Coming Home

I removed my shoes and placed them slowly in the cubby below the fabric-covered bench outside, as I reached the top of the stairs. Apprehensively, I pushed open the door to find a common room with two Latina ladies. A small-framed, curly-haired woman walked in from another room and greeted me through a smile.

I told her it was my first time.

I just attended my first yoga class in approximately two years. And if you really want to count, I haven’t had a steady practice of any kind in over four.

I have been making excuses for a long time for why I wasn’t ready to go back to yoga, and part of it, honestly, was because I really wasn’t ready. My body didn’t crave it; my heart wasn’t in it; anxiety and depression had won the war for years over what to do with my body, and it mostly consisted of alcohol, stress, partying, and avoiding exercise.

I filled out the introductory waiver at the front desk and it asked me what my level of experience with yoga was? I wasn’t a beginner. I have years of experience, including teacher training and advance level classes and workshops under my belt, so “some experience” didn’t seem to fit, either. I checked off “advanced” but then felt it necessary to scribble in “but I haven’t been to a class in years!”

It’s like the shame of my absence of a practice or my billowing breasts that don’t fit sports bras or the stereotype of a well-toned yogi were making me question my validity to be there.

Once in the practice space, I unfurled my mat—my beautiful, deep brown mat—which had been sitting in the back of my trunk amongst clothes donations and bags of bottle returns for years. I think it breathed as much a sigh of relaxation as I felt walking bare-footed to grab my favorite props: a bolster and a blanket.

At the start of a typical class, the teacher usually prompts you to set an intention. Mine was simple:

Enjoy the class.

We began with some qi gong practices with which I was familiar to warm up the body. I remember the teacher’s voice saying, “Don’t even think about the motions; let it be part of who you are,” as my bare arms fluidly moved through the air in a wide arc in unison above my head and then back down. It felt like gossamer threads of energy were trickling across my skin.

It felt like the movement was part of me.

Through each pose, I instinctually remembered how to adjust my body for perfect alignment and total engagement of the muscles. It was like I have practiced every day for the last four years without a single break. The movements are ingrained in my muscle memory. Yes, I am weaker, and my endurance is certainly lacking, but I had a small smile that continually crept onto my lips throughout the entire class because I felt like I was home again.

The teacher encouragingly told me my poses were beautiful and so open, and I could only think about how it was because I am an out-of-shape, albeit, advanced student in a “Gentle Yoga” class full of mostly beginners who have never been the flexible types nor have they studied alignment the way I had. But if I were in a more advanced class, I would be the one taking breaks, slowing down, breathing heavily, and feeling my limbs shake. I’m not about to get cocky about this now.

Towards the end of class, while I rested my forehead on the floor in front of me during pigeon pose, I thought about how I was so thoroughly enjoying class, I couldn’t wait to come back in two days.

During savasana, where you lie on your back for total relaxation at the end of practice, I was trying to keep my mind steady. It wasn’t. But, it was happy. Elated, even.

The teacher read a short poem titled something like, “Let It Go”, and the words of it really spoke to me in that moment. Let go of your preconceived notions of how you thought things were going to be. Let it go. This is what it is.

A few tears of joy actually well-up in my eyes before we sat up to say Namasté.

I was anxious going to a class in a new building where I didn’t have my posse of yoga friends I used to see each week. I was worried about how I looked in yoga pants, or if I was going to be too ill-equipped to do the class. I was feeling like a beginner.

Those were my preconceived notions walking into class. Just like each day I wake up and think about how things were so different a year ago with the man I adore, or how my body looked when I was twenty-six. Humans tend to fixate.

Being in that spring-toned room, as soon as my two feet were planted hip-width apart and pointing forward, I felt like I was suddenly in an old life again. I had rekindled my bond with my body and the familiarity of one of the greatest loves of my life: yoga.

I was not a beginner at all. I was reincarnated but left with the old sensations of what I used to feel like before I let my life fall apart.

I walked out of my first successful yoga class in two years knowing that my intention had been fulfilled. Not only did I enjoy my practice, I smiled the entire drive home.

The Day You Find out Why

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. ~ Mark Twain

On a beautiful afternoon, while sitting in white plastic lawn chairs in the driveway, my father told me that quote. He said something about it taking him sixty-something-odd years to figure it out–that life is about experiences.

As he continued to pull drags of smoke into his mouth from his cigar, I took a sip of my IPA and realized that after 32 years, we had finally come to a place of real respect and appreciation for each other’s company.

Growing up, my father was always there, affectionate and stern. He was interested in taking my sisters and me to do things like play mini-golf, go spelunking in caves, and visit historical places across New England.

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Relating to my mother has always been easy, because she is so much like me: affectionate to the brim, understanding, and full of empathy for others. My dad is another story.

After my parents’ divorce when I was 11, the dynamic undoubtedly changed. My dad eventually pursued other women and I was becoming a teenager, disengaging, little by little, from the childhood father who would put me on his shoulders and run up and down the hall, turn into the Tickle Monster, or let me sit on his lap while he watched golf.

We would butt heads a lot, since my dad was probably consumed with the stress of taking care of teenage girls–a subject with which he’s hardly familiar. I was depressed, highly sensitive, and buried in a thicket of misery and emotion that my father deemed as overdramatic and “silly”. But when you’re a 16-year-old girl and your heart has just been broken for the first time, it really is the most massive and unceasing amount of pain you can imagine.

I asked for therapy, thinking it would help. I remember my father saying to me, “We are Volponi’s; we take care of our own problems.” The maddening insensitivity I felt at the time, gaining an impression that he just didn’t understand. He did take me to therapy, and I only went to a handful of sessions before insurance would stop paying.

Strangely, his commentary about self-sufficiency runs through my head all the time…

I am a woman who has grown to take care of herself, imbued with a resilience from where I do not know it came.

After going to college and eventually grad school, I moved out of my parents’ house for good. During this time, my father was beginning to recognize that I was a person of responsibility. I could save money, I didn’t get into trouble, I graduated with two degrees, and I could hold a steady job.

I felt like he was finally proud of me.

See, my father has always been the kind of man who is not very verbally expressive with his emotions. I remember showing him my senior yearbook photo only to get the response, “You look better when you’re smiling, but my girls are not half bad, huh?”

I was reprimanded for things like leaving a spoon in the sink or forgetting to close the garage door when I left. I, often, was not praised for doing extra things around the house to gain his and my stepmother’s approval.

It’s something that’s hard for me to admit, but my whole life I have always wanted my dad to tell me he loved me or feel like I wasn’t being judged for my mistakes. I wanted to feel like daddy’s girl.

In stereotypical fashion, I have constantly sought out attention from men to fulfill this longing of unconditional love that, at the time, I did not think would ever come.

But that’s when this story turns into a beautiful one.

Over time, slowly, we began to mend our relationship. I opened my heart to compassion and continued to try without giving up, and my father learned a lot about himself as the years went by. I can’t tell you exactly when it transpired, because there wasn’t one defining moment, but we began to really like being around each other.

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My dad and I talk about science and movies; we muse about theories of human behavior. I teach him new words, and we share music we both like with one another. We talk for hours, we go to beer tastings, and he has even taught me how to ballroom dance (although I forget them now). We have the same sense of humor; we’re both rational and articulate. We both like to “shoot the shit”, yet always find ourselves in deeper conversation.

One of the most important things he’s ever taught me, however, was when I was much younger. I was upset about the falling-out of a friendship, and at a stop light, he spoke these words, “Not everyone that comes into your life is meant to stay. Some are only supposed to be there for a little while and serve a purpose during that time. Then, someone new comes along.”

It might not seem pivotal or grandiose, but to me it was. It relieved years of pain I was feeling about lost connections with friends and with boys. I was filled with a sense of peace that every connection has meaning and importance and that not one is necessarily greater than the other.

It changed how I impact and connect with people every day.

My father has always been someone I could rely on if my physical or financial world came unbound. It wasn’t until after my break-up with my ex fiancé that I realized how much my father could be there for me on an emotional, supportive level as well.

One of the sincerely most incredible things in this lifetime has been watching my father grow as a human being.

Not only has he become more in-tune with his own emotions, he has empathy for others. He has sagacious thoughts and uses words, now, like “soul-mate”. My dad brings pictures of me on his phone to social gatherings to show them off; he has even gushed to his driver in Italy about how beautiful I am. He constantly reminds me not to sweat the small stuff (a book I had bought him years ago), and he has admirable moral integrity.

Yes, I’m still working on him about killing bugs or wishing nuclear bombs would drop on the houses of people who’ve wronged me, but no one is perfect.

I have always been lucky to have a father who is capable of supporting me if I need help. I am even luckier to have a father who can also connect to me as a person, where I feel the amassing and ever-growing love.

I have never been lucky in romantic love. It is something I fear I’ll struggle with for the rest of my life. Men fall for me and then forget about me. It’s something I’ve never really understood, and it is something that haunts me.

Yet, when I examine what it is that I would like to have achieved in this life, I’ve realized that it’s already happened.

I would like to fall in love and feel that a man won’t abandon my wants or needs, but more than anything, I already have the unconditional, unwavering love of my father.

Some people never find that with a parent with whom they had always felt disconnected. In this lifetime, I get to have that. That knowledge is like an expanding, glowing orb inside my heart, because I feel as though something that was supposed to be accomplished in this life has happened.

So, I don’t truly know if my dad has ascertained why he was placed on this earth, but on his day of birth, I would like to tell him at least one very important reason why.

I would not be the person I am today. Aside from all the wonderful traits he genetically passed along to me, I am buttressed by a bond that has changed the way I view life.

I imagine every parent wants to know they’ve done the job of child-rearing well, and my father has surpassed that. I’m a well-adjusted, loving and intelligent human, but I also have fulfillment in life. That fulfillment allows me to reduce self-destruction, to be proactive about positively affecting other people’s lives, and helps me to love deeper while I am here, waiting for the day to find out why I was given life.

A Different Kind of Christmas

I don’t mean to sound like a grinch or a curmudgeon, but I generally kinda hate this time of year.

I didn’t always. When I was little, Christmas was my favorite holiday. Of course. Then, across my teenage years to early twenties, it became somewhat lackluster. I didn’t HATE it; I just found the “magic” of it to be unimpressive.

When J and I were together, there was a resurgence of the splendor. I made home-made cards for everyone each year, I decorated our home, we put up a tree. I loved wrapping gifts.

Then, my sister got engaged right before Christmas. She had been with her man a way shorter time than J and I had. J and I had been together for years. I was disappointed, naturally. A year later, right before Christmas, J proposed. That was a great Christmas; unfortunately, the jealousy spiked after we were engaged (seems counter-intuitive, I know) and he sabotaged our relationship in the following months.

Since then, I have celebrated three Christmases and this year will be the fourth. The first Christmas was great; I was dating someone new and went to his house to be with his family on Christmas Day. It was the next two years to follow that have made me entirely skeptical of the Christmas season.

For the past two years, absolutely horrific things have happened right around Christmas. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the events, because they are very private in nature, but both were severely traumatizing and heart-wrenching.

This year, I experienced yet another traumatizing event right after a good friend passed away. I reconnected with a man who made me forget everyone who’s ever hurt me, and then I sadly ended things with him at the end of summer. Of course, we are not very good at staying away from one another, so that’s a whole other thing. Then, my cat unexpectedly passed away, a friend’s mother passed away, and other friends have been experiencing a lot of upheaval in their own lives.

This Christmas? Despite all of that, it seems way better than the last two. It’s amazing what a little perspective will do. My roommate and I put up the tree on December 1st. I have decorations out. I have no money to purchase any gifts for anyone this year, because I am in quite a bit of debt from my cat’s vet bills, but I am not fearful of the day of Christmas, itself.

I don’t know if I’ll be waking up alone Christmas Day. I don’t know if I’ll be spending it alone this year. Strangely, I haven’t really thought about it too much. And New Years? I haven’t even made plans yet.

I’m still struggling and having a hard time with things. It’s been a very emotional year, but I don’t feel the overwhelming devastation of years past. What I feel is a want and a need to reconnect with myself in an even deeper way than I have been for the past year. To become healthy again. To write, write, write. And anything else that happens in between, well, we’ll see.

Sometimes, not really having expectations is a healthy mindset. Going with the flow of things has never stabbed me in the back.

This year, perhaps, I just have to “be”.

 

Flipping the Switch

I have been lost in an endless sea; treading water in an unknown ocean. Three years ago, my soul mate walked out our apartment door–our home. It was the most selfless thing he’s ever done.

In his absence, I have learned to love myself and to embrace the things with which I feel impassioned. I started going outside more. I made new friends and reconnected with old. I played the guitar every day and improved my singing. I wrote incessantly like a madwoman, exorcising all of the years of latent agony which had caked up inside the walls of my heart and mind.

Simply, I began to live again.

In my beautiful rediscovery of self, I couldn’t help but get lost in a new lover’s strikingly breath-taking eyes. The intensity of passion I felt when staring at him was something I had not experienced in so long that I had completely forgotten what it felt like to burn with vivacity at that level. I became addicted.

Then, I lost myself.

For over two years, on and off, I talked about him. Breathed him. Dreamed him. My biggest concern was his happiness. I wanted nothing more than to look into those eyes forever. I fell in love.

Falling in love and losing yourself is like swimming out to the middle of a vast, open body of water. It’s overwhelmingly astonishing until you realize that you have no idea how to get home. You can’t even tell in which direction you should start swimming.

Eventually, you get tired and sink.

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I have been really unhappy for a long time. You can be an unhappy person but still have moments of happiness. That’s how I would describe myself for the last two and a half years: As someone who was devastatingly incomplete but found happiness where she could.

Six months ago, a kindred spirit began to help me mend. He allowed me to express my deepest fears and the whole of my pain without trying to win my romantic love. This was a first for me. During this time, I began to examine myself in a new light. Instead of burying my pain or accepting my fate, I implored and urged my issues, anxieties, and fears to bravely surface and reveal themselves.

Finally, I began to heal.

It was probably two months after I started to recover that I reconnected with a friend I had met in late 2013. Now, when people use the term “drop-dead gorgeous” to describe a person, this is him. Sure, I was always attracted to him; I was very aware of the instant connection we formed the night we met, which grew over time. I was just so deeply submersed in cloudy, murky water I couldn’t see beyond that which was immediately present.

Very shortly after we reconnected, a dear friend of mine suddenly passed away. He, to me, was the embodiment of what it means to accept others and love unconditionally. I don’t think I ever heard him speak a negative word. About anyone. About anything. I am inspired with increasing intensity since his passing to spread love’s message with my actions and words. My handsome and compassionate friend proved himself to be much more than that during this stressful, painful time with his supporting words and the way he carefully handled my heart and my emotions.

I didn’t want to have feelings for someone new, nor was I totally ready for it. However, I had realized something in the time that passed since we reconnected: I had faith. I felt healthier. Maybe everything happens for a reason, and I was meant to form this bond now, because, now, I am finally able to see and appreciate the beauty of someone who doesn’t want to take advantage of me and actually cares about my happiness.

Little by little, I felt the pain of the past disengage like rotting driftwood and leave me.

However, this is not a love story. At least, not the kind you might be thinking.

I no longer believe it is healthy or okay to put all of yourself into someone else’s life, love, and happiness. In doing so for years, I completely forgot self-love and care. What about my goals and aspirations? I had none to speak of for a long time.

My kindred spirit friend asked me awhile back to write a list of goals, both personal and what I wanted in a partner. I did this exercise and began to see that this amazing man with whom I had reconnected fulfilled my “partner” list. Great. But what about my personal goals? One of my major goals is creating a plan. A life plan. I have always loved writing and want nothing more than to make somewhat of a career out of it.

As the days went by, I felt depressed. Stagnant.

Then, one day in late May I came across an article that was written for an online journal, which I have been reading for years. Their focus is on mindful living, whether it be through spirituality, loving the environment, pursuing wellness and healthy relationships, or practicing yoga. They believe in and promote anything that encourages and brings forth a better you and a better community. At the bottom of the article, there it was: a link to an online journaling/editing/writing apprenticeship. The deadline was the next day.

Without a second thought, I filled out the application.

Within the week, I received an email response congratulating me on my acceptance into the three-month-long program. I am a week and a half in, and I feel like a switch has been flipped.

In accordance with the Universe, I feel aligned. I feel happy.

Finally having a purpose again, especially one that is my biggest passion, I am excited every day to wake up. I don’t miss the man I don’t get to see often with quite the intensity and desperation as I have in the past months, because I am loving the time I am spending with myself.

This is the first step in my plan. I am doing it. I made it happen.

I single-handedly created my own destiny and my own happiness. No one else did it for me. No one else ever could.

All it took was the nudging from a kindred spirit, the inspiration of a passionate, tender man, and my own desire to be happy again.

I have not felt this way in years. I never want to swim in the ocean again. Burying my toes in the grainy shores of gratitude, rootedness, and self-fulfilling pleasure, I am writing my own story in the sand.