Around this time last year my therapist, who also practices shamanistic healing, performed a soul-retrieval on me. Prior to her expressing interest in doing this with me, I had never heard of such a practice. With age, I have gotten a bit more hokey in my beliefs – everything and everyone is connected, past lives are real, energy effects us all and some of us are tuned into it more than others, and of course, talking to myself is an essential part of processing my feelings.
Going into this soul retrieval I truly was not expecting much. I wasn’t expecting to feel differently, I wasn’t expecting to experience much of anything. But I remained open to the practice and the ritual as a potential gateway to deeper healing. Recognizing the “hokiness,” but being comfortable with it in the name of deeper understanding of myself. We embarked on an interesting journey together, ending up in a hut on the beach with hula dancers. Perhaps we’ll revisit that a bit more another day, but for now, I’ll just say that in the weeks after this soul retrieval I had a profound experience while walking in the woods alone. I was visited by and conversed with 3 previous versions of myself. One from before I was abused, one from during or right after the abuse and then one from about 13 years old. I walked furiously through the woods talking to them, remembering each of them, asking them for help, apologizing to them for cutting them off and not letting them be heard. It was a truly remarkable and moving experience. At times I even shed tears and spoke words aloud while moving through the trail amongst the trees.
Weeks later, I was doing my morning meditation routine, and I was calling them in, as I have tried to continue doing when I am feeling a little off. I was acknowledging their presence one at a time and I couldn’t help but notice a space with darkness at the fourth and empty space surrounding me. And then she emerged. My 17-year-old self whom was just as lost and scared and needed loving support as the others. My 17-year-old self, I was keeping her hidden, had always been and remained ashamed of her. With ill-fitting clothing that revealed too much cleavage, and obvious pleas for love, like, even acceptance from her peers. With sadness, loneliness and rage all pounding at her insides. She was being left out of my little self-acceptance fest. I wept uncontrollably at this realization. Sitting on my yoga mat in my small office, I wept large unforgiving tears. The thought of her being kept hidden was so painful. The thought of ME keeping her hidden, just as so many young people in her life did, was unbearable.
So, I welcomed her into the fold. I filled that dark shadowy space around me with the memory of her. My four former versions of myself now reconvening in an attempt to walk this path with me forevermore. After years of compartmentalizing them in hopes of feeling less of the pain.
Once I remembered that version of me, I now have her popping into my consciousness from time to time. I feel for her. Of all of those younger me’s she for sure had it the hardest. She had a ton of hidden injury, yet she was too young to fully understand it, too young to do much about it and too young to know that the people in her life were not ready to see her invisible pain yet. She was also the absolute bravest of them all, fearlessly pushing past jeers and insults, taking the brushes to the side and forging new paths from those sidelines.
As I sat in the audience of my very first Ani DiFranco concert at age 30, I dedicated it to my 17-year-old self. In honor of her, of her pain, her loneliness and her bravery, I write this letter today with utmost respect and appreciation.
In hopes of re-gaining your trust, I am writing this letter. Last weekend, I sat in the very last row of a nearly pack
ed theater to attend the concert of one of our heroes. I sat with my wife. Hand-in-hand, feeling more supported and loved and seen than ever in my entire life. I closed my eyes and Ani DiFranco sang an old familiar song and I thought of you.
I remembered the hours spent alone with Ani. In the car, smoking clove cigarettes and crying. Alone. In the shower, with building steam and water running down my face and crying. Alone. In my bedroom, with raging emotions and no where for them to go, and crying. Alone. In that girl from high schools bedroom, with joy in our heart and stars in our eyes, excited to finally be able to feel truly seen and heard and understood, moments before she revealed her disinterest in the type of relationship you so desperately hoped to have with her. All times I remember Ani being present for you. While so many of these are sad, I know that it was not her presence that made you sad. Rather, her presence gave you strength and courage and an outlet for powerful emotions that felt trapped at all other moments. Vivid memories flashed in my mind, behind my eyelids in that darkness I watched you holding the weight of the world.
To not apologize, at this point, would be remiss. For all the times I turned the other way in remembering you and your struggle. When I stuffed those feelings down in the name of keeping peace or saving face. For all the times I joked at your expense and didn’t respect your privacy. I am sorry.
And now, I just want to say thank you. From the very deepest part of my soul, thank you for braving the world despite the terrible treatment. Thank you for maintaining that light within you despite the people who attempted to douse your flame. I see you now, and I see the insurmountable task you had of getting up every day, braving those people, braving the work load, braving the world. I see now how brave you were to keep moving forward. To hold out hope for a better future. I want you to know that I will never EVER perpetuate the judgements of you that others held, whi
ch you could feel with every ounce of your being. I know how hard it was to push that energy to the side to keep going. I will only ever hold you in highest regard knowing what you were faced with and how you maintained the most composure and love for yourself that you could muster given all the obstacles.
I would not be here without you and the bravery you exhibited. I (and all versions of us) are forever in your debt for holding our shit together.
With Love, Respect & Admiration,
Shannon (current version)
And there you have it. Perhaps one day we’ll go into more detail about those painful experiences. In fact, I hope so. But for now, it must be made know, publicly, that we are owning our history. Not only owning it, but loving it, respecting it and honoring it.