Shadow work and tummy bugs. Yes, that’s me… If you have been receiving my emails recently, you’ll know that a couple of weeks ago, I was completely wiped out with a tummy bug that my darling niece shared with me. I mean, it’s not her fault, she’s just turned one, and she’s bound to catch every bug going. That bit was grand. The bit that really bothered me was the “opportunity” given to me.
That opportunity was the chance to work through some shadow work type things while simultaneously throwing up and emitting things at force from the other end as well. Thankfully, our en-suite is small enough to sit on the toilet and reach the sink at the same time. TMI? Sorry. But this is bringing the “brutal honesty” part of me to the fore.
What is shadow work?
For those who who don’t know, the term “shadow work” refers to dealing with the parts of ourselves that we try to hide from ourselves or otherwise repress. (Carl Jung was the one who came up with this I think, but it developed from work that Sigmund Freud had done. IIRC) This isn’t a conscious act, of course, cos why would it be that simple?
A picture explaining what shadow work is…
But realistically speaking, what does shadow work really involve. It’s all very well saying to look at the parts of you that you have repressed or disowned, but how do you know what you have repressed or disowned?
Well for many of us, shadow work looks like examining our childhood. Yeah, I know, the joys… but really, revisiting what was and wasn’t allowable for ourselves in childhood can lead us to the parts of ourselves that we’ve repressed. For example, I have a problem with anger. For many years, I swore I never felt angry. This is because – at an extremely simplistic level – the first people I was angry at, the first people I remember being angry at, were my parents. And showing or displaying anger towards my parents just was not acceptable in my family. So I learned to repress. I learned to shove down my anger, to the point where I was sure and certain I never felt any.
I did, of course, but that’s another story.
How to do shadow work?
The shadow work involved in me addressing that anger was messy, and painful, and long, and arduous. It involved journaling, screaming, crying, raging, punching… It was not pretty to say the least.
And, if I’m honest, I did a lot of the work before I realised it was shadow work, before I’d even heard of the term! For me, it involved looking at the lessons taught to me throughout my life with a critical gaze and determining what was still relevant. More importantly, what wasn’t still relevant. Shadow work sounds more complicated than that right?
But it’s not really.
I mean, most often, deep personal spiritual work is presented as the above picture: calm, serene, peaceful.
Well, not in my experience.
My experience reads much more like the woman in the picture above, except, I wasn’t fully clothes, nor did I look nearly that healthy. It’s well-nigh impossible to feel sexy while simultaneously throwing up and releasing things from the other end as well. It certainly wasn’t possible for me. But in the darkness – because of course this was in the middle of the night – I had to face myself. I could hear the sounds of my husband sleeping peacefully away. The odd random car along the road. I could hear the neighbours’ dogs sharing “all’s well” barks, or occasionally slightly more frantic “what’s that noise” barks.
Ultimately though, all there was… was me. And while my body was miserable, my mind was active and desperate for anything to distract it from what was physically going on. Plus, the vomiting was partially metaphorically. I mean, mostly physical, but partially metaphorical.
What shadows did I face?
I looked at myself in the mirror, and I really did not look good. Facing myself, I was questioning life choices. I questioned why my husband wasn’t just up and walking away from me – all throughout that week he was there, when he could, to help, to get 7-Up, to try and tempt me with anything I could face.
I questioned why he stuck around – in my experience, men usually walk away from illness or a less-than-perfect partner. This is the man who has stuck by me through a miscarriage, depression, anxiety… And I thought he would leave me alone through a tummy bug? After 10yrs of marriage, we have seen each other at our best and our worst. And I still wondered when he kept on coming back.
This is shadow work.
It’s shadow work when he told me I’m beautiful, as I dragged myself from the bathroom for the umpteenth time that day and I tried to believe him. It’s shadow work when he supported me in staying home from work all week, cos I really wasn’t able to the drive. I looked at myself in the mirror each night and tried to see what he saw – I couldn’t, but I have to accept he does.
It wasn’t just my appearance, of course. There were other things happening in the dark of the night. But the appearance stuff is the stuff I’m most comfortable sharing in public. There were other things happening that I can’t share, or don’t want to share, not yet. They’ll come out soon again.
Where does this leave us?
Or leave me rather? Shadow work isn’t clean and simple and straightforward. It’s messy and ugly and goes round in spirals. I revisited lessons I thought I had learned already. My trust for my husband was reinforced at least, if not regenerated. I saw other things in the dark of my soul that I partially addressed, but know there is more work to be done.
Yeah, if this is so messy, and so horrible at times, why bother? For me? It’s so I don’t have blind spots about myself. With the work I do for Brigid, it’s kinda important to at least recognise I have blind spots. And to work to eliminate them. It’s a life long calling to do this. It’s not over in a weekend, or a short course. There are tools to learn and help ourselves to do this. And I’m not an expert, I’m just an expert in what works for me.
But I will say this – I’ve not met anyone I consider authentic and real about shadow work that hasn’t gone through the anvil, or their version of it. The Anvil isn’t a place any of us want to be, but it’s where Brigid tempers and shapes her tools. She needs tools that won’t break. Tools that know what they can do and under what circumstances. Shadow work is addressing the parts of ourselves that we subconsciously choose to hide – from ourselves. These are not the parts of ourselves that we are proud of. These are not the parts of ourselves we necessarily share in public. We hide these parts, in part because of shame.
Our spiritual journey and shadow work
Shame is not a useful emotion in my opinion. And accepting that something embarrasses me or that I’m ashamed of something I did in the past – well that’s an invitation to do something about it. Can I fix it? If not, can I make sure it doesn’t happen again? I’m not one much for the esoteric, but I do believe we have a responsibility to learn from our mistakes and to know ourselves. Being honest with oneself is the first step on any real spiritual journey.
The problem is, this shit doesn’t just come up once. It keeps on coming up, as we spiral through life. And we are different people every time we address it. I’m not the same person I was 10, 20, 30 yrs ago. Neither are you. And so, the elements of the shadow work we need to engage in change as well. This is a life long process, not a one-and-done thing.
And sometimes… it’s a 3am while puking your guts up and just wanting it all to end…
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