By Galen Erickson
I was screaming at the top of my lungs, back flat on the floor with three close friends holding me down as the rage poured out of me. Another friend was pounding rhythmically on a Native American drum. The beating of the drum felt like the beating heart of a demonic energy that was being released. I pushed to get up with all my might, but the strength of three men held me down.
This rage, like a wild animal caged for too long, was my “shadow-self” emerging, the insidious despicable part of me that I didn’t want anyone to see.
I spat and screamed and struggled, but my friends held me down and the drum kept beating.
I had asked friends to support me in opening this Pandora’s box. Their fierce love kept me safe, kept us safe, as my pent-up hatred poured out of me. As my cursing and shouts turned to sobs and tears they held me tenderly with eyes of loving acceptance.
“I feel like I’m a bad person,” I muttered through wet tears.
This was my shadow. “I am a bad person.” This is what I had been fighting to hide, repress, and deny.
This wasn’t something I did consciously. In my conscious mind, I would tell you that I put my best foot forward in life. I would say that I tried not to be too much of an asshole. But the shadow belief remained, and subtly sabotaged my life.
My shadow sabotage worked through a few simple steps. The first was that I felt like I was “bad” at a fundamental, and subconscious level. The next was the way that I subconsciously worked to cover this up. In my conscious mind, I was just trying to be a good person, but at some level, I was not being the real “me.” I was existing as a façade, a complex act to get people to like me despite my inherent “badness.” I did not accept nor show the whole me.
The belief that grew out of this was that the real me is not lovable. That the world will not accept my most genuine gifts. That what I really want will not be given to me.
This was a way of keeping myself from intimacy with the world. I did not allow myself to be fully “me” because I did not trust that the real “me” would be accepted or loved. So I made do. I got a “good” job. I married a good woman. I worked hard, played hard. I partied hard. I danced all night long.
I had a pretty good life.
But at a fundamental level, I was not living my truth. I didn’t progress very fast in my career because I was not very passionate about the work. My wife had trouble trusting me. Even though I never lied to her, I was not living my truth and she could sense it. I ended up using drugs and alcohol to mask the pain, and to recover from the effort of keeping up the mask, the charade.
And then I had a shift. And everything changed.
The shift happened slowly, then all at once. It started with me showing up at men’s groups and speaking my truth with other men. This began chipping away at the walls that I had put up around my shadow. The tipping point was at a festival in the desert. After a week of being surrounded by loving friends, dancing out my joy and appreciating beautiful art, something “popped.”
I began living from my heart. I began to trust that the real me, all of me, could be loved and accepted by the world.
I would like to tell you that everything was easy after that moment, but it wasn’t. I had built a life around the old me, the “partial” me. I had a job that fit that self, I had a wife that was used to that person. I had a nice house.
I lost all of them.
The most significant loss was my marriage. She is a fantastic woman, and we had a loving and functional marriage. But the more I worked towards living my authentic truth, the less she wanted to be with me. At some point, it became obvious to both of us what needed to happen.
Divorce was accompanied by deep sadness and shame. That dark voice inside me whispered in my ear, “See! You are a bad person.”
Thus my shadow remained. In some ways, it became more visible, especially as my life crumbled around me. My shadow lashed out and caused harm to people I care about. After discussing this with my coach, he suggested I do a sort of exorcism for this toxic energy. So I called friends to hold me down, to hold safe space for the experience described above.
That “exorcism” of sorts, shed layers of self-hatred and shadow, but more was needed. I continued to unravel self-limiting beliefs with my coach. I did a New Warrior Training with Mankind Project and shed more light on my shadow.* I had honest conversations with those I cared about. I wrote in my journal.
I realized that for me to not live my truth was for me to lack integrity. That realization stung hard. I haven’t needed to be the smartest, the strongest, or the fastest, but I always prided myself in being honest and good. But if I’m not living my truth, I lack integrity. If I lack integrity, I am not honest and good. Fuck.
But through all these growth pains, I felt an unbreakable resilience deep inside me. It was hard but I could endure. Trusting that the real me could be loved, could be received by the world, I carried on.
People showed up who could love and appreciate all of me, who could see through the mask. I began to see a path towards making a viable career doing what I deeply wanted to do. I pushed forward.
Today, I feel deep gratitude for the life that I have. I feel loved and understood. I feel appreciated for the real me. I’m doing the work that I was put here on earth to do.
I have not “arrived” at some place of enlightened being, but I feel whole. My shadow still exists but I am aware and ready to act with strength and skill.