It’s not easy to unmask yourself. To choose the fire of truth and admit to failure, to fling yourself blindly off the cliff not knowing what lies below. But the alternative, the façade of wholeness and stability now felt suffocating. Unbearable. Like a too tight shirt in the stifling heat of summer. Can’t breathe. Here’s Part 1 of my own unmasking.
It’s hard to come to terms with.
I am one of the lucky ones. Happily married to a wonderful man for the past 23 years. Not that we haven’t had our ups and downs. But on the balance, we’ve been happy. We’re not the same people we were when we said “I do” oh so long ago. We have lived and worked and grown - both together and apart. It’s not easy. But it is worthwhile, the growing. The intimacy created with another human being after all that time. It’s incredible. Fighting stagnation. Calcification. Sameness.
I’m proud of the hard work and dedication and difficulties we’ve struggled through. I’m also proud of being a conscious parent. Present. There for my kids. And now, they’ve grown up. Shocking news when you’ve been in the trenches of child-rearing and car-pooling for decades. And you’re left with the remnants of what used to be a full life. Or at least, a busy life. And it’s quiet. Oh, so quiet. After the loud, raucous laughter of childhood. And the deep, searing tears of adolescence, and of parenthood, and of the myriad crises you’ve steered your family around and through. Oh, the quiet. Now there’s little to distract you from yourself. And this, it turns out, is a good thing.
I’m middle-aged. A tad past, actually, at 48 years young. That too, is hard to come to terms with. I see my face in the mirror, but it’s a little unfamiliar. Both old and new at the same time. Strange. Lined. I finally believe my husband when he tells me I’m beautiful. But it’s been a long journey. I’m learning to make peace with my body. Or rather, with my body image. After years of disapproval, this feels good. Ironic. Learning to like my middle-aged, wrinkled and saggy body when I hated my youthful self.
And again, I am one of the lucky ones. Is it one in three? Or one in four? Women who experience physical or sexual violence. Crazy high, frighteningly high numbers. No. Not numbers. People. Real people. Like me, and my daughter, my mom, my friend. And like you, or your daughter, your mom, your friend. So far, I am lucky. I have been cherished by many men in my life. My dad, my brothers, my husband. For that, I will forever be profoundly grateful. But this is not to say that I haven’t been a victim. Of patriarchy. Of a culture that devalues and holds me down based on my gender. I’ve been mansplained – shout out to Rebecca Solnit’s book, “Men Explain Things to Me!”. I have been passed over, not heard, forced out, put down. I have been objectified and diminished. And I have been robbed.
And this, it turns out, is the worst of all. I have been robbed. Robbed of my own desire. Of pure, delightful sexuality. Of sensuality. Of my connection to sisterhood and to a sacred spirituality. These parts of myself, my birthright, my right to physical pleasure and happiness, were replaced with both wonderful people and events, and tawdry trinkets not worthy of the treasure unwittingly forgotten. I allowed it to happen. Replaced willingly, and foolishly, though certainly not consciously with busy-ness, with achievement and goals and ambition, with sports and fun and adventure, with marriage and faithfulness and monogamy, with children and friendships and the trappings of a successful and fulfilling life. And it was. Except that I wasn’t whole. The deeper longings and desires of the secret self were buried under a pleasant, happy veneer. And I didn’t even know it.
I should feel guilty. For wanting more…
It was as if I could not see the beautiful blue sky. You know, that deep, azure color that seems unworldly on a perfect summer day. Everyone would say, wow, the sky is gorgeous today, look at how blue it is. And I’d look and say, yes, and nod my head, but really see blue as gray. It is a beautiful blue today I’d say, believing I saw it. Thinking I was whole. Convinced I was just not sensual or sexy or beautiful but who needs it, really. Then, one day, an ordinary day as the extraordinary always seems to begin, some kind of veil was swept away and I saw it. Truly saw the deep azure blue. And it’s so, so beautiful. I want to cry for how beautiful and how moving it is.
To see and to believe in your own beauty. To feel confident and sexy. To feel desired and desirous. This is the gift Betty Dodson has given me. And I am not only forever grateful. I am impassioned about sharing this beauty and this work with all the other women who think they see blue, but still see gray. All the other women who think they’re whole, but are too busy to reclaim their own sensuality. The women who are too anxious to embrace pleasure for themselves because they’re so busy providing it to their husbands, partners, children, friends and parents. The women who feel too fat, too fluffy, too anything and everything to feel deserving of self-love and the freedom that makes me walk through life differently than I did before.