50 Roads #4 – THE ROAD WITH TOO MANY LIGHTS
*trigger warning – this is an essay about my mental and emotional breakdown
I’m going to get really raw here and take you down a road that used to bring me a lot of shame. But it doesn’t anymore.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been somewhere that’s so dark at night that you can actually see the Milky Way with your naked eyes, but if you haven’t, I hope you find a way to experience it.
It will change your life.
I used to see pictures of the Milky Way and I thought they were Photoshopped or taken with a telescope. I had no idea there were places in the world where the Milky Way became visible up there— and that what was hiding it all along was light down here.
There’s such a thing as light pollution. And I love light. I love everything about light. But I learned that too much light can obscure the things we need most. Too much light can disorient us, confuse us and even blind us. Too much light over-exposes the nuances, the natural contours and the beautiful shadows where things live that need a soft and safe environment. Sometimes the best things need a semi-dark place to live, with only a candle to light what is needed moment by moment.
Sometimes when everything has a spotlight blaring on it all at once, you just have to close your eyes and put the covers over your head in order to function. We use light for the most part to be able to see things better. But sometimes it’s light that hides things most treacherously.
Lots of people tell me I am brave and resilient. But I need to tell you the truth about the other side of that stick. For you to understand the upcoming roads, I need to start telling you now about my complete mental and emotional unraveling that happened shortly after we left Idaho. It stepped up to the counter of my reality as if it had been waiting in line for decades to talk to me. Now that it had its turn, it wasn’t going anywhere until I listened. It waited until I was on a road dark enough to see myself. And what happened next, some might call a mental or nervous breakdown, I did for a while. What I call it now is a severe allergic reaction to the blinding strobe light of self-abandonment. It showed up unapologetically as soon as things got dark enough for me to be able to see it.
I’d lost myself, or abandoned myself for a long time in the abyss of modern life’s metaphorical light pollution. Too much light? It didn’t make sense for a while. As a lover of truth and knowledge and love, this lesson for me was unforeseen and something I fought for a long time. How could too much light be a bad thing? Wasn’t I always trying to find more light, create more light and advocate for more light?
I was actually hiding myself in the blinding lights of “too much.”
What I have learned is that not all light is the same.
What I have also learned is that not all darkness is the same.
When we left Idaho to chase the sun for Marq, we first took a detour to rural Oregon, to spend some time with our dear friends, Pixie and Sky. They invited us to spend a few months there in our RV to get our bearings before we headed South to find more light. They’d been to Idaho several times that Summer and Fall to help us pack up….
The road between Soulodge and our ranch was about a 5 hour drive and they’d traveled it several times to see us in Idaho, to help us sort through our belongings and pack up, to visit, to spend our different holidays and rituals together. Our relationship had always been a peculiar one if you were to look from the outside, but an absolutely pure one if you could peek to the inside. Pure love. We all had different ways of devotion, different ways of prayer, different ways of belief. But it was never a problem because of the love between us all. We would take turns offering our different ways of prayer before meals. We would learn from each other about what we were devoted to and what sustained each of us. We talked openly and respectfully about what our individual Source of truth, love and creation was. What God or Goddess meant to each of us. We all shared gentle light with each other over so many years. Christian and Pagan sitting in circle, just loving and adoring and caring for each other.
I cry as I write this because I don’t know a better version of love than the one that happened by candlelight or firelight every time we were all together.
Marq and I had also traveled that 5 hour road countless times over the years. We were always welcome. It always felt like home when we’d drive up the long long long gravel road to their gate. You can’t believe the view once you get to the gate, an enormous rock mountain in the shape of a buffalo as the backdrop. Grassy fields, juniper trees, horses and cows as far as you can see. I could literally feel my heartbeat slow down as we drove up that road, every time. You had to stop your vehicle, get out and open the gate, then drive through the gate and stop your vehicle again and get out to close the gate. Then it was another drive to the house or the barn. The whole routine was like a meditation and the red volcanic gravel road would crunch underneath you like a song.
We’d been there so many times and whether or not it was printed officially on a calendar, we always made it a special occasion. We went there to recommit to each other for our 25th Anniversary, surrounded by our children and a close circle of sacred friends who threw us the best 2nd wedding we could ever imagine. We’d traveled there together and also alone. Marq had driven there alone many times during his worst bouts of depression to be on the land, to find his way in the gentle starlight. To help Sky and to be helped by Sky. They’d build fences and care for the livestock and appreciate the land the way only they could. He would go there to just be. I’d been there on my own countless times just to be with Pixie and our artist group. To sit on the couch and look out the enormous windows at the volcanic mountains and the perfect sunsets and the juniper trees and the garden. To have the best conversations with my dear soul sister. To be with her children who felt like my own. I knew the routines of gathering firewood and building the fires, opening the curtains in the morning while Pixie made us warm turmeric drinks to start the day. Lighting the candles at night.
I even got to walk that land with Pixie when she first bought it. I listened to her dreams of making a gathering place and I got to be there when it all happened.
So going there to start our journey was pretty perfect, even though it wasn’t the sunny and warm place that we needed to find as our ultimate destination. It was the place where we needed to start our sojourn.
I could tell you a million things about this experience but what I want to share on this road is what happened when we were away from the bright lights of our life for a sustained period of time, in a place that felt safe and restful, without a deadline to be anywhere else. And on a ranch so far out in the country that there was no light pollution.
I need you to know that Marq had his brain injury in 2004, so at this time, it had been 15 years since his accident. My inner-life had become a figurative trauma center over those years, just like you’d see on a tv hospital drama, where there are surgical lights and bright bulbs everywhere, with everyone running around frantically in an over-lit hospital with loud floors and zero privacy. Doctors yelling, people crying, dramatic relationships unfolding. Miraculous recoveries with sappy music and devastating losses with even sappier music. That’s how my head felt all the time. Machines beeping, frantic messages over the loudspeaker. Waiting rooms full of people. Paramedics wheeling in new patients hectically. And then the soundtrack in the background. Dramatic music, scary music, ominous music. My head was a tv drama on full blast all the time for at least the last 15 years. Reruns playing constantly. It never ended.
I didn’t know how much I was hanging by a thread until everything got really quiet and really dark at Soulodge Ranch.
I can’t remember how many days we had been there before my inner Milky Way became visible to me. I know that first Saturday afternoon, when we drove up to the house and parked the RV, something in me started to wake up. I don’t know if it felt safe because of the running away or the running toward, but something in me woke up and knew that I was gone from where I’d always been and I’d arrived somewhere else. And something felt both safe and compelled to reveal itself to me. I had just turned 48 and what I’ve learned since this happened is that lots of people around this age are suddenly confronted with the truth of their self-betrayal and self-abandonment. And it isn’t a welcome visit that was planned. This stuff shows up without an invitation. That’s what happened to me.
We parked the RV right next to the house. I could look out my little kitchen window and see Pixie’s kitchen. It was like having your best friend sitting next to you while you’re in your hospital bed. We did a lot of things together over those few months. We all ate together every night, cooked together, played more card and board games than I can count with the kids and as adults late into the night. We watched so many movies. We went on drives and walks and to the grocery store. We made celery juice and ate ice cream and had the most wonderful Thanksgiving with a patchwork quilt of friends, neighbors and chosen family. But a lot of the time, I was in the RV alone and Marq was out on the land with Sky. I was working, making videos and writing curriculum and doing Zoom meetings. Pixie was inside her house doing the same.
But I was finally alone. And it was finally quiet. And there wasn’t any light pollution at all. Inside or outside. I’d work really hard all day pouring myself into my work, but then I’d turn the lights out and enjoy the stars.
Within a week of being there, I started having vivid dreams. Little panic attacks. Flashbacks. I had been working with a therapist/healer over Zoom that lots of my friends had recommended to help me through the grief of the last few years. I absolutely was not expecting the locked doors of my brain to choose this time in my life to burst open and expose tightly taped boxes with secrets and anger and grief and shame and blame and rage inside, but that’s what happened.
The first time I had these flashes of my inner reality, it terrified me. I was laying on the little couch/daybed in the RV, my heart was swelling and aching as I thought about what we’d left behind. Then suddenly it’s like an enormous metal playground slide opened up from the sky and a big wad of sights and sensations rolled down it into my brain. I could see it, feel it, hear it. All of it. Things I had long forgotten and stuffed away and numbed and gaslighted away showed up like an angry mob. In an instant, I saw, felt, heard and tasted deep knowings that I didn’t even know I knew. Flashbacks of myself enduring soul-crushing experiences as a child, teen and young adult and then keeping it a secret. . . and years of so much self-betrayal as an adult. Mistakes I’d made, the way I’d put my head in the sand when I should have spoken up or taken responsibility. The people I’d hurt because of my own hurt and carelessness and numbness. The situations and people I kept attracting into my life to relive all of it, over and over again — the way this had all become a cycle.
Self-abandonment, self-betrayal and self-exploitation had finally broken its way out of the closet I’d stuffed it in for decades. Because it had gotten so dark and so quiet that I could see my own Milky Way.
I won’t go into detail about what these sensory experiences/memories held. Some of them were heinous. But it was so real and so detailed that I can’t believe I was ever able to just stuff it all away. I immediately asked God to not show me any more of it. I begged and pleaded and prayed and said . . . I get it, I don’t want to see any more of this. Please.
But it didn’t go away until it was time for it to go away.
I don’t get angry. Well, let me rephrase that . . . I USED TO not get angry. I didn’t even know how. But I suddenly got so angry that it terrified me. Memories showed up from decades back of all the times I allowed things to happen, all the times I said yes when I should have said no, all the times when I didn’t have the power to say no, all the way back to the young little girl I once was. So many secrets.
And I felt myself breaking, and I knew there was no stopping it. Some of the memories that came up were so horrific that I didn’t know if I’d ever be okay again. I felt a combination of deep shame, intense rage and desperate powerlessness.
I didn’t tell anyone except the therapist/healer I’d been working with. We would meet over the phone once a week and when I told her, she said she already knew there were things that I’d stuffed away. That she suspected it all along and that this was going to be one of the greatest blessings of my life. To have these things out in the open where I could heal them.
And it wasn’t the light that brought them out, it was the darkness.
That night the stars were so bright BECAUSE of how dark it was. I broke to pieces in that dark with the gentle light of the stars showing me why so many things happened the way they had over the course of my life. Why I always thought everything bad that happened was my fault. Why I was always trying to pay some big debt that I couldn’t define. Why I felt like I was bad and rotten inside. Why I was afraid of the dark, afraid of being alone, afraid of getting too close to people, afraid of quiet and stillness, afraid of success, afraid of stopping to rest, afraid of myself.
The next morning I woke up and Marq was already gone and I laid on the bed and sobbed. I had no idea what to do with any of this.
Then I had one of the most sacred experiences of my life. With my eyes closed, I felt angels surrounding me. Holding me like a baby. They were over me, under me and beside me. They kept saying, you have so much to heal from…it is time….I sensed that these were beings who knew me and knew every single experience I had ever lived through — and the message that would ring in my ears for years to come was that I was even sicker than my husband was. A sports accident had broken his brain. Too many acts of self-abandonment when I needed myself most had broken my spirit. Marq would get healed by the light and I would get healed in the gentle glow in the darkness of my own Milky Way.
I’d spent most of my adult life and career passionately trying to help others to heal. I was obsessed with this mission. I have written thousands of pages of books, curriculum and Daily Truths to souls that I only knew through the connection my heart felt to them. I wrote frantically and prolifically and earnestly. Words as food. Words as oxygen. Words as medicine. Day and night I would study and write and create beautiful art in an effort to help my human family to heal. I didn’t know until that day how I was really trying to heal myself. I learned that I gave those words so wholeheartedly because I needed them so desperately.
This darkness that chased away the light pollution and showed me something I needed to heal started out with that mental and emotional breakdown. That’s why I disappeared from the world for a while. It lasted for months and almost years. I do not fool myself into believing that if I’m not careful, I will get pulled right back in for another round of unraveling. And I am not ashamed of that. I am grateful for it. Because now I know what healthy light is, and what healthy darkness is.
Not all light is the same. The Soul Road of Too Many Lights was the one that blinded my eyes and disoriented me, but it also kept me safe until it was time for me to see the stars inside of my own soul’s darkness. Not all darkness is the same. Terrible and scary things happen in the dark where they can be hidden, where they can trick and deceive you, where people can do things to you that they wouldn’t be allowed to do in the light. And miraculous things happen in the dark where they can be safe and protected. Babies grow in the dark of a womb. Roots grow deeper in the dark of the underground. Treasures get buried away from predators until it’s safe to unearth them.
This road to middle-age is not for the faint of heart, is it? We spend the first half of our life exploring, gathering, building, proving, burying, surviving. And it seems we get to spend the second half of our life with more exploring but now dismantling, digging-up, inspecting, confronting, sorting, simplifying, appreciating and then enjoying.
We still have 46 roads to go, friends. I needed to put this one toward the beginning to give you context for some of the ones that come next. Here’s what I want you to know — I have and am working through the fallout of this breakdown. When something like this gets revealed to you, it’s a line of dominoes that start to fall, one by one. There’s a lot of unwinding and rethinking and rewiring that has to happen. And I am doing it, I have been doing it.
If we were all at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere together, we would be able to see that all of us have this milky way and when we start to see it, we think we are breaking. But what’s actually happening is that the thick layer of cement that we plastered ourself with in an effort to feel safe is finally breaking off. We are not breaking, we are breaking off what can’t be there anymore.
I am grateful for this breaking. It has been a long and difficult road the last few years, but the biggest gift that was under all of those thick layers was something I’ve been searching for my whole life — self-respect.
So please just give me a fist bump. I don’t want pity and I don’t even need a hug about this. I feel heroic and not weak or powerless. SO MANY OF US are living with the lasting effects of trauma that bleeds into the manifestation of more trauma. It is not without consequence. At some point, we have to stop the cycle and often the first step is a complete unraveling. Thank you for witnessing me. Thank you for giving me a fist bump. I just want to dance and celebrate with you – I don’t want to cry about this anymore.
Our world is sometimes far too lit. There are obnoxious lights being shined in our eyes from every direction. Let’s just give each other safe places to turn off the lights so that we can see our own solar system. Let’s congratulate each other, witness each other and cheer for each other as we find the courage to step away from the bright lights that have perhaps been blinding us and we face all of the pain and all of the self-abandonment that is ready to be released.
We can heal to wholeness, all of us. In the dark and in the light. But we each have the responsibility to step away from whatever spotlights are creating overwhelming competition for the beautiful little light inside of us that’s always been there, ready to reveal what is most real and true.
I will tell you more about this unraveling on future roads. It’s important. But for now, just know that it was a very good thing. It still is.
So, sparkling soul,
What are the bright lights of YOUR LIFE that are blinding you from seeing yourself?
What makes you afraid of your own darkness?
Yes please, let’s be a safe place for another to be in their darkness. I am so grateful for my friend and her starlit Soulodge — she’s always been that safe place for me.
Road #5 is The Road That I Never Wanted to Leave …. see you there tomorrow.