In April of 2013, I took a much delayed leap into a life changing experience. For many years, a long time friend had been inviting, beckoning, cajoling, tempting and otherwise convincing me to take a training called Woman Within. An offshoot of what is called the ManKind Project, it creates safe space for women to dance with their demons and celebrate their delights. Having been a career therapist, my first thought was "I know this stuff." Janet sagely shook her head and reminded me that there was always more to learn and that I would likely emerge with more insight into what makes me tick. It was quite the hero's journey, or as I think of it, the s/hero's journey. There was a call to action and adventure, a dive into the cavernous depths that echoed with moans of my own fear-filled creation from eons ago -- facing my dragons and emerging from the swirling waters, gasping for life sustaining breath, bringing back armloads full of treasure, that all these months later, still spill out before me.
One of my intentions prior to registering was that I refrain from caregiving "savior behavior," since I was to be there as a participant and not a therapist, as tempting and pseudo-safe as that was. My experience has been that as soon as I commit to taking a workshop, it has already begun and the lessons come fast and furious. This was no exception.
The weekend was filled with opportunities to challenge my limiting thoughts and stretch my comfort zones; standing emotionally naked and vulnerable as I peeled off layers of protective armor that felt at times as if it was soldered on to my skin. My M.O. had been to take care of other people at my own expense and as a way of avoiding looking at my issues. It had also been an insurance policy against rejection. Unfortunately, those symbolic premiums were too high and the payoff not always sufficient to cover my needs. I often felt depleted and could feel resentment bubbling under the surface like lava about to erupt. Each time it did, I pushed it back down in an attempt to cap it off, with a boulder sized rationale that all would be fine, no matter what. While that might ultimately be so, by ignoring my feelings at the time, I was doing myself a disservice and forgetting that "What you resist, persists," according to Carl Jung.
One of the benefits of doing this training is the ongoing support of what are called E-Circles (Empowerment Circles) of women who live nearby. I had the experience of my first one yesterday that consisted of four others -- three who have been in my life for durations ranging from 10 years all the way back to nearly 30 years, and one I met yesterday. All were committed to showing up fully for themselves and each other. Authenticity and integrity are hallmarks of these trainings and follow up groups.
I came to the gathering with an intention to explore a longstanding issue. On December 21, I honored the 15th anniversary of my husband's death. I honor what Michael and I shared in the 12 years we were together, as we co-published Visions Magazine from 1988-1998, which seed planted the crop that became this blog and others that I write in my career as a journalist. I acknowledge the joys and sorrows, the pain and pleasure we experienced as perfectly imperfect soul mates who unpacked our baggage with each other, butted heads and blended hearts. Since then, I have had short-term relationships and (mostly) exquisite lovers (with a few oops, what the heck was I thinking? men tossed into the mix), but have not met anyone with whom I could imagine sharing a life. I have been doing a great deal of inner work, figuring out what a healthy relationship could look like, since I have been on my own for so long. I wanted the group's guidance for sorting through the piles and stacks of stuff that was standing in the way of what I both craved and cowered to anticipate. I have an amazing life, filled with friends who are my treasures, unlimited creative outlets, extraordinary adventures and an attitude of gratitude that fuels it all. And yet, there is wistfulness, asking "What's wrong with this picture that I haven't yet found someone with whom I can share the wealth?"
As I began to speak, I noticed that my throat felt like it was closing up and my solar plexus seemed constricted. I asked the group to take a few deep breaths with me and let out a sigh/moan in unison. It was a freeing experience that allowed me to express what was on my mind and in my heart. My friend Janet, who has known me the longest, spoke up and pointed out "I notice you use the word tap-dancing a lot," as I often describe myself as "Little Shirley Temple, tap dancing for approval," a pattern that developed in childhood. As a toddler, I even had the twisty curls to complete the look, although the child-star-turned-diplomat's were blond and mine were chestnut. She then asked me to put those words into action by literally tap-dancing while I continued talking about my feelings of being the caregiver in most of my relationships with men. I had a fear that no man was strong enough to support me emotionally. In very short order, I noticed myself getting winded and tired and my friends encouraged me to continue both tapping and speaking. I did that until the tears began to flow. They had asked me what else I wanted, in addition to this relationships. I told them I wanted to be center stage with my teaching work. When they wanted to know why, I told them it was so that I could use my gifts and talents and support myself while I was supporting others. The words "I want to be wanted for who I am and not for what I do," spilled out with my tears.
When I stopped dancing, I stood before each woman and repeated that statement and they, in turn, told me how valuable and loved I am without doing, simply being. Frightening statement, that -- since my entrenched belief has been that if I didn't step into that go-to girl role, then who would want me? It was both my freedom and my bondage, a velvet rope that wrapped around my heart. I am unwinding it and taking off my tap shoes, retiring them in favor of soft, comfy slippers as I welcome a partner with whom I play footsies.