On the other side of death (Part 3 of the “Transformation” Series)

Like most deaths, I didn’t want it. I fought against it tooth and nail. I fought against it until I couldn’t anymore. I fought against it until I found myself unable to get out of bed. I fought until I couldn’t fight anymore.

It started slowly. It was almost undetectable. My back was the first to go. The pain was subtle. It got progressively worse over the span of several years. Sometimes I would need to sit for a minute, to “take a load off.” Sometimes I would need to bend over and stretch. After a few years of ever-increasing pain, I had to stop teaching certain fitness classes. I was a fitness instructor. I had taught anywhere from 3 to 8+ classes a week, since 1998. I loved it. I was good at it. It was “who” I was.

I let go of the weight training classes first. My back still hurt. I let go of the cycling classes next. My reasoning was, “I was bending over on the bike.” Then the dance classes. “Maybe the hip movements and jumps were too much?” Then the step classes. “Maybe high impact wasn’t good?” Now, all I had left was the yoga-fusion class. My back still hurt. Bad. So I let go of the yoga class. This progression took over a year. Oh, and I had been going to PT and doing all the stuff I was “supposed” to do. Then my hips seized up. My PT worked with me for months, and we never figured out why it was happening or how to remedy it. On top of my chronic back pain, and frozen hips, I was getting more and more tired. Over the course of the next few months, I became so exhausted, that I was unable to get out of bed. If I did find enough energy to get out of bed, I would be “up” for an hour or two, until I found myself in bed again. This was my life for the next six months.

Let me introduce you to my first death: the death of my physical identity.

This was particularly upsetting, because I had started dancing at the age of 6, and had continued in one form or another until this year. At this point, I was 46. A huge part of my identity was that of a dancer, a mover of my body. It was how I expressed myself, how I created, how I interacted with the world.

It had been taken away from me. I was left literally broken, and asking myself, “Who am I?”

This was the first of my deaths. Over the course of the next six months, I experienced many more. I sat in despair as I watched all the aspects of myself that I had worked so hard for, cultivated, and nurtured, being stripped away one by one.

In this time, I experienced what some call a “crisis of belief”. Not once, but several times. I also found myself in another space. Some call it the “dark night of the soul.” Sometimes I wondered if I would survive.

I wouldn’t change this time in my life for anything.

Now I know. I know what I didn’t then. I know that my life was on the other side of these deaths. All these little deaths, that each felt so huge at the time. All these identities I was clinging to that felt so real. All the stories I had created about myself and who I was in the world.

On the other side of death, was all I had been longing for my whole life.

I was just like a caterpillar in a chrysalis. Not knowing or understanding what was happening to me. All I knew was that my insides were being liquefied. No one would have been able to convince me that I was going to turn into an amazing creature that could fly.

But I did.

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