In my last post I wrote about depression and posed some questions about how we, as people, can truly live with ourselves and love who we are. This topic has been on my mind a lot lately as I’ve been fighting a renewed battle against depression and self-loathing. As a result, I have begun a campaign of self-love and soul reconciliation. I’m hoping that the end result will be a more integrated and happier “me”, but only time will tell. In the meantime, I’d like to share some of my reflections and on the most recent stint of my life’s journey in the hope that it may be of some use to others going through similar experiences.
“Can I make the monster that lives inside me my friend and ally?”
I posed this question in my last post. It goes back to the concept of “naming and claiming”. At my mother’s church they used the same phraseology to describe their process of acheiving prosperity. Name it, claim it and it’s yours, is the basic idea. Not that long ago, I discovered this same concept can be applied to other things as well.
To name something is to give it power and purpose with the named receiving the gift/curse of the name they are give and the Namer having the ability to command the named. Think about God naming Adam and then allowing Adam to name all the animals and plants and giving him dominion over them. Consider the ritual/sacrement of baptism. This is why many Gods have more than one name, some being public and others are kept hidden and revealed only to initiates or those to whom the Gods wish to give their sacred name. This is why names are so important and we must take care with those things we choose to name and those with whom we share our names. I don’t like to wear name tags for this reason. I prefer to have people ask for my name and give me the option of extending (or not) my hand to share it.
So, understanding the power of names, I was inspired by these lyrics from the musical Next to Normal: Until you name me you can’t tame me. This is part of a reprise of a song titled “I’m Alive”. If you aren’t familiar with the premise, the musical is about a bipolar woman who is haunted by her dead son. This aforementioned song is sung by her son. He sings that he is alive, not just a mere figment of his mother’s imagination, but a real presence fed by the hopes, dreams, and fears of his mother.
“…I’m alive, I’m alive, I am so alive
And I feed on the fear that’s behind your eyes
And I need you to need me, it’s no surpise
I am flame and I am fire
I am destruction, decay, and desire
I’ll hurt you
I’ll heal you
I’m your wish, your dream come true
And I am your darkest nightmare too
I’ve shown you
I own you…
And though you made me, you can’t change me
I’m the perfect stranger who knows you too well…”
When I saw the show and heard these lyrics, I immediately understood. I had experienced this phenomena first hand. As I hinted at in my last post, I experience my depression and trauma as living, breathing parts of me. They are a part of me, but they are also separate entities. I can’t deny my part in it. I’ve given them power over me. That’s part of the issue. Though, as I’ve said, now that they’re here I’d like to bring them back into the fold, so to speak, and make them my friends. In order to do this, I must name these parts of myself and, in doing so, reclaim mastery of them. In the musical, it is not until the son is named and his prescence is aknowledged by the other members of the family that they cease to be haunted. Naming is not only empowering, it is also healing.
So I named my pain and I made it mine, but this is only one step on the road to healing. Part of the naming and claiming process for me was giving it a face, something to focus on, a target. So I called it Medusa.
The Face of my Inner Demon
Why Medusa? Medusa is a Greek mythological figure. She is described as a monster, a winged woman with snakes for hair whose gaze turns anyone who meets it to stone. The hero Perseus was charged with the task of killing the Medusa and, with the goddess Athena’s aid, used a mirror to reflect Medusa’s gaze back on herself, turning her to stone and allowing Perseus to chop off her head. Lovely, no?
If the stories are to be believed, Medusa is a gruesome figure, a personification of the “bad woman” archetype. She is not nuturing or helpful. In fact, she could be read as an emasculating man-killer. At least, that’s how she came to be known. However, I see Medusa in a different way.
You see, Medusa has two faces. She is an evil, ugly monster, but she is also a terrifying beauty. In some versions of the story, she is one of three sisters, which gives her a connection to the Fates and possibly reveals her to be a deity as many female gods are depicted as sisters(1). More than that, however, Medusa is a protector/guardian. Her image was placed on Athene’s shield and on doors as a protection against harm and the evil eye. Ironic, is it not?
Our world is full of contradictions and paradoxes, but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Everything in Creation has a Shadow side, a dark to the light, a negative to the positive. Herbs that poison can often heal in small doses, those with the power to bless can also curse. Thus, the face of a serpent deity with a bad rep is used to deflect (as well as cause) evil.
Battling and Embracing my Inner Demon
So, now that I’ve given my fears and pain a name and a face, what’s next?
Confrontation. This is the hardest part. It’s something that I have not yet done. (Did I mention that this is all theory?) It frightens me a bit as I’m certain there’s lots of things about myself that I don’t want to face. However, it has to be done not only so that I can live the life that I want, but also so that I can live a life of integrity and freedom, which is what I most desperately want.
But I can’t just run in with my sword and slash Medusa’s head off. Medusa is a part of me. I have to fight her to reclaim the parts of myself that scare me, but I also have to learn to love these parts of myself and transform the pain and fear into love. I have to fight and win, but then I have to hold her close. Confront her and rename her as my sister-friend.
I have to be ready to do both, and I’m not sure that I’m “there” yet.
Changing the Water of Life
For those who haven’t read Dune, here. Read it and then come back.
Briefly (’cause I know you didn’t read it), the Water of Life is a poison. In the Dune-verse, a specially trained nun called a Bene Gesserit undergoes an initiation ceremony in which she ingests the poison and chemically changes it within her body so that the poison becomes what is called the Water of Life. This water helps the Bene Gesserit unlock her genetic memory which allows her to become a Reverend Mother in the order.
I view the process of battling and embracing my inner demons as a process similar to the Bene Gesserit ceremony. Fear is a poison. In order for us to conquer fear and also reintegrate the parts of myself, I have to learn to transform the poison into something that nourishes rather than destroys.
This is all well and good, but I have no idea what this looks like. Just as I am unsure how to face my Medusa, I do not know how to change the poison. I have ideas. It involves some combination of meditation and mental re-programming. I’ve been practicing the “stop the thought” method, which has been helping a little with negative thoughts, but doesn’t address the roots of said thoughts. I’ve also been doing some self-love work on a spiritual level. I’m still a long way off. Miles to go before I sleep kinda stuff.
So, it looks like I’ve got some work to do. I’m gonna gather together my helmet, breastplate, sword and shield and get ready to do battle. Maybe I’ll see you on the other side.
(1) Graves, Robert. The White Goddess, p. 229-231