Sunday, December 14, 2014

More Shadow Work

Sometimes the shadow self, or even the inner child, can resist intimacy.  A history of being too hard on yourself, ignoring your undesirable (or even desirable or neutral) aspects, or perfectionism will need practice, time, patience, and compassion to alter.  It sounds cheesy, but focusing on the "control" in "self-control" deprives the "self."

I've found several guided meditations that involve imagining and analyzing both the shadow self and the inner child.  Most of these are beneficial, as there might be underlying symbolism and it can be easier to communicate with something that has a face than with something ethereal and vague.  But then these meditations often instruct hugging, comforting, melding with, or invading the safehaven of the shadow self or inner child.  Even though these are all parts of oneself, these meditative acts can feel invasive.  This is especially true if your conscious or "light" self have a history of self-berating or idealization or denial.

With the understanding that there are the inner child, the shadow self, and the light self, it's possible to discern a continuum.  The inner child might have grown more into one self than the other.  At some point, a division occurred - this isn't the snapping of a twig, more like a treetrunk dividing as it grows.  If the inner child grew into the shadow self and your light self developed later on, what created it?  If the inner child grew into the light self and your shadow self feels like a parasitic vestige, what's made it develop?  And if the inner child seems equal in both the shadow and light selves, when did the disparity begin?  

Go back to what made that split.  Was it a traumatic event?  The leaving from a long-term traumatic situation?  A benevolent or cruel new person or influence?  The inner child, shadow self, and inner self are all interconnected - find where their roots come together.  That is a starting point for intrapersonal bonding, communication, and healing.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Big Post on Shadow Work

Shadow Work is intrapersonal work on analyzing the negative aspects of oneself, learning how to accept them, and harmonizing them with positive and neutral aspects.  This isn't berating or fixing or glorifying.  We all have negative aspects of ourselves, destructive or greedy or envious or proud or ashamed and it's very tempting to either sweep them under a rug or drown them or even to put them on a pedestal.  None of that is healthy, it's like a house with a divided foundation.  The shadow self is compost for personal growth - it's not pretty, it smells bad, it takes up a lot of time and space, but patiently working with it allows for beautiful things.

If you've seen/read Scott Pilgrim, you may remember that the protagonist confronts Nega-Scott, his shadow self.  It kicks his ass repeatedly and he keeps either running from it or trying to destroy it - Scott's victory isn't getting the girl or defeating the bad guy, it's making peace with Nega-Scott.  Another book by the author, Bryan Lee O'Malley, called Seconds, has a similar theme.  The protagonists in both these stories keep tripping over their own feet and getting in their own way until they find personal harmony.  This is done by approaching the shadow self honestly and openly, utilizing intrapersonal communication, and choosing to make a present different from the past.

Shadow Work can be done through many psychological techniques: journaling, meditating, interviewing oneself, art therapy, visualization.  Many people also use metaphysical techniques such as Tarot and poppets.  Make no mistake, these may seem like delicate strategies - but approaching (not confronting!) the undesirable parts of oneself is very difficult and painful work.  This is particularly true for people who have been abused and/or traumatized.  Seeing a therapist in conjunction with these exercises is a good idea, and it's completely okay to take a break if the work is too painful right now.  Shadow Work isn't something to do during a traumatic event and definitely isn't helped by drugs or alcohol as internal stability and clarity are needed (if that only happens during therapy, see if your therapist would be open to doing this with you.  Or maybe a trusted friend or relative).  Be gentle with yourself and practice self-care while doing these - I'm listening to John Denver and James Taylor right now because I'm a big dork ;)

Here are some exercises I've found:
1) Create (draw, paint, embroider, etc) an image of your shadow self.  Don't worry about artistic ability, that isn't the point of this.  Even if you just smudge a sad blue blob with some sidewalk chalk, putting an image or even a series of images can be very revealing and easier to approach the shadow self.  Here is a video about this exercise (this is a great video altogether, but the details of this exercise begins at 4:00).  Be patient with yourself while creating this image, and then look at it peacefully when you're ready.  Is it scary?  Vulnerable?  Heartbreaking?  See if there are any colors that remind you of anything (the skin I painted on my image is the color of the carpet of my mother's house, which was completely unintended), analyze how big the image is compared to the size of the paper.

2) Interviewing or interrogating the shadow self.  One technique of this is described in that same video above at 5:55.  Another way of doing this, instead of back-and-forth interviewing, would be freewriting.  Relax, drink some water or tea, find a space away from others (unless having a therapist/friend/relative around would be better).  Some people prefer writing by hand and others typing, but just write for a set amount of time (one minute, five minutes) or until you're done.  Don't think about it, don't edit, don't read until it's finished.  Sometimes this takes practice, maybe at first you'll think about it too much to let go.
A cousin of mine lent me a wonderful book about freewriting when I was 15 and I did all the exercises very enthusiastically.  But doing it was making me angry all the time and I couldn't stop the bile from spilling out over everything now that I had started to dredge it up.  Eventually I realized this was happening because I was living in a dangerous, abusive situation and couldn't do anything about it - freewriting was revealing to me that I wasn't healthy and I had no control over my life, and more importantly that I had squelched myself down in order to function.  I had every right to be angry.  But trying to change my situation only made it more dangerous.  I had to stop freewriting so that I could survive.  If you do this - or any - exercise and discover this is happening to you, it's okay to stop.  If you begin to realize through Shadow Work that you're in an abusive situation, get to someplace safe before continuing!

3) Approach the fear.  Your shadow self is probably afraid of something, something big and maybe something vague.  Chances are that some experience has confirmed this fear at least once.  Try to figure out a way to approach that fear - not conquer.  Beating your shadow self over the head with what it fears won't help.  Start small, like if you fear being perceived as poor then volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter one afternoon.  Patience and compassion will help.  Of course this is easier said than done, as the very idea of the smallest step towards my fears makes me want to run away.

4) Is your shadow self using someone else's voice?  Remove others' voices layer by layer - this takes practice.  One method I use is whenever my inner critic takes on a past abuser's voice, I say out loud (provided I'm alone) "thank you for your opinion, you may go now.  Goodbye!"  Find your shadow self's actual voice, it's probably much smaller than you'd think.
If someone or a group of people have contributed greatly to your shadow self, write a letter to them.  Not a letter to send, just get out everything stewing around in you that you might want to say to them.  If you're feeling too much to write coherently, scream into a pillow.  It's easier to write a letter or scream at a contributor after you separate them from your own voice.
Write a letter to your shadow self if you'd like.  Be gentle, don't berate.  Shadow Work is for understanding and reconciliation, not fixing or cutting off.

5) Go somewhere with your shadow self, take a walk or see a movie or even take yourself on a date.  I find that I feel more stagnant and claustrophobic whenever a few weeks go by without me exploring somewhere new or going for a long hike.  Fears, self-criticism, impatience, and boredom take up more mental space when I don't make the time to expand my worldview through hiking and travel.  Take your shadow self on a small vacation alone (if possible/desirable) and all of you will feel a burden lifted.

6) A meditation I do roughly once every other week, usually whenever I go hiking, is something I call Cleaning the Carrion.  When the shadow self is in disharmony with other parts of oneself, it infects those other parts.  Bad habits form (procrastination is #1!!), irritability, spiritual disconnection, even physical problems like fatigue and headaches.  Patiently and gently amend those while working on your relationship with your shadow self.  I find that it's easier to fix those bad habits when I do the Cleaning the Carrion meditation.  This is pretty graphic so you don't have to do this or you could even skip reading the rest of this bulletpoint: I imagine my flesh rotting away and eaten up by maggots and vultures until only my skeleton is left.  The skeleton is the shadow self, picked clean of infection.  From there, forming new growth is easier.

7) Find the pattern.  Sometimes it feels like the shadow self takes control - lashing out, pushing people away, manipulating, debilitating depression, problems eating, etc.  Chances are that you have some internal red flags before this happens.  I always have the same dream before a flareup and only through Shadow Work have I managed to notice the pattern, figure out what it means, and work towards changing it.  Your shadow self will probably tell you what it wants or what's stirring it up before it takes over.  Figuring out its triggers and patterns will enable communication and ways to work cohesively as a more whole person.

8) Don't force self-love.  When I was a kid, my mother forced me to hug people whether or not I wanted to, whether or not I even knew who they were, whether they had been ignoring me or screaming at me or pinching me.  It wasn't until a few years ago when a cousin of mine asked his toddler whether or not he wanted to hug me, and then said it was ok that he didn't, that I had even ever remembered that.  Forcing a kid to hug someone they don't want to, especially someone they're afraid of, tells them that their fear and consent are invalid.
Forcing self-love right away only reinforces the shadow self's fear/animosity.  A cat is more inclined to nuzzle your hand when you let it approach you, not the other way around.  Clean away the carrion, communicate, and analyze your shadow self.  Bruises and wounds need to heal, we need to learn to trust our own selves, before we can fully embrace ourselves.  Accepting the shadow self means accepting that it will welcome self-love when it's ready.

9) Word maps.  The #1 word I would apply to my shadow self is fragile.  Think of a word to associate with your shadow self.  Then think of the opposite, what feels the opposite, a word to summarize your "light" self.  If your first impulse is "good," that's ok but that is not the opposite.  The opposite of shadow is light, not good.  The opposite of fragile, as I feel it, is ambitious - these are emotional opposites, not antonyms.  Come up with other words and notice other opposites, like the opposite of comfort feels like shame.  Which ones do your selves have in common, if any?

10)  Woo (I absolutely loathe that term even though I think it's necessary in order to talk about how we approach "metaphysical" practices today).  Hypnosis, astral travel, Tarot, prayer, ritual, etc.  It is not my place to discuss how "real" these things are or aren't, in fact I don't know if that's something anyone can really claim or disclaim.  But what matters here is that these practices can have beneficial effects for some people, and there is no shame in trying any of them out.  I do Tarot readings as a nonverbal intrapersonal communication tool and even though I don't believe in fortune telling or psychic abilities (though I'm open to them) it is a form of personal therapy not much different from painting or hiking.  I've done a few Tarot readings for other people too, which I really enjoy and those friends have gotten both interesting ideas and reassurance out of them.

Links: (this has an important point related to #8.  There are meditations to "go to where your shadow self dwells."  I don't know how to else to describe it, but this can feel like trespassing where one isn't welcome yet.  Even though it's all within yourself.  Again, be patient and don't force self-love) (SO GOOD!)


Monday, June 2, 2014

OkCupid question about altars

I used OkCupid with great success for years, and disabled my account a few months ago for a variety of reasons.  Less interest in new dates for the time being, an increase in creepers, and an increase in militant atheists (friends who also used OkCupid at the time experienced the latter two trends as well).  For those unfamiliar with OkCupid: among the best ways to meet quasi-compatible people is to answer questions in a quizlike fashion.  A list of people who answered these questions similarly is provided.  There is a text box to include comments for each question, and you can read other people's written comments as well.

One question was "On your first visit to a friend's home, which would bother you more, the open display of a religious altar or of a porn library?" For the first few years, I focused more on the reply to the porn library part of the question - I was learning and discussing a lot about sex work, sexuality, etc. so that was more directly relevant to my life.  It did still seem silly to me that a religious altar in the privacy of one's own home would bother anyone.

Among the noticeable signs of the increase of militant atheists on OkCupid was the rise of more rabid responses to this question.  Not only were more people, primarily white men, replying a dislike of altars, but also more written explanations against them.  To be clear: when I say "militant atheist," I mean a person who speaks out against anything religious solely because religion is involved, a person who judges any non-atheist as an idiot.

I don't have a home altar and I have no interest in getting one, but all the people I've known who have had their own (Pagan, Catholic, Buddhist, nondenominational Protestant) took great personal comfort in them.  Many of them told me, upon my asking (after asking if it was ok that I ask), "this house/apt feels like my home because it's where my altar is."  The idea of anyone judging them for that is disgustingly sad.

How about this:
Whatever a person has in their home that doesn't hurt* anyone is ok.
And a person who doesn't want that same thing in their home is ok too.
Let's just not judge someone based on a thing that has no effect on anyone other than the person doing the thing, ok?

* Yes, cultural appropriation is hurtful.  Example: if you're white and making a Hopi Kachina, stop.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Girl Scouts

I've been looking for a place to volunteer the past few months to no avail. Either there's a fee, too demanding hours or nobody gets back to me.   An acquaintance just now thought he was sending me a link to the Girl Scouts cookie finder, but it was actually to their volunteer application. Hmmm....

I was a Brownie & then a Girl Scout until I was 13. My troop leader strangled me & had me kneel on broken glass. Whenever my troop went camping, we cleaned up other troops' cabins ("only boys use tents") because it was practice for housewifery. Until I read Manifesta & a Bitch Magazine article in '06, I thought that's just what Girl Scouts was. I talked with Jennifer Baumgardner & Amy Richards (authors of Manifesta) about how my experience didn't match up with their or Bitch's descriptions; they urged me to alert Girl Scouts Of America of those abuses. GSA was shocked & sent me a formal apology. Because my troop leader had retired, nothing more could be done unless I chose to press charges. That troop leader was Mary Lappe in Chicago.

Maybe volunteering for Girl Scouts of America would be a good move for me, what better way to ensure that the same horrors I endured don't repeat? I interned with Project Girl, a very similar organization, & loved it - not to mention all the LGBT youth work I'veve done. I dunno if I could be a troop leader, but they have opportunities for monthly volunteering.

I'd have to talk with a representative before investigating further, make my experience & concerns known. After what happened to me, all I really know about GSA is what I leaned from that book & that magazine (which I still have!) as well as tumblr's occasional posts cycling around.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Abuse Survival, Moving On?

Starting about mid-high school, deviating from the abusive situation I was in was the main motive for most of my actions, behaviors, beliefs, etc.  It was only because of my supportive, welcoming, wonderful high school (yes, you read that right) that I was able to realize what was going on in my life was both wrong and destructive.  At times I just full-on rebelled against the abuse, in my small and goody-2-shoes way, but otherwise I knew that escape - both mental and physical - was healthier and safer.  

Only with adulthood can I fully understand the extent of the danger I was in; for the past 10 years I wished that I had acted out more (participated scholastic bowl & stage crew, taken AP classes.  What a rebel).  But simply saying "I wish we went somewhere fun on spring break rather than cleaning at home 14 hours a day" nearly got me pulled out of school altogether, so taking those forbidden academic opportunities would have reaped unknown horrors.  It's a little sad that this small fantasy of acting out in school had to be quashed by the reality that could really only be understood with maturity.

Due to time, distance and counseling, I'm getting to the point where the experience of abuse is no longer a factor in my decision-making.  Because of the choices I have made that have brought me to this healthy place, I don't need to escape as much anymore.  I don't want my life to continue to be defined by abuse, I'm ready to move on...though that's a scarier idea than I could've imagined.  Without well-honed vigilance, how can I ensure that I don't walk right back into that?  I speak and write so much about abuse partly to keep track of my healing and partly because so many survivors appreciate it, could I continue speaking out for others after shedding these vestiges?  Occasional triggers and nightmares continue, there are still some bad days - maybe choosing to move on would decrease the frequency of these.   

I still don't know if it would be a good idea to make the names and transgressions of abusers known to the internet - it's very tempting, not for vengeance but to warn the schools with whom those terrible people still work.  There's also the fear that what happened the last time I named crimes will repeat: nobody will care.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Working at a Sex Shop & Navigating My Triggers

I work at a sex shop & absolutely love it. My main job is to educate customers, who are polite & respectful 99% of the time. My co-workers & boss are great and we all share the work without any problems. This is the best job I’ve ever had.

A trigger is a thing, however seemingly minute, that brings a person back mentally to a previous, traumatic experience.  They are often considered symptoms of PTSD, whether from warfare or rape or terrible abuse.  My triggers stem from rape that happened when I was 4-16. It wasn’t until 2010 that i realized exactly what had happened to me (I’m 28 to give you an idea of time). A dark few months passed during which I sought help & recovered. I’m very high functioning today & can pull myself out of the lows that pop up occasionally.

My triggers are easily avoided; I’m very clear about them with my sexual partners, who respect them. But every now and then something at work will start to trigger me: covers of certain porns that fetishize what I went through. Mainstream porn is problematic for more objective reasons, which I won’t tackle right now, and I don’t think any less of the people who enjoy those porns. It isn’t the fault of the porn, of the customers, of my job, nor of myself that I work with my triggers.  I shouldn’t have them to work around, but I can do it.  Sometimes there are parts of the shop that I just won’t go by on bad days. Sometimes I need to go outside and breathe a bit.  This heightened sensitivity is usually brought about either by an attempted contact from my rapist, from a nightmare, or something else unrelated to work.  I have worked on healthy habits to shorten these periods.

Although I’ve known many people who’ve had similar jobs, encountering triggers in the workplace isn’t a topic I’ve ever found. I haven’t brought this up at work largely because it’s not a big enough problem & I want to stay professional. I do want my experience known, nevertheless, for those who might worry that something is wrong with them for having similar triggers. I’m not alone in my experience, and I think it’s important to discuss.  There are resources for rape survivors, abuse survivors, and people who have triggers (contact me if you have questions!!), but I have yet to find any for sex workers and educators?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Anti-Theist vs. Spiritual

A recent trend in my life is that most of the outspoken atheists I know are less compassionate than the outspoken theists I know, who are in the minority.  This trend coincides with a shifting of my active spiritual development from recovery to exploration.

For many years, I shied away from theists (save for NeoPagans during high school) because most of the ones I knew had used spirituality/religion to manipulate and hurt people.  My personal search was that of a victim/survivor trying to get away from trauma.  Ideas of What's Going On, commonly referred to as God to the detriment of theological language, were separate in my mind from the terrible people around me.  Blame the music for the douchebaggery of the dj?  Blame the art for the snobbery of gallerist?  No, I try not to mix the unmeasurable with the measurable so it never made sense to me to blame "God" for the acts of humans.  Other people can come to their own conclusions.  Nevertheless, it took a long time for me to stop judging theists.

After years of theological and philosophical study, summer '13 was when I chose to stop being a victim/survivor and to begin being a practicant, however curious and hesitant a one. Although I have yet to actually talk to anyone at any of the parishes that I have visited - including the one I've found that promotes both compassion and intellectual search - largely because I still distrust dedicated parishioners in general, I have opened discussion of spirituality/theology with friends, family and appropriate acquaintances.  The trend I find today is disturbing.

At this point I should make a distinction: "belief" is a word that I shy away from using.  A religious belief used to mean a lifestyle (traditions, symbols, holidays, values, languages, rituals, etc.) that a person practiced.  What a "believer" actually thought didn't matter; an atheist was simply someone who didn't practice what any established religious community practiced.  The meaning of belief changed when our culture changed away from separate groups of lifestyles.  The understanding of belief as an idea that's accepted as measurable reality, an understanding promoted by both anti-theists and fundamentalists, is relatively new.  I hate to say it, but I find that this definition cheapens the personal meaning that a person can discover - whether it's through religious practice, scientific research, or something else altogether.  In any case, when I say "atheist" I mean a person who refuses any religious affiliation in all aspects of life, and when I say "theist" I mean a person who regularly participates in religious practice.  Most people fall somewhere in the middle.

What a person accepts as reality/truth, whether it's 100% scientific evidence or angels, really doesn't matter to me.  It's frankly none of my business, nor are my "beliefs" anyone else's business (though I'll gladly discuss it with any interested, non-judgmental parties).  But the trend among many of the vocal atheists I know today is to harshly judge anyone who isn't as reliant on science as they themselves claim to be.  What is the point of this?  I can agree that certain ideas are, for lack of a better word, stupid: arbitrarily attaching doctrine to something mundane and trendy.  But who does more harm, the person who prays before every meal or the person who refers to pray-ers as cattle?

It's common for anti-theists to deride all religion altogether because of atrocities done in the name of religion: the Spanish Inquisition, Al-Quaeda, the Exodus (ex-gay "therapy") program, witch-hunts, etc.  To affiliate violence with religion, either a specific one or in general, both devalues the benefits of religion as well as shifts the focus away from actually solving violence.  I've met atheists who advocate genocide of all theists, I've met people who are atheists because scientific research brings more personal meaning to them than anything unmeasurable, I've met theists who win religious community service awards while locking children and dogs in their basements without food or water for days, I've met people who began volunteering at poverty-stricken nursing homes because The Virgin Mary "told" them to.  The religion isn't the point, the practices of both compassion and personal meaning are the point however they are brought about.  What disturbs me is that many of the very atheists who blame religion for cruelty are beginning to act out the same hostilities.

I used to block out theists because the only ones I knew were malicious.  Now, I try not to categorize people through their practices - and I don't want people in my life to line up into patterns of spite that way again.  That does appear to be the trend, though, among many of the atheists I've been meeting the past couple years. As I establish myself as a practicant rather than as a victim/survivor, it is a priority to distance myself from those who would put me back into that state.  After all, it seems to me that anyone who thinks less of me because I find personal meaning through spiritual practice would also think less of me because I find personal meaning through art.  They're both unmeasurable, personal, nonverbal, harmless exercises that I enjoy and have spent years studying.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

5+ Animated Films You Should Watch

1) Kirikou and the Sorceress

Visually stunning and well-written, this European film stunningly illustrates West African folk tales.  You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be blown away by the incredible artwork.  I really can't recommend Kirikou & the Sorceress enough.  A midquel has recently been released and I can't wait to watch it!!

2) The Flight of Dragons

Made by the creators of the more popular animated Hobbit and The Last Unicorn movies, The Flight of Dragons is artistically wonderful.  But the writing is unbearable, so watch this one on mute with some Jefferson Airplane or Led Zeppelin playing. This film is purely aesthetic.
Availability of this movie on DVD has been shaky, sadly.

3) The Secret of Kells

Another one that's absolutely amazing to watch, but the writing is just okay.  The first 10 minutes of the movie aren't much either, so just skip ahead and turn on some Primus.  Inspired by Celtic knotwork and medieval calligraphy, the artwork of this film never ceases to amaze.

4) Heavy Traffic

A Bakshi film clearly based on Eisner's Contract With God, this gives a gritty idea of life in NYC in the 70's.  You'll be left feeling filthy and disturbed afterward, but grateful for the experience.  It's unpleasant at best, raw and honest.

5) The Point

Created by musician Harry Nilsson (and narrated by Ringo Starr!), it was clearly the Schoolhouse Rock people who animated this trippy film.  Nevertheless, this film of hippie-philosophy takes you down the rabbit hole where you can turn on, tune in, and drop out.

Honorable Mention: The Puppetoon Movie

Ok I can't not mention George Pal.  A Hungarian claymation artist and producer who fled to LA to escape the Nazi regime, he revolutionized both his field and special effects overall.  Yes, his films can be extremely racist - it's important to preserve that sour chapter of American history to see how far we have[n't] come.
Also, these were among the first music videos: Dutch-inspired claymation set to big band!