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nurturing tender emergence after the deep winter of our menstruation
If we are to look at menstruation as winter, ovulation as summer and the pre-menstrual time as autumn, then spring represents the first few days following menstruation. The energy of this phase might also have resonance for women coming back from other profoundly embodied rites of passage such as menarche, birth and menopause. In fact, in Chinese medicine the time following menopause is referred to as a woman’s ‘second spring’ as she is re-born into later life following the mid-life passage.
Reclaiming my inner spring
When I first began to track my cycle I had no awareness of an inner spring. The days leading up to my bleed had always been difficult for me, but by honouring the ‘winter’ stage of my cycle I began to make space to meet some of these deeply suppressed emotions. Winter offered me a sense of homecoming. A time where I could go inside and fully connect to my true self. A connection that seemed difficult during other phases of my cycle.
After menstruation I would burst out of my cocoon and head straight for summer, completely by-passing my spring. I had started to rest and pay attention during my bleed, but I had not yet learned to value this as a rich, fertile and sacred space. Instead I would bounce back into life with a sense of urgency and a longing to make up for lost time, as I saw it. Tearing headlong into summer brought me closer to what craved. Here, as the endlessly productive and giving woman, I gained the outer approval I so desperately longed for to mask my deeply wounded and fragile sense of self. It was an addictive pattern of boom and bust, and each month I found myself catapulting between these two polarities.
Through becoming more intimate with my cycle, I began to reclaim my inner spring, discover my own relationship to it and understand the space I needed to inhabit to support myself best during this time. A key part of this was re-visiting my maiden years including my menarche (first bleed) and feeling into how things were for me as an emerging young woman. Paying greater attention to my body and emotions at this tender time helped me connect more deeply with the enormity of what had happened during that stage of my life.
As an emerging young woman I had experienced too much, too young. I was adopted at birth and between the ages of 11 and 17 my adoptive family completely fell apart. I’d been mothered by a depressed, alcoholic adoptive mother who was unable to care for me in the away I needed. After divorcing her husband she’d had enough, so sent me to live with my aunt until they figured out what to do next. For a short while, I went to live with my adoptive father before he and my stepmother decided I would go into foster care. This was the lowest point in my life and in amongst an unsettled home life I suffered depression, a failed suicide attempt, my first blood, my first sexual encounter and experienced shame for my changing body. Then, after a subsequent, brutal sexual experience I found myself, at the age of 17, living with a man 10 years older than me, a skewed father figure who’s possessive, controlling behaviour I initially found comforting. Finally someone was paying attention. And that was good enough for me.
It was a painful time on so many levels and once I’d allowed myself to feel into this I began to see clearly why I would skip swiftly over this stage of my cycle. As a young woman I was never truly able to inhabit my spring. There was no container for me to safely feel into my vulnerability and this laid the groundwork for a twisted relationship with my own vulnerability for most of my adult life.
Working with my menstrual cycle as a map for self-healing, I’m learning that it’s never really as simple as just meeting these feelings and allowing them to dissolve. Healing in this way is cyclical. First comes the awareness, the emotions, the unexpressed words and embodied expressions and then, we have the opportunity to practice a new relationship with ourselves based on this insight. Uncovering new layers each time. Going deeper. And deeper. Each cycle offers the opportunity to practice new ways of being and relating, over and over again.
I’m grateful that I am now more able to fully inhabit my spring. Sometimes I still have to catch myself so I don’t just run headlong into summer, but it’s coming. I am discovering power of being seen and held in my vulnerability and the things I need to do to create a safe container for myself at that time. It’s a time of tenderness where I treat myself with great care. Honouring my emerging, fragile self and nurturing the budding potential I see for new growth. I embrace my inner maiden and am careful about how I use my energy and what I expose myself to. I experience a vulnerability, sensitivity and subtlety that I now actively cultivate and nurture, so being in a space where I don’t feel the need to shut down is crucial. I choose to be surrounded by advocates over critics, inviting relationships that support and nourish me as my tender new shoots push from beneath the soil and reach fearlessly towards the light.
Written in 2018 and initially published in AEVA magazine.