The Dance of Mothering and Healing
My daughter Taryn and I have traveled a very unique road. I've always felt a strong connection above and beyond our mother/daughter role and as she's grown has become a true friend also. I realize that's taboo to say and many would claim 'you can't be friends with your kids'. Well, I disagree, though it can be a delicate balancing act. Many people have asked how Taryn is doing with this whole journey of mine. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, surely she won't get through this without being deeply affected and in her own personal ways, transformed.
From an early age it became clear she was a deeply sensitive child with a dynamic temperament. I call her an 'old soul' and in many ways she truly is. She seemed to feel things twice as intensely as other kids her age. I was very blessed during her early years to have two amazing soul sisters traveling their own mothering journey and we often gathered together with our kids for playdates and adventures. I am so thankful for the unconditional love and support they extended to me during those early years as a new mom. Taryn was four years old when her father and I divorced and no doubt it was a major influence in the many years of internal struggle that followed. I always seemed to be struggling right along side her, both in how to be a parent to this deeply sensitive, intricate child and at the same time to support myself as I navigated the labyrinth of singe motherhood. Not long ago I realized with startling clarity that I had not yet forgiven myself for what I perceived as 'not being good enough' as a parent all these years. This self-forgiveness has been a crucial component to my healing and extends beyond my role as parent, but also as ex-wife, daughter, friend.
The challenges of young childhood eased and we entered a whole new territory once Taryn reached middle school. It was clear she was struggling with some degree of depression and anxiety by this point and the past few years have been epic in our efforts to help this kid find her way. Where this struggle manifested the most, was with school. After countless therapist visits I was met with the same speech-- she is an incredibly bright child, she could be in all the advanced classes and even graduate early if she wanted. But there's one catch; she has to be IN school. The past two years have seen my daughter traverse some deep, dark places and I grasped at anything I could to help her. During her darkest point she would cloak herself in thick black eyeliner, dyed black hair with thick bangs to hide her eyes, and the scariest point was her shocking amount of weight loss that began as an effort to 'be more healthy'.
As the weight came off she began to realize she'd been an emotional eater, stuffing down her feelings seeking comfort in huge bowls of junk food. I was thankful for her increasing self-awareness and my intuition told me to stay close but allow her to take the steps she needed to. Her healing and well-being is most important so I decided to pull her out of public school and homeschool her while we focused on healing. This process has evolved over the last year and I have come to see this as taking a massive 'time-out' to get a grasp on what the root cause of her pain is, so she may begin to release the layers of struggle, locate and use tools to help her find balance and true joy in her life again. Body. Mind. Spirit.
You can't force anyone to heal. Sometimes they have to plunge into those dark places and unfold the path to their own healing. To an extent I had to surrender a little bit and trust that this sweet young girl would find her way.
I will be honest, navigating her school struggles, weight loss and depression have been some of the most stressful and heart-wrenching experiences of my entire life. But the truth is, that's what we sign up for when we choose to become parents. You never know who your child will grow to be; they arrive in this world with a beautifully unique blend of qualities that we can't control or manipulate; but this process can become part of our own growth as we bear witness and offer unconditional love, respect and non-judgement as our child takes the important steps of their own personal journey.
"Rather than feel guilty about the feelings that arise as you move along the path of raising a child, you are asked to embrace the insanities of parenthood, capitalizing on the way having a child opens you up---or rather tears you up, shreds your old identity, and replaces it with an expansion of yourself." (~Shefali Tsabary)
Needless to say, my first thoughts upon diagnosis, were of my daughter. The feeling was immediate, primal and instinctual. The inner dialogue and flood of emotions began churning immediately right from when I found the lump and remained, as I waded through the labyrinth of doctor visits and countless moments alone sitting with this new fate; there were a thousand "what if's" running through my mind. The hardest part for me was the process of being shuffled from one doctor visit to the next, from one department to the next; I felt very small in the palm of a very large and impersonal system. Where did my feelings fit in to all this, let alone those of the person closest to me; my daughter?
I knew even then, deep in my gut that she was not destined to be a motherless girl growing up in the world, but still, to fully grasp the situation I had to go there. I had to face the realness of the situation and recognize that ultimately we are not in control; but, I am also not my fear nor am I the fear that our society incessantly breeds unconsciously. In the early weeks of my diagnosis I not only felt like I wasn't in control, I felt power-less. I would come home and look at my daughter and wonder what she was thinking and feeling. This stoic young girl is a master at shielding her feelings when she wants to and I didn't want to stir up anything unnecessarily, but I wanted to have an honest, real conversation with her about it.
I knew that how I handled it was crucial to how she would process and handle it.
That moment when I turned inward and listened to my own inner guidance is when everything shifted. I went from feeling like a victim to feeling empowered and re-connected to a deeper wellspring of guidance that I trusted. My body created this and my body could heal this but it would require my active participation. It would require a massive life change and in particular--chronic stress had to go. No doctor could fix this for me, I knew I had to locate the root cause(s) and begin the long journey of chipping away at the physical, mental and spiritual layers that had accumulated to create this deep imbalance in my body. Stepping out of being a victim helped me tap in to my inner strength from which I was much more prepared to talk to Taryn about it. I had to get to a place within myself where I was at peace with the direction I was heading and be able to stand behind the choices I had made.
Once I got there I sat her down to announce that I would be healing my body naturally with the help of a great ND and offered her a space to share her concerns. I actually thought she would be more frightened by my choice to take the road less traveled but to my delight and surprise she was massively relieved and just said "Mom, I am so glad you are choosing this way. I know you'll heal and I'm so thankful you aren't going to put toxic chemicals in your body."
Thus began a new phase of each of our journeys.
"The reality is that as much as you need to be present to your children's emotions, you absolutely need to be present to your own, allowing yourself to metabolize what you are feeling. Only in this way can you avoid projecting your emotions on to your children." (Shefali Tsabary)
After my first meeting with my doc and the vast amount of reading and research I've done on healing I knew that the state of chronic stress I'd been living in for years needed to go. Like, now. Toss that shit in the burning fires of who you were girl because you're never going back. Its time to thrive and step boldly in to this new unfolding expression of you. Breathe. Trust. Love yourself enough to put YOU first for a while.
(In healing..) "Cultivating self-love and self-acceptance is not optional. They aren't endeavors that we look into if we have some spare time. They are priorities. In a society that says "Put yourself last, self-love and self-acceptance are almost revolutionary." (Brene Brown)
I sat down with Taryn and explained that I needed to step back a little bit, even though she is still in the throes of her own journey and our tendency as mothers is to be there even if it means draining our own resources, I knew this was no time to half-ass anything. This is my life and a call to truly heal. She replied with "Thank God! Finally mom, because you DO need to step back and take care of you and its about time!" Complete with the classic teenage eye-roll.
So I let go. I let go of the thousand 'what-ifs' around school, depression, weight-gain and the incessant worry about whether she would be ok. I couldn't help but feel a powerful and deep knowing that if I made healing my own priority then in some tangible way she too would find healing. I decided we would take school off the table for the remainder of this year (9th grade) and allow her to pursue learning on her own about things she is interested and passionate about. I would focus on healing and both of us needed to laugh more. Explore more. I would continue to search for tools to help her deal with depression and through a dear friend, recently discovered some non-toxic remedies she is currently trying out.
Taryn is a passionate vegan, her idols include the T.Colin Campbell who authored The China Study and Asian culture in general. She is working to re-gain weight in a slow, steady and truly healthy way by tuning in to how her body feels and what nutrients it needs. Its a slow process but we are moving in a positive direction I can already see changes. Her complexion is clear, she doesn't hide her eyes anymore and seems hungry to experience life. She wants to travel, is learning to play guitar, meditates sometimes and each day teaches me something new. I am learning to balance my own needs with my responsibility to her as a parent.
But I see with new eyes now. My perspective is forever changed from this 'diagnosis'; Life is here now. Its beautiful, wild and ready to be experienced. LIfe is here to be lived and we choose the lens through which we decide to see. Since I was 25 years old I have shaped my very existence around this amazing girl, a choice I will never regret. But in order to thrive, I need to begin visioning beyond my role as parent, growing more of a balance in my life. I know in my heart that she and I have many adventures in our future (first stop, Thailand!) but right now my journey is in healing, as is my daughters'. Peeling back the layers of old muck that kept me small, safe and disconnected from the world is now becoming fertilizer for the will to step in to relationship with life and choose love over fear. I hold the same sweet wish for my daughter as she continues to travel her journey.
"If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness--the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don't fit with who we think we're supposed to be, we stand outside our tory and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing and proving. Our sense of worthiness---that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging---lives inside of our story." (Brene Brown)