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Weekend Thoughts

I zoomed into the photo, then bit back a paradoxical laugh before closing my photo app. Of course. Deep purple, with a yellowing center. I hadn't been looking for this, but thank God I rarely delete anything. I picked up the pen that was lying beside my wine glass and made a quick note in my sketchpad. At least four then, if my count was right. I scrolled more, watching the images flicker past me on the screen, then paused and jotted down another line before adding a date under the entry. The ink began fading halfway through the characters then stopped, leaving behind only a thin white groove in the paper. I sighed, giving the pen a good shake before attempting to continue, then tossed it into the trashcan where it landed with a muffled clank.

N. had been right about writing for trauma processing. What I hadn't anticipated was how quickly everything else would fall into place afterwards. It felt like working on the giant dot-to-dot books my mom had sent to me while I was in college; a very clear picture had formed, and it only got more detailed the further back I went. It didn't make sense exactly, but at this point, it was easy to recognize the pattern, and it had become very simple to predict. More importantly though, in the process of unraveling the past decade, I was able to discover and understand quite a bit more about myself, both past and present- prior and after the abuse. Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding the truth, and while it's good to figure out how other people tick, nothing compares to understanding yourself better in the process.

It took a lot of outside help to understand why I was feeling and reacting to things the way I was following the end of 2021 and that it was "normal". I will always be grateful to the people and organizations that helped keep me from toppling over the edge. Giving names and putting words to things that are painful doesn't take them away, but identifying and defining something with words and talking with someone makes it easier to deal with and manage. It makes it more tangible somehow, like knowing who the ghost in the house is or what they want rather than just feeling chills and wondering if you're going crazy. Even after I understood what PTSD/trauma was doing to my brain and my body, however, I still had to pick up peices of myself to prevent what happened to me from swallowing me up or becoming some permanent part of my personality.

I remember reading about shadow work sometime in undergrad and feeling a bit apprehensive about it because of how "new-agey" it seemed. While it's true that New Age spirituallity and paganism frequently centers around self-help, not all of it is bad. It's healthy and important to understand yourself, and it isn't selfish to try and figure out what's comfortable or important you personally. I was raised believing the worst thing to be was self-centered and to put others first. I still care tremendously about the comfort and well being of those around me, but I've started to realize that while it's okay to care about everybody, you shouldn't care about what everybody thinks, and it isn't healthy to constantly prioritize others over yourself, especially since manipulative people take advantage  of people-pleasers. I am not responsible for the feelings or decisions of other people, nor is it my job to help everyone. That's on them. Self-sacrifice may be the ultimate expression of love, but that doesn't mean it should be the standard. Love needs to go both ways, and when you're a giver who meets a taker, they'll take everything they can and guilt you over every boundary. And God help you if you tell them no, because when you do, they'll just take what they want anyways.

Shadow work has been a helpful exercise and has done more than help me identify quirks or my favorite songs. I have no idea how others view me, and I don't care much now. I've also rarely seriously considered how I think of myself prior to starting, but having it written down in front of me and rereading it, I've found it's easier to look at it like data rather than feeling like it's a list of fluffy or positive affirmations or criticisms. It's just there and it's honest. I know that while I'm a perfectionist and a procrastinator, I'm also smart, tenacious, and committed to seeing the things that matter through. I'm quirky, but not awkward and have a knack for interpersonal skills. I don't like confrontation, I rarely tighten lids on things, and I also get distracted easily, but I'm brave, quick-witted, and I scare off easily or break promises to people I love (though I do need to be better about keeping them to myself). I don't write or paint the way I want to yet, but I know that what I do make is good and I'll get there someday if I work at it. In short, there was never anything wrong with me. But there was definitely something very wrong with someone else.

You have to be a little careful with self-help, because we're all human and some things never go away completely, but for me it's been therapeutic. If you focus too hard on it, you'll go crazy, and some resources veer off into odd directions, but a little bit is very helpful. I would recommend Shadow Work to anyone recovering or who is interested in self-discovery as well healing, as well as sharing your story and finding positive stress outlets, especially hobbies and exercise. Personally, I like reading, jogging with podcasts, and LOTR marathons, because they make me feel braver. Don't isolate yourself, but do take some time to focus solely on you. I would encourage getting involved with a good church or support group as well, to keep things grounded.

Do keep your receipts and work with someone to get through things that hurt- if you bottle it up and keep it secret, it will eat away at you like a rotten walnut. I promise, you'll be glad that you did. Don't give up and don't let anyone stop you from working on yourself and pursuing what matters to you. You are enough and no one can subtract any value from you, though they sure as hell will try to make you feel like it. Sometimes it takes a little work to see it, but if you work through it, especially with someone else, I promise you'll see it too. The past doesn't disappear, but it's behind you for a reason. Keep shining and don't let anyone or anything stop you from doing the things that matter to you most.


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