“To be ourselves causes us to be exiled by many others, and yet to comply with what others want causes us to be exiled from ourselves.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, on Initiatory Task 2: Exposing the Crude Shadow.
Okay, I know I said I was on Task 3 of this initiation journey, in my post about Feeding the Dolly. But I feel that this quote bears some examination. Also, it occurs to me that this whole initiation thing may not go down and clean and sequential as my Virgo soul would like.
Task 1 was “Letting the Too Good Mother Die.” After her good mother dies, Vassalisa’s father remarries a widow with two daughters who have “something of the rodent about them.” Dad disappears from the story, and Vassalisa is stuck with her mean stepfamily. They work her cruelly, and for the longest time, she keeps thinking “If I just try harder, play by the rules, I’ll be safe. I’ll be loved.”
Does any of this sound familiar? Just asking. Because the stepsisters are what Estés calls “creatures set into a woman’s psyche by the culture to which a woman belongs.” They are the voices of “not good enough.” And I think there’s a bunch of that going around.
Now, I’ve done a lot of facing my inner stepfamily in the last couple years- those voices were opposed to my divorce and they descend during injuries, times we are vulnerable. I’ve evicted a LOT of them. But, I do believe I’ve got just one or two stepsisters still hanging around. In the last couple of days, I’ve been focusing on my hut of self-compassion. And that helped me notice the snarky voice within when it hissed This shouldn’t take so long. But I noticed! Even that little whisper, and there have been times when that whisper was a fucking Greek chorus. I noticed it and I stroked my own arm. And it wasn’t that bad! Of course this was right after I was scrubbing my face dry with an old towel and it caught on my nose piercing and yanked it halfway out. EEeeeyaghg!
Stepsister voices are relatively painless compared to that. (Forgive me.)
But it's not enough to still the stepsisters within, we have to replace them with our true families. Two encounters in the last two days have made this clear. This is how stories work us when we let them in, right? With “coincidence.”
Encounter 1: A few days ago, an old friend came to me and said, “You’ve known me for a long time. Have I always been an anxious person? Have there been periods when I wasn’t anxious?”
We were in my living room at the time and I was working on my new lazy painting technique -- before the part where I went crazy with the French Ultramarine Blue and fucked it up, which I say with full self-compassion and arm-stroking. (If you are wondering about the arm stroking…)
I had just blocked in a lavender grey sky and I went into the kitchen to rinse my palette and think about the times when I had seen him happy, free, himself.
“No, you’ve have periods where you weren’t anxious. It happens when you’ve been spending time with people who love you and see you.” I named a couple of his crowds, the people he’s known for twenty years, who love him like the family you wish you had, make puppy piles with him. “I think you haven’t been spending much time with your peeps lately,” I said and he nodded, relieved I think.
Encounter 2: Another pal came over…Different night, same living room: Yellow walls, red velvet couches, a lit candle. Sunshine barks just a few times, he knows her. She’s just been visiting her family for the first time since she announced her divorce. And she’s shining, beautiful with love. While she was home, her grandfather gave a toast, saying “The key to life is being with people you love and who love you, especially when you are in transition.”
Encounter 3: (I realize I said 2, but didn’t I mention this will be unpredictable?) A few days ago I wrote a post about how vulnerable it feels, proceeding into this uncertainty. And lo! I heard from my beloveds out there, from my communities of witches and writers in Seattle and the Midwest and the North. “You are doing a great job,” sent one of my pals from my years at Diana’s Grove, someone who I know sees me, and loves me. Even over the interwebs, I could see her eyebrows raised, the mischief in her smile. And felt it wash over me. It really takes so little, and yet how many times have I tried to muscle through, or seen my friends try to muscle through, alone with their hideous, hidden stepfamilies?
I do think that there is something to being grounded, and self-care, and managing ones messes. Yes, yes, of course. But once, I also believed that I had to find the strength to proceed, to do all that plus be happy, without help from anyone else. The bootstrap narrative of individualism ran amok in my psyche. It moved into my hut, spoke with the voices of a family I would never choose. I feel that I am finally leaving them behind. Or at least catching them as they sneak in. Once upon a time, they were able to move in, set up their stinky cots and leave their moldering dishes in my sink while they told me that I would be loved someday, if… if… if…
Like Vassalisa, I believed that lie for too long. But now, I am a witch, broom in hand, sweeping the whispers out of my house and feeling the love come in.