this one’s for the girls

I’ve been noticing a trend in my Facebook newsfeed lately. It seems like many of my female friends are on the precipice of transformation. Or reinvention. Or something – hard or beautiful, or both – that’s about to see you level up. It probably feels like shit right now. I know.

This is a revolution (of one) that takes vast energy, like a volcano. But I see you doing it slowly. I see you doing it full of fear. I see you doing it anyway.

I see you surmounting staggering challenges to your physical and mental health. I see you putting one foot in front of the other, every single day, on the only road out. Ahead, into the dark. I see soul coaches, diets, returns to school and learning new skills. I see you standing up for yourself. I see you being vulnerable – picking yourself up off the bathroom floor and asking for help. And, I see you leaving toxic relationships and friendships behind – for you. I see you shedding the weight of your unsorted emotional baggage – which was getting heavier by the year. I see you hammering your pain and trauma into a righteous sword and using it in defense of life, love, grace and every damn blessing you’ve ever been given.

And, I just wanted to say that I’m really fucking proud of you. You inspire me.

I imagine that you might feel somewhat like I do about all the women you have been over the years. I was scrolling through pictures on my phone on the weekend and found this one. My first thought when I saw her is that I don’t know that girl anymore. I was 21 or 22 in it. Not yet a mom. Not yet over Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the local bar. Or shoulder pads. In fact, Jesus was still drinking himself to sleep over some of my weekend and fashion decisions. And, I’m reasonably sure that my hair was bigger than my dreams at that point.

But looking at her, I started to think about how nowhere and no one you have ever been really ever leaves you.

I had no clue then about all the messy work ahead of her. The messy work to go on and become the person she would next become. And the one after that. And the one after that. The messy work to invent – and then to make sense of – all of her fortunes and misfortunes, her desires and doubts, her hang-ups and sorrows, actions and accidents, mistakes and successes. All the work to constantly keep creating the next version of her – when she didn’t even realize a new version awaited, or was possible.

Some versions of her beat herself up unnecessarily over mistakes she thought she made. She was driven to succeed. To please her mother. To do everything for herself, and not reach for help. To not think too much about how she felt. She couldn’t handle conflict of any sort. She had emotional walls. And she never unraveled. Ever. She thought that was strength.

Today Her is a bit incredulous about some of those things now. At how I treated her and what I allowed her to think. Those things might as well have been thought and done by some fantastical figure in a slightly scary story that has nothing to do with her. And yet… And yet, she still struggles against those same things sometimes.

Later versions of her became much more forgiving though. She was softened by becoming a mom and some traumatic losses. And then, she found herself in closets and divorces. Like literally, found herself. She learned something about how cruel – and loving – folks can be and how, sometimes, people sure have a lot to say about lives they have never lived. And she also learned that love is a mirror – and, no matter who or what she is, what she sends out is reflected back to her, in the hearts and faces of her children, her partner, her true friends and family – and sometimes, in the least expected places from her past.

For a time, some of these versions of Her couldn’t ever see “the butterfly.” No, she was stuck huddling in a dark cocoon until, eventually, she lacerated the shit out of herself, punching and kicking her way out. Intellectually, she knew that she’d made decisions important to her very survival, but she let guilt, a tenacious cage-fighting bitch, beat her to a pulp anyway. She spent a lot of time staring other people’s wounds in the face. Admittedly, too much.

And yet… And yet she became more driven by empathy and understanding – as much for others as for herself. She became driven by an insatiable curiosity for the inner workings of this life. She held forgiveness up to the light, turning it over and over again in her hands, before finally allowing it in – for others. But most importantly, for herself. Some days, she’s still working to turn the ghosts that haunt her into the forgiveness and understanding that accompanies her on this crazy ride – to lessen her burden, yes – but more than anything, to lessen the burden her children have to carry. If that makes sense.

Because this latest version of Her is learning something about the past these days, too. About a mother who measured out, with coffee spoons, what she might ask of this life. About how we can honour our parents – and maybe save ourselves – by carrying the best of them forward, and laying down the rest. About generational trauma and how we’re each born fighting the same demons that laid our ancestors low – right down to our parents – because now they reside in us, too. About being born broken and learning to live by mending.

I don’t really know how you find your way to the “happy, normal life you deserve.” I suppose we all define happy and normal different. And we all get to that life, or whatever life, in different ways. What I do know is that getting there has nothing to do with what society often tells us adds up to happiness. It definitely has nothing to do with running down the hollow streets of a material life expecting to find it. True happiness lives inside of you.

As I barrel towards my 50s, I think the beauty of getting older and living a wildly rich and sometimes troubled life is the perspective that it affords you.

We can’t erase the past. We can’t change a lot of what happens to us – or for us, depending on how you look at it. We can’t change what anyone has done to us or why – or what demons or gods ruled them, or when or how or if they died. The shitty things will always be shitty. We can only change who we are in relation to them. We can only keep on revising how we narrate the stories of our lives. We can only come to terms with who we’ve become and do the emotional work it requires to LET THAT WOMAN FLY.

I am still her. That girl in the photo. And I am all of the women who have come after her – and those still to come. I’m so thankful to hold stake in my own happiness. Sure, things bite sometimes. But there are arms in the world that desperately want me. And at least two of them are my own. That’s plenty.

Hang on to yourself. And please, keep going.

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