From age 7 to 13, I lived with a daily dose of duty to rituals that I believed would secure my safety in this weird world. For instance, I had to count to 8 every time I turned a faucet on and off and if I messed up just a little bit, then I’d have to repeat that set again in multiples of 8, sometimes getting up to 64 and even 160. This happened with more than faucets. Cracks in my floor boards, stairs, doors, rolling my ankles, all of it. I believed in my bones that if I didn’t perform these things in perfect multiples of 8 that I would die in my sleep. Like, die croak dead … in my sleep … at age 7.
And, yes, I know I am describing clinical obsessive compulsive disorder and, yes, I was officially diagnosed with it decades later. The point of this post is not about mental illness, although I do hope to always and forever reduce the stigma around trauma, mental health, and getting professional help.
The point of this post is that I wish I could go back to that tiny 7 year old girl, put my hand heavy on her racing heart, hold her close and say, “I believe you.”
No one believed me as a kid, but that’s not because anyone was doing anything wrong. My parents responded to me the way most of us would lovingly respond: “It’s ok, Courts. Stop worrying.” They didn’t know that I would lie in bed at night, obsessing for hours over how easy it would be for my body to just stop breathing. How could I trust that this necessary act would continue without my help while I slept? I would then ruminate about cancer and strokes and brain tumors and so many other diseases. Thank god Google and WebMD weren’t yet a thing in the 80s. I had a working disaster search feature in my brain as it was.
How could they know that what I needed was to be believed? Can you imagine sitting down with your tiny panic stricken child and saying “I believe you”? No way. We want to stop the panic. We want to wrap our little people in giant bubbles and take a huge eraser to their fears and just smudge smudge smudge them away.
The problem, for me, was that the erasing only intensified the need for the rituals. The more I was asked to not worry, the more the fears roared. The more the fears roared, the more demanding the rituals would get, begging me to find yet another better way to find safety. That intensity brought shame and embarrassment. I would think, I’m such a worrywart. My worries are too much. Why isn’t anyone else thinking like this? What is wrong with me? And then, boom. I’d be lost in a solitary panic, held hostage by multiples of 8 and fictional stories made real.
In an odd twist and in no reflection of my current belief system today, the thing that resolved my rituals was a trip to Ocean City, MD with my best friend’s Episcopalian youth group at age 13. I distinctly remember wondering how I would survive staying in a room with a bunch of other kids, unable to perform the rituals. And as a result, the fears would whisper to me early in the morning before sunrise and force me to wake up and find my way to the bathroom and to the multiples of 8.
Finally, on the last night of the trip, I sat with my friend and all of her friends and the pastor asked us to bow our heads and pray. Coming from an agnostic family, I had considered all forms of head bowing and praying to be silly. But, for some reason, that evening, I was so tired that I did it. And then I heard the pastor say, “Aren’t you so exhausted? Are you so tired of trying to control it all? What would happen if you just let it all go?”
I don’t remember clearly what happened after that, but I do distinctly remember crying and crying and cryinggggggggg that night. I wanted to yell back to the pastor, YES I AM SO TIRED HOW DID YOU KNOW? And, shockingly, after returning home from that trip, I stopped performing the rituals within two weeks. I’d feel the taunting of the fears, the impulse to do the dance for them, and then I’d just walk away instead of saying Yes. I didn’t have words for it or a need to explain it, I just know that I started actually living after that. Like I had been living under a suffocating blanket for my whole life and just suddenly was on top of it.
I know that that is a lot to say in a blog post and I know many people will walk away with differing ideas of what happened to me. I will say, first and foremost, that I wasn’t magically healed that day. I still suffer from clinical OCD, although it presents differently for me today. I still require oodles of specialized therapy and treatment, in fact nothing has been more important for me in my life than professional help. I think it is dangerous to ever present the idea that mental illness can be cured or that a person can be divinely saved. So, my tendency is to dip into the science of what happened, while also holding hands with the mysterious aspects of being human that I’ll never be able to fully understand. And, so, what I’ve come to understand is that what occurred for me on that trip is that I surrendered to the idea that I – a human with limited power – simply couldn’t control “it” … my body, the world, catastrophe, disease, disaster, none of it. And the exposure to the refusal of the rituals and the fact that that refusal didn’t kill me, THAT was freedom. It was as if, instead of erasing the fears or repressing them, I had – that night and thereafter – asked them to crawl out of the shadows and join me. I even used to picture myself sitting at a tiny table, having a tea party and just letting them talk to me without a reaction other than, “There there, I hear you.”
I can see now that the fear of the fears was the toxic part, not the fears. In fact, the point of this post is actually to suggest that not only were my fears not toxic, they were friendly messengers with an intense need for connection and a tendency towards tantrums. They were the primal, unformed parts of myself that were simply begging me to listen. They didn’t want to be erased. They wanted to be believed. They wanted me to say, “I believe you.” And then they wanted me to get back to living. They wanted me to be powerful and to be connected to The Things That Matter, so that they could simply exist and be a part of the family of me.
The reason I am discussing this rather personal (hello vulnerability hangover on its way) experience is that I think we – as a society – have done the same thing with pain as we have done with fear. We have spent a lifetime trying to erase it or avoid it. We have spent hours awake thinking that the pain we feel might actually destroy us. We have spent money and resources on our own versions of health and fitness related “multiples of 8”, all the while believing this will be the way to be immortal and superhero-ic.
And it is exhausting. When pain gets avoided, it gets louder. It doesn’t go away. It just gets louder and it finds new ways to get your attention. But, its intentions are not bad. It just wants to exist, to be a part of your body, to be listened to. It wants to be believed. And if it is believed, just like my fears, it usually doesn’t have to get as loud.
I know that the way I am explaining this makes it sound like believing pain (or fear) is an easy choice. And so I will buffer this and say that it is not easy. It is the opposite of easy. It takes courage on top of courage. It is quite possible that our pain will send us messages that will change our entire life. Slow down, it might say. Stand tall, it might beg. Get help, it might whisper. Wake up early and move your body, it almost always says.
Is it worth it? Yes. Because freedom is on the other side. And what I mean by freedom is trust. The freedom I felt after letting go was because I unknowingly decided to trust something other than myself. And when it comes to pain, the freedom that can come from listening to it involves the reality that you will trust your body and it will trust you. Yes. It will trust YOU.
This matters. Aren’t you exhausted? Are you tired? I know you are. Let’s dig in together and give pain room to play with us instead of haunt at us.
Join me this September, this month where you think your life will make sense suddenly but then NO it does not make sense still, and learn about the friend that your pain truly is. We will show up together for 5-15 minutes of exercise on your terms. And we’ll be guided by our own brilliant PT Advisor, Stephanie Dillon, who will be providing bonus content every day on the science and the function of pain.
Click here to join, whether you are a new member or a current member. For new members, it’s only a $5 risk, which I think is way worth it because you are way worth it. Starts Monday, Sept. 7th.
I want to go back to the beginning of time and restitch the past. Bolster it with reverence for nature and patience for each other. Remind it that nothing else will matter but health and peace. Tell it to stay close to the basics of Truth, against all odds. Take its leash off and tell it to run wild barefooted through the mud.
It is hard to be a human these days. If you are like me – even if you are an optimist – you’ve had moments recently where you are like, this may not be ok. Things may in fact be doomed. And, so, I am here today to remind myself that IN SPITE OF IT ALL we are still here, doing “it”. We are waking up and trying again, day after day. We overcome the whispers of despair and insecurity and we get our butts up and in imperfect action IN SPITE OF IT ALL. We forget this fact, I mean at least I know I do. And when I ask myself why I forget, I feel my whole body sigh and say, “Because you are tired.” I feel my heart say, “Because you feel helpless.” I feel my mind say, “Because you don’t know where to start.”
If I have learned anything in this weird life so far it is that these three choruses can either haunt me or propel me. I can run in circles and stay distracted or I can put blinders on and do what I can. I keep recalling all that I have learned from teachers like Pema Chodron, who explain that life is not an unfair deluge of destructive chaos but rather an expected vehicle of endurable and informative suffering. I can either get mad every time it pulls up or I can say, oh hi, I was waiting for you.
This is why I have been thinking a lot lately about how I can rally to be that person who sees the Suffering and says, oh hi, I was waiting for you. And maybe – just maybe – I can rally to be the sort of person who sees that this Life vehicle has got a busted tired, an empty gas tank, and a bunch of unhinged toddlers inside and maybe – just maybe – I’d lean in the window and give some clear directions for the nearest mechanic. Go get yourself fixed, I’d say. And no, I won’t give you a ride.
My therapist would be proud of that last sentence. Just FYI.
The point here is that there are ways that I can ready myself for all of This. There are ways we can all ready ourselves. Together. We really can. I believe in you and I know that you are on fumes, but fumes aren’t meaningless. Fumes might look like the end of things, but what if fumes are the presence of possibility? What if they are the part of us that only needs support and cheerleading and little bit of replenishment in order to get back into gear?
It’s our time to bolster ourselves and stitch ourselves back together. There is still time. It is not too late. Not for you. Not for this world. Not for our children. It is not too late.
Now, with all of that said and that peppy attitude infused into these words, I’m also aware that I need to be cautious. I have burned myself out before. I’ve summoned the warrior in me only to then be wrecked by heartbreak, physical illness, and/or circumstance. We’re all at the end of our ropes when it comes to disappointment and disillusionment. So, while we rally, we also have to be vigilant and protect our well being.
I have been considering what that sort of vigilance means and it often brings me back into a familiar landscape of good girl to-dos: Earlier bedtimes, green smoothies, baths, and rest. And while I’m not knocking any of those things, I can’t help but wonder if that version of self-care is just surface level protection. It’s valuable, but is it going to hold us together in the months ahead? I don’t know, but my dissenting personal opinion is that No. It will not. Not entirely.
What will hold me together, then? The answer is clear, for me: My center, my “golden thread”. It is the thing inside of me that speaks so simply and gives me a lifeline in the middle of the darkness. Sue Monk Kidd, the author of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, first taught me about the golden thread and its symbolic presence in mythology and literature throughout the ages. She taught me that it is gold and glittery and always True. She explained that it won’t hang on to me, I have to choose to hang on to it. And I have to keep coming back to it when I’ve let go. It will always be there.
My golden thread will get me through. Yours will too. This month, here in MommaStrong, I will be dedicating myself to the strength I need to hang on to my golden thread while I flail my way into the months ahead. And I will honor that personal adventure with a more public one here, in reiterating and magnifying the golden thread of MommaStrong. It is a beautiful thread, full of a bunch of well-formed knots, which I grasp in my hand every single day that I opt-in for my functional strength here, with you.
And, so, this October, we will go through ALL of the basics here in MommaStrong, from brace blink rocket to frontals back to mid backs to glutes to underwhelming goals to accountability to winning ugly to beginning again to enoughism. You will walk away knowing, very clearly, what MommaStrong’s golden thread is and how to hang on to it. My hope is that it will help guide you towards defining your own.
Join us. Get yourself ready. Invite your people too, help them get ready (pssst … you can gift them the challenge). Your strength matters more than ever now and your function is what will be tested. Starts Monday, October 5th. Click here to register for the October Flailing into Fall Challenge, either as a current member or a new member.
PS: It is never too late.
From age 7 to 13, I lived with a daily dose of duty to rituals that I believed would secure my safety in this weird world. For instance, I had to count to 8 every time I turned a faucet on and off and if I messed up just a little bit, then I’d have to repeat that set again in multiples of 8, sometimes getting up to 64 and even 160. This happened with more than faucets. Cracks in my floor boards, stairs, doors, rolling my ankles, all of it. I believed in my bones that if I didn’t perform these things in perfect multiples of 8 that I would die in my sleep. Like, die croak dead … in my sleep … at age 7. And, yes, I know I am describing clinical obsessive compulsive disorder and, yes, I was officially diagnosed with it decades later. The point of this post is not about mental illness, although I do hope to always and forever reduce the stigma around trauma, mental health, and getting professional help. The point of this post is that I wish I could go back to that tiny 7 year old girl, put my hand
I want to go back to the beginning of time and restitch the past. Bolster it with reverence for nature and patience for each other. Remind it that nothing else will matter but health and peace. Tell it to stay close to the basics of Truth, against all odds. Take its leash off and tell it to run wild barefooted through the mud. Sigh. It is hard to be a human these days. If you are like me – even if you are an optimist – you’ve had moments recently where you are like, this may not be ok. Things may in fact be doomed. And, so, I am here today to remind myself that IN SPITE OF IT ALL we are still here, doing “it”. We are waking up and trying again, day after day. We overcome the whispers of despair and insecurity and we get our butts up and in imperfect action IN SPITE OF IT ALL. We forget this fact, I mean at least I know I do. And when I ask myself why I forget, I feel my whole body sigh and say, “Because you are tired.” I feel my heart say, “Because you feel helpless.” I feel my mind say, “Because you don’t know where to