Like it or not on the path of healing and emotional recovery there is no way we can bypass our deep emotional wounds and work. I was so grateful a few years into my addiction recovery/early sobriety to come across the writing of psychologist John Welwood in which he spoke of the thorny matter of the ‘spiritual bypass’. What he meant by this was the idea that by some kind of lofty spiritual work we could by pass the legitimate suffering we undergo as human beings who are both emotional and spiritual on the path of recovery we begin to travel as we become fully awake to the complexity of our human experience on earth.
You may know the sort of thing. If you are in recovery and have been taught for most of your life that there is something deeply wrong with you for having certain feelings which fall into our collective shadow (by this I mean emotions that are so often labelled as negative such as fear, hostility, anger or sadness) its easy to fall for the so called spiritual idea that somehow you aren’t as highly evolved if you can’t let it go and rise above it or the idea that somehow it was a karmic issue that you bought upon or caused yourself for your spiritual evolution.
Although I believe we can gain great wisdom and growth through addressing our wounds that does not mean that we bought them on ourselves and this is just the kind of lie or spiritual bypass the certain people or institutions wish we would believe in order to let them off the hook for their own wounding actions and unconsciousness.
A further confusion is to come to believe the lie that we are so called ‘mentally ill’ when really what we are expressing is extreme stress or distress over emotional or other abuse that we suffered, most especially if we are of high sensitivity. To my mind whether or not we are mentally ill corresponds in some way to how much of these diagnoses we take on and then turn around to beat ourselves up with instead of finding compassion and a deeper recognition of the truth of what we really suffered at the hands of others, conscious or unconscious that led to such ‘dignoses’.
From my own experience I see how I literally spent years thinking there was something wrong with me for having been a sufferer of trauma. Admittedly in the face of zilch support coming out of such trauma I adopted or turned towards behaviour such as addiction which may seem counterproductive but which actually developed into survival or coping strategies that where what I needed to survive until I hit rock bottom. Only then could a turning point be reached and would I become willing to turn it around. But this was literally years after being pummelled by the criticism and judgement of others who had not one clue of what I had suffered in my life.
These days I am still angry about that kind of treatment but I am able to let the anger go because I finally realise how wrong it was. What it also did was hamper my own recovery for without the necessary validation from those who were psychologically blind it was impossible to not reconfirm the view that my past had taught me that I was defective or damaged in some way.
I went back to an Al Anon meeting yesterday I felt the need to connect with people after some time away. What was being discussed at that meeting was the Sixth Step “became entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character”. Now this is where warning bells start to sound for me and after sharing about honestly many others agreed, was I actually defective due to suffering wounds as the result of being raised in a home where powerful after affects of the multi generational legacy of addiction and emotional abandonment were in place? As the so called ‘identified patient’ wasn’t it truer that as the youngest I was carrying deep seated wounds onwards, wounds within which a healing blessing could in fact be located after I ceased to beat myself up about having learned certain survival strategies in the absence of other support or resources?
As recovering alcoholics or addicts we are already too familiar with the twin legacy of guilt and shame. We absorb it in families and in our culture and we are more than willing to play the scapegoat until we start to wake up to the fact that in carrying repressed shadow energies for a collective we are really the designated wounded healers, perhaps sent to earth for the very purpose not only of our own awakening but that of others too? I hope this doesn’t sound egoic or conceited in any way. But I do believe it to be true. The people I came to respect most when I first got sober were those who had the courage to be open about their darkness and self forgiving too. For me they mirrored the essential truth that in order to heal I have to open up my shame and guilt to others. I need to unmask the so called dark places and spaces where my feelings, criticisms and judgements hide and know I can reveal them and be loved anyway. When I open my darkness to light it transforms for me in some way and I also get to connect with others from an equal playing field.
I don’t get to be an evolved person by trying to perform a spiritual bypass. Denying that I have a shadow and that I suffer, leading you to believe that all is rosy and I have overcome all dread, to my mind the way I evolve is by embracing fully my own humanness and sharing it, unmasking it with others. If I don’t do this my own darkness has a mysterious way of following me about like a shadow. It may reappear in someone I met, I may project it onto others. I may due to fear see no longer who really stands before me but instead some figment of my imagination which comes from a dark side or experience that I have yet to own or embrace.
Dark and light are two sides of one coin. We cannot know happiness if we don’t know sadness, we cannot know suffering if we don’t know joy. We cannot know true freedom if for years we have not at times known great times of bondage. We are not humans having a spiritual experience but spirits in matter having a very human experience with all the attendant trials, tribulations and sufferings such an experience involves. So let us stop labelling others, let us stop casting our judgements upon them for when we point a finger at others we soon find we have tree fingers pointing back at us. None of us has yet ‘arrived’ on this journey. We are all works of art in progress.