I am in the Strand bookstore when I pick up a Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. The cover drags me over as soon as I see it. It features a woman standing next to a wolf, illuminated next to the byline, “Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.” The friends I am with do not understand my immediate attachment to this book, but I know something in it will present some irrevocable change in me. It makes sense. I am on a kick of drawing shamelessly and continuously about being a woman, of learning what it means, and seeking out souls who share a similar interest in recognizing the relentless feminine energy Estés describes as a source of power. Later on, I am reading it on the train when I come upon this passage: “At another extreme, a woman involved in a chemical addiction most definitely has at the back of her mind a set of older sisters who are saying, ‘No! No way! This is bad for the mind and bad for the body. We refuse to continue.’ But the desire to find Paradise draws the woman into the marriage of Bluebeard, the drug dealer of psychic highs.” Then: “What dilemma a woman finds herself in, the voices of the older sisters in her psyche continue to urge her to consciousness and to be wise in her choices. They represent those voices in the back of the mind that whisper the truths that a woman may wish to avoid for they end her fantasy of Paradise Found.”

As I try to separate myself from my addiction while working through my grief, this book has become my manual. The Wild Woman archetype—a way of being and living I have always known but never labelled or fully recognized—is the savior of a lifetime. She is the parts of me that propelled me headfirst into survival when my mother passed away, the force that I’d always idealized, and the very spirit I recognized daily in my mom. The Wild Woman is a teacher of constant truths; even as I’ve written this essay over the past few days, I’ve uncovered new pieces of myself that I hadn’t even recognized as gone because I had blocked them out, suppressed them because it was so much easier to not feel all that I could feel.

Even more than my admiration of, or adherence to this concept of the Wild Woman is the refusal to remain naïve, to remain unknowing or unaccepting of the source of the blood that has drenched my days, and eventually, my very self. The stains grow too large, to the point that the horsehair and cobweb and ash remedies of the Bluebeard fairy tale—or the 40s and spliffs of a Friday night in the park—are unable to continue to conceal their presence. Even when I smoke or lose myself in some way, in a way that I know is an attempt to fix something that stretches beyond instant gratification or a few moments of attention, the truth will unveil itself. Sometimes I mangle it in my attempts to bury it alive, pushing it beneath the dirt until it is quiet for a while.

This is in no way calling substance dependence The End, inescapable and devoid of ways to exit. If this were the reality, this wouldn’t be a story of “living through this,” it would be a PSA telling you that it may just be too late for you. Until you are dead, as everyone in each pocket of my family loves to say, there is no such thing as not trying. This has seemed like a harsh piece of advice at points in my life, especially when I’ve been the most vulnerable, but that is also when it has served me most and best. Facing the predator does not mean surrender, it is not pitiful or weak. In fact, it is the total opposite. To pretend that my Bluebeard was a sweet sympathizer instead of my plotting executioner was to over and over give myself up to a lie.

The key to this Wild Woman archetype—the base of the feminine that is so often suppressed and denied—and the saving grace of this entire ordeal, is creation and expression. It seems like such a simple solution, and it is. But when I look at the obstacles of daily life, the limits on feminine expression, and the constant warping of any unconventional behavior or mode of communication into a symbol of madness or phallic imitation, it is easy to see why it takes so long to come to this conclusion. Whether it is our own organic self-doubt or fears instilled by another, we often have inhibitions when it comes to our art and our dedications. It took me months, despite what other people said to encourage me, to write and sculpt my way out of a deep rut. But I have been doing it, and doing it with the same natural motions that I claimed as a child. Slowly, but very surely, I have been relearning discipline, how to live more and more in the moment, how to really appreciate my memories with my mom, and understand my feelings of loss and mourning. Instead of treating my emotions as intrusions and struggling to replace my reality with one where I do not have to deal with such jarring events, I am beginning to embrace them, and to embrace who I am while sober.

My mother must not be a specter, waiting in my peripheral to be recognized. In my mind, she must fill up space the way she did when she was physically with me. If she were alive, I know that it would pain her to see me replace my bricks and mortar, built up by my writing and ideas and energy, with crumbling stone of no help to me. By permeating the world with this matter of the soul, by overcoming my circumstances and my negative emotions, I am exchanging the false Paradise of a temporary fix for a real, solid stake in the world. It isn’t hard, it’s just work. ♦