FLOURISHING


I have never fancied myself much of a gardener. In fact, I might be the worst gardener that ever lived. I have no proclivity for gardening, no passion for it and nothing in the way of talent. No green thumbs here. However, ritually, every spring, I set out to tackle some type of approach to gardening in my yard. I have selected some shrubs that I really like – hydrangea and lilacs and roses – and I make a valiant effort of pruning and creating flower arrangements in pots for my front and back doors. And I do ok. Nothing spectacular. I am scrappy so I don’t too much research. I go by my gut and get drawn in to the pretty colors. I try to follow the directions of placing plants where they will get enough sun and make sure to space them far enough apart to grow to their potential. Invariably, I am cutting back wayward rose bushes and overgrown black beauties but I do my best.

Growing up, my father, an Italian immigrant, was the one who handled all the gardening in our family. Even though he and my mother divorced when I was young, I have memories of him mowing the lawn, planting shrubs, taming the roses and taking great pride in the manicured landscaping of our home. My mother could barely maintain a houseplant since she hardly ever let any light into the house. She kept the shades drawn because she believed there would be less dust that way (after all, the sunlight allows you to see the dust particles so she was able to fool herself into believing that if she did not see it, it did not exist.) I do not have that many fond memories of my father since he was not around all that much and, when he was, his drinking created an inordinate amount of chaos in our home. But, I do recall his work in the garden as something he was passionate about and it brings me warmth when I smell the fresh-cut grass or breathe in the scent of freshly bloomed roses. It takes me right back to being a little girl and standing in our small yard that was fenced in with the typical Queens chain link fence. My father managed to bring some beauty to our very drab row house. We had a corner property so there was lots of room on the side of the house to plant all types of shrubs and there was a large lawn in the front of the house. I remember my mother lamenting about this after my father was gone for it was a lot of work to maintain our property and I recall the days when the roses became overgrown and infected, the grass was tall and the shrubs were no longer perfectly pruned. The disarray of our gardens were a perfect metaphor for the chaos of our lives.

Yesterday I spent the day in my own garden, paring down my enormously overgrown butterfly bushes and trimming the lilacs that decided to bloom far too early and, as I do every year, I thought about my father and these tender memories. Last year, on my first day out in the garden, I was unusually angry. I resented the fact that I was the one trimming the roses because, in that moment, I irrationally believed it was the man’s job to handle that. That’s a pretty remarkable thought for someone like me who fancies herself a feminist and does not ever define gender roles in that way. But, emotions are a powerful force and mine resulted in irrational resentment and surprising nostalgia for a man who, otherwise, was not a very loving father. With every branch I snipped from my climbing rose shrubs, I longed for a man who would, like my father, take care of the important details like landscaping. In all fairness, my husband is pretty awesome about taking care of the outside of our home and, of course, my emotions had nothing to do with him and everything to do with the loss I was feeling at that moment. I was suffering from never having had the opportunity to experience a traditional father-daughter relationship and the only connection I could drum up was the one that overwhelmed me as I got thorns stuck in my hands as the large branches came down. The stickiness and pain that came with each thorn pressing into my skin was a reminder of what I lost when my father walked away all those years ago.

My father died last year and, in contrast to when my mother died, I found myself to be very emotional. However, similar to with my mother, I had been estranged from my father for many years – decades, in fact. He and I never had much of a relationship at any point in my life in that I was so young when he left and his alcoholism was so corruptive to everything in his life – especially his relationship with his family. He tried to forge a bond with me when I was in college but, after so many years of being told what a bastard he was by my mother and feeling alienated and confused, it was hard, even as a young adult, to bridge that gap. I regret that we never had that opportunity because I know, at his core, my father was a kind and loving man – and he and I were very much alike. Those who have known me since I was a little girl have always told me that all the goodness in me comes from my father – which makes it that much more difficult to accept the fact that he and I did not have a relationship. I would have liked to have known him differently and have had him enrich my life in positive ways. Alas, that was not possible for so many reasons – primarily because he was drunk for most of his life and was not that great guy that everyone remembered.

When my father died and I surprised myself with my emotional reaction, I spent some time trying to understand how I could feel sad about losing someone who never really was a part of my life – someone who caused a lot of pain in my life. I suspected it was because I managed to find a way to forgive him and release some of the pain I experienced. Or, maybe it was because he and I had a deeper bond that simply never had the opportunity to blossom. Whatever the reason, I am grateful that I sat with the feelings and allowed myself to make my peace with them.

Yesterday, when I was undergoing my annual ritual in the garden, I decided to make it joyous. I chatted with friends and then listened to music – for hours. I spend a large chunk of my day trimming, planting, mulching and found it calming and enriching. My skills are no better, my eye is no more sophisticated and I am not sure what results will be yielded from my efforts. However, I was at peace. I remembered my father with fondness. I thought about all those summer afternoons when he would put on his shorts and t-shirt and sport his white boat shoes and tend to the garden. Memories I will forever cherish.

BREAKING THROUGH


I am in the process of purging so I decided to check out the definitions to see what the true meanings are. The entries include:

  • to rid of whatever is impure or undesirable; cleanse; purify.
  • to rid, clear, or free (usually followed by of or from )
  • to clear of imputed guilt or ritual uncleanliness.
  • to clear away or wipe out legally (an offense, accusation,etc.) by atonement or other suitable action.
  • to remove by cleansing or purifying (often followed by away, off, or out ).

When I study those definitions, what I keep reading is cleanse. When I think about purging, I conjure an image that resembles a ritual of purification. It feels liberating and results in clarity and refinement. But those are just words without any emotions intertwined.

Over the past year I have been engaged in, both consciously and unconsciously, an ongoing purge. I have been actively trying to purge extra weight and fat from my body, replacing it with lean muscle and strength. I have been purging negative emotions such as guilt and anger that have traditionally held me back. I have purged toxic relationships from my life to ensure that I am surrounding myself with love and positivity. At the same time, small pieces of me that I may not have intended to be flushed with the cleanse have disappeared as well. When we go through such cathartic and intentional processes to help us advance in our lives, there is often collateral damage that we don’t necessarily recognize until long after the dust settles.

What I have found most interesting about my purge is that I am missing aspects of my personality and psyche that I did not actually want to hang on to but, nonetheless, the absence is felt. As a child of abuse, I recognized long ago that once I removed the abuser from my life, the need for abuse did not end. I could not understand how I would need to be abused when I worked so hard to separate myself from the toxicity. However, it was familiar and, with that, came a form of comfort. Despite the pain I suffered through and my deep and desperate desire to no longer be emotionally entangled in an abusive relationship, when the ties were severed, I was somewhat lost. There was energy that was expelled to either manage the abuse, deflect the abuse, absorb the abuse or heal myself that was now stagnant and needed to be redirected. My immediate and unconscious response to this was to abuse myself mentally. While I purged the perpetrator, I was still the victim and did not immediately know how to redefine myself.

In recent weeks, similar experiences and feelings have arisen related to the changes in my body. For my entire life I have had perceptions about myself and made excuses for myself as a result of how I viewed myself. I was not pretty enough so therefore I could not accomplish____________. I was not thin enough so therefore my life was lacking ______________. I was not athletic so therefore I could not be expected to _____________. I have used my own shortcomings as scapegoats to prevent me from feeling and processing certain disappointments in my life or to hold me back in order to not feel vulnerable and exposed. As I have been shedding layers of my body, revealing something that looks very different from what I have become accustomed to, I am suddenly unfamiliar with what I see and feel. The person that was locked behind extra weight and excuses is now becoming more and more visible to the world and it presents me with a new set of challenges to confront.

When I set out to change my life from a physical standpoint, I imagined that every pound shed would be a liberation of sorts. Every clothing size that melted away would bring me closer to a reality that I have longed for. And, to a great extent, that has been true. I feel strong in ways that I never have before. I feel like I stand on much more solid ground. I feel proud of myself. At the same time, there is a part of me that feels unfamiliar and insecure. Things are changing so rapidly that I feel like the momentum that is leading me to a destination that I desperately want to reach is also giving me whiplash.

Over these past few weeks I have been undergoing a process of purging my closets, removing clothing that no longer fits my body. Some items I had been wearing were remarkably oversized and were continuing to hide the leaner and fitter body that was beginning to reveal itself underneath. I spent one afternoon sitting on the floor in my bedroom closet and went through piles of clothing items that had been a part of my life for years. There were memories packed in with them that were very hard to let go of. Some of them felt like old friends I had to say goodbye to. Coupled with that was the fear of what would happen if I let these go and then gained the weight back. Would I then have to go through the most painful process of buying larger clothes? Should I just keep these locked away in storage containers in my basement or garage? I shared my feelings with some friends who mostly encouraged me to complete the purge and not hold onto the clothes, removing the possibility that I would think of them as waiting on me to return to their respective sizes. I imagined them as a group of mocking naysayers who were taunting me from inside the large blue boxes. They represent the insecurity and uncertainty in my head that does not believe that I can accomplish my goals. And, without my excuses and scapegoats, I am completely vulnerable to their attempts to take me down.

While I am excited about the prospect of buying new clothes that are smaller, more stylish and look great on my ever-changing body, I am also very overwhelmed. Some months the weight comes off faster and the sizes shrink more rapidly. It feels like a state of flux that will never end. It feels like the minute I get used to my new clothing items I will have to say goodbye and move on to something new. There is no ability to grow attached and develop a meaningful connection. It feels scary and lonely. Last night I walked around in my closet again, filling up several more large bags with clothes that I had not yet been able to detach myself from and I felt sad. The feelings were so confusing because my rational brain told me I should be jumping for joy that I was so much smaller than I had been even 6 months ago. But instead, I was lost. I looked around at the growing vacancies on the racks and shelves and longingly wished for some comfort and stability. Equal parts metaphor and genuine feeling, there was loss and pain and suffering.

I woke up this morning with a feeling of emptiness after a restless night filled with dreams of self-sabotage. I feared that this change in my life was only temporary and that I was teetering on the brink of reversing all that I had worked so hard for. Fortunately, those are just feelings and don’t necessarily represent reality. My life has changed. I have purged lots of excess weight but have not yet cleansed myself of the baggage that accompanied it.