Kori Leigh Hagel

Facing my darkness was the hardest thing I have ever done. I wholeheartedly believe it almost killed me.  

I denied, detoured, and dodged real life for a long time. Blind to how avoidance caused more pain than dealing with things.

Many of my visions of my darkest days echo the story of Alice’s Wonderland—the similarities are interesting and disturbing. Much like the rabbit hole Lewis Carroll created, I had my own hole in the ground that I called my soul swamp; the bottom of which was a mucky pool of still, skank mud.

From the bottom of the swamp I could look up and see the light of day, but the walls were slippery. Impossible to climb. From this prison of sorts, I spent a lot of my days fiercely determined to scale the walls but, like a hamster on a wheel, I got nowhere fast. .

Discomfort was my security blanket. Drama was my addiction. Both played an integral role in keeping dysfunction alive. Alcohol served a purpose, too.

My reality, at the time, was demented, damaging, abusive, and volatile. Lost, self-hating, and faithless, I reacted with anger, drama, substance abuse, and participation in dysfunctional relationships—specifically one long-term human-

My coping techniques verged on dangerous. Unable to admit that the relationship was abusive, I became obsessed over fixing it, compulsively so.

And in that hellish place, I finally shattered; a mere shell of a human, questioning my faith and worthiness. Unbelievable as it may seem to ‘the balanced and seemingly sane’ it still took all of my might to leave, and alter an equal amount to enter sobriety. And it took something beyond a super-power to summon and grant forgiveness.

Suicide whispered in my ear, daily.

It appeared to me that the future was a motivational calendar for everyone else but me. Basically I was tomorrow-less; all my time seemed to be the same tragedy playing on a continuous loop.

Facing my shadow was risky—yes, it almost killed me, but in the end dealing with my shadow was my salvation. Surrendering into the darkness and learning deep self-care, compassion, and forgiveness gave my life meaning. Accepting of all that I am—not just the fun, shiny parts—led me to my full-self.

When we ignore our shadow, it gets bigger. We cannot outrun it. It will always be there. We cannot escape our darkness.

Why have we become so afraid

to look at the pain and discomfort within us?

Entering the darkness can be dangerous, but equally scary is remaining in a state of inauthenticity—playing small, never facing our fears will zap every ounce of energy; it will take away life in a slow, numbing, and melancholy tide.

We want to fix other people, not ourselves. People want to fix us, not themselves. We want to see life through rose-colored glasses. But when we cannot see at all, then irritability morphs to a permanent negative, tears erupt, a general state of grey moodiness takes over our lives, even depression becomes the norm.

The thing is, life has an entire dark nature to it which we often fail to embrace. We diligently work to ignore it. We numb, we distract, we run, we hide, we do whatever we can to avoid seeing the elephant planted front and center of a room we call ‘our living room’—our life.

We are afraid to talk about things like depression, abuse, anxiety, insomnia, self-harm, addictions, abortions, rape, losing our jobs, being broke, anger—for fuck’s sake, we are even afraid to talk about orgasms. And heaven forbid we mention bowel movements—pooping—something that should be happening to humans at least once a day. What’s sad about this is that not only are we shaming a real part of our humanity, but we are labeling it as ugly and undesirable.

Authenticity and vulnerability are words that are currently trending, as they should be. But how can we show up real and raw if we only accept one part of our humanity?

We only self-love when we are thin, happy, rich, employed, addiction free, in love, having orgasms. That is conditional self-love.

What about unconditionally loving our whole selves? What about embracing radical self-acceptance? What would that be like?

I spent a long time avoiding darkness. I ignored it and suppressed it. I thought it was ugly and undesirable. I didn't know that there was divinity in the darkness. We cannot ignore half of what makes us human, but we can numb it and try to run—I sure did.

Growth comes in soft, slow moments. Too often, we may think we need to spend a year in an ashram in India in order to slow down and learn about ourselves. We might think the perfect teacher must be available with a steady supply of organic foods and customized meditations in order for us to evolve.

But, quite frankly, growth is a lot messier than that.

Growth can be inconvenient. In demanding our attention, growth can interrupt and cause us to experience more chaos—like changing a dance step midway through a routine, we trip and lose the rhythm.

Softness meant that I would ‘slow down’ and place my hand on my heart then simply feel it beat.

Softness opened my heart. Softness allowed me to breathe easier. Softness began to reveal my strengths and, at the same time, made me feel utterly vulnerable.

They say life is what happens when you’re making other plans. Well, life happened as I prepared to read the final manuscript of my first book, Atlas of Darkness.

The same week the work was pronounced finished, my life was turned upside down and inside out, without warning, by a shocking revelation, absolute devastation, and substantial emotional collateral damage.

The essence of where I had placed trust and known love, suffered massive injury. Devastated, my world began to collapse and I was challenged to surrender to the deepest state of faith I have ever experienced. 

And so I placed the project on hold—very temporary hold—mainly because it took all my energy to function. But ‘project on hold’ allowed me to see if I could walk the talk I’d written about.

The fact that you are reading this now, is proof that I could, and did walk the talk. I handled life by feeling all the feels, and accessing the dignity Mother Earth had provided me. And I handled it sober.

 Ironic, isn’t it, that the timing of this book’s completion, when I thought all was stable in my life, circumstances shook my foundation and attempted to render me a ruin?

The events that took place and temporary delayed the book’s birth, was itself the ultimate test of mastering the loving rituals I’d created, and experiencing their power, and understanding their necessity.

If I do not show up for me first,

I suck at showing up for other humans, and for my life purpose.

I believe the fundamental truth to fulfillment is divine selfishness; the first step to self-love.

When we intimately take care of our own self, only then can we extend genuine care to the other. Only self-loving humans show up for other humans with their full potential.

Atlas of Darkness illustrates my story to illuminate the lives of those who exist in tortured lives.

Storytelling allows us to heal as a tribe. Rituals of Self-care assist us in sharing stories, listening to those of others, and to learn from them.

Kindra MurphyComment