As I stepped into the premiere last month for “What Separates Us,” I felt sucker punched in my gut with pain and sad emotions; it was hard to breathe. I panicked to sift and sort it out fast as I was celebrating a fantastic day with friends and family. I didn’t want to wreck it. For a few minutes, I stopped moving, stood frozen, feeling almost paralyzed. My thoughts raced… my heart pounded in my cheeks. I felt hot and held in an insane urge to pee. I thought... Why was I feeling this set of emotions on a big day of celebration?? My mind spun backwards through a kaleidoscope in time...
48 months ago… my dad was diagnosed with liver cancer, my daughter broke her kneecap and a loved ex-family member was in the hospital fighting for her life and buried a dear family pet cat. I was still feeling memories of sleeping in the hospital and doctor's offices, death, chemotherapy, and surgeries pelting my brain.
15 years ago… I got divorced. I started single parenting life with my daughters. I felt like I a scarlet letter D had been painted on my chest. More hot redness filled my cheeks.
2 years ago… I went through round one of two very painful breakups with a guy that cost me nearly the same heart pain as my divorce. My heart felt like it slid down my body and smacked onto the floor with a soft, painful thud.
In this moment of having big joyful emotions, my body conjured up those big sobbing emotional pains as if they happened yesterday. From the moment I walked into the theatre for my film I went from feeling an on top of the world winning feeling to feeling confused, panicky and pained.
Perception and focus are everything. I fought to steady my breathing and refocused on what I also learned and grew through in this time frame in the past…
48 months ago… I got to be with my dad, one of my life heroes as his body fell apart piece by piece through cancer, chemotherapy, and diagnostic surgeries. He taught me so much more about the spirit of bravery through his dying. My daughter taught me so much about the fight for recovery and stayed after her athletic goals after she had surgery and rehabbed a cracked-in-half knee cap. I opened my heart for more forgiveness than I thought possible with my ex-family while supporting my daughters as their grandma was dying. My other daughter taught me about the power of presence as she spent time with my dad and her grandma, as they both were dying, whilst she simultaneously finishing her senior year in college.
15 years ago… I braved into a new world of being on my own while sharing custody of my daughters with their dad. With the help of a federal Displaced Homemakers Loan, I purchased a home for us, found steady employment, and began again in life. We learned to communicate more clearly through a ton of emotional heartache which happens when a family breaks up because of divorce.
2 years ago… I learned I loved so fully and was so committed to a man in relationship that I lost myself. With my soul broken open, I took every tear I cried and turned it into valuing my life, the love I give and share, and the world I created. Through the second break up which happened a year and a half ago, I learned to repeat to myself, “I am lucky to have me” on a frequent basis. Every day I made the courage to look love in the eye again.
Two views of my life played a mad game of ping pong in my head. On one side was the devastation, hurt, panic that I felt when things go wrong and on the other was the thoughtful life reflection of what I made out of it. Re-framing perceptions of how I feel about those hard-to-handle life events fueled my resilience and decisions to keep moving.
Back to tonight… My best friend was here from North Dakota. One of my daughters, my mom, ski buddy, soul sister friends, hiking buddy, dear work friends and SO many other close friends made time to come. There were so many people there in spirit and offering distance support. People around me were happy. Our film group overcame so many odds and obstacles to get to this very day. The film won best picture in Alaska. Personally, I have more artistic projects in the works AND I have on a hot dress, cool shoes, amazing hair and nails, and I am healthy… it was SO hard not to be hard on myself for not focusing on the "good" celebration feels! I fought back buckets of tears. Tonight things were going amazing but I felt the same out-of-control emotional bursts inside that I felt when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and I went through divorce and breakups.
Finally, after standing still long enough, I figured I needed to manage my panicky pain by gliding around talking and greeting people, signing posters, seating family and friends, and reminding myself what time and space I was in. It helped, but I couldn’t figure out what the hell was wrong and it was getting worse. THIS WAS A GREAT DAY!!! echoed over and over in my head. I made a beeline to the bathroom.
As I paced in there, I mentally grabbed every calming thought I could get. Then a question popped into my mind. So where/when does winning start? F*** it, I thought, hot tears rolling down my face. I don’t know!! Then that part of me, my inner champion whose voice sometime sounds like Mufasa from the Lion King, speaks from my heart to my head... It started when I made the leap of faith to make something good out of this crazy Earth ride we're on and embracing all the fireworks that start off in my mind, heart, and body because I care deeply. It started when I made the best choices I could in all of my life, including my acting, and began giving to myself inch by inch a sense of believing I deserved to be happy and to be proud of my life.
Heaving out a heavy breath, I made this in-the-moment faith leap again and chose to win over the panicky emotions. I took those out-of-control feelings and decided I was going to celebrate full out and started to clean up my face. The panicky feels were ghosts of the past revisiting me because I was open and flowing freely with all my emotions. They're important because they're in my emotional fabric, but they're not important right now. I also realized I was winning even when these big, seemingly out of place emotions took me over for awhile. I was a winner because I engaged the mad ping pong head game. I was a winner because I showed up to celebrate a huge accomplishment! I earned this!
These past four years making this film included some extremely difficult times and woven through those things was a great piece of film art that I acted in and helped create! It makes my heart glow and feel all mushy warm with pride. And, in the past 15 years, I have stayed the course growing myself as an artist. All of those emotional fireworks from all sorts of events in the past years fuel my passion for bringing my art to life.
So here's a great big cheers to celebrating it!
Photo credit: Claire Reitz Shout out to my editors: Rachel Riitano & Jaime Lue Inflore
Every person you meet is fighting for value, balance, and life
Some are fighting diseases like cancer;
Others fight for daily balance with chronic illness or physical debilitation
like diabetes, blindness, missing feet, or recovery from accidents.
Some are fighting to find and hold their value in this world
because of their gender, race, age, or religion.
Some are battling mental & emotional hardships.
Some are holding three jobs
to make their world just barely stay upright.
…and this only touches on a few.
Be a badass and choose to love yourself kindly and gently
Make that second badass choice and let that self-love spread into kind action to others
Blog by Mary Riitano...
I'm a Montana actress on a journey sharing my heart and growth through blogging, stories, and poetry, I have faith you'll find empowerment and inspiration to create like a champion in your own life!
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