“To reclaim the soul we must start with the body. Suppressed for so long, being what they told us to be, what they wanted us to be, being less than so THEY could handle us. She lies dormant, awaiting her time. Patiently, she slips hints, clues-- like breadcrumbs to lead us through.”
I wrote these words six years ago. Reading my old journals, I cry, I smile, I swoon. I have been writing a love letter to myself for the past decade. Sending these words into the ethers; just waiting for her to find them, to bring them HOME.
What does it look like to be, ME? The picture is not the one I drew.
Each step has its own challenge, but with each layer you encroach upon the woman behind the eyes. You would think it doesn’t hurt as bad when you know it’s coming. Why am I still surprised when I catch eyelashes falling into my eye. Or waking up to see the patchwork of stubble draped over my skull. Each time there seems to be something more revealed. A secret unlocked. No one said the breadcrumbs wouldn’t hurt. They actually forewarned that nothing comes without a price.
Freedom is the bounty. Freedom from the facade. Freedom from what they told me a female should be. Should look like. Should feel like. Should act like. The hair was the shackles.
I feel like I am cheating myself, even when I wear a head scarf. I feel like I am missing an opportunity to walk in my own skin. The scarf feels like I am covering something up. Maybe it’s the shame of being ‘UGLY’. Or not the norm. I didn’t think it mattered that much, but the truth is….it does. But then, there is the thrill of being poked onto the plank. SHOW IT ALL or ELSE! I’ve never been one to take the easy way.
In this time, there seems to be a disconnect between what a woman looks like, and what a woman FEELS like. I want the essence, not the brand.
I want to know the Goddess. The one whose wisdom runs deep. Threading back through the nimble fingers of great grandmothers. Feeding from the fire of a humble kitchen. Coming from the hands that fed a family of twelve. I want to taste the salt of the sweat of the woman who worked from dawn to dusk to provide a place for the Earth to thrive. To find the will of the woman who’s tears stream in mourning for the loss of more than one child; and to touch the strength that kept her going. I yearn for the genius of the woman who turned dirt into clay, and clay into pots to keep the maiz. For the sabiduria of a woman who cooks the herbs and heals the home. For the woman who holds all of the connectors in place. The grandmother spider at the center of the web, keeping everything protected and everything in order. I dream for her. I FEEL her close. She rests at my side, whispering secrets of the past, as she pokes needle and thread, gathering small pieces of cloth; patching together to make one. A safety net, a quilt covered in time.
I begged, I pleaded, I screamed! The waves drowned my cries. The wind silenced my tears. The moment fell on deaf ears. There was only ONE who was supposed to hear.
LOOK AT WHAT YOU HAVE! Get IN the body. Don’t you DARE leave now. Don’t F*CK this up! LOOK at the beauty that surrounds you. Look at the beauty that IS YOU. Look at your feet. Look at your hands. Look at your ABILITY, to be! THIS IS LIFE! What more do you need to stay? What else can I give? You’re like a ravenous child; everything is at your fingertips. OPEN YOUR EYES. Do you not see how gorgeous this could be? Can you not feel you are here, held in this body, on this Earth.
I kick. I scream. I throw my fists in the air. I huff, I puff, I pout; I coax myself off the ledge. I rein her back; like stuffing a sleeping bag into a sac. Filled to the brim. Full. Bursting at the seams.
I laugh to myself as I settle down, smooth out the wrinkles, and fluff the plume. A deep sigh as things come back to ease. A relief from the intensity, from the thought, from the FEELING. Knowing that it is necessary to go there, to be present with her as she feels. To touch it, to wrangle it, to transform it, to move it through. If there is anything I have learned by now, it is that PAIN is FLEETING. It only exists in a moment. Pleasure or pain, when you try to tie heart strings to moments--they begin their binding.
But where have I been?
Anchored to the past.
Dear child, we have been waiting for you to arrive. We have been here all along. We are holding you now and always.
I open my eyes. I take my one millionth first breath.
One foot in front of the other. Heal to soul. The wind carries my weight, as the heart guides my way. Gliding over the earth, the sea, the sand, the shells; darkness cloaks the mirage. Effortless, contentment in my stride. Is this what it feels like to be ALIVE?
It doesn't matter where I am, I am always here. We, will always be HERE. There is no need to run anymore, you are walking just fine. On your own; on your two feet. A smile saunters across my heart and exits through my fingertips. There is no better place to be than HOME.
When you are lonely,
Walk into the Sun and feel his embrace.
When you are lost,
Step onto the Earth and feel the sustenance of her core.
When you are absolutely content,
Smile, and feel the corners of your HEART unfurl.
How to not be a cancer patient:
Eat whole foods, exercise, laugh, de-stress, avoid toxins, avoid smoking, avoid alcohol and drink green tea....there, now go live your life!
Haha. Easy, right?
I want to share a collection of statements that I have begun to repeat to myself each day, in hopes to build an internal scaffolding that will withstand the storm. It is easy to get swept away by an experience, a diagnosis, a dis-ease, or LIFE.
Lately, the question I have to keep asking myself is, “What makes me so different?”
Why do people respond to me in a different way? Do I act different? What has changed? The answer is…NOTHING. There is no such thing as super power strength. It just IS. It is there. And it is within each person. I guess sometimes we just need a reminder of where it sits within. I have to remind myself every day.
To remain in a place of strength, my efforts to NOT BECOME A CANCER PATIENT are:
-Don’t allow circumstance to victimize. Poor me, why me, why is this happening to me? This is a slippery slope. If I portray myself as a victim, that is the way others will see me. I then hand over any ounce of power I have to heal myself.
-Don’t project my situation on to others. This is hard. Especially when it comes to my mom and sister, who are the ones providing me a space for me to heal and the support to do so. I am constantly reminding myself that this is not just a “me” thing. Everyone has been misplaced in some way. Each has their own place in the structure. I am extra conscious not TRY not to take advantage, to not get angry, to not throw guilt, and not to blame. I have to take responsibility for each of these feelings even if they aren’t fun, because they are my own.
Speaking of GUILT…
-Do not hold on to GUILT or SHAME. They are like the babies, they are the ones that are the most delicate to touch. I try not to let myself get wrapped around the idea that I must suffer for my life. That I must serve penance to be able to live a balanced life…a work in progress.
-Don’t be jealous. AND HOW! Everyone has their shit to look at. Mine looks like this. And it is mine. It has been given to me to be SEEN. Every. Day. The hair is hard not to pine over, but then again -- character building, #humbled. The hair is replaced with noticing beauty where it had escaped me before. Every night I look into my eyes. These eyes that hid for so long, I am so happy to see you again. I am in love with the thickness of my thighs. I cherish the layer that protects my womb space around my middle. The space that makes me WOMAN. The body I once couldn't bare to see, now brings me absolute JOY.
-Don’t RUN AWAY! From day one, I knew it had chosen me. My life had finally arrived and I can either look at it or I can run….once more. I choose to stay. Stay present. To be here with this process. With my health. With my life. There is nowhere else to hide.
But the list that is more important for me is --
HOW TO BE A HEALTHY, WHOLE BEING.
-Wake up in the morning and LISTEN to my BODY.
-Make life giving choices that NOURISH my BODY.
-ALLOW to FEEL all that comes through.
-Create a protection--healthy boundary around my energy, my heart, and my needs.
-Be HONEST with MYSELF, and OTHERS.
-Make an effort to communicate those needs in a clear, compassionate way.
-Follow my INTUITION, TRUST my INTUITION.
I repeat in my head a thousand times how I ended up here today, on this Earth. Where I was a year ago. And how CRAZY life is. But it is beautiful because the only constant is GHANGE, and all we gotta do is BREATHE!!! If I know one thing, I know I didn’t come here to be ORDINARY. So CHEERS, BIG EARS LETS GET THE SHOW ON THE ROAD!
I know what it means now, the saying “life goes up in smoke”. I sit here and watch the silky strands as they curl towards the night sky. There’s no point in trying to grab onto them anymore, as they have already flown by. They slip through my fingertips. So I just sit back. I muse over the sparks that pop off the flames, spiraling their way to kiss the stars. Small fireworks that salute what we are burning. I hold onto the memories of times that I cherish: Temazcal, the fire, the woods, the river, the dance, the smile that stretches so wide; it pulls at the sides of my heart. I am here to release what is in the past. What is the point of going back to a life that made me sick. Sometimes, I hit overdrive, just have to get THROUGH. Just to check this off the list and move on, but how do you check off a box that rattles you to your core?
The term warrior is too small, the warriors were expendables. Trained to kill and be killed.
I feel like the Gladiator. Entering from the far end of the Coliseum, the day has come. Rising from the hollows of the earth to meet the battle. The world lining the ring, stretching high above. There are two white horses galloping forward, their force unmatched, synced in stride. Their sinewy thighs reverberate with the Earth’s wave, as each hoof hits the floor. All I can see is the dust in a whirl, no idea what we are striding towards. I am only there to keep them in a line. To stay upright as the chariot flies; balancing on the edge of panic and poise.
One, The Diagnosis. The other, My Mind. Just keep it together. Just keep holding on. Just manage to ground it all. STABILITY in MOTION. The wheels moving so fast, they look like silence. The battle – Life. Everything becomes a blur, the focus FORWARD. Hold on. Just if you can get it into words on the pages. They have gotten so big, these horses.
I will not walk away fully intact. But that is the goal. The un-F*cking has begun. The creatures of the depths have come up to raise their heads. All parts of me seeping out; waiting to be transformed. No one said it would be pretty from here. Let’s curl up on the porch and watch the storm for a while. We’ll just wait for the dust to settle.
Standing here at the door of the infusion room; here we go again. I am not ready, it isn’t written down. I don’t have everything I need. It isn’t set in stone. I have NO CONTROL. I am scared.
We must charge on.
I have done EVERY THING IN THE WORLD, not to write this post. I think because the more it becomes real…the more it becomes real. These feelings have been sitting on top of my chest for the past days like a prison sentence, or even worse a hospital sentence.
Crazy girl sitting in the corner of a coffee shop viciously typing, crying, dancing, shaking, and on this day wearing a face mask. I have to come to a public space so that there is some sort of structure to keep me here, on the ground. To keep me focused. So I don’t fly off. So I can GO IN…but not TOO DEEP, not get STUCK.
I cry now because I don’t want to cry later. I want to purge these tears while I have all of my hair, whole in this being. The tears, mourning the last piece of me that makes me a “pretty girl”. I have been preparing for The Day. I knew The Day would come, will come, IS HERE. They fall down like toy soldiers, at first one by one, then five at a time, and then fists full. They stand their ground. They are holding on. Each gut wrenching time I run my hand through my hair, reminds me of the roller coaster I am on and can’t get off. I keep saying…”when the time comes”. Kind of like everything on this journey; I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. UUUHHGGGG, I’m so F*CKING DONE WITH BRIDGES!
I want to set HER up for success, so SHE can be strong on that day. I want to cry NOW, so there is no grief attached to that experience for her. Grief and sadness are emotions, not to be anchored to experience. Let them move through, as I move through the removal of what is “me”; what is left of “normal”. Maybe then, the flood gates won’t be triggered by the loss of what I think qualifies me as “beautiful”. On that day, I want HER to CELEBRATE. To elevate THE GIRL who knows THAT STATEMENT IS NOT TRUE.
I. Am. So. Vulnerable.
I let go of the safety vest. I SEE HER IN THE MIRROR. Fully for who she is.
I received the most beautiful compliment the other day. A soul compliment. He said I was “crazy beautiful”. The kind of beautiful you can’t fake with paint. He didn’t tell me my body was beautiful or my face was beautiful or my hair was beautiful. He told me my SOUL was beautiful. It could have been flattery, but it felt like truth.
The Gem…VULNERABILITY. Allowing myself to be vulnerable, slowly, with ease, with balance, with grace; not flinging myself on to the fire and wondering why I burn every time. Instead, walking gently, intentionally over the coals, so as not to callus over in a harsh manner or shield completely. I am learning to be vulnerable for myself, and not for anyone else. To develop a trust in myself. To see that my hands are big enough. My hands are big enough to soothe me, my hands are big enough to move the waters, my hands are big enough to row the boat. My hands are BIG! My hands cradle my soul. My hands sing the lullaby, my hands write the song.
So, I cry in the comfort of MY OWN moment, grieving the last of what “normal” was. And I smile at the girl in the mirror, knowing what “beauty” will be. I cry now so that these tears can be MINE. And no one can take them away from me, because they are too scared of themselves. These tears are my own, they are not for pity, they are not for show. These tears are sacred. They are the waters that are teaching me how to stand and how to grow. They are the rivers guiding me towards the woman I AM.
I release you.
What is normal? I can’t help but look on the newsfeed and scroll through. Friends. Weddings. Babies. Promotions. Birthdays. Yoga. Perfectly prepared meals. Walks on the beach. A turmeric latte. A puppy on parade. You know, the things that young adults do.
As much as I have tried to maintain aspects of my life that feel normal; the reality is that my life has flipped upside down. I left a life I created for myself: job, apartment, independence, schedule, roots. I moved countries, now I live out of a suitcase, and like it or not I am a dependent. The only thing that remains the same is waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. #GRATEFUL
Life becomes a one woman circus. A balancing act, a production, smoke and mirrors. Sometimes I feel like I am the trapeze duo, soaring, flying from one feat to the next; at times, the bearded lady (or balding lady…opposite problem, I guess). Come one come all check out this anomaly! One night only and for 5$, yes you heard me right just FIVE DOLLARS, for the price of a Big Mac you can see tonight’s main event!
And my life doesn’t look like the cancer center either. The other day, I walked up the stairs to see my doctor and asked a volunteer to please let Dr. P know I was there. Her response, “I’m sorry she can’t see you now, she is only taking patients.” She thought I was a drug rep; her face was priceless when the nurse called “GRESHAM!”. I got snubbed at a hospital gift shop when I asked to try on a scarf because she didn’t think I was a cancer patient, until I made a joke about all my hair falling out…then she accepted that I was part of the team.
I come with the precautions of an infant and the complications of a geriatric; all while trying to hold on to the life of a 30 year old. Now, the normal is wiping down any surface before I touch it. Normal is having anti-bacterial at MY FINGER TIPS (I’m like a walking death magnet with no immune system). My normal is resting and making sure my body is not in a state of stress. Normal is managing the constant anxiety of my well being. My normal is writing down everything I eat and every pain or reaction my body has to help map a strategy for the next round. Normal is hot flashes. Normal is being winded after a flight of FIVE steps. Normal is a constant barrage of needles and lab tests. Normal is extreme aches in my bones. Normal is rejoicing over a “normal” bowel movement. Normal is dancing in a isles of a grocery store. Normal is trying to meet this guy on Bumble, while I’ve still got hair. Normal is a face mask at a baby birthday.
I KNEW it would be hard. I didn’t KNOW it would be hard…know what I mean?
“If ya don’t know, now ya know….” -Biggie
*Today's post is dedicated to SECONDS, the firsts take the front seat awful much. Let’s give some love to all the SECONDS*
My SECOND favorite animal is the sea turtle. I am the sea turtle! There are many things I like about myself, but my SECOND favorite thing is my magnetic north; the ability to orientate. Being direction-ally sensitive to where I am, capturing what is lying in front of me and integrate it. To become grounded in a space and time.
My SECOND pet peeve: a navigational system. Don’t get me wrong, they have their uses and I definitely use them. BUT to rely on one is a different story. I need to see where I am going. I need to have focal points to look for, not to “turn right on ramp” two seconds before the ramp jumps out from behind the bushes. I also have a theory (or conspiracy) that these things were programmed by a serial killer; to lead you to a back road, into a forest where no one will find the missing pieces. To be reliant on anything makes me feel like I am giving away a small piece of myself. No way am I handing over my power to a little BOX that thinks it’s smarter than me!
Another theory: Start from the DESTINATION.
Maybe it is possible to begin from where I desire to be, working backwards. Looking for homing devices my soul has laid out to guide the way. A familiar building, street, smell, memory…déjà vu? When I take the exact route every day it is safe, it is the same. With a destination set, maybe I can go a different way. Putting TRUST in my intuition, following signs to where I need to be. All if I know where it is I want to end up.
This being said, there is incredible value in knowing where you came from and where you want to go. These two parts of the puzzle take time. They take examination, intimacy.
I’ve heard the expression, “It’s not the destination, it’s how you get there.” Is the path possible if you haven’t seen your destination? Has a certain path already been determined, or is it the ultimate arrival that is certain? What makes up from here to there?
They never told us is that the start point and end point are the same thing. Sometimes, traveling the opposite way allows us to see the turns from a different perspective. Things make more sense seeing it from the other side. Eventually you meet yourself where you are. You arrive at center. It’s a circle, not a line. The anchors -- the two points. The path -- the dance between. Arrive. Repeat.
A sea turtle can travel thousands of miles a year, even hundreds of thousands of miles. But it will find its way HOME to lay its eggs, returning to its place of birth to bury its creation in the Earth. Then she goes on her way. I mean, THAT is beautiful. Scientist don’t know exactly why, but some say it’s a combination of water currents and indicators from the Earth’s electromagnetic field.
To find your way back HOME, to meet yourself where you ARE, to ARRIVE where you started, back at CENTER.
Wow, life is beautiful.
I have spent years on the search for what it means to be FEMALE, for what it means to THRIVE, for what it means to be ALIVE. This path has lead me all over the world, drawn to women and their children, to communities, to SPIRIT, and ultimately BACK to MYSELF. Here I will share my most recent adventure, navigating a diagnosis of triple positive BREAST CANCER and each step of the way I figure out how to be a little more ME. I am Catherine-Ayer Gresham a 30 year old woman