Thursday, February 07, 2008
Shadow and light
Let me tell you a story.

When I was 17 years old, I moved to Israel. I needed to be away from everything and everyone I knew, including myself. I was "sensitive" and "needy". I was opinionated but intensely afraid of not being able to defend my positions. I was already quite engaged in an eating disorder and terrified of my sexuality.

No one knew me in Israel. I lived and worked on Kibbutz Tzora with 21 other American students. I was the youngest. I worked in the cotton fields pulling up irrigation lines, and in the furniture factory spot welding office chairs. I worked in the laundry ironing sheets on huge rolling machines and in the kitchen cutting onions and cucumbers for the 450 families who lived and worked there with me.

Together with my group of American students we would go to university on Sunday and Monday, Saturday nights we would go to the bars in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Together, we traveled to Haifa and Eilat, to Ashkelon and the middle of the Negev.

On one excursion we assisted the university in an archaeological dig. It was there that I found an Asherah figurine. I was so proud of having found an archaeological treasure that I ran over to the head of the dig and handed it over. In my haste, I had barely looked at her before I'd released the tiny goddess. Later, I felt like I had betrayed something in myself. I had abandoned something that I should have held, even for just one more moment. I might have spent one minute understanding what I had come upon but just as suddenly as I had found it, it was rushed away in the hands of some post-doc or fellow to do dating and identification.

I think it was my first adult lesson in denial of self. I had been self-sacrificing for years and years but this lesson was new. Like plants growing so slowly you don't ever remember them becoming tree from seed, I was suddenly gazing into a new garden and I had just given up an outstanding opportunity.

In the last couple of years I have traveled great distances emotionally. Along the way I have abandoned my fear of sharing my opinion with anyone who will listen. I have taken more time to savor things that I come by in my travels. I have learned that people are interested in what I have to say. I still have a long journey ahead of me though.

I am just now reading a book called Eating in the Light of the Moon. It is a book filled with metaphor and goddesses, which, frankly, I haven't picked up in the past because I am cynical and suspicious of stories of "the goddess" and feminine vs. masculine spirituality. I am a feminist but I am an atheist. My atheism (obviously) extends to goddess myths. Finally, after many recommendations, I picked up the book.

The author, Dr. Anita Johnston, is not interested in converting readers into feminists or believers in a Wise Woman myth. She is interested in helping us discover how we found our disordered relationship with food and how we can leave it behind. In one chapter, near the end of the book, she talks about looking at ourselves,
"deep in the depths of our being, to confront all those aspects of herself that she would just as soon leave hidden in the dark....she eventually discovers that whenever we try to disown the shadow parts of our being, they seem to acquire strength and begin to take over our lives in the form of obsessions and addictions."

This is what happened to me. I tried to disown myself. The parts of myself that I showed were bright and shiny and the parts of myself that were eating me alive were ugly and caged in shadow. I was terrified that what was in there, deep in the shadows, would destroy me. And it nearly did.

In our society we are virtuous if we "bear our pain stoically, keep it hidden from view." says Dr. Johnston. "We have been reprimanded time and time again for engaging in "self-pity" when we have tried to pour out the pain we feel in our hearts. And so we deny our pain and say everything is "all right." But everything is not "all right" if I am eating without knowing why and throwing up to get rid of my anger and my frustration. Everything is not "all right" if you are starving yourself or on a diet every single day of your life or using food in a way that makes you feel angry or disappointed or frantic.

I don't need to share every pain, but I also am no longer keeping it stoically hidden like a good girl. Some have wondered if it is self-indulgent to write a blog. Especially a blog about oneself. Yes. The entire point of writing a blog is self-indulgent. The question I have is, is there anything wrong with that?

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Blogger Orangeblossoms said...

Isn't it amazing to read a truth and to discover that it is an inner, personal truth with a capital T?

I don't think there's a thing wrong with blogging as indulgence, therapy, or simply self-expression. Our voices are unique and strong and we are not forcing ANYBODY to read anything.... we're just putting it out there, taking the risk, trying to find wholeness, seeking kindred hearts....

And to the critics--- well, they don't have to read. But they do. They do.

Also, I long for that moment, when ancient artifact in hand, you might have lingered and imagined all the history, all the beauty, all the pain that a small icon might have borne for another so many years ago.

This post is so, so beautiful, Faith....

Blogger Sara said...

Is blogging any more self-indulgent than writing memoirs? It just happens to be online. As the previous commenter noted, anyone who isn't interested doesn't have to read. I know that I blog mostly to express myself, to share what I'm feeling, and to connect with other people. If blogging helps you, then it can't be anything but good.

Blogger dale-harriet said...

Faith - I'm speechless (obviously not "write-less"). If I'd been there with you, I'd have whispered "keep it"...which wouldn't have been right either, I guess. I never had the kind of courage it took to head to a kibbutz, though it would've done me good. I never thought of blogging as self-indulgent; all I can say is, I'm beyond glad that YOU do. The connections between us ("us" being fellow bloggers/readers) are intense and no less real for being "virutal". Know that I am nodding, silent.

Blogger fia said...

This is so beautiful. Thanks for letting us from your other blogging community know that you posted it.

Thanks for sharing of yourself. Is blogging inherently self-indulgent? Maybe. But I hope you know that when you write something about yourself, your own experience, it touches others and gives them something very precious. I don't know you very well (I'd like to know you better), but you have given me many gifts in the form of your words about your own experience.

You're beautiful.

And thanks.


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