Carl Jung was a famous Swiss Psychiatrist and early friend of Alcoholics Anonymous, who came up with the idea of the shadow or shadow aspect of psychology. The shadow is an unconscious aspect of the personality, which the conscious ego does not identify itself with. Since a person tends to reject or ignore those parts of themselves that they deem to be undesirable, the shadow is mainly negative, but can also include aspects of the personality that the individual does not have access to. Jung wrote that, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” Meaning that the more that we deny the existence of unwanted characteristics the more these characteristics of our personality will grow, expressing themselves through subconscious thoughts and actions.
Jung’s belief was that only through the continual acknowledgment of the existence of the shadow and assimilation of it into the consciousness could individual transformation occur. As wordy as all of that might sound, it essentially describes the experience that I have had with my character defects.
While I was actively using little self-reflection took place, because I was in survival mode, and so there was little mental space for self-reflection. The majority of my thoughts were centered on my next use, how I could not get caught, and making sure I had enough. This took up the majority of my waking thought life during the last year. I lived in a state of constant pain as I was aware for the most part of the impact of my actions on those I loved. The agonizing part was that no matter how much I wanted to stop, the reality was that I could not. This is the most agonizing and hopeless aspect of this disease.
And so as Jung points out without the acknowledgement of its existence, the shadow self grew, turning me into a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with a split in my psyche. That is until the time came when the shadows presence had to be acknowledged, a moment of clarity if you will, and I was finally able to see myself accurately for the first time in years. From this point I started the process of getting sober, and with it a continued acknowledgment of the shadow self.
One of the first times that I truly came to face the shadow is during my 4th step. During the process of the 4th step I came to understand some very large truths about myself, things that had lain dormant for quite some time. This was an uncomfortable experience, as emotions and pieces of my personality that have been hidden became exposed to the light, but after this initially discomfort I began to feel an elation that I had never experienced before and afterwards true healing occurred. This came in the 5th step with the vulnerability and trust that goes into sharing this with another human being.
Coming to terms with and accepting my shadow self is a process that will never truly be complete. Though acknowledging those facts about myself that were less than savory in the 4th step was a start, I must be constantly vigilant, continually performing self-reflection so that the shadow does not once again disappear into the abyss of the subconscious, taking its secrets with it. This is what I am up against. Not only do I have an illness that wants me dead, what I also have to contend, more so than others, with a subconscious that I cannot truly rely on. A subconscious that works in tandem with my illness in order to tell me lies about myself that will ultimately lead me back to a drink or a drug, unless I stay alert.
It is not all bad news though, because as an alcoholic I have been given the opportunity to know myself better, and because of this I am able to experience peace. For years I wandered around not being aware of what I felt or who I even was, but with the introduction of the 12 Steps into my life, I was finally able to squarely face myself, accept the things that I did not like, and work towards changing them.
The flip side of this is that sometimes knowing myself and being aware of my shadow self can have unintended results, especially when I am unable to change certain things that I find undesirable. After continued self reflection I have become acutely aware of my character defects, but I have also discovered that the further I delve into my shadow self, were these defects reside, the harder it is to accept these things because just like I needed to accept my powerlessness to overcome my addiction. So do I need to accept all of myself in order to change. Awareness is the first step to freedom.
This inability of mine to change, or stop acting, on certain character defects that I am aware of can sometimes lead to rumination on my part, which does no good and only seeks to block me from the truth. When I am focusing solely on my inability to combat my defects I lose sight of the fact that I, of myself, cannot truly remove my defects, but must have help from something greater than me. Many of the aspects of my character that were hidden from me for years are extremely ingrained, and so they will take time in order to change. When I can live in this headspace, I find that my shadow self and its accompanying defects of character do not rule my life as much, and in fact they actually start to go away.
Coming to know and accept my shadow self was not an easy task. It took courage to truly take a look at who I was, and what is most interesting is that I found that I wasn’t nearly as bad as a person as I thought. The years leading up to me getting sober, I would tell myself on a daily basis that I was a terrible person and my shadow reveled in these lies that I told myself. Once I got sober and addressed my shadow self I realized that many of the things that I had once believed were a lie, which in turn finally brought me a much needed peace. This is the beautiful part of recovery that work and reflection one reaches a place of serenity that I never thought possible.
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Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.