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

I am.

Those two words are true–I am . Simple, and yet enormously difficult to comprehend. I want to add words that describe me, or what I want, or what I’m working on, or hope for. Essentially, how I want to be different from, or apologize for, or know, right now in total, all of who/what I am.

I ran into one of my DanceAbility friends at a local event last week and asked him what he’s been up to . He’s a man with cerebral palsy who rolls around in a wheelchair, and has aides who help him with activities of daily living. His response to my question?

“I live,” he said with an enormous smile. Nothing more, nothing less. In truth, he thrives: he makes music and art on a computer; he rides a bike more than ten miles most days; he always has at least one dog who is devoted to him; he’s loved at the yearly Oregon Country Fair for the Flamingo Taxi he pedals around after hours, picking up those who had a little bit too much fun partying. But he never tells people what he does, or what he is, or thinks. He just is – himself. I’ve danced and been in DanceAbility workshops he’s taught many times over the years. His words of wisdom to all participants and spectators always are: “Have fun!” He utters them with a wide grin as his body involuntarily contracts and spasms.

Another friend I met at a Diverse Dance workshop in 1994 uttered the same “I live” when I asked her what she did. She’s a paraplegic, dancer, bike rider, world traveler, a fantastic cook, and vibrant party hostess. She’s always impeccably dressed and ready for the next adventure. She is herself, lives her life, and feels no need to embellish her existence.

I mention these two friends because, like me, they have altered physical abilities – sometimes referred to as disabilities – and I’ve been thinking about something I heard at the amputee event I attended last week. Could it be that having physical challenges opens people to other abilities that are not so readily visible? Maybe empathy and compassion are more keenly honed in folks with altered bodies. Maybe we’re more skilled at improvisation, or seeing things for what they are. Maybe we’re less concerned about what others think, and more willing to pursue what matters to us. Maybe we know we’re lucky to be alive, and that makes many things easier to bear.

Like all creatures, I am and I live, until I die. “Who am I?” is an open question, a curiosity – maybe ever changing, maybe something I’m awakening to in each moment, consciously and unconsciously. I am, and I live are realities that I can relax into, words I can say to simplify.

Here’s a quote from Marcus Aurelius (AD121-AD180):

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive–to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

It’s enough to be, and to live.

I Show Up – Good Stuff Happens

Yesterday, I set up a table hawking my book, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance at a Discover Your Potential local event, hosted by PowerOnWithLimbLoss.com, for folks with limb loss and other physical challenges. The program included personal stories shared by kids and adults with physical challenges, vendors with information about health and healing, prosthetics, accessible vans, bikes, archery equipment, adaptive yoga, wheelchair basketball, and rock wall climbing. It was the first event of this sort I’d been to with the hopes of not only promoting my book, but meeting others with stories similar to my own. I was excited, yet didn’t want to get my hopes up – what if it was a bust? Gotta be ready for anything, I told myself.

As I got out of my car wondering who I’d find to help me carry in my table and box of books, I was greeted by two beautiful young men, one of whom was sporting two above the knee, mechanically-slick protheses. The guys were brothers with a business aimed at designing prosthetics, and tools to repair them, hoping to give their clients maximum input in the building and maintenance of their mobility aids. The bionic one of the duo also had a flesh-and-blood hand with fingers permanently bent in toward his palm. He effortlessly picked up the table in that hand and amazed me as he strolled in to the venue, loaded down with gear and smiling, as I wheeled in my chair and his normie brother carried his own load. We laughed and joked about our situations and shared excited hopes for the day ahead. I later learned he was an Afghanistan IED explosion survivor, and filled up with tears–of sadness yes, but mostly with that full heart feeling of amazement at the human spirit’s ability to thrive despite horrific circumstances–as he recounted the story. If nothing more happened that would’ve been gift enough for having made the effort.

Not so fast, though. During the program part of the day, I heard the stories of three amazing kids, all amputees, all under eighteen, and all triggered that same joyous full heart feeling. One young boy had two half arms with rock wall climbing abilities, a personality and presence bigger than life itself, and a desire to be DJ. The middle-school boy had been legless since birth, a medal-winning and NIKE team wheelchair basketball star who performed hand stands on various surfaces, and professed his intention to become a medal-winning skier this year. Lastly, we heard from a teenaged girl who lost her entire right leg to cancer at age five. She’s a NIKE team swimmer, hoping to make the paralympics, and a successful half-marathon finisher times two. Already, I’m over the top in gratitude and inspiration.

I sold a few books, got many compliments on my cover art, and the pictures I displayed of my own dinosaur prosthesis from the 1960-70s. I met and chatted with people with new limb loss, seasoned amputees, family members, professionals dedicated to making life easier for those of us with altered bodies, and recreation enthusiasts eager to share their innovations in adaptive equipment of all sorts.

So much had come of the short day, I was content. It was way more than worth my time. And then–the rock climbing began. I watched, secretly wondering if I could do it. Would my arms come through for me? Would I get halfway up and lose strength, feel embarrassed and have to retreat? Could I even make it up one hold? Would the sling hold me? So many questions and a big fear of failure and humiliation. As if trying isn’t good enough. I have to remind myself that trying is much more than good enough when I get out of my own way.

So I tried. Kristen, the lovely young woman from the local university Adaptive Sports program, was encouraging, gentle, supportive–a true delight. She strapped me into a special harness designed to provide more support for the back and prevent me from tipping to the right where my leg and pelvis are missing. I was belayed, and Kristin climbed along side me. We made contact with the wall and immediately I was climbing. I had to help lift my foot with my arm onto the outcroppings at some points, but, with what felt like minimal effort, I ascended–all the way to the top. I’m delighted, proud of myself, and just maybe I’ve found a new challenge to keep me inspired and fit. We’ll see if I keep to my promise to myself to attend the two upcoming adapted climbing workshops at the university. I’m pretty sure I will–they’re on my calendar!

Here’s a sneak peak thanks to the photos of a sneaky pal:

 

 

Are Secrets Really Secret?

…or are there any secrets? Do I merely soothe myself by believing there are things no one knows about me even if I’ve told them?

These last few weeks I’ve been obsessing about why I didn’t say more about my relationship with E&T, aka bulimia, in the initial launch phase of my book, Joy Ride: My One-legged Journey to Self-Acceptance. And today, for the first time in a couple of months, I took a look at my website, karenwittdaly.com, and realized there’s not one word about my forty-plus year relationship with E&T, despite it being a major part of the journey I catalog in the book.

Am I still hoping to keep that part of my life a secret, even though it’s openly discussed throughout the book? It’s a puzzling revelation, especially because I was proud of how honest I was in describing the way bulimia affected every aspect of my life. Maybe I thought it was a secret that readers who knew me would discover for the first time. Or, maybe I thought potential readers would be turned off by the topic of bulimia – another story of addiction and recovery – and not even consider reading the book. What I see now is that opening up about difficult, shameful things is a gradual unveiling, a process that’s more about how I think and feel about myself than about how others might see me. I suddenly have a desire to change up the website and some other writing to more accurately represent the various aspects of the journey I wrote about.

This reminds me of a quote by Richard Brautigan I recently came across:

Are You the Lamb of Your Own Forgiving?
I mean: Can you forgive yourself / all
those crimes without victims?

It seems forgiveness, of others or of oneself, is impossible when that which is to be forgiven remains a secret. But, if I don’t make space to forgive, I continue to blame myself (and maybe others). To what end? Sometimes stories we continue to tell ourselves just reinforce things we need to let go of. I now know (from reading some of the reviews of my book) that my years of bulimia were not a secret. People close to me knew about the behavior, even though I told myself they didn’t, while knowing deep inside myself they did. And, although I did my best to keep it a secret from myself by denying it was a problem, and rather considering it something I was destined to do, to purify myself or cope with difficult things–I always felt the shame of it. Maybe only now–after having published a book that on the cover doesn’t even mention bulimia, but on almost every page makes reference to my E&T ritual–I am releasing the secret and beginning the journey of forgiveness.

Life is such a surprise – every day there’s something I was sure was behind me that pops up right in front of my face to remind me it’s not over yet. And, then, I have the great good fortune to dig a little deeper, clear out more of the muck, and make room for even more joy.

What could be better than that!