coming home

I recently read Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior.  I consumed it much like one consumes a good pot of tea.  Slowly and gently, allowing the words to warm and soothe.  Occasionally slowing to take in the flavour, the heat of the truth being revealed.

A deep bow to Glennon for writing this book, for sharing her path to healing, for starting a long overdue conversation that I needed to have with myself and with my body.

As the story of how Glennon viewed her body from a young girl, through college, her 3 pregnancies and into motherhood, I felt a sense of relief.  Relief that I have never disconnected so deeply from my body in the way that she describes.  But as soon as this thought crossed into my consciousness, it suddenly occurred to me that I too was disconnected from my body, albeit it in a very different way.  It was like a light went off.

Growing up my sister and I were encouraged to dance, play sports, take the stage, learn music, make art and imagine.  I never really felt that different from the boys because I had the good fortune of being surrounded by lots of good, kind boys and parents with a strong feminist outlook.  My sister and I were told we could do anything.  So we did.

When I was 8 years old I joined a soccer team.  I liked sports.  There weren't enough girls who wanted to play, so those who did were put onto teams with boys.  I was the only girl on my team and at first I remember not really caring that much.  At school the boys might have been faster, but they knew that I could run and was good at playing defense.  So when I arrived on this team I just assumed that all boys were like the ones at school.

During one of our first games the coach asked someone to volunteer to be the goalie.  My hand shot up.  I found it easy to say yes to things at this stage in my life, and playing goalie seemed like it could be fun.  Plus, my friend Val at school always played goalie so I knew that a girl could be great in goal.

I will never forget standing in the net and hearing two of the boys, one of them the coaches son, say to each other, "we have to be extra good today because there's a girl in goal".  I was shocked, hurt, confused and suddenly all of my confidence of being in goal vanished. 

I don't know if I continued to play soccer that summer.  I have no other memories of that team except that game.  Somewhere there's a participation medal, which I remember not being particularly excited or proud of.  All I have allowed from that experience is the memory of that soccer game.  And when I think back, I'm fairly certain this was the moment that I decided I wasn't going to be like other girls.  But I wasn't sure what that meant.

Fast forward to junior high school and many of the girls in my class are wearing make-up, had crushes on boys, were curling their hair, wearing different clothes, and smoking.  While I participated in aspects of this, I wasn't allowed to wear make-up, was disgusted by cigarettes and I lived in fear my parents would find out that I liked a boy.  I didn't want them to think I was weak or silly, which was how I secretly judged my friends.  I was also desperately jealous of them.

A few years later in high school, the game changed big time and most of the young women in my school were boy crazy.  Parties. Drinking. Flirting.  Sex. By this time, I had learned that the best way to keep myself safe from the attention of boys was to be assertive, smart, opinionated and bitchy.  By the time I was 16 I had cut my hair very short, rarely wore anything but jeans, boots and t-shirts and was playing volleyball 7 days a week.  By the end of my final year in high school I was captain of the volleyball team, Student Union President, and an honour student.  And while I did have a boyfriend by then, he was the ideal specimen of a boyfriend any parent could have asked for.  He was kind, but ultimately he was a safe choice and in retrospect I was more concerned with impressing my parents and my teachers than with whether he was a good match for me.

Until I read Love Warrior it didn't occur to me that the little girl at that soccer game slowly started to build a wall around herself.  A wall thick enough so as to protect herself from the expectations that society has of little girls,  of teenagers and of young women.  A wall that not only kept people out, but also keep me locked in.

While lots of my friends were having sex by high school and partying on weekends, I was often quelled up inside my fortress terrified of the consequences, but also wanting to be a part of the cool crowd.  It felt safe, sometimes lonely, but far less stressful than figuring out flirting, or being cute, or being charming, or worst of all being sexy.  Those felt terrifyingly out of control and weak.

By the time college rolled around I really felt that I was a confident, smart, real woman.  Truth was that I was opinionated and privileged.  When people told me I was standoffish, assertive or bossy, with total sincerity, I would say to them "well, I'd rather be a bitch than a whore", as though there were only two choices for a women in her 20's.

So when I was in my early 20's and found myself on the island of Mykonos, Greece for a few months I realized that I no longer had to be the person that people knew at home.  Within a few short weeks I had shed my flared jeans, t-shirts and sneakers in exchange for super low-cut jeans, tube tops, heels and bikinis.  I remember feeling bold, confident, empowered and for the first time in my life sexy. Even now when I think back to this time I'm amazed by that transformation.  This new persona felt good, exciting and adventurous.  But when I returned to Canada, that girl didn't really fit in very well.  She was too much, and the girl who wanted to be good, to be respected, to be liked was wary of being too much.

What this has meant for me now is that I find myself detached from my body on so many levels.  I know that it is strong and can lift, pull, push and move things.  I know that it will respond to music.  I know that my brain is sharp, full of knowledge and capable.  But seeing my body as a vessel and tool for love, for pleasure, for connection, for joy, for passion doesn't come naturally.  And while I have been in some wonderful relationships with some exceptionally beautiful humans, being in my body while with them has been a consistent challenge.  Being present during intimate moments.  Being comfortable in the miracle of my shell. Being connected to their skin through mine. Being wrapped in the joy of their limbs.  All of it taking concentration, when really it should be taking my full sensation.

While many of the young women I encountered in my teens and 20's portrayed an over-sexual, fantastical version of themselves, I spent so much time detaching from the root of being a woman that when I want to call on that energy it can feel unfamiliar.  When I look back on the relationships that didn't work and I think about why, I often come back to the fact that I struggled to be really present, in the moment, in my body, in our energy as a couple.  That in those moments when I was right there with them, it felt like magic, like love, like joy, like wonder.  And that's where I want my body to live.  Not inside a fortress, but inside a wooded forest surrounded by tall cedars, running streams and enough space between the trees to let the light in.  A place where my partner and I can connect, sit in delicious silence, breath the same air, feel renewed, feel alive, feel seen, be love. Home.

I've slowly started to plant trees in the forest and break down the walls brick by brick.  And while this planting and un-building has been a journey over the last few years, it wasn't until I read this book that it became clear as to why I'd built up those walls and why I am now so deeply motivated to plant and nurture a new place for my body to live.  I am luminous, and soft, and open.  I am rooted in who I am becoming and I am more and more at ease with the life that I am creating.  What I know now is that the experience of that hard exterior, means that the pleasure of who I am now is so much greater and that this will continue to expand as I continue to grow.  Because what's ultimately sexy and attractive is a woman who sees her own light, her own worth and shares that with her family, her tribe and her partner.

If you haven't read Glennon's beautifully written memoir, I encourage you to do so.  On some level it is the story of every woman I know.  And it doesn't matter if you haven't struggled with addiction or experienced divorce or don't have babies, because witnessing a woman be openly raw is one of the most beautiful experiences we can share as women.

Jennie AlexisComment