I haven’t felt the internal pull to write and share my innermost self with a wider audience in so long. Maybe I’ve felt too tender, maybe I needed the space, maybe I was fulfilled with sharing my innermost with the people closest to me and in the spaces I hold for clients. I’m not sure exactly the reason. Today though, I feel that pull.
Last year I lost my friend Brenda. She was in the deep, early stages of grieving her son Thomas who died by suicide just over a year before. We weren’t everyday friends, but I helped raise Thomas in my daycare, our boys had been best friends, we bonded over beers, laughed at how we both felt inferior to each other for being a “better” mother and in particular connected through the vulnerability of loss and grief. I loved Thomas too and throughout preschool and elementary, I wiped tears from his eyes, told him how wonderfully kind he was to be such a good friend to the younger children in my care and cuddled him when he was hurt. I was his emergency contact, and I’ll never forget how my heart stopped the moment the school called to tell me he died. I’ll never forget Brenda collapsing into me inside her back door, with Thomas’ shoes still lined up on the mat ready to be put on. I’ll never forget the pain in my children’s eyes and holding my daughter Selam up as she struggled to stay in her body at his funeral.
I checked in with Brenda regularly after Thomas died and connected her to a suicide support group for grieving parents. That wonderful group became an absolute lifeline for her and, in my view, was the one place where she felt 100% understood in her grief. Still, I worried about her a lot. Thomas was her only child and I didn’t know a mom who loved their child more than she did. Brenda loved seeing my son Mateyo, loved talking about the times she’d taken him and Thomas to the Exhibition, or to their farm and how happy they were together. When she hugged Mateyo, I could see in her closed eyes that her hands reaching up around the shoulders on his tall, lithe body reminded her of hugging Thomas. I could see how it hurt her to let go.
We found Brenda on the cold floor of her bathroom one day in May, after she hadn’t responded to texts for 48 hrs. She’d been there, still alive in body but not in soul, for nearly 2 days after suffering a brain aneurism. Sweet Brenda who had devoted her life to her only child Thomas for 17 years and who would do anything for anyone, was gone. I remember standing on her front lawn with the paramedics taking her away thinking how in this moment so many things that had seemed important, just didn’t matter at all. Facebook didn’t matter. What people think of me didn’t matter. Being successful didn’t matter……
The first weeks after her death, I thought I was going insane. I’d never felt like that before. I couldn’t handle what I felt. The injustice of it. The pain of seeing her like that. The reality of her being alone for hours and hours in that state. I wanted to rip my skin off. Slowly, the pain eased and, miraculously it seemed, I started to feel okay again. I was sad, but I could be in my skin, and I was okay. The image of her curled up and soiled on the bathroom floor didn’t leave me though. I couldn’t help but think that even if I kept on living the rest of my life in service to others — my clients, my children — that I could still end up alone, dying on a cold bathroom floor too. If so much doesn’t matter, then what does matter? Like a curious observer, I stepped back and took stock of my life. I saw that I’d been running for years since my divorce, working several jobs to both cover up my guilt at ending my marriage, and make enough money to support my kids on my own. I don’t know if working that much helped the guilt, but I could see that I was able to support them and I might not need to work so hard. What was the cost on me? Was it enough for me to end up on my bathroom floor alone too? Did I want to work this much?
Slowly I started making changes by cutting back my hours at my job as an ADHD Coach and creating space for my Counseling practice, which provided enough income that I didn’t need to run myself into the ground. Why hadn’t I done that before? I’d been too busy creating self suffering in an attempt to alleviate guilt. Wasn’t being a mom all about sacrificing yourself? I started setting really firm and clear boundaries with my clients, children, friends. I quickly realized that I no longer wanted to work that job at all and started making a plan to quit. I hired a Coach and went to therapy to help me unravel the strings of guilt and self-punishment that were so deeply ingrained in me. When I became a mother, I did so because I wanted children more than anything else in the world. AND, I was afraid of facing myself and the other things I wanted for my life. I didn’t know I could have both. Motherhood was the ultimate way to sacrifice myself.
I kept going. My grief fueled me to do hard inner work. The layers of exoskeleton that had been removed through the past 7 years of stepping into vulnerability, uncovered a deeper set of layers. Layers over my innermost self, the part of me that isn’t just interested in meeting the needs of others. The me that has dreams of my own. I realized I was tired of how much work Bodysex retreats were and that I no longer wanted to do them in such a laborious way. I LOVED the circle of sharing, I loved the weekends with women, I loved how I grew and felt seen from them and I loved sharing pleasure. I didn’t love all the work before and after though. Maybe it didn’t need to be so hard….. I stopped offering workshops in Saskatoon and continued in Quebec where I had support with all the marketing, advertising, retreat supplies and food. I quit my job and made the decision to only Counsel clients 3 days a week and devote the other 2 days to something my innermost self was passionate about — writing a book. My work blossomed. The moment I quit my job (and I mean literally the moment), I had more than enough clients to fill my days and then some. Since then I have created a daily practice centering around myself and my passions — self-care, connection, health, pleasure and my work which involves all of that!
My days include space in between sessions so that I can ground and centre and think of the next person coming before they pass through my door. I say no to working weekends. I devote 4 evenings a week to going to the gym and 2 days a week to pilates – because my body feels great when I create space for it. I eat really healthy food, I drink wine, I walk every morning, devote time to enjoying pleasure, laughing and connecting with people I love. I can’t bring myself to advertise my work when I already have enough and don’t want or need to be bigger, more well known, get more likes or have more followers. I’m deeply grateful for what I have, and I just want to live my life from the innermost part of myself. I’ve noticed that in the space I’ve created, I’m closer to my mom, my sisters, my children. I’m more generous because I’m not running on empty ready to crash the moment I stop. I have space throughout my day to pause and feel and enjoy the moments.
I often wish I could tell Brenda how much she inspired me. How much I saw myself in her, how much I think of her in all the work I do, how much of an impact she has made on my life. After Thomas died, she told me that she could see her own pain every time she looked in the eyes of the homeless. She made a point to always look at them and had plans to devote her time to working with the homeless. I wish I could tell her that I saw myself in her too. In her loving devotion to her son, her outward care of others and in how she died. I know that could be me too. That could be any of us. That reflection changed me, and I’m forever grateful to her for helping me create space in my life for what matters. Spending time with people I love, smelling the lilacs first bloom in Spring, allowing others to care for me, the space to be present and ME.
In loving memory of Brenda and Thomas Schoor
**Inspired by a breast cancer survivor I worked with, who asked me to share with other cancer survivors how I helped her accept her body again. I helped her in much the same way I helped myself, so here’s my story.
I started hating my body was when I was a teenager. My legs were too big and muscular, my breasts didn’t touch together like the women in magazines, and I knew I hated my vulva without even looking at it. I found ways to hide these things by wearing pants all year round, using my arms to push my breasts together during sex (yes I’m serious) and never looking at my vulva. As the years passed and I became a mother, I added a cesarean scar from 4 births and endless stretch marks that made my skin wrinkled to my “hate list.” I hated my body.
One day, while touching one of my five children, I wondered what he felt receiving touch that stemmed from a source that I loathed. Sliding my hands over his perfect little body, I wondered if he felt the love in my heart for him or, if he could feel my hatred of the body it came from. Worse yet, did it feel sourceless like tea pouring from an empty pot? There’s nothing I love more than my children and I wanted them to feel that love in every touch of my hand. So, I decided to try bringing the love I felt for them — towards myself, and see if I could fill up my own tea pot. If I could do that, I would be confident in the love they were receiving from my touch.
Making the decision was one step but the question of how to find love for my body when I hated it, was another. I thought of all the ways I showed my children love by looking at them, touching them softly and offering them kind and loving words. So (with the term “fake it til you make it” in my head) I imagined I was touching someone else I cared about, and slowly began to touch my body. It was really difficult at first — excruciating actually — and often brought me to tears. I’d avoided my body for so long and now here it — no she — was and the depth of how little I knew her and how much I’d rejected her, was right in my face. With commitment, I touched her everyday and started to remember the stories of the scars and stretch marks and other remnants of journeys I’ve been on.
Lines on my face reminded me of the sun in Kenya and all the beautiful relationships I had there. “Thank you my body.”
The loose skin on my belly reminded me that it was the first home for four of my children and I wondered about the belly of the mama who birthed my 5th child. “Thank you my body. Thank you Selam’s birth mamas’ body.”
I felt my cesarean scar and the lack of nerve endings across it. Slowly, finger by finger, I replaced the shame of my body not working properly to birth my children, with compassion for what my body went through to bring me 4 of my children. What a journey we’ve been through and you’re still here carrying me. “Thank you my body.”
Years later, I discovered I had thyroid cancer and the tumor, along with my right thyroid, was removed and there was a new scar with new feelings of shame. What had I done or not done to make myself get cancer? What am I doing now that could make it happen again? Why me? Why has my body failed me? Thinking again of my children and imagining how much love I would give them if they had cancer or a scar, and how I’d feel even more love for that part of them — I gave that to myself. I touched my neck gently and expressed appreciation for helping me find my voice that had been silent for so long. I spoke to her and under my touch, felt her soften.
“I see you and I know you’re here even if some of you is missing. Thank you my body”
It’s been 12 years from that first time I touched myself, and now I know my body so well. She’s my best friend. She’s honest with me when I eat something that doesn’t feel right for her and she’s taught me that she likes to be seen and validated and loved too. Sometimes I get caught in the trap of comparing her to others or of wishing she looked different, and I just come back to her and how she feels under my fingers and the stories she’s carried me through. When I do this, I can’t help but love her. Thinking of how I love my loved ones unconditionally, I remind her of all the ways I love her unconditionally. I love her scars and stretch marks, the thyroid still here and the one that’s gone, and her beautiful vulva. I tell her that she’s made perfectly and that I wouldn’t want her any other way, and with my touch and my words, I feel her soften under my fingers. “Thank you my body”
Today, when I touch someone else, I don’t doubt that they feel the source of this love coming through each of my fingers. With this love, I filled my own tea pot.
The more Bodysex® workshops I do, the more I’m reminded how far I’ve come since I started this journey nearly 7 years ago. For the first several years, each workshop brought about massive shifts in me — as if I was literally digging up a proverbial pile of steaming, hot, shit from deep inside myself and hauling it out to look at and take apart. Sometimes I’d feel rejuvenated for weeks after and, sometimes completely raw and wiped out. As time went on —I learned that I always survive the vulnerability of this excavation — and I started to notice things feeling lighter and easier. The big, old pile of shit got smaller and smaller leaving only remnants of shit to scrape up — shit that comes from no longer having these old burdens to weigh me down. Shit that arises from feeling so aligned with myself and my values that it feels impossible to follow my old way of pleasing others or accommodating myself to fit into what I think others want of me. Getting rid of that massive pile of shit, makes me ask myself “If I’m not looking for others approval as my guide to what’s right and wrong for me: What is actually right and wrong for me? What are my values?”
This past weekend in Quebec Bodysex® , I noticed remnants of my old pile of shit — particularly around shame in pleasure. Much of my work revolves around pleasure and mostly I know I have a right to it and I exercise that right all the time. I don’t feel shame in masturbation, pleasure with my partner, fantasy etc. however, I can see that I still have societal conditioning around where it’s appropriate and how that’s tied into the ways I imagine others view me. As we sat down for lunch on the first day of the workshop, one woman said “pleasure is reason enough.” I have probably said that 100 times before but hearing it from her really made me wonder if I actually believe it in all areas of my life. Cognitively yes I do, but do I know it with my whole heart and soul? Do I align with that in my life? Am I still caught in what others would think of me if I enjoy things solely for pleasure or if I actually seek things out for pleasure? We explored this idea a lot throughout the workshop through fantasy, juicy stories from our lives and self pleasuring together. Those all felt very safe and comfortable for me because they fit in to what is already authentically aligned within me.
Raised in a Christian home by a minister who felt shame for pleasure, I think (as is true for many of us) shame has been passed down in my lineage. I feel shame to share that I’m going on a trip to Mexico with my family this winter (and that I’m really excited!), or to want a glass of wine on Friday night. I don’t feel shame in doing those things, I feel shame in wanting them because they’re pleasurable — like wanting things for pleasure is somehow wrong. I can feel shame that my touch at times might feel pleasurable to a client I’m working with in Intimacy Coaching, or that I might feel pleasure in their touch. On further reflection, I don’t feel shame that pleasure happens, I feel shame if I enjoy it.
Reflecting on my beautiful weekend in Quebec, and pondering all of this as I write, I can almost hear the metal shovel scraping the ground under this pile of shit. The pile isn’t big, these beliefs aren’t strong anymore, I know that pleasure heals and to feel it means I am present and alive and open and none of that is wrong — even though most of my life I was too shut off to feel it. I am alive and open to feel with my Bodysex® sisters, in dedicated time with my family, in sessions with my clients and in beautiful intimacy with my partner. I find it ironic that breaking down my conditioning has allowed me to be present enough to feel an enjoyment for pleasure itself and, that it’s in that very thing, that I feel the most shame.
Thank you to my Bodysex® sisters who’s unconditional love and acceptance helped me to get rid of a bit more of my shit and remind me that Pleasure is reason enough.
With love to:
Blossom, Wildy, Mangue Juteuse, Cock Licker, Heart, Mystery, Fantasia, Anahata, Rose, Happy Flower, Sunda, Papillon
For anyone who wonders what a Bodysex® experience can be like, or about what I do and why it means so much to me, ….. here is a powerful testimonial from a woman who was in the circle with me this month in Quebec.
I have one spot left open in Bodysex® Saskatoon Nov. 26-28.
“My challenge for the weekend was to free myself from my blockages in relation to pleasure and to reconnect with my body and its beauty, my beauty. I got naked, both physically and emotionally, in front of the magnificent group of women that we were. Still, that wasn’t the hardest part for me. It is rather to look at myself fully, straight in the soul and in the heart. Not just telling my story and the reasons why I had come to dislike my body, but rather looking at myself from within, in order to dust off and let the light in. There, I found love for myself, admiration and wonder for my body which carried life and which can now create differently. There, I found the desire to surrender to pleasure rather than get rid of it because of the fear of losing my balance. I reconnected with my senses and my inner joy. I was able to say “I am a woman in a sexual body and I have the right to pleasure”. By saying this sentence, I have freed myself from a socially accepted view of the female body and the stifling of its power. I chose to respect myself and name my wants and needs rather than accept everything with the fear of hurting. I also learned to love my vulva, despite or rather thanks to its difference. Natasha has helped a lot in this process, because she knows how to put us at ease.
A week after the workshop, I still feel beautiful, inside and out. I feel powerful, alive and grateful. I really needed this workshop, this feeling of deep and authentic connection with other women. Each of them came to enlighten a part of me through their shared experience. I found it so beautiful to feel that despite our sometimes very different life stories, we were all linked by similar aspirations and challenges. I recommend to all those who hesitate to participate in the Bodysex workshop to dare step out of their comfort zone and dive into the pleasure zone! No matter what level the job needs to be done, the weekend will take you in leaps and bounds towards greater happiness and better self-knowledge. I could go on and on talking about the workshop…I am so deeply grateful for Natasha and Marika for having led it by goddesses hands. Thank you for offering this space of transformation and liberation. Thank you for everything!”
I hate advertising. I don’t say hate very often, but I really do. I feel like advertising is for selling products that we could mostly do without, but need to convince others they need. I don’t think of advertising in regards to connection, sisterhood, love, acceptance, freedom, pleasure or safety. Yet twice a year I have to do something to “promote” Bodysex® and every time it feels wrong. I prefer to write my stories, to share my experiences and to express what a gift it has given me to not think I have to be someone else’s idea of a woman in order to love and accept myself.
I scrolled through my pictures trying to find one that encapsulates Bodysex® and ones of myself where I feel sooo beautiful, make-up free and alive stood out – as well as the ones where I’m naked with other women. I hesitated about posting this one because before Bodysex® it would have scared the shit out of me. It’s not what you have to do to attend, it doesn’t always happen, but it kind of expresses the freedom of not holding back. A group of women, wet from their own sweat and juices, holding each other post pleasure. A sexual situation, but we aren’t being sexual with each other. It just felt so normal and I like to think women have been doing this since forever, and that it always felt as normal as it can feel in Bodysex®
Bodysex® is done in the nude but it’s more nude than just taking off your clothes. We bare our souls – if we choose to – we open our vulvas and let each other see into our sacred selves, we pleasure ourselves side by side. After Bodysex® it feels weird to wear clothes and I (atleast) feel absolutely phenomenal in my body. I forget that sexy is supposed to have a certain body type and I just. fucking. rock mine. I feel like my pussy is so beautiful that I wish I could be wheeled around town in a cart so others could see it. My pussy isn’t any more beautiful than anyone else’s, I just stop thinking it has to be any other way. Thats how powerful Bodysex® is.
Times like covid, where I haven’t seen many real naked women, and I haven’t displayed my pussy for a group of sisters in a long time, I can start to wonder if I’m still beautiful. This freaks me out and I wonder if I’ve lost it…. Yet I know that as soon as I see another bare bum jiggling around in front of me, and the same rolls on a belly and the loving, accepting eyes of a woman I didn’t really know before, I will remember that I am. I see it in them and they see it in me. We all are.
These past couple of years, I’ve become very acquainted with the gifts and limitations of my wounds and how to tell the difference between the two. Helping or loving anyone from a wounded place can result in support that is either unhelpful or damaging. As parents, healers, ministers, helpers, therapists or support persons we don’t need to be unwounded to help others — we just need to have an intimate and honest relationship with our wounds so that it’s clear to everyone involved, who we are trying to “help.” I compare this to getting to know a lover. Seeking to know them inside and out — their strengths, depths, triggers and potential go-to behaviours when they (or I) just. want. to. stop. the. bleeding.
While I learned about all of this through counselling classes and other trainings I’ve done, the greatest teacher for me has been through my intimate relationships. Nothing matters to me as much as my children, partner, family and friends do, and yet — no other area of my life touches my wounds as much as they do. Because of this, I’ve learned to recognize the dysregulation in my body when my wounds have opened, to slow down, pause and be present to what is actually real in the moment.
There are 2 memories that stand out as for me as vivid reminders of what my wounded vs. unwounded help looks and feels like. In one — I’m standing at my eldest sons door, trying to help him grieve and find a reason to keep going after losing his friend from suicide. He keeps saying “don’t yell at me” and I can’t understand why he’s saying this when I’m not raising my voice at all. Only later do I realize that what he was feeling, was that my support (while good intentioned) was from a desperate place of fear that I’m going to lose him too, rather than from a place of present listening to him and what he actually needed from me.
The second memory happened a year and a half later — I’m holding in my arms a friend and mother who lost her son to suicide only a few days earlier. As she sobs, I feel the bones in her spine under my fingers, smell the shampoo in her hair and see her sons’ shoes on the porch floor under our feet. The difference between the 2 memories of myself is: grasping, desperation vs. generous, loving presence.
Since then, I use these memories as a reminder that when I’m helping anyone, there are 2 choices I can make — like 2 doors to open in my heart.
There are 2 doors in my heart — each with a sign on them that says “helping.” Apart from the signs, the doors look very different.
One is like those old saloon doors that have no handle and swing open without warning or thought to who is on the other side. Beyond the swinging door, the ground drops away immediately so that as soon as I step in — as fast as the door swings open — I fall into a big pit of gooey tar. There is no bottom to the pit and once in it, I have to tread tar to stay up. The tar is sticky and heavy and I have to not only tread fast enough to stay up, but also to keep it from hardening around me. Glancing around the tar pit I notice what I hadn’t noticed before — that the person I was trying to help, is in here treading tar with me. It’s difficult to see them for who they truly are in here — someone hurting and needing support while also fully capable of surviving this pain. All I can see is both of us, desperately trying not to drown in the tar while their eyes plead with mine to save them. This door represents the wounded part of me that when triggered, can’t always tell my wound from another’s in this pit.
The other door in my heart is wooden with a large stain glass window in it and I can tell from the way the colours in the glass sparkle onto my face and chest that there is a lot of light on the other side. This door is made with such obvious care that I can almost imagine whomever made it, hand planing and sanding it until it was smooth to touch. The handle is one that needs to be turned in order to open the door and as I reach down to turn it I’m present to every sensory detail I see and feel. Being so well cared for, this door makes me feel present, loving and generous before I even open it. Turning the handle and gently easing the door forward, I can see the person on the other side standing on the grass with light glowing around them. I notice the deep pain in their eyes, the quiver in their lip and the dysregulation in their chest as they breathe. When I reach out to hug them I smell the faint scent of soap in their hair and feel the bones in their spine with my fingertips. I am as present as humanly possible to what they’re going through and, while I can absolutely feel their pain and imagine with every vein in my body how it feels, I never once see it as my own or as my responsibility to fix. I am simply there for them, in whatever way they need, on their journey of healing.
Before I help anyone, I take a breath, pause at the entry of these doors and ask myself which one I’m about to go through.
***In loving memory of Thomas Schorr and his loving mama.