This morning I am thinking about instinct, intention and ambition. I spent some time yesterday, again, with the women who run with the wolves, reading the chapter about soul hunger. When we have been starved of our true selves, we will grab for anything that looks like it will feed us; how do we learn to trust our instincts again, to only take on and in what will truly feed and sustain our souls?
Yesterday Matthew Fox gave me Hildegarde von Bingen in conversation with Audre Lorde, spoke of a reengagement with an eros that is embodied, that inhabits our every movement, that is about our passionate communion with life. He mentioned, too, Women Who Run With the Wolves, which brought me back into this book’s stories. We who have been starved or have starved our souls, we who have been trapped and dried up and without access to that which fills us up and moves us forward (which is, of course, our erotic self) can often stuff ourselves full of whatever comes our way as soon as we are freed from what bondage has kept us separate from our souls. And — at least in my experience — we can get strung out on that feeling of being released.
(Some explicit languaging of trauma below the fold in this post: be easy with you)
I opened up to the Wolves chapter entitled: “Self-preservation: Identifying Leg Traps, Cages, and Poisoned Bait.” At this time of transition, when I am over and over reminding myself that I can trust my instincts, it’s a good time to return to The Red Shoes, about soul starvation and instinct-injured women, and how we can shift away from the patterns we developed at early points in our healing: how we can sustain the transition from feral to wild.
Pinkola Estes writes:
Too, too many women made a terrible vow years before they knew any better. As young women, they were starved of basic encouragement and support, and so filled with sorrow and resignation, they put down their pens, closed up their words, turned off their singing, rolled up their artwork, and vowed never to touch them ever again. A woman in such a condition has inadvertently entered into the oven along with her handmade life. Her life becomes ashes.
A woman’s life may die away in the fire of self-hatred for complexes can bite hard and, at least for a time, successfully frighten her away from coming too near the work or life that matters to her. Many years are spent in not going, not moving, not learning, not finding out, not obtaining, not taking on, not becoming.
[…] To be in a state of hambre del alma, a starved soul, is to be made relentlessly hungry. Then a woman burns with a hunger for anything that will make her feel alive again. A woman who ha s been captured knows no better, and will take something, anything, that seems similar to the original treasure, good or not. A woman who is starved for her real soul-life may look “cleaned up and combed” on the outside, but on the inside she is filled with dozens of pleading hands and empty mouths. (Wolves, pp 228 – 229)
Have you experienced this starvation? I’ve experienced hambre del alma when I was are being abused, when I was isolated from people or work or experiences that fed me, when I was not honest with myself about what I needed, whenever I shut myself down or made myself small in an attempt to assuage someone else’s worry or jealousy or needs.
Here is the danger for me now (isn’t soul starvation danger enough?): I have led myself into soul starvation several times in my life, replicating the place I had to occupy in order to save myself during the time living under my stepfather’s control. During those years, I learned to hide all that was important to me, because anything he touched got sexualized, interwoven into his control mechanisms of overt violence, brainwashing and ostensible affiliation. He pretended to care about what I cared about, he wanted me to tell him about what I was excited or curious aboutw — so that he could plait those conversations into a practice of violation. He would rape those parts of me, too. I don’t use that word lightly and I don’t mean it metaphorically. Anything I was curious about or interested in became fodder for his fucking. And so I kept my deep desires away from my voice. I gave him only interest in what he wanted me to be interested in (computers, sex, science), and the rest (poetry, writing, the natural world, women) I tucked well beneath my breastbone, dug deep into the dirt of me. In order for it to be out of his reach, it had to be out of my own: I had been so indoctrinated into his truth-telling imperative that I gave him the pieces of me I was aware of — I thought that would save me. I thought he would spare me if he saw me as vulnerable and candid; over and over, I thought he would be conscientious, that he would hold to his own professed standard. But we all know the truth (I don’t have to spell this out, and yet I try to do so because finding the language for it is so difficult even still): His was a standard solely based on control. The more he had of me, the more he had of me. He asked for the deep secrets so that I would show him my loyalty, he wanted to know that I was at his command. My survival meant appearing to be at his command, meant both believing that I was under his command. Resistance under these conditions, of course, we know, is internal, unspoken, unarticulable, Gordian.
And when I finally, in the early 90s, began to cut away at the knots I’d had to tie myself into, when I became aware that I might be able to get away and saw how small I’d had to make myself in order to escape, I got hungry. I got very fucking hungry — for just about everything. I poured myself into food, into sex, into alcohol, into rage, into mourning. And mostly into writing. Suddenly I could have passion, eros, in my body again.
So when the treasure of a woman’s most soulful life has been burned to ashes, instead of being driven by anticipation, a woman is possessed by voraciousness. So, for instance, if a woman wasn’t permitted to sculpt, she may suddenly begin to sculpt day and night, lose sleep, deprive her innocent body of nutrition, impair her health, and who knows what else. Maybe she cannot stay awake a moment longer; ah, reach for the drugs… for who knows how long she will be free. (Wolves, pp 230; emphasis mine)
The writing in those first years all but poured out of me. I couldn’t not write, could constantly be found at the cafe on the edge of campus, enormous cup of coffee at my elbow, weeping and raging onto the page. The writing had ferocity, energy, drive. I was all adrenaline, so hungry for this release, and pushed it all into the words.
Attaining that place of immediacy, that place of “just been freed,” that place of “I can finally be my true and real self” can be addictive. I wrote my way very differently through my most recent breakup, and still there was that adrenaline rush, that enormous surge of ebullience, tapping into that same old place: Free! Finally able to welcome all of my mess and fractured whole humanness — all those parts I had shoved down/away in service of keeping someone else happy (whether they had overtly asked me to or not).
It’s as though I learned that the only way to be all of myself, the only times it was ok for me to bring all of myself/-selves to the table, was at those moments of explosive release. Explosions, of course, are violent. I had rooted the idea that my freedom meant someone else’s loss, meant a violence to someone else’s desire, meant violating another person’s wishes or desire (whether that desire was violent itself or not).
My creative fullness became subject to the long slow ugly pendulum of codependence and trauma aftermath: if I let all of myself out, those parts of me that are the most tender will get smashed/will not be welcomed/will not be safe. In every long term relationship, I chose to put away important parts of my growth so as not to upset my partner, to force that growth underground so that, when it finally forced its way out, it emerged pale, weak, bleary-eyed, and starving for sunlight. Those parts then get to take over my attention, become my soul’s focus, throw the rest of me out of balance — and I have to break all of the life I’ve created in order to let them get the air and sustenance they need.
This, needless to say, is not a terribly sustainable pattern. It hurts. A lot.
This is the learning edge I’ve reached, finally (I hope!): I can live the life of my dreams and bring all of my mess and parts to the table without it having to be some big explosion/production. I can meet others from this place of wholeness and incorporate them into my life (or not) as our wholenesses fit together. Does this make sense? I am still deciding that, I guess, still learning what it means for this next phase of this lifetime.
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Have you (or your character) weathered soul hunger/hambre del alma? Are you in the midst of it now? Can you give that phrase ten or fifteen minutes today on the page? What parts of your soul have been/are starved? What happened when you/your soul experienced release? Set your timer, close the door, and let your writing lead — follow the words wherever they seem to want you to go.
Today I honor the parts of you that starved themselves in order that they might one day find safe release — and I honor the pain and risk of/around that release. Thank you for the gentle and ferocious ways you feed your own soul. Thank you for your good words.