the Shadow in the absence of social media.

My Shadow comes closer when I take long breaks from social media.

Without the distraction of putting on and maintaining a mask for an audience of mainly people who don’t know the true daily details of my life and my heart, I am confronted by the parts of myself I’m not comfortable with: the parts that are vain, that are avoidant, that are manipulative, that are resentful and judgmental; in the end, it is these things that have often driven me back to social media and the promise that lies there of crafting a gilded front for people to look at and for me to convince myself there is no Shadow.

I deleted my Facebook profile (completely deleted, not just deactivated) months ago, back in July. When one of my best friends died at the beginning of December, all social media seemed suddenly pointless and a waste of time; here was my beautiful lifelong friend, who on Instagram seemed so content and grateful for her life, for her family, for her homestead with its horses and dogs and house-in-progress. Yet, beneath the facade, her heart was breaking to the point of no return.

After her Celebration of Life, I deleted the Instagram app off my phone, which really only has the memory space for one app at a time anyway; I replaced it with Spotify and a steady stream of music to drown out the grief in my brain. Thus, for the past three months, I haven’t posted on social media (other than here on WordPress, which I don’t completely count because it doesn’t encourage users to present a facade of the lives in order to get and keep followers, like Instagram does).

The longer I am off social media, the more I am forced to be present with my life. Seeing, acknowledging, and learning about my Shadow has become a non-negotiable part of that social-media-less existence. Getting to know my Shadow, via my grieving process, has been difficult and heart-wrenching; there has been a lot of anger, a lot of resentment, a lot of grief, and a lot of tears arising at various moments, in between desperate bouts of sexual heat (another coping mechanism).

But I’ve discovered something else: the Shadow isn’t all nastiness and unhealthy patterns and bad coping mechanisms. The Shadow is also parts of me I discarded as a child and as an adolescent because they didn’t fit what I felt the world wanted from me.

The Shadow is also my child-self. The Shadow is me at five years old, ascending my favorite climbing tree to sit on the topmost branch and feel my spirit soar with the wind against my face. The Shadow is my young feet exploring the forest and talking to the plants and trees. The Shadow is my stubborn belief in magic and wonder and the spirit(s) of Nature that, even as a teenager, I snuck out of my bedroom window to commune with. The Shadow is my 13-year-old self that elected to stay home when my family went to a concert, claiming disinterest, just so that I could stand in the snow and sing to the milky full moon.

My Shadow is my heartbreak at eight years old, sitting in a bathroom stall and hearing my classmates talk nastily about me, how dumb and immature I was for still believing in faeries. My Shadow is my desperation to fit in, the hiding away of my wild nature, and my grief when my attempts to be like everyone else just didn’t work. My Shadow is my hopelessness when my adolescent attempts at activism were looked down on and ignored because I just wasn’t cool enough, just wasn’t popular enough, just wasn’t intelligent enough. My Shadow is my fear of never, ever being good enough to be loved.

My Shadow is the parts of myself that were never bad, really, but are wounded by my and society’s rejection of them. And my Shadow is asking to be integrated again. My Shadow has been asking me to heal its wounds.

Healing the Shadow, of course, isn’t easy work; there’s no 1-2-3 method for it, and the more I get to know my Shadow and think about my experiences since I turned 18, the more I think that the process of healing the Shadow requires both intention and natural progression: I don’t think I could have healed my Shadow at 18, because I simply didn’t have a deep understanding of what a Shadow even was, not to mention I was lacking in the deep self-awareness that sort of introspection requires. It’s because of my experiences the past almost seven years that I am now able to look at these parts of myself and say: This is my Shadow. She is part of me, and she is hurting.

But my best friend’s death was, in its way, a catalyst for forcing myself to really look at my Shadow; not just for myself, but for her. Healing my Shadow is for her, in a way, because in the end she didn’t have the strength to heal hers: in the end, she was happiest when she returned again to Spirit. But I knew my friend, and I know she’d want me to heal in the way she wasn’t able to in this life.

I’ve been starting small — small steps that already seem to be accumulating in big ways. Daily, or nearly daily, poetry has been a low-energy form of introspection and acknowledgement of my emotions (rather than my usual avoidant tendencies). Finally talking about what lies in my heart, even when I’m not sure how the person I’m speaking to is going to react.

I’m also trying to heal my Shadow by taking the steps to return to those feelings of connection and peace I found before I let society scare them into hiding. While reading Material Girl, Mystical world by Ruby Warrington (founder of The Numinous), in a section about “doing your dharma” (your life’s purpose), I tried a suggestion of hers for figuring out, or beginning to figure out, what your dharma is (other than diving into your astrological natal chart): thinking of what brought you joy, ecstasy, and peace as a child, before the world told you it was a bad thing.

I closed my eyes and instantly I was there, in the forests surrounding my childhood home, communing with the land, sensing and talking to, in my child way, its spirit(s). Think about why that thing brought you joy, Warrington advises, and the answer came to me almost instantly.

After giving birth, while I was still living in Alaska, I fell headfirst into herbalism, not just as a way to create medicines and live a healthy life (although that was certainly part of it), but also as a way to commune again in a deep way with the land and with its spirit(s). In some traditions of herbalism — most notably the Wise Woman Tradition taught by Susun Weed — encourages the creation of a connection to herbal allies, often through focusing on one wild plant at a time, not only learning all you can about that plant, but also communing with it in deeply spiritual ways.

How I felt during that period, when I was focused on wild herbalism and the spiritual process of wildcrafting, reflected how I felt as a child, when every plant and tree had a spirit that spoke to me. In fact, it was one and the same: a piece of my Shadow, beginning to be healed.

Unfortunately, some months after moving to Oregon, that passion fell once again into hiding as I dealt with deep emotional turmoil; I forgot about it and never picked it up again. Yesterday, as I envisioned that period of my childhood and remembered my lost joy in active communion with nature, I felt my Shadow stirring, saying yes yes yes.

I don’t know how long it will take to heal my Shadow. From all I’ve read — and I’ve read quite a bit — it’s a lifelong process; perhaps it’s something I’ll never be finished doing. But if I let myself become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, then I won’t do it; I’ll freeze up and the work will be left in stagnation, just as it did when I gave up herbalism and froze my growth in the face of my separation from my daughter’s father and resulting existential fear that came to take the place of that relationship.

So I’ll focus on the present.

I started with poetry, and now that it’s a habit, the poetry will continue to flow.

And now I’ll return to the land. I’ll return to talking to the trees and the plants. I’ll return to the nettle infusions and chickweed salads and dandelion tea. I’ll descend from my head into my heart.

I’ll remember where lush lives: in the soil beneath my feet, and in the fertile darkness of my own Shadow.


things my best friend’s death is teaching me. [trigger warning: suicide]

I don’t have all the details yet — I’ll find them out when I attend the funeral this weekend — but from what I’ve gathered, I think she may have killed herself.

Notice I did not say commit suicide. That makes her sound like a criminal. No. My best friend did not want to die. She had plans for her future, plans she was excited for. She had hobbies she enjoyed, a family she loved, horses and a homestead, a house being built. Ruby was a victim. A victim of a war she had been fighting against her mind for years.

For days, I’ve been living in a haze of despair, feeling like I could barely see the world in front of me, much less interact with it. Every moment I’ve experienced something she’ll never experience again has felt like a further betrayal . . . I know every single person in her life feels responsible, in some way or another. It tears at my heart to think of how deeply I failed her, how deeply we all failed her. 

Logically, I also know that, for so many people who struggle against mental illness, this is the end result; the true evil, the thing we all should be blaming for Ruby’s death, is this system we live in that doesn’t allow anyone to thrive except white, male, cishet, abled, and neurotypical people. How different would Ruby’s life have ended up, had she been supported the way she deserved to be . . . ?

In all of this mourning, these past days, there are three things I feel I know for sure. Perhaps it’s just my personality . . . but every time I’m going through a deep inner struggle, what keeps me going (and what keeps me from giving into unhealthy coping mechanisms) is putting into words what it is I’m learning from the experience about myself and about life. 

  1. All my life, but especially since I’ve been an adult, I’ve kept everyone and everything I love at arm’s length, never putting all of my heart and soul into anything or anyone for too long, never truly seeing anyone or anything through. I have done it to spare me and others pain, but ironically, doing so has only exacerbated the pain, the loneliness, of myself and others. Maybe if I hadn’t kept Ruby at arm’s length, things would be different. Maybe her life, and my life, would have been different. I don’t want to make that mistake anymore. Down deep in my soul, her death has shifted my priorities; I am not here on earth to keep life at arm’s length, but to live it fully, and to love with all of me.
  2. Ruby spent the last years of her life fighting with all of her heart and soul to be sober, and to be a better person, for herself and for those who love her. She was — and is, because I do not believe we just disappear into nothingness when we die — a fucking warrior. She lost the war, but she won at least a decade’s worth of daily, weekly, and monthly battles. For me to give into my despair-driven desire to drink would be the worst way of dishonoring her. The way to honor her memory best is to do for myself what she tried so hard to do for herself: be sober, and do the inner work needed to thrive.
  3. Even when Ruby was struggling, she always tried to find something to stir her spirit, her smile, her laughter — whether it was the natural world around her, her family, her friends, or just humor in general. The second best way to honor her memory is to enjoy life, and know that when I laugh, she is laughing. And when my spirit soars, hers is soaring as well, because in death we do not disappear, but rather become part of the divine love that makes up the universe. Ruby is within me. 

These past days of grief, I haven’t had my daughter with me; when I found out about Ruby’s passing, I was so blinded with despair that I didn’t feel capable of taking care of Luna, so I had her father’s partner pick her up on her way home from work. But I got Luna back last night, and her father stayed for a while when he did so, and held space for me to talk about Ruby. He empathized, articulating his own heartbreak at his close friend’s death last year. We talked about memories of Ruby from when we lived in Maui, and he got me laughing. 

I’m grateful he did. Because in my days of mourning, I had erected additional walls between myself and everyone else. I couldn’t possibly consider that anyone could understand the way I was feeling. He reminded me that I am not alone in the inner turmoil that comes with the death of a loved one, especially when the loved one is a victim of suicide. And having Luna back reminds me that I had a life before Ruby’s death, and her death has not changed that; even though it often feels cruel that life goes on, it is fruitless to rage against the fact. 

I’m still heartbroken, still grieving . . . but the haze is gone, now. I’ve been laughing and playing with Luna. Eating. Hoopdancing, a little. I’m in mourning, but I’m also keeping in my heart the way I felt when I was with Ruby: fully alive.

I don’t want to keep my loved ones, or life itself, at arm’s length anymore.

I will live fully, and it will be in honor of her. It’s not a comfortable feeling, this paradox of pain and the determination to hope.

But that’s life, isn’t it?

And we bear it as best we can.