Sledge Hammer

I heard the song Sledgehammer on the radio today and it took me back a few years to a short-lived relationship I’d had. It was released as a single by Peter Gabriel in the spring of 1986 and became a huge hit. I liked it then, I liked it when I heard it a few years ago, and I still like it. This post is about who I was, and what happened with that relationship and another I had soon after it, a few years ago.

He was someone who’d done some work for me over the course of a few years. One day, as he was ready to leave, he got down on his knees to meet me at my wheelchair height and said, “you’re beautiful.” Without missing a beat, he laid a huge smacker on my lips. I was surprised, flattered, curious, and hadn’t been kissed like that for over 15 years.

What followed was a few weeks of sexual encounters, maybe six or seven in all. We tried many things, but never came to full consummation for some unknown reason. I heard the Sledgehammer song during those few weeks and shared my desire that he be my sledge hammer. It never happened, and the relationship ended when he texted me that he’d just been told by #17 (the seventeenth woman he’d been with in maybe as many weeks) that he was the best lover ever. YUCK!

Suffice it to say, there were many loose emotions flying around inside of me. Since he was the first man I’d been with sexually after fifteen-plus years of celibacy, I was tender, but I’d also been through some serious soul-searching (I was pretty much finished writing my book, Joy Ride, by then, and had faced some of my more thorny relationship issues). I wanted to meet someone – still harboring the notion that it would validate me somehow, or make my life more whole than it already was. At the same time, I knew what I was doing when I signed on, I did so consciously – maybe for the first time ever – and I knew I could handle the emotions that would follow. I knew it was a step I had to take and, although there was some regret and humiliation (that I’d opened myself up to someone who didn’t really care, or that I should have known and stayed away), I felt proud of myself and stronger for having taken the chance.

Soon after that ended, I had a summer infatuation that I hoped and prayed would turn to something more intimate. I figured the six-week fling was my intro back into the world of intimacy and this next one would be the real thing. It started slowly – we’d meet and talk at an outdoor cafe with live music . We were both writing and that was a topic of conversation. He was a musician and had self-recorded songs, so he knew some things about the self-promotion game. I would follow him around to his gigs, hoping each time would be THE time he’d kiss me or take my hand. I was determined not to make the first move and didn’t for a few months. We skirted around the issue of whether we would ever be more than friends, and although I knew the answer (no), I kept hoping it would change. One day I wrote him an email asking for a definitive answer – did he ever see us being more than friends? He spent a few weeks after that trying to be honest without hurting me or losing our friendship. He eventually said he just wasn’t attracted to me – my body was so much different that any he’d been with, and he knew it just wouldn’t work between us. It may have been the most honest thing a man has ever said to me, and although it hurt and I was disappointed, I was grateful I could hear the truth. I almost felt like I made him say out loud what he knew was true but didn’t want to say because I wanted to hear it and not beat up on myself.  Years ago, after I’d been sleeping with a man for months, he told me he never thought he’d be attracted to me because of my one-leggedness. Back then, I imagined every man felt that way, and internalized it as a terrible, awful truth about me.

Where am I today? I’m single, I still have only one leg, and I know that it’s likely a deal breaker for some men. At 66, I continue to have some pangs of sadness about that, but they’re not all about me. I feel sad that we judge each other (me included) based on how our bodies look, that we’re still so afraid of difference, and afraid to enter into situations where we fear we won’t be in control. I feel sad for young people with altered bodies who long to be loved by a partner, and find it difficult to make relationships because there are few people who are open to such relationships, or because the self-esteem, self-acceptance issues of those seeking relationships make it difficult for them to open to others. That was certainly one of my biggest barriers during my younger years. Another was thinking that finding a partner would make everything in my life better. Ha!

Do I want someone to be my Sledgehammer? Yes and no. Peter Gabriel’s version is all about sexuality which is a pleasurable way to be opened.  I also celebrate the opening that comes when I feel moved by the beauty all around me – in nature, in other people, in waking up to each new day, in dance and art and writing. I can feel electricity move inside my skin. Sometimes tears come, clearing out the space for more true feeling in each moment, and connecting me more viscerally with others.

The sledge hammer can be any number of things, or people. I can be moved and opened over and over again. I say – bring it on!

Here’s a link to YouTube – it doesn’t open the song, since that’s restricted on some sites including this one, and I’m a web light-weight. But the visual is good…

 

My Eating Disordered Life – How It All Began

My disordered eating journey began in the early days of 1994 following an appointment with our family doctor. I’d just been discharged from a three-month stint in Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children (our family doctor, a Mason, sponsored me) where I had a wooden leg made following the amputation of my right leg and pelvis to bone cancer a year earlier. I was twelve.

My mom and I were there to show him the new leg and thank him for his generosity. He looked things over pleased with the leg, but bothered by the weight I’d gained since he last saw me. I’d been more than skinny before the surgery (cancer will do that to a girl) and, during the three months away, I guess I put on some padding. My clothes still fit, and no one else had commented that my body size had increased. The wooden leg fit, but because of the way I had to tighten a thick fiberglass bucket around my waist (with wide, leather straps and buckles) so I could keep the leg on and take steps, a roll of flesh poured out between my growing breasts and the solid rim of the bucket. It may have been that roll that prompted our family doc to recommend a thousand-calorie diet – so I could lose a little weight and avoid gaining more, which he feared would make it impossible for me to walk in the fifteen-pound steel and wood “leg.”

He gave us a sheet with sample meals, foods to avoid, and healthy foods to eat regularly. Even though I was disappointed in the wooden leg (I was sure the replacement would be an exact replica of my old skin-and-bones leg minus the painful cancer), I felt I had to excel at using it, so after hearing that weight gain might prevent me from walking I took to the diet like a zealot. If a thousand calories was good, eight hundred, even five hundred, would most certainly be better. Soon I was eating a few bites of pot roast and lots of lettuce most days. I lost weight, my lowest weight was around 85 pounds, had irregular menses, but managed to function well on fewer and fewer calories all through high school. I was thin, but no one commented. My mother and I fought about how little I ate, but we disagreed on most everything during those years and I had no interest in pleasing her. At least not on the outside. I did, however, want to be seen as smart and well-adjusted to my “situation” (I was NOT disabled, crippled, handicapped and if anyone suggested otherwise, I’d just push harder to prove them wrong). I also wanted to be seen as pretty, and had dreams of being a model and a tap-dancer, but was successful in pushing those and any other seemingly impossible desires way down into the pit of my gut. I deprived them of my attention, just like I deprived my body of food. I had the makings of a very good eating-disordered young woman – skilled at denial, unrelenting, and determined to be in control.

Things began to change during my first few days in college. My roommate was a cute, thin blonde with a body made for cut-off short shorts and skimpy tank tops. I saw lots of other girls who were just like her and, hard as I tried, couldn’t push the “I’m so ugly and disfigured” self-talk out of my mind fast or far enough to keep me centered. Before college, everyone knew me and my story. Even though I never really accepted myself with fully open eyes during those years, I wasn’t triggered as much by stares and the skrunched faces signaling others discomfort and confusion about how to interact with me. In college, I saw only beautiful, slinky bodies next to my big, clunky, wooden-leg clad being. I covered everything up with loose-fitting tops and long-legged bottoms, hoping no one would notice my distorted body. Feelings welled up inside at every turn and I felt overwhelmed, like I was losing control of my mind. Like all good control freaks, I quickly came up with a solution. I left college and a full scholarship which rattled my parents, who warned me there would be no money from them (rightly so, they had no money to give) to get me started again when I was ready. I made no mention of my panic. “It’s not a good fit,” I told my mother after a week. That was it – no more panic. I’d done it – taken charge and survived.

I worked as a nurse’s aide that year, and secured another full scholarship to a college nursing program. The summer before college, I found a position as a counselor at a camp for underprivileged kids with muscular dystrophy. It was more than an eye-opener of the kind I wished I’d not happened upon. Surrounded again by the beautiful bodies of late teen-aged counselors, many who knew each other and had ongoing summer romances. A repeat of my college experience a year earlier, although this time I knew I couldn’t leave, I couldn’t/wouldn’t go home again. And, at the camp, it was not only my beautiful-bodied fellow counselors poking at me, but there were disabled counselors who were eager to get to know me. I had to find a way to get away from both while quieting the panic and staying put.

It happened at the opening barbecue, before the kids arrived. There was a generous spread of picnic food, a male counselor in a wheelchair who wouldn’t leave me alone, and a dozen or so other counselors flirting their little butts off. I was stuck at the buffet table and, without weighing in on my behavior, I began furiously eating everything I could get my hands on. Stuffing my face to avoid seeing and feeling, until I panicked, imagining my body ballooning into a thousand pound blimp overnight. Then out of nowhere, a distant memory of a Seventeen magazine story about models who throw up to stay thin popped into my mind. A godsend – I could throw up. And I did. And it was like a miracle. The relief was unimaginably divine. I went back, ate some more, threw up again, and I was on the road to bliss!

To be continued…

 

A Few Details about Joy Ride

I’ve been wrestling with whether I’m doing enough to promote my recently published book, and so I thought I’d post a short synopsis and excerpt here. Sometimes just doing something helps settle whatever restless beast is stirring things up inside.

Joy Ride: My One-legged Journey to Self-Acceptance tells my story of losing my right leg to cancer at age 11 in the 1960s. This was an era when “cripple” was an accepted word to refer to someone like me, and the choice for the disabled to live either as a “cripple’ or as “normal” was a difficult one either way. 

I chose “normal” and how my life unfolded after that is my story.  I would look for love in all the wrong places, and it would surprise me in the right places, too. I would meet generous people of all abilities along the way, ski, sail, and swim with self-referred “gimps,” and create opportunities for career and travel. 

And yet I kept important parts of myself hidden from those around me, and especially from myself.

When I discovered improvisational dance and began work with Karen Nelson and later with Alito Alessi, I found my inspiration and the life I was meant to live, one without secrets.  I found the courage to shine the light on those hidden and terrifying places.

I wrote Joy Ride to come to terms with the secrets I kept. I wrote to remember and embrace all the things I tried so hard to forget. I wrote to celebrate finding a relationship with my body, soul, and spirit through movement and share its extraordinary gifts of joy and freedom.

And I wrote because I hope others would find something in my life that would remind them of their own bravery and their own joy ride.

Thanks for reading. I leave you with this. I’m following Mary – heading out to dance! XOIMG_0264

 

 

What is it about Retiring…?

From the New Yorker April 21, 2018

Immanuel Kant noted a connection between the sublime and terror. When I think of retiring I can relate to exactly that. I’m a former psychiatric nurse currently working in a medical center as a utilization review nurse, reviewing charts for insurance purposes and writing appeal letters for insurance denials of care. Eight hours a day, four days a week on the computer in a small office with two other nurses doing much the same thing. The work is tedious, the company enjoyable–there are four of us who’ve been together for about fifteen years, all most likely retiring within the next year.

My co-workers are psyched for retiring–counting down the months, weeks, days. I am too–sometimes–and other times I’m fraught with an inexplicable fear–a hollowness in my gut, an unrelenting voice in my head warning that I’ll be alone with nothing to do 24/7. I’m single, an introvert, and although I have plenty of friends and lots of interests, I also have a history of addiction (bulimia, which I’ve thankfully been free from for over ten years thanks to Twelve Step programs) and I worry that too much time to languish and obsess could just do me in.

Unlike the sun, my current job is not life supporting in any way. He dutifully, and I hope, proudly, keeps us warm, helps us mark the passage of time, and brightens our days. I am easily replaceable, don’t even like my job that much, and when I allow myself that clarity, I know it’s time to retire. Except that I do like the twice monthly paycheck and the daily banter with my co-workers. So it’s a constant back and forth.

A year or so ago I decided I’d become a dance gypsy in retirement–finding workshops taught by my favorite dance teachers around the world and taking myself to those places to indulge in one of my greatest pleasures. I still find that a compelling idea, but I need other things. Writing, sewing, art-making could be other regular activities, maybe even another book, but I have to regularly convince myself that making art of all types is a worthy endeavor. I’m certain it is and I even embrace it, but at these times when I think about letting go of my day job–the one I’ve brainwashed myself to believe is the ‘real’ work–my certainty is suddenly on shaky ground. And what about the pleasure of being free of schedules and responsibilities? Is there ever really such a thing?

Happy I wrote about this today, and I hope sharing it will take the dilemma out of the dark recesses of my private sphere and expose it to the light of the early rising Mr. Sun. I’ll end with another New Yorker cartoon…

IMG_0260