurt, we have mood swings, we cry, we laugh, we make our families flee in terror, we need wine, we need chocolate, we need pain relievers and hormones. And dammit, we bleed!

Let that sink in for a minute. We bleed, over and over and over for years and years, decades, sometimes half a century.

While we are in the midst of childbearing, desiring offspring, loving being a mommy, looking forward to another pregnancy, and understand the nature of the reproductive system, it is all okay, most of the time. A lot of the time we grin and bear it because out of it we sometimes get babies. Oftentimes, not. I have lost four pregnancies, four little ones that never took a breath or felt my embrace. They are gone forever. Then there are the times when I hoped for a pregnancy and month after month it was a no go. I bled. My hopes bled, too. Sometimes I felt like my soul was bleeding, hemorrhaging, getting weaker, becoming ghost-like.

And then I was done. I knew the second my youngest was born that I was done. He was born after two losses. I held him in my arms, and I knew he was the last. I was completely comfortable with that. I was so done.

Thirteen years later, I am still done but apparently my body didn’t get the memo. Now I feel as though I am being punished for having allowed my body to be used in such a brutal way — yes, reproduction is brutal on a woman’s body. I know: babies are a blessing. They are. But pregnancy is a bitch. Postpartum is a bitch. Sore nipples are a bitch. But we love our children, so it is just one part of the picture. But there is the bleeding: before pregnancy, during labor and delivery, and after pregnancy. Always the bleeding.

And now I am still bleeding. A lot! At a time when I want to have SOME control over my life, I feel as though my body is my worst enemy, rebelling against the notion that I might ever have control over anything. It is thumbing its nose at me, laughing, smirking, and betraying me. I want it to stop.

I did have a brief respite. After an eight-week flow, some of it scary heavy, it stopped after I was given some powerful drugs. God bless drugs.

It was almost three months since that flow stopped, and I was celebrating because I thought I might be through the wasteland of peri-menopause, the field laid with razor wire, the haunted forest, the Dead Marshes. Then it happened. My body laughed at me AGAIN!

I wonder if control, self-determination, are mere illusions? Is such a thing ever possible for a woman, man or any human being? Am I tilting at windmills by fighting for independence? Am I seeking the unseekable, or the unfindable? Oh, the philosophical questions that all sentient beings ask. Oh, the frustrations that women face. I cannot comprehend the frustrations of men because I am not one. But I can say, from firsthand experience, that being a woman sure can be really rough physically, emotionally, hormonally, and any other -ly you can think of. So today I just want my body to stop pouring itself out for nothing. I am tired. I need a break.

Out of control and not liking it one bit.

Hard rain breaks through, ushers in new life

Last night about 10 p.m. I heard a strange sound. At first I was a bit concerned. I went to the window to see if my suspicions were correct. Yes, it was raining HARD. It wasn’t sprinkling or raining lightly — I wouldn’t have heard that inside my cocoon of a house with windows tightly sealed and curtains drawn for the night. A mere rain shower would have passed through without notice.

No, this was a gully washer, a toad choker, a frog strangler — hard, heavy rain that forced itself upon the earth. This is the kind of rain that you want when you need something washed away. Yes, it can batter and beat, it can hurt even, and you certainly do not want this kind of rain after you have planted your garden and the little seed leaves are trying to assert themselves upon the landscape. No, this kind of rain is not always welcome. Last night it was.

We have had a few inches of hard-crusted snow and ice remaining on the yard, gardens and bordering the driveway for weeks. This hard memory of winter just would not leave. It had to be pushed out the door, and that rain last night did that unpleasant job. It didn’t worry about being perceived as rude. It didn’t worry about crushing tiny, tender seedlings. It just came and pounded on that hard crust. Best of all, it washed away winter. It took winter with it as it traveled in rivulets and tiny, newborn brooks and larger streams. It filled up the pond and raised the lake with winter and spring mingled together, mixed up and indistinguishable.

And that is how life is. When it has been hard, traumatic, beating and battering without end, sometimes it takes a hard rain to wash away the encrusted shell we put on to keep us safe through those hard times. The shell cannot remain, though, if life is to go on. If we want new life to flourish, the shell must be removed — you cannot plant seeds in a hard-crusted earth.

No one willingly sheds that hard shell; it would hurt too much to pick it off like a scab. It must be softened, dissolved, and then washed away. The rains do that job, and though we often curse them, yes, hate them, those heavy rains do what no one else can do: they free us from the past.

I am embracing the hard rains of spring so that I can have a beautiful, fruitful summer, and a celebratory autumn surrounded by the fullness of life.

I am ready to develop a new beauty, one filled with self-determination, yes. But one that is not so hard and protective. Understanding and establishing boundaries, I am ready to begin a new life — truly begin a new life.

Spring is here!

Blueberry buds

Blueberry buds

Men telling women what to do — Stop it!

The Bold Italic's article on artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's series of posters

The Bold Italic’s article on artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s series of posters


What a brilliant ad campaign: “Stop Telling Women to Smile!”

At the Betti Ono Gallery in Oakland, California through April 19th, the exhibit at the end of February included workshops and discussions on ending street harrassment for women. March and April features new artwork by and about local Oakland women.

If you are not a woman or have never had some random, strange man tell you to smile, you just won’t understand why this could be even remotely important to women. Well, I think most of us are just plain tired of men telling us what to do. Really, we are.

The Bold Italic’s article features three of Fazlalizadeh’s posters that compliment the theme aimed at stopping street harrassment, telling men to leave women alone: “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” “My Outfit is Not an Invitation,” and “Women are Not Outside for Your Entertainment.” Brilliant, all three.

In my 53 years I have had men touch me inappropriately, invite me to sit on their laps, want to keep me (as in mistress), expose their genitals to me in public, received many, many sexually inappropriately compliments, been hit, shoved, told I should wear my hair short, should wear my hair long, dress differently, get a job, not work, not to smoke cigars, not to drink, that I should drink more, that I speak too loudly, that I should speak up, and so much more. Oh, so much more. And then there are the oh so many times I have been told to smile by men. Never by a woman. Just men.

I had never really considered the implications of that seemingly innocent request before now. I know that it really irritates me when a man says that to me. I know that, depending on my mood, I might smile (like a good girl) or give him a scowl that makes his testicles shrivel up. It could go either way.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us consider how and when, as women who have the right to self-determination, we want to smile. When we damn well feel like it!