This particular Mercury in Retrograde is mentally, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually excruciating. Why? Because it offers us so many opportunities to recognize, assess, and break long-term cycles in our lives. I have experienced the most painful and most wonderful things during this retrograde and, at the risk of making myself very vulnerable by sharing something very personal (and not flattering) I think it’s important to share so that you can take advantage of the energies available at this time for your own spiritual work.
Seven years ago to the day I first met my ex, I got an email from him. For the last three years, I thought he was likely dead. I left the relationship and our home in severe trauma. His professional and personal stress had pushed him to a psychotic break, the apex of which was threatening to kill me and then himself when I suggested we take time apart for him to focus on his business and himself without interference.
Since then, I have lived universes of experiences. I had healed from what I thought was situationally-driven trauma. I felt badly about everything that had “happened” to him. I had, despite the hardship at the end of our relationship, managed to deify him in many ways in my mind. I would quote him. Have internal dialogues with him. Miss him terribly. I was ecstatic that he would be coming to visit me in March. After all, I was healthy and enlightened. Or, rather, I believed I was healthy and enlightened. This was, surely, a miracle. A sign from God. A reward for all of the pain and hard work and tears.
I took his email and his impending visit to be a sign that he had gotten better and that we had both been doing the same kind of hard work on ourselves during our time apart to become better for each other. I mean, how else would you survive that kind of tremendous stress, if you didn’t truly get the help you needed, fix your problems, and get better. I always knew he was my soulmate and some part of me always felt we would get back together when “things were fixed.”
But then he got here. And I had the most horrible- and wonderful- realization of my entire 34 year life. It wasn’t just that he hadn’t changed or gotten better since I last saw him. It was that I realized that he had always been sad, always been depressed, had always been spiritually and psychologically ill- probably for his entire life. The “good times” of our relationship were a brief blip on an otherwise static monitor, and much of that, I quickly realized, was because we were both getting a fix of what we thought we needed in that finite window. We found each other, unhealthy, aching, needing more love than anyone could ever give and giving more love than was possibly healthy. Without knowing it, we entered into a seven-year contract to torture the living fuck out of each other. To be codependent. To keep ourselves and each other sick.
He sat at my kitchen table and told me that he was better. Healed. Happy. That he was “finally doing things for [himself]”, but his energy was heavy with depression. Being psychic, I could barely catch the faint glimmer of his spirit body- his soul- in an otherwise uninterrupted ocean of sadness. He was barely in there. For once, I listened to my intuition and my body and not the machinations of either of our minds. Or the delicious, cunning words from our mouths.
And then I remembered the first time, seven years ago, that I heard this exact line: “I’m finally happy. I’m finally, for once in my life, doing things for myself”. It’s what he said to me when we first fell in love- our relationship represented a seismic shift to him- the moment when he started focusing on his own happiness, he said. And I realized the horrible and simple truth that he has been on this loop for a very long time, if not forever, repeating these words in different situations to different people but, from his vantage point, experiencing it for the first time. Over and over again. Without remembering he had said it before. I was just one stop on the loop.
For a moment in time, it was me. Now, it was a cabin in the woods. Before that, it was probably someone and something else. Every seven years, he had a new solution to the pain and the loneliness and this was going to be the moment when everything turned around. He had the answer. Only it never worked, because he never really changed. My grandmother used to say “wherever you go, you’re still there.” My grandmother said a lot of really smart shit.
I started crying feeling sorry for myself. Here, I thought this was my soulmate. I held space for him in my soul and my heart for years. I would have marched into certain death for him, even just a week ago. I really, really loved this man… and it would appear that I wasn’t all that special to him. I was just a stop on the loop as it rounded another corner.
But then I realized the deeper, harder truth in the situation, and that’s when I really started crying. This harder truth required that I take accountability for my own loop- for my own narrative- and for the fact that I had just as big a role to play as him. That he was just as much a prop to me when we met as I was to him. That we both wrote our own fiction and acted it out in concert with each other. The "love" we felt was a terrible, wonderful artistic symmetry. A creative partnership between writer and artist.
Watching him for the three days he was here, I realized that he was a narcissist. I had broken up with someone else that had this exact personality disorder very late last year and, through that relationship and intensive therapy, found myself with a new language to identify and articulate what I could not before. It was like seeing color or hearing music for the first time.
Yes, my ex was a subtler version of a narcissist- he was claiming to eschew the trappings of material life and be content living out alone in the woods. He wasn’t vain. He didn't date anyone else after we broke up. He didn’t drive a sexy sports car or wear a fancy suit- "anymore". But he was still a narcissist nonetheless.
Why? Because he had diminished empathy. Because he didn’t get anything out of learning about other people. He didn’t ask me a single question about myself during those three days, and I realized he never really did- not even when we were “in love”- not for many, many years. I realized that if a person couldn’t do something for him- make him feel better, more alive, give him money or sex or stroke his ego and fill the void- they were essentially useless to him. He found nothing of intrinsic value in interacting with people that didn't reinforce his narrative which, at one time, was my narrative, too. He would never really feel anything but self-pity and pain. Loneliness. He would never not be a victim.
And I remembered that this person that I thought was my soulmate, who I considered emotionally available and inspired and inspiring and endlessly curious…well, that he never really was those things. Ever. Not even before his professional life caved in on him and he had what I thought was a “nervous breakdown”. That breakdown was just the mask slipping. It was the final act in the play we had written together. The play we both knew would always end in tragedy, because love to us always ended in tragedy. The pain was how you knew it was real. How you knew the tragedy was coming.
Because that’s what our parents- and this world- taught us.
I- and I hate to own this- am an empath. Empaths and narcissists have a tremendous amount in common. We both experience early childhood abuse. We both crave love above all else. We’re generally very energetically sensitive. Smart. Savvy. Manipulative. Deeply feeling. Intelligent. Superior (or so we think). Successful. Our earliest memories of love are painful, and we tend to grow up associating love and relationships with suffering, withholding, power struggles, manipulation, degradation, and above all else: pain. Sweet, sweet delicious pain. We switch roles interchangeably, so even the labels of "empath" and "narcissist" are a form of false narrative, when all it really boils down to is two very hurt little children that were imprinted with all the wrong data.
I remember rejecting not only the concept of being an empath, but also rejecting the concept of having intensive Freudian issues or being attracted to narcissists, like my parents. I never dated “my dad”- these men were nothing like him and, on paper, I was right. I divorced my own father when I was 13, and I thought this act of self-awareness and self-care had removed me from the karmic, Freudian cycles that had taken down so many others around me. I was more objective and aware than most. I was smarter than most. I told myself this saved me from this cycle.
I wasn't smart enough. And it didn’t break the cycle.
And it’s not about “dating your father” I realized, as I watched this ghost of a man I once loved ferociously putter around my kitchen. It’s about our earliest memories of love. Mine were fraught with pain- with yelling and screaming and crying and domestic violence and manipulation and blame. I remember wanting and craving love so desperately in my childhood that I was go into the bathroom and cry alone on the floor.
And then I saw myself crying on a bathroom floor in my ex's cabin three years ago, holding my then-dog and crying hysterically. I saw myself crying on a bathroom floor in Florida on Thanksgiving of last year, hugging myself, and crying desperately because I saw- and felt- the spiritual retreat of another beautiful narcissist as he cut himself off from the world with prescription medication. They all hurt me. They all abandoned me. And I signed up for it. Hell, I co-wrote the play. I directed it. I helped cast it. I got, in a sense, everything I wanted. I made sure of it.
Until last week, I thought it was everyone else’s plays. Their scripts. Their props. Their costumes. But I quickly realized I played the role of the empath. I was the victim. To be a victim, you have to have a villain- someone to play the bad guy. The one that always hurts you. And the bigger and badder the bad guy, the more painful the pain. Because that’s how I feel love. Love is pain. That was my narrative. And it ends in tragedy. Every. Damn. Time.
But, as of today, I don’t think it’s my narrative anymore, and I honestly don’t know what to do with myself. I kind of feel like throwing up. I’m at sea. I’m fidgety. I’m sad and happy. I’m sick and healthy. I’m every feeling and every memory and every experience I have ever had, all at once. And I’m light- untethered- I have nothing and no one to hold me down or to cling to for comfort or security.
Between psychotherapy, energy work, and shamanism, something in me has actually changed. On the last day of my ex-fiancé’s visit, I looked at him and just started crying quietly. He came over and hugged me and said, “It’s not the end- it’s the beginning. I’ll see you again.” He gave me a kiss on the top of my head.
My spirit, with quiet certainty, just said, “No. It’s the end.” I found myself nodding to my own inner monologue. I saw something click in his eyes. A part of him knew, too.
Even as I write this now I’m crying. It will take time. But seeing his pattern in all of its concentric circles- the loop- and not lying to myself about my own role in our play was my first step in creating a new life narrative. Listening to him say things verbatim without any awareness that he’d been doing it for seven years (at least)- and believing that this was the first time he was saying them and being totally sincere about this being the “key to [his] happiness”- terrified me. It terrified me because it was a mirror.
How many things have I said thinking it’s the secret truth serum of the universe? How do I know that my enlightenment is something more than delusion? How do I make sure I don’t go from job to job, person to person, repeating the lines in the play and then blaming everyone else for the pain I feel at the end of the story? That if I move here or do this it’ll all be different. That I’ll be different. How do I get out of the trap?
It shocked me. It gutted me. I’ve spent days and days crying. Releasing old patterns. Feeling new spiritual technology. Realizing that almost everyone- literally everyone- in our world is spiritually and psychologically very sick. That everyone was abused or molested or neglected at critical intervals that echo out in time and throughout the world ecosystem.
I realized that we don’t just repeat patterns in our own lives without awareness of it, but that we do it as collective groups around the world. That our spiritual ecosystem reinforces all of the worst things and helps to keep us in our individual and collective prisons. I mean, we know fossil fuels and pollution are accelerating climate change, and yet we- as a group- are unable to make that shift and get out of our own way. Muster our energy towards one goal and actually fix the fucking problem. Why is this? Because we can’t even shift ourselves. That’s why. And that’s where the shift has to happen before we can ever do any good for anyone or anything else. And we can't do it with just intelligence or just energy work or just therapy. This is a war we have to attack on all fronts all damn day long. And it's trench warfare- we'll move maybe an inch a year. But that damn inch is worth EVERYTHING.
Yah, it’s a real kick to the balls of the soul. Sorry about that. And the cleverest among us are probably the biggest culprits of these spiritual crimes- we’re the best at observing others and assessing them and their problems and thinking we’re enlightened and "their issues" don’t apply to us. We are just smart enough to be smug enough to be fucking stupid, and if ever there was a loop, that’s it.
One thing I’ve learned: until that moment of sheer existential dread is hitting you in the face, until you are looking into the fucking whirlwind from the Book of Job and the universe is sending you message after message in a confluence of events you can't ignore- you don’t know a god damned thing. And that knowing- the real knowing- immediately leads you into feeling like you know nothing. And then the new questions come. And the tears. And then, finally, the surrender.
I’ve been very humbled. I’ve been kicked to the ground and brought up very high by this experience. I’ve vacillated between quitting life and wanting to produce the most heart-breaking works of staggering genius. To simultaneously give up and change the world. All of it and it’s composite opposite all at the same time. And all right fucking now.
I have been untethered, feeling as though I’m in the void, and freaked out by the new world, new brain, and new body I find myself in. What do I do now that this isn’t my narrative anymore? How do I live without the gods and holy books I’ve created for myself? Without the soul mate hero that completes me? Without the villains I fight against and expose? Without the injured and tortured that I ride in to save? How do I make sure I never let something like this happen to me again? How do I operate in a world full of people just like this- narcissists and empaths- dominates and submissives- all doing their deadly addict tango until death, unable to see…unable to hear…just like I was.
First, I can create a new narrative. And by sharing this new narrative with you (however unflattering), I can take accountability for my part in it all. By accepting loneliness. Being afraid of the unknown. And by getting up in the morning, putting one foot in front of the other, to see what life brings me when I’m not writing my own script based on the last script based on my childhood (and who knows how many past lives before that). By embracing my apocalypse. After all, as Haruki Murakami wrote in IQ84, “Everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come.” Why? Because it's release from the loop. This was the end of my world as I knew it. This was my apocalypse.
And the truth is, we’re all addicts. My whole life I’ve found addicts repugnant. Weak. They trigger the fuck out of me. I thought it was because I was so different, but it’s because I’m so much like them. Hell, I’m one of them, and so are you. Which is why I've only ever dated them. Been friends with them. Because I am them. And we. Are. Everywhere.
We’re all addicted to something because in it we find something familiar. It takes us back around the loop. It immerses us in nostalgia. This weekend, I kept remembering an incredible scene from Mad Men- the Kodak Carousel episode, as Don Draper’s voice echoed this in my head: “Nostalgia - it's delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards... it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called the wheel, it's called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels - around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”
We poke at our wounds. We keep them open. We recreate them and revisit them. We hate them and we love them. We go in a loop. As Rust Cohle of HBO’s True Detective quotes Nietzsche, “"Time is a flat circle. Everything we have done or will do we will do over and over and over again- forever.'"
But we don’t have to do this forever. This world is old. Our souls are older, still. It gets harder to break the loop, yes, but it never becomes impossible. If I’ve learned anything from my time in meditation and with shamanism- quite literally, at times, in the presence of gods and “the God” and my ancestors and the angels- it’s that there is more to all of this than the loop. We are not as stuck as we believe. As we feel. Nothing is futile, but first we must LEARN. We must SEE. We must FEEL the big feeling- the really, really, really big feeling. The one that makes our chest cavity feel like it’s going to burst and kill us. The one that makes us want to not feel it- to go find another person, have another drink, write another book so we have a place to put this feeling or a drug to dull it down so we don't have to sit with it. Sit with it ripping us apart from the inside, filling us with the big feeling. Killing us.
We must be brave enough to accept the horrible truths of our existence soberly. We must allow ourselves to be gutted and destroyed. We must be courageous enough to see where we’ve signed our name to our own undoing. We must listen to ourselves on our own loop and stop ourselves from being our own false prophets, offering ourselves a fake enlightenment. A false awakening. An unreal rebirth. The fake way out…that just leads back to the loop.
We have all made our own gods and ghosts and villains and heroes. We've all written our own plays. And if we really look at them we see the roles of the characters are interchangeable. They- and we- are all the same. We grade others on a value system depending on how much of that sweet drug we get from them- that sweet ambrosia that returns us to nostalgia. To that pain. To that wound. To the beginning. Not because one is bad or the other good. Not because one is superior to the other in some intrinsic, objective way. Yes, there are degrees, but
we are all addicts.
Our souls are still here, in these bodies, because we didn’t kick our habit the last time we were alive. Let’s kick the habit. And that doesn’t mean giving up. Unlike Rust Cohle and Nietzsche, I’m not a pessimist. I’m not a nihilist. I’m an optimist. And I came by my optimism honestly, having started life out as an unabashed atheist and pessimist that simply lacked the constitution for suicide.
We can do something about this. What exactly, I’m not entirely sure. I’ll save that for the next fucked up thing I write. But I know that the first step is seeing beyond the veil and not letting it kill us. Not letting the terrible truth take us out of the game. Drive us insane. Drive us to drugs. Drive us to death.
The mere fact that we exist, that we are here, that we are experiencing all of this means there is a reason for it. I refuse to accept defeat in the face of the whirlwind. I invite you to come along with me...where exactly, I don't know. I just know we're going to need each other to get there.
But, for now, I’ll try to just be content with getting out of the loop. It’s taken 34 years and I’m tired, so maybe I’ll just take out the trash and walk the dog and call it a day. And see what happens tomorrow. And read the less-depressing works of Charles Bukowski:
“The Laughing Heart
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight