What draws us to what we know will ultimately destroy us?
We run to drugs, bad relationships, alcohol, sex, destructive behaviors that chip away at our humanity. We pick at the scab until blood is everywhere and we feel powerless.
We look in the mirror and wonder how the fuck we got here again.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, I swore I would turn my life around. I altered my diet, I began a meditation practice, yoga became a part of my daily life. My attitude changed. I began to see a light in myself I never knew existed.
Yet, every so often I’d hear the whisper. It’s this voice that led me years before to behaviors so damaging I’d often find myself in a ball on the bathroom floor, crying out for help. It was easy to ignore it when I was undergoing chemo; bald and frail and so dependent on others. But our memories can be painfully short.
As time passed and I began to heal, my demons resurfaced. Cancer doesn’t stop you from being an asshole.
“You can do what you want. You’ve earned it. You’re not really hurting anyone.”
After treatment, I tried to be everything everyone wanted me to be. People looked to me as an inspiration—the fighter, the girl who pushes on. I am a fighter and I do push on through the pain and the fear and the doubt. But I am also a flawed person with insecurities who sometimes makes really shitty decisions.
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m a human being.
My friend, Jennifer Pastiloff, leads a retreat called “On Being Human.” It’s heavy on finding your voice and being your most authentic self. I’ve attended several of these workshops and each time a new layer is pulled back and I get closer to embracing all that I am. I shine a light on not only the pretty parts people are comfortable with, but the shit I hold behind heavily gated doors.
The behaviors deemed so unacceptable my father once told me he wanted nothing to do with me if the stories he heard about me were true.
Over the years I’ve relied on my shadows more often than my light to guide me through life’s rough waters. Using the only tools I thought I had, my shadows protected me when I felt vulnerable. Sometimes they were savage, lashing out and keeping people at a distance. Other times, when I was feeling insecure, I’d run to chaotic and dangerous places.
Toxic relationships were my most favored method.
I lived for the intensity. I escaped into it as the rest of my life was put on hold. Eventually, it would become too much and I’d leave, having gotten the needed high.
I’d return to my life. Until the next time.
Lately, I find myself struggling to stay on track. The whisper has returned, beckoning me back to the shadows.
So how do I move from shadow-based reactions to ones grounded in light?
I sit in the stillness.
I don’t run from the feelings of emptiness that still engulf me. I sit until my body shakes with sadness. Until a puddle of tears forms in front of me. And then I remind myself this feeling will pass. Hiding in my shadow will only prolong the pain.
I stand in the light until I love myself again.
The light illuminates the patterns. I catch myself quicker now, before I spiral down that rabbit hole of self-destruction.
We are human. We are going to fail and fall and sometimes be our own worst enemy. But bad decisions are sometimes made by good people. And none of us need walk around with the proverbial scarlet letter on our chest.
I had to realize I was worthy of living a life in the light. There was nothing so awful about myself that I couldn’t stand in front of others and say, “This is who I am.”
I sit in the stillness with my shadow behind me.
Author: Kathleen Emmets
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Hartwig HKD at Flickr