Shrieking expletives soon filled the air of my cozy yoga space, along with yoga blocks boomeranging off the walls and a few crow poses raised in shoulder injury defiance.
This had never happened to me during a practice before. I’m all for working within my body’s limits and even find the excursion intriguing. But something else was going on. And so, as my likely wiser self hovered in the background gently whispering over and over, “Easy, tiger – don’t make it worse”, another aspect of my wiser self knew I needed to let it rip.
This was a few months ago, before I sought physical therapy for a minor but pesky months long shoulder injury resulting from scoliosis and other skeletal inconsistencies. Point being not the shoulder issue itself but why it was penetrating other layers of me so extensively.
I mean, it’s a shoulder, and a minor injury at that. It’s not like it’s oh, say my CHILDREN or something. Or my husband’s immigration status, in jeopardy due to the current administration. Or my autonomic nervous system. Why on earth am I so….bothered??
I recall a moment sometime within the first year after stopping our pursuit of children. I told myself if I never did anything else from there on out besides bathe, eat, go to dinner on occasion, keep my house reasonably in order and be a good partner to my husband, that that would already be more than enough. I understood that surviving at all was exceptional.
And I’d say the first three and a half to four years of grief were, on one level or another, about just that – survival. Getting out of bed with the sense of a boulder weighing down my soul, or with the sense of being so paper thin I wasn’t sure if I existed at all. Or sometimes both. Snuffed out by the loss of the future I had rightfully anticipated. Not caring about money. Engulfed by endless time and space, two things I used to in my old life covet. Writing within some of that available space, as that was the only truly safe, honorable and respectful place I could express myself. Wading though changed relationships. Feeling constantly sick and disappointed by people. Feeling displaced in the world. Getting whipped by the clash between old habits and beliefs and new needs and perspectives. Stomaching not being seen and heard by my fellow humans. Crying. Panicking. Self protecting. Raging. Processing, processing, processing.
And I get it, I wouldn’t choose to go back there. It’s a place I don’t think any human would or could inhabit via their own free will. It’s not a crucible you live through unless life forces it upon you.
Within those first three to four years of grief, other subtler things happened too. New interests and directions smoldered, haltingly rooted, and even gathered some steam. At the tail end of this period and thereafter, more metamorphosis. My ability to assimilate and plan, even to dream into the future glacially re-emerged. Self care began to make a noticeable difference. Trauma and grief triggers were now hitting my body with the velocity of a soft hum as opposed to a crack of lightning.
This current phase is arguably “better”, if one wants to be crudely black and white about the matter. It’s more fruitful, comfortable, and you actually get to tango with the possibility of a future like a normal functioning human. The old ball and chain of grief doesn’t determine every last thing you do or don’t do, say or don’t say. And, you actually start to like stuff again. Not everything, but some stuff in life, things you used to not give a crap about or things that used to make you want to hurl, can become shockingly and mysteriously tolerable.
So why then, does setting out on the path of living again feel like such a confounding code to crack?
My long time friend Kelley Lynn touches on this topic in her recent post. Regarding grief’s early purgatory following the unexpected death of her husband in midlife, she writes:
“At least I knew that I’d wake up most days feeling like absolute shit, and my focus was pretty much the same thing for a long time.
Just get through the day.
Once that level of mind-numbing pain wore off to more of a dull roar, actual life had to be lived.”
Yeah, I’ll say.
When I think of the me from five years ago, emerging from an entirely unanticipated years long cyclone, her expectations were right on par with her state of being. Getting out of bed, showering, eating and grieving were reasonable goals on some days, lofty on others. Five years later, things have shifted a tad. Among other points, I’m expecting myself to tackle problems, pursue goals beyond bodily cleanliness and not dying from starvation, build a new life with my husband, and figure out what works for me socially. Unlike five years prior, these expectations are of the new, of roads not well traveled, of abilities unripe, of experiences embryonic.
Those of us on the precipice of living again know, both intimately and thoroughly, what it took just to get here. One of the most insulting misconceptions about not being able to have children when you wanted them is that you can tritely shift a gear, and abracadabra-alacazam, there’s your new life! In reality, this is so not a vanilla instead of chocolate, flame broiled vs fried, diet or regular type situation. Merely getting to the point where you can start to build a new life can take years, mountains of hard work and courage, and entails plowing through the multiple secondary losses rendered by infertility and involuntary childlessness. My tender awareness of all it took to just get to this point might not have the patience for things to now be sidelined by a shoulder injury.
I don’t know about you, but there’s something about losing my children that made me cocky. It still does on some levels, but back in the day you couldn’t get me with ANYTHING. “Old age – huh! However bad it is, it can’t be worse than this. If I survive this, I can survive anything!” Though this truth still partially resonates, I now have a more, shall we say, longitudinal view of my childless experience. If you’re going to have to be without children in old age, absent of the potential support and subject to the social malarkey that will no doubt accompany being childless amid a sea of doting grandparents, better to do it with money than without. Better to set yourself up as comfortably as you can. If you have to be without children and thus without your general peer group in middle age, better to do it with downward dog and a full yoga practice than without.
Things function differently amid living again than they do amid surviving. Yoga, writing, gardening, people – I know how those things go in survival and healing mode. I’m still learning how they function – or, more likely, how I function in relationship to them – in living again mode. And I’m seeing the transition isn’t necessarily svelte. Just like humans don’t go seamlessly from child to adult, the things we leaned on for survival don’t always clearly point to the way beyond it.
And we’ve been through so much already. This living again thing is not born from busily and unthinkingly going about our settled lives and then haughtily deciding to pursue a goal, a goal to acquire something more or shift a less than desirable habit. This living again thing comes on the heels of a spin cycle of transmutations. For me, there’s the old Sarah, the trying to conceive Sarah, the grieving and traumatized Sarah, the emerging from the fire Sarah and the finding her way Sarah. Try getting to know all THAT over the course of nine years. That finding her way Sarah and I are still becoming acquainted is hardly a stunner.
Given all the change, I’m not short of ideas or the ability to adjust. I could figure out something different to do besides yoga. But given all the change, I really don’t wanna. I don’t feel like it. Something can freaking MATERIALIZE already.
Like me, you may be tackling living again amid other life crisis and problems that have been thrown at us. Just because we loose our children and/or parenthood doesn’t mean the rest of our lives are guaranteed to proceed unobstructed. Or maybe there are some inevitable remnants of your old life or the life you thought you were going to have gawking at you that refuse to align with your now or your envisioned path ahead. Also, I suspect, normal.
And we are all attempting to live again, perhaps gingerly, with the underlay of a drastically changed or at least questioned world view. Though I still believe in it, hard work no longer holds the promise it once did. I know in ways still raw that the diligence I exhibit with my shoulder exercises is no guarantee of the desired result. My now intimate acquaintance with fragility and randomness can still take my breath away. My sense of the world not making sense always lingers.
Living again isn’t a mere amendment, it’s literally living AGAIN, after a life interrupted and forever changed. And if I recall correctly, learning to live the first time was no picnic either. Toddlerhood didn’t suit me all that well. I found it to be a total pain in the ass quite frankly. You had to do everything new, you were versed in nothing that was relevant for the phase, and all the while grown ups talked to you like you were stupid. Setting out on a life of involuntary childlessness is much like that, except without the diapers (hopefully).
I do trust myself and my instincts more deeply though. I know and care for myself more fully, more passionately, than I did before. I remind myself not to forget that I get to take these things into living again too.
Back in the yoga room, the confusion has ebbed some. I mean, I never used to be like this. Two and a half years ago I went much more quietly (though not completely) into a nervous system disorder that was, back then, a billion times more debilitating than a mildly injured shoulder. Part of it was I’m sure the situation required me to be fierce in other ways, but part of it was that I hadn’t yet set foot on living again soil.
My frustration has waned too. Physical therapy has provided slow but steadier progress forward, yes. But I also invite the frustration now should it bubble up a bit. I welcome it with a smirk and a greeting of sorts:
“This is good. It looks like someone is ready to live again.”