Beliefnet
The Queen of My Self

Aging and changing might be inevitable, but it ain’t easy. It precipitates in us a great uncertainty. The myriad dramatic disturbances of modern middle life — menopause, health concerns, the empty nest, divorce, death, and career shifts — create an overwhelming crisis of identity and purpose for us. What follows is an intense period of questioning absolutely everything — our goals and achievements, our priorities and our operating systems, our morals and our values, our fears and our fantasies. Some of us spend a considerable amount of time — easily 10 or 15 years — swirling in the upheaval of this middle age reassessment. What exactly is our role as older than young and younger than old women who are still active and more effective than ever? Who are we supposed to be at this stage of our life when we are less likely to be bound and identified by our kinship connection to someone else — as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a lover?

This middling transitional shift into the next stage of our being promises us a vast world of positive possibilities for the second half of life. But, first, before we are able to avail ourselves of the advantages and rewards of maturity, we must cross the Grand Canyon of midlife change, steep, rocky, shaken, and ripped asunder by a whole panoply of seismic ripples — mental, emotional, and spiritual — beyond the obvious physical ones. We climb and climb, and still we lose ground. The earth that we once trusted to be solid under our feet is slipping away and we are dragged out to sea where we bob along in uncertain waters, in a leaky boat with no map.

In her book Goddesses in Older Women, the therapist Dr. Jean Bolen, says that menopause is “A time of great spiritual and creative unfolding — although it sometimes feels like great unraveling.” Unraveling, indeed. The whole damn sweater is falling apart and we are standing here naked in the cold (and we are still hot). Nothing has prepared us for this landslide of transitions that greets us as we enter our middle years. There we were, going along as always, then one day out of the blue, we discover ourselves to be middle aged. Blindsided in a youth-conscious culture, we never saw it coming, but the overwhelming evidence of our aging can hardly be ignored.

The profound changes in the chemistry of our bodies and in our intimate relationships, the terrifying disruptions of our status quo, the daily life-and-death dramas, are incredibly disorienting. Not only are we burning up physically, blasted with flashes from our out of control internal furnace, we are also, many of us, burnt out on an emotional level after years of tending the home, the hearth, and usually a job as well. Society tells us, and our own experiences have verified, that we will lose now that we are menopausal, everything that has so far defined us: our power of reproductively, our youth, our sex appeal, our children, our parents, our spouses, our time left on the job, our very visibility. This grim prognosis is frequently internalized by midlife women as loss of direction, motivation, enthusiasm, and self-esteem, our fear, our grief, expressed as confusion, depression, and furious rage.

The relentless bombardment of losses that batters us in every area of our lives effectively strips us of any unrealistic, immature confidence that we once might have had that we were safe in an unchanging and dependable world. We were shielded by our youthful sense of indestructibility as well as by our notoriously death-defying culture. We now understand, because we have lived it, that nothing and no one stays the same forever, that all things must end sometime, that shit, does indeed, happen. We have seen what we have seen. This rude lesson is brought home, more often than not, on the wings of death. When our parents sicken and die, they leave us standing alone on the last rung of the ladder of life and we cannot help but notice that we will be next to kick up our heels in the ancestral conga line. It is also common for us to start losing our husbands, friends, and contemporaries now, which forces us with a mighty shove to confront our own fragile mortality.

Our watch sports a much larger face these days — not only because we have trouble seeing it, but because we are uncomfortably aware of time running out. In a flash, we see that life has been moving along without us for quite some time now. We just weren’t paying attention. We were busy, distracted by our responsibilities, lulled and dulled by our routines and addictions, deluded by denial. And, lo, before we realized what was happening, we had reached, no, probably bypassed, the halfway mark of our lives. From now on, we swear, we will make every precious second count. …

 

To Be Continued… Part 2 will be posted on Wednesday, February 11.

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

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