Follow the fear, love the hate

(There are some minor spoilers in this post for the hit series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the feature film, The Babadook, so if you haven’t seen these, GO WATCH THEM RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THEY’RE AMAZING – and on Netflix – and then come back and read this.)

It’s officially October, one of my absolute favorite months. Fall is here, along with the cooler weather, changing leaves, pumpkin-flavored everything, and my favorite holiday, Halloween.

It seems only appropriate then that I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of fear and what truly scares us. Not so much in the sense of goblins and monsters, but more so about the demons that are actually the scariest of all – the ones that lurk within.

The legendary improv coach Del Close coined the phrase, “Follow the Fear,” a phrase that many in the comedy and entertainment world have heard of before, and it doesn’t take a psychologist to recognize that this advice is not only helpful in improvisation, but in life as well. But lately I realized that for me, following my fears is more than getting on that new roller-coaster, watching that horror movie, or riding that haunted hay ride. Following the fear is more than just getting on stage, asking for a raise, or telling someone you love them. Recently I’ve become fascinated by the idea of not only following the fear, but becoming the fear. You know what’s scarier than ghosts, axe murderers, or even The Feels? My self.

Inside each of us, in the dark recesses of our subconscious, there is a shadowy place – an elephant graveyard if you will – that hides and represses the true things we fear most, traits we never want to acknowledge, emotions we should never feel, and beliefs that would shock those closest to us – and most of all, shock ourselves. Carl Jung called it the Shadow, and he asserted that every human has one. There are a lot of different theories (Freud has his own interpretation, for instance) on this idea of Shadow self, and if you’re interested, you should definitely look into it more, but for me, I like to think of it as a self of many layers.

credit unknown, but creepy right?
credit unknown, but creepy right?

I finally watched the hit independent horror film, The Babadook, directed by the brilliant Jennifer Kent, and not only is it a well-made, sophisticated, and superbly scary film, it delves deep into the popular boogeyman trope and all of the ways we are haunted. Single mother Amelia and her precocious son, Samuel, find themselves stalked and haunted by a very menacing force, one that represents to me many things – grief, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illness, and most of all, our Shadow selves.

When we are very small children, we live very reactionary, impulsive lives. As we grow older, we are told what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable behavior and what is not. We lose our baser instincts and repress traits and emotions that our friends, community, and society deem as unacceptable. We transform ourselves into becoming who we think we should be, who we want to be seen as, in order to be more palatable. Jung calls this the Persona. But those traits and emotions never really go away. As little Samuel reminds his mother, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” These unwanted traits and emotions get boxed up and placed in the basement or broom closet of our minds, lying there, forgotten, but very much still there.

As I continue to work on my self-growth and self-awareness, or as I like to call it, Adulting, I have lately found myself in a strange place. As I’ve told my friends exhaustively, it feels like I’ve bought a beautiful old house. I’ve painted the walls, stripped the floors, papered the shelves. I’ve unpacked and decorated, and I’m about to have a wonderful big housewarming party soon. But then I go down into the basement, and I’ve found that there are actually dozens more boxes to unpack that I have completely forgotten about. They are huge and unwieldy, filled with old, dusty, rotten things that have started to fester and smell. I desperately do not want to go through all of those boxes, especially with a party so soon, but the smell is starting to creep up through the floorboards. The funk crawls up into my nostrils, taunting me, haunting me, and I know it will never go away until I go back downstairs and sort through all of that stuff. (Ugh, this again, my friends are thinking.)

Gross, right? The best metaphors for me usually are.

Those boxes all belong to my Shadow self. But I don’t think the contents are only baser emotions and traits from childhood we’ve repressed. Freud would say that it can also stem from past traumatic events, from something as emotionally scarring as abuse to seemingly sillier ones, such as farting in your first grade music class in front of everyone. (That’s just, you know, an example, not like that happened to me…) But Jung also believed that what we hate in others, is actually a part of our Shadow selves. In fact, he believed that our Shadows are so much of an integral part of ourselves, that we not only project that self onto others, but we even subconsciously attract people in our lives that exemplify our Shadows. (Which is why I will no longer exclaim, “Why am I always surrounded by crazy people!” outloud.)

For me, it’s all of these things and more – it’s base instincts, it’s past trauma, it’s projected fears and hates, but what interests me the most is that collective whole that stems from all of it. When am I the absolute ugliest? Not in a cute Manic Pixie Dream Girl way that’s just such an adorkable hot mess. Not in the pre-makeover montage romantic comedy sense either. But when am I truly ugly? What is it about myself that I don’t want to admit, much less even look at?

Scary, right? Well, let’s go there.

But why? You might be thinking. Isn’t fear a useful emotion to warn us of danger? Why go to these dark recesses? Why dredge up the past? Why voluntarily go through the pain?

Because you can’t get rid of The Babadook! Jung believed that actually ignoring your Shadow only makes it stronger, only allows it to grow and can eventually take over. You give it power by not standing down to it. At the end of the day, pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t make the Big Bad go away. Only confronting your Shadow is only the first step. But your goal isn’t to defeat it. You can’t. But you can make friends with it.

artwork by Alex Juhasz
artwork by Alex Juhasz

Jung writes, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate… To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.  Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self.  Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.” (Jung, 1959, p. 872).

So how do we do that? I’m not really sure, I’m figuring that out myself right now. But WWBD? (What would Buffy do?) She wouldn’t wait around. She’d go after the Big Bad first. So similarly, like Spike in the season 6 finale of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, it’s my turn to go into the deep, dark caverns that I’ve been ignoring for so long.

I recently was joking with a very wise close friend about how I hate mirrors. They’ve always freaked me out, so much so that I never kept one in my room and would cover ones with towels if they faced the bed at night. He replied, “I bet you could psychoanalyze the shit out of that.” I joked back, “What, you mean I’m afraid to truly look at myself? Yeah probably.” At the time, I was kidding. But he was right on, and so was I.

I now try to look into mirrors as often as I can. Not to make sure I look good, but to see and accept my flaws. I check in with myself when I’m feeling Shadow-y and instead of trying to squash those feelings or dismiss them, I Lean In. Another wonderfully wise friend of mine says he likes to just acknowledge his Shadow when it pops up: “Hey you, I see you. I hear you. It’s okay.” It doesn’t always make those emotions magically disappear, but I’ve found it lightens the load a bit. So I’m now sitting with my Shadow, hanging out with her, and sometimes even giving her a hug or two. Because like it or not, she is a part of me.  And by acknowledging her and accepting her, I get that much closer to fully loving my whole self. As another very wise friend of mine once said, “This thing, this whole beautiful, unimaginable, unrepeatable, glorious mess is OURS.”  (Yes, I have many wise loving friends, for which I’m very grateful.)

painting by Steven Kenny
painting by Steven Kenny

Yes, it’s absolutely terrifying. Yes, I’m going to have to go through a myriad of extremely hard tests, and yes, I’m going to get my butt kicked. But if I don’t, the boxes will only continue to fester until the smell takes over my whole house. The Babadook will possess me and take hold, leading to destructive, unconscious actions. And I will never get my soul back. But unfortunately, I don’t get a season hiatus or end to this movie. These kind of battles are lifelong, methinks.

I see now that I’m using too many metaphors. But you get it.

So go forth! Follow The Fear. Feel Your Pain Fully. Love what you Hate.

Because in doing so, you might find that’s when you’re truly free and your truest self. And that self is beautiful. And I think the benefits will prove to all be worth it in the end. In fact, so far this Shadow work has already positively influenced all of my work, which makes perfect sense, as Jung believes that in this darkness actually lies the root of creativity.

And as my one of my beautiful previously-mentioned friends says, “It’s in the darkness we find our strength.”


2 Steps Forward, 5 Steps Back…

I didn’t want to make another political entry so soon, they don’t seem to be anyone’s favorite. But I have to say something.

There has been a lot of news lately with several women coming out accusing of being sexually assaulted/raped by comedian Bill Cosby. When I first saw the headline online, I didn’t click on it. Like these women felt, like so many people feel now, it was just easier to ignore it. How could such a beloved celebrity and family man do such a thing? It made my heart so sad. But eventually, I did start reading about it. Because like war, death, genocide, disease, famine, and all other things that may be unpleasant but very real, we cannot just stick our heads in the sand. We should NOT be ignoring this story.

I can't look at Bill Cosby's picture one more time right now, so instead, here are a bunch of beautiful women from all over the world.  Photo credit to: Robyn Jay.
I can’t look at Bill Cosby’s picture one more time right now, so instead, here are a bunch of beautiful women from all over the world. Photo credit to: Robyn Jay.

Regardless if the allegations are true, what’s more appalling is the public’s reaction. Anyone who comes forward and admits to being sexually assaulted deserves to be heard. If you’ve never done it, imagine the shame, embarrassment, the risk – it takes incredible courage. These women are now being called liars, ladder-climbers, skanks, or worse – for admitting something so terrible and personal to the public? For trying to get justice and expose the truth about an incredibly successful man? Sure, that sounds easy. They obviously just want the negative attention.

Today, ET just released an article about Janice Dickenson, the latest of the now 15 women who have come forward accusing Bill Cosby of raping them. Please do not read the comments on that article if you do not want to weep/have a rage stroke. I did, unfortunately (it’s a bad reflex) and I was just… stunned. These must be trolls, right? Please let them be trolls.

“Why did she wait so long to come forward?”
“She took the drugs and glass of wine willingly!” (He told her it was aspirin, according to Dickinson)
“She’s no saint either, she’s playing the victim!”
“She’s just looking for her 15 minutes of fame”
“Bill is rich and powerful and has a beautiful wife, he could have any woman he wants, why would he rape?”

And then here’s this gem, “YES… It is true ladies..There were days when you are out drinking and partying..And you had one night stands..You know you had sex forced on you because you were either drugged or intoxicated..And then the next day feeling like crap because you know you had sex the night before..You feel humiliated and hurt because you can’t remember everything..And you know he forced himself onto you..TO ME! THAT IS NOT RAPE! You are just as much to blame as the man who forced himself on you. You put yourself in that situation, by going back to his room or to a hotel with them.”

… I just can’t. I want to write so many angry responses to each of them and smack America upside the head.

I know this news is upsetting. No one wants to accept or even think of our beloved Comedic-Jello-Pudding-Loving-Crazy-Sweater-Wearing-TV-Doctor-Dad as a rapist. It is not pleasant. And hopefully more information will come and he will receive a fair trial. But we need to STOP with the victim-blaming. We need to STOP with the rape culture. It’s 2014, and this is how we respond to women who accuse a man of raping them: paying them to stay quiet, publicly shaming them, threatening their careers and reputations – no wonder they didn’t come out about this in the ’70s or ’80s. We can’t even handle it today – we’d rather run them out of town or burn them at the stake, than face some unfortunate news.

Pretending the Holocaust didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it didn’t. Trauma is trauma, it’s there and it’s real. Ignoring it only lets the wounds fester and become infected – and infections grow – they grow until they consume and poison the entire body if they are not stopped. We’re not ostriches. We need to grow the f*ck up and try to be critical thinkers. Take in the information, THINK about it, read and research, gather the facts, and try to stay objective. Try to have some frickin’ empathy – what if this happened to you? Your sister? Your mother? Your daughter? Your son?

Rape happens. Sexual assault happens. The statistics are there, and they only cover those reported. I have many friends, male and female, who have confessed to me that they were sexually assaulted. For me, rape is personal. And it should be – for all of us. 97% of accused rapists will never spend a day in jail. Meaning they are free to go about their lives and rape again – by not talking about rape, by not reporting rape and sexual assault, we endanger others and we endanger ourselves.

This is why I’m a feminist. It’s not women vs. men. It’s humanity vs. inhumanity. This is why it matters. This is why I will not shut up.