Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
The Shape-Shifting Power of Menopause
The fear of losing one’s youth, beauty, worth, appeal, visibility, and approval is hard to explain. Most people raised female will just nod. It is a terror that many of us have built our lives, egos, livelihoods, and relationships around. Menopause is the powerful, undeniable quickening of these threats. But that is not what this writing is about.
It’s about the opposite. It’s about the long shape-shifting of a body toward power. Moving through memories of holding ourselves small, there is a chance to give up the face of approval and go so much deeper. Our agreements to be quiet and safe are called into question and we can actually choose again. We can choose to trust ourselves.
Menopause is revealed to be not a curse or a punishment but a chance to open and shed. Though there is suffering involved—hardship, and deep physical challenge—there can be a breaking through of fierce, bright lucidity.
As a girl, then teen, then young adult, growing up steeped in the dominant culture of the United States, I never heard or saw people talking, singing, dancing, celebrating, or honoring the transformational process of menopause. In fact, I didn’t hear the word “menopause” until I was full-grown, and even then, it was a distant, shrouded word that had no meaning to me. It was not until I hit middle age and my body started changing that the word came into focus. My dearest women friends began to complain about symptoms, and their experiences seemed like a warning rather than an invitation.
There is a birth of the self that comes through the whispers of people with transforming wombs.
When my body began showing signs of perimenopause (a lighter period and hormonal surges), I, of course, hit the internet. What I found there were endless medical-oriented posts and websites about weight gain, bone loss, hair loss, dry vaginal walls, hormone replacement therapy, hot flashes, supplements, chronic pain, and so much more. There was a plethora of suggestions on how to manage the assault of menopause. Reading this, it was almost impossible not to succumb to a terror of my own body, but then again, misogyny had already been woven into the fabric of my cells long ago. I was so deeply familiar with the internalized hatred of women’s bodies that I could barely recognize this new onslaught toward mine.
Throughout my life, men told me, women told me, school told me, TV told me, social media told me, violence told me, shame told me, books told me, intrusion told me, isolation told me, fear told me that my body was a product. The value of this product to others would absolutely determine my worth and safety. I perfected this product with desperation, even when it was a good product that seemed to fit expectations, but also when the product failed. Then, I just tried harder to be prettier, sexier, more loving, more accommodating, more fit, more pleasing. Always more pleasing.
And now, menopause seemed to be crushing the product from the inside out. I mean it. Like a bomb going off. Destruction of worth. Destruction of good-enough. A deep descent to the outer banks of being seen. A true casting off of belonging. Or so it seemed.
I can’t tell you why I’ve had the strength of mind and spirit to fight the lies that have controlled me, but I have. Twenty-seven years of consciously recovering from childhood sexual grooming and abuse set me on a path outside mainstream culture, and I found sanity deep within. I know that road has played a part in my being able to honor myself outside the shattering of misogyny and sexism.
There is a birth of the self that comes through the whispers of people with transforming wombs. Those going through menopause do tend to burn off the bullshit. There is that thing you hear about giving less fucks. That’s a real thing and it’s not superficial. It climbs out of the loss of approval. The phoenix rising is a menopausal phenomenon that requires a massive reframing of what worth truly is.
I know there is a way to grow older that brings us deeply into living.
And how about this? Menopausal sexual awakening is no joke. When the womb and the heart settle into a mature alignment, there is an underworld of fearless pleasure. If enough healing has occurred around violation and powerlessness, the body can finally lead the mind. For me, being met spiritually and sexually at this time of my life has given me a second chance at innocence. I found vulnerability to be the doorway to a kind of fearless, sexual cliff-diving that is loving and very much alive.
Despite this menopausal transformation in myself (the one I’m passionately describing), I also feel that my culture and society have failed me so badly. I need elders to show me how to do this, but they are not built into my life. I need rituals to honor the endless bleeding from my body that came year after year, but I do not know any. My suffering has been great, especially since I endured childhood sexual abuse and assaults to my womb. I bore a beautiful child, breastfed and loved her from the same body that had been so broken. I crave a space where I can tell my story and hear the stories of women before me who have lived and lost and loved. I need community and the Earth as our Mother, holding us in the daring and arduous work of becoming conscious. My body is changing and so is my heart. My rhythm is changing and so are my values. I truly cannot do this alone.
What happened to separate us out and kill off our abilities to be together? To mourn together? To rage together? To hold each other? Misogyny and patriarchy keep us apart, our bodies controlled, crushed, and used.
My body longs for sacred kin that receives and expresses the body of this Earth as our bodies make their mysterious and metamorphic way toward love and self-acceptance. I wish I had a generational clan, coven, or lineage that was living and breathing together; where our bodies are safe and connected, where we know how to age together over time. Lacking that, I may need to create my own ritual, call in my close friends, and muster up a structure, an intention.
Though I yearn to step into a crone’s circle and be taught a lineage of validation, I can imagine sitting still together and waiting for the impulse. The body is so wise and remembers things our minds cannot recall. As a dancer, I have experienced the profound expression of cellular memory, as if everything that has happened has been recorded in our nervous systems. I recognize the call of connection between those who have suffered and been redeemed by sheer will, those who have been cast off by trusted ones and had to rescue themselves, those whose bodies have been taken by violence and gone on to love others despite hidden injuries. I hear our songs, I feel our dances, I smell the roots of trees grounding us, I see the faces of lived wisdom before me.
I know there is a way to grow older that brings us deeply into living. I sense the long-ago shadow of it in my dreams, in my senses. I see us embodied together without shame; remembering who we have been and who we are now.
Author’s note: I wrote this article from a White, cis woman’s perspective with the intention of supporting people experiencing menopause, including nonbinary folx and those with other identities experiencing or learning about menopause.
Rythea Lee is a performing artist who uses humor, dance, music, and spoken word to create performances that are interactive and heart-rendering. Lee has published two books: Trauma into Truth: Gutsy Healing and Why It's Worth It, a Question and Answer book for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and their allies, on the path of recovery, as well as The Advice from a Loving Bitch Curriculum, an educational guide that goes with Rythea's 20-Episode Youtube Show, Advice from a Loving Bitch. Rythea wrote, directed, and starred in that series that has become the basis for her ongoing online support groups and trainings, co-facilitated with Divinah Erving. She also writes for her new Patreon forum, www.patreon.com/rythealee, on subjects related to trauma, parenting, children's rights, and the underbelly of intimacy. She can be reached through her website: www.rythea.com