When I Claim All of My Space


nichole forbes -when i claim all of my space-3

I’m a big gal. I’ve always been.

I’ve not always loved this body, so I settled for ignoring it. I stopped thinking about my body. I stopped looking at it, feeling it, moving it, seeing it. I stopped living in my body and just lived through it–mostly, because I had no choice. I couldn’t get away from this body. I couldn’t escape it, so I pretended it didn’t matter to me. I pretended it wasn’t part of who I really am.

There were moments where I felt fully alive in my body. Moments where I felt strong and connected and invincible. Moments where I felt so fully human and grounded. Those moments are like snapshots in my memory. Those moments seem so unreal, as if I was looking at someone else’s life. But those moments tell the story of who I am, in this body.

I was 19 and participating in a swimming challenge. The lake water was frigid in early May, but I swam a kilometer in my part of the relay. I remember feeling my heart beat in my ears, my arms ache in fatigue and my lungs near the point of explosion when I crossed the finish line. I remember being so impressed with my body, so proud of the work it had done that day.

I was 26 and I was feeling every shift and stretch and strain of labor. Delivering my daughter without the help of an epidural was not my plan but there I was, doing it. I remember feeling my water break and feeling my girl slide from my body, as if riding the wave. I fell back on the bed and took inventory of my body. Every cell was alive, humming with effort and strain. My arms felt heavy and my legs were shaking. I was utterly spent, yet eager to stand, to move, to feel the weight of me on my own two feet. I felt invincible.

I was 31 and my body was betraying me. I could feel life slipping from me and I was helpless to make it stop. I felt hollow and robbed and useless. I was losing a second child to miscarriage–my second child in a year–and I could feel emptiness consume me. I could feel my body ebb as my womb contracted to expel the life I so desperately wanted to hold. I was letting go of life, hers and mine. I closed my eyes and felt my heartbeat slow. I was fading with her and I was okay with that.

I was 36 and I survived. Cancer-free. Those were the words that my doctor offered to me. I was bald, scarred, pale and frail, but I had survived. Radiation had made my skin die and slough off, but I was alive. Chemo had diminished my lung capacity and heart function, but it could not steal my life force. I was a survivor. Cancer tried to take me out, but this fragile, invincible, ridiculous, beautiful body had saved me. I had saved me.

Nearly dying woke me up to really living. I struggle to find words for this, but something happened to me in the years between when I wanted to die, but didn’t, and when I thought I might die, but lived. In those years, my body refused to be ignored.

Every time I heard something that touched my soul, my body would respond. Each time I tasted the rich, the savoury, the sweet goodness, my body would respond. Any time I felt the cool breeze off the water, the breath of my son’s whisper tickling my ear, the brush of my husband’s hand across my back, my body would respond. Whenever I saw the sunset against the great, big, prairie sky or the way the wheat danced in the fields on a windy day or how my son always took his sister’s hand when they crossed the road to school, my body would respond. My body was alive and she wouldn’t let me forget it.

My heartbeat would increase, my breath would catch, my eyes would tear up, my cheeks would flush. My body would respond as if to remind me that this is what living really is. I wasn’t just experiencing moments, I was living them, wholly–mind, soul and body.

This wasn’t necessarily a welcomed awakening. I was still big. I still felt clumsy, conspicuous and like I took up more than my allotted space in the world. I was alive, but I tried to live small. I had thoughts and feelings and opinions, but I kept them small. I felt I couldn’t do anything about the amount of space my body took up, but I could contain my voice … I should contain my voice. I felt like I had to contain whatever parts of me I could, for the comfort of others.

But the more alive I felt, the less contained I could be.

As I allowed myself to be fully alive in this body—to feel and move and be—I could not contain the rest of me. I could not stop myself from using my voice to give life to the thoughts and feelings and opinions that lived with me in this body. I couldn’t live less-than once my body had forced me fully awake.

So, here I am.

This is me.

I am 42 and I am connected to this body. I feel her move and breathe and love and dance. Yes, dance! I make snow angels and sprawl out on the lounger in the sun. I wear bathing suits AND have my picture taken in them. I play basketball with my kids and walk in charity walks. I ride a bike and laugh til I cry. I let my husband touch me—touch all of me—without shame or shudder. I hold my loved ones in my ample arms and let them rest their heads against my full breasts. I look at me. I live in this body. I feel this body. I am this body and this heart and this mind and this soul. I am all of this.

I say the words, write the words, speak the truth that lives in me. I fill this mind that feeds my soul. I stand in this body and in these truths. I feel my heart pound as my voice shakes when I speak up, when I claim my space, all of my space. My palms sweat and I feel light headed when I speak out, but I speak out anyway.

And then I exhale. Relief floods over me and I feel alive, invincible, seen and heard. By me. I see me. I feel me. I am not ignored by me anymore.

I am alive.