Shadow Comforts

May 9, 2013  |  journal entries

“Put nothing between yourself and your grief.” —Tara Hardy

So I get raw. Strip away that which makes me numb. I try to substitute something else, unconsciously, until I realize and strip that away too. Showering feels good, turning up the water just a little too hot. That wakes me. Movement feels good, but I am so sluggish I can rarely remember to do it. Like my brain tricks me to stay still and not feel. Close and collapse and tighten, it silently urges.

But I don’t want to.

It’s so much easier to push it down, push it away. Easier to numb out the heart. Easier to harden. In some ways, I wish I was that kind of person. I miss the ability to turn things on and off. Or—can you miss something you’ve never had? I am envious of it. Want more of it in my own life. Want a little light switch on the back of my neck. That’d make for an interesting tattoo. I have enough marks but sometimes I seek more needles, more things staring at me, yelling, you survived. Marking time passing. Marking a different state, so I can remember that things always, inevitably, change.

I have thrown myself into shadow comforts. Films, tv shows, food, alcohol, sex, power. I even started smoking again. Quit now, once I left New York there wasn’t quite the need to regulate my anxiety so daily. I caught a cough the week I came here and didn’t shake it for long enough to stop wanting them every couple hours. I wonder if the same will happen for a drink. Still, in the evening, when I’m done working, when the boy comes home from work, I crave a little something in my glass. Something liquid and smoky to sip on. Ice cubes clinking.

I lied. I do want to.

But I’m trying not to. I’m trying to be aware. My brain that is seeking aliveness, awakeness is sometimes at odds with the part of me that screams, I can’t feel anymore of that stop just make it stop I don’t care what I have to do just stop. Take a deep breath. Feel down into my feet. It will pass. It’s probably temporary. Just wait, and feel it, and be still.

Those are the easy shadow comforts. There’s also Facebook, reading things online but not really reading them, being way too busy, sleeping until noon. I am on entirely too good of terms with all of those habits these days. I am not good at being still, but I’m not good at moving either. I’m not sure where my aim is, so I’m not sure how to move. The apartment where I’m staying has an arrow on the wall above the bed and I stare at it when I can’t sleep. How do I become an arrow? How do I find a target at which to aim? How can I make myself sharp enough and strong enough and capable of riding the wind enough to find something close to center? I filled out a form today for a coaching session with a I’ll-make-your-business-better coach and it asked, Where are you now? Where do you want to be? … That’s kind of what I need to figure out. Sometimes I think, I could do anything, if I only knew what it was.

But grief is a fog, something that envelops, “its tropical heat / thickening the air.” Something I am choking on, sometimes without warning. I’m all fine, thin sunny air with lemons and lemonade and ocean breezes through the leaves making the most pleasant sound, then I get a flash and I’m on the floor, searching for that one foot of air that isn’t already black. Floundering. Grief. I don’t know what happened. It feels like a before and after, the landscape devastated, muddy brown everywhere. The rage bubbles up like the electric tea kettle water which is probably done in the kitchen and now back to cold. Push the little button down again and make the blue light appear. Does twice-boiled water have any benefit? I’m floundering now. It doesn’t matter. Either way, I will make some tea and get another sweater because I haven’t been able to warm up at all today.

I’m trying to listen. What does my body need, what do I need, what do I want, what would feel good. Maybe not even good—nice. What would feel not like a football thrown by a pro straight to my chest. Anything but this. Anything but this. “Shadow comforts say, ‘Come home to your life.’” wroteJen Louden. I’m trying to come home. I know there’s a boy and some fresh vegetables, even a bit of chocolate, my most important things. Funny how little I have discovered that I really need. Thirty boxes in storage waiting for an address, four suitcases from sublet to sublet. I don’t need much. I’ve been looking at photos of myself all afternoon and now I feel the ghost of me behind each of these lines. My own image is starting to come into focus. I already know the answer to all of those questions. I don’t know what that means, but I know it’s true. It’s not time to sit still. It’s time to move. I have already purged. I have already fed myself full, gorged on honeysuckle and lavender ice cream, water with meyer lemon that puckers just right, all of my favorite things I am letting myself indulge in. I don’t know what else is going to happen, but I know I’m heading toward home. The compass of my body is telling me it’s time.

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2 Comments


  1. i’m in the same sort of space. it’s good to hear words from someone else that describes things so aptly. thank you.

  2. Me, too. Right there… probably 98.9% of what you wrote up there, I have known so intimately it’s as if you’re writing about me. I don’t know if it’s a comfort (sometimes, maybe?) to know that there are others of us going through this (now, later, many times) but here we are, me and Puck and so many others.

    The mind is a trixie beast when it comes to preserving its patterns. It doesn’t want you to see down to the roots of things, to where knee jerk reactions get their power and where that blinding flash of emotion takes you into its undertow. If you knew how everything worked, you might try to do some rewiring and your mind doesn’t want you messing around like that.

    The wanting to and the not wanting to, the temper tantrums of all our essential selves fighting the optimisms is excruciating. How can I feel so good one day and want to throw myself off a cliff the next? Or, more realistically, just lie down and die already. But, as Roxy will tell you, lying down to die takes far too long and we get bored. And the sun comes up the next day and life goes on, even when we don’t want it to, even when we think it shouldn’t because so much has been taken from us that was once so necessary just so we could breathe.

    We harden our shells, then we feel optimism and we open up again, let some light in, feel pain, shell up again… repeat.

    You are doing exactly what you should be doing. One day at at time, one emotion at a time, give each some attention and then take a break. Breathe, look at the sky, the green, the boy, the world you want to live in. This is an exciting time, my friend, you are rebirthing yourself and the result is going to be A-Mazing

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