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Getting naked. My road to emotional and physical intimacy.

body image naked flower nude vulnerability

I’m going to get naked with you, sharing the one secret that gave me a life of emotional and physical intimacy. Getting there was the scariest thing I ever did, and you won’t believe how simple it was.

First, some background.
I had three older brothers and two younger sisters in a lively Irish-Catholic family on Grand Island, New York. My parents loved each other, but bickered all the time. If Dad said the couch was red, Mom corrected, that no, it was rust. They could bicker over anything.

Mom’s world consisted of emotions, beauty, family and charity. Dad’s was reason, ideas, facts, perfection and competence. Logic and force of personality won out and my father frequently had the upper hand, unless memory was involved. Then my mother won.

Our family dinners were fun and energizing, but sometimes resembled a blood sport — eat or be eaten, wit being the coin of the realm. Mom stayed on the sidelines, not suited for battle — rarely a participant. Like a baby mouse imprinted with her mother’s scent, I adopted their style; it was more important to be right than happy.

At 20, I married a man much like my father, blazingly intelligent, quick, cutting and defensive. We reenacted my parent’s dynamic in many ways, but I vowed not to be vulnerable like my mother. I dressed in Levi’s and plaid shirts, cut my hair short, gained weight and hid any sign of femininity. I appeared asexual, but more important, learned to cover sadness, concerns and anger, acting like one of the boys. Being tough and invulnerable, I couldn’t be hurt.

Once, five months pregnant with our second child I camped for a week in Algonquin, Canada, with my husband and our church young couples group. I carried a heavy pack, portaged through the woods and slept on a thin foam pad. It was only after days of trying to sleep on tangled roots and rocks that I discovered all the other couples had air mattresses. Such amenities were for sissies.

My androgyny affected our sex life; very little of it and not good. I joked that there was only three subjects my husband and I could not discuss: sex, money and chores. I needed more.

Just as blocked arteries develop other pathways to deliver blood to the heart, I developed alternate routes to receive love — I built up a collection of friends who loved me, mostly female, occasionally male — all platonic. I would have said I was happy, justifying the creative financing of my love bank.

But deep inside, was a woman wanting out — a soft-hearted, tender creature who wanted to be cherished by one man. Eventually, through the magic of therapy, good friends and re-discovering musical gifts, I reclaimed much of my femininity, but it was too late for us. After 25 years, we divorced.

At 46, I faced a brand new future, a future I could choose.

I created a vision statement for my new life. It described the house I’d live in, kind of music on the stereo, paintings on the wall and, of course, the man who would share it with me: he would be smart, funny, hospitable, sensuous, and above all, kind. And we would be intimate, whatever that meant.

I dated 18 men in one crazy year, then, took a sabbatical. At the end of it, there was Dave. He matched the man I’d pictured in all the key ways, but —closest to my heart — was kind.
I’d found my ideal mate and I was terrified. So terrified, a latent case of colitis kicked into high gear. I was touching on deep fears and my body was objecting. I had not seen intimacy between my parents, had not experienced it with my ex, yet that is what I desperately wanted in my new life. How could we create this?

We started with one basic rule, we would be kind to each other — literally, a zero-tolerance for unkindness, and it had to start with me.

How did this play out?

We didn’t allow blaming. For anything. Ever. Especially when driving or discussing money. No criticism was permitted. If we had a beef, we either sat on it or discussed it as a thing we might solve together. Sarcasm was also barred at the door — including that ominous fourth horseman of divorce: eye-rolling behind each other’s backs. We argued and sometimes heatedly, but never hit below the belt. Public putdowns were forbidden too.

We were patient with each other, listening without jumping in, even when a story took so long, you could picture cows wandering in and out of the pauses. We created an environment where we could be ourselves without criticism or judgment.Most frightening for me, we admitted fears, cried in front of each other, shared hopes, budding dreams, and let down our guard. Slowly, I reprogrammed that baby mouse for a life of love instead of one of conflict and competition.

Do you know what happens in a relationship where both people can be vulnerable and truly themselves? When you know your tender bodies and souls will be cherished and not ridiculed?

You feel safe, relax, and have a lot of really great sex.

Dave and I will be married for five years this October, and they have been the happiest years of my life. Over time, I learned to be OK with both emotional and physical intimacy and my colitis went away, but we’ve had our hard times too. It’s then that kindness kick in — the touchstone we always return to when we’ve lost our way.

Ultimately, intimacy had to begin with me. I had to let go of a lifetime of defensive tactics, unconscious behaviors and a pathological need to be right. I could expect kindness in my life and marriage when that’s what I gave. And I discovered that when you remove arguing, anger, blame, bickering, sarcasm, insults, criticism, pickiness and fault finding from a marriage ... all that’s left is love.

 

Losing (and finding) my voice.

finding menopause losing voice dysphonia

The symptoms started last summer vacation in Colorado. In the car practicing scales, my voice cracked — a common enough for a 14 year-old boy, but never me. The more I sang, the more hoarse my voice became. It was terrifying.

I was 52, had left a good job in marketing to be a jazz singer only a year and a half prior — and now this. As always, I jumped to worst-case scenario and cried on my husband Dave’s shoulder that night. “Will you still love me if I can’t sing?” I half-seriously asked him. More important, I wondered how much I’d love myself if I couldn’t sing.

Googling “vocal problems, hoarseness, perimenopause,” I discovered women often experience a loss, changing or lowering of their voice at mid-life. Opera singers, in particular, age out and quietly retreat from public performance, avoiding the public humiliation — often, only in their forties.

A life-long singer, I had taken my voice for granted, wondering instead if age or looks would be the determining factors in success (heck, even those few extra pounds), all the while not realizing my entire career rested on two tiny vibrating pieces of tissue less than an inch long. Talk about feeling vulnerable.

Of immediate concern, was my rapidly approaching debut at the Lewiston Jazz Festival. How ironic would it be that after years of applying to the festival, my first performance there would be diminished or, God forbid, even cancelled?

The more I researched, gastric reflux (a common malady of menopause) appeared to be the direct cause of my problems. Simply, stomach acids were frying my vocal cords and affecting their ability to vibrate properly and produce sound.

The next morning, I hit the pharmacy and started taking Prilosec – which belongs to a group of drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) or acid-reducers. Within days, the vocal cracking stopped. My range returned, and the relief was as big as the surrounding Rockies.

My performance at the Jazz Festival was a success, but vocal problems continued to dog me. Again, I turned to the internet to research my condition. In addition to preventing reflux by not eating large or late-in-the-day meals, modifying a number of habits would keep my voice limber: avoiding caffeine, alcohol and decongestants and raising the head of my bed six inches.

Just how important was it to keep singing? I even gave up my beloved red wine. And, as averse as I am to medication, hormone replacement therapy soon joined my medication regime.

Finally, having exhausted self-diagnosing, I visited an otolaryngologist. He confirmed reflux, but to great relief, my vocal cords were only irritated, not permanently damaged. It also turned out (in danger of having doctor creds removed), I had been taking Prilosec incorrectly.

So, I’m singing again. The range is back and doesn’t skip. And yet … this is not voice I had in my thirties and forties. It’s not quite as lush or round. It sounds (gasp!) older. I hear the difference in my recently-recorded CD and am not entirely happy.

These days, I have to work much harder to maintain vocal fluidity and limberness. The passage from chest voice to head voice is not as easily navigated. I have to sing every single day to maintain tone and flexibility.

And yet, there is something I did not have in my thirties and forties — vulnerability and connection. These songs have been lived, revealing both broken hearts and simmering passions.

Now 53, I also believably project sensuality and playfulness. I take myself less seriously and am more confident. I’m not sacrificing the message of the song to attain perfect tone – the phrasing is more conversational. You also hear that on the CD.

This last year has seen the death of a number of friends, most of whom were artists. The world is the lesser for it. I wish I could hear just one more of their songs or see another of their paintings. Yet, here I am, alive, sometimes tempted to stop sharing my gifts out of vanity or perfectionism.

keep-calm-and-sing-on

Funny, when singing, my flaws and limitations are forgotten. In that moment, I am a conduit for God or Spirit. I’m lost in the song, creating joy, and often (especially with the elderly) making someone’s day. My audiences connect, and through the music, buried emotions are unearthed. My work matters.

Yes, I am an older woman with an older voice, but I have a compelling story to tell and hearts to touch. Until my audiences stop listening, I’ll keep singing.  

5 tools to supercharge your resolutions!

2014 tools resolutions weight loss improvement

I hate New Year’s Day. It’s that time of year when I flog myself over holiday misdeeds of over-eating, not meditating and being too sedentary. My diet for the last month has mostly consisted of cookies and meat — a kind of of modified Paleo. I rarely got to the gym and didn’t eat a single fruit all Christmas, if you don’t count the raspberry jam in the thumbprint cookies I snarfed.

I scramble for a resolution that will shortcut me to greater fitness, flexibility and the loss of those extra pounds that have overstayed their welcome like a bad holiday guest. But, the good thing is, at the age of 52, I’ve had some success in personal transformation.

It’s times like these, when the inky darkness of winter and post-holiday doldrums threaten to engulf me, that I think on past victories and remember the principles and practices that have led to lasting transformation. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Acceptance
Nine years ago I had an uncomfortable moment of truth when unexpectedly viewing a photo of myself in a bathing suit. It was a brown, ruched affair and I looked exactly like an unhappy potato on legs. After a fat caliper test, I was appalled to learn of a body fat percentage of 30% — sneakily close to obese. Instead of denying reality or hating myself and drowning in a sea of Ben & Jerry’s, I calmly made peace with my body as it was — then lost twenty pounds.

Forgiveness
The best time to make a meaningful change in life is (insert number) years ago. The next best time is today. I stayed in a sad and unfulfilling marriage for 25 years. It was tempting to blame myself for the lost years and all the love not gotten, but it was pointless. I could not have left a moment sooner than I did. I looked kindly on the girl I was, embraced her anyway, and learned from her mistakes to build a new life of love and fulfillment.

Teachability
I was a stiff-necked kid who couldn’t be taught a single thing — an unfortunate result of being a naturally talented, overly adored first-born girl in a competitive family. But, talent is a bus that doesn’t go to the end of the line without a refuel — that’s where teachers and receptivity come in.

When I entered my thirties and wanted to progress in music, my father delicately suggested I take voice lessons from his choirmaster. The teacher could not have been more encouraging, and soon I quit bellowing like a moose and started really singing. A good teacher (and a willing attitude) has been the fastest way to learning new skills and making big life changes.

Moderation
When I was 18 and a freshman in college I started running with the cross-country team. I went from being relatively sedentary to running five miles a day — every day. On the advent of our big first meet, my lower legs were in excruciating pain. A doctor’s visit diagnosed shin splints — painful micro-breaks in the shinbones — a result of over-training.

As an adult, I’ve learned to pace myself and get some form of exercise every day, even if it’s just a leisurely walk with a friend. On icy, windy days I might choose the stationary bike in the basement with the latest from Netflix. At times I take it easy on myself and do almost nothing physically. After 34-some years of mostly continual fitness, I’m in it for the long haul and realize that slow and steady truly does win the race.

Courage
Two years before quitting my job, I knew I wanted to walk away. But, the idea of leaving a 30-year career filled me with anxiety. For all my blather about taking chances and being adventurous, I am, essentially, a groove creature.

After crunching the numbers with my husband and determining we could (frugally) live on his income, I hit a wall. I called it every name in the book, but it was generic, yellow-labeled fear. I drew on the wisdom of Mark Twain’s bromide, “Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it” and jumped into the abyss and got to work. I have not looked back. Now fear is taken as a sign that I’m onto something. Let the adventure begin!

This year, I have made some resolutions: put away my clothes after wearing them; lose five pounds; write a business plan; complete that book I’ve been talking about for years; write thank you notes; de-clutter the house. Some of them I’ll honor, others will burst like yesterday’s champagne bubbles. What I won’t do is hate, nag or be unkind to myself. That’s one resolution I’m planning on keeping.