annmarie-mckenzie-the-warrior

The Warrior

Written for The Conscious Goddess Festival. For tickets to TCGF visit http://bit.ly/1U9aZnY

According to astrology, being an Aries means being a Warrior. An Aries will use the act of war to find a path of glory, honour and self-discipline, and an Aries will even create wars for the sake of this path.

By this general definition, I was born a Warrior. I’m not sure if my life circumstances were laid out before me as part of my “Warrior training,” or instead if my reactions to these life circumstances were simply that of a natural-born Warrior because I am an Aries. Maybe it was a bit of both.

What I do know is that for the majority of my life, I have been in battle, and I have been many types of Warriors along the way.

I entered into the first war right at birth. My parents married too young and were not ready for the responsibilities of a marriage or a child. I was two or three, depending on whose version of this story I am adopting. My father pushed me on my swing set and told me he was leaving for a while. I said, “You should put some shoes on, Daddy.” I was fully aware that shoes were an important part of travel but completely oblivious to what it would mean to grow up without a dad.

Any child (or adult) who has experienced divorce knows all too well about the deep crevasse-like wounds of the heart that can form from the trauma. As an adult, you can grasp the logical concept that two people aren’t meant to be together — maybe not when you are in the situation, but certainly from the outside looking in. As a child, understanding why is almost impossible, and since my dad moved so far away, the only logical conclusion I could come to at such an early age was that he just didn’t love me enough.

Life decided to deepen that crevasse: it brought my mother’s soulmate to her, a man who stepped in and loved me as a father would, and then life took him from us by brain aneurysm when I was five.

My dad didn’t love me. Now God didn’t love me. And so I became a Wounded Warrior.

I felt like I had no one to talk to and I couldn’t understand what I was feeling. I certainly had no idea how to fix anything because I was only five! My heart remained broken for many years to come.

As a student in elementary school, I did what any Wounded Warrior would do. I got angry and I fought. I fought against the teachers. I fought for class presidency. I fought on behalf of my friends when they were being picked on. And I fought against other kids who pissed me off.

I sought out challenges and I didn’t care about winning or losing, as long as I was in a war. On the basketball court, I almost always fouled out of the game. On the baseball field, I was that basewoman that would throw the ball from first to second, knowing full well that it had a good chance of hitting the runner in the back and they would be safe. But I did it anyway because I was so angry at the world.

At home, I challenged every request instead of helping out my single mother who was struggling herself. In turn, my behaviour only fuelled her own anger.

By the time I reached high school, I was the queen of risky behaviour. On the one hand, I was a straight-A student that could be the captain or president of whatever I wanted. On the other, boys, alcohol, drugs, and sneaking out were my usual extracurricular activities. I paid no consideration to the harm I did to myself or those who loved me. It all masked the pain. I had everybody fooled, except myself.

As my downward spiral became darker, my relationship with my mother got worse. She was battling her own demons as well. It was the blind leading the blind when it came to emotional literacy (understanding our feelings), and I developed resentment towards her for not knowing how to fix the wounds. I put all the blame on her for the hurt.

The abuse between us became unbearable on both sides. Our wars served no purpose and only spawned more wounds. It was exhausting both mentally and physically, but most of all emotionally. I packed my bags — but this time, it was not for one of her guilt trips.

Accepting myself as a Defeated Warrior at sixteen, I gave up the fight and left home. 

With the shame of defeat and my head low, I had to figure out a way to make it on my own. Many people said that I shouldn’t live by myself so young. Little did they know that a Warrior like me thrives on challenges, especially a challenge that everyone believes is impossible to win.

One of the other traits of a Warrior is the yearning to save or defend people, and we will do so at our own cost. When a Warrior needs to save themselves as in my case, it is easier to focus on others.

After college, I only applied for jobs that empowered other people. I found it easier to focus on healing others rather than myself, and in doing so, I hoped that somehow my heart would mend itself.

Immersing myself in spiritual and personal development books, I gave everything I had to the people that I worked with. I tried to help them turn their lives around and follow a different path, but it seemed that the more I tried, the less transformation I saw. Eventually, after giving too much of myself, I began to understand two major things:

You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped, and you must heal yourself before you can truly help others heal. An emerging Enlightened Warrior was born.  

But I knew that compassion fatigue had set in. I was outright depleted and on the verge of becoming a Defeated Warrior… again. With the help of a soul sister, I moved across Canada in hopes that changing my surroundings would end the suffering and pain of the past.

A week before I left, I had a sleepover with my mom. That’s when she dropped the inevitable question:

“Are you moving across the country to get away from me, Annie?” 

My heart sank and the lump in my throat impeded my ability to speak. For a moment I simply cried, not wanting to make eye contact — for she would see my truths.

I tried to explain that we are either running from or to something, and I tried to explain that this move was about running towards a future for myself that involved more freedom and happiness. No matter how hard I tried to justify moving across the country, she felt it was solely to push away her and everyone who loved me.

Maybe she was right.

Several years after the move, I was still depressed with the baggage of my childhood haunting me. Phone calls from my mother would typically turn into arguments as we never seemed to agree on each other’s life choices. I wanted her to work harder on being happy, and she wanted me to come home. The stress and anxiety broke me to the point of an emotional breakdown.

The difference, this time, was that I found the energy to fight rather than run. I was truly ready to stand up for my own joy and happiness.

Desperate to feel anything other than what I was feeling, I started saying YES to everything. To hiking groups, motivational speakers, yoga, coffee dates, more meditating, more self-help books. You name it, I said yes to it. And it was onerous.

One evening in Vancouver, I listened to the author Danielle LaPorte speak to a crowd of women, and she cracked my heart and soul wide open.

She asked the crowd, “Would you rather be right or be happy?” And I muttered to myself, “being right makes me happy.” Fuck, I am missing the point, I thought.

And then, as though she were speaking directly to me, she said,

“What you say NO to is just as important as what you say YES to.”

Bam! Permission granted. I was liberated, and I could stop fighting for EVERYTHING and EVERYONE and just fight for myself.

The Rising Warrior.

Shortly after that evening, a Friday night phone call from my mother ended in the most horrific, white-hot disagreement. Her issue: I only cared about myself and I never had any consideration for her. Mine: our entire history. I ended the conversation by telling her to never speak to me again unless she was ready to engage in a healthy relationship.

For eight months, I worried about how my choice to stand up for myself negatively affected her. She broke the ‘never-speak rule’ and sent cards and messages through other family members, but I remained silent until Mother’s Day.

I’m thankful that my partner encouraged me to make that phone call because it was the turning point in our relationship that we had been so desperately trying to reach for all of those years. We had experienced the same traumas and the same heartaches, but without a word, we both decided to let go of the past. We now fought to move forward together; we would be softer, gentler. We would have more compassion for each other.

A year later my mom sent me a text during my work day, which was very uncharacteristic of her. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and exhaled.

Something wasn’t right. I could sense a battle on the horizon.

I called immediately rather than waiting until after work — the time difference across the country would have her asleep by the time I got home. Her voice was shaky, and I could tell that she was tired and scared.

“Annie, I have cancer.” In that moment, I knew she was going to die – and soon. I dreamt about this day when I was a little girl.

The nightmare went something like this: Mom had fallen overboard from a cruise ship and was surrounded by sharks. She struggled to keep her head above water and despite our cries, no one could rescue her. For months, I awoke terrified and tormented that something awful would happen to her and I would lose her forever.

This was the same feeling. Powerless. My breath was taken from me and the world moved into a slow motion, almost to a halt.  

It was the same nightmare but cancer replaced the sharks and, once again, I wouldn’t be able to save her. I knew exactly what I needed to do this time, even though the results were inevitable.

I became a Light Warrior for my mother and helped her fight for her last days on earth. 

She passed merely 5 months after her diagnoses. I was honoured to be by her side for her last battle and to be the daughter she deserved to have all along. Her illness not only transformed her from body to spirit, but it transformed me as well.

Having the capacity as a Goddess to rise and proudly wear the mask of The Warrior when called upon is a gift. Now, rather than resenting The Warrior’s path I have lived, I have profound gratitude because the experiences of the past, the traumas, the heartaches, the wounds, the defeat — it all prepared me for the strength required in those moments with her as her body wilted away.

I no longer see circumstances as ‘battles’ or ‘wars’, but rather spiritual opportunities for growth. I am arming myself with more love, light and compassion to ensure there are no winners or losers, because as a Warrior Goddess, I now see we are all on the same side.

To my mother, for her sacrifice so that I may understand.