I’m getting the feeling that we all reach a certain point in our adult life as women, and we start to question… Is this it?
Even writing this creates a stir in my stomach because this isn’t what I have been conditioned to understand, that if I am in any way ungrateful for all I have it will be snatched from me. As a 37-year-old woman brought up in a catholic household- guilt anyone?!- I have learned a few things along the way:
I have learnt that, as a woman, I must follow a certain path. Once I tick these things off my list I must be eternally grateful for them and NEVER, under any circumstances, ask for more, or even remotely question this path.
I have learnt to please others, to empathise, understand and not to be angry (it’s not very ladylike).
I have learnt to shape my body in a certain way, going against both its own will and genetic make-up. Should I not achieve said shape, I must hide it, flatter it, criticise and torture it until I finally find the motivation to defy genetics and exhaust it into the shape. I have learnt this is why we exercise.
I have learnt that I can (and must!) have it all; a partner, a family, a career, and a social life, all in equal measure and thriving.
I have learnt that I must say thank you.
I have learnt that I must come at the bottom of all the lists.
I have learnt that the goal is happiness, for me and my children.
I have learnt to serve.
I have learnt that if someone chooses a different path, that this choice is a direct threat to me and to society and our children.
I have learnt that there is not enough to go around.
I have learnt to avoid pain.
As a 37-year-old woman, I call bullshit.
I had a lot of unlearning and undoing to do, and this is an era of my life that I am calling my awakening. Let me tell you, these awakenings are not easy, they can often feel like death, mine certainly did! But I’ll let you into a little secret; that’s exactly what they are. The death of an old version of myself and the birth of a new. I can also tell you that there is no arrival, no destination, you don’t do all this work and arrive at happiness. It takes effort and work, it can and will bring you to the brink. So why? Why would I do it? Because I am exhausted with the messages. Because we as women cannot carry it all continuously. Because I am done surviving; I am ready to thrive. The alternative is to continue to live in this darkness and ultimately to accept it to its fullest. I am ready for some light. I deserve just as much compassion as all the people I am serving it out to. I deserve to live and not just exist. Those are the choices. I choose the awakening because I finally choose me. I am not waiting for anyone else; I am not expecting anything else; from anyone else. I don’t require anyone to make me happy or to regulate me, I can, and I will show up for myself. Even if it gets worse before it gets better, even if it’s hard; I choose me.
It is this moment where I questioned all these messages; and though a very painful, reflective and introverted time of my life, one which has often exhibited itself as depression and anxiety, which has been transformative. Believe it or not I am beyond grateful for it.
I am sure all awakenings are different, but here’s what it looked like for me. It started where all my epiphanies begin, in the pit of depression. A low moment for all of us on the planet in the summer of 2020, we were in shock, grieving and isolated. I had come out of a long-term relationship, my Dad had suddenly died, and I was home-schooling two young boys, who really didn’t want to be home-schooled. I just couldn’t’ see any light. But at that moment, with the support of family and friends from afar, I dragged myself out of bed and started to complete a 30-day yoga challenge with Adrienne on YouTube. I don’t know why I did this. I can’t remember my thinking, but that decision was the beginning of it all.
There was no choice involved after that first decision, I just knew I had to show up every day on the mat; I entered into this challenge and all I knew was I had to show up. So I did. It was in showing up every day on the mat that I began to understand the value of showing up for myself. It wasn’t something I had done before. It felt strange, some days it was hard, some days I didn’t want to, but every day I did. It was transformative. And not because my body changed- I didn’t notice that initially. It’s because for the first time I was exercising because it felt good to do so. It’s because in those moments where I focused on my breath it was just me, this time was just for me. It was because outside of the noise and chaos of life beneath it all I found quiet and calm. In the quiet, I found my power, my resilience, and I understood intuitively that this was something no one could give me, and equally, no one could take it away. Only me.
Surprise Yourself - Jack Garrett
So now I exercise to feel good...
...not to look good. For me, that means practising yoga and running with my favourite playlists. It means looking in the mirror and understanding that my body has grown children, been in car crashes, had its heart shattered and undergone surgery; yet it has shown up for me and recovered every single time. Its shape is irrelevant, I will continue to take care of it, just as it has me.
...to quiet my mind and separate myself from my thoughts and my body, coming back to who I am, the person beneath all that. Meditating allows me to be still, to look inside and to be present. Of course, I get distracted, my mind wanders, but I just use these thoughts as indicators or reminders to return to my breath.
I read all the books, I listen to all the podcasts, and I open myself up...
...to the fact that I will continue to learn my whole life. I have learnt that happiness is an emotion and not a destination, to never chase it or anything else. I have learnt that all I have sought outside of myself to feel safe has been within me all along, much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Whilst the pressure to dig myself out of a difficult place can feel lonely, it is also powerful because I know I have it in me. I have learnt not to avoid or resist the hard times, or to pretend or joke my way out of them. These moments will break me but breaking isn’t the tragedy; it would be the attempts to reform myself in the same old way, instead of accepting my new form, that would be the real tragedy. I am different, but I am wiser and humbler and most importantly, more at peace with who I am. I no longer serve before I have filled my cup, and the thing I have realised in doing this is that not only am I able to give more, but I am more grateful than ever. I am grateful for the privilege it is to be the mother of my two boys, and I will model for them what it looks like to show up for themselves and let go of perfection. They will know that life is messy and chaotic, but if they discover their peace within, everything else will fall into place.
Untamed - Glennon Doyle
I have learnt this is all a practice and some days I will feel shit, but to realise everything is temporary and to let that feeling pass through me.
I learnt to discover my own values; not blindly accept the ones I had been taught. And then to live in accordance with them, because society doesn’t care if I am content or at peace, but I do. That’s the world I want to live in, don’t you?