Stripped by Self Love

Art by Tara McPherson

I am being stripped down to the essentials by acts of loving myself.

A couple years ago I gave up my third child and full-time motherhood, my hometown community, and my professional standing for a special kind of family based in a radically open adoption.

About 6 months ago, after suffering disrespect for my experience and grief as a birth mother, I gave up the family and relationship with my birth son to restore my emotional well-being and heal my lifelong experience with emotional violence and trauma as languages of relationship.

In both cases I chose to abandon everything in order to stop abandoning myself. Loving me and choosing me for the first time in my life is stripping me down in a way I could have never anticipated.

When I started looking for work in Portland I said that I wouldn’t settle for an administrative support position again, and yet here I am in support positions for two organizations that are giving me opportunities for deep learning on many levels. But also, because I am not in any sort of leadership position, I have both the mental and emotional space to process my losses and traumas. I have the spaciousness to find my emotional footing for engaging with life beyond work and my relationship with my partner. While my ego has taken a hit, I don’t really care that I’m not a manager, I just want to work with people who have integrity and be of value to the people I serve.

When Eros and I first moved in together I said that I didn’t want to live in an apartment after living in houses for years, and yet when needing to save myself trumped personal preference we found an apartment in a spectacular neighborhood with natural beauty on all sides, ability to grow a container garden, and no drawbacks to apartment living (even the walls are thick so we hardly ever hear sounds from neighbors).

Then I said I couldn’t imagine living without a car because of Fibromyalgia pain and quality of life reasons. Now I’ve given up the car. Although there is an inevitable increase in pain after a couple weeks of walking at least 1.5 miles a day to accomplish life, I am feeling really good about the decision. Why did we give up the car? A car is a significant financial commitment that is no longer hanging over our heads, which feels liberating in regards to money and how much we have to work to sustain our life choices. It’s also the most significant negative environmental impact we were making. We’re learning how to do something different and live with more integrity regarding our values. We live in a city with the best public transit system in the country, as well as walkable neighborhoods that meet most life needs, several car-sharing options, and grocery delivery from our favorite local market. We really have no need of a car.

And honestly, I think this is just the impetus I needed to get serious about moving my body. While I made many lifestyle changes for the better the past few years, regular exercise has been a real struggle for me. It requires a discipline that I don’t seem to have, even though the medical establishment says that movement is critical to managing Fibro pain (it’s hard to imagine that when you are in pain). So now I’m forced to walk at least a mile every day just to get to work, or get groceries, or almost anything else. The unexpected gift is that I feel strong and capable in a new way.

It turns out what I’m stripping away are limitations. I had limited ideas about my body. I had limited ideas about where and how I could be happy. I had limited ideas about what life could be like after losing my son. I had limited ideas about who I am as a mother, a professional, and a person.

As time passes I am recognizing a steady, quiet joy at the core of my being. I am noticing how easy it is to access that joy through simple things like flowers and writing and sharing life with my partner. I am noticing that getting through each day with grace is enough. I am noticing that the accomplishments of my past are enough to know that I have lived my life well and my ambition is shifting to simply living my purpose. My purpose is to create belonging, for myself first and then for the other lives that I touch. Although when you think about our culture, it’s actually quite an ambitious purpose. I’m even struggling with it working for an organization whose mission is to build community and yet they believe they have to exclude our members from anything involving our donors. It’s not inclusive or honoring the whole person to say it would be problematic for the people we serve to interact with the people who support the organization. Belonging is a human need that isn’t being met. I want to change that.

I am noticing that being stripped of my limitations is giving me a sense of expansive liberation. I feel free from obligations and expectations, both interpersonal and cultural. I feel free to live a simple little life with my Beloved until I’m ready for something else. I feel free to decide what comes next in my professional and creative careers. And I feel free to speak and act in my truth – because I really have nothing left to lose.

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Art by Tara McPherson

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