Falling Into Shadow
In December of 2014 the air of winter was just beginning to bite; the year was dying along with much of the plant life native to the deserts of Southern California. The events that had unfurled in the months before, left lingering residual effects so thick you could almost cut through it. Like sticky undried paint, layered on too quickly and abandoned. Still trying to repair the rupture in my relationship, I found myself in an unfamiliar place.
I stumbled across a book that would yield utter metamorphosis, the way the sun sculpts a chicory seed into the dazzling indigo and violet hues of a cornflower field. Bolstering its status from simple garden weed to spectacular, ornate, adornment. The book was “Love and Awakening” by John Welwood. The writings of Welwood examine the emptiness we are all feel, the false identities we assume. Where we place our self-worth, whether it be in vanity, social status, money, or validation. The roles of grandeur we slide into, dancing about, hitting every choreographed move as if we were dancing a symphony ballet. These were profound concepts that I had never contemplated before.
I started to review my own personality husk. The emotional lacerations I had sustained in my 25 years of life. The barricades that I put up to protect the fragile, battered pieces of my soul. With every new wound, a bandage was applied. Eventually I was wearing so many bandages, I couldn’t see myself anymore. Just like physical wounds, if emotional wounds aren’t disinfected, aired out and given space to heal, they can fester and pus. If wounds aren’t properly cleaned and cared for, infection takes hold and spreads through-out the body. The skin may heal over and seel, but with every bump a shot of pain is distributed, reminding you of the very act that scared you in the first place.
Eventually I was wearing so many bandages, I couldn’t see myself anymore. Hidden beneath a crude shroud, my inner being was isolated from the outside world, lost even to me. Unable to see myself, I painted a picture for the world to see, a veneer of the person I thought I ought to be. I built this veneer of a “strong”, “evolved” individual, embellished with achievements and success stories. I wore this shroud like armor, being “strong” and “evolved”, after such a horrific childhood, in my mind made me “special”. Being “accomplished”, “beautiful”, and “special” fashioned worth, where I saw none. Where I had been taught there was none. Before I realized it, this image became the air I breathed. Like a deep-sea diver, clinging to their oxygen mask under the pressure of a dark unfamiliar world around him. I felt as though anything threatening this self-portrait I had created was also threatening my lifeline. I would do anything in my capacity to fortify this false image, fearful that the worthlessness instilled into the deepest parts of me…. was in fact true.
The dilemma you face, when you hide who you really are beneath a fabricated mask, you can’t let anyone get too close. So, you put up pretty velvet ropes and motioned activated alarms, along with signs that say, “Please do not touch the Display”. The moment, an individual, steps past those velvet ropes and on to the forefront to take a closer peak at the exhibition, alarm would bells sound off. Panic sets in, all defenses are set into motion. Rounds of emotional gun fire are triggered, wounding the person on the other side. More often than not, the person that you love. The person that loves you.
Most of us go through life without asking “Why”. “Why does this scare me?”, “Why does this bother me?”, “Why does this hurt?”. I started asking myself “Why? Why do I feel this way?”. Asking ourselves “Why” forces the conscious being to take a pause and examine our feelings, when our internal bodyguards instinctually want to take over the and defend us, or whisk us off to safety at the first sign of discomfort. When I started asking “Why”, my life changed. When I started asking myself “Why” I experienced total death of the “Ego Self”.
I began to question myself and my motives. The most recent misstep I had taken, “Why did I cheat, why did I hurt the person that I love?” “Why did I behave this way?” I stepped out of the shower and stood staring at the reflection of the women looking back at me. I observed my dark, wet, waist length hair, the body that had not yet bared a child, a face that lacked wrinkles of wisdom, the darkest of brown eyes that were full of anguish. In this sacred moment I found a piece of myself. I realized that I had cheated on my partner because I was looking for love and validation. I asked myself “Why am I seeking validation from other people?” My answer was, “I never felt loved as a child. I felt disdain, abandonment, and loneliness.”
A massive wave of despair hit my body, like the waves of the Mendocino coastline at high tide. Gathering up its resources, rising up, and smashing into the cliff sides with god like force. Emotion seeped into cracks and crevices I had never felt before. Tearing through every barrier in its path, the barriers, that I had spent so much time building. I felt the warmth of tears seep from my fixated eyes and down my still flushed cheeks. Images of abuse, neglect, despair, loneliness, and chaos sunk into me like quicksand, until my mind, body and heart, were too heavy to stand. As my stance shrank closer to the floor, the presence of my mind also shrank back into my childhood. I saw the forsaken child, standing before her mother, while she willfully, relinquished her parental rights. I saw the depressed child after her father had unexpectedly passed. I saw the desperate child begging to help her mother with chores, just so she could spend time with her. I saw the fearful child, cowering at the hand of her mother. I saw the confused, child watching her parents snort cocaine and smoke methamphetamine. I saw the devastated child, after her mother had attempted suicide. I saw the burdened child, making the decision to go into a foster home, so that her younger brother and sister could be together. I saw the lonely child, sleeping her days away. I saw the scared child, rejected from her foster home two weeks after her 18th birthday with nowhere to go.
I attempted to ignore these truths, but the truth cannot be ignored. I dried my eyes, wandered downstairs, poured myself a glass of wine, threw on my headphones and began working on acrylic painting. Each sip of wine I swallowed, felt like it was trickling down into a bottomless pit of emptiness. Astounding emptiness. Standing on the verge of these deserted parts of myself, my toes clinging to the edge of the abyss. I leaned over, starring into darkness, afraid of the unknown, and I fell into the void. The void is the space between the old and the new. Sensing the threat to my old self, I felt my breath quicken, the tingling sensation of adrenaline pumping to my extremities, and the need to run like hell. I put down my headphones, walked to the front door and picked up my purse. I opened the door and I stepped into the cold, barefoot and my hair still wet. Without a speaking a word, I walked past my boyfriend smoking on the porch and I got in my car. I pulled out of the driveway at a 11 o’clock at night, hoping to out run this new dark space. I watched my boyfriend chase me down the street in my review mirror. I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t really care. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but I knew I had to do it alone.
I spent the next week drinking wine and listening to old vinyl’s, mourning the life I had lost. The boyfriend that I had loved so dearly. Bouts of sadness filled my heart and spilled out my eyes, in this new rawness that I had found. Not wanting to over stay my welcome, I returned to my mother. I arrived at her tiny apartment just as the sun was setting. She opened the door already drunk, with open arms she welcomed me, excited to have me. Stale cigarette smoke poured out of her apartment, immediately I felt over whelmed. She hovered over me in her drunkenness, asking me the same questions repeatedly. I made plans to go out for the evening so that I didn’t have to submit to mother’s questioning. When I got out of the shower, I walked into the kitchen, where my mother stood blocking the doorway. I could see the silhouette of her naked body, through the thin house dress she was wearing. Sweat dripping from her clavicle, and locks of lose hair, fallen from her hair clip sticking to her neck. She stood with a lite cigarette in her right hand and a cocktail in her left. My eyes, darted from the smoke billowing off her cigarette, to her cocktail, to her mouth that just wouldn’t stop talking.
Feeling out of control, I put on a pair of high waisted skinny jeans, and a white lace crop top and left the house. I met up with a friend at small music venue and bar in the middle of town. Most of the night was a haze, like a flip book of old photos aged over time. The images were a blur of drinking and dancing, they moved almost too quickly to recognize. Until I found myself in the bathroom of the bar, with the guitarist from the band that had played earlier that night. A man that I did not know. This was completely out of character, this was not meek, this was not lady like, this did not fit, into the box of femininity, that I was brought up to reside in. I didn’t care. For the first time in my life, I was doing what I wanted and not what someone else expected. This behavior was authentic and authenticity was new. I was running on instinct, I had stepped out of the box of what I was supposed to be and began to forge a new path. The unapologetic path of authenticity. I was in my shadow self, in the dark corners of our souls, power lies. Waiting to be unburied and brought to the light.
This path was lonely and terrifying. I was “Yes Man” for 3 months, living completely outside of my scope of comfortability. I was living in my shadow self, exploring all the wants and needs that had been suppressed for the last 25 years. I let the parts that I was most afraid of drive me. I drank most nights, participated in illicit drug use. I explored avenues of my sexuality, that had not yet been explored. I found myself in uncomfortable situations, time and time again. I showed up to work most mornings hung over and an hour late. I signed a lease for an apartment, establishing my own space, knowing that I had no one else to lean on. I had to be there for myself.
I spent many nights alone, in my mostly unfurnished apartment, drinking wine, and crying. Experiencing my emotions at their full capacity, and being there to support myself. No one is going to be there for you, like you can be there for yourself. No one is going to care for you, like you can care for yourself. I had to lose myself, to find myself.
When I lost myself, and fell into shadow, I stumbled across numb, comatose fragments of a person greater in depth, then what I was conscious of. My feet found these fragments of identity, like a shattered mirror. Cut and bleeding, I stood up, picked up the shards visible to me and settled them back into the frame from which they came. I had lost the identity that I once had and in the process found parts of me that I didn’t know existed.
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