"C" is For Consciousness
Image credit: Viscera I (Untitled) by Kelly Messer, 2018. Oil on canvas.
You may be wondering why I would share my mental health struggles in a public space for all to see. There are many reasons, one being that I don’t feel ashamed of my struggles, in fact, I’m grateful for them. They’ve led me to this place of being that I never thought was possible; a life lived with intent, purpose and compassion. I’m now a fully feeling human being.
I was once a person that mocked those who proclaimed that their lives were full of joy and contentment because I never believed it was possible. I had no role models for doing the hard work of confronting personal pain and shame. A life of peace and contentment seemed impossible to me because those that professed they lived a life full of joy and happiness or proclaimed that they knew the secret to living a full life never explained how they had arrived at this state. They were either lying, ashamed of recounting their journey or spiritual bypassing. Essentially, they didn’t show their work. They tried to sell some secret knowledge of how to attain happiness without doing any of the hard work of self examination. There is no easy way to attain peace and contentment and live your truth without doing the grueling work of confronting every painful emotion and every shame you’ve pushed deep down inside yourself.
With these posts I’m showing you my work. All of it. Most of it isn’t pretty, but at the same time it’s beautiful and full of grace. I want you to know it’s possible, because I think if someone had authentically shared the story of their personal darkness with me, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me 47 years to start my own journey.
So here’s the continuation of my story. It’s possible. These are my receipts.
I recall asking my therapist how long it would take for this self reflection she said might help me. She said about a year. I said I’d give it a try having no idea what I was really agreeing to. Each week she’d give me the option of quitting. “You don’t have to do this,” she would say. I wouldn’t respond knowing that if I did, a surrender might come out of my mouth. I was out of options. I’d been spinning out of control my entire life and there was nowhere left for me to hide. Several weeks after she’d been giving me this out, I finally found my voice. “I can’t stop now,” I said, “I’m in too deep.” “Yes, you are,” she said, and she never gave me an ‘out’ again.
I thought about how I didn’t take that out each time I found myself in the fetal position on the couch, or when an animal-like howl escaped my mouth. Each time I thought I might be coming out of the dark and into the light, I’d go back down again, a new traumatic or painful memory presenting itself for me to labor over. This went on for months, well past the year my therapist said it would take. I learned to sit with the pain, because pain has its own time frame for healing and it certainly wasn’t adhering to my schedule.
I screamed into pillows at all of the people that had hurt me, the first of which was myself. I smashed things with golf clubs just as my pain and shame had smashed my humanity and my heart. I grieved every injustice, every slight, every denial of my true self. It all came out in torrents. Often I was unfit to be around other people. I learned that the hardest parts of this work must be done in solitude and at the very time you don’t want to be with yourself any longer.
Along with the pain would come glimmers of hope and light that would creep into my brain. At first, hope’s visits were weeks apart, then it showed itself daily until it stayed with me and brought with it a new way of experiencing the world. I didn’t have a name for this way of existing at the time because I didn’t know I had been living unconsciously. I certainly didn’t know there was a conscious way of being. Out of the depths of my pain, consciousness came and brought many gifts with it. I began to feel every fiber of the carpet beneath my feet. I could taste every grain of food that touched my tongue. I could hear every individual note of a song. I spent hours watching the wind blow through the leaves on the tree outside my front door when I didn’t have the energy to go any further. I examined the flower petals on my patio plants until I could see them in intricate detail when I closed my eyes hours later. I could smell the wind and every scent if wafted my way. I was experiencing the world for the very first time, like a newborn. Although I had names for the things my eyes took in and past experiences with all of these sensations, they were completely new to me because I experienced them at a depth previously unknown to me. I didn’t have a name for this way of existing in the world because I had never known consciousness and I had never lived in the present. I never knew it was possible to live any other way than beholden to anxiety and depression. I had existed entirely in fear of the future because the past and the present were too painful.
Once I began to leave the darkness and uncover my soul, I began to see that there was a force far greater than myself at work, something guiding me through the darkness and toward the light. I came to call it the Universe, because I had long ago given up any association with God, who was used by others in my life as a means to spiritually shame me (a story for another time). The Universe provided the connections I needed to pull myself out of the pain and shame I lived with. These connections had always been there, but I was never conscious enough to see them before. Certainly the Universe put my therapist in my path to walk with me through this process, but it also put books, music, poems, movies and art along my path at the very moments that I needed them. It was like the Universe was giving me the answers to all of the questions on the test; the test about myself. Most importantly, the Universe gave me the people I needed in my life at the precise moment I needed to learn something from them.
I began to experience life as a poem. I took in sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch as lyrical melodies that flooded my brain. I found new ways to describe experiences and I began to see everything as a gift. When I walked in the woods I would be sure to be present so as not to miss the gifts the Universe had in store for me. It might be the sighting of a deer who appeared to look deep into my soul, or it might be a bird’s song that felt like it was uttered for the first time and just for me. I wept at the beauty of these gifts and for the joy at now being able to see them and for the grief of knowing I’d missed so many gifts over the course of my life because I had given pain and shame a home in my heart and body for so many years.
Losing my physical and mental health has been the greatest gift I’ve ever received. Truly. Anxiety and depression have been my greatest personal challenges and my best teachers. I’ve learned that there is a better way to live, one that embraces emotion and connection and doesn’t lead to performing for others, or feelings of scarcity and unworthiness. I’m still learning to manage anxiety in my life, but it no longer controls me. I gained control of my life by giving up control. It was a very hard lesson to learn, but the more I trust in the Universe to be my guide and teacher, the more joy and purpose I have in my life. I am in charge of my emotions now and I welcome them and let them linger until I learn what it is they have to teach me. The greatest gift I’ve ever given myself is to rebuild my life on my own terms to serve my spirit and my soul.
It’s possible to have an awakening of the soul and it’s possible for every human being, if you’re willing to do the hard work of looking inside of yourself and confronting your personal darkness. It’s a scary place to be, but it's where all of the answers lie.