Big life changes are wonderful times to create excuses for the emergence of behaviors that are best left behind. Divorce and moving are two of those big life changes. All that chaos is camouflage for ways of being that feel homey, a familiar face in a crowd of strangers, when they’re really stalkers looking for moments of weakness to exploit, scraping at the still healing wounds of betrayal.
I felt reborn when we moved to Marin from the east. It was just before Spring, 2011. The rains didn’t stop for weeks. Back east that weather would have left me blue, but here it couldn’t dampen my excitement. I had found home. A place where rainy days are as beautiful as the sunny ones, and the fog rolling in as comforting as a trusted lover’s embrace. A place that supported me so fully as I watched my world melt like plastic on fire, leaving behind challenge after challenge – out of nowhere a broken family, the stench of deceit inescapable.
So, moving to Bolinas will be the easiest move yet, smack in the middle of two places I love so deeply, Limantour Beach and Stinson Beach. A reward for all my hard work. The perfect place to emerge from my shell, my incubation complete, and start fresh, living the life of my dreams.
We know it hasn’t played out that way. While there have been many moments of bliss and excitement, wet blankets are ready to be thrown at my insistence, from self-criticism, to making bad choices, to taking the easy way out in an effort to preserve some aspect of playfulness as I feel weighed down by responsibility and four thousand too many tortilla chips.
I underestimated the challenges of the move to Bolinas, but they can’t compare with the challenges of that first year post Pocket Call, right? I can handle it – look what I’ve been through!, I yell as my fingers rake down a sand cliff, the wild Pacific ready to drop me, and then drag me out to sea.
Optimism is at the foundation of a joyful life, but optimism without awareness is the blindfold that shields the eyes from acknowledging a precarious position. The sun feels warm, the breeze blows, the air is clean, cold, salty. Take a deep breath because the wind is about to be knocked out as the cantilevered perch liquifies beneath the feet, the sound of rushing sand masking the hard landing to come.
I narrowly avoided a hard landing, I hope, thanks to the sands of Limantour. We met yesterday for five hours. Fear of what I was going to see, hear, feel trapped me in the car for 20 minutes, wasting my time pulling off split ends, before I forced myself to leave the quiet interior for the white noise of waves. She led, and I released the need to direct the internal conversation as I made my way over the bridge that lifts me over a meadow and to the dunes.
A man approached, his daughter wrapped around him like a baby sloth. As I moved past, toward the small rise of sand that completely blocks from view the endless, active waters beyond, he called out over the churn – The whales are in!
I hoped to see them but sensed that Nature would provide no distraction from a most necessary look inside.
I hadn’t been to Limantour in days that became months before I could stop time. 18 miles on Mt. Tam nearly won out over 12 miles at sea level, my desire to burn the calories that have added up over the past few weeks leading the effort. Burning calories isn’t the right antidote. And, yes, despite not being bitten by neither bee nor snake, an antidote was most definitely needed.
Last week looked harmless enough. Who hasn’t dealt with terrible customer service, a swarm of bees and a soon-to-be divorced husband who makes himself feel better by telling you that you’re rude, mean and manipulative and then calls you Sunshine as he spits out goodbye? I felt like I had a handle on boundaries, and I had quieted the voice in my head that was adamant about reminders of not getting enough done, or not getting the right things done in the right way, or not responding in the right way to encounters with The Genius, but it was an illusion.
Ever so slowly, and with my encouragement, I had been losing the valuable ground gained over the last few months. Daily experiences became challenging – I pointed to the move and the divorce. Hiking and swimming lost out to the convenience of the gym – I chalked it up to needing to make sacrifices in order to live in paradise. Getting told for the 50th time that I’m mean and angry and awful simply something I will have to deal with for the balance of my days. Responding to it with spite and sarcasm a necessary way to protect myself from the verbal abuse.
Smiles forced, joy faked, time stretched so thin I winced waiting for the snap that would leave me cowering to avoid the backlash.
And then deep sadness.
I crested the dunes. A handful of people lounged in the sand. A woman struggled to make her way up the path to leave, a cane helping her move her too heavy body. She smiled a sad smile at me. I couldn’t smile back, sad or otherwise, but greeted her with a hello.
My knees winced as I found my footing in the sand. I have been on the elliptical and trails for so long I had forgotten my beach gait. Everything south of the waist has to be a little looser, more samba and less waltz. The waves weren’t as big as I thought they’d be. The wildflowers not so abundant and wild. The cliffs looked a little flat.
I can’t possible be used to this sight.
Forcing myself to stare hard at the waves looking for signs of migrating whales, I walked fast, with purpose, heading south. My desire to sweat strong, the need to leave it all on the beach my goal. At that time I was more focused on the workout than the work that needed to happen on the inside.
Focus misplaced by design, out of fear.
Before leaving for the hike I received an email from a kitten. She gently told me that my writing seemed overworked, that my voice was becoming harder for her to hear. She cared so much for me and the dudes that instead of moving on to other words from other writers, she chose to let me know. Her words drifted in front of my eyes, obscuring the view ahead.
They were moved over by thoughts of Mr. Viking. Brilliant, hilarious, fascinating. And being forced to make uncomfortable choices, choices necessary to survive and thrive. He doesn’t see life like I do, but is enamored with my ways, willing to suspend disbelief…for now. Kind of. Around him swirls uncertainty and anxiety. He’s coping with it.
While we have a great time together, I can’t be in the midst of the anxiety and uncertainty of another. Not on the level he’s experiencing now with his injury, the death of his brother and needing to make a massive leap of faith as he sets off to write. I felt like I had to help, wanted to help, and in doing so I highlighted the very ways in which I am not helping myself. His methods of coping only serve to cloud my judgment. While I am not judging him (I honor his perseverance, and respect his right to make the choices that he feels are best for him.), I am seeing how his ways don’t blend well with mine.
I’m grateful he’s moving to LA, although I will miss him a great deal. I don’t know how our friendship will unfold in the future, but we will always be friends. And I will always be grateful for the lessons he’s taught me, lessons I began to unravel as the sun edged closer to the horizon. But for right now we need to go our separate ways.
After passing the Cliffs of Insanity, I came upon the rough rocks, some black and some swirls of tan, peach and pink. All were jagged and ravaged by the constant pounding of the surf. The tide was out, the urge to continue south strong. For the first time in my life, ever, I trusted my feet enough to lightly and confidently, without hesitation, jump from boulder to platform to boulder, discovering hidden coves screaming From Here to Eternity, as I searched for the perfect rock upon which to sit.
And to sob.
The tears burst forth before I could take my first cleansing breath. Then, like right now, they fell fast. Only now I’m just crying, not hyperventilating. I wanted to scream, When is this going to stop!!?, but I let her rip. For the next 45 minutes, without another soul in sight, I cried on the edge of land, rocky outcroppings to my left, some covered in fog, and miles of arcing beach to my right, ending at a light house far out to sea.
Maybe I just need a good cry.
In between sobs I spoke out words of thanks, so as not to let my tears dilute the absolute gratitude I have for being able to emote, hurt, and ache in such an achingly beautiful place.
This was no pity party. I needed to shed some skin and get real.
It was time to walk. And climb and hop and jump back down, without hesitation, springing forth knowing that the landing will stick. A blue sky made for a navy blue ocean, which made for white-capped waves that looked like snow-capped mountains. My tears flushed out the feelings of angst and sadness, so that I could come away from this return to Limantour with more than just calories burned, but with a better understanding of what’s really going on inside me, what I need and the choices I need to make in the best interests of the dudes and me.
The cliffs didn’t look as muted. Yellow, pink and purple flowers clung to their vertical faces. Bouquets of sea grass and kelp marked the water line, tossed by the hundreds from mermaids far off shore.
It became clear as I headed back north that all these distractions were winning if I was their opponent and the aim to take me off my game, blind me. Some distractions are certainly valid and others chosen by me for their shiny features or how they make me feel. Some are red herrings, designed to keep me from conquering my fears and working thoroughly through sadness and the mourning of the loss of my family.
Some distractions ground me and kill me at the same time.
I never, ever thought I would confess this, but I have wanted to for so very long.
The day I searched for the word LOVE in The Genius’ Skype archives, the day I found out he was having an affair, I made him drive me to the convenience store where I purchased a pack of cigarettes. Since that day, to varying degrees, I have smoked to ground myself. (My Mom is so not happy right now.) Crazy, right? Me. A person who values above all else my ability to shred a mountain or swim across the bay, celebrating those efforts with a big fat drag on a natural cigarette. A woman who needs to summit mountains where the air is so thin even virgin lungs fail to extract enough oxygen to survive.
It was a crutch. A very bad crutch that has caused a great deal of shame within me. Out of all my bad choices this one sits atop the mountain. And beckons all other bad choices to rise up and surround it, making it appear as if it’s throwing a party when it’s really planning a funeral.
One afternoon last week, between fists of dark chocolate, late nights and cigarettes sneaked after the dudes went to bed, the tall dude said, out of the blue, Mommy, do you want to know what I wrote on a post-it at Daddy’s house?
Tobacco sucks. I know you don’t like it when I use that word, but it really does.
And inside I cried.
Hiding a deadly habit pales in comparison to what my bad choice says to myself. This body, this absolute gift of a human body that fearlessly carries my spirit on this plane, has worked so hard on my behalf and my reward to it is to kill it.
That is why I feel such deep shame. And by the time I passed the path to the parking lot, continuing north to greet the seals, I came to understand that it is also why I feel such sadness. Making bad choices, in this case a choice to light up a cancer stick, provides me with an opportunity to understand why I do the things I do, why I am the way I am.
Quitting is more than just removing toxins from my body. It’s about valuing myself. About living fully present and not allowing distractions to derail me from the internal excavation that is essential to a full and rich life. It’s about loving myself. About valuing myself enough to love myself. About being brave enough to experience this time without crutches.
It’s about being honest and not making choices that need to be hidden.
On Easter Sunday I sent the little dude to his room for sneaking candy after they both promised to not have anymore. They plowed through their baskets like starved ants at an all you can eat picnic, sans humans. I had to pull the plug. His bad choice came with a consequence.
It’s not the candy, honey, it’s the fact that you chose to break your promise and be sneaky.
I’m not breaking my promise. Not the one to quit smoking, the one to love myself fully, the one to make healthy choices even if they don’t feel as good as the naughty ones. And above all, not the one I made to the dudes when I wrapped my hike at Limantour:
I will in every way, with every step, set for you boys the very best example so that you may learn how to live a joyful life, unencumbered.
Thank you, kittens. You walked with me yesterday, a day when I absolutely needed you. Our hike was kicked off by the words of love about my overworked words. I was covering up what really needed to be addressed. Undressed, I am now emptied. Relieved. And headed to the sands of Stinson Beach to celebrate.
I’ll be the one with the ultra red and swollen smiling eyes that can’t contain the joy I feel inside from being honest.