I am back in the Bay Area. Back in the land that birthed me, raised me, and sent me out into the world to become a mother, wife, Iya’lorisha for Oshun, Esusu founder, and to work as a change agent for organizations in Boston, Chelsea, Chicago, and now, Oakland, CA.
It feels good to be back, for sure. But I am still feeling my way back to myself. Again.
After childbirth, the first thing a mother realizes is that her mind and body aren’t hers. They belong to someone else. They belong to this little person that has consumed her for months while growing inside of her and now consumes her thoughts, feelings, physical needs, and focus. Childbirth changes everything. Everything. How we understand ourselves in relationship to everything around and within us. It gives us purpose beyond material measure and shapes our outlook. This is true whether we suffer from symptoms related to post partum, go through it alone or with tons of support, at home, in a hospital. Doesn’t matter. It shapes our very being and morphs us into something that we only grow to know and accept through the experience of life with our children, and unfortunately, for some of us, without them. After childbirth, mothers begin a lifelong journey of coming back to some sense of ourselves, even as we redefine it through the lives of our children. There is no substitute for this process. Same is true for life changes like the one I’m going through now.
I see myself as having gone through an experience of shedding the former parts of myself in order to grasp this new/old reality I find myself in. I am myself while in discovery of my-self. Now untethered from my life partner of 27 years, the majority of my lifetime, I am rediscovering where and who I am in my life. Do I put myself first? Do I put myself last? Do I remember what I like and love to do? Do I find that I like things now that I didn’t know about or explore before? Do I learn new things about myself that I didn’t discover before? All of these questions loom large for me as I take on the role as the executive director of a small nonprofit that is the only one of its kind in the country. That story I will continue another time.
Getting back to me has meant realizing how little I spent time on doing things that truly brought me joy. For years, I worked even when I wasn’t working. I took on causes that I felt very strongly connected to, but were not mine. The crazy thing is, I really thought those causes and plans were for me. But truly, they were not. I see that so clearly now. It took literally doing nothing outside of my work day to see this so clearly. I always felt obligated to show up for others, feeling I was showing up for myself. Even when I wasn’t asked, I did it because I felt that it was something that I needed to do. I see now that I was filling the shoes of obligation, guilt, and wanting to be liked or loved. I see now that if I didn’t make those choices, I would have felt that I was letting others down. That they needed me, and I needed to be part of what they were building. I am learning the hard way that those causes I thought couldn’t live without me are doing just fine without me. Not the same, but fine. Even as those choices took a toll on my personal life, even my health, I kept at it. I kept making choices that in the end, did not feed my soul. So who am I now? Who am I when I chose to nourish and feed my soul? My soul purpose? What will it take for me avoid the hamster wheel of life again and say “yes” to me?
I am learning now about how to make time for myself. I am learning about how to be alone in my thoughts and feelings and to process a lot of things I left unprocessed when I was filling my life with obligations. I’m used to processing work. My years healing through the Lukumi tradition and as a Re-Evaluation Counselor has helped me to actively heal through early trauma and memories that used to hang over my life like dark clouds. That work continues. But the work of processing my choices that do not allow me space to rest, to breathe, to do nothing if I wanted to. That incessant need to always be busy. To always be doing something. That is what I am making space to work on now.
Yes this is something that I saw patterned in the habits of the women that raised me. It was the one constant that I saw among women who oftentimes had nothing else in common. This is intergenerational in form and in nature. No doubt about it. So, if I make different choices, am I holding true to the “Strong” women who raised me? Choosing a life that is more balanced and more for me, feels like a luxury, but can I afford to always be tired and feeling like I don’t have it in me (again) today? That is the price I pay – we pay – for not examining this issue. I’ve read all of the books and engaged in the dialogue on this issue, because it is important to “be there” when our elders are speaking to us. But what if I didn’t? What if I stayed home and listened to music on my record player instead? What if I embodied what we see and are told is best to do? What if I did go out dancing, to a movie, or take a walk instead? For me, I am learning that these choices are the difference between being busy and being me. I want to choose me now. I need to choose me.
I am slowly but surely learning what it means to choose myself and to live with it. Maybe why that’s why I needed to come home. I am coming home to me. Again.