The Ties That Bind…

Your tethers are of spider silk, strong, and nearly invisible, while firmly connecting you to your other selves.  You are as bound up in “What used to be”, as you are in “What is”, and “What Will Become”.  Past versions of your story cling to you like veils, stuck tight as a second skin. Thin layers, but substantial – covering and masking what was original, unblemished, shiny, soft and smooth. Layers of Grand Plans and Future Designs are then applied with a heavy hand, mortared together with the illusion of yourself in the driver’s seat. You wear a multitude of layers – representing all the chapters you have journeyed through, and are yet anticipating.

You…The baby, the clear-eyed child filled with wonder and questions; the feisty teen bathed in the sweet innocence and naivety that were left behind somewhere while you weren’t looking, because your eyes were so firmly fixed on the adventures up ahead.

You…the career girl, the lover, the seductress, the newlywed, the frantically busy young mother who is then suddenly the “not-so-needed-anymore Mom” of shockingly independent, 20-something children; the multi-tasking “Woman Who Can Do It All”; the one who hides stress under a joke and a smile; the one who never disappoints her people.

You… the happy, mature woman who still believes in love and romance; the perfect best friend; the caring neighbor; the “why am I so exhausted?” sandwich-generation daughter of parents who are going through their own changes; the small business owner who never takes a vacation; the one who can finally see the shape of empty nest dreams about to come true.

You…the one coping with chronic illness, secret concerns, unseen anxiety,  wicked hot flashes and a bad case of “How the hell did I get here?”; the one staring in disbelief, yet still trying to meet her own tear-filled eyes in the mirror as the mantle of widowhood is draped around shaking shoulders; the one forcing herself out of bed each morning for the sake of those she loves; the one who straightens her spine when others are watching, but internally is attempting to just get up off her knees and remember how to stand on her own two feet.

You….the one terrified of starting over and trying to figure out how to go it alone; the one who can’t fathom why anyone would think adventure was something to be sought after.

These are the times when the warmth of memories, the weight of platitudes stirred with sympathy, and lots and lots of borrowed optimism help you make it through the nights. Your bindings are then clutched closely for fear of losing them.  Tied and re-tied, then tied yet tighter, checked often and secured; they offer a sense of security, and you must, at all costs, find security. This is what you are told, and you try, even though you feel that security no longer really exists. You are desperate to retain the “You that Was” because that is all you know how to be. There is some security in familiar, worn patterns. Their grooves fit your desire to wallow in what is known. But this sort of safety can prove to be treacherous. You will soon find you are stuck fast in “What Was” and your past no longer fits comfortably. Its edges no longer suit your corners.

You are equally mired in “What Is” – that unending cycle; that adult-size hamster wheel that takes you nowhere but to bed, too tired and dejected to run any more that day. You find the trappings of independence, success, power and wealth can also double as shackles of duty, obsession, disappointment, and sometimes necessary, but soul-killing, deadly, routine. These once upon a time goals can often culminate in the slow, strangled suffocation of individuality, of adventure and creativity, of faith and hope.

Wrapped in the strong vines of their expectations and the delicate filaments of your own longings, you are now mummified – a staggering being created out of trailing years of ragged ends, all neatly tucked in, knotted and smoothed.  Because, you must wear your story in such a way that you are an inspiration for others. You must demonstrate perfect form, though you only have a vague idea of what that is. You are decorated with overdone care for those who must view you and don’t wish to be made to feel uncomfortable.

Our modern ideology suggests that wounds, wrinkles and differences should never show or be shown. Societal rules and quiet misconceptions gradually form straightjackets that allow no easy progression. We are encouraged to show our battle scars just enough to enthuse, but not to frighten. But what happens when you are the one who is scared?  You begin to move less freely and take shorter, safer, quiet steps; keeping to the shadows, stopping often to hesitate, ponder and question. You take a barely comfortable, but permanent seat on the sharp edge of anxiety.

You continue on, year after year, accumulating the weight of all the experiences that weave together a lifetime. Participation in Life offers us phases and facets of knowledge that can be worth-their-weight-in-gold important, or bitterly regrettable. Our happenings often contain scrapes, regrets, or mistakes that were really big life lessons and hard-knock learnings in disguise – parts of our past that we like to stay firmly hidden away and ignored.

Other events are so glorious, delicious and joyful that their exuberant sparkling can’t be dimmed, and a magical length of beaded laughter and jeweled celebration is added to your motley collection – more beautiful embellishments for the sturdy wrappings you are creating from your memoirs. You wrap your happy days around you like a delicately hand-painted scarf; the glittering parts above obscuring the hardened shell of iron underneath. At one time you wore these pretties as though they were the brightest of shining armor….Your sturdy promises of safety and connection….Your guiding lines and bright circle of protection.

But, life’s tragic, and often ironic unexpectedness, teamed with your own hasty choices, add ever more layers of bindings. They begin to feel less protective, and more restrictive. Even the gifts and responsibilities you once willingly accepted can become knotted and feel too heavy when they have been outgrown. They can suddenly feel like unbreakable chains, these fetters wrapped so tightly around your life. They squeeze and choke until your breath comes with difficulty and your heart all but ceases beating.

It is not just the obvious daily details that can immobilize you. It’s the concrete combination of love, career, the family you adore that drives you silently crazy,  unreal expectations, distraction and addiction, never ending responsibility, heart-shattering grief, melancholy blues deepening into depression, epic financial highs and frightening oh-so-broke lows, reality-altering health scares, lifetime celebrations full of fun and drama, lofty pride in accomplishments and gutter- low shameful failures. The repercussions echoing from your past life are often at war with your present day secret wishes, deepest desires, and those unfulfilled reachings for success. Year after year, we add layer after layer, until movement slowly, but ultimately, becomes impossible. Your eyes have become permanently cast down; fearful of what they will see, or will never see again, up ahead.

So you continue to linger on, to endure in “Not Yet”, as you wistfully scan the horizon for good omens and half remembered dreams, praying for more energy and just a little good fortune. Eventually you comprehend that a move from “Why?” to “What if” may be beneficial. It might just be the only thing you can do. You desire a fresh start, a clean slate, a taste of intimidating freedom, a long awaited release for good behavior. You want to see who is really lurking underneath the heavy, dented shielding you’ve acquired.

But, only you can change the scenario and release the prisoner. Only you can unwind your personal restraints. Nobody else can do it for you. You have to manufacture the key, and figure out where it fits. You must take a hard look steeped in clarity and excavate a starting point. Choose carefully. Which part do you want to shed? What can be salvaged? Only you can decide which ties to hold on to. Which ties do you need to keep your skin, bones, and heart intact? Which ties offer a breadcrumb trail into your future? There is always a place, hidden there somewhere, that will allow you to scratch a loose end free and begin to unravel and unwrap your bonds. And once you start…it gets easier. You find you no longer need these barriers between your too-sensitive self and your chaotic universe. Your very experience of surviving all that this world has trussed you in and adorned you with, all that life has tossed at you; has demonstrated the most perfect form obtainable: Your own.

As you remove the layers, you suddenly realize that they are not really armor, or shackles, but life-giving, sanity-saving bandages. They were personally applied through sheer instinct for self protection. Blemishes, scars, stretchmarks and battle wounds – you discover pieces and parts of you that no longer need be hidden or bound out of sight. They can’t begin to mask or mar who you have become. They are just another part of the story. With this realization, you find the inner strength to finally uncover the deepest, most tender spots that have been kept under wraps far too long. You realize they need fresh air and your compassionate attention if they are to finally heal.

It feels strange…chilly….and ever so much lighter. You start to breathe easily again. Hope, that almost forgotten, often longed for accomplice, slides lightly down inside and nestles deep in your chest. Tendrils of energy, and the urge for movement without hindrance swell, and start climbing up your ribs toward the surface. Your heart blooms. Your eyes once more fix firmly on what lies ahead…the anticipation of forward progression….unencumbered….the way cleared….the future promising.

Theresa Stahl (2021)