“All my life I’ve thought I needed someone to complete me, now I know I need to belong to myself.” -Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair

The sun is beaming in my window as I sit at my yellow desk and slowly start to feel more space fill my lungs and heart than I have in days. So crammed full of doing for others I have been, I left little room for myself. Chest compressed, asthmatic gasp trying to find air, my voice has been trying to call though I have struggled to find time to listen.

A chronic cold, sense of exhaustion, and the unnatural feel of stress coursing through a body that usually feels like a peaceful sacred temple when balanced, are all potent reminders of what for many women is our chronic truth:

I am giving away bits and pieces of myself, laying them down at other’s feet in pretty little bow tied boxes, at a rate more rapid than I can replenish.

When I start feeling like a shell of self, a faint shadow who flickers as she tends to life willing herself into doing because she has cut herself off from her own heart source- a source that tells her LIFE is about the BE not the DO; I have learned to simply stop, stand, stare at the sun and find the solar space to repower. If I do not take the time to keep penning my own life story, nobody else will.

And so I need to pen, even if it comes at the cost of feeling I am disappointing another just as I do in this very moment having just told somebody I greatly love “I’m sorry. I just can’t.” Not today. The price I pay for saying yes, sacrifices a piece of myself that I do not have to give right now.

I need to breathe. I need my quiet. I need to find the church of my heart this morning. I need to let these words I write be my salvation and restoration.

I desperately need the sanctuary of the Self.  It took more than 30 years of painful lessons to learn this holiest of truths.

You are for you.

I am for me.

We our for ourselves.

Before anyone else.

For how are we to love others, if our own well of love is dry?

And yet women chronically struggle with being for ourselves, as it is so very easy to fall into the trap of being for everybody else. With great respect for the compassionate men out there who are actively nurturing their relational lives, those men often seem few and far between.

As a good male friend told me earlier this week, most men let women bear the responsibility for nurture in relationships. Not because men do not care about the relationship, but because most men are not born nurturers while women are. In spades.

And men know a woman will willingly carry the heavy pack of nurturing and do the work.

Tom Sawyer idly sits and watches as we pick up the paint brush over and over and over again painting other’s fences while ours stands sun-beaten, weather stripped, and sorely neglected.

Being WHAT others want us to be. Being WHO others want us to be. Loving and giving as THEY want. Meanwhile, our inner worlds slowly deteriorate and we forget what it is to think, dream and feel for ourselves ABOUT ourselves, as we wander away from the infinite ocean of life that exists in every woman’s heart, and search for water to fill our thirsty souls in our relationships, our jobs, our partners, our children, our obligations, our activities that leave us drained instead of nourished.

Waters from anything but our true self, for we have forgotten who SHE is.

So many of us can look back to being a child where we felt fearless about life and believed we could be anything we wanted as our imagination ran wild and our dreams ran free. Then, the more we grew we became intuitively aware of the depth of our emotions as our awareness of other’s expectations and needs heightened.

We stepped seamlessly into the role of taking care of our friends, playing nice and being good in order to keep the peace, achieving for the sake of perfection in order to prove ourselves to an unknown source, and holding the wounds of the hurts of our family and social systems deep inside. Somebody absorbs the pain of a sick system, and it is usually the woman.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, we start to forget about us. Our imagination dims. Our dreams shrink. Our creative lives are put on the back burner or permanently shelved. We forget to swim and instead tiredly tread water in an inundating sea of needs.

It never occurs to us to simply go swim elsewhere, for many of us don’t even know an elsewhere exists.
We hit adolescence and struggle to find space for our real selves. A standard is set for external beauty and too many of our young women are taught to focus on this in exclusion to valuing the development of a beautiful character and beautiful mind. We give lip service to empowering young women, telling them they can be anything they want, yet contradict ourselves with messages in the pervasive media culture that disempower through over sexualization.
Our bodies become a separate entity and identity unto itself. We diminish inside as we sacrifice our beautiful whole, for only a part. A flip through size zeroed magazines can easily encourage the reduction of bodies, the whittling away of feminine curves.
When did “beautiful” become stick figures with big boobs?
As if taking up space, having mass, and celebrating diversity in all feminine forms is bad. I wonder sometimes if women realize our act of shrinking ourselves beyond reasonable measures of health and fitness is akin to apologizing for taking up the space that is rightfully ours.

We fear the spacious potential of our own feminine power.

We live in a system that tells us we should be able to be strong and sustain ourselves. Breaking down is seen as weak. Asking others for help is somehow a reflection of personal failure. Suck it up, get over it, don’t be a pussy.  

As if somehow there is something inherently wrong with the female anatomy that is the source of creation, birth, and life. In the humorously albeit true words of the comic Sheng Wang, “Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”

Talk to a woman about her natural cycles and child birth, and she will tell you a story of phenomenal strength.

Even the language we use subtly undermines women and teaches us we are somehow less. Our emotional process of feeling and being in the world is often discredited through the simple words of, “you are too sensitive, you are being too emotional.”

As if this massive capacity we have to feel deep down in our bones and love so vastly that once that love has been given we are hard pressed to take it back, is somehow wrong. I wonder sometimes if we see that it is often women who bring restoration to the heartbeat of this world through their compassion, kindness, concern for reconciliation and ability to extend unconditional love. We depend on that to provide emotional sustenance, yet often cease to honor those qualities.

We are cutting off the hand that feeds us.

Most women walk around living their life as an apology to others, as if they are somehow wrong for simply being. And we don’t even realize it. While our inner source continues to decay, we focus on making the outside shell something pleasing to others as if their acceptance of us will fill the parched void deep within.

We tell ourselves that we are the problem as we struggle with anxieties, depression, and a feeling of isolation. Our bodies revolt with our untold stories creating a somatic stress response that tells our story for us.

The woman who suppressed and lost her voice and who struggles with vocal chord dysfunction and chronic asthma. The woman who rejects her sensuality and divine feminine beauty and whose body starts manifesting ovarian cysts, hormonal imbalances, and reproductive issues. A woman who has run herself so ragged caring and giving for others that her body slowly shuts down as the adrenal fatigue and auto immune problems start.

Though physical illness stops us right in our tracks and hinders our ability to fully embrace life, I believe our body is really trying to honor our truth and tell the stories that we often cannot voice in the only way the body can.

Stories of sorrow. Stories of exhaustion. Stories of feeling unloved. Stories of needing to be liked. Stories of rejection. Stories of abandonment by others. Stories of abandoning ourselves.

We seek romantic relationships believing somebody else can love us into wholeness and heal the wound inside. We believe in the myth of being awakened by Prince Charming while never stopping to wonder why Sleeping Beauty fell asleep in the first place.

While the exquisite beauty of a whole, healthy, love relationship can be a healing balm for a wounded heart, it is never the cure.

And we continue to further disempower ourselves by giving the task that has been appointed to us, to another. When we lay the true work of our own souls into another’s hand, we always feel empty. For it is not another’s job to rescue us. It isn’t even our job to rescue ourselves. It is our job to free ourselves.

To give ourselves permission to be our full Self. To claim us FOR us, and realize we will continue to struggle with feeling like a transparent shell if we do not give our self permission to occupy that SELF. Permission to love fiercely, embody our bodies, think freely, run wild, laugh often, move lusciously, walk passionately, clear out the clutter in our hearts to make space for more love, speak our truths, trust our feelings, honor our intuition, create the lives we are called to live.

It is our task to settle down into our own bones with a giant “THUNK” that sends a message out to the Universe and everyone in our surrounding vicinity that “YES I am here, and I am for me.”

When we do the work of claiming, we start to find that we extend nurture from a more authentic place. A place that is of love and not duty or obligation. A place that dips into the eternal divine waters that flow inside, whose source can never be depleted when we live in love for ourselves.

We must take care to take good care of us and pay attention when we wander away from these waters, miss the mark, get off track, and simply need to do a 180 as we return to this heart space of fluid sacred life. We must continue to encourage other women on their journey’s of the self, and instead of sabotaging and tearing each other down make it our goal to support and validate each other’s process.

I believe these things fiercely and encourage other women to claim themselves, because I have been this woman whose shell of a body told a story for which she did not yet have words. And then one day a lightning bolt hit. And Sleeping Beauty finally woke up and freed herself.

Though I sometimes wander off track and stray too far from my own heart source, I am profoundly grateful I now know what following the path of the heart feels like inside of myself, so I can compassionately remind me to return to my sacred journey when I go astray.

The sun continues to stream in my window. I feel well, right, and whole once more.  The cherished friend I feared disappointing has graciously messaged me, allaying my fears of disappointment and encouraging me to please take care of myself. My heart is rising up in life song as I stare at the blue sky and watch a lone icicle continue to drip.

I gaze in quiet wonder as I fervently hope that a long awaited spring will finally come, and that in penning these words I have reconnected to the long awaited spring inside of myself that I neglected for so many years. A walk in the sun to honor my body and listen to what the Earth has to tell me. Brunch with just me, my sketchbook, and too many images skipping through my mind to count.

Precious space to nurture my own ideas and creation source.  Oxygen flooding into my now expanded chest and lungs.  A peaceful heart.  Words of reclamation.

You are for You. I am for Me. And today, I belong to myself.