Water Rituals

Showers, ritual baths, a quick dip in the ocean or a lake. Water has always been a part of our lives, from baptisms and Mikvahs to spa treatments and seaside vacations. The cleansing power of water. The refreshment of water. The therapeutic effects of water. 

I am lucky enough to live where the flow of water is constant, the pressure strong, the temperature as hot as I like. My morning shower is a pleasure. I can wash away the sleep, ease the ache of tired muscles or a stiff neck, be cleansed by a little soap and shampoo. And on a good day, a shower can be as refreshing to my mind as it is my body, stimulating a stream of thoughts that lay hidden just moments before.

Like the pounding of the surf at the ocean or the pulse of a heartbeat when swimming in a lake or a pool, the roar of the shower water on my head and on the tiles closes me in to my own mind. Of course, it helps that I can’t be disturbed by the phone or the dog or the news of the day as the water rushes over me. I can think, and I can hear my own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I rehearse a conversation I hope to have. Other times, I plan the upcoming day or review the one that just passed. And sometimes, it’s like a brainstorm and I just sit back and watch the show.

Hiding the Pain

But, the seclusion of the shower also allows it to be a place of pain and anguish. During the early days of my diagnosis, it was the one place that I allowed myself to cry. My role in life was always to be the caretaker. My husband, my kids, my mother, my clients. I care for them all and make it look effortless. So while I was dealing with my cancer diagnosis, I continued my care-taking role by being strong for them, not showing them my fear. But in the shower, I didn’t have to worry that someone might notice my tears. I didn’t have to be strong for anyone else, so could give in to the instinct I held at bay.

What if the treatment isn’t working? When could I stop worrying about this disease? Would I ever again feel the strength and vigor of health? Who is this person in the mirror with no hair and vacant eyes? In the shower I could ask the questions I never allowed myself to think, and I could feel the power of the answers I feared. There I could allow myself the moments of self-pity. But, as Nelson Mandela said, “The brave one is not one who does not feel afraid, but one who conquers that fear.” So as the tears streamed down my face, I could acknowledge my fears and let them go. I could wash them away with the accumulated grime. And I could step out of the shower having mustered enough courage to face another day.

No More Tears

Now I am pleased to be able to shower without tears. I am thrilled to be able to do the physical activity that make the shower feel like a spa for my achy muscles. And I am even more pleased when the solitude gives me new ideas, helps me solve a nagging problem, allows me to compose my thoughts. Now, when I linger in the shower, it is not because I haven’t yet found the bravado to tackle the day, but because my thoughts are coming too quickly to notice the minutes slipping by.

I wish I could say that I have captured and implemented all the brilliant ideas I have thought while in the shower. No such luck. Sometimes they disappear before I have had a chance to towel off. Other times, like images in a dream, I can grasp only whips of them and have lost the thread. But just knowing that they are there, ready to be unlocked when the right moment arises is reassuring. And knowing that I have the luxury of using the shower for creative purposes instead of emotional ones is a daily reminder of how lucky I am to be healthy.

For some patients, end of treatment means ringing bells and congratulatory high fives. But for me, it is the release of knowing I no longer need to hide in the shower.

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