When I was pregnant with my daughter I planned a natural birth in the forest, I spent hours pouring over Ina May Gaskin and Marie Morgan. I drank herbal infusions religiously, did yoga every morning always ending with a shamanic meditation to connect to her soul. I felt so confident in my body and in her journey that I moved to Costa Rica to give birth by the ocean. All of that preparation- all of that work- and finally in paradise I was ready to greet her. But the thing that no book could have taught me was after she arrived- a very big part of me would die.
It wasn’t a sudden death that shocks you and so you realize something is gone and you're aware that there is something to grieve. It was a slow, subversive death that took away my old identity bit by bit across the early weeks of cuddles, sleepless nights and calloused nipples. The cocktail of hormones pulsing through me sustained me in a strange mix of blissful fatigue. I witnessed my power slowly transform from free spirit to steady nurturer- the sacred passage from maiden to mother.
I powered through the haze of those early days, often forgetting to take my morning meditation, do yoga or write in my journal. I told myself that there would be time later, or tomorrow but in truth I was forgetting myself.
It didn’t help that her father became emotionally abusive after my daughter was born and would torment me about how I would ruin her, make her a weak person and tell me I was a terrible person. I remember looking at him with rage inside of me- him- a mirror for all that ugly insecurity.
Perhaps it was the fierceness I needed, to prove once and for all how wrong those things were. Did I believe that I was capable? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Whatever purpose it was serving in the moment- I was clear of how wrong he was, and that my daughter and I deserved something more. But even then- I stayed. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Why? I heard that question often in my own thoughts and from people outside who could see me battling... Because I could see somewhere that despite his tormented heart he loved his daughter. I knew that his wounding was so deep that if I walked away- he would be triggered in his abandonment and he would disappear forever. --- I made excuses. As many empaths and sensitive souls do- I gave him my empathy, and foolishly put his own well being above my own.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I recognize now that I was triggered in my own abandonment, too. I hadn't known my own father as a young girl and the pain of that stuck with me. I didn’t want my daughter to lose her chance at having a father. The lie I was telling myself was that I was responsible to be his tether to her, and in that way I was holding myself accountable for his insanity. I was living out the martyr. So I stayed- and did what seemed to me to be what a good mother would do- sacrifice myself to make it work. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
My role of mother consumed me. I continued to push and in my pushing I didn’t see that my soul was slowly starving. I failed to notice that a part of me- the part that was wild, free, creative, and fun was recoiling from the pressure of this new role I'd found myself in.
I ignored the signs from the universe- the dead heron on the river, the cardinal that would tap on my window and then eventually threw itself at my window so hard one morning that it too, died. The incessant voice within that whispered- ‘leave now, be free’. I convinced myself that I knew what was best- that the sacrifice had to be made. And deeper into depression I sank.
Then, about a year in- the dreams started, my soul’s last attempt to reach me through the haze of suffering I’d trapped myself in. In the first dream I was in a wolf’s body and standing at a railroad track in front of the house I lived in with her father at the time. I was considering crossing the track but two trains were coming from either direction - there was a crossroads and a choice to be made.
I woke from that dream and knew those trains represented the decisions I was facing at the moment. I had recently been given a choice- to stay with the manipulative father ‘for the sake of my child’ or to heed the call of my wild spirit and return back to the community that I knew and loved. The days following that dream were hell...Should I do what I knew was best for me or should I do what I believed was my obligation as a mother?
In hindsight I see the highest road so clearly- but as a mentor once said to me ‘It’s difficult to see the label from inside the bottle.’ I often journey back in to hold that confused young woman to comfort her- I imagine I am sitting with her and listening to her mind wander in endless loops of moral dilemma. I whisper in her ear- 'you're safe, it will be okay- run, get out of there as fast as you can.' But back in that moment, without a mentor to help me see through the chaos of my traumatized and triggered mind- I felt trapped.
In my trauma I’d created a narrative for myself that I was powerless. Of course, that wasn’t true. But consumed by my idea of the archetype of motherhood, what I believed was needed for me to be the best mother- I forgot how to listen to my own soul’s need. My heart was torn and in that battered state it wasn’t able to heed the call of my soul trying desperately to come through. In anguish- and against better judgement- I decided to stay with her father.
The night I made that decision the second dream came. There I was at the railroad tracks- but this time the wolf’s body was laying lifeless strewn across the tracks- I didn’t make it across. A second wolf emerged from the forest as I grieved over the first wolf’s body. It looked at me solemnly and took the tail of the first wolf from its lifeless body. In dreams everything is symbolic- and this was its way of showing me that there was still a purpose to this lesson- and that the key to finding it was in the root.
I woke up from the dream and felt clarity of what was needed of me. But even after the dream, it took me months of laborious effort to actually found the courage to leave. And even when I left I didn't completely un-trap myself-
I didn’t return to my community instead I stayed in the town nearby so her father could have his ‘paternal rights’, he later bailed and left the country completely abandoning those rights. It was no real surprise, a deep part of me had known he would all along. But in my trapped state I wasn’t able to see the truth that the universe was unfolding before my eyes each day.
It’s amazing the ways the wounded heart can deceive the psyche. I was choosing to walk this path alone without mentorship or mental support in this transitional time. I was afraid to admit that I felt lost. That journey made me understand that we are beacons for each other. In the pain of living, we can forget how to illuminate the world with our own inner light, forget how to follow to the symbols even if we're listening. This is the moment when we a good teacher or friend can shine light on the pathway back to center.
It would be another couple of years before I realized that and decided to take my shamanic studies back up under a mentor.
No one’s journey of suffering needs to be that long. In our despair we validate our suffering but it is not necessary to suffer in order to heal. Grace can ease the pain.
Over time I built my life in that town- I found new community, I found work at a restaurant, I sent my daughter to montessori school, I enrolled in herb school, I continued meditating and seeking and teaching. I got therapy and a mentor. I found a strong and stable partner and we created a son. I made it work.
I pulled myself up and shed the story of helplessness I'd been living in by listening to my soul again. I reached into that starving part within me and began to breathe life back into her. I validated her. I repented for the time I left her starving, and I gave her a seat at my table once more.
My journey of healing is life long but now I face each challenge with mindfulness and purpose. I surrender to the journey and allow myself to be moved from my joy instead of my suffering. I make medicine from my pain and welcome my grief as a portal for understanding. The lessons are unfolding on my path for a reason and each day I grow stronger for having navigated them.
You may not realize this but the trees in the forest that at first glance appear to be dead actually brim with life. Fungi, moss, insects, new seedlings all benefit from the fertility of loss. Like the transformation of the underbelly of a forest, I am wholly changed from my experiences. And now I tend to the garden of my soul conscientiously because I recognize the bounty of its fruits and its need for nourishment.
Apply to be part of the Soulful Self Beta Experience July 12- 21st
The Soulful Self
In this journey where you will be guided to identify soul starvation and remove the beliefs holding you back from fully embracing your most soulful expression.
It's no charge in exchange for feedback and testimonials!
Courtney Paige is the founder and medicine woman behind Elder Moon. She is an herbalist, shamanic practitioner, dream interpreter, and self taught astrologer who guides others to follow their soul led path. You can connect deeper with her work here.