Two and a half years ago, I left my financially comfortable global marriage for an expired passport and economic uncertainty. It was the saddest and bravest decision I’ve ever made. The US economy teetered in the worst recession since the Great Depression. There was no alimony, and I had not worked in twelve years.
The fear of “what ifs” loomed in monstrous proportions. I had no soft spots to land and no deep-pocketed family members to help me start over. Leaving meant leaping into a terrifying yet potentially poetic abyss.
Marriage had furled me tight. I couldn’t celebrate my complexities, and I longed for a different rapport with my spirituality. I felt like a fat and undesirable failure, and how I experienced my identity within the relationship wasn’t what I wanted to be out in the world.
When you find that you can’t locate yourself in a significant part of your known world, you have a spiritual obligation to make a new map. I jumped wide and fierce into the unseen with no compass.
I started an anonymous, now defunct blog. I had one published book and an anthology essay out in the world, but this secret writing felt unusually invigorating. My hands shook with unspoken truths so badly that I had find release. The words dribbled from my fingers as their own life forms. The writing was raunchy, irreverent, and always deeply personal.
I wrote about everything and everyone, although identities were kept secret. I admitted how I felt undesirable and then documented with questionable discretion the men who proved otherwise. But in those debilitating moments of post-divorce trauma, when nothing seemed to exist except fear and self-loathing, writing offered sanity and empowerment.
Sometimes, the best survival kit is one that includes only hope, prayer, and writing.
I had no idea who I wanted to become as a woman, a Muslim, a globalized American. A huge part of me wanted to rebel against the strictures that had so far defined my spiritual experience. The veil (literally and metaphorically) came off. I wanted to flirt with white boys, the ones with hair on their balls (Muslim women will know what I’m talking about).
Sometimes, I just wanted to go back to being a normal white American girl.
And yes, I wrote about these things. Never mind if I actually got around to doing them. I just wanted to be authentic and unrestricted. Every night, I prayed, “Please, Allah, help me find my voice.”
A few months into the blog project, this emerged:
Dear God, I acknowledge that I am screwed up and a sinner every day of my life. I apologize for that and will try to do better, but I also know that I will most likely never be able to change. This is how it goes down: I will never be that pious, silent, well behaved Muslim woman that so many insist makes me worthy of You. Just so You know, there will never be a day I can live my life within the parameters of the requirements. This is how You made me: as an intelligent, slightly mad boundary crosser who has a sensual streak a mile wide. To deny these things, as I am often expected to do, is to deny the very tools that help me experience the wonderment of You. Please forgive me, Ya Allah, for my shortcomings. But allow me to approach you with my full, pure self so that I may realize Your light.
Let me be present.
I realized that if I couldn’t be authentic and emotionally naked in front of God, then I’d never be real in any relationship.
I first started to feel vibrations under my skin about a year before I left my marriage. Internal tremors forced me to open closet doors as I tried to resist a feral drive to throw everything out and flee. I felt a type of quickening, a deep intuitive recognition that something had to give.
Writers know how words move through the veins. One can feel stories about to surface, almost as a quickening. Writing propels one forward. Ah, honey, something’s got to give. As I wrote for that secret blog, the words came forth as sublime and illuminating. During the darkest period of my life, writing made me feel beautiful and kept me from soul death.
One night, a year out of my marriage, a male friend looked at me with platonic sincerity.
“Deonna, you must be doing something right, because you glow,” he said.
“Huh? I do what?”
A smile spread across his face. “You glow. I’m serious.”
“You mean, I emit light? Am I glowing right now?”
He laughed, “ I’m not saying you throw off photons, but you are on the right path because you friggin’ glow. So whatever you are doing, keep doing it, because it is working.”
My first book was a big deal. Anyone’s first book is always a big deal, and they are lying if they tell you it isn’t. I used to sit in the aisle at my local Barnes and Nobles and just stare at my book. Sometimes, when I felt really horrible about my life, I’d park myself in that aisle and cry.
That first book was the first big task I had ever completed. I have a poor track record of accomplishment. I didn’t complete high school despite being in advanced classes. I studied classical piano for years and then let it go. The same incomplete trajectory exists for French, Arabic, and Persian. I have half-learned languages resting on my tongue. I did not complete any college degree, although I passed my Masters level comprehensive exams and taught two semesters at a community college. Some could argue that I never finished the task of my marriage.
When that first book became a real thing that took up space on a bookstore shelf, I discovered that writing could be my journey to personal authenticity. Writing gutted me in a good way.
My daily life is fractured with messy stuff and, on occasion, bitchiness. When I read my work, I realize that I am compassionate and (gasp!) beautiful. I excavate personal gold. The transformative nature of writing provided a type of self-acceptance beyond what romantic relationships had offered.
And here is a secret — these days, I feel the quickening happening again. Something is tingling underneath my skin. It is time for new energies and new places.
I know how to jump.
I can sure as hell pray.
And, I know how to write my way forward.
Deonna Kelli Sayed is a Love, Inshallah contributor and a www.patheos.com/blogs/loveinshallah editor. She is a published author and an emerging digital storyteller. Her work is also found at altmuslimah.com, Muslimah Media Watch, and storyandchai. Deonna is currently working on a memoir with support a Regional Artist Grant from the North Carolina United Arts Council. To learn more, visit her website, and join her on Facebook and Twitter.