Tuesday, September 15, 2020

On Becoming Untamed

Have you read Glennon Doyle's new book Untamed? If so, the rest of this blog will make sense. If not, and actually even if you have, check out this link to watch an animated video that accompanies the words of the intro to the book.

Like right now, go watch it. Seriously. It's only 5ish minutes and it will explain this idea of becoming untamed better than I can.


Amazing, right? Whew, I can sure relate to Tabitha. It makes me wonder...is my wild hiding under there somewhere?

I am going to spend this blog digging into some of what this book has done for me, and will share a few biggish things I have done so far on my journey to become untamed.

The timing of this book and of this idea is just perfect for me. Do I wish I had these thoughts earlier in my life? Sure, but I don't know if my 20-year-old self would have been able or willing to hear them. 

Before I even read the book, I was making some changes in my life that felt like I was moving past some of the rules I had made for myself and was pushing past some of the limitations I and the world had created. Some people looking in might see these changes as a mid-life crisis. Maybe a mid-life awakening? Or even better, a mid-life untaming.

Am I even in mid-life? When I was younger I never really pictured myself as getting older. I guess if I live to 80, turning 40 is my mid-mark so I think I’ll just go with it.

My almost 12-year-old son and I talk often about the idea of a mid-life crisis. I added a few tattoos to my body in the last year, and he asked me if this was evidence of my mid-life crisis. I never really thought much about it, but after recently turning 41, I have been thinking about this idea of a mid-life crisis. 

When I was younger and thought of people going through a mid-life crisis I pictured some variation of an older man in a convertible or a woman whose clothes looked too young. Basically anyone who appeared to be trying to desperately hold onto their quickly fleeting youth.

These are all stereotypes but it is what I envisioned, and is likely what my son is envisioning as well. 

When I turned 40, many people told me that I was entering the best decade yet. Sure I believed them, but I don’t think I really understood the level of development and self-exploration that would occur in such a quick time as what occurred in my 41st year. 

In my 20s, I remember feeling scared and desperate for an understanding of what life would be for me. Having never imagined myself living very long, I yearned for some predictability and knowledge about what life had in store. I’ve always had a sense of adventure, but at some point in my life, fear took over and I spent a lot of time afraid. Afraid to try new things, to travel too far, to explore the unknown and to even change a well established job. Luckily, I met a man who made me feel safe and encouraged me to explore. Without him, I don't know who I would be today.

In my 30s, our boys were little and dominated my life. It was a struggle to balance being a mom with big career goals. At age 34, I left a comfortable job for one with more challenges and took on running. Running, and more specifically trail running, opened a world to me that allowed me to be strong, and fit, and to forge friendships and go on adventures I never would have done otherwise. It took me three years of running before I would run on a trail by myself. THREE YEARS! I was chipping away at my desire for adventure, but was still very hidden under my fear.

On my 39th birthday, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Nothing rocks a person’s world like an illness, particularly the big C. Going through that experience helped me understand the preciousness of life. It helped me to no longer take anything for granted. It helped me look at my own life and demand more from myself. More vulnerability, more risks, more opportunities to live and love in this world. I left a job and started the one that feels like my calling. It is difficult and challenging and keeps me always looking at what it is I am going to do with my one wild and precious life.

After I turned 40, many things just came together for me. I'm excelling in my running, I find my job challenging and fulfilling, I am growing into who I am meant to be. And, as if it was a part of some bigger plan, the book Untamed came into my life. Like her, I have spent my life shrinking and making myself small in order to keep others comfortable.

From the book: "Isn't it supposed to be more beautiful than this?"

I have a beautiful life. One that is filled with a husband who loves me and that I love back. With two young sons that challenge me and help me grow as I help them grow right along with me. I have adventures, and challenges and love and acceptance. I am happy, down to my core.

And...I also see the ways in which I have shrunk myself to keep others comfortable. I have abandoned myself in friendships and rooms and conversations to keep the peace. I have failed to fully embrace the parts of myself that might not be exactly what the world expects from a woman like me, and I am working toward changing that.

These are some things I have done so far on this journey of becoming untamed. Or what I have done so far in my mid-life crisis. It's likely one or the other. Or maybe both. It's probably all just semantics anyway 😊

I bought the Jeep.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to drive a Jeep Wrangler. Never did I ever consider actually buying one though. These were the messages in my head regarding purchasing anything outside of what I saw as “appropriate” for me. “Who do you think you are? Stay small. Drive something practical that doesn’t attract attention. Sure you have the money, but be smart. That is too flashy. That's irresponsible.”

As I thought through this option, and with the encouragement of all of my boys, I changed the narrative and bought the damn Jeep. I also answered those thoughts that were in my head. “Who do you think you are? I am a woman who does what the hell she wants. Drive what you want, lady. Spending the money is smart, you earned it, enjoy it. And for god's sake have some fun.”

I wear the bikini.

I remember vividly when I was 22 years old some friends and I went on a trip to Colorado to see a 3-night run of Widespread Panic shows. During one afternoon, a few girlfriends were swimming in the pool. They asked if I was going to swim and I told them I was not, and that I was not comfortable in a swimsuit. They asked “even around us?” Yes, even around these friends of mine I couldn’t get past my own body shame and self-consciousness to enjoy the pool with my friends. I just want to go back and hug that little 22-year-old girl. 

I am 41 years old and I wear a bikini to the pool every weekend. Even when I am bloated from too many carbs, or when I am feeling fat because we just feel that way sometimes. I wear a bikini because I like the feeling of the water and the sun on my stomach and because the ones that cover my stomach feel binding. I changed the imagined narrative of others from “who does she think she is” to “look at her, if she can do that so can I”.

I pissed someone off.

Oh man, this has been a hard one for me. I am a recovering people-pleaser. I have spent my life not only sensing what others are feeling, but often actually FEELING what others are feeling. So I can instantly tell when something I have said bothers a person. The body language, the change in eye contact, the way they hold their arms or shift their body. I can just tell. So in most conversations I can tell and adjust what I am saying to influence this. In a way, to control their reaction by adjusting mine. To say this is exhausting is an understatement. To say this is inauthentic should be obvious.

I managed to piss someone off so badly that I have been deleted and blocked from a trail running group with which I have participated in for many years. I clearly made the person in control of this group pretty angry. It’s funny, while getting and staying on someone’s bad side is an unfamiliar happenstance for me, knowing I stood up for something I believe in makes me feel incredibly strong. And a little feisty 😎

I got the tattoo(s).

When I was in college and about 18 years old, I went to a small head shop with some friends with plans to get a tattoo. I knew I wanted a sun/moon combination and saw one in a book of tattoo photos I liked. I told the artist that was the one I wanted. With an attitude I heard as shaming he told me that the one in the book was special for that person, so I needed to find something that was special for me and come back another time. Looking back this was actually pretty good advice, but as a scared and self-conscious 18-year-old, I heard this as shaming and was really embarrassed. I wanted tattoos so badly, but this artist’s voice echoed in my head and I just froze in indecision. This and the fact that my sister had many tattoos, which were mostly not accepted by those around me, I stuffed any desire for a tattoo deep down under a pile of shame and understanding that I needed to stay small, not flashy, and by all means keep those around me comfortable.

Over the years I got a tattoo here and there, but as I approached 40 through now at 41, I have had 5 tattoos added with more on the horizon. I found an artist who has taken the time to get to know me and understand me, who can take what I see and make it my own, so it isn’t copied off of someone in a book. I consider this artist a friend. One who sees me and embraces and understands my desire to add art to my body. Also, I get tattoos because I am a grown ass woman and I do what the hell I want.

The Sky Was Yellow and the Sun Was Blue

I signed up for the race {I am doing the thing that scares me}

I registered to run a 100 mile race. At first the decision whether or not to sign up was looming over my head and with my natural tendency to overthink everything, I was again frozen in indecision. What it comes down to is this: it’s just running. That's it. So much of what I was thinking and overthinking was excuse after excuse of why I thought I wouldn’t succeed. Ultimately, I think was scared of failing. Or actually, maybe I was thinking "who does she think she is to think that she can actually run 100 miles?"

The truth is I have no idea if I can finish a 100-mile race and I sure am excited to see if I can. I didn’t know if I could finish a 50k or a 50-miler but I did both and felt pretty incredible the whole time. That’s the thing, every time I have stretched myself beyond what I think I am capable of, I surprise myself. 

I have made a promise to never again abandon myself.

As a life-long perfectionist and empath, I have spent my life keenly aware of the emotions of those around me, and of my ability to manage the emotions of others. I have felt responsible for others' emotions, and put myself in a position to influence those emotions and to help others “feel better” often to my own detriment. I am so used to reading the room and adjusting myself and my needs to meet the needs of others, I usually do it without even noticing.

As the awareness of my tendency to do this became more apparent this past year I decided - no more. Glennon's book is a workbook for those of us who have been conditioned to shrink and fit in and to keep those around us comfortable even to our own detriment. This will always be a struggle for me, one that I am fully committing to.

I accept, deep to my core, that my life is fleeting and one day I will die.

Okay so I know we all know that we are going to die. But do you really know you are going to die? Do you think that this thing or that thing will never happen to you? To some extent I think we all have to push away the looming fact that we will die one day. Working with people who have a terminal illness is a constant reminder that not only is this my one wild and precious life, but it could very well end before I think it should. And when that happens, for the most part, the world will go on. Sure my small circle of people who love me will miss me, and as time goes on they will miss me less, and one day a person will say my name for the very last time.

This fact doesn't make me sad, it makes me want to be intentional. It makes me want to buy the car, to wear the bikini, to piss the person off, to never abandon myself, and to sign up for the goddamn race. 

“Nothing quite brings out the zest for life in a person like the thought of their impending death” ~Jhonen Vasquez


This list is my own, and it sure has a way to go. I am only one year into the apparent best decade yet, and if the next nine years are anything like this past year has been, my untaming will really be something.

The messages I have received in my life are loud and clear. Stay small. Don't draw attention. Keep everyone comfortable. Tame the wild parts of yourself so you may be controlled and predictable. In her book Glennon describes the women who are held in the highest regard in our society as being completely selfless. So those of us who abandon ourselves for the sake of others are what society paints as the highest goal of attainment. I cannot say it better than she does:

“We weren’t born distrusting and fearing ourselves. That was part of our taming. We were taught to believe that who we are in our natural state is bad and dangerous. They convinced us to be afraid of ourselves. So we do not honor our own bodies, curiosity, hunger, judgment, experience, or ambition. Instead, we lock away our true selves. Women who are best at this disappearing act earn the highest praise: She is so selfless. Can you imagine? The epitome of womanhood is to lose one’s self completely. That is the end goal of every patriarchal culture. Because a very effective way to control women is to convince women to control themselves.”

Glennon Doyle, Untamed #getuntamed