Once the decision was made to cut ourselves free from the religious life we had been woven into, Rick and I began the very delicate process of extrication.
Actually, it wasn’t that hard for Rick. He shed his mormon identity like an ill-fitting suit that he had worn out. He had put it on just six years before, after becoming a fully formed adult. He wore the coat well, but taking it off was not too hard. A temperature adjustment. A loosening of the tie, unclipping the “Brother Poulin” name tag, he went back to being Rick. He kicked off his dress shoes and pulled out his Birkenstocks, and found his old self waiting to welcome him back.
It was me that needed unwinding… the binding thoughts and ideas that had me tightly ensconced were thick and sinewy. At first, I believed that if I just worked at it, the fibers that had cocooned me would release a new and completely different, freed creature. The proverbial butterfly. But as time wore on, I began to wonder if there was a self, underneath it all. The discard pile grew, and with it I lost my shape. After years and years of unraveling, I am left with a huge pile of string, a hopeless tangled mass, and no sense of who I am.
Such work, to unravel one’s self.
I have been sifting through my pile, overcome with grief. For the form and structure of my self. For the loss of what I knew. For the comfort of having a home. For the rejection of my cast. For the familiarity of words and rules and rituals. For the loss of the tethers that gave definition to my family.
I did not know how to recreate myself from this rubble, and yet inside it, were all my pieces.
I have cried more tears in the last year than I have in my entire life. The grief when I first began this process was a rupture, and the tears spilled out in angry waves. Now, the grief is residual, it shimmers at the surface, ready to spill over at the slightest ripple. I cling to the necessity of the tears. The washing out of the vessel. The cleanse, as I ready myself to once again try to find a new woman in the old pile.
And then, as I was drying my tears the other day, something happened. I looked up.
It is only now, eight years into the undoing and the fingering of my scraps that I have found something that looks…hopeful.
In the very raw process of unraveling, there is a powerful sense of isolation and loneliness. I was selfishly consumed by my deconstruction and loss, and it made me blind to my surroundings. Not out of spite, but out of grief, the world outside of my own undoing became a vague and blurry mess. The only pieces of reality and the only choices before me seemed to be born out of the pile of scraps I had created in shedding my entire identity.
The hope came when I looked away from the tangled nonsense I had been stewing in… and I noticed. Instead of a presence of separateness that I had been feeling in my loss of structure, I saw others. They look like me. Some are crying, too. Everywhere, people are discovering their empty cocoon, and the task of recreation. And my story is not so special. We are all standing in our pile, trying to rebuild. I saw my uprooted, raw feelings reflecting back at me. And I saw their beauty. The work of creating something grand and strong, sifting through the rubble to find the shiny pieces… these people were doing it. All of them. I felt my unformed self crack open, and love rushed out. For all the people, for their loss and mine are the same.
And maybe, that is the Truth.
We are all in various stages of this moment… unwinding and rebuilding and whittling away. Anyone willing to break free from the shell that we begin in, to find renewal and movement and light, is going through this too. It has taken me a long time to blink away my grief and look around at the wealth of experience we are all standing in. The survivors of broken childhoods. The immigrant rebuilding in a foreign place. The lover, holding a shattered heart. The parent, reshuffling life after a death. The woman, peeling away her shame. We are all chipping away the armor, to reveal the truest version of our Self.
The truly freeing part? I am realizing that we are not limited to our own broken shells. That pile is our past. The things that have already been. The shape that has already formed and been undone. We are not limited to this material, to rebirth ourselves. There is only so much we can find within, before we must look for the beautiful pieces that others have to offer us.
The world is wide, and open, and full of breath-taking pieces that will feel like home when we find them… they are meant for us to discover. We find unity in the recognition that we are all busy with different versions of the same task. And then, we are less afraid to see the beautiful offerings of others… and perhaps the value of our own discarded pieces.
So, I will pick from my pile the material I want to keep, and then step away… to search out the new treasure that will define the woman I want to become.
Her shape is only for me.
Photo credit: Gardner Edmunds