But first, we begin with nightlight and the ways darkness spooks us.
The thing about nightlights is that you’re still in the dark. I won’t tell my kids that ofcourse.
But the thing about nightlights is that there is a subtle glow. Just enough to frame the room, the outlines of furniture, the stretch of flooring, the walls that protect you from the scary night. Without the nightlight, it’s as if all the familiar things are suddenly unseen and it’s just you and your thoughts, and the unknown and your eyes that are supposed to be closed. But the real secret is that without a nightlight the familiar comes into sight again anyways. You just have to give it Time. Your eyes adjust and whatever light is floating out there begins to bring your surroundings to life again. And although they look different, it’s all the same as it is in the light. It’s just in darkness.
It took 30 years to find my shadow self, and that was far before I knew it had a name. Actually, I didn’t find it–it found me, or I found myself, there, in the shadowy, yet similar side of myself.
Prior to this, I lived much of my life avoiding darkness. I would only allow myself to live in light, constantly and consistently. I existed in the extreme glow of silver linings. As an eternal optimist, lightness was my default, my only tool, my source of comfort and okayness. To anyone who knows about codependency, this was not just a sunny disposition, this, for me, was survival.
But all at once I was thrust into my shadow self. I initially attempted to pull myself out again and again. Positivity. Silver Linings. Faith. No such luck. Over time, or perhaps quicker than expected, I found great comfort in my grief and sadness that existed within the borderless shadowy truth of my dark side. So I got to know my self again, in the dark. Here, I connected with my anger, my ability to process and understand emotion, my want and my true visceral desires. My shadow self is jealousy and yearning. My shadow self recognizes and owns it’s ill intentions. Perhaps the most likeable part of my shadow self is that there’s no pretending. My shadow self is quiet and withdrawn. I came to understand how I perceive myself and the world around me. How relationships have hurt me and changed me. What it feels like to be selfish for once. To feel negatively about things or people and love them anyways. The freedom that comes when you cut things away. No matter who you hurt. Because I was hurt and untrusting to the whole world. I learned to be sorrowful. To be alone. To cry.
In retrospect maybe I became too comfortable here. So comfortable that I spent years in this. Any light I let out was false light, for the sake of my family, like a nightlight, just enough joy that the surface looks the same. I was well trained optimist, after all.
But I missed out. On so much joy and fun. I feel myself unfolding again, seeking sun and leaning into the light like a morning flower. Connections are reforming. Laughter and creative vision is springing from me through new experiences. I think it’s healthy for me to sweep in and out of darkness and lightness and I’m learning to be both.
In the darkness, flowers curl up into their bright colors to reveal the dusty undertones of wrinkled petals. This is my shadow self: a folded flower. Not wilted, but closed, protected. And when the sun rises again, the flower stretches wide open, brightly, bravely, exposed.
And so I’ve learned to to open and close. To blossom and to be reposed. To nurture all sides of myself. To be recklessly joyous in life with loved ones and to be quiet and at ease in solitude. To know I can be both at different times and still be me the whole time.
At times I feel life pull me back, close me up and quiet me. And others I feel open and colorful, full of glee. I feel fortunate that life has given me some earth shattering lessons. I now can appreciate the cycles that teach us about ourselves, that drag us into darkness and stillness and the way we learn to find light again.