The only way out is through
When a butterfly begins life, it is a hungry little caterpillar. It eats and grows and eats and grows and eats and grows until it's time to become something different. And then some freaky nature magic happens. The caterpillar builds itself a cocoon and then melts into a soup of pure potential. It grows its new self from that soup, and when it emerges from that chrysalis it is a completely different creature. Somehow the butterfly even manages to maintain memories from its time as a caterpillar. Totally incredible.
I've been going through my own chrysalis period the last few weeks. I didn't hang upside down from a tree branch, but I cocooned myself in work during a very intense tax season. Overall, it went really well: I put together a good team, we had good systems, and we did good work. I'm proud of everything we accomplished (and even more impressed with just how much we got done by the deadline), but the pace and volume of work was grueling. Long months of long weeks of very long days with little time outside the office and no time for rest or recovery.
The way I have survived similar periods of concentrated overwork in the past was by being a tough guy and just pushing through. I flipped on survival mode, put my head down and did what I needed to do to get shit done by the deadline. I rode the wave of momentum to keep up the ceaseless level of effort, and then collapsed the moment I crossed the finish line. So that's basically what I did this year, but with some unexpected consequences.
The pace and manner of my tax season participation awakened some of the deep dark personal demons I thought I already worked-through and resolved. And of course I have worked through them, but the old neural pathways are still there no matter how dusty or cob-webbed they may be. Once I got over my initial disappointment at having to deal with these same inner demons again, I realized their arrival actually makes perfect sense. Those demons were the ones who built survival mode in the first place.
That protocol was constructed during the part of my life when I took-on or was handed responsibility for too many things. I thought it was my role in the world to take up as little space as possible and give as much of myself as I could give (and then a little more) to work, volunteer work, home, and family while having no needs or feelings of my own. And if I did need or feel something, I was supposed to take care of all that myself. How exhausting.
Obviously that's not sustainable, so I had to do something to stay alive. One by one the demons showed up, and together they crafted a way I could get through it. Eventually, I decided I wanted more out of life and extracted myself from the relationships reinforcing those toxic narratives. Then I began the long and painful process of removing the metaphorical string and bubble gum that was keeping me together and mending the cracks in my soul left by all that abuse.
Part of that healing included deconstructing the wall I put up to prevent anyone from noticing I was having feelings. Over the last few years I have dismantled a good portion of that wall, stone by stone. I haven't had a clear vision of what should replace it, I was just focused on taking it down to make space for something else. So when I engaged the outdated survival mode protocol and accidentally summoned all the old demons, all the old feelings came too. But this time there was no containment mechanism, so feelings just flooded out and got all over the place.
The old methods don't fit my current circumstances, and even if I could just lock it all away behind a wall I don't want to. I don't want to be more coping strategies than person. I want a different relationship with these once-protector parts of myself. One that isn't so devastating when they arise. So I am sifting through what is merely surviving while allowing the status quo to persist and what helps me live through tumult while also building something more sustainable for the future. A process that feels very much like I am breaking down most of my self parts into formless, primordial goo.
I'm not sure what form I will take when I fully emerge, but I am aiming to treat myself with more curiosity and less control and containment. The wall I have mostly torn down was built for control and containment. You know what else was built for and persists on control and containment? The Patriarchy. I'd like to tear that down too. But I won't be able to if I lean-in to perfectionism and try to erase the parts of me that don't fit into the societally assigned acceptable box.
All I will be doing in that case is working against myself. Just like the two marginalized groups that feature prominently in the latest Black Panther movie "Wakanda Forever." It was an action-packed and entertaining super hero film, but it was also a commentary about recognizing your actual enemy. A lesson about seeing not just the foe right in front of you, but the greater threat lurking in the shadows waiting for you to squabble yourself to pieces before they swoop in for the final blow.
The story follows the only two nations to have discovered and mastered the highly powerful (and highly valuable) substance of vibranium. Wakanda is the land-dwelling, highly advanced society we already knew, and we discover Talocan have been similarly thriving deep under the ocean. For most of the movie they are at odds. Talocan demanding Wakanda ally itself with them under threat of annihilation and Wakanda resisting being bullied into championing another nation's fight.
To me as the viewer, it was clear they should just join forces and protect each other. But humans are complicated and we can't always see the path that will bring us greatest access to health, peace, and well-being. So Wakanda and Talocan fought it out and damaged each other before they realized what the audience already knew. It was good story-telling in part because it was so relatable.
So why do we have to fight amongst ourselves? Probably the same reason we sometimes fight against ourselves. Because we're all traumatized and it's nearly impossible not to lash out from our trauma at those around us. I think it's also sometimes necessary to go through the whole process. Even if I've traveled this dark, windy, thorny road before, I might have to experience the entire journey to gain the embodied understanding of where I end up.
This is why we need to champion each other's causes. If I can stand for my fellow humans, it gives those folks space to fall apart and heal. Then they are more whole and more able to be rested and ready when I need someone to stand up for me. The only way out of this mess of inequity and inequality is slogging through the sticky quagmire of humans relating to other humans. If we can give each other a hand, then we all get to be free.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.