In Robert Sapolsky’s book, Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers, he explains that zebras experience episodic stress when, say, there is a lion afoot. Humans, on the other hand, anticipate the lion, plan for the lion, rehearse what they will do when they see the lion- resulting in chronic stress and often health issues. It has been determined that anticipatory fear and fear have the same effect on the body. When we spend hours on end preparing for the lion, we’re in the same situation as if we were actually running from one.
Here is Becky Cavendar’s Letter to the Nice Girls. I can’t remember the last time I read something so powerfully relatable.
The link for the article is HERE.
Today is my 34th birthday. I started the day having woken up from a terror dream that I haven’t had in years but used to have every few months or so. It’s the one where I’m hours away from my wedding and don’t actually want to marry the groom. Needless to say I was thrilled to wake up and get lovely texts from sweet friends and family members.
Then, about two hours into my day I got a phone call from the one apartment in Oakland that I still had hope about. I just felt in my bones that it was mine. When he called I was certain this was it. Except it wasn’t. He rented it to someone else. So then I go to where one never needs to go, particularly on their birthday, the raging pity party.
And then I picked my sorry self off of the couch and put on my 34 year old big girl boots and went out and bought a tea pot. Shit is going to work out. My dear friend reminded me that things don’t always work out the way we expect them to, but they always work out.
I have been told, on more than one occasion, that there’s no way I’m going to self-help my way out of this-that the work is done in the water, dragging my feet forward- experiencing progress in what feels like slow motion. Despite weeks of finally feeling like I’m turning a corner with my broken heart I am back in the water. The breakup opened up my world. I obtained a job in the field I want to work, in record speed (three weeks start to finish) and found solace in fleeing this city that holds my past like walking ghosts. But I think with all change, I had a vision of how it would go. I saw my world set up, but lighter and with more activities in the Bay Area. I envisioned a somewhat broken woman completely healed and settled in an apartment in Oakland. I forgot about the work that goes into becoming that woman.
The slow descent back into the water is from my housing hunt. The speed in obtaining the job meant that I had very little time to find a place. And the current housing market in the Bay Area is adding a level of complexity that I hadn’t fathomed. I have such supreme faith it will work out, but lately that faith feels heavy, like a favorite jacket that is now wet and doesn’t serve the same purpose. Carrying it makes you feel slightly sentimental and silly. My job starts in exactly one week. I have found only one apartment that I can see myself in and am waiting to hear back. My stomach is knotted in fear and anxiety has settled in like a devoted friend.
My inclination is to find quotes and read lectures about manifesting or positivity or faith, but I know that peace won’t be gotten there. I recognize that I can’t self-help this away. As with all great change, there are periods of such palpable fear that you can only be awed at the sheer humanity of it. Marvel at it from a distance and try not to get sucked up in its atmosphere. That’s where I am. Standing wide eyes, mouth agape at the spectacular unknown, finding a place for the pit in my stomach.
So I’ll just sit here. Breathe. And know that one day I’ll be grateful I never threw away the jacket.
This weekend I went to oregon to be with two of my best friends. One, in particular, is in the depths of sorrow after her husband of 12 years decided to leave their marriage, their 7 month old child, and the life that my friend had believed she would live for the rest of her days. Her world was shattered and we convened in Oregon to sit with her and the mess that surrounds.
Her pain was humbling. So was her strength. She did not pretend to be okay or to be moving on, did not say anything about it being for the best, did not drown her sorrows in platitudes or excessive drinking or exercise; she just showed up. Honest and raw and making her way through the despair. In that, I saw a woman who can move mountains. I also saw something that gave me peace, even in my own suffering. She is going to be okay. She is going to be better than okay. I think it feels impossible to imagine that right now. She’s orienting a divorce and learning how to be a (mostly) single parent to an infant child and all the while has her self-worth on the chopping block, imagining that it is a factor in how the man that vowed to be with her forever could so easily leave her behind. She is in that pool, swimming around with some scary fucking fish. But because I am not in her head, am not in her fear and am not in her pain, I can see what she can’t- that she is going to get through this, that her heart will mend, that she will come to understand that her self worth has nothing to do with the decisions of this man and in knowing her self-worth, know that she deserves so much better . She is still in the middle of the fire, but one day she’ll rise out of it, phoenix-like, and fly right back into the beautiful, hope-filled sky. We all will.
Oh how many times have we been in this place? This unknowing place. Things are unfolding in this beautiful otherworldly way but still there is this fear that it won’t work out. I’m still white knuckling. I’m slightly mortified that I’m quoting John Mayer, but one of his songs came on the radio tonight and this line struck me “fear is a friend who’s misunderstood.” I drove to Oakland today to scope out where I want to live and found the perfect neighborhood. Despite this discovery, my brain immediately goes to this fear place. The market is so bad, there’s no inventory, rents are astronomical. But I know, deep down, in that knowing place, that it will work out. In retrospect, hasn’t it always?
Today I got a job offer. I have been looking for a job for what feels like a really long time. It is in the Bay Area, away from Sacramento and so many memories that sometimes rush in all at once and make it hard to breathe.
This place in my life reminds me so much of the Parable of the Trapeze. It is a beautiful metaphor. Here it is:
The Parable of the Trapeze
Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.
Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness going to get me. In my heart-of-hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present, well-known bar to move to the new one.
Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing, I have always made it. Each time I am afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed in unseen rock in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so, for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of the past that is gone, the future that is not yet here. It’s called transition. I have come to believe that it is the only place that real change occurs. I mean REAL change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.
I have noticed that in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing,” a place no-place between places. Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real too. But the void between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible. What a waste! I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.
And so transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word.
–Warriors of the Heart by Danaan Parry
Remember when we laid in bed, gripped with fear and the bewilderment of children and read that one paragraph of Cheryl strayed’s lovely essay, Tiny Beautiful Things?
“You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.”
And we agreed that we would both be brave and we would break up and in so doing, break our own hearts. And we were united in our resolve. Laying together and comingling our tears.
It’s always impossible to know what a relationship will return to after your romance is gone. How you turn something as all-encompassing as our coupling to a friendship or something else. Two months out and the terms of our relationship are so hard to stomach that I can barely believe it.
I remember going through this during my last breakup from a man I dated for 4 years. I recall thinking when we had gone our seperate ways, what do I do with those years, with that person who was a part of my family and I his who no longer is in my life? And I am here now, with Him, even deeper in that quandry because I so imagined spending my life with Him. He seems to have taken on an unwarranted resentment towards me (I say this based on the tone of the limited “business texts” we’ve exchanged), which has made me fear getting in touch- not that getting in touch is something that makes sense. It’s just if I wasn’t afraid he’d would be unkind, I’d probably, shamefully, be drunk texting him more often.
Maybe in a year or so, when we have moved on and our hearts aren’t so fragile and wounded we can come together and ask to change the terms of our relationship again, this time to be friends.
There are a thousand things I want to say and none at all. Tell you about my broken healing heart and the days when I miss you so much it hurts in my eyebrows and the arches of my feet. I want to tell you about my life and about my fears and how sometimes I am so lonely I’m afraid I’m slowly going insane. Your flags are still flying in my heart and even when I close the windows I can hear them there, fluttering. I want you to know that I’m moving soon, leaving sacramento and this world that feels so alien and cold to me now.
And I want you to tell me you still love me and miss me and understand, more than anyone else how beautiful our relationship was and the thought of it being over, of walking in opposite directions with the directive not to look back lest we both turn to stone, is the hardest thing you’ve ever done. I want you to see small things and think of me and wonder what I’m doing- because that’s the relationship I know now. Our ties to each other are dissolving one by one. At once it was every single fiber in my being that felt connected to you. My heart orchestrating a seamless attachment. And a dream of the life we would share and the children that you would love so much it hurt and how they would look like us both and have hearts that convinced us we did something right. And the hurts we caused and the pain we suffered would melt into this world we had created for ourselves. Now it is only your mail that still trickles into my mailbox and a shared pandora account that lets me see the music you’ve been listening to. I find myself trying as hard as I can to find some message in it. To break it like a code.
This suffering is so raw. It is human and real and makes me want to howl at the bright, round universe- stop using words and still share with the world my pain. Maybe this is so I can unload the heaviest parts of it without having to retell my story -or perhaps it is so you will hear me and howl back.
I was able to maintain my nothing-but-love attitude, with a wide open heart for about 12 hours upon my return to Sacramento. Coming home was like jumping into a pool of memories and pain. It’s hard to enjoy a casual float.
I just got back from Christmas and am in my apartment by myself. I am both happy that it is over, realizing only the day after, how much I had been dreading it. Such a hard holiday to enjoy while carrying the weight of heartbreak. He was such a huge part of my family. His absence was palpable.