I’m a liar

Have you ever wondered about the lies you tell yourself? Can we tell ourselves lies for so long that they become truths? Sometimes we desire an outcome so badly that we make it a truth just to fit this narrative. Or maybe we doubt ourselves so much that a lie becomes a reality.

What are my truths? What are my lies? Why do I feel the need to make a lie out of my truth?

I began saying positive affirmations when I was going through breast cancer.

I am happy.

I am positive.

I am worthy.

I am caring.

I am strong.

I am trusting.

I am fierce.

I am able.

I believe them. I know they are true.

I am beautiful.

I am capable.

I am talented.

I am calm.

I am assertive.

I am whole.

I am focused.

I am loved.

I want to believe them. Some days I do, some days I need reassurance.

My truths and my lies:

I am a positive person. Is this a truth or a lie? This is a truth. I am positive. I see the best in life. This can also be one of my lies. I desperately need to see the positive so much so that I often paint negatives to make them positive.

I am a happy person. That is a truth. I have down days like everyone but I don’t like people to see that part of me. I need to be seen by the outside world as happy all the time. Why? So I will be liked and accepted. If I admit I am not happy all the time – who will like or love me? The rational woman within me knows that people love me for who I am – I took to heart the admonition as a little girl that I should always keep a smile on my face

I am caring. I care about the people around me. Truly care. I love and care for my family. This is a truth.

I had cancer and handled it with strength and a positive attitude. This is a truth. The part of my breast cancer story that is a big, fat, lie is telling people that it was not a big deal; telling people that I was lucky to have only had breast cancer and not some other horrible disease.

Having breast cancer ripped me apart.

Having breast cancer devastated me.

Having breast cancer scared the shit out of me.

I maintained my perky attitude about my diagnosis because I didn’t want to face the reality of cancer. The truth in my cancer journey is that I am now a stronger and more confident person because of cancer.

I am a coward. This was a truth before I had cancer. I do not like confrontation and will avoid it at almost any cost. I avoided to the point of making myself sick. I don’t know why I got breast cancer but I do know that the stress in my marriage during that time did not help my health.

I was a good and trusting wife. This is a truth and a lie. I was an encouraging, and supportive wife. I supported my military husband through all our moves, the deployments, the new jobs, all the required activities and the new locations where we were stationed. I kept a clean, organized and attractive home. I entertained. The lie came when I no longer loved him, when he emotionally abandoned me – I could not trust my ex-husband.

I am able to be focused with my thoughts. You would think this is a truth since I am a yogi. It is very difficult for me to be still. I used to believe it was because I was an active person. When I am still I have time to think and center. Being still is when I am the most creative but it is also when I have time to think about challenges. I have stayed in motion to keep from doing this… see “coward” above. I feel safe and loved now so it is much easier to be silent. I am working hard on being still.

I am beautiful. That is always a hard affirmation for me to say. Does it make me conceited to say I am beautiful? I suppose it would if I believed my outer looks defined who I am. I believe I am beautiful because I see beauty in others.

I am loved. This is so very true. There are so many people that love and care about me. The lie in this is the fact that I did not love myself for a very long time.

It has been a journey to get to a place where I love me.

I love the woman I am now.

That is a truth.

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Scars

I have scars. The scars I have on my body that people can see (or could see if I showed them) don’t’ really bother me much. I once thought they would. I once worried that I would be ugly with some of my scars. My surface scars represent someone who has experienced life; the good and the bad.

I have a scar on my knee from falling off my favorite pony, Buttermilk. When I see this scar I think of her. On my other knee I have a scar from college when I worked at UPS loading packages. Yep, little ‘ol me loaded UPS trucks. We all have scars on our knees.

There is a scar on my left wrist from tendinitis surgery. When my ex-husband was gone to Egypt for 6 months, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to do 150 men’s pushups each night. Guess what? Not such a good idea. This scar helps me to remember my body has its limits and if I push those limits my body just might say no. I have a small scar under my thumb. Cutting peaches one day, I sliced my thumb open – this scar reminds me to pay attention to detail.

All of my scars I have mentioned so far are things that can happen to anyone. We all have them. They are a part of living your life.

I have three scars from breast cancer. There is one on the upper right side of my chest. This is where the surgeon inserted the venous port – the place where the chemotherapy would enter my body. I have another scar on the inside, cleavage area, of my left breast. This is where the surgeon took out the cancer that threatened me. Under my left arm, I have a scar where they biopsied a lymph node to make sure my cancer hadn’t spread to other parts of my body. All of my cancer scars are ugly but I don’t mind them. They are a reminder to me that I can face something terrible and be ok. They remind me of how strong I am. They remind me of the loving prayers that came my way from so many people. They remind me that I am alive.

The scars I have that no one sees are the scars that have given me the most pain. These are the mental scars that represent loss of trust, disillusionment, a callused heart and despair amongst many other emotions. Those scars are there because my ex-husband treated me like I had no value. Those scars are there because I allowed myself to be treated poorly. Those scars are there because I was taken advantage of. Some of those scars I caused all by myself. My poor judgment left me with scars that threaten to never heal. Those are the scars that trouble me the most. It is expected that others will cause us pain; that too is part of life.

Scars I bear because of choices I made or did not make – those are the scars I feel everyday. Those are the scars that threaten to tear me apart. Those scars make me question myself. I don’t want any more scars like those so I micro-manage my emotions. I work hard to keep myself from being hurt.

I hope one day to be free of this fear. I hope one day to be able to trust fully. I hope one day to be able to love with my whole heart. I know that day will be the day the scars on the inside of me will be healed.

Bald

January 2007:

They said some people on chemo don’t lose their hair. They also said that chemo patients on Adriamycin and Cytoxan always lose their hair – all their hair. I didn’t want my hair to fall out – who would I be without my hair. My hair had defined me my whole life.

The day after my first chemotherapy I had my long hair cut to shoulder length, then a week later, cut to chin length, then a day later cut into a pixy cut. I wanted some control over how I was going to lose my hair.

I quit thinking about “bad hair days” 10 days ago. The day I had chemo for the first time. The day they told me my hair would fall out on day 10. It was day 10 as I sat on the side of the bathtub; looking at myself and my hair in the mirror. I looked the same. Maybe tired and worried but outwardly, I looked the same. On the inside, that is where I had changed. I had aged. I had lost the belief that everything would always be ok. I knew what it was like to fear death. I knew what it felt like to hear that you had a disease that everyone associated with death. I knew how it felt to acknowledge your own mortality. I never wanted to have that knowledge. I wanted to retain that purity – that innocence. I sat on the side of the bathtub looking at myself in the mirror and contemplated my next move. If I took a shower and washed my hair I knew I would lose a lot more hair. If I only took a bath and tried not to touch my hair very much – maybe I would have hair for another day. Every time I touched my hair, hair fell out. When I woke this morning there was hair on my pillow. There was hair on my shoulders throughout the day. It had begun slowly falling out 3 days ago.

I sat on the side of the bathtub trying to decide if I wanted to just do it or delay it.

It was going to happen.

I was going to lose my hair.

I was going to be bald.

I could not stop my hair from falling out. I could not make the follicles stay anchored in place.   I could control when, where, and how I would lose my hair. I could control who would be with me when I lost my hair. Now was the only time I was strong enough to do it. I stood up; turned on the shower. I made the water hot, scorching hot. I needed to feel my body and know I was alive. I stood in the shower looking at the showerhead, knowing I was alive.

My chest lifted and lowered with my breath. Then I got my head wet. I could feel the water running down my back. I could feel my hair failing to the drain. I looked down at the floor of the shower. I stopped breathing. Within 30 seconds the floor was covered with hair.

My hair. What people had always admired about me. My hair. My shield from criticism because my hair was a part of me that usually didn’t bring criticism. My hair…on the floor…not on my head. I slowly reached up to see if it was all gone. I still had hair! Maybe only some of it fell out. Maybe I would still look the same, the same with only thinner hair. I grabbed the shampoo quickly. Washed the hair that remained. I couldn’t wait to get out of the shower to see if I looked the same. Maybe I would be the exception. Maybe I wouldn’t lose all of my hair. I grabbed a towel for my head. I slowly walked to the mirror. I took the towel off my head.

I screamed.

I quickly covered my head again. My daughter came running into my bathroom. She looked at me and hugged me tight. She held me like a crying baby. She rubbed my back and said, “It’s ok Mommy”. She was 16 years old. We switched roles at that point. She was the mother, I was the child. She held me until I quit shaking. She told me I was strong. She told me I was beautiful. She told me I was her hero. She told me she would always be there.

Slowly I stood up. Samantha was taller than I. She said, “Mommy, let me see”. We took the towel off my head. She looked at me, started crying too and said, “It’s just hair Mommy.   You are still my beautiful Mommy”.

I looked in the mirror at my eyes. Was I still there? There was only hair in a few places now on my head. Most of it was on the shower floor. I went to scoop it up. She said, “stop Mommy, I’ll do it later”.

I looked back at my eyes. I was still there. I thought I would see hopelessness. What I saw shocked me – I saw strength and the desire to remain strong. I had to be strong. I couldn’t fall apart or I would die. I sat down on a stool in the bathroom. Samantha shaved off the last scraggly strands.

We were both crying.

Swan

Lone swan on the lake

I can hear her call

But I can’t see her

She seems distraught

She keeps calling out into the thick, veil of the morning fog

 _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I woke up this morning, started the coffee, turned on the computer and opened the curtains in the living room.

As I pulled back the curtains and looked out at the lake,

I was mesmerized by the thick fog covering the lake.

I quickly poured a cup of coffee and went outside to sit.

The air was crisp and fresh.

The air felt thick.

I seemed to be able to feel it entering my body as I inhaled.

It woke up all the parts of me that were still groggy.

My mind cleared, my eyes took in everything around me and I could breath.

I could feel my lungs reaching full capacity with each inhalation.

It felt great to be alive.

The sounds of the morning surrounded me; crickets, frogs, birds and a lone swan.

I sat on my front porch watching and listening to nothing in particular. The fog on the lake this morning was the thickest I have seen.

I couldn’t see the water at all.

As I sat staring at the fog, the swan came near the edge of the lake – right in front of where I was sitting.

The thick, white fog framed her as she moved,

moved back and forth in front of me.

She sounded desperate, calling out into the fog.

She continued to disrupt my peaceful morning sounds with her cries but at the same time, she seemed to connect with me.

I had to remain here with her.

How long did I sit there? I don’t know.

The day was beginning.

The fog was lifting.

She made one last pass in front of me, and then moved off into center of the lake.

As the fog dissipated, I began to see the water.

It was flawless.

Still.

There were reflections of the surrounding houses and trees in the lake.

As the swan cut across the lake

everything became clear.

She swam with ease and grace.

She calmed.

She was a peace.

I inhaled –

inhaled the desperation I had felt earlier

then forcefully exhaled.

I calmed and I was at peace too.

Yoga Accepted Me

Every year in October I am reminded that I am a breast cancer survivor. The other 11 months of the year I pretend I am like everyone else but when September rolls around and I begin seeing all the pink ribbons the memories and the fears resurface. It is at this time that I appreciate my yoga practice even more.

Yoga was a part of my life before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November of 2006. I had been teaching yoga for six years at that time. I fell in love with yoga when I saw how it changed me and the other people that came to my classes. I watched as people began coming off their medications. I watched people achieve personal goals they had struggled with for years. I didn’t understand the reasons and I didn’t try to understand. I watched. I trusted.

Yoga was a place of acceptance for me after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yoga accepted me where I was each time I got on the mat. Each time I got on the mat I was at a different place. I learned to understand that each practice would be different. I learned that I might be able to do a headstand one day and the next it was not a good place for me that day. I learned that some days I needed a vigorous practice and some days I needed peace. It was hard for me to believe that I needed to listen to my body and not my mind during cancer.

Yoga didn’t demand that I be perky or keep a smile plastered on my face.

Yoga didn’t care what size my jeans were
or how I wore my hair.
or the kind of car I drove.

Yoga was a place where I was just another yogi. These yogis were my family. I didn’t have to be anything I was not. No one cared that I was going through cancer treatments. No one cared that I was bald. No one cared that I wore a wig or took it off and shook it out when I got too hot.

Yoga was an escape for a short time from the anxiety I was going through.

Yoga met me where I was each day but I never left the mat the same, as I was when I got on my mat.

The students that came to my classes at the gym loved me, prayed for me and worried about me. On the mat we were all one. We were all the same. We were all healthy. We were all stressed. We were all sick. We were all broken. We were all healed.

When I entered the classroom to teach yoga during my cancer treatments, I entered with stress, with fear, and with anxiety. Each time I exhaled, that first exhale, I exhaled all my concerns…at least for that one hour.

Yoga is not a magic pill, it is not a cure-all for all that ails you but for me it was an escape from things I didn’t want to face … all the time. It was a place to be quiet, to be still, to be introspective.

It is hard for me to be alone with my thoughts. It is hard to stomach the fact that I had cancer.
That I could have died.

I could have died and not seen my children grow up.
I could have died and not been there to make sure they were loved.
I could have died and not accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish.
I could have died and not known what it was like to truly be loved.

I didn’t die.
I am alive and I am healthier than I have ever been. I am healthier physically and I am healthier emotionally.
Yoga did not save me but yoga helped me to save myself.