Me and My Shadow

I had the pleasure of hanging out, two nights ago, with one of my very closest friends. Kerri and I have been dancing together since 1999, at first barely acquaintances and now the very best of creative collaborators. We hadn’t seen each other in ages, and were catching up. I was telling her about our new quest (and struggle) to night wean Fern. She asked, “Have you tried any flower essences?”

The question stopped me in my tracks. No, I haven’t. And why not? After all, Kerri said with surprise, “That’s your whole cup of tea.” I don’t know that Kerri has ever taken an essence, but as all good friends do, she holds all of who I am, despite the differences between us.

I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought about it, except that I often overlook myself when it comes to healing. (That sentence, in and of itself, is telling.) It is easier for me to remember what’s in my tool bag when I am offering help to someone else. A lightbulb went on, and the complexity of the night weaning process was illuminated before my inner eye. Of course, there is so so so much more going on here than “just” a transition.

There is the entirety of Fern’s sleep experience since she’s been out of the womb, filled with distress, discomfort and frequent waking. There were the months of looking at possible physical complications with her digestion, and the elimination diets, her weight loss and subsequent gain. There is the whole history of our breast feeding journey, our travelling companion the painful latch and low milk production. There is my own push and pull of wanting to be and do everything for her, and the polarized opposite of just wanting space. There is that moment frozen in time during her first weeks of life, where I reached out to bring her in closer to snuggle while sleeping and Jeff suggested I let her alone and allow myself to turn my back and go to sleep. It is a moment I still feel unsettled about, because I went against my intuition for someone else’s idea of the “right” thing. (Albeit, I trust that someone else, but still). We are not simply night weaning Fern. We are holding the loom and looking back at the weave of the last 20 months and checking for frays and missed connections.

The next morning I got out my Flower Essence Repertory and looked up “children”. I had an inkling, but I wanted to be sure. I looked through a few suggestions…Chicory, Mariposa Lily…there was some resonance there in the descriptions, but not quite fitting. And then there it was…I turned to the page of my inkling…Chamomile…and the chimes went off.

As I read the description, I could not only see Fern’s symptoms described clearly, but was also deeply struck by the undercurrent of my own experience, my own process.

People needing Chamomile tend to accumulate psychic tension throughout the day, particularly in the stomach region. They will often have difficulty letting go of their emotional stress at night, and thus suffer from insomnia…”  (Flower Essence Repertory, Kaminsky and Katz, 1986)

I felt my epiphany go through my body like a shock. I allowed myself to feel what I am always carrying around with me, what I also ignore and push aside out of a sense of hopelessness, of fear.

Along with chronic physical pain, the dominant experience in my body, 24/7, is of tension in my solar plexus. Sometimes I identify it as anxiety, fear, terror. Much of the time it is just tension. When I hold my daughter close to my body, I can feel the tension in my stomach pushing against her, even as I try to hold her in the softest embrace.

Often it is so great that my emotional state is frequently one of irritation…I feel so irritated and unsettled inside, that when I encounter the chaos and noise and over-stimulation of the city I feel bonkers. I contract, close off, want to be left alone. I have felt this way much of my life, but I recognized it as being ongoing in my early 20s, after I left home and began the long road to becoming an adult who could emotionally take care of herself.

Does it sound alarming, or terrible? It does to me, as I read what I just wrote. And yet. it is this experience, at the center of my being, that I ignore. Even though it was not always there, this sensation became my new normal a long time ago. And besides, I think…who wants to hear about it? Who can do anything about it? Who even knows what the eff it is?

After I had this epiphany, I remembered a quote by Jung that a friend (Hi Heather!) had posted on her blog,

Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.

In my case, it feels like the unlived life is my shadow. There is a whole aspect to my life that I am not living, that I am not facing, that I am not dealing with, in a futile and misguided attempt to make it go away. I’m not talking about an untapped mysterious subconscious following me around. I’m talking about the burning inferno of worry swirling around in my stomach. There is life and feeling and thought and dreams and grief and the keys to happiness all whirling around in my own personal tornado. And then I think of this quote by Jung as well:

We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.

I can no longer condemn and oppress this experience of mine. Not only is it trapping me, but I also believe that my daughter may be picking up on it. I believe and understand that children swim in the cultural waters of their family. I might try to emanate relaxation and joy to her, but it’s bullshit if the puddle I’m standing in is actually one of tension and anxiety. I might be able to lie to myself and to everyone else in the world, but I can’t lie to the soul of my daughter and I certainly don’t want her to be the one who holds the shadow in our family. The stress in our living situation is not something we pay due attention to, but it’s there, regardless.

Yesterday we went to Rainbow, and I bought us some Chamomile essence. I looked for a super-sized bottle, thinking the whole family should take it, including the dog. For now, we will start with Chamomile, and perhaps integrate the others as time goes on. I will also cease to gloss over Fern’s distress when she doesn’t get what she wants, I will no longer write it off as “typical toddler behavior” and instead hear what she is really trying to say. That she doesn’t know how to handle how she feels. That she is a little scared. That she needs mama. Perhaps that she needs a mama with a soft belly.

(I have been listening to Angus and Julia Stone a lot, including while writing this post. This song doesn’t necessarily speak to my words, but it’s one of my favorite by them, and the music is what my shadow is dancing to.)


4 thoughts on “Me and My Shadow

  1. So much honesty and mindfulness in this post, thank you for sharing your experience. I’d be interested in hearing about how the chamomile works out. My husband tends to accumulate stress in a similar way and often has problems with sleeping.

    I wish I had helpful advice for the night weaning. I didn’t get Clover to night wean until she had just turned three! Clearly, I am no expert, haha, and even then it took me on a round of antibiotics to finally stop. It had been my only tool for getting her to sleep and I’m bad with instigating change. It seems my little one may have this tendency too, which can sometimes make things difficult. It ended up being much easier than I thought once the option was gone though and I think it helped that she was old enough for me to explain things to her.

    I wish you the best of luck though. Oh, and that video of Fern with the salve is hilarious and so precious!

    p.s. I was four in 1976 as well! Born in Feb. of ’72 🙂

    1. thank you missa. i will def update you on the chamomile. so far, it’s seeming to be creating more of a shift for me, less of a visible one for fern.

      i had been thinking i would wait until fern was three, or however long it took, for that matter. but i literally have not slept more than 2 hours at a time in the last 20 months and i feel like i’m unravelling. actually, i’m not unravelling, but i’m definitely frayed around the edges, and want to have an experience of myself as something else than grumpy. it would be soooo much easier if fern could really grasp the concept, like clover did. it makes sense that you did things the way you did. rather than you being bad with instigating change, it seems like you just waited until the moment was ripe. change just doesn’t happen if the timing isn’t right, and otherwise it has to be forced, which just makes everyone miserable.

      i’m excited to learn we’re the same age! i don’t know many moms my age. i was born in november of ’72. love it!

  2. Thank you for this post. I just started reading your blog from time to time. I learned about it from reading Milla’s The Girl Who Married A Bear. Must be serendipitous that I read this today. I relate to your feelings of irritation and overwhelm, that tension in the the solar plexus, and sometimes not going with my gut when I should have. I ‘m the first time mom of a 14 month old whose feelings have been deep and wide since the day he was born. And while I think I tune into his needs and try to be receptive to him, in fact, just before reading your post I’d just fought with him for 40 minutes to take a nap he was clearly showing me he wasn’t ready for, because I was the one who needed a rest. How much less tension could there have been for both of us if I’d just paid attention to what I needed ( and what he was communicating) and done something about it? I would add to Jung’s sentiment that the unmet need of the parent will have significant effects on a child- even something as basic as sleep. As for night weaning, I feel you. I finally decided to wean my son a month ago, because he was nursing almost exclusively at night and waking every couple of hours. I just couldn’t function anymore without longer periods of sleep. I stopped nursing altogether because I thought it would be confusing to say yes during the day and no at night. Surprisingly, after 4 nights of sleeping just with Daddy. He was over it. He still rubs his face on my chest and will give the sign for all done and I say, “Yes, the milk is all done.” but then he moves on. I’m sad that I weaned sooner than I’d planned, but I am able to see life much more clearly and calmly than I could before, and tune into him better. Good luck to you!

    1. thank you so much for sharing your experience, veronica. “feelings have been deep and wide…” what a beautiful, and apt, description.

      i struggle with, think about, and even mourn sometimes the divide between being able to follow fern’s natural rhythms, and living a city life that follows a clock. both jeff and i have done something so similar, like your situation with trying to force a nap based on our need to get something done or just to rest. there is an aspect of surrender that just doesn’t feel possible. as it is, there is a type of subjugation of my own will that goes on, and it is this that is responsible for much of the tension.

      your experience with night weaning sounds both right and also a little heartbreaking and i totally get your decision. i am still weighing my own need for sleep and sanity against fern’s desire to be close and nurse. i’m not reading to totally stop yet, and although we are doing the recommended “boobies sleep at night” type of explanation, when she is half asleep, all rationale goes out the window and she freaks out. i think i am wanting a more ideal closure to night weaning, and i may have to accept that i won’t get it.

      i’m so glad you commented. do keep in touch!

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