The second thirty years

December 8, 2013

I decided to kill myself on May 12th, 1997. Denise came back from the big bonfire to our little camp. She took one look at my face and said, “You’ve decided, haven’t you?” I nodded. There was nothing more to say.

Two months earlier my fiancé had left me. At first I grieved naturally and started to experience some healing. But then, as had happened since I was 15, my natural process was hijacked by my mental illness and I spiraled down into a deep depression.

As I had countless times before, I fantasized about killing myself to end the pain. I had lost not only the man I loved with every cell, I had lost a loving family and a promising future with children of my own. I couldn’t cope.

Aaron came to stay with me. For several years I hadn’t been able to watch any movies with violence in it but not long after Barry left I watched a long documentary on the Nazis. Aaron tried to distract me with lighter fare but I wanted to dig deep into suffering.

I threw myself on the mercy of my friends. Again. Whenever a crisis arose, there would be tearful late-night phone calls, crashes on couches, and always, always, endless talk of cutting myself and suicide. On April 15th, 1997, I was trudging into work, wallowing, when I suddenly snapped to clarity. “I will give myself a month,” I decided. “If, in that month, I want to die more than I want to live, I will kill myself. I’m sick of this suffering. More than that, I’m sick of putting my friends through this. I’m either in or out.”

During the ensuing month I studied up on suicide—its causes, its methods, and how to prevent it. I had a long email exchange with the Samaritans in Britain because I couldn’t find a suicide prevention organization in the States (this was before the Internet came into its own). I spent long hours talking with my therapist and my closest friends about how healthy people lived their lives and how they coped. That was the thing I could not do—I could not cope.

But after all that, I ended up at that little fire in the woods at Lothlorien, clear and utterly sure of my course. But I had given myself until May 15th to decide. So I chose to wait the extra three days before getting my things in order and procuring a gun.

On the morning of May 14th I had an auspicious dream. I felt like I had waited my whole life for it. I won’t go into the details, but it essentially pointed to a third road between mindless happiness and self-destructive despair. It allowed me to accept myself for who and what I was. It showed me that I didn’t have to fight myself anymore, that I didn’t want to, that there was another way. I woke up weeping. “Thank you, Goddess,” over and over again.

I had set aside three days starting May 15th for ritual. During that time I went through a profound process of change that left no part of me untouched. It was terrifying, it was mortifying, it was filled with mercy, it was lit by Spirit, and it birthed me into a new life.

I, who had always needed A Plan to get through an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year, was now living moment to moment. I saw myself in darkness. I was totally calm and at peace. I took a step, and as my foot approached what should have been ground, a piece of sod appeared. As my foot left the sod, the ground disappeared, but another piece of turf came into being underneath my other foot. On and on, always supported, while not knowing (or needing to know) where I was headed. For the first time in my life, I felt fully confident in a relaxed, free, deeply spiritual way. I could rely on myself for self-care rather than self-destruction.

As part of this healing process, which I call Rebirthday, I received many spiritual insights. One in particular stood out for me: In the beginning there was no-thing-ness. Not nothingness, not abyss, not void. That implies an absence of Something. There was no Something, and there was no Nothing. We don’t have a word for pre-Something. There just wasn’t. Anything.

Then, suddenly, there was lifeanddeath, like a Celtic knot, winking into and out of the light. Time began. Lifeanddeath are one thing, inextricably woven together. They were not born of no-thing-ness. That implies no-thing-ness was a thing to be born of. They simply existed, where nothing had existed before. And like no-thing-ness, we don’t have a word for the meta-concept which is lifeanddeath.

It’s not about yin and yang, where (at least in the Western conception) life is a part of death and death is a part of life, though that is certainly true. It is more that they are both emanations of a greater Mystery, a greater power, a greater truth. And they are so bound up in each other you can’t separate the two.

Death isn’t something to be feared or kept at bay. It is part of Gaia, that juicy biosphere we are an element of. Decaying and returning to the Mother is just as holy as taking our first step or having our first child. All is sacred; all is whole.

I first became self-destructive when I turned 15. From then on, whenever I experienced any setback in life, I ripped apart my wrists or burned my arms and screamed, “I hate you I hate you I hate you!” into the mirror and yearned, how I yearned to be dead. But in this revelation I had, I Saw that in all those years of invoking death, I was not invoking the death of lifeanddeath—I was invoking no-thing-ness. That’s what I was calling into my life.

I sat in silence for a long time after that.

Another insight I was given was that my life was split into roughly thirty-year intervals. I was completing the first thirty-year cycle and was embarking on my second. I won’t say all the things I was told at that time, but one thing that was different was how change would come into my life. My first thirty years had been marked by revolutionary change. My second thirty years would be marked by evolutionary change. Whereas change previously had been a jagged and wildly looping line, now it would be a gently sloping spiral headed upward.

My life up until Rebirthday was filled with high drama. There were always dragons to be slain. I came from a highly dysfunctional family, had experienced my fair share of trauma, and was highly sensitive with no constructive outlet. Everything was opera. Sound and fury.

After Rebirthday, I got a year off. For the first time in my life, I got to just be. It was glorious. I was so relaxed, so calm, so clear. So confident. Not the hard-headed arrogance of youth but the supple confidence of inner knowing. I was so competent. I had “blue” days, but they passed easily and quickly. I believed I had passed through mental illness and had come out the other side. I coped.

I remember one day in particular, even though it was typical of the days at that time. I was setting on a bench in People’s Park, eating an ice cream cone. The sky overhead was brilliant blue, the leaves on the trees were deepest green, the Sun was a glorious beacon of spiritual light, and my chocolate chip ice cream from White Mountain was a taste explosion. Everything was hyper-real. I was completely in the moment, fully at peace, totally immersed in the simple pleasure of the experience. Without even trying. It was just the way I lived my life.

After that first year, challenges started to appear. I eased into them, then plunged in, feeling sure of myself and wondering at the new directions my life had taken. Rebirthday had transformed every relationship in my life. Some I’d ended. Others I’d restructured. And now I was beginning new ones.

One in particular was epic.

Then, on January 3rd, 2000, the dawn of a new century, a catastrophe happened. One person knows half the story, but only half. I once read a story about a woman who’d been held in a prison in South Africa during apartheid. She’d been gang-raped by her white guards every night. She said her soul had left her body and gone up into a corner of the room and watched. And when she finally left that cell, her soul stayed behind her. She was never whole again.

When the unthinkable happened, my soul left my body, just turned and wafted away from my right shoulder, up into the air and disappeared. I stopped crying. Even today, when I almost feel pain enough to weep, I never cry for longer than 10 minutes. This from a woman who got her first wrinkle from crying all night long after an altercation with a best friend. I no longer flow. I am no longer confident. I am no longer competent.

Psychologists call it dissociation. I call it grey. It’s not depression, though I certainly spend my share of mornings unable to get out of bed, my days unable to answer the telephone, my nights unable to get off the couch. There’s always anxiety, that dread that keeps me wringing my hands until they ache. But more than that is this bobbing along on a current in a fog where the features of the shore are indistinct.

There are certain things that stand out for me: the Pagan Summit which I organized, which is still the only gathering of leaders of national Pagan organizations in America. The day I learned I couldn’t have children. The day I lost my mind, well and truly. And lesser events, like performing at Lotus. But there were several years there when I had to use a calculator when people asked how old I was because I simply couldn’t remember.

Each day runs into the next, pretty much the same. Anxiety over money. Feeling like a failure at work. Not feeling anything at all. Wondering if it will ever be over. Wishing therapy would be faster, more productive, faster, faster.

Last night I realized I’m more than half the way through my second thirty years. And I barely remember any of it. It has been distinguished by agony. A different kind from what I grew up with, but suffering nonetheless. Time slips by without meaning. There are a handful of relationships that tie me to the year, rituals that mark out The Wheel, but I can’t recall the difference between this year’s Imbolc and the last. I don’t remember because I’m not fully here. My soul left me and I am lost without it. Adrift.

And horrified. Horrified that this is the life that I have built for myself out of the glory and promise of Rebirthday. There was a relationship there at the beginning of the cycle that seemed to promise a whole new life, but the only thing new is this grey disconnection from consensual reality. I pay my bills, I meet my commitments, I watch a lot of movies, I read, I mostly stay away from people. I do not feel my feelings. I do sing. That makes a difference. And there are a handful of people whose lives seem to want me. But mostly there is—dare I call it?—no-thing-ness.

What has happened to me??

Oh, I can point to the events in question, down to the dates and times, but in a larger sense, how have I got caught in this endless loop of checking out? In my journals over the last 35 years, there is a recurring theme: “Who can explain my life to me? Who can look at what I was born with, my apparent destiny, and explain how I came to this day?”

There is the overwhelming feeling of waiting. Standing at the big picture window in the living room. Just standing, looking out. Waiting. Praying for forgiveness. Hoping that, with enough hard work and luck and mercy, I will find my way back onto the spiral of lifeanddeath.

Though I did ask, one time, in ritual, if I were still alive. I feel like the walking dead.   Totally unnatural. And the answer I received was that yes, I was still part of Gaia, and that my experience was still sacred. If only my experience didn’t suck. That would be a bonus.

I have been working hard these last couple years, and in the last 13 months or so I’ve seen some movement. But it’s glacial. And last night’s revelation has me terrified that I will be 60 before I find peace again. Before my soul returns. And then what? The unthinkable happens again and I am lost on the river for the rest of my life?

It’s hard to know why I’m still alive. There have been several times since Rebirthday that I’ve decided that I’m done. One in particular where I was making serious plans. But when I look into my heart, I know I want to be alive. But I want to be alive, pulsing with the beauty and sanctity of lifeanddeath, stinking in my nostrils with the sweat of a life well-lived.

I don’t know how much longer I will wait. Every morning I make a decision whether to keep on or whether to stop. It’s such a part of my thinking that it happens automatically, like locking the back door or putting my contacts in. I remember a point in therapy a couple years ago where I realized I did not know if there would ever be a time where my present suffering would be worth it. Where I could say, “Yes, that was a terrible time, but now I’ve made it through to happiness and health and I’m glad I stayed the course.” I’m not saying that will never happen. I’m saying I don’t know. And whenever the fog suddenly clears like it did last night and I see my life in the cold light of day, I can’t justify my continuing existence. There just really doesn’t seem to be a point to all of this.

I will get up today and shovel out my car and go to rehearsal and enjoy performing at Lara’s benefit gig tonight. I will not apply for a gun permit tomorrow. I am merely trying to work through this latest realization in a sea of insights which leaves me gasping.

Who can explain my life to me?

Xena as Avatar

February 23, 2011

And by “avatar,” I don’t mean the movie.

We have been using Xena as an avatar in my therapy sessions. I have felt an affinity for her since I saw my first episode of the show, a silly piece of fluff where a temple of Demeter gets sacked for the sake of a jewel.

I think it’s this idea that she went through an incredibly dark period which changed her forever. Yes, she’s seeking redemption and is on the hera’s path, but she can never be innocent again. As the bratty teen who’s name I forget says in one episode, “Doesn’t Xena want to be forgiven?” The writer, R.J. Stewart, said no – there are some crimes so heinous that forgiveness is not an option.

So have I been a warlord, leading armies to betrayal and death? Not lately. But I love the vision of Xena as someone trying to do right. It also helps that she’s a robust woman and not some sexualized male fantasy of a “girl.”

There’s a lot I could say about Xena. Unfortunately for my fascinated reader (me), I have strep throat and can barely think straight. But I want to explore a little of what we’re doing in therapy.

My workaday tarot deck is the Robin Wood rendition. She has a 2 of Swords that sums up perfectly how I feel. The woman is blindfolded, setting on the top of these stone ruins on a point, with her back to the roiling ocean, and no safe ground anywhere. She bears two swords in her hands, arms crossed over her chest, swords pointing upward. She’s the perfect picture of balance — but in a totally unhealthy way. She can’t move one way or the other because she’ll fall. There’s no way out.

Except Xena comes. Being the resourceful warrior we all know and love, she lashes out with her whip, snags the waist of the woman, and yanks her towards her, then catches her. I have worked with 2 of Swords for years and this is the first time I’ve been able to visualize a way out of that situation.

Xena wants to assess the situation; Gabrielle wants to provide comfort to the woman. Xena and Gabrielle end up taking the woman to a temple run by healer priestesses. And there she stays, until she can be well again.

The path to wellness is incredibly long; she doesn’t even speak for years. But the temple is warm and safe, and she’ll never have to be on that precipice again.

Enter the family member who wants to visit the Shattered Woman, as we call the former 2 of Swords. The woman we eventually call the Violent Me or the Destroyer. She has come ostensibly to check on the health of Shattered Woman, but then it turns out she wants to kill her instead. At one point she does kill Shattered Woman in a gruesome bloodbath, then eats her flesh. All to protect Shattered Woman from being hurt by anyone else. Twisted, I know.

We rewrite that scene. Instead, Xena intervenes again, restraining the Destroyer. Then a strange alchemy takes place. A light begins to glow from inside the Destroyer. She grows taller and takes on a fully womanly form. And she merges with Xena. The light fades, and only Xena remains.

Xena’s true path is that of a warrior. The producers of the show got in big trouble for having her portrayed as Kali, the Indian goddess, but that’s the kind of energy Xena has. But she also has tremendous compassion and an iron-clad sense of justice. She takes the energy of the Destroyer and transforms it into something more balanced.

I am seeking the way back to my Self. By working with Xena as an avatar, I have a fighting chance. I don’t care if she’s a TV character on a sometimes ridiculous show. She is mythic. She is a goddess. In the Otherworld, she is real. And she has two holy words: One is “courage”; the other, “love.”

Isaac’s Rolling Thunder

May 28, 2010

Am in the midst of the Rolling Thunder ritual for Isaac Bonewits. I started by casting a Circle of trees interwoven like Celtic knots and inviting my goddesses of the Quarters: Arianrhod, Brighid, Rhiannon, and Cerridwen. I prayed for a little while but then shifted into active healing magic.

I pictured Isaac in the middle of the Circle and moved deosil around him, chanting Phaedra’s chant: “Isaac’s tumors fade away; 30 more years with Phae.” I turned it into a chant-song (of course) and visualized him healthy. I kept a photo from the Wild Hunt blog up on my laptop so the vision of the smiling, healthy couple could infuse the ritual with love and meaning.

Isaac and Phaedra

Phaedra and Isaac

After a while the energy started to build and I felt Called to go widdershins and focus on dissolving the tumors and their root causes. The chant became more powerful as I Heard voices from across the world joining in. I was carrying my favorite goddess figurine and wore my spirit bag from the Pagan Summit. The magic became deeper and more solemn.

After a long time of focus on that I felt the energy shift and get quieter and slower. I poured water down my throat to cleanse the chant away. I sang very quietly, “I will sing/Sing a new song” (a bit from a U2 song) but that seemed too much. I’d planned on turning back deosil and focusing on the “30 more years with Phae” part of the chant, but that’s not the message I received.

Instead, I Saw Isaac in a white robe with Celtic knots traced on it. He was lying on his back, suspended in the air, arms slightly out from his sides. And everything was quiet and shimmering.

I walked around his body a few times and then stopped in the South. I sang a brief Spirit message about being still and being in the love of the moment. Then I began a vigil. That was the message. It was just time to witness his receiving all this healing energy from all over the world. To interrupt that with chanting would interrupt the healing process.

I sat for a long time, just holding that image in my mind and heart. Then I drew a tarot card for him: 4 of Swords. A time for rest, rejuvenation, meditation.

I don’t know if Isaac will live or die in these next few weeks. Last I heard, he was taken to the emergency room today. But he is being given every chance to make that decision in love. His body may just need to move on—I can’t tell. But the love and support out there tonight is immense.

I’m getting ready for sleep but have set my alarm for a few hours from now, when I will blow out the candles and open the Circle. I want this energy of the vigil to continue, even if my physical body needs to sleep.

Isaac had a profound impact on my early training (I still use his “cosmic switchboard” analogy) and then, when I met him at the Summit in 2001, he was very kind to me. A good man. I pray that his suffering is eased this night and in the coming weeks, and that we are all able to deliver that miracle his doctor has asked for.

Blessed Be.


May 17, 2009

Had my first channeling experience yesterday. Well, Jana called it channeling but it’s very similar to what I do, which I call “energy work” or “shamanistic” or whatnot.

Singing played a big role in the themes of the session, as did coming into my power. I’m feeling introspective again today (though I did have a great time at the first installation of the BPP staged readings and food w/them afterwards). I’m also sleepy, which means it’s hard to get any messages!

I know I’m still processing everything that happened. We talked about some specific relationships, such as family, and also about themes in my life. We didn’t talk about babies. And I’ve only just now realized it.

Look, all I have to do is type the word and the heat wells up in my tear ducts and I overflow with saltwater instead of milk.

There will be no babies for me.

It’s been seven years since I got the news, seven years filled with additional proofs of why I shouldn’t have children—regardless of the mechanics of the process.

Something broke inside of me when I got the news. I heard it. I felt it. A brief “crack,” like a small tube of solid glass in the center of my womb. I’ve never been the same.

I can’t believe I’m blogging about something so personal, but I think I’m doing it because so few people ever check in on this blog. It’s highly unlikely the post will ever be read. But I get to feel like I’m communicating it somehow to the world. My sadness, my grief, my loss at what feels like a tragic hand of cards dealt to me by Fate. A hand I have no idea how to play.

Today, in my solitude, I feel I am incubating something. It’s not a substitute for a child and never can be. (I hate that well-meant crap about all creativity being the same—it’s not.) All I know is that I’m incubating something. I think it has something to do with singing, and something to do with my soul. I don’t think it’s possible to have one without the other!

I went to Jana after a long search for a shaman who might be able to help me. She definitely did and can. I’m anxious to have another session right away but I’ve barely begun to digest the messages of yesterday’s.

How serious am I about coming into my power? Most people would say I’m already there but none of them knows me. They wouldn’t recognize me in the dark. When I am in my power, a great light shines through me. It’s an amazing, beautiful, awe-filled thing.

The light is not always white or golden. It’s not all fluffy bunnies and peaceniks. It’s being connected to one’s inner place of knowing. And then just letting it flow. Following the consequences to their many possible conclusions. Following the threads back to their places of origin.

I know it well. I remember it well. It’s a place I used to live in. But I’ve been long gone.

Is it possible to get to the end of my grief over never having a child? Is it possible to be whole again? Are the two questions related?

I am incubating the next me.