We are at a time of enormous transition, with opposing forces seemingly pulling us in black and white directions, both of which feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar. We are in the midst of a profound paradigm shift between being consumers, destroying our world and depleting it of all its resources, and the choice to become restorers, reforesting our rainforests, cleaning up our oceans from toxicity and plastic pollution and healing our psychic wounds on a mental, physical and spiritual level.
I had never been able to truly face the extent of our environmental crisis until recently as I had too many deep wounds that needed healing first. I simply couldn’t look outwards as the view was too terrifying, too apocalyptic, and I felt too isolated and separated from both my self and Mother Earth that on the few occasions I did poke my head out of my damaged shell, I would retreat backwards into a terrifying suicidal depression. It was too much for one person, a broken person at that, to contemplate what the human race had to face in order to survive. All I could see were world leaders corrupted by avarice and hatred, victims of the systems of global oppression weighed down by physical and mental illness, a fragile planet once so beautiful now ruined by the combined forces of greed, corruption and the myth of separation – that we as humans are above, rather than an inextricable part of, nature.
Then little by little, the pieces of a shattered puzzle started to come together. The hard work I have been engaged with over the past two years through the medium of psychoanalytical psychotherapy started to pay off. I could literally feel myself integrating, as I had insight after insight into the plethora of mental health conditions which have plagued me since I was a child. I understood the source of my paralysing fear, manifest in chronic anxiety, as stemming from being a hypersensitive child who never quite learned to build up a sufficient force-field of healthy boundaries to truly and safely be myself in the world. Throughout my childhood years, criticism or harsh comments or misunderstandings punctured the fragile boundaries I had been born with and I would absorb the energies of others, soaking them up like a sponge. I would feel their fear, their rage, their grief, their sadness and these emotional states would sit inside me, lodging themselves in my physical body until I felt that I would either burst or be subsumed. Every day was a fight, a fight to survive and ward off these forces that seemed to enter my psyche without my permission or comprehension, or a flight from the very essence of my buried self. My subconscious would try to help me by plummeting me into the depths of depression or whisking me up on manic flights of fantasy and busyness to escape the grey reality of absorption of other people’s unprocessed emotions. I had no sense of self. At all. So I would try on selves to see how they would fit. Sometimes they felt ok, if they seemed to conform to a societal ideal, but more often than not they didn’t, leading me to become increasingly isolated and misunderstood.
But then, with the help of my therapist, the pieces of myself that I had split off into splintered fragments, which manifested in unhealthy behaviours, started to integrate. I had had an eating disorder for most of my adult life, where I would either starve myself to the point of dizziness or gorge myself sick, or over-exercise and develop an unhealthy obsession with my weight, weighing myself daily and my ensuing mood would be dictated by whether it had increased or decreased by 0.01kg. I was alcohol-dependent. I used to drink, as do so many women these days, just to feel normal. To be able to go about my daily business without screaming. I would guzzle at least a bottle of wine a day, usually two. This was normal, and all the memes of wine-o’clock normalised it further. The crisis of alcohol dependence amongst women in our culture is at epidemic proportions. I don’t need to cite statistics for most people reading this to know it is true. And of course I did the most socially acceptable thing of overworking to the point of burn-out. Working to prove I was a person, that I was worthy, that I mattered. But working within a patriarchal capitalist system designed to alienate oneself from oneself. To be fuelled by rage, rather than love; self-hatred rather than compassion; greed and envy, rather than generosity and acceptance.
So almost four years ago to the day when I fell apart, when the false self that I had built up to conform to this sickened and sickening society finally cracked, never to be rebuilt, I had to start the long and painful process of sloughing off my old skin and starting to grow a new one. This skin is very new. It is raw, it is sensitive, it is easily damaged. But it is becoming easier to retreat into my true self to heal bumps and grazes quicker than ever before. I know the tools with which to do this. Psychoanalysis is the main one. I have come to terms with the guilt of spending thousands on healing myself, as had I not done it, my daughter would now be without a mother, so close was I to ending it all not so long ago. So it was a matter of life and death to do this. But other things have helped too. Meditation and the beautiful practice of yoga nidra have reconnected me to a soul that was so deeply submerged under piles of toxic waste that it was indiscernible from the waste itself. Connecting to other women through women’s circles like The Hive and Treesisters’ Inner Journey of Awakening has given me a profound sense of hope for the future of humanity. Women are waking up to the urgency of reconnecting to the parts of ourselves that we have been denied, over centuries of abuse, sexual violence, burnings and murder. We are no longer prepared to sit and accept this, on a physical, mental, spiritual or environmental level.
Women such as Polly Higgins, who formulated the concept of ecocide, are taking corporations to court for trashing our environment, to make it a crime on a par with genocide, punishable by international law. Clare Dubois, founder of Treesisters is on a mission to reforest the tropics within ten years, and she has a forest of women who are dedicated to the cause, whilst simultaneously healing themselves through deep, spiritual practices designed to awaken the divine feminine and help rebalance this within the world and within ourselves. Rebecca Solnit is calling out political injustices at every turn, highlighting them with insightful analysis and an acute political and philosophical eye. Joanna Macy is giving people hope with her Work that Reconnects, through the spiral of gratitude, honouring our pain, seeing with new eyes and going forth. Malala Yousafzai has dedicated her life to advancing the education and rights of girls worldwide, as her own story of being shot in the head purely for struggling for her own education epitomises. There are countless more women, men, non-binary people and children dedicating their lives to working towards a sustainable future and by healing our own wounds, it is possible to look out at a vision of a future that is sustainable, plentiful and equal for all species.
But of course right now we’re in transition. We’re not at that beautiful point yet. It’s all very well having a wonderful vision but when you come back to earth and find yourself still surrounded by pollution and dog-shit and people dying of cold on the streets while others are forced into bankruptcy and physical and mental illness brought on by the pressures of conforming to a dying capitalist system, it’s hard not to feel like it’s impossible. Well, it is impossible if we try to do it alone. But connected to our true selves and to each other, together, we are more powerful than we can ever imagine. Once those wounds have healed and we’re no longer projecting our unprocessed subconscious pain on others, we are unstoppable. And we are all at different stages on our journey. Our healing will take different forms, depending on our circumstances. Not many people have the cash for expensive therapy, but the healing could come in the form of joining a women’s group, volunteering at a homeless shelter, becoming a mental health peer support worker, joining an environmental group or going vegan. There are all sorts of possibilities and whatever you choose will fit your particular life and set of circumstances. It is possible to be the change, however cheesy that line is. To quietly change the things that are ruining our planet, by becoming more conscious and aware of our choices as consumers, where we buy our food and our clothes, how much we recycle and repurpose material stuff, handing it on to others who have more need of it than we do. There are so many things we can do, but only by taking one small step at a time, to avoid the inevitable overwhelm of trying to save Mother Earth in one giant bite. That way we avoid indigestion and slowly unfurl ourselves towards healing our souls and the planet we inhabit.