It’s just a nose ring.
I am on my way home from a four-day girls’ trip to Ghost Ranch, an education and retreat center in New Mexico, to celebrate my mother’s birthday with her, my sister, and four of her close friends. To call it a spiritual retreat would probably be a stretch, but I did manage to get in some reflection and emotional work. I napped, talked, listened, learned, wrote, worked (a little), hiked, painted, ate, laughed and cried. The days passed at a much slower pace than is typical for me and given that, I had more time to loosen the knot around some of the issues that are challenging me.
This trip was also the first time I’d seen my mom since I got my nose ring.
My decision to add a little bling to my face for my 48th birthday was met with varied reactions from those in my circle – disbelief, dismay, some eye rolls, and even some laughter. A friend of mine took in a dramatic deep breath and said, “Oh, Carmen! Don’t do that. Get a tattoo!” I got the very real sense that they feared I would regret the piercing at some point down the line. (But I wouldn’t regret a tattoo?) When my mom first noticed it a few minutes after she greeted me upon arrival at Ghost Ranch, she said, “Oh, you really are having a mid-life crisis. Hurry up and get it over with!” I think what she meant was, hurry up and get it over with before you do something more permanent that you’ll regret.
Brene Brown is spot-on when she writes, “to call what happens at mid-life a crisis is bullshit.” As she explains it, a crisis is an identifiable, controllable event with a distinct beginning and end. What happens to us at some point in our lives – not necessarily at what one would consider “mid-life” – is more of an unstoppable, uncontrollable, persistent and constant unraveling. Thank you, sister Brene, for this accurate description of what I and so many women have experienced.
For me, it started about six years ago. My professional life – at the time I was working as a contract attorney for a small firm – had no direction and held no promise. I was deep in the throes of parenting four elementary-aged girls with a partner who, in my opinion, had all but checked out. My health – both physical and mental – was suffering. And my marriage was on auto-pilot. I was numb, head to toe, internally and externally. Finally, in June of 2013, after having lived this way for several years, I hit a wall. Or, more accurately, wanted to drive my Honda Odyssey off a highway somewhere, never to return.
That was, as they say, the beginning of the end. The beginning of the end of life the way I’d been living it; in a fog, in survival mode, with unrealistic expectations, a constant disappointment to myself, below the radar, to fit in, to please others, to not rock the boat. And in that moment, I began to unravel.
We kind of expect things like piercings, tattoos, extreme hobbies, dramatic weight loss, staying out all night dancing and drinking at the bar, and sleeping around to signal some kind of a breakdown or “mid-life crisis.” Right? I mean, we’ve all seen it and more than likely we’ve sat around gossiping about it as if we had a front-row seat to someone’s personal train wreck. When a woman in our small school community went through it several years ago, I thought the same thing. First came the divorce, then the weight loss, then the extreme hobbies, hair color and style changes, piercings and tattoos. It was a textbook “mid-life crisis,” I thought.
But here is what I want to share with hindsight wisdom. This nose piercing is not a crisis. It is not a breakdown. And it isn’t the “unraveling” that Brene speaks of. More often than not, the unraveling happens behind closed doors. Out of view. When you’re sitting on a therapist’s couch. Through words on the page of your journal. When you’re staring at the reflection in the bathroom mirror wondering who that person is. When you’re curled up in a ball, sobbing on your living room floor. When you are mindlessly folding yet another load of laundry or standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes. When you call in sick and can’t get out of bed all day. When you’re on the phone with your mom or your sister or your best friend.
But once you have surrendered to it, once you have advanced through that process enough that you are at least stable, with your feet back under you, and you have cleared the path to your authentic self, you begin to live that way. You finally start to restore and honor that connection to your authentic self and become the person you were always supposed to be. And it feels really good. Scary, of course, because you are still, and always will be, in a constant process of coming undone and old habits die hard. But, yeah. It feels fucking good.
Much like the woman I described above, this piercing isn’t a breakdown. It’s a becoming. This is the real me. Some people may not like it and that is fine. I don’t happen to care for big hoop earrings, winged eyeliner, belly button piercings, and tattoos that are referred to as tramp stamps, but to each his own. After I debuted my nose piercing, several of those in my circle who had originally responded with question to my decision said, “I like it. It really looks like you.” I was describing this to a good friend who very astutely said, “Maybe they just didn’t really know you.” I think there is a lot of truth in that.
So here is to unraveling. To becoming. To living authentically. And to nose rings. I’m already planning my first tattoo.
With a whole lotta love,