it’s ok to feel whole in our skin



Good morning, good morning. It’s 5am  and there are candles and it’s dark and snowing and I have the old loud heater at my feet and quiet music and hot tea. This morning I feel grateful even though the whole world feels like it’s falling apart.

What does it mean to be turning 50? What is it about this number that caught in my throat several years ago and wouldn’t let go? And now I’m here and everything is — ok? 

I spent yesterday mostly baking — two loaves of sourdough, a cardamom-walnut coffee cake, sugar cookies to be decorated today, and that amazing black bean- zucchini brownie business. My sister is visiting, so we are watching silly shows and we go for walks on the beach and we order east coast chinese food. I’ve spent this week in a realm of reality where my sister and I can spend time together and not talk about our past, not talk about what he did to us or what we had to do to each other. 

I have a song in my head, “It’s ok not to be ok.” For some months last year, every time I heard this song, I’d burst out crying — which was awkward, because the only time I heard the song was when I was watching a dance-exercise video, and my tears made it difficult for me to keep track of which moves the dance class was doing. But at the time I was very much not ok and was not sure how I’d ever get through it to a place of ok-ness again. I needed the message in that song. I needed the permission, the space for tears and for this brokenness I felt I was made of. I think I posted about this song at the time — or if I didn’t, at least I wrote about it here in this little morning window once or twice and never got through to finishing the post because — I wasn’t ok. My wife was worried about me. The people in my life who care about me were worried about me. And I didn’t know what to do. But I did my dance classes and sweat sometimes and cried and then still went and ate too much and the next day I’d sign in to my day job and was alone in this little house near the beach while all of us were alone in our houses because covid kept us apart from each other and we tried to navigate our not-okayness in isolation and fear.

And today things are different.

There have been many stretches of not-okayness in my life; I think this is true for a lot of people. And that not-okayness seems, in the moment, like it’s going to last forever, like it’s who we are, like it’s our normal. And it is, for that moment, for those days or weeks or sometimes even years. But whatever is happening now is going to change. That’s also reality. That’s also the normal experience of being a human on the planet. I’ve been thinking back on my life and remembering moments of difficulty and struggle and remembering how I couldn’t imagine any way for anything to change, remembering how I thought I was always going to feel that bad, feel that broken, feel that much despair and grief and pain.

And then something changed — whether it was a decision I made (like leaving a job or starting therapy or beginning a writing practice (again)) or it was just life doing what it does, something changed, and I didn’t feel that bad or broken anymore.

Sometimes that lack of badness or brokenness was weird. Sometimes I felt around for it, because I didn’t know who I was without it. Maybe that’s part of this reflecting I’ve been immersed in recently, looking back at the stretches of time when I couldn’t imagine being ok, when I wouldn’t have even been able to say that ok was possible for someone like me. I was deeply identified with being not-ok, and wanted to help make room in the world for me and others like me, who weren’t ok and didn’t want to have to pretend like we were. I still think that’s important, to hold open that space for all of our facets and our fragments and our grief and loss. 

I also think it’s ok to be ok. It’s ok to feel whole in our skin.

Where am I going with this? This week I have felt ok. This week I haven’t done as much writing as I wanted to do, and I haven’t moved as much as I wanted to, and I am a middle-aged woman with a body that aches in places it used to not ache in. Also I have felt ok.

Once upon a time in my life, being ok felt like a cop out, felt like capitulation in itself. How could you ever be ok in a world that does so much damage to the people passing through it, on a planet where some humans actively work to damage other humans, in service to their desire to control or to get more money? Being ok looked like the crazy position, looked like the place of insanity. “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” the bumper sticker read. And: yes, sure, of course that’s true. 

And also, outrage drains us. Exhausts us. We need time and space to replenish. We need space in our lives not to be outraged, not to be screaming, not to be scouring our throats with despair.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m spinning in horror and rage and despair, I can’t act. I can’t write. I freeze and feel myself begin to disappear. There’s so much horror, so much awfulness in the world, and so little I can do about it as one person doomscrolling alone in my house.

Being ok doesn’t mean capitulation. For me, today, it means choosing where I put my attention, where I focus my rage and where I focus my joy. My focus has, for the last twenty-some years, been with other survivors of sexual violence who feel alone and isolated and broken and not-ok. If I put down the newspaper and the newsfeed, I can see all of our faces again, we who are real and complex and healing and sometimes not ok and sometimes doing all right.

Doing all right doesn’t mean that any of the harm done to us was ok. Doing all right doesn’t mean that we are ok with the fact that someone (or more than one sometime) decided it was acceptable to put their hands on us and break us apart for their use. For me, today, being ok means having made it long enough and far enough in this process of healing that I can step away from that rage and know I am still whole. It means having been in this struggle long enough to have learned my own loops and cycles, learned that whatever pain I think is forever will change and morph and shift. Means baking bread with my sister in a little house near the beach far away from where we were hurt and laughing in the now and somewhere inside also holding those girls who were driven from each other, who were forced to hurt each other, and showing them that we made it through.

This morning we will make coffee with cardamom and mint and we will sit together and maybe watch silly cat videos on the internet (which is one of the only things the internet is actually good for) and we will laugh together and be ok. It sounds too easy, too nothing, maybe, but we have spent now almost 30 years struggling to get to exactly this moment, this space, this acceptance. The work of trauma recovery can be long and boring, as the song goes — it’s also the work of love. Love of ourselves and love of each other. 

I will go inside now with the puppy and we’ll put on warm clothes and head down for a walk on the beach, and I’ll spend this day with two women who love me and who I love. That’s an extraordinary thing. 

And I will keep on working to be easy with myself, as I hope you will do, too, whether you’re feeling ok today or not.

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