The sudden passing of a close friend and ex-lover a few months ago served as a catalyst for me. For the better part of the last decade, I’ve been exploring eastern spirituality and developing a self-care practice centered around meditation, movement, and creativity, but something about this latest trauma acted as jet fuel for taking me to the next level in this cosmic video game called life.
After reading a book called The Tools — which integrates Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow with modern-day psychological techniques — I began to understand why. In the words of its co-author, Dr. Phil Stutz, “The highest creative expression for a human being is to create something in the face of adversity. The greater the adversity, the greater the opportunity.” In the case of my friend’s death, I realized that a coming-of-age story loosely inspired by our decade of friendship lay brewing inside of me and I started drafting an outline.
Furthermore, his death served as a reminder of the fragile and fleeting nature of life. Having allowed myself to get sucked into the debaucherous playground that is New York — my very own garden of Eden — it was a much-needed reality check to turn inward and realign with my higher purpose.
Flash forward two months and here I sit, writing this piece from the Botanical Garden in Buenos Aires, where I am taking a monk-like hiatus from my normal life to get back in touch with myself so that I can carry out the shared mission my late friend and I had together: opening a holistic healing center for addicts, “crazies,” and all the other sensitive people our soulless society has nearly destroyed and all but discarded.
I’ve done a lot of healing work on myself leading up to this point but there are still elements of my sex work past that remain open wounds — shameful memories I can’t seem to escape that are holding me back from ascending into the fully evolved goddess I know I am capable of becoming. I’ve mentioned the shadow in past work, but I’ve never really done it justice. So here we go, a sex worker’s guide to shadow work.
I’ve already covered two of the five founding fathers of psychology: Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. Today I am adding Carl Jung to that list. Jung proposed that within each human lies two parts. One side encapsulates who we want to be and is dictated by society’s standards of what is “good” — traits such as kindness, courage, and drive. The other side, which Jung referred to as the shadow, is the part we are ashamed of and which we, therefore, push deep down into our unconscious — traits such as cruelty, cowardice, and laziness.
Every single human embodies the full range of personality traits but because the negative ones are repressed deep down, we struggle to identify them within ourselves. Instead, we see them manifest in external sources, namely the people we interact with in our day-to-day lives. For instance, when a bunch of loud teenagers are making a ruckus on the subway, I often find myself getting vexed. It’s all too easy to place the blame onto them: “Why can’t they just comply with the protocol of the polite adults riding alongside them?” I’ll wonder to myself.
But when I delve into my own trauma and resulting shame, the source of my annoyance becomes clear. Growing up in a family of serious intellectuals who savored silence in their home, my naturally energetic, ADHD self constantly received the message, “You are annoying. You are too much. Tone it down.” As a result, I became incredibly quiet in school, adopting a façade of studiousness which was rewarded by a society that holds docile, good girls in high esteem. The “obnoxious” aspect of my personality became part of my shadow self, and therefore the reason why seemingly obnoxious people tend to piss me off so much.
Now I can’t claim that I am zen Buddha 100% of the time when I encounter rowdy strangers in public, but my awareness – bringing the unconscious into consciousness; the darkness into light – is the first step to making peace with myself and my triggers. As Jung put it: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
Shadow Work Meets Sex Work
The anecdote outlined above exemplifies shadow work in action. It is only when we address our shadow that we can break toxic behavior patterns and unlock our full potential. As far as I’m concerned, participating in sex work already puts me leagues ahead of most people when it comes to embracing the full version of my authentic self and by extension, human nature.
To go against the status quo – especially as a woman – is bold and requires courage. Even someone who feels they were forced into sex work due to dire circumstances and who therefore probably struggles to view themselves as strong or empowered embodies a level of fearlessness most women in society will never be able to harness.
The patriarchy in which we live deems the following as being “good” qualities in a woman: purity, obedience, and dependence (i.e financial dependence in the form of the man being the primary breadwinner). A sex worker thereby inhabits the shadow aspects of these qualities: sluttiness, rebellion, and independence. Even in this pussy power era of 4th wave feminism, a large faction of men (and women) still buy into and actively seek out the “good” qualities of a woman mentioned above.
I’ve experienced it firsthand. Men I encounter even in the wokest of circles take issue with my past and the shadow qualities that have been activated because of it. The worst part is that they are oftentimes not even aware of it. A man who thinks he is enlightened (i.e a left wing feminist hipster in Brooklyn) can actually be more dangerous than a man who is totally in the dark (i.e a red-pilled frat bro who lives in a conservative town) because he thinks he has done the work and therefore closes himself off to hearing and receiving new perspectives that challenge his intellectually constructed reality upon which he holds on to so tightly.
They love my sexual prowess in the bedroom and my “fuck societal conditioning” life mantra but when it comes to the reality of dating a woman who is sexually empowered, combative, and willing to make money using unconventional means, few men can actually hang. Or maybe they can but I push them away because of my own self-limiting beliefs that no man will ever be open-minded or evolved enough to accept — no not just accept, respect – me for my past and the wealth of wisdom it has blessed me with.
But all this begs the question: “Why do I care so much about the opinion of these men who I’ve already categorized as being unworthy of my time and energy anyways?” While there is undoubtedly a primal, survival-driven need to be accepted by society and attract a partner with whom I can reproduce, this cuts deeper than that. I am running from my own shadow.
I am scared to embrace the parts of myself that I know will make me appear less than desirable to others. I am more at peace with my past than a lot of sex workers I know, but I am still hanging onto to shame – allowing it to be the rainy cloud on my parade in moments when I am feeling low. When I’m in my power, I can embrace it and see it as the lesson of lifetime but when I’m down, it’s all too easy to spiral into a self-pitying cycle of victimhood and regrets.
No one said the road of the sex worker – past or present – was an easy one. But if we can do the work to fully face our shadows, I think we have the ability to change the world. Our empathy and insights into the human consciousness are superpowers which our society needs to heal, now more than ever.