Archive for the ‘ Life ’ Category

​I fight Authority, Authority always wins

So, I have noticed my pattern of butting heads with authority figures.  It’s not that I don’t respect people in positions of authority, it’s simply that I refuse to respect them merely because they’re in a position of authority.  In fact when I run into “authority figures” that assume they’re entitled to respect because of position and/or money, I tend to get confrontational.  It brings out the worst in me.  In fact I’d had incidences where I’ll run into an authority figure (usually an alpha male type) who raises my hackles so much I feel the urge to growl and bare my teeth at him.  I can’t necessarily pinpoint why I react this way.  It tends to occur exclusively with male authority figures.  I get along quite well with most female authority figures – especially those labeled ball busters.  So that clues me in that one of my issues has to do with gender power dynamics too.


I decided to use Tarot to ask the universe “What is my relationship to authority?”  I drew the 2 of Cups from the Pearls of Wisdom Tarot.  Looking at the image I was struck by the way both figures in the card seem to be equals.  They are both grasping a chalice in one hand and touching their partner intimately with the other.  They each gaze into each other’s eyes and are approximately the same size and height.  Each figure has a flower behind them and a tree beside them.  Both figures are framed by a fish, necklace and chalice.  There is a balance present in this card, a sense of equality and true partnership.  The power and authority in this relationship go both ways.  Perhaps their powers are not identical but they are equal.

That suggests my issues with authority flare up when things are not equal.  I have no problem with authority figures who treat others with the respect and courtesy they expect.  I also prefer the give and take with an authority figure who is as open to listening as she/he is to talking.  Perhaps there is truth to the fact that most women’s management styles are more inclusive than many male managers’.  Those are broad stroke generalizations but in my experience they’ve proven true.  


My next question to the Universe was “Why is my relationship to authority this way?”  I drew the Ace of Swords.  My immediate reaction was that my relationship to authority causes me to feel the urge to cut through the bullshit when faced with one of those negative authority figures.  I feel the urge to confront and puncture their egos.  It’s not necessarily the most mature response but it’s true.  Maybe on some level I also hope that confronting them on their behaviors might open their eyes and allow them to explore new ideas and beliefs about power and authority.  I suppose one can always hope (and keep on fighting!).

Misjudging Relationships

Have you ever observed relationships of people and initially perceived them one way but then had your eyes opened and realized you were totally off base?  I have.  It’s been quite an interesting experience too and one that has reinforced the concept of not judging books by their covers.

It usually happens when I come across what I would describe as a solar/lunar (or almost stereotypical male-dominated relationship).  You know the type I mean – the male/yang/alpha partner appears to be the dominant one while the female/yin/beta partner seems to cater, kowtow and reflect the alpha partner’s glory.  Now, I also have to admit that my life experiences have primed me to recognize these types of relationships because they’re the ones with which I’m most familiar.  They were the type most common in the blue collar neighborhood in which I grew up.  Unfortunately, they were also the ones I saw become abusive (although let me be clear, I’m not saying all of these types of relationships become abusive).  It is the kind of relationship I was determined to avoid,

Of course, one’s perceptions as a child and those as an adult are quite different.  Watching these types of relationships now I have come to realize that the power dynamic is not as imbalanced as I once believed.  I have learned that a more yin/beta partner can be just as controlling and domineering as a yang/alpha partner. They just use different techniques to ensure their goals are met. For example, I’ve watched the “passive” partner use subtle and sometimes not so subtle behaviors to influence their partners. The most frequent one I’ve noticed is almost a temper tantrum. The more passive partner will become upset because something is not to their liking (for example their food is not prepared correctly). Instead of addressing it with the wait staff, the beta partner will complain to the alpha partner. This will cause the more assertive partner to take up the banner and charge into the fray to ensure things are corrected to the beta partner’s liking. Or the passive/beta partner will push buttons that will result in the outcomes they desire but allow them to look blameless. Things turned out this way because of the alpha/assertive partner’s insistence. It can be fascinating to watch.

It’s an interesting dynamic and requires a subtly of which I’m not capable. I can admire it and acknowledge its effectiveness while accepting that it’s beyond my capabilities. The major realization I’ve taken away from these observations is that I’ve misread these relationships. Due to my own blinders and prejudices, I didn’t realize that just because the passive/beta partner is assertively challenging situations or fighting whenever their partner did something insulting, domineering or just not to their liking, that doesn’t mean they’re not handling it. They simply use a less confrontational (and possibly more effective) approach.

 

I’m being deliberately provocative with the title of this blog post. I am a female and, as such, I was a girl when I was younger. However, I was not raised to think of myself as “just a girl”. I decided to write this post after reading an article a woman wrote about gender expectations and American Gods. This got me to thinking, pondering if you will. Why have I never felt the weight of gender expectations? In fact, I clearly remember a very vehement argument I once had with a former friend about sexism and gender in the workplace. It’s entirely possible that I have been denied promotions or suffered a lower salary because I am female, but if that’s the case I was as oblivious to it as I was to the Stations of the Cross in my childhood church. I simply plowed forward and did my job. If my behaviors upset or offended supervisors because I didn’t act in a typically female way, I either addressed it head on, was oblivious to it, or ignored it.

I have never been told that I could not achieve something because I’m “a girl”. I was never discouraged from trying or accomplishing something because “girls don’t do that”. Sure my parents tried to civilize me and teach me to behave but they also encouraged me to be independent and strong-willed. They regularly gave me the “would you (fill in the blank) just because everyone else does?” speech. I was never encouraged to downplay my intelligence because boys don’t like smart girls. I was never told I was too aggressive for a girl and should tone it down (in fact my father preferred to teach me the correct way to throw a punch). When boys touched me in ways I did not want, I punched them or kicked them in the balls. My nickname as an adolescent was “the Nutcracker”. At the same time, I accepted that if I was going to hit others I might get hit back. I couldn’t use the “I’m a girl” excuse. I was fine with this. Looking back, I was truly blessed to have two parents who never, ever fell victim to gender roles and stereotypes – at least not when it came to me. I remember one Easter my grandmother bought my sister and me matching outfits – they were royal blue pantsuits (think polyester button-down shirts and pants) with T-shirts that proclaimed “Anything boys can do, girls can do better” and a graphic of a girl in a baseball outfit getting ready to swing her bat. We LOVED those shirts and proudly wore them every chance we got. In fact, that saying became our unofficial motto throughout childhood.

I was also influenced by Greco-Roman and Norse mythology as a child. I identified with Athena, the wise virgin who owed nothing to a man (okay, I’m oversimplifying because that’s what I believed as a child). I loved Freya who was the leader of the Valkyries and free to sleep with whom she chose, even if they were dwarves. It wasn’t just independent female goddesses that appealed to me – they had to have a fierceness to them, a martial aspect as well. I loved goddesses who bowed down to no man or god. As I grew older and learned about Irish goddesses I felt a strong connection to many of them too. Once again, fierce feminine figures who were not bound to a male.

Looking back, I am also a product of my generation. I grew up in the 70s and clearly remember the hoopla that following the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. I remember how excited I was when Charlie’s Angels premiered! Yes, in retrospect it was a T&A show but as a young girl, all I saw were these tough, independent women who took on bad guys every week and triumphed. I was a fan of both Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter, Isis, and Electra Woman & Dyna Girl. I read Wonder Woman and Supergirl comic books. I remember being vaguely disappointed when the ERA was defeated. I didn’t fully understand what it was or why I wanted it but I knew that its failure was not a good thing for me. I remember having an epiphany during a religious class in Catholic high school when our teacher while conducting a cakes & wine ritual, informed us that ancient frescoes showed that women administered the sacraments in the early Christian church. I was floored! It never occurred to me that women could serve as priests. I often think that this was the pivotal moment that ultimately led me to pursue Paganism.

So, it occurs to me that if we don’t want to raise our daughters to be “just girls” we need to reinforce that message. We need to support them when they show interest in traditionally “ungirly” things or behave in non-girly ways. We also need to let them know that if they choose to pursue traditionally feminine pursuits, that is wonderful too. It’s so easy to denigrate traditional feminine pursuits, interests, and behaviors but that’s just as damaging as only allowing them to pursue these things. Some girls want to be fairy princesses and some want to be G.I. Joe. Some want to play with dolls and some want to play with toy guns. Some will do both and all of that is great and should be encouraged. For that matter, we should use the same approach with boys. I guess the important thing is to focus on what the child wants and needs and make sure to nurture and support them. Sounds easy and yet somehow we make it so complicated.

The Hermit – After having our world turned upside down we might find ourselves in need of a retreat; to regroup. Instead of considering what we need to do to conquer the world, we ponder what will allow us to fulfill ourselves. We are still searching the darkness and trying to forge our own path through the darkness but now it’s the darkness within ourselves. We’re working towards finding truths in our soul that will allow us to lead a more fulfilling life moving ahead.

Strength reminds us that enacting these types of changes in our lives requires fortitude and inner strength; the need to stick with it especially when the going gets rough. This card reminds me of people who, after some dramatic shift in their career or life, manage to pick themselves back up and move forward again. It symbolizes those who find the inner fortitude to add a second act to their lives. The divorced woman who finds her passion in life again. The middle-aged man who discovers that he still has a lot to offer. Instead of letting themselves become defeated and miserable, they pull themselves up and find new meaning in their lives. They fight to find fulfillment and satisfaction.

The Chariot is our mode of transportation to get to that new place of fulfillment and satisfaction. Once we’ve made the decision and set the intention to find new meaning in our lives in Strength, we need to find the way to make it happen. We need to pick up the reins, grab the steering wheel and drive ourselves towards our new destination. We need to determine what route will serve us best and what speed we intend to travel. Do we want to take our time and enjoy some rest stops or do we want to get there as fast as we can? Either way, the decision and the choices are all on us. Do we believe this part of our lives has been fated? Is it our destiny to make this journey? Only you can decide that for yourself.

The Lovers reflect all the choices that still remain in our journey through life. I often like to view fate or destiny as a series of points on a map that we must experience – how we get there and how long the journey takes is up to us. I like to think it’s the combination of destined experiences and personal preferences that are reflected by the two different horses in this card. How & where we choose to steer them is on us.

The Hierophant shows us as we step into our role as mentors, lore keepers, historians. We have now reached a point in our lives when we can teach and guide others. We can show them the options available to them; share our stories. We can help open their eyes to the traditions and history that preceded them and allow them to determine who they might wish to incorporate this knowledge and wisdom into their own lives.

The Emperor is our journey to self-sovereignty. We no longer need to build an external empire, instead, we need to feel as though we are finally in charge of our own lives. We are the masters of our fate; the lords of all we survey. We no longer see success as an external measure but rather an internal one of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. It’s not about money and possessions, it’s about feelings of accomplishment and pride.

The Empress is when we finally learn how to nurture and embrace our true selves. We finally allow ourselves to explore our internal creative energy. Instead of feeling the need to focus on external objects or people, we aim it at ourselves. We tend and care for our own secret gardens and learn to feed our inner needs and desires. It doesn’t make us selfish but rather self-centered in the best possible way. Tending to ourselves allows us to replenish our resources and be there for others when the need arises.

The High Priestess guards the veil behind her. It is not something she parts lightly because one what awaits behind it is revealed, it can never be unknown again. When she pulls it aside we realize that what it hides is our true selves. We are finally ready to learn, accept and embrace who we truly are and were meant to be. We realize that we need to do things for ourselves; to nurture our souls not because they meet someone else’s need. In my experience, when the veil parted I was faced with my feral thirteen year old self – the part of me I’d tried (and failed) to civilize over the years. I was able to reconnect with that energy and unleash her into my life today. It was quite an amazing experience.

The Magician allows us to realize that (much like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz), the power to make things happen in our lives was in our hands the entire time. We are not dependent upon others to grant us power; we merely need to accept and grasp it. We often hear people talk about helping to empower others but the truth is we cannot do that. We can only help them understand that the power lies within them and only they can use it. That is what The Magician shows us at this point in our journey. Perhaps it’s near the end of the road but the message is no less valuable.

The Fool is our final stop. This is when we embrace all our foolish qualities and trust in the world again as we prepare to take that leap and move beyond this life into something new and unexpected. We are still leaping into the unknown but now all our knowledge and wisdom has combined to make us realize that we truly know nothing and the journey is always about the experiences and the learning. We have to believe that what awaits beyond is something new and exciting. Perhaps this is why so many of us believe in an afterlife – we want to believe we are leaping into something,  not just nothingness.

Speaking with the Dead

I had a very strange experience last week. I’m not sure why I should be so surprised by it but I was. I had arranged for a Tarot reading with the wonderfully talented Mitchell Osborn. My reading with Mitchell was very different to they type of Tarot reading I’m used to giving and receiving. His style reminded me of a session with John Edwards. It was more as if he was channeling messages from the spirit world than interpreting cards.

Over the course of our reading, Mitchell described receiving messages pertaining to my hubby from someone he felt might be associated with show business or a comedian. Now my hubby had an uncle who worked as a teamster in the film industry but that didn’t feel right. Mitchell once again said he was getting a strong feeling of a comedian. I mentioned my brother Tom who has been dead since 1986 but was well know in my family as a clown. The 31st anniversary of his death was two days after the reading. As soon as I mentioned him Mitchell almost shouted “Yes!” I explained that Tom had died when he was 15 but gave no more details. I just shared how Tom had been a practical joker and one statement that Mitchell had offered from the spirit world sounded exactly like something Tom would have said.

For the rest of the reading, Mitchell gave me messages from Tom that I didn’t even know I needed to hear. He explained that Tom was showing him his head hitting the ground as a way to explain that he died instantly and felt no pain. What I did not know at this point is that my brother’s skull had been fractured in seven places by the attack on him. Mitchell also shared that Tom was showing his spirit standing next to his body in shock – he didn’t realize he was dead, and that he stared at his attacker wondering what had made him so angry and full of pain. This sounds so much like something Tom would think that it brought tears to my eyes. Any skepticism I felt immediately drained away.

A few things Mitchell mentioned didn’t make any sense at the time. He asked if my brother ever drove a car or liked cars because he kept seeing a red Mustang. Now, I assume my brother Tom like cars as much as any teen boy but living in NYC meant very few people we knew owned cars. My hubby was one of the few and although Tom like riding in them he showed no special attachment to them. Of course, the odds are that the longer he spent with my hubby the more likely that would change. Mitchell also asked if Tom had a girlfriend. I explained that as far as I knew he didn’t, at least not when he was killed. Mitchell said he kept mentioning “the girls that wasn’t included” but I had no idea who that might be. Once our reading concluded I immediately called my mother and shared that portion with her. We both cried at the confirmation that Tom hadn’t suffered. I think we’ve carried that burden for 31 years and never realized how heavy it was.

Now here comes the part where I got messages from Tom. I kept thinking about the “girl who wasn’t included”. It bothered me. So as I laid in bed thinking things over it hit me – Tom meant my sister-in-law Tracey who had died last year. She wasn’t included because she was not yet part of our family when Tom was killed. I became convinced that was who Tom meant. I believe he was trying to let us know he was watching over Tracey in the afterlife. I mentioned this to my family and got non-committal responses. They didn’t want to disagree but didn’t really agree either. So I went to my default divination tool, my Tarot deck, and simply asked Tom for clarification. I asked, “Who was the girl who wasn’t included?” I drew Death. That seemed pretty clear to me but I wanted additional confirmation. So I asked Tom “I want to be sure, we’re talking about Tracey, right?” I drew The Hierophant upright. This is significant because I indicated that an upright card would be a positive response and The Hierophant is my birth card. So Tom was clearly saying “Yes, you are right”. I once again shared this with my family and we all agreed this was Tom’s way of reassuring us. Even my brother Billy (Tracey’s husband) said he felt a little better after receiving that message.

To add even more layers to this, I began thinking about the car connection. Now, as I mentioned, Tom certainly enjoyed spending time around my hubby’s cars but wasn’t a “car guy” per se. Then I remembered something. Tom was scheduled to start high school the September. The high school was called Automotive High School! Then, while driving up from NYC, my hubby passed a spot where he has noticed people place cars that are for sale. This time as he passed by he saw a red Mustang! We took that as another sign Tom was around and wanted us to know it.

This was a very powerful and mind-altering experience for me. I’ve always wanted to believe that we can communicate with loved ones who have passed on but I’ve also always been skeptical. This has definitely eradicated that. It occurs to me that perhaps our loved ones on the other side are often trying to communicate with us but we don’t pay enough attention or understand the signs and messages. Going forward I am definitely planning to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to future signs. I already know my father is good at finding us parking spots when none seem available so simply being more aware would probably help this process.

Have you ever considered that perhaps our journey through life is better reflected in a reverse journey through the Major Arcana? I know we are often shown the Fool’s journey from innocence and naiveté through understanding and wisdom but what if we can acquire those same qualities and experiences by journeying through the Major Arcana from The World to The Fool?

I’ll admit this is not a fully fleshed out theory but one day while looking at the cards it occurred to me that The World could reflect our soul’s experience prior to birth; it’s existence wherever souls go when not inhabiting a body. It is perfect, fully integrated and surrounded by the divine. Judgment is the birth itself – our emergence through a dark passage into the light. The Sun is our infancy and early childhood – when we are the center of the universe and everything we say or do is amazing and spectacular. Then we get a bit older and learn that we cannot stay the center of the universe. Perhaps more children come along or our parents need to return to work and daily reality. We yearn for the moon – that time when everything stopped for us, but that is no longer possible. The Stars are the hope we cling to as we get a bit older; as we realize that mommy does not exist just to satisfy our every whim. We also learn about school. Depending upon whether we have older siblings or friends who enjoy school we may feel existing about this upcoming adventure. We’re frightened but excited too. Then we begin school and have a Tower moment. Our reality crashes down around our feet. Not only is school not the fun experience we anticipate, but we are one of many children in the room. We do not receive the teacher’s undivided attention. We don’t get to do or play with everything we desire. We decide we hate school and cling even tighter to our parents. Like The Devil, we want to be chained to them so we feel safe and secure. We believe this will allow us to remain the center of their attention but in reality we risk becoming a burden.

When we reach Temperance we are starting to learn there is a balance, a midpoint, a blending of our needs and the needs of others. We learn ways to meet our own needs while accepting their as well. We realize our classmates are almost as important as we are; that our parents have other areas of focus. We struggle to find the way to incorporate our need to be individuals with our need to be part of a group or family. We learn there is a give and take to this dance – if we want others to satisfy our needs then we must help satisfy theirs too.

Death, well Death is almost surprisingly easy (at least to my mind). In this context, Death is the upheaval of graduating from one class to the next. Each year brings a minor death for us – we’ve finally figured out how this stuff all works. We know the teacher and have established connections with peers (hopefully) and now we have to start all over again. Graduation from junior high to high school and high school to college is even more traumatic. We go from “ruling the school”, being the big people on campus to peon. Everything we knew is now gone and we must find our way anew. I don’t know about anyone reading this but I must say the first day of high school, first day at a new school and my first day at college were all traumatic and devastating in different ways.

By the time we’ve managed to finish our academic career (if indeed we ever do), we move on to The Hanged Man. Oh, isn’t this fun?!! We finally get the hang of school, it may be stressful and somewhat overwhelming but there are clear rules and instructions along the way, and now we’re thrown into the “real world”. We have no idea what the rules are or what our role is. We’ve been completely turned on our heads and are now seeing things through a different lens. We have no safety net anymore. If we’re truly adults then we need to figure out how to do this on our own and not rely on family to bail us out. We may indeed find ourselves turned all around but sometimes that’s the only way to see a new path or find a new life lesson. I know once I completed my masters in forensic psychology I knew that I had no desire to work in the criminal justice field. My degree was useless (or so I thought). By looking at things from a different perspective I realized I could put those same skills to use in a population that might have a propensity towards interactions with the criminal justice system but were not incarcerated – “at risk” youth. So I found a job as a recreation therapist in a recreation center in the “inner city” (geez, I hate these buzz words so much!) My point is that I was able to put my degree and skill to use in a totally unexpected way and that gave me a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Had I not looked at things from a completely different perspective and allowed myself the time and patience to explore options, I might have ended up taking a job in a field to which I was not well suited.

Justice represents when we finally feel that we’ve regained our balance. We’ve found the way to balance our needs for income and a job and a social life, with our desire to achieve, to be “somebody”. We believe we’ve taken the right steps on that road and now feel more confident that things are going to flow our way. We’ve made the sacrifices and now it’s time for us to receive our rewards. As long as we perceive those scales as balanced, we’re content. We feel that we’ve matured and can now view things from a less emotional, more rational and logical perspective. We’ve learned to weigh the pros and cons of our choices to reach an intelligent decision. We convince ourselves that we are doing the “right” thing, the just thing, the sensible, logical thing. Is that true?

Finally, at the halfway point in our journey we face the Wheel of Fortune. That fickle and every changing wheel that mocks our efforts and forces change upon us. Let’s consider it the quarter-life (it’s a thing, I swear) and mid-life crisis. It reflects that point in our journey where we realize that our path needs to dramatically shift. It’s when we start to question everything we’ve achieved in our lives and wonder if it was all worth it. It’s become immortalized in films such as The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. In fact it’s become something of a cliché because we often dismiss it as an excuse for middle-aged men to buy a new hot rod or hook up with some younger, sexier partner. Perhaps those things are distractions from the real issue – feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled by where we are in our lives. Perhaps we can no longer ignore that we’re unhappy with the choices we’ve made; the things we’ve sacrificed. This may be when parents and spouses realize their career has consumed them and they’ve lost touch with their loved ones. The difference between this experience and the Tower is that we are more mature and thoughtful (usually) and can steer the course of our journey. We can lay in a new path and right what we feel is wrong without completely destroying all that went before. We also have the ability to understand that even though we may be feeling pretty down right now, that can and will eventually shift. That is the nature of life and of our journey.

I’m going to stop here for now. I’ll continue next week. I hope you found this interesting or insightful or it at least made you pause for a moment and think about it.

When the High Priestess parts the veil

Over the last year, I’ve given a lot of thought to the High Priestess. She and I have had an on again, off again, sometimes adversarial relationship. I have always resisted seeing myself as psychic or intuitive so I felt that I had nothing in common with the High Priestess (for that matter I’ve always had a strained relationship with The Empress too but that’s another post). Anyway, while looking at the RWS High Priestess one day I was struck by something – I’ve never really considered what lies on the other side of her veil. What is she guarding, blocking, hiding? I know it’s part of her symbolism but it was something I gave only a cursory focus in a reading. At least until now.

Now I finally have an idea what awaits behind her veil – at least for me.I thought about where I am in my life right now. Turning 50 really seems to have thrown a switch in my brain. It’s as if all the previous 20-30+ years of indoctrination and assimilation just fell away; as though the shell encasing me cracked and revealed the true me. Apparently, the true me is much closer to the 13-year-old me than I ever realized. That is what was revealed to me when the High Priestess finally parted the veil. I was finally ready to see what was hidden – the true me, the “me” I was before I tried to fit in and adapt. The feral me, if you will. Quite frankly, she’s a pretty ballsy, awesome, kickass chick.

When I was a teen, my dress code was casual. Boots, jeans, plaid shirts and casual blazers. I loved that look and stuck with it for a long time. It was fine while I was in school but once I started working I needed to upgrade the wardrobe. I’ve never done corporate or dressy well and so I adapted a style that wasn’t really my own but worked. I always felt like I was wearing a costume; like a fake and a phony. However, it felt necessary in order to function effectively at my job. When I dressed too casually, my authority was questioned. So I played the game.

Once I accepted that I would never be returning to that kind of job, I reacquired some of my old favorites – jeans, boots, plaid shirts, and blazers. Of course being a fan of Supernatural means many folks assume I’m emulating the Winchesters’ style, but no, it was mine long before the Winchesters existed. Sorry for the style tangent but my point is that I feel as though I’ve reconnected to the deepest, truest me as symbolized by this style. This is who I was before I was dressing to impress.

It’s been fun and soul satisfying to reconnect to this feral, wild woman. She hasn’t been seen very much over the last few years. Or, more accurately stated, she often showed up at unexpected moments usually connected to alcohol and it wasn’t always comfortable for all involved. She was so suppressed and oppressed that I’m surprised she didn’t throw in the towel and leave the building. Thankfully, she’s as stubborn as I am and hung in there. Getting to know her again has been eye-opening. I look forward to deepening our relationship and re-learning myself.

Perhaps this is the gift, the revelation the High Priestess offers to us. She reveals our true selves once we are ready to handle that revelation. Perhaps this is why people decide to make dramatic life changes when they reach their late 40s/early 50s. Maybe what we’ve always considered mid-life crises are actually attempts to reconnect with our true selves; to find our way back to who we were meant to be. I think it’s going to be an ongoing process but I’m looking forward to the journey.

Okay, deep, dark revelations time – my childhood was pretty dark much of the time. I know I’ve alluded to some things and outright stated others but to say it was a clusterfuck would be an understatement. My family was poor – I mean Mom sold blood for money poor. My parents were underage when I was born (16 & 17) and by the time they were 22 there were four kids. My father was an immature ass and bully for most of his life – at least as far as his family was concerned. We put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Only it really wasn’t funny.

I was battered and bruised physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually. For many years I believed that this was my fault; that I had done something or said something to bring this on me. Even most of my friends had no idea what went on in my house because who the hell wants to be the freak at that age. All I wanted to do was fit in and believe me that was already difficult enough without all of that shit being exposed. As a result of these experiences, I engaged in some very risky behaviors. I drank a lot! In fact, while in high school I had a few incidences of black out drunks and can’t remember anything. I was smart enough or scared enough not to try drugs more serious than the occasional joint but I took enough risks and chances to ensure that I could have easily become a statistic.

My parents had no clue how to handle me. Even my father, who was quick to beat the crap out of me should he feel the need, didn’t know how to stop me from going in the local bar. One night, after learning that I had been hanging out in the bar (I was about 15 at the time), he brought me back down to “prove” to me why it wasn’t safe. When we walked in my father was greeted by a number of patrons (including some who were rather criminal). When they learned I was his daughter they assured him they’d keep an eye out for me. So, I pointed out to my father that I was probably safer in that bar than anywhere else in the neighborhood. The fact that he accepted my statement and started playing darts rather than outing my true age to the bartender gives you a good idea how clueless he was as a parent.

Why am I bringing all this up? Simple, because one of the epiphanies I had at the 2016 Readers’ Studio is the fact that I was carrying the shame and guilt for events that were not mine to carry. I did nothing wrong. I was blameless in what was done to me. I was a child, powerless and defenseless. Even admitting that now is giving me palpitations. I preferred to take the blame on myself because it gave me the illusion of having some control, some power in this situation. What a load of crap! I was a child. I should have been protected by my parents not needed protection from them. Even as I write this I can feel rage flood through me at how bruised and beaten that poor little girl was. It took me a long time to realize that I was still that bruised, beaten, traumatized little girl.

Those experiences made me feel weak and made me determined never to feel that defenseless and weak again. Instead, I became aggressive – each offense resulted in a physical response. That often mean I got into fist fights with boys I knew. I eventually acquired the nickname “The Nutcracker” because I did not appreciate being groped by adolescent males. Believe me, taking punches from those boys was nowhere near as painful as taking them from my father. I probably would have continued down this path of aggressive, self-destructive behavior and binge drinking but I met my husband. I realize how amazingly lucky I was in meeting the hubby. I was 16 at the time and he was 24. He could have easily controlled and abused me – I was already primed for that kind of relationship. Instead, he defended me, protected me and made me question some of my more self-destructive behaviors. He encouraged me to do things for me not because of the expectations of others.

So here I am at 50 (facing 51) and I’ve finally been able to accept that none of that was my fault (well okay the binge drinking and aggressiveness but I’m giving myself a break because I had poorly developed coping skills). I don’t need to bear any of the shame or blame for those situations. I did not ask to be abused or molested. There was nothing inherently “wrong” with me that drew these types of people to me. Who knows, maybe my light was so bright that they felt jealous and had to dim it, tarnish it in some way. I cannot understand their motivations and no longer care. All I know is that I have shed myself of the blame and shame I carried for years. I feel lighter and more hopeful. I’m a survivor; I’m strong and resilient and I won’t let those experiences define or defeat me anymore.

I’m not shattered, I’m a mosaic

While pursuing my MA in forensic psychology, I read a textbook entitled The Shattered Self. It was offered case studies of people suffering from PTSD, which the authors argued should be considered a dissociative disorder, not an anxiety disorder (I may be oversimplifying this, it’s been a long time since I read the book). As I read the book I had very mixed feelings; very personal feelings. I could to be objective about the material covered in the book. In fact it made me a little angry. As I read the cast studies many of them resonated with me on a deep level; their experiences often mirrored my own. What made me angry was the concept that these people were somehow damaged because they had found a way to pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward. Why did the fact that they had shattered make them defective? To me, they were strong, brave, resilient people who managed to endure what many could not. Yeah, okay, there might have been some projecting going on there.

In retrospect I realize that the reason these folks had become case studies in this book is because eventually their coping mechanism felt apart and they re-shattered. They were suffering and trying to hold it together as best they could but failing. So, in theory, counseling or therapy would be beneficial. Of course because I am a stubborn bitch, I resisted even the idea that being shattered was harming me. I felt like a piece of safety glass – sure I was shattered but I was still holding it together. I hadn’t lost any pieces.

As I gain more experience and wisdom, I realize that I have also made myself into a mosaic. I replaced some of the shattered pieces with new ones that are brilliantly colored and uniquely shaped. I wear these new tiles with pride because they’re proof that I have the strength to endure and the will to keep moving forward. I don’t think I’m so special (or at least no more or less special than anyone else) because clearly the case studies in The Shattered Self prove that others have the same resilience that I do. At the same time, I am proud of the fact that I am resilient and even if I’m shattered I don’t fall to pieces on the floor.

Once again, this is something that has been incubating in me since last year’s Readers’ Studio. All three presenters (Heatherleigh Navarre, Barbara Moore & Sasha Graham, who were all amazing!) focused on shadow work. It was an awesome experience because each session managed to enhance and build upon the energy from the other sessions. Quite a lot of magical power was unleashed that weekend. As we worked through the exercises and listened to the presenters I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized that I had no problem working with the darker side of human nature because I’ve been so exposed to it during my lifetime; it’s familiar territory.

I’ve probably hinted or even outright stated this before on this blog, but the fact of the matter is that much of my childhood was exposed to the darker side of human nature. My household was one of alcoholism, abuse (emotional, psychological, physical and sexual) and poverty. Most of my childhood friends came from similar backgrounds. We didn’t realize things were screwed up because this is the way it had always been for us. It’s not until I share tales of our exploits and get horrified looks from listeners that I realize how violent, dark and different my childhood was compared to many others.

I have learned to thrive in darkness, like a flower that blooms at night. It has become my milieu; I am comfortable in its environs. What I tend to avoid is the light, the gentle, the calmer approach to things. While sitting at Readers’ Studio I realize that one of my strengths is that I can help someone find their way through their own darkness. I can embrace and accept this side of their nature and help them work through it and find their way to wholeness. I can serve as the guide across the River Styx but I prefer not to accompany them back to the light. I prefer the shadows. I trust the darkness; I know what to watch for and what to expect. The light is something unfamiliar and untrustworthy. Random acts of kindness and spontaneous acts of generosity make me twitchy and a bit suspicious (something I am working on changing).

This realization also forced me to understand that my ability to endure and survive this experiences does not mean everyone can do so. It doesn’t make those who get lost in the shadows or who fear them weaker than me, simply different. I a bit like a colorblind person who doesn’t miss color because she has never seen them. I don’t miss the light side because it isn’t something I had a lot of experience with growing up. As an adult, I’ve been lucky enough to make friends who have slowly exposed me to the benefits of the light side and I am more grateful to them than words can express but it hasn’t shifted my orientation much.

Maybe in a way, I’m like the Tarot version of a sin eater. I can absorb the darkness or shadow side that others fear so much and help them learn to become more comfortable with it too. Hmm, maybe I’m more like a dark side Brita filter, helping purify the dark side so it’s more fully appreciated.

Let’s face it – there are a lot of folks out there working the light side of the street. They try to convince us that it’s healthier and more positive. In my experience, it’s much healthier to embrace both sides. As Star Trek (yes I love classic Star Trek, Gene Rodenberry was a genius, and I plan to use examples from the show as often as possible) showed, humanity needs its darker side; messier, more violent shadow side. Without it we risk becoming indecisive martyrs, trying to harm none – that’s just not possible. I think we need to accept that every action has consequences, some good and some bad. In some ways, every choice we make has the potential to harm others. That is just how life works. If you are offered a job that means all the other applicants were rejected – someone was harmed. Get over it. Instead of ignoring or denying the shadow side, try working with it a bit. You don’t need to immerse yourself in it but try accepting and acknowledging it and learn what its energy can do for you. I think you’ll be surprised.

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