I’ve decided to dedicate August’s blog posts to women experiencing early midlife as I have so much material on the topic and I seem to be working with so many women going through the ups and downs of reaching midlife. Also, I assume that many of you are going through this stage of life and could use all the support and guidance you can get.
So to start us off, I will write about my reflections on becoming solidly situated in midlife myself, then in upcoming weeks I will share stories of women I interviewed about being in their forties, along with some recommended reading for those of us going through early midlife transitions. I hope you enjoy all of these articles and share them with other women who could use them. Also, I’d love to share your stories with my readers about this juicy time of life- send them to me anonymously at: estherATestherkane.com. Enjoy!
How Did I just turn 44? I thought I just turned 40!
I can’t believe I recently turned 44! It seems like just yesterday that I wrote this article: Dangling Over the Precipice of 40. That was five years ago! It is so true that life speeds up as we get older. Those past five years just zipped by! As I read over that article, I smiled to myself when I realized that I truly am enjoying the list of things I outlined which I hoped to be doing in my forties and that all my fears of being in my forties have literally disappeared and I’m happy to report that I am having the time of my life! I picked one goal from that article which I want to explore and emphasize here:
Letting go of painful things, which happened in my past in other words-more therapy!
Since hitting my forties, I underwent some intensive training in trauma therapy, which I am convinced I never would have done before reaching the age of 40. With the hard-earned wisdom of midlife now accessible to me, I understand, like never before, why we avoid facing certain things in our past until later in life. In short, I simply didn’t have the wisdom or tools to handle and process some horrible things I had experienced earlier in my life until my forties.
As a therapist, I have always known that I cannot help clients to explore or master any areas that I, myself, have not explored or mastered myself. And even though I had worked through the greater part of healing through a life-threatening eating disorder and could pass that wisdom on to other girls and women who still struggle with these issues, I was still blocked in some areas (as I probably am in others still).
And while I had a vast intellectual understanding of the trauma I had experienced, as well as the trauma of previous generations of women in my family (mostly related to the Holocaust), I hadn’t yet learned to integrate it into my felt experience (i.e., my body and emotions), process it, and then let it go. And for good reason- this was BIG STUFF and took my 40+ years to be able to finally access and work through. Here is where I feel the need to acknowledge and commend my mother, Marion Kane, food writer extraordinaire and unbelievably strong woman, for answering so many of my questions about the particular traumas which had been handed down to me from her and my grandmother, Ruth. For her amazing work in this area, please check out Mum and Me: How Hearing Her Holocaust Story Helped Me Heal Transgenerational Trauma- With A Happy Ending.
I was in the middle of my one-year trauma training when my mum was working on this piece with my granny, Ruth. I visited them both in London, England shortly after my mum conducted the interview with my granny. The day after I returned from that visit, I had another 3-day intensive stint of trauma training. What occurred when we started with the traditional, around-the-circle check-in shocked me- I had a complete emotional melt-down in front of 40 other therapists; my esteemed colleagues. I cried and shared that I had just spent a week with my 91-year-old grandmother, who for the first time in her life, shared her Holocaust story with us of escaping Latvia by train on the Siberian Railway with a few family members, followed shortly by the news of the mass murder of 32 of her relatives who did not escape.
While I had known the basic details of this story and had studied the Holocaust and what Jews went through at that time, I had never FELT the sensations in my body that went along with that head-based information. Nor had I ever accessed the emotions I felt that were attached to that knowledge.
I was both shocked and deeply relieved in that moment; surrounded by a huge group of compassionate and wise fellow therapists, when it all came together for me. That signalled the beginning of a huge wave of deep sadness and grieving for me and I was blessed enough to be able to share it with my mother, who was at the same time, going through her own grief around what had happened to her family. For the first time in my life, I could actually feel the horror of my own family being rounded up, shot and killed- all on one day. I could imagine, feeling it in my body for the first time, a tiny bit of what it may have been like to have been a 17-year-old girl on a train (my granny) escaping her own murder and headed to an unknown destination where she knew no one and spoke a completely different language.
I’m still processing this information, but now it’s not just on a cognitive level- it’s also including my emotions and my five senses; two other levels I had previously given much less attention to. What the trauma therapy training taught me was that I was mostly ‘living in my head’ and that this is a common survival strategy or coping mechanism learned in childhood. In fact, a therapist once asked me how I survived my family circumstances and childhood so well, and I easily offered: “I was an observer. Instead of seeing myself as part of a family, I distanced myself and observed them instead.”
This distancing emotionally from my family served me well for most of my life- until it didn’t. I’m guessing that many of you know exactly what I’m referring to. We seem to be bouncing along nicely through life, until we hit a bump in the road and can’t seem to get ourselves unstuck. Where I noticed I had become stuck was in my stance as ‘emotional distancer’, rather than ‘active participant’ in the world around me at large. While this kept me safe and protected as a child and teenager, it started to feel uncomfortable and restrictive in my forties. I realized that the downside to keeping my distance was that I had trouble reaching out and connecting with people I cared about. I became tired of being so individuated and self-reliant. It hit me one day that even though I was an incredibly strong and competent person, it was lonely going it alone and not needing others.
As I settle solidly into midlife, I am surprised to find myself not needing to be so “tough”, strong, and independent. I’ve even cried in front of a few trusted people, which is very new to me. Guess what? No buildings fell down around me and the sky didn’t fall either- imagine that! I’ve also picked up the phone on occasion and reached out to friends and family when I felt like I needed someone to listen and connect with- new behaviours indeed. Best of all, I now realize that I can lean on others and still be a strong person. Now that’s something to celebrate.