Chasing Dragons: Grief, Addiction and Finding Light

Recently I was asked to write this article and I was surprised to find it difficult, the hard stuff is always complicated. Rubbing up against grief is always about touching a deep place that may carry fragments of pain…even when healing has happened the pain can still be felt. It is illuminating to feel and face, reconnect with some of the experiences of years past, shattered experiences that reflect darkness and light. I have had many opportunities to work with these topics, fear, grief, addiction, shame and the inquiry of how healing happens. It is not only what happened then, but how it is now and recognizing that healing happens over time with consistant tending and attuned reflection.

It was genuinely difficult to return to memories of how addiction impacted those I love and interesting to note that I although I have approached this topic from the perspective of the bystander, partner and parent, I felt called to brush up against some new truths and seek deeper personal connection. Uncomfortable and vulnerable to realize that exposure is eminent, I have plenty of my own sources of addiction and shame, edginess surfaces as truth telling rises.

Brené Brown calls this the Reckoning.

Reckoning is how we engage and become curious about our feelings, our willingness to practice emotional intelligence. If we do not engage our feelings, if we deny and disengage, then our emotions own us. – Brene Brown

I am Remembering and Reckoning.

I am Reflecting and Connecting.

Magical ChildAddiction was not active in my early home life, but I was exposed early enough through community culture, books and movies. I had a burning curiosity about inner darkness and social complexities so I seemed to be attuned to seeing and feeling the edges of experience.

Bright lights and dark alleys lurked as I moved through life. The pages of Go Ask Alice, captured me between fear and fascination when I was ten, and the movie Tommy fascinated when I was twelve. My desire to grow up fast seduced me like a moth to a flame. My teen years welcomed a lot of use and abuse, playing with fire to offset insecurity and fear of not fitting in.

Although my drug induced highs did not become physical addiction the serious use definitely altered my experiences and danced me to the edge.

My personal experience with addiction…compulsion, desire, pain, shame, “fixing”, altering fear with filling up comes and goes and sometimes stays for awhile in the realm of food. The moth to flame age (13ish) brought self soothing patterns and cycles of feeling/feeding that come to the surface still, especially at times of stress.

I was attuned and astute, empathic and intuitive toward others but leaning into and feeling my feelings was hard. I had a deep fear of “too strong” emotion early on. Emotional literacy has become a cornerstone of my work, birthed from my personal experience and lack of expression. For me a deep  yearning to understand strong emotions, and not be afraid of them became an absolute necessity.

My experience with addiction also crossed over into my life within my early marriage with some long and scary years of substance abuse and co-active challenges, impacting my first husband. Much later two of my children navigated that journey as well. Patterns of addiction have been present in my life and the lives of those I love, and so to patterns of recovery, long recovery and beyond.

I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.

– Anaïs Nin

Flooded with FearRecovery in our family become a language of learning to understand addiction, to dive into the depths of our own knowing and find new ways to love our self through pain, shame and fear. Addiction is an inside job and one of the things I had to learn was how to feel pain and honor the pain of those I cared for, as I moved out of the way.

Those early years brought pain, control and meeting challenge with codependent compassion, fiery and “no fear” was my ‘go to’ fierce wife and mama bear stance. Convinced that knowing as much as I could to meet needs and slay dragons, pushing the edges of learning and skill building became my quest. Compassion, always an absolute, virtually stripped me bare, codependent and in denial for so long, I found it harder and harder to give and love, and hold it all.

To tell the truth and feel the feelings when there are needs to meet, things to know, dragons to slay and shadows to chase from the corners of every room, was exhausting. Hyper alert, watchful, responsive, I was often in crisis anticipation and doing my best to be everything to everyone. “We are our brother’s keeper” was a self-imposed family mantra, me thinking if we did enough and remained attuned to subtle shifts on behalf of one another we could prevent the worst. Sometimes we did but ultimately addiction has its own path and each person must find his or her own way with it.

I know the crushing consequences of grief, fear, shame and addiction and I must acknowledge with the tenderness that is warranted, some of our loved ones do not make it beyond the edge of playing with fire, addiction and challenges that precede and follow. Those who do survive and thrive must cross the abyss and enter into the journey of self, seeking the essence of their own recovery and beyond.

Lost in TranslationWe who are on a personal journey with recovery and healing, understand the reflective nature of dark and light that is held in shattered experiences, seeking the flame of our own lost light becomes an active practice, gathering it to us in many ways as we move through, and into, new stages of experience. Those of us who are on the edge of a loved ones recovery journey are often left bereft and confused, many times reacting before responding. This experience is similar and it is necessary to explore deeply ones own materials of life. There comes a time for each of us, with individual perspective, to understand the true nature of letting go, owning that which is only ours, leaning into trust and learning to feel. Trusting enough to feel the pain, really FEEL, is part of what helps us move into a place of understanding and reconnecting. Feeling is healing, although it can hurt for a long time.

In this part of my life, grief was the crushing emotion that was hidden under all that fear. Fear was firmly hidden deeper under compassion, because compassion was the way of the peaceful warrior and the feminine, and I was empathetically intuitive and codependent, it felt safe not to feel too much or open Pandora’s Box.

Because I did not understand the underlying grief, and fought the fear, it was hard to see where my boundaries were mushy. I felt like my inner warrior was active and lit up, walking the edge of her sword that was steeled by the forge and the flame. The flame illuminated the shadows as the dragons moved close, as they will, amongst us when power is diminished and choice is vulnerable. I was doing what I knew to do, not willing to feel and very stuck in old patterns that included victim/martyr energy. In that state I could not get close to healing, because I was blocking the deeper feelings.

These patterns and parts of my story I came to know when feelings could not be ignored. It was clear that something had to be expressed and explored. I was ready to heal and though contemplative practice, art-making, ritual, personal myth, journey process and shadow work I learned to feel, tell myself hard truths and find the power of light in my life.

Conscious CreativityFinding color, texture and imagery that met the raw and active experiences of my “feeling and healing” life allowed me a safe way to articulate and redefine my emotions. It was then that I begin to understand boundaries and accept what was mine, refining my edges. Only then could I see and hear the deeper truths, dare to speak them and claim them and let them light my way.

It can still be hard to tell the raw truth, own what is mine, out my addictions and understand reactions.

I now know, the dragons are not there to harm me. They move close as keepers of my light, keeping watch over the vulnerable self, facing down shame until trust and love is emboldened. They show me the way, as does my creative practice.

I have forged a fiery and fierce trust of process.

I trust the divinity of the creative way and recognize how deep diving into process and inner exploration will always reveal what is next, in the ever-evolving journey of healing and wholing.

I lean into my shame, my own addictive habits get exposed and when I find I am feeding my feeling I return to the deep work of exploring emotions and seeking the stories that are held within unexpressed emotions and energies. I seek my light.

I celebrate the reckoning…the truth tellers and artists of life who are willing to enter into the raw knowledge, the material of life, to seek and find their golden light.

I offer this poem by the extraordinary poet Jewel Mathieson, because it is a strong expression of addiction, one that many of us know well…her words may be so strong, so true that they elicit laughter, what Debbie Ford called the shadow laugh. I am willing to feel the truth of Jewel’s words. You can substitute any ideas or truths that might fit, but listen for what is known in one way or another.

Listen for the raw truth, strong emotion and deep compassion that is held within your life, held within your art as process. If you are interested in exploring emotional literacy as you are navigating past or present experience please connect with me to find out more about depth coaching and experiential process.

In Vision,


Stood Up: Massive Sugar Binge #9

Some would go to the trenches,

some all battles

She goes to See’s, incognito

pretending she’s finally remembered

all orders placed

gets her grandma bagged almond buds

and brittle, then steals to Swenson’s

for a double scoop chocolate cake

rolled in almonds to go

Remembering handfuls of napkins

she asks for two sugar cones

implying they’re for the children.

Faking motherhood, she has lost all dignity

so she beats herself with brownies

and then finally in the darkness

of the Short Stop parking lot

It’s-Its’s herself to death

And I ask you, how many donuts

would you say a sane person might consume?

“Hunger has nothing to do with it,” she says

crunching on dry honey dipped spaghetti.

Hunger has nothing to do with it.


– Jewel Mathieson, Silk Tracks 1996