The Death of the Dark Woman: A Hero's Journey
It’s been one year.
The first year in my life since I was 16 years old that I have not been dating or with another person at all. While people’s versions of the events may vary – in order to satisfy a personal narrative, it was early September of 2017 when I gave up trying and changed the status from “In A Relationship” to “Single” which in our day and age, makes it “official.”
It’s been one year to lick my wounds – all of them that I have endured as I have been fighting my way through the adventure that has been my life over the last several decades.
And it’s been one year to lay down arms and to strip away from myself the parts I never wanted but thought I was supposed to carry with me. And I’ve had to review the indelible pieces of myself and respect them for what they are. Resiliency. Creativity. Intensity. And living for a Purpose.
And in one year, walking along the road of perdition, looking back over my shoulder – sometimes in nostalgia and sometimes to merely measure how far I’ve come, the journey became clearer and more startling. In fact, when looking at it one morning, I began to recognize the structure and form typically used by storytellers – an arc that resembles mythology.
As you, may know, for several months my creative energies have leaned away from writing and to producing my podcast, One Broken Mom. I have been inviting and talking with many people about childhood development, self-improvement and the effects of childhood trauma. One morning, I did an interview with Michelle Piper, a specialist in working with people dealing with narcissists. And we set out that day, inauspiciously, to talk about the Golden Child on one episode.
The Golden Child is a role created by a narcissistic parent that is a manifestation of the parent’s own lacking in themselves, in this case feeling special. So, the parent seeks to set their child on a pedestal and master the strings because it gives them, the parent, a sense of superiority. Also, by living vicariously through the achievements of their child, they too shine in the glitter of the gold reflection. However, during the conversation that morning, another child emerged in the discussion – one that appears to the outside to be Golden, but in interior of the family dynamic is very different. This is the Hero.
On the outside looking in, a Hero looks to be favored by others. They are envied as well as admired. And sometimes, just like the Golden, even hated a little for it. But unlike the Golden Child, the Hero knows there is a cost. Where a Golden Child has little responsibilities except to shine like a star, the Hero instead bears a lot and is regarded as heroic because they learn to do, to save, and to work with little resources and become successful against all odds. And the more they do, the more they are asked to continue to “step up.”
That morning, I listened and was able to put some definition around myself that I hadn’t quite gotten yet. I learned that I was raised a hero. Unintended, most certainly, but a hero nonetheless.
Being a hero doesn’t mean that I have been able to vanquish every obstacle I’ve ever met or defeat any enemy in my path. Or that everything I’ve ever done in my life has been good and noble. Quite the contrary, in the past year, I recognized I had been fighting the same battles over and over again. But, this last one was finally different.
This last time, it was the climatic part of this hero’s journey – this mythological arc I began to see. And that was because after failing along the road of trials for years, I was finally introduced to the Dark Woman – the feminine incarnate that would teach me and show me what I finally needed to understand.
Quite literally, the Dark Woman came to me in January 2010. I had a strange compulsion to abandon my light blonde hair and become a brunette. And innocently enough, when someone asked me why I had done it, I said it was because I was getting in touch with my “dark side.” But in truth, the Dark Woman had begun to intrude into my world earlier in late 2009. And, as I’ve shared in posts, by February 2010, the Dark Woman seized control and I was on my way out the door.
She didn’t just visit me, like voices in my head or a person in my dreams. No, she inhabited me. Took up residence and began to steer the ship. She was provocative and selfish. She teased out every need I had to be in control. No – my need to feel powerful. She became the counterbalance to the powerless I felt in other areas of life at that time.
And so when an intoxicating force had entered into my world in the summer of 2010, the Dark Woman was there to encourage me to drink up every last drop and follow the temptation.
This Dark Woman – a mere apparition of my true self, pushed me down the road towards my final trial. For years, I was becoming enmeshed in an unseen web, easily distracted by the intensity I craved, the allusion of success and also the illusion of love.
And then at some point I realized I was wrapped tight and intoxicating became just toxic. I was torn between allowing myself to slip back into inebriation where I could ignore problems or wait for a better day to resolve them versus seeing the trap for what it was and to get free.
However, the more I struggled against the web, the harder it became. And just when it felt like all was lost, and spiraling out of control, the Dark Woman whispered to me –
“Sister, now it’s time to listen.”
And so, one year ago, I relaxed and quieted down. I laid down my sword, and took a knee in the middle of this War of Hearts I had been fighting. I was no longer lurching and lunging at everything & everyone around me.
And in my stillness, as the battles raged around, I was finally able to see. I was taking aim at the wrong things this whole time. I had been fooled by the real menace and forces at work.
That’s when the fighting ceased. The enemies, the causes – all became misty hallucinations and simply faded away. And the poison began to drain from me.
I realized then at some point, the Dark Woman – who had been wrapped up in my unconscious all this time, had now slipped away and took form outside of me. She became the embodiment of a new woman and I got to see her, through a different and painfully clearer perspective. The Dark Woman showed me what I had done. And she didn’t just show me, she forced me to feel every painful and brutal moment and bear witness with my own eyes. In her last act, the Dark Woman left me feeling ashamed.
And when I could admit to myself what I had done, that is when the Dark Woman died.
Yet, unlike everything and everyone up to this point, I did not have to fight her. She willingly and lovingly let me go.
Because the Dark Woman was not a temptress. She was a goddess. She was my guide on my personal odyssey. The author of my descent and ultimately, the architect of my heroic return.
You see, in the monomyth of storytelling, the hero’s journey does not end with a decisive victory. No, the real hero – changed and transformed by war - must leave the mystical realm they had been travelling through and return home to help others.
So, the ultimate conquest was not vanquishing the demons around me. Or ridding myself of them. Because that fight alone was not new or unique – I had already done it many times already during my adventure of nearly half of my life and thousands of miles.
No, in fact, until I won the real battle, I was doomed to repeat these skirmishes over and over again. And the Dark Woman was the character that came to finally end it all.
True victory was in discovering that deep inside of me, hidden in the corners, terrified by loss and burdened by too much too soon – was a child that needed to be saved. To be rescued. To be freed.
And when I found that little girl, that's when I won.
In the 1949 book on comparative mythology, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell outlined the basic narrative in seventeen stages and notes that the Return is not always sudden. Or that even sometimes, the Hero is reluctant at first. But once the threshold is crossed, the Hero is not the same any longer. And, as it were, my return home has taken about one year.
Now, I know it seems audacious to refer oneself as a hero. Maybe even unflattering by some. And I certainly don’t make any extraordinary claims of greatness. But, the reality is – it is what I am.
Yes, likely a major character in a very minor plot line within one of the multitudes of stories that make up our world – Trust me, I know where I really stand. But nonetheless, I have been wearing a cape for as long as I can remember. And given what I know now, I wasn’t the one who put it there. But I did learn to fill it in.
While I believe I have finally reached the end of a very long adventure, it isn’t a question of will I continue on this mythological path. That is very clear – the Hero must share the windfall of her quest and conquer with others. The podcast. The writing – all the ways I began to do this already and didn’t know at the time... What a mysterious world this is.
As Campbell states, the return home with the wisdom others need not only serves to honor the sacrifices along the way, but only then will a Hero finally have the freedom to live.
And so, while the war is finally over, the story continues.