image by Mariana Mayer from the book, Beauty and the Beast
I have been living in a kind of removed state since I left my marriage and moved into my own home. Before I left, when I was dreaming of life on my own terms, I had the notion that the simple act of creating my own space in the world would open the precious inner life I’d locked away inside myself for so long. I would pick up a pencil and sketch again. I would sing while strumming my ukulele. I would take up baking again, all the while dancing as I mixed butter and sugar, flour and cinnamon. I would open up my sewing machine and start a daring new dress or costume. I would spend my mornings sitting in front of my altar, burning sage, pulling oracle cards and conjuring magicks. There would be long walks with my dog in the nearby open space.
Once I’d settled in and created some order, I drew up a list of things that would feed my soul and bring me happiness and purpose. I told myself the reason I hadn’t begun doing any of those things was because I was tired, exhausted from the immense energy it took to find a place, secure it and move. I gave myself a month to rest, do whatever I pleased in the weeks when my boys were with their father. I colored, played video games, watched endless movies and shows, and allowed the cold and heavy snow to be an excuse for why I wasn’t leaving the house more often.
When the pandemic began I’d been living on my own for about 6 weeks. My month of rest was up and I was discovering that I didn’t want to do any of the things on my list. I resisted my therapist’s directive to notice feelings and find ways of expressing them. I avoided going to trauma informed yoga classes even when the pandemic made them accessible in my home via streaming. I felt sedentary and began to wonder why it was so hard to pick up a pencil or my instrument. I felt dry, empty and without motivation.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, psychologist and story teller wrote the following about women reclaiming their wild nature:
This is the hard part; this is the part where the shoes have to be cut off. It hurts to cut oneself away from an addiction to self-destruction. Nobody knows why. You’d think a captured person would be relieved to have turned this corner. . . But no, instead they go into a funk, they hear teeth gnashing, and discover they’re the ones making that noise. They feel they are bleeding somehow, even though there is no blood. Yet, it is this pain, this severing, this “not having a foot to stand on,” so to speak, this no home to go back to, that is exactly what is needed to start over, to start fresh, to go back to the handmade life, the one carefully and mindfully crafted by us every day.
The truth is, where I was once a prisoner to my abuse and then all the things I did to survive it, I am now lying in the cage I built and the door is open but I will not venture outside of it. I do not know how to live a life that is not driven by the deep need to survive. I have been severed from what inspires me by the energy it took to hide, run, or blend in and not be noticed. I had expected that once free, I would leap and bound into the wide fields of life and relish in my liberation. I am discovering that I don’t know how to be my own, wild self.
It is not surprising to me that this experience of not being able to leave the cage of my own making parallels my journey in the trauma work I’m doing right now. I had a major break through after leaving my marriage. I discovered and nurtured belief in my capability. I reinforced it every time I decided to do something on my own that I had previously thought myself incapable of. I turned down the opportunity to be in relationship with someone kind and with whom I feel joy and companionship; I stayed true to a deep need within myself to stay focused on my journey of self-discovery and growth. For a couple of weeks, I allowed myself to explore rage and I fought to stay connected with that unruly beast even though it was frightening and overwhelming.
And then I arrived at what felt like a standstill. The growth curve flattened out into a grassland of repetition. Notice the sensations in my body; communicate honestly with others about my needs and expectations; stay embodied when I feel myself slipping away into the oblivion of dissociation; respond to anxiety with compassion; nurture new relationships with care and transparency; experiment with balance in my life; practice self-care before caring for others. Each act felt small in comparison to the courage it took to journey into the dark places of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, to end a marriage that wasn’t based on mutual honesty and respect and to make my way in the world on my own.
The seemingly endless repetition of these daily practices appear minute when placed next to the efforts I have made in the past. And, I’ll be honest, it’s a bleak landscape, this endless repetition. When looked at under a lens during a therapy session, I can see growth happening, even acknowledge the wave of change I tug at, like a lunar orb pulling at a body of water otherwise moved only by wind. I continue to repeat these actions because I trust my therapist but they often feel as though they aren’t enough to change the course of a life that’s only ever been governed by fear, madness and loss.
It is not too much to take one year, two years, to assess one’s wounds, seek guidance, apply the medicines, consider the future. A year or two is scant time. The feral woman is a woman making her way back. She is learning to wake up, pay attention, stop being naive, uninformed. She takes her life in her own hands.
The notion of taking a good, long time to re-enter the world feels right to me. I wish it were otherwise; I wish I could simply be moved into my own space and transformed into a person who knows who they are, what they want and is capable of instantly owning that life. All the years of therapy, the hard labor of unearthing trauma, tending to wounds, and learning new skills, make it very clear that nothing about this work will ever be immediate or simple.
The work is to keep doing the work. Even when it feels mundane and pointless.
In order to do that work and give myself the time and space to make my way back, I will try to cultivate kindness towards myself. I will attempt to find balance between allowing myself the space to simply be and the actions that will provide stability and consistency in my day to day life. I will do as my therapist keeps suggesting and do something nice for myself every day, just because. I will work towards nurturing acceptance of my feelings and experiences. I will attempt to remember that feelings come and go, because in knowing this fact, perhaps I will allow myself to feel in the moment, then allow the moment and the feelings to pass.
No easy tasks, these. But I have the comfort of perspective and experience. When I began DBT and EMDR, I didn’t know how, or if, I could go through those therapies. My therapist tells me I’m in the phase of trauma work called integration. I think I was expecting this piece to be easier than the work of the last 27 years. It is certainly different; it is more subtle and requires a lot of careful listening to inner voices I’m unfamiliar with because they were drowned out by the insistent wailings of the critically injured parts of myself. Now that the major wounds have been tended to and my soul is not in danger of bleeding out, I must begin the work of accounting for all the aspects of myself which have been neglected and left feral.