Prose · Stories

On quiet rebellions

I rebelled only quietly in my teens. To this day I don’t believe I did anything truly stupid but I hurt some people (mostly my parents) and took some chances and most of this happened outside of school.

I never considered myself rebellious, nor really think I appeared that way to others. Yet I was always part of a little renegade duo – at times a band of three or four – who stood outside of all the social tribes but had friendly relations with pretty much all of them. That’s arguably still true for me today.

I would use my intellect to spar a little with teachers who I knew respected me, and who knew that I respected them. I got detention once for eating a Kitkat in English after being told not to twice. I refused point blank to draw graphs in Maths after year 10, striking a deal with my teacher that absolved her of responsibility for my GCSE results (I got an A).

I came to one class 10 minutes late every time as a principled stand against the offense of ‘wasting our learning time moving the furniture’ with a teacher who I now massively appreciate for her innovation of turning the desks to face each other in a circle for our class discussions.

I didn’t start smoking until I was 18 (I do actually consider that quite stupid and potentially an act of rebellion amongst my peers, many of whom kicked off with cigarettes much earlier) and although I drank heartily I always seemed to manage to have a good time and get home without any major scrapes or fall-out.

No drugs til I had a good go with marijuana for a few years in my 20s. The upside of this phase was that I made great friends that I still have today, achieved some cultural mind expansion amid the haze and it pretty much stopped me drinking.

What does all this mean? I was just about to go to bed – at the rebellious hour of 10:30pm on a Saturday night-  and this all came out of me in a tumble.

I guess I feel similar as an adult. Fairly quietly I’ve taken some pretty different choices to many other people I know. I left the rat race in London fairly swiftly after only four years (with a 9 month gap to travel the world and consider becoming a professional hippy) and set up a retreat centre with tree houses in Norfolk.

After a few years and some major life events even this alternative career path felt a little rigid for me and I tossed off the lot to go travelling and say yes to serendipity. I also tossed off a seven year relationship, a three bedroom cottage and a cat. I’m making light with my language but that was major.

I travelled with a very tangled ball of wool that I was slowly unpicking and unravelling. It was made of so many threads I had collected and hastily bundled together without due care. The threads were beautiful and over time I began to imagine they might one day be woven into something.

After five years as flotsam, flowing hither and thither like the white horses of the tides, I washed up for the third time on a remote olive farm in Greece and went in deep for four months of solitude. Again, not a choice that has been taken by many I know.

I nearly lost my mind but I didn’t and I found some nuggets of gold and burned up some lumps of coal. They gave me energy and the threads began to weave slowly slowly before my eyes.

I suddenly knew that I was ready to belong again, to something beyond myself. I wanted to belong to a place, and -scarier still- to people. I wanted to belong to groups. To have a regular coffee place (well – decaf tea really) and a regular friend to meet there. I wanted to touch peoples faces for real and not sat stroking the screen on a skype call.

So I came back to the UK and started making different choices. Slowly, slowly I feel I’m softening the edge of my rebellion for better or worse. I registered with a doctor again for the first time in 7 years and now they send me letters about my body. The people at the coffee place know my dog’s name (they don’t know mine – it works for me somehow).

I have a dog! A dog that hangs out of car windows and likes camping. A dog that keeps me grounded most of the time and takes me out in the woods every day. A dog that I am committed to for maybe 20 years.

I’m still living in a tiny wooden cabin on stilts at the end of somebody’s garden and I still work for myself. I’ve never claimed benefits even though I didn’t have a job for 3 years and went long stretches without a penny to my name. I still choose not to read the papers or listen to the news. Somehow I still get most of it from the ether. I still have 3 or 4 girlfriends who are also free queens of their own realms. I still don’t do graphs.

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Check In & Baggage Drop

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As I sat rocking on the bathroom floor, unable to stand from the agonising twists in my belly, sweating and pale and vomiting from pain, I knew that all I could do was sit with myself through the intense waves and know that they would pass and I would be OK. I couldn’t move from where I was, or do anything to stop the pain. At the points where I felt that I would pass out and perhaps I could not after all cope with the level of pain I was experiencing, I came to the conclusion that I had no choice but to cope. I was not in any danger just having intense sensation, and there was nothing I could do to change it in the moment so I just had to accept it and ride it out. Time was gone, the intense physical experience demanded my complete presence and filled the entirety of the moment. I just breathed and cried and surrendered.

September a month of much letting go – of old stories, traumas, delusions, dreams, attachments, plans, a home, a base, a lover. So much that comprised the little house of forms and ideas and assumptions and safety and comfort I had built around myself has gone this month. Much grief has been surfacing, rising in waves at inopportune moments, demanding my embodied presence. Perhaps predictably, I experienced the most intense bout of menstrual pain I think I have ever experienced as my womb released all it had been carrying. I could do nothing but bleed, cry, groan and allow the waves to pass through me, I could keep nothing down to numb the pain, my body gave me no choice but to feel it and let it be.

That night, after the physical pain had subsided, a wave of emotional pain passed through of similar magnitude. Grief, rage, fear, catastrophic aloneness, confusion and a sense of being totally at sea and disoriented took over my entire space. I wanted to do things to numb it. Play out patterns, reach out for reassurance to where I know I probably wouldn’t be met, chase delusions of intimacy, cling, adapt, try to make myself the right shape to fit into someone’s pocket, guess the right choices to be adored, surf social media, write angry poems, convince myself I don’t need anyone, find a valley to hide out in, do something else, anything else but feel it…

As I began to fear the feelings of desperation and loss would overtake me completely, feeling increasingly lost and disoriented and alone, I remembered my earlier experience and that all I had to do, was just to be there and feel my feelings, in all their overwhelming intensity, and know that they will pass and I will be ok. To know that they are releasing now because I am strong enough to allow myself to feel them. To know that my system is cleaning itself and nothing is amiss.

I can feel a deep swirling tide of emotion wanting to come through. It leaks over the breakwater every night. I have been busily lining up retreats for myself where I can get deep enough out into the countryside to let it rip, let it tear through. I feel a need to take myself deep into nature and solitude so I can roll around and roar it out like an injured animal hiding out to heal.

I remember this morning, vomiting from pain until there was nothing left in my stomach at all. In the end I was drawing up dark blue/green bile from the depths of my being, like nothing I’ve ever seen. I thought of the word bile, and of anger. I thought of how the liver holds repressed rage and grief. I knew this was coming from the deepest place in me, literally. I realised what was coming out of me, and why I had to let it go, and that I really needed to stop holding on. I remember saying to myself “ok I get it, I get what this is about….surely that is is it now, is that it ??” retching myself inside out as the biggest wave yet of pain racked my body…. And that was it. As abruptly as it had all started, the pain stopped. Just really stopped happening, the cramping stopped, the nausea stopped.

To end the month, we had a second new moon, known as the Black Moon, in Libra – the sign of balance and relationship. I decided to let go of the pain I was literally carrying around with me and continuing to relive again and again.

When I moved out of my home and bundled my belongings into storage, I decided on a whim to keep and carry with me some journals from a time in my life where I experienced major rejection, betrayal and a series of events which devastated my confidence and sense of self worth. To protect myself from this pain I had framed it for a long time as a series of valuable lessons in non-attachment and unconditional love. This is true, I learned alot about those things for which I am massively grateful, I also experienced a lot of trauma and pain. Which I could barely admit to myself let alone anyone else.

I felt attached to these journals and like they held so much that was of value and that it was important to hold onto these experiences. It felt so necessary to treasure all the pain as learning experiences. I felt like there was a story that held value and had to be told and never forgotten. Again, this is partially true. There has been much learning and there are stories to be told. I realised on this new moon, that I had brought these stories with me to release those that no longer serve. To let go of the pain, the anger, the self doubt. To keep only the gifts from those experiences and let the rest go.

So I sifted through them, page by page, feeling into each passage of writing for what it was carrying. Some carried hope, joy, a sense of expansion, enlightenment, love, clarity. They stayed. Some carried stories of my own smallness and the most magnificent giving away of all of my power. These went. Some carried raw pain, repeated on a loop, helpless, blinded, thrashing and frantic. These went too. Shredded by hand and gone from my space.

In a way these stories, and the anger and grief attached to them, were also forms of security. They were the structure around which I oriented my sense of self and the blueprint for relationship. They were not serving me well in either of these roles and it was a painful realisation.

With so much now gone, I face the void again. Knowing that the cave I fear to enter holds the treasure I seek, doesn’t make it any more enticing. Having been here before on such a precipice, wrestling with so much Unknown, surrendering so much to the flames, doesn’t make it feel any safer this time around.

“Our Descent starts with disillusion and ends with dissolution. There is no escaping the process, and it can be hard. The Descent is a time of helpless wandering, of grief, rage and alienation. There is no quick way through. But the destruction which takes hold of us is required to initiate us into the mysteries, to set in motion the long, difficult game of transformation. In staying with the dark, we gather the strength which we will need to find the way back to our path and to face the rest of the journey ahead of us. In that place of destruction, gestation and rebirth, we begin to learn the answer to the biggest question of all: if we strip away everything we are told we must be in the Wasteland, what is left? When everything we once valued is taken from us, what then do we become?” Sharon Blackie – If Women Rose Rooted: The Power of The Celtic Woman

Image: from a collection of photos by Jon Crispin of suitcases left behind by inmates of the Willard Asylum in New York