This weekend, I assisted in a powerful rites-of-passage wilderness workshop for young women in the mountains of Santa Cruz. To see these 10-13 year old girls learning primitive skills, tracking, fire-building as well as inner strengthening exercises like facing fear, darkness, challenges was more than inspiring.
One night, we took the girls into the dense forest and in pitch black, blindfolded them and let them try to find their way to a distant drum beat. Their knowledge of listening, feeling the earth beneath their feet, grounding and calming themselves, and facing their fears helped them make their way through this darkness relatively unscathed. Adults were of course surrounding it all and there in case someone was going towards danger, but for the most part their skills got them where they needed to go. At the end we all circled by the fire, faces glowing, and shared how the experience affected us, and my heart was moved by the depth that these young ones shared amongst us all. We sang songs of embracing light, embracing darkness, we spoke of finding the “true drumbeat” to listen for and follow in the dense forests we must walk through ahead in life.
I wonder what my life might have been were I exposed to something like this before my journey with the eating disorder and depression began…would my psyche have taken me there anyways? Would it grab some of these young women too, initiating them in the ways I was? Or would it have prevented the need for such intense initiation? I’m so curious how these girls will turn out as a result of being involved in such powerful rites-of-passage work.
Today, sitting at my desk I faced my fear, my own rite-of-passage. I was inspired by these girls, walking so bravely into the unknown night, trusting the drum, trusting the journey it would take them on. Today, I wrote a letter to the professors of the study I mentioned last week, asking if they might be interested in connecting and talking about ideas, possibly in reviewing my memoir. I wrote the letter pretty easily, but it was in pushing the send button where I faced my own darkness–putting myself, my ideas, my relatively “unknown” status as a writer out there in the wider field. Putting these things out there to possibly get rejected, ridiculed, shamed, all the fears that a writer or any creative has in putting out their heart to the world.
My finger trembled above the enter button as I steadied myself, like those young girls did in that forest. I breathed in, sent my roots down, and listened for the drum–the sound of my heart’s desire to share my story–and braced myself for the unknown that may come of this contact. I have had much practice in self-soothing, in courage, in trusting and daring, but for some reason I really felt the energy of those brave girls affecting me, urging me, to hit that button. So I did, and with a whoosh it has flown into the interwebs to do its magic. We’ll see what happens next.
a VERB meaning to steal (an occupied car) in a violent manner.
That’s where I’ve been for the past two weeks, dealing with the aftereffects of going through this experience. I missed a post in there, and surprisingly in the midst of all of the drama, I thought of keeping to my regular Monday posting schedule. I’m beginning to like this platform so much that I thought about whether I could fit a post in whilst juggling Oakland Police Department report filings, tending to bruised arms and cranium, and in finding creative ways to transport myself to vehicle impound lots hours and hours from my home!
The experience taught me many things, and this was one of them–that my commitment to writing is strong and that the urge pierces through the most intense of situations. I learned a number of other things too. I learned of my unexpected fighter’s response–although it could have gotten me killed, something in me knew I had to at least put up a fight to these buggers (and I physically paid for that, but am thankfully alive).
I also learned that there is support all around me (as long as I yell into the night like a banshee for it, lol), as a whole gaggle of women came to my aid as the bandits made off with my car. Two of these women invited me, a complete stranger, into their home, brewed some tea, made up a bed for me. They stayed up late into the night talking out the situation with me, and in the morning made me breakfast and drove me nearer to my home so public transport would be easier. The love and care these women provided me was beyond the trauma I had just experienced–although I was banged up and carless, I was just overtaken with their care, graciousness and concern. They also happened to be in the fields of rite-of-passage and intimacy counseling, two career paths I’ve considered for a while now, and it felt like on some symbolic level that I was being pulled from my old mode of getting around in the world (kind of wandering, somewhat purposeless) and welcomed into theirs. I am now exploring these fields with new interest and focus.
I also learned that once again, I can never really know what will happen, and that I have mainly two choices to make with that information. I can either live in fear or embrace the learning and rite-of-passage like energy of the experience. I choose to embrace the latter, and to keep writing.
Continuing on the theme of how heavy metal served as a major assist to me is the topic of rites of passage–or rather how absent such intentional rites of passages are in western culture and how metal met that need for me. Driver’s licenses, the ability to vote, smoke, drink, and graduation from various levels of education form the bulk of a young person’s transition ceremonies in our country. Later on, its marriage, promotions, divorce, and of course the big one of death of loved ones and oneself. Yet none of these “ceremonies” really focus on consciously, intentionally, helping a person realize that they are leaving one state of life and going into another. Its a byproduct if anything of the action.
For me, as mentioned in Part One, attending that first concert was one of the first events where I became aware that I was no longer “that” and was now “this”–I was no longer a quiet child playing in the forest, the child who meshed with whatever was happening, or who tolerated and swallowed the toxicity of my family home–I was now a “metalhead,” and one who would express what I felt.
In many earth-based cultures, youth are encouraged to embark on a group or solo activity known generally as a Vision Quest. Part of this quest is intended to help them move from the state of youth to adulthood, as well as for them to start to forge a relationship with Spirit and what Spirit wants for them to do with their lives. It is also quite intense, often brutal, in ripping young ones away from their parents, or requiring grueling challenges for the individual to survive. Many times it was literally life or death–if you survive, you become an adult, and if not, well you’re just dead.
There are generally three stages in a Vision Quest: severance, threshold and incorporation. Going to that concert was like this quest, in that I ignored my mother’s warnings and went anyway (severance), then merged with a group of helpers into the unknown realms (threshold crossing into unknown), and finally as a result of experiencing the complete vibrancy of mosh pits, communality, crowd-mind-body-merge-cheering-and-screaming-as-one, I returned back home with a completely different way of wanting to be and show up as in the world.
It is not as intense each time, but I’d have to say that every concert I go to is in its own way a mini rite of passage for me. Even though the terrain is pretty familiar by now, it never fails that some intense learning experience will happen for me during these concerts, some awareness or understanding comes through. I always seem to enter a concert one way and emerge with a totally new understanding of something. Sometimes it is experiencing myself sob uncontrollably at the beauty of seeing thousands thrash it out in the pit, the tribalness of it all. Sometimes its losing a shoe in the middle of a raucous crowd and having to dive into the possibility of serious injury to retrieve it, to come out realizing my strength and the brother/sisterhood that helped (or provided resistance) in my forging of a stronger self. Sometimes I’m not sure what it is that’s changed, but I know for sure something has.
Breaking The Law–Judas Priest
I’ve never been a particularly willful person, evanescent if anything would describe me. I just kind of floated along in my youth, melted in, hung out in the periphery. I never really had a sense of being a certain way, wanting to represent myself as a certain style, etc. I remember much of my clothing in my youth came from my mother’s housekeeping clients, they’d give her bags of hand-me-downs and I’d delight in trying whatever came to me. Albeit this did not make me popular or the least bit cool, just kind of strange. When I found myself in therapy as a result of severe insomnia, I was given a label of “someone with depression,” so in a sense that was my first identity. Not long after when I stumbled into an eating disorder, I found yet another identity. Yet both of these were rooted in being someone with a disorder, not an incredibly encouraging thing to represent in the world.
Which is where heavy metal came in. The first time I started going to shows and being in the crowd with other fans, I felt for the first time a resonance with a way of being that was based on strength. It was based on something to be proud of, something to connect with others about that wasn’t rooted in sickness. It also had somewhat of a specific dress/look code that I found I really resonated with too–this was where I found that I really liked costumery that focused on dark matters, and it was totally exciting and fun to figure out ways I would present myself at each concert. The range of expression here was sort of limited to darkness and sexuality, but at the time these were areas I really hadn’t been able to represent with my clothing or looks, and at concerts it was like a free-for-all for me to do this experimentation.
Can I Play With Madness–Iron Maiden
Tribe is a closely related topic, and I’ve touched on it a little in this conversation. As a young child it was almost as if I didn’t really find most people interesting enough to want to connect with, or I found them confusing and overwhelming to be around–so I spent most of my time in nature or with animals. Especially as I started to have these intense and stigmatized experiences of depression, losing a loved one, Anorexia–the typical teen human didn’t really have much to contribute in relating with me except either fear, pity or some type of judgement. Yet in the songs of my favorite bands, I heard my experience mirrored. What they were singing about was what I was going through.
Oddly though, after the loss of my boyfriend and his tribe of metallers, it was difficult finding actual individuals I could relate with about the music, as I wasn’t particularly interested in partying, having sex, etc. I was pretty shy, traumatized and still pretty overwhelmed by the expectations of the social scene, so rarely knew how to make connections. Yet I knew that if these people liked this music, they could on some level relate with me, and that felt comforting despite my inability to make individual contact. A sense of “tribe” for me was felt more archetypally and with the bands themselves, and was what kept me attending concerts solo for decades. I am now only recently finding individuals that relate to my journey, want to discuss the depth, meaning and sacredness they feel in the music. It also feels like more bands are also starting to approach these themes more openly and I’m curious to see where the genre continues to evolve.
Regardless, over the course of my life, without this music and the reflections it gave me I’m not quite sure how I would have survived. In a world that would label my “symptoms” and feelings as a diagnosis, heavy metal seemed to tell me that what I was going through was completely human, logical even. That of course I was angry, of course I was depressed, of course I was confused or felt lost or what have you–as a result of living in our society, or going through traumas, having terrifying premonitory dreams/visions, or dealing with uncontrollable mind/body manifestations–that it was NORMAL to feel as I did. It also seemed kind of “cool” to be insane in the world of metal (again, we’re talking as a concept, not that the average concert goer really wants to stand next to or talk with someone that’s batshit crazy). Nevertheless, this way of seeing things, and myself, was a lifesaver.
In closing, I’m not sure how many more associations will come forward to share about heavy metal’s life-saving qualities, but I will share more as they come. I know there’s something in my head about how heavy metal gave me a place to explore my fascination with all things occult, we’ll see if words come to describe that!
If you’ve made it to the end of this post, thanks for reading. I’d love to hear how metal saved your ass, if it has.