By Sarah Shoemaker
I began to understand love during the month of September two years ago. Bon Iver was the soundtrack.
I had been separated from my partner and husband of fourteen years for about fourteen months at that point, and I went to visit an old friend in my home state of Pennsylvania. I was weaving this short visit with him into a trip with family, and my son stayed with my mother so that I could talk as late as I wanted, and likely even spend the night. As we were planning this visit, two days prior to the first evening we’d spend together, it hit me: oh. It was that kind of visit. We didn’t talk about it beforehand. We were intrigued to reunite in these first years after our divorces, ten years since I’d lived and worked in this area, after we saw on Facebook that our inquiries into the topics of true femininity and masculinity were crossing paths.
I have a trauma history. My body remembered abuse and manipulation of the young female body that my mind can only ever remember in snippets of detail. The emotional abuse has been discovered through years of intentional exploration in therapists offices, with energy work and somatic investigation. My family was ripe with attachment issues and emotional control. When I was eighteen, I became pregnant, and it was determined, by the family, that I would place the child for adoption. At nineteen, I birthed my first child, a daughter. I birthed her naturally and reverently. I gave her the middle name of Faith and chose her parents a few months prior to her birth. Along with my family, I blocked her birth father from the entire experience, and I set about following the prescription of success that was laid in front of me. Work hard, and one day, you can have a baby again, and do it right the next time.
I tried like hell to get it right. I immediately went back to college, three weeks after her birth. Confused as hell about what was important, I transferred four times. I got three college degrees in the next decade. I married my best friend and we had a son, not in that order. My son ate only organic handmade baby food and breast milk. He slept on natural latex in a chemical-free home. Everything was about creating a perfect life. I created amazing things, but I was striving, efforting. If anyone says that word is not actually a verb, fuck them (and I never say that). It is a fucking word. I efforted to feel finally worthy of love and motherhood and love and money and love, and I didn’t ever stop.
Until I realized what I had been doing. Until my adrenals said “enough.” Until I released my poor husband from all of my pressuring and ideals. Until I remembered that I had hidden myself all those years ago when I allowed my child to be given away and I had locked my true self away in the process.
But my husband, that old best friend, he had been safety. To a traumatized nervous system, and I had one, all that time, familiarity is safety. I didn’t realize the extent of this until eight months into our separation, he entered into a serious relationship with another old friend of his. I collapsed. It had been my decision to leave, but I was the one on the floor. Because even though I knew we were over, I no longer had his deep and innate care. I could have, until that moment, still gotten a hug had I needed on. It was only the beginning of my discoveries around all that was locked in my psyche about safety and protection. I had let him in, and in fact, had likely stayed with him so long because of this familiarity. My family, growing up, didn’t hug. I gave away my infant. I had no idea how to be soft or vulnerable with anyone but my husband and my son, and truly, even my husband couldn’t touch the depth of the prickly parts of me. He took the brunt of a lot of it.
You don’t let just anyone in when you have a trauma past. No. You protect. You harden. You fight. He had been it – the only one since my daughter’s birth. Dating was impossible – there is not one casual bone in my body. Dating itself was immensely upsetting, so much so that I only ever tried it twice.
So that September evening, back in Pennsylvania, my friend sat across from me after giving me a tour of his garden and said, “So, I see you. I see that you might need someone to bring you back. And tonight, I’ll be anything you need me to be.”
And, though it was so unlike me, I said yes. And my fragile nervous system was met. It was met in soft sheets and cool night air. We laughed. We began what would be a healing journey for us both.
We had a long distance relationship, and this man knew how to communicate. He had a deep introspection and we investigated the world together, but over the phone, and only occasionally in one another’s arms.
He remains one of my closest friends and forever he will be the man that opened me up. He will be the man that brought me back – not back to men, but back to myself as a woman. This is the power of the masculine – to take the lead and gently guide, to hold space, to invite healing, to allow her to explore her power and to bask in her self-discovery. That September, we crept into cold weather months while falling in love. The memory of cool air through the windows and weekends in bed, the unique taste of Morel and Lion’s Mane in our breakfasts, discovering safety where once before there was none. He loved the song Holocene. It stops me in my tracks, ode to that time, when I hear it.
“At once, I knew, I was not magnificent,” the song sings. We were learning how simultaneously big and perfect life was, of divine plan, and also we were humbled. As we grew as individuals on a spiritual path, we were enamored by the discoveries made.
This man taught me how to love, as the divine feminine, and taught me that I could heal the wounds I carried, and help to heal the wounds of others. In his hands, my pain was no longer magnificent. I could begin to soften to love.
Knowing we were on a path of purpose we did not yet fully understand, we respected the distance between us, where each of our family’s lived, and agreed to be friends, continuing on our journeys always in deep support of one another. I had experienced the beginning of a new story of love, and I was ready to show up to love a man without my wounded parts getting in the way. But there were other things I needed to learn.
I entered two other small but significant relationships throughout the following year, learning big karmic lessons as I was challenged first to own my presence as a spiritual female intuitive and seeker in the midst of one man’s judgement, and then to learn the boundaries I needed to learn. Holding space for the masculine does not mean making yourself smaller, nor does it mean endlessly giving without return. I was disappointed. I was learning valuable lessons from each of these experiences, and yet, I was unmet. The protection I’d learned to yield long ago was again heightened.
And then last spring, I leaned into the embrace of a man I’d been getting to know, watching as he left his marriage, and learning how he interacted with the world. Like my friend of the Bon Iver September, this man is also embodies the warrior masculine archetype. He both honors the feminine and makes it absolutely safe for me to embody it. Through his touch, I am ever-more set free, invited to explore, and feel things I’ve never felt before. I am more of a woman than I’ve ever been, and not afraid to say, that this happens for a woman, as she allows it, in relation to a deeply good man. All summer, we’ve begun to meet one another on every plane – mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. From the first time, it was apparent the fit was likely cosmic. I am a woman who’s been learning to trust – trust intuition, judgement, and the “other” – and I could immediately trust this man.
We’ve opened up further to one another than either of us has ever done before with another. We have touched wounded places in the deep, rarely exposed places of one another’s psyches, and cried in one another’s arms while they released. We’ve both known before it seemed appropriate to use the words that we’d be family. We’ve looked at one another with eyes full of wonder about whether this sweet, fulfilling, “better than curried chicken and chocolate covered almonds” (his words) thing can be true.
We’ve both been through trauma and have faced it to come out incredibly resilience beings. He just gave a talk on the importance of resilience, yes, but also interdependence. As it turns out, humans are communal beings. Once we stop self-protecting, it’s where we want to be.
But he and I are both parents and live almost an hour apart. We both work full time, he’s got an established 501c3 and I’m starting an LLC. We have houses. We have schedules. He’s getting divorced; our relationship a secret for now. Time together is limited. The flesh and bones of me are in his mighty arms less frequently than I’m finding I’d like to be.
It’s September. The windows are still open, but the breeze is cool. Today, I had this feeling of longing, and for what, I didn’t at first know. I turned on Spotify, and Bon Iver happened to play first. My breath caught, but not for longing for the past.
I wasn’t raised with a safe and reliable embrace. I allowed myself to believe as a young woman, sometimes to my great shame, that in order to be worthy of a child’s love, I had to first succeed by false, external, patriarchal standards. I married because I thought it was the right thing to do on the way to becoming someone. All of that is a part of me. I honor it all.
I’m standing here, in this life I still try to hold up most days all on my own. Hell, I hold a lot of other people up, too, most days. And I’ve got it. I do. I will. Holding things together is something I know how to do. I am accustomed to independence. I learned long ago not to need anyone. My mantra in my marriage was actually “I didn’t need you anyway.” It was ingrained.
But it’s September. The air is cool. There is love in my life of a magnitude that I don’t want to go without, and with that, there is vulnerability. At least there is when you’re me. There is a need in each of us that is so unashamedly pure. September air apparently pulls this recognition out of me now.
He’s there, within reach, and damn, my bones, they just don’t want to go another year.
Sarah Shoemaker is writing The Birthmother Memoir – the personal history of a body in trauma before and after the birth and adoption surrender of her first child. She continues to live on purpose, but with far greater balance and care, in Asheville, NC, where she mothers, loves, and is the founder of Embodied Breath, LLC, on a mission to contribute to the collective healing and rising of the feminine through mindful, breath-based awareness and connected coaching. To contact Sarah or to learn more about Embodied Breath, visit www.yourembodiedbreath.com.
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