Friday, July 20, 2012

Exposed and Free

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.  - Jim Morrison

I went on a road trip to accomplish several heady tasks.  I wanted to honor a new found “freedom” and mark the occasion of new beginnings and the ending of long endured pain.  Or to put it plainly, I wanted to end my divorce, after ending my marriage, with a bright and exciting view of the present and maybe even the possibilities that lie ahead.  I also wanted to let go of far too many negative and restrictive thoughts and beliefs.  I wanted to test my chops and push out beyond my comfort zone.  My comfort zone was decorated and accessorized with a great deal of discomfort; fears and anxiety-producing elements of “I can’t do, say, be that.”  My need to move out of my so-called comfort zone, was long overdue.  I also went on this road trip to test drive my fast approaching empty nest-ed-ness.  What will life alone be like?  What will it mean after 25 years of being command central for three beautiful, busy, intense, outlandish, sweet, energetic, thoughtful, active, struggling, creative, unique individuals?  The last bird has gotten his wings and nothing but nothing is keeping him earthbound.  He is ready to soar.  And so might I, again, but for real this time.

It is this concept of freedom and flight that I am facing head on.  I could drive 80 plus miles per hour along route 10 across several states and still not break free from my self, my desires, my fears and my apprehension to just be.  Me.  I needed to release my tight grip and let go so that I might be able to grab onto anything and everything else out there that I might experience.  I have been restless and uneasy.  I have built a life that has not fit.  It has been restrictive and isolating and damaging, and my wings have lost grace and speed and my predisposition toward flight has been prohibited.  I have lived in fear of this penchant for flight.  I have believed it to be “wrong” and I feared that I was incapable of making true and deep connections.  I saw myself as somewhat out of control, or at least lacking great amounts of self-control.  I wanted and needed to be tethered, or so I believed.  Only I did not realize how tightly wound the ropes had been, how I watched them getting tied and I looked away, submitting, permitting. 

I decided to go on my trip without a great deal of puzzling, worrying, questioning and rationalizing.  There were moments that I questioned the purpose or the need.  I let go.  I gave in to the adventure.  I invited a few guests along for the ride, via cell phone, visits along the way and updates on FaceBook.  I was never far from friends and well-wishers.  I had an incredible amount of support and cheering on, and I felt connected and tethered and in-control throughout.  I opened myself up to the world and was received and nourished.  I welcomed occasional coaxing and daring and the challenging of some of my inhibitions and self imposed restraints.  I played.  I took a few risks and while the taking has caused some uneasiness and uncertainty, I understood the danger and I am content with the deeds done.  This is perhaps, let’s just say monumental.  Big.  Huge, in fact. Maybe even Gi-effing-normous.  I have attempted freedom and adventure occasionally and rarely over the past 20 years by moving close to a few flames and then self-flagellating, punishing and permitting another to stifle and shame me into remorse and regret.  My risk-taking behaviors are quite tame, for the record and incredibly harmless.  Yet, simultaneously, freeing and slightly spirited.  

I had attempted to create a life built upon safety.  Safety seemed to be my fortress and it was built tall and covered in barbed wire and surrounded by land mines.  I need safety.  I want safety.  I want the ability to trust and be trusted.  I want to be protected and to protect.  I want what everyone wants.  Wanting these things makes me vulnerable, and vulnerability just never feels safe.  So I built my fort and I lied down inside waiting to feel safe.  I neglected to see and understand that forts do not protect you from those that you invite in and sometimes the one that you open up yourself to the most, is the one that takes you down the furthest and the deepest.  My fortress did not protect me, it simply tethered me to a life that I should have taken flight from long ago.  It isolated and contained me and intensified my need to be free.

I have been examining my need for safety and the abundantly false sense of it all around.  As I began considering this trip, more than a few advised against it.  It would not be “safe”.  I am a woman, and women are not safe, alone.  Unfortunately for some, and thank goodness for me, that type of advise is exactly the type of encouragement I needed.  I am a woman.  I have spent every moment of every day, loving and hating what that means to so many.  I am a woman.  Sometimes, I am not safe. The truth is I have been least safe in the company of those that professed to love me.  I have been least safe at my own misgivings.  I am not safe.  No one is safe.  We have no control over this big, hairy, concept of safety. I could not save my children from sorrow, or illness, or demons and fears of their own.  I could not protect my seven year old self from the bogey-man. He came regardless.  I don’t have any control over what might happen.  I am safe in the wisdom that I will no longer be controlled by the illusion of a safety that is created by staying still and quiet.  It helps to know women are out there, in the world, in each town and neighborhood.  They live and breathe.  If they can be there in Savannah, and Tallahassee, and Tuscaloosa, so may I travel through, a woman, safely or not.

I did build in safety nets to get my bearings on the road ahead and alone.  I did hear the fears of others and I didn’t want my need to regain my sense of self to prove anyone “right”.  I stayed with friends.  They fed me and loved me and rallied me on.  Initially, when I went out on my own after the visits, I kept a friend on speed dial along for the ride.  He encouraged and pushed and listened as I wrestled and fought and finally, tore down the last bricks of my fortress.  I occasionally fought him instead of staying focused on my own journey.  He may or may not have tolerated that so well.  He has struggles of his own. I occasionally have needed to put my gloves on to repay the favor as he has fought me.  Overall, I think he has had my back.  Mostly, he has validated that I have a pretty good handle on my own back when I’m not attempting to bob and weave and get at him from behind.  Maybe, I have attempted to cover too much ground on this trip.  Freedom and Safety and Solo-Flights are big enough.  It isn’t time yet for me to weigh down and wrestle anyone else in my path.  Letting go and allowing for life to come to me is not an area that I have been known to function, safely in.  I have a tendency to drive fast right towards life and step out of the wreckage, bloodied and stumbling and wondering why no one wants to play with me.  Ah, another clear view from the road has been revealed to me.  Heavy sighs and well wishes and boxing lessons needed or safety brakes and good concealer.  I’m not really so equipped just yet.

There are two telling moments of my trip that underscore safety and freedom in ways that could not have been planned or ever considered.  The moment of freedom came as I pulled into Perdido Key, Florida.  Beach.  My haven, my restorative manna from the heavens.  My reminder that I am small and my troubles insignificant in the universe amidst the crashing, pounding of waves, and the brightness of the sun and the sinking sands that surround and gather me in.  Perdido is Spanish for lost island.  I have needed to unload all that was lost, what better place?  I was planning to stop for a couple of hours and push on to see my son.  I was excited and looking forward to getting to New Orleans.  This beach, though, stopped me and held me in it’s beauty; aqua water, finest white sand, miles of natural, uninhabited shore.  I got out of my car and stood at the ready with camera in hand believing that I could capture and save and forever have, Perdido Key.  And then I swam.  I played.  I dove into the waves and I did a head-stand flip thingy in the ocean just because.  I swam some more.  I decided to go for a walk and take pictures and take in as much as I could before my time ran out and I had to push on.  Out of nowhere, blue herons, flew and landed inches from me.  I was stunned and elated and joyous.  (I have an odd affinity toward blue herons and as much as I know it’s odd to admit this, I think they fly over me sometimes just to let me know, I am safe.  I know it’s odd.  I know they fly over lots of us.  But its not hurting anyone for me to believe this and it makes me happy.  Joyous in fact. And here they were).  I get a gazillion pictures of them and I go back to the ocean and swim, and float. I float for a long while, embraced by the ocean.  Letting go.  And then I decide to call my son and tell him I will see him in the morning.  I am sleeping tonight on Johnson Beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore.  I am going to primitive camp along the 5 miles of uninhabited beach.  I camp in spite of the fact that it is thundering and lightening and my tent was packed without any poles.  I am free and I am happy.  I wake up and pack my unpoled tent and my paints and canvases and my varied camping accessories and the other half of my bottle of wine and trek back towards the car to push on. But I am not finished yet.  The herons return and land at my feet.  They call to me, but I don’t understand heronese, except that they tell me that I am safe in my freedom.  And as I stand at the sea, freedom surrounds and comforts me.  I put down my pack and calmly undress as I walk into the ocean, carefree and exposed and at complete peace, uninhibited I swim.  

Safety reveals itself in contrast.  I arrive in New Orleans tired and road weary.  My son is at work.  I go to him and walk right up and give and get my hug and the smile that reaches the sun and glows down at me.  I order breakfast and eat heartily and meet his co-workers at Surrey’s Café and Juice Bar on Magazine Street in the garden district.  I leave him and venture into the city, hot and humid and full of life and vibrant color.  I take pictures and stop in stores along the way.  I finally return to my car close to the end of his shift, tired and road weary and hot.  I rest and doze until he comes out to find me.  We go to his apartment and enjoy his belated birthday cake and plan the evenings activities.  We meet up with friends and go on a walking gallery tour before heading out to Maurepesa’s Food Inc. for dinner.  The company is easy and pleasant.  He has done well, my son.  He is surrounded by kindness and energy and ambition.  Artists, dancers, educators, dreamers all.  Dinner is fantastic.  We leave his friends and return home.  Other friends join and I slip off to bed, charmed and delighted.  I sleep.  Exhausted, I let go and sleep stays with me.  I awaken the next morning and my son goes off to work, Surrey’s, his day job, so that he might create and dance, and dream and paint.  He has choreographed and performed at several renowned venues in and around the city.  He is going to celebrate his first professional installation in a gallery in September and he is writing and creating other works, on going.  New Orleans agrees with him.  I stay in bed, writing, uploading photos and creating.  I go in and out of sleep. 

I finally decide to get up and explore New Orleans for a while before my son returns from work.  As I am preparing to leave, I realize that the key is gone.  His roommate took it not realizing I would be in need of it.  The issue?  I am locked in.  Not locked out, in which case my son could have remedied that situation upon his return. While being locked in might seem the safest place to be, for me, it is not.  I have that need for flight and being untethered thing going on.  This is the type of event that could have and certainly would have in the not so long ago past lead me to crazy and fast.  I might have demanded that he come home at once to save me from this prison.  I might have tried to unscrew the bars from the windows, or broken down the doors to get out.  I was locked and contained and I never before felt so free and safe.  It might have helped that I have been to New Orleans several times now and was not feeling as though I was missing out or being cheated.  It might have been that I was exhausted and relaxed.  It might have been that I am starting to learn to permit life to come to me and I am open to it.  

I am free, still.  In this moment. Today, several days after returning home, alone.   I will continue to struggle and wrestle and fight down some of these deeply rooted beliefs and fears.  They will reemerge.  Sometimes I will just stare them down and laugh, and sometimes they will beat me down and I will submit to them.  I will stay open to what comes my way and occasionally I will try to put on my boxing gloves and bob and weave myself into a few sloppy attempts at trying to outsmart the universe.  You have to give me credit for trying….

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.   - Viktor E. Frankl

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