I just got home from dancing with my husband, Martin. For most of the past 15 years, he has traveled the world teaching ‘contact improvisation‘. I stopped dancing with him about 10 years ago, around the time I began to teach yoga (four kids at home might also have been a limiting factor in our dancing together much, except for in the kitchen.)
A couple weeks ago, I had one of Those Experiences. I found my fountain again (with help), and after five years or so of feeling particularly brittle, parched and drained, the artesian well of me is once again all a-flow. From that re-filled place, I thought I might enjoy rolling around on the floor with my guy. Once he got over his shock (these Sunday morning ‘danzas del alma‘- or ‘dances of the soul’- are where he gets his weekly moving meditation) he got right on board, and danced we did.
I mention this dance thing, because I needed a way to segue, even if it seems a bit awkwardly, into the topic of peri-menopause. Male readers could certainly stop here… but if you have a wife, a sister, a mother, or women friends nearing or in their 40’s, you are welcome to continue reading. Those women you know and love may be in for a bit of a rough ride, and it behooves you to hold their upcoming changes with all the compassion and humor you can muster, as well as a willingness to TRY EVERYTHING.
Dancing, to me, requires the ability to find your fluid body. When you’re feeling all sharply-angled and crumbly at the corners, it can be a challenge to move with grace. I think I move with grace on my yoga mat, but it’s the Cadillac of yoga mats, it’s my own private Idaho, and I have a sense of authority and knowingness when I step on board. The dance floor is my husband’s territory. He rolls around on it with women and with men and oh, his dances with men are awesome to behold, all soft and tender or as active and loud as stags butting. His dances with women- most of whom look to me to be curvy, ripe, plump and sensual; foreign and mysterious; incredibly talented where I feel deeply klutz-like; are beautiful to watch as well. It’s a good thing that jealousy isn’t really in my emotional repertoire. I’d be screwed.
Back to the topic at hand. I lost my way somewhere about 5 years into peri-menopause. I went from being able to always identify and draw upon my creative ‘juices’, to trying to face life from the bottom of a dried up well. It sucked. There is no other way to say it. All the years of raising kids, being a home maker, being an entrepreneur (satisfyingly creative, but low-paying), being a wife and a divorcee and a single parent… trying to do it all, and do it all well, with integrity and also while being a good citizen of the world by making the kids’ lunches, using cloth diapers, buying organic… all that out-go required enormous stores of energy. And it was gone. Gone, gone, gone. I was living on fumes, or more aptly, on the the little drips and droplets that occasionally formed on the walls.
I lost my way, big time. I slid into a protracted Dark Night of the Soul that frightened my husband. I did not call upon the support of friends as much as I might have. My dark night was so profoundly unsettling, that when I did try to talk about it, I got the feeling that it appeared so out of character that my friends got a bit… ‘WTF?’. I kept most of it to myself.
What I was able to finally vocalize to my husband was that the juicy fountain at the center of my being was dry. The place that had always fed my creativity, my sexuality, my joie-de-vivre… it was gone. I had nothing left, no compass to guide me, no place from which to draw inspiration- or even the energy needed to be the heart at the center of our home. Being the kind of guy he is, he hopped on line and began to search for answers, remedies, solutions… anything. Western approaches, Eastern approaches, you name it, we have probably tried it. We tried the hard approaches, we tried the soft approaches. When things worked, the effects were sometimes good, and usually temporary. Sometimes we found a lot of laughs; many times, my despair was palpable and I could feel myself giving up. I figured this was just how the rest of my life was going to be, that an internal dullness was going to be the new normal and I- we- would just readjust.
Then crisis hit, a crisis shared only between my husband and I, and we began the slow, painful, lengthy process of trying to return me to some semblance of ‘me’. We began a practice we call ‘If I were to tell the truth right now, I would say…’. and then we’d speak it, honoring without judgement. I began a course of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) with a world-renowned endocrinologist. He was so enthusiastic, so supportive, and for awhile, it helped. But replacement hormones can create an ‘artificial’ self, and after two years, I did not like how it felt to be in my skin. What this iteration of me was experiencing was ‘colored’ and felt ultimately unsustainable. I gave up the HRT when we moved to Mexico. I went off everything when we moved to Mexico, except rest and the most nourishing foods I could find.
I will readily admit that the idea of taking time off would feel to most of us to be a luxury. Even crazy. But taking this time on sabbatical is what has ultimately brought me back to life and set me up for being touched soul-deep. This time on sabbatical gave me permission to be in my Well of Empty. I could not picture what was next, what my ‘reawakening’ might look like, until a pitcher of nectar was poured back in, and the pump was once again primed.
I find I must now practice restraint; the waters are still shallow and I could easily be drained once again. But these days I wake up with hope and with vibrancy, and with a new prescription for the long arc of change most of us women go through. There are books and websites and advice galore, from many who are experts in their fields. The following questions are my contribution. Ask them of yourself, and, if you are partnered, bring them into this process, too:
- What can I let go of?
- What is most essential, and how do I let the essential guide me on a daily basis?
- Where can I de-clutter my life such that the distractions and obligations are minimal?
- Where and how do I want to be touched; body, heart, soul, mind.
- Where am I most malnourished, and what will feed that place in me?
This process of re-filling is ongoing. I am in my last weeks of a year in Mexico on sabbatical. We- my husband, our 12 year old son, the two cats and I- have decided to stay here another year. Big questions about livelihood loom. But how different it is to ponder the future from a place of personal, internal sustainability rather than from a place depleted of natural resources. And yes, I recognize the personal and political are intimately entwined in that statement. More on that to come…