40 Days!

Once, way, way back, in my very early twenties, I gave up alcohol for forty days. I lovingly called the bourbon-less, beer-less, Cab-Zin-Red-Blend-less fasting “ExperiLent.”  The days were not approaching Easter and I no longer considered myself Catholic, but I decided it high time to give up something and felt the need to detox. If memory serves, I was successful or, at least, mildly successful and I must have been damn proud.  I have since entertained the idea of denying myself some pleasure for forty more days. I promised myself to spend a month vegan, for example. I was licking the sour cream container within two days. Apart from that one experilentil stint, I have not done well with this type of sacrifice.


Yesterday was Mother’s Day. In the morning, my son presented me with a single orange rose.  He had been keeping the rose– since the time that my brother-in-law helped him pick it out the night before—in a bag of toys that he must have handled very gently as the flower was entirely unblemished.  For a number of reasons, I began to cry.  A shadow of worry crossed my son’s face and of course I told him that I was weeping with happiness because the flower meant so much to me.  For the most part, this was true.

Still, Mother’s Day brought up many emotions for me.  Just the thought of the day transported me back to the evening that my sweet boy was born.  It especially brought me to the minutes and hours just after he wiggled from my womb and how very, very proud we were, how proud I still am.  I remember feeling as if we had created the most, maybe even the only, perfect baby in the world. And since there has been a difficult shift in our family structure (my husband and I have separated), this memory also reminded me that nothing is static and that everything is temporary.  It reminded me to let go of everything but the present moment and to, in that moment, take care of my son and myself.

And, in many ways, not to say that it has been at all easy, I have done splendidly. I have, for the most part, jumped full force into being a better parent to my son.  I have sought out and implemented better discipline strategies and have taught and researched coping skills. While I have worked to maintain structure, I have also filled our days with fun. And, maybe most importantly, I have worked to be fully present and to listen and to smile.

For me, it has been more difficult.  I do fill my free time with fun and outings and activities and I journal and write and find ways to be creative and I am taking much better care of myself. But mostly, I have just tried to walk the tightrope between the darkness and the light while trying not to deny either.

About a month ago, I wrote a friend:

Seems like I hit a bad patch and then I swim up and seem just a little more enlightened.  I do feel like I actually am striking a balance between the light and the dark.  Not just considering all of the stressors, I really just believe that I am. Still, and I have been reading about this, sometimes you have to enter the dark woods and you have to travel through them and you can’t deny the fact that it is pitch black and hard to see and that there may even be wolves.  You cannot run out of the woods— you have to push through. Then, you know, the sun comes up and you can see and then there is fog and rain and maybe even hail and snow and then, one day, you are out of the woods.  Or, at least, out of those woods, the really dark ones, and you are better for it. You know what the darkness looks like and what the light looks like and you know that you traveled through the darkness and you survived.

I have been forging, yes, but I think I have been forgetting about true JOY.

And here, if you were at all wondering, I will bring you back to the beginning of this post. You remember–  the forty days, the ExperiLent, the act of sacrifice.  Right now, I do not want to sacrifice.  Perhaps, I have been sacrificing enough.  While I have been pushing through the dark woods, I have also been tempted, at times, to set up camp there, to pitch a tent and just lie in it, sweating and zombiesque, until the end of my days.  No, no, no, no.

I have been great at the art of distraction but that is obviously not cutting it.  I have been forgetting about serious bliss, about jouissance.

You see, the thoughts, the rose, reminded me of a dear friend who, in all her inspirational glory, has been turning a difficult situation into a time to immerse herself in the things that she enjoys most.  She has decided, for her fortieth birthday, to treat herself to something special—be it a bath or a book or a Hershey kiss—for forty days. It is not my fortieth birthday, or even near my birthday, but I am going to follow in her footsteps.  I am going to treat myself to some pleasure every single day.

I understand that life is full of challenges that must be confronted with love and gratitude and gentleness and joy.  Joy.  I deserve it.

So, although I bought myself a small pouch of lavender bath crystals, sometimes a bath (at least for me) just seems like too much work.  Less joy then, right?  Instead, I am going to soak my feet, and put a warm wrap on my shoulders, and massage my lower back, and listen to music and read.

Tomorrow, who knows?

To forty days of love and joy and the lightness that comes with it!



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