I plant myself in a chair at the hip new coffee shop and open my computer.
“Lesson 1: Roadblocks.”
Where once I did religion, I now do self-help.
I know, I know, the religious folks will scoff, “How can you possibly abandon ancient tradition for the dime-a-dozen platitudes of contemporary pseudo-gurus?” Secular sweeties, on the other hand, will cheer “Way to go, shaking off the shackles of an invisible sky-fairy to embrace your full potentiality as a human BE-ING!”
To both I say, my loves, you are completely right and totally wrong. Religion is limiting and dangerous and also expansive and awesome. Self-help is dumb and cheesy and also enlightening and profound. Let a bitch live.
So right now I’m taking this online course where I’m doing “a year of writing to uncover the authentic self.” Imagine, my authentic self will be all naked and shiny and uncovered in only a year of exfoliating it through some gritty narrative prose!
My challenge today is that the coffee at this hip new coffee shop is brewed in the filtered flop sweat of a million panic attacks (okay, that makes it sound less delicious than it actually is…it is very delicious), so halfway through an Americano I am frantically bouncing from my phone to my ipad to my planner and back again, debating whether I should write this entry or start next week’s article or update my LinkedIn or schedule my kids’ flu shots, also my watch just told me it’s time to stand up so maybe I should walk around the block fifty times until my heart rate is re-regulated FUCK this is intense coffee.
C’mon, Theresa, focus. “Lesson 1, Roadblocks. Question 1: What is in the way of me being my most authentic self?”
I snort. What is in the way of me being my most authentic self? I don’t know. My dependence on stimulants, maybe? Let’s skip ahead.
Next question: “What are the roadblocks keeping me from achieving my dreams?”
My what now? My dreams?
I crush my latte cup in one hand. This is stupid. I don’t know what my fucking dreams are.
How does a person know what their dreams are after forty? Is having dreams even appropriate once you start using night cream and getting yearly mammograms?
Sigh. I mean, I knew what my dreams were as a kid. Grow up, go to college, do some awesome stuff (safely awesome within the context of being a Good Catholic, natch), then fall in love, get married, have some kids, maybe get some kind of fun job? Like a drama teacher, maybe?
Dude, I DID ALL THAT. It is DONE. I dreamed my life exactly this far and no further.
I recognize that I probably have forty years left, however. More, if genetics means anything—my people are notoriously durable. So I have to come up with some dreams, I guess? But how?
Self-help types might prompt, “What do you dream of doing, if money were not an object?” Lol, like money not being an object isn’t dream enough.
Fine, though. If money were suddenly no longer an object, I would sit stunned for a minute. Then I would open Amazon Prime and order those new towels and sheets I’ve had in my cart for a month. Then I’d book a vacation to stay at one of those nifty over-water Caribbean bungalows you see on Instagram. I’d pay off the house and our credit card debt. Then, twenty minutes into my new life, I would be out of ideas.
No, think harder. I’d book more trips. New York at Christmas. Edinburgh in the autumn. Salzburg in June. I’d rent a little pied-a-terre in a cool city for a week’s retreat where I would sit by the window like Carrie Bradshaw with my laptop open (oh! I’d buy a new laptop!) and write about….
And write about…
And write about the same goddamn existential crisis I’m writing about now in a coffee shop two miles from my house.
Maybe I don’t know what my dreams are because I don’t know who I am. Maybe I don’t know who I am because instead of figuring that out, I focused all of my goals on what I felt I was “supposed” to do and be. And you know what? Way to go, me, because I accomplished those goals.
Of course, as soon as I had done all that, I felt stuck. Stuck and sad and frustrated and resentful and guilty, guilty, guilty for feeling any of it.
Now, I suppose I’m having trouble moving forward, because that means taking this fantastic self I created—-this devoted, churchgoing mother of young children, this dedicated, ingenious educator, this upstanding, compassionate conservative woman in jeans and a Miraculous Medal— I have to take her to and fold her up and put her away like an outfit that no longer fits. It’s done. She’s done. She served me well and she’s done.
But who am I, once I put her away? What do I do? Do I just stand here…naked?
Yesterday I went for my annual gynecological exam. There was a long wait before the doctor met me in the exam room, and instead of dinking around on my phone like usual, I just sat.
I sat in that space and listened to the muffled sounds from the nearby rooms and remembered all the times I had been in this same office for sonograms, glucose tests, fetal monitoring. Being in the room, it was easy to recall the sensation of the tape measure from pelvis to belly button, the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of the fetal heartbeat, the slick pressure of the sonogram wand against my bulging belly. I recalled all that, and I cried.
I cried for the body I had then, the body that gave life. I cried for the security of never being alone, and the relief of always being in second place. I cried for the comfort of knowing exactly what you were meant to be doing every minute, the freedom of knowing that I didn’t have to worry about who I was, because I was Mother. I was the highest incarnation of what I was meant to be. The Church said so, and #momsofinstagram agreed, so who was I to argue?
And now? I’m not that. I never will be again. Tip your bottles and pour one out. That sign on the door that says “Women’s Health and Menopause Clinic?” For me, it’s just “Menopause Clinic.” Don’t mind me, mamas, I’m just here to monitor the slow death of my reproductive system.
As I sat there feeling mournful, from the room next to me I heard the whooping laughter of an older woman. Her voice was raised in incredulity, and I could hear her words through the wall…
“Now where am I going to find an old man who would want to…?”
I could easily imagine what the doctor had asked her, particularly when I heard my gynecologist respond defensively, “Well, you never know!”
The woman laughs heartily again, but I think I hear an edge to her voice. Maybe the doctor doesn’t know, but she does.
As I write out the memory now, it occurs to me that, in one important way, I am not the same as that woman next door. I don’t know.
True, I’m not sure exactly what my body is supposed to be for right now, but I can choose to assume there is a capital-R Reason I’m still alive. Unlike most of my foremothers, I didn’t die from a postpartum infection! I’ve been given the gift of another whole lifetime, one that might be as momentous and remarkable as the last forty. You never know. This body still has life to give, even if the gift is to me alone.
So what now?
Strip it down. Write it out. Live it large. That’s the dream.
The dream is my authentic self, uncovered.
Whoever she is going to be.
Theresa Weiler is a writer, singer, speaker, seeker, living in suburban Detroit with her husband and four children. If you would like to buy Theresa a coffee, Venmo @realtheresaweiler, or you can follow her on Twitter @SometimesReese.