“How much longer?” I pleaded in the direction of the long space-time tunnel that separated me from my midwife.
My mind had leapt back on stage and grabbed the mic. You can’t do this, it said. You’re going to die. This is literally going to kill you. Who do you think you are trying to do something like this. You don’t have what it takes.
The relentless stream of negativity made everything worse.
I thought, as so many birthing women do, that I would be annihilated in that moment.
And perhaps I was. Perhaps my mind broke open and one layer of its lies fell to ashes on the ground.
But then, in my deepest moment of surrender, it was over.
Initiation and why we need it
That would not be the last time I’d find myself on my knees pleading for mercy, desperately demanding how much longer? But the lived experience of moving through fear would stay with me as an imprint to draw from in these darker times. As a means of distinguishing the tantrum of the protective mind from the deeper faith of the soul. I would bring with me to future birth canals a knowledge that the screechingly excruciating tight spaces lead to new grand openings, upleveling, and expansion. And I would know, deep down, that I would be okay, even if I struggled to believe it.
This is what initiation is for — it is a lived experience that exposes the illusion: the ego, the mind, and our attachment to control for the limiting forces they are. Initiation brings us to the brink and demands that we bow as we are pushed off the edge… only to find that we can take flight when we thought we would plummet to our deaths.
We need initiation to begin the adultification process. To begin to tap into a sense of who we are, of our divine and primal power, and to begin to experience a core sense of self that doesn’t change when our opinions or personality do.
Because we are no longer ceremonially initiated by our tribespeople, as men and women, we are all still being driven by our childhood wounds. We have not yet discovered who we are as an impossibly unique contribution to the greater design. We are walking bags of unexamined trauma, unprocessed emotions, and maladaptive patterns.
Many believe that every living human has sustained a cardinal psychoemotional injury by the age of seven. A wound that triggers shame and inadequacy. This wound could be severe as in violence or sexual abuse, or it could be that your mom said your sister could have ice cream but not you. The response to this wound is our personality, our defenses, our habits, and ultimately, our beliefs about ourselves and the world.
We carry these unprocessed emotions in our bodies and our bodies try to show us that we can run but we can’t hide… these are called symptoms, illness, and disease, and can ultimately lead to identification as a psychiatric patient, broken, for life. But, identifying with a disease (I’m a cancer patient, I have Depression) is like saying that the smoke alarm is the reason the house is burning down. You are not your disease. It is helping you to see what you need to look at, deep inside.
It is in this way that the child self runs our lives. Always beneath the surface, this wounding program is activated by anything and everything that smells like, feels like, looks like, or behaves like the characters in our primary injury. The wound wants to be seen, and so it is always actively commanding our attention.
We go out of our way to attract experiences that confirm our beliefs. Take one of mine for example — I have a programmed belief that no one has my back… that when things get tough, no one can or wants to be there for me. They can’t handle me and everything I am. I developed this belief through a childhood wound.
For many years of my life, I collected experiences that confirmed that belief. I would find that colleagues would scatter when I came under media attack, that family and friends abandoned me in one of my dark nights, or that I would repeatedly fail when trying to assemble groups of like-minded researchers and clinicians.
Then there is a patient of mine, Sarah. At least four times in her life, she was reflected that she didn’t have what it takes. Her school counselor discouraged her from applying to top tier schools, she was told to reconsider her artistic ambition to open up a gallery, and she has been medicated for years by a doctor who told her that she couldn’t handle the stress of a powerful but unstable relationship in her life.
Identifying these patterns and beliefs is a way to take responsibility for everything in life that feels unfair. It’s a way of recognizing that you have control, exactly in the times and spaces that you feel most victimized, of turning out the monsters in the closet. What if you didn’t struggle in the ways that you do — then what would happen? What would that be like? You’ll find, as shocking as it is, that you are getting something out of being a victim… safety, being right, being blameless.
Facing this wound and working with the relationships that will help your childself feel heard is the hardest work we will be asked to do in a lifetime. And the house of cards that we had held up for sometimes decades… well, it might need to fall.
The confusion, pain, and disorientation that can come with that will characterize your rock bottom. And perhaps your final birth canal. The final dark night. The final trial.
This process results in the energetic shrinking of your parents and childhood authorities, so that they become a smaller part of your psychic landscape. So that the frustrated need of your child self to be seen and honored by them is lessened. Ideally, at this point, you are held by others in your tribe who see you and honor you, authentically.
The One Big Lie
I want to make sure that you can identify the one big lie that your mind will tell you when you are in that dark night. The lie is:
I am never going to feel okay again.
That’s it. This is the lie that drives people to self-destruction. It is the pole holding up the banner of hopelessness. It is the dark cloud obscuring the sun. It’s also the lie that keeps dynamic, complicated individuals captive in a system that says: your struggle is a permanent and defining feature of your brokenness.
This lie drives our fear so that we scramble to do, fix, mitigate, and stem the bleeding in whatever way possible.
If you have encountered this lie, here are some tips from someone who’s been there, and who has worked with hundreds of women whose minds have trumpeted this falsehood at various moments in their transformational process.
1. No decisions
We are used to making decisions from our intellect. Pros and cons, better now than never, safe than sorry. In these times of your life, however, when time slows down, and where you feel the ground moving beneath your feet, proceed in a different way. As my teacher Swaranpal always said, when you don’t know what to do, wait until you do. You will know when you have to make a move and what it is supposed to be because it won’t feel like a choice any longer. That doesn’t mean you won’t still be bracing against it, it will simply be clear that the only way forward is through. Ending a relationship, quitting a job, confronting a family member, sharing a long-held secret. This is what it feels like to make decisions from your intuition.
2. Ask for prayer
I was once accused by a therapist of never letting anyone in my life know that I needed them. She was right. In your dark night, ask for help. You might even ask for someone to pray for you. In my most recent struggle, one of my dearest built two altars for me that burned for weeks. And I asked five other friends to pray for me. And not just in the colloquial oh yeah I’ll send you good vibes sense. In the real, focused, intentionality sense. In fact, data on remote healing is pretty remarkable, demonstrating improved healing even when people don’t know they are being prayed for. Ask them to pray for an easeful transition, for spiritual support, or for what is in your best and highest to manifest. Ask them to hold you in love.
3. Safety mantra
There may be whole days during which you feel like you are going to disintegrate from worry, unease, and deep discomfort in your own skin. Pick a safety mantra. Mine has been simple: You are OK. Literally, that’s it. I would say that hundreds of times a day at the worst of it. You could choose, I am loved. This will end. I have everything I need. I will only experience exactly what I can handle. Or anything that you wish you could hear whispered from on high. Whisper it to yourself… a lot.
4. Stop life as usual
Because society makes no room for breakdown/breakthroughs, we are enculturated around our persistent functioning, reliability, and productivity as the metric of okay-ness. When you are hitting a rock bottom, make space. Cancel meetings, get quiet if you need to, tell people the truth — that you are going through something and need a pause. The energy you reserve by doing this will channel directly into your process.
5. Let it move through
Many believe, and I have experienced, that the soul may want to leave the body during these alchemical transitions. It is a kind of dissociation. In fact, there’s a flower remedy specifically for this: Clematis. Get back in your body through sensuality. Turn on music that feels like your mood. Move the energy through. Take a bath. Get a massage. Make love or self pleasure. Often these things will feel like the last choice on your list of possibilities. That’s your fear speaking. Let your soul know that your body can hold it.
6. Call in quantum possibility
As a quantum physicist and Rupert Sheldrake fan, I like to bring science to the mystery of the human experience. Because the future is pulling the present toward it — through Attractors — you can reach out to one of these quantum possibilities with your mind, body, and soul. You can envision a scenario that feels most harmonious and expanded, even if impossible, and you can call it in. Or you can simply make room for a possibility that cannot be envisioned from your current state. Feel, in your body, what this possibility would be like to live. Feel it into being.
There’s somewhere we haven’t wanted to look. There’s some primal fear that we’ve been running from our whole lives. There’s a big thing we have to forgive, a conversation we know deep down we have to have, a heavy secret we’ve been towing around. Rock Bottom is when we can run no more. It’s when it’s time to turn, face it, and bow down in surrender. Remember, in this moment, that impermanence is the only real constant in this life experience. Change, evolution, and growth define living, and this moment in time will indeed pass. I promise. And you will come out the other end of it, having let it all fall apart, marveling at the possibility that you could have ever considered living uninitiated to the self that has emerged.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.