Thursday, February 25, 2016

On Penguins, Flat White and Fata Morgana (Not)

I'm so rusty at writing so I hope my dear reader(s) forgive me for the logorrhea that follows. As you all know I pined for 4 years to go back to the Ice & I got to go back. Now I am nesting in my darling chilly cabin on the mountain in Oregon. It happened so fast and I settled in here so immediately that I feel like this whole season passed in the blink of an eye. I mean I am sitting here in my bed with my laptop like I was never gone! Which is strange because the season was so complicated and intense in ways that I am not going to go into detail on this public blog, but there was so much gutting of my psyche and such surprising leveling of my pride that I could barely feel my badass self at all.

Photos can be so deceiving: look how much fun I am having; look at my amazing life; look how adventurous and mold-breaking I am for a 55 year old woman! Yes there are moments where I really felt the bliss of being in Antarctica all over again. But they were overshadowed by a twin stream of difficult situations that I had to contend with all season and put me through an emotional wringer. One of the situations I had to deal with and the the other I didn't have to deal with at all, I just must have really loved the feeling of torturing myself. How, I asked myself, after a zillion hours with therapists, healers, spiritual helpers, writing and meditating, could I end up feeling as lost and insecure as I did as an eight year old kid. How could I let myself be traumatized by the perceived rejection of just a handful of humans.  How, after 23.5 years in a program that teaches me not to rely on people as the source of my good feelings about myself, did I let someone's attention/lack of attention on me control my self worth? And most startling: despite the most physically and mentally demanding job I have had on station that I gave my all to and with very little free time, that I could be as self-absorbed as I was when I was unemployed and had so much free time that navel gazing was second nature. But I didn't have anything pressing on me off Ice. There I had to deal with personalities on top of me 9 hours a day. I don't know if I've changed or if I just had too high an expectation for what this continent could do for me, but man I sat through some keeningly sharp emotional times there. The good news is I behaved well through it. I sucked it up and plowed through and always had my day off to look forward to. I got through it. And it has made me curious about how I can grow myself into the person who does not fall apart over simple (perceived or real) rejection.

So there was the hard parts but there was also the part that I thrive on: the rigid structure of the work-camp lifestyle, the galley ritual, the wild dancing parties on Saturday nights. The holiday parties and two day weekends were so much fun that they almost made up for the difficult stuff. I came back looking younger and 15 pounds lighter and feel more content than I've felt in years. I had a goal and I achieved it. Yes there were searing moments (days) of a black hole feeling in my chest cavity that made it hard to breathe, but the happy times were really, really fun. Reconnecting with so many people I know from previous seasons and all that attention from men was like manna from heaven to me. Unfortunately, the one I chose to fixate on all season had me like a fish on a hook, flopping around never knowing when the green light was on or whether the gut-socked pain of the cold shoulder was what I was in for. Was every season like this and I just forgot? Was being so much older than my co-workers a factor? Questions to explore for sure. The most surprising thing to me was how raw and skinless I could feel down there. Usually I have a protective shell I can put on when needed but I couldn't find it this time. Maybe I haven't needed it for so long that it fell away. My coping skills seemed to work and are fairly healthy, and I was lucky enough to have a roommate situation where I basically lived alone. I had knitting and movies and reading as my solace.

I feel bad for those who want to read an Antarctic blog to hear about penguins and wildlife and stumbled upon this one - I think there are many out there! The one thing I know after 8 seasons is that whatever hidden aspects of myself that are a dull ache (or I'm not even aware of) stateside, those become dark side gremlins that demand full attention on Ice. I have to deal with them there. Antarctica has always been the big personality-defect revealer for me and this season was a doozy for exposing old and ineffective aspects of my character. I got to see where I am still a crumbling mess, but thankfully I am so much more capable of dealing with it now - and the crumbling mess is pinkie sized now instead of what used to feel like my whole being. Yes, I am spinning this all into a positive - I went, I suffered, I had joy, I survived, and I had me some fun. I didn't let the bad stuff drive me off station as I saw it do several of my friends.

There were many bright spots! I got to go to the South Pole for 5 days and it was really incredible. I had connections with people that were deeply satisfying. I got in the best physical shape of my life just from my job. I got so many loving cards and gifts from people stateside.

I must remember to be grateful for how fortunate I am. I get to carve out my own life, and no one ever said that going after something you really want does not come with a cartload of pain and heartache. I used to hate my weaknesses and vulnerabilities and tried to drown them with alcohol. Now I just get to see that they are not going away so I have to accept them and possibly even make friends with them. This is what going to the Ice does to me. I did no hiking! I went on no boondoggles! I only felt the searing intensity of my relationship with this continent.

Forward and onward through this mucky life.