Earlier this week was my birthday, my 40th birthday, in fact. I spent it (and the days before and after it) mostly huddled on the couch with stomach cramps, interspersed with frequent runs to the bathroom. I got a delightful birthday present of intestinal flu. I would not say it was pleasant or fun. But I also would not say it wasn’t good. In fact, one moment in particular stood out to me, when I was wrapped in a blanket, trying many different positions to find the one that felt least uncomfortable for my belly, my cheek pressed against a couch cushion and my brain too foggy to really process complex sentences, and the thought floated through my head… I am happy right now.
Yes. It felt true. And I knew why I was feeling that way, too. It was because I could feel myself being loved by myself. Somehow I could feel all of these tiny little actions as coming from a loving place in myself, a place that loves me and wants to take care of me and wants me not to suffer any more than I have to. And while this is not a BRAND new sensation, it’s still not something I’m super accustomed to – the inner sense of wanting myself to thrive, of wanting myself to be happy, of believing that those things are ok and possible and worth going for.
Here are a few of the things that felt like love to me:
- Making and drinking a cup of warm ginger lemon tea in my very favoritest rainbow mug.
- Canceling exercise plans (multiple times) when I could clearly hear my body telling me that rest, not activity, was what it needed – and not beating myself up for not sticking to my schedule.
- In fact, clearing my schedule of all but the most necessary commitments, which included rescheduling a piano lesson and postponing a social engagement and deciding to skip a class I’d been excited about pushing myself to attend – and feeling a big THANK YOU arising like an exhale from my inner being.
- Moving my body gently and with tenderness. Allowing myself to just rest, in bed, on the couch, on the recliner, wherever felt the best, without needing to think, without needing to consume entertainment. Many times, as I wrapped my arms around a pillow (or ok who am I kidding, around a stuffed animal, of which I have several) I really felt myself being held in my own embrace, and I felt really, sincerely loved.
- When I was wanting spiritual nutrition, reading a book of poems by Kay Ulanday Barrett (a birthday present from my mom – thank you!!). They write about queerness, marginalization, disability, and also deliciousness and history and warmth and love, and their work is deeply nourishing, and it felt like love to give myself space and time to swim in the ocean of their words.
- Noticing the things that felt like too much stimulation: the fan, the noise from outside, the sunlight, the movie I tried to watch. Turning them off, closing the window, moving to a quieter spot.
This self love has been a lot about permission, permission to let myself do the things that my inner wisdom said were best for healing, even when they conflicted with external standards of productivity. This self love also felt like a quality of being: so that when I lay down to rest, I could feel myself placing my body with care and respect, wishing to make it as comfortable as possible – as I would for someone I loved.
Which kinda implies that maybe I am someone I love.
Turning 40 is a whole archetype and stuff. As it happened, this birthday celebration looked a lot (a LOT) different from how I imagined it might, back when I was turning 38 and 39, and not just because I hadn’t planned on having the flu. I had a lot of painful feelings come up about the changes of the past year. Heartbreak resurfaced with intensity, and tears came plentifully. (The phrase “ugly crying” is apropos here.) My brain had certain ideas about what was going to make my birthday meaningful (aka, a “plan”)… but my heart and my body both said, nope, what we’re gonna be doing is bringing up all the shit, and feeling how shitty it feels, and then releasing it.
And it was ok. And even though I didn’t exactly ENJOY it (the emotional parts, in particular, were tinged at times with shame), it felt like a pretty fitting way to move through this decade-portal. Because it’s what I have to learn to do, on smaller and larger scales, all the time: feel pain. And let it go. And feel it again. And keep letting it go.
And allowing that to just be what it is, allowing this to be the perfect birthday after all, also feels – like love.