Last year was a hard year. I wrote about this difficulty—vaguely eluding to challenges of environment, home, and work—in my last post. In this blog, which was a copy of my reflection for our last faculty meeting of the year, I asked my colleagues and myself: should I take the year apart or find thoughts that will help us put ourselves back together again in the fall? I am pretty good at taking things apart. But returning to school in less than a week, I find myself most concerned with the latter question: have I put myself back together again? Have I found these thoughts?
I have slept more, but am I rested?
I have taken space, but am I ready to be close again?
I don’t know. But I am beginning to find the answers, the fragments of thought, in my small victories.
Bringing my panic to ‘get it together’ before school starts to my brother, he said to me: “You have a stubborn Taurus heart.” He’s right. My Taurus moon, which tends towards obstinacy, perfectly suits my Libra (in)decisiveness. I might have a lot of trouble coming to a decision, but once I have, you better believe that I am going to hold onto that decision—particularly in matters of the heart. I tend to hold onto anger too, problematically. I once lived an entire year in perpetual rage. But, I eventually had to let it go to learn how to breathe again (literally and figuratively). This summer has also been a practice in breathing; and the process feels at best, incomplete.
But, while I have some aversion to being “in-between” or “halfway,” a trusted friend once told me that I do better when I am in-between. My theological training in relational and feminist theo/alogy also tells me to embrace the in-between: my liminality, my relationality, my fluidity. “Change is,” after all. “Touch is.” (Thank you Carol.) So, in an effort to put myself back together again, I want to reclaim some of my in-between accomplishments here. These are three of my “small victories:”
- I actually want to do things that are good for me again.
I am not just ‘surviving,’ even if I am not yet thriving. I want to thrive: to try to thrive, and to try things that will help me to thrive. I couldn’t say this last winter because trying to keep it together, function every day, felt like more than I could handle. And it wasn’t just that I couldn’t do this care: I didn’t even want to, because it felt too hard. But I also didn’t want to drown; so, I started by putting in a little bit of care at a time, beginning with the most essential concerns first.
This summer my desire started to shift. I cautiously pushed past emotional subsistence. I cried my way through two yoga classes because I forgot what it felt like to center myself in my body. I let my best friend, an acupuncturist and energy healer, touch me again even though I couldn’t let her in completely. At the end of the summer, I started to make changes to my diet. I actively scheduled beginning of the year self-care, and with a friend I might add. I am actually doing things that will help me to thrive, even if these things also scare me.
- I am starting to let go of not so helpful coping mechanisms.
There are ‘easy’ ways to cope, and then, there are helpful ways to cope. I have been in the habit of choosing easy methods: good for basic survival, not so good in the long run—particularly when supposedly ‘easy’ methods cause problems of their own. For example: I have frequently found it much ‘easier’ to buy myself a new outfit on a credit card in order to feel better for one meeting or one day, than deal with body shame related issues. I can buy into what Sonya Renee Taylor calls “the Body-Shame Profit Complex,” in her book The Body is not an Apology, for temporary relief. But what does this “detriment buying” really do? She reminds us: it adds to debt, helps us avoid our actual bodies, reinforces consumer capitalist solutions for the control of bodies, etc.. This is just one example of a negative coping mechanism—and perhaps, for me, its tamest manifestation.
Incidentally, I have caught myself, several times this summer arguing (with myself) in favor of the “logic” of destructive coping mechanisms, as though they are an equation. “It’s easier and simpler this way.” “It is a small price to pay.” But the thing is: I know these are lies. I acknowledge that these are lies. I can, today, see other solutions. I am starting to employ new, more helpful strategies.
- I am arguing more.
I don’t love conflict… I wouldn’t say that I am conflict avoidant, but I do frequently, try to rationalize away my feelings, needs, and perspectives. This was definitely a part of my socialization as a white, middle class woman who was taught to defer to kyrio-patriarchal rule. This may also be a part of my Libra-self: I like to weigh all sides. It’s just that I tend to do so to the exclusion of my actual needs (there’s the kyriarchy again).
“I can see (his, her, their) perspective, so I have concluded that I feel ‘x.’” Another equation that doesn’t tend to work out. I do not do so well when I try to deliberate on, judge and sentence myself to appropriate feeling, rather than say, just feel my feelings. So, rather than make my own feelings into the problem—I have been arguing instead. And you know what? This (insert expletive here) sucks. But in reality, this doesn’t suck any more than not feeling, or pretending not to feel what I feel or think what I think. It also helps with #2 above, so win-win for me.
I have called these successes “small victories,” because I have judged them “small,” for their incompleteness. These are ‘unfinished’ projects—but putting myself back together again, I want to recast these victories in a language that acknowledges the liveliness of the in-between:
Number one, stated to honor my strength: I have rediscovered the part of me that is capable of and wants to make change.
Number two, rewritten more helpfully and self-affirmingly: I am coping more positively and less destructively.
And finally, number three, more accurately: I am actively pursuing the fulfillment of my own needs. I am being more assertive.
Taking stock of these victories: this isn’t such a bad place to start.
What are your “small victories?” What have you “put together” that you are drawing on now? Bringing these thoughts together, we may not feel so small after all.
Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.