And I'm starting to like that now.
A good friend of mine sometimes says she’s trash, and she likes it that way. She’s recognized the same quality in me, and it’s something that secretly always made me recoil. It hit too close to home; she saw the part of me that surfaced in Austin, even though we didn’t know each other then. She recognized the self that chain-smoked cigarettes and swilled cheap whiskey straight from the bottle to chase away the all-revealing dawn; the self desperate for patriarchal validation, seeking refuge in strange beds and denying my queer identity.
The self that I hate, and try at every opportunity to scrub away, though the dirt never quite washes off.
I do this through spiritual practice; maybe if I say enough “sat nams,” Trash Holly will have never existed. I do it through food and drink, as if acting fancy with winery visits and six-course meals could erase where I came from. It’s why I’m a sucker for the “special treatment,” when I visit the watering hole of someone I know and things suddenly appear “on the house”: because I still don’t feel special, I still loathe this part of my past, this evil-twin version of me always lurking just below the surface. Maybe if other people see me as special, the unconscious logic goes, then I will see it, too—but I’m learning that it doesn’t work that way. You can’t see one part of you as special until you see the others that way, too.
I’ve realized this before, even written about it, but it didn’t land until just now, as a brilliant, bright pink dawn was breaking over London, filling every one of the big picture windows in this flat that’s far too nice for Trash Holly to ever afford, belonging to a friend of a friend who is giving me the “special” rate. Suddenly I not only comprehend, but actually feel this: It’s not enough to acknowledge or even accept the trash version of myself. I have to love it the way my friend does, to wear the mantle proudly and claim it as a part of me; not the whole story, granted, but a crucial and expository chapter. So I put my arms around myself and whispered, I love you, Trash Holly, and for perhaps the first time, I felt that self receive that love, and I rocked myself as the blazing sunrise surrounded me on all sides, and I cried.
Maybe, I thought, this side of myself is not only something that doesn’t have to be shameful, but can even be beautiful—the ability to not only love but to be the trash; to enter into the muck with others.
Four years ago, fresh off my divorce, I rolled into this foggy town as a gaping wound, and my path collided with that of another lost soul. Despite having just started on my spiritual journey, I descended into the depths with him and became Trash Holly again. To say that I made questionable choices that night would be a massive understatement, the aftermath of which I was quite literally unsure I would survive, and as dawn began to break, it illuminated a too-familiar pattern: that of finding someone who would descend with me into the depths, then seeking refuge from the shame with that same person, because only the trash could understand. Only the trash could love a person like me, who did the things I had just done.
But last night, I sat at the same table across from the same person where four years ago I made those dubious decisions, and while I still stayed up way too late, and had a few too many beers, we chose differently this time. We still talked all night, but this time I remember what we said, and I understand why we connected in the first place. We’re two souls trying to outrun our trash backgrounds, throwing up fancy distractions from corporate expense accounts to decadent dining, yet secretly desperate to tear it all down; too willing to throw it away when we find a co-conspirator.
I’m constantly wishing this part of me away, thinking I’ve “cleared that pattern,” seeking desperately to expunge the impulse and behavior, but now I realize that’s the whole point—you can’t, and you won’t, because the trash is a part of you. It’s what happened, and it’s what’s happening now. It will never go away, nor should it. It’s you, the same one that sat crying in kundalini just hours earlier; the same one that got the special brewery tour and free bread on the way to the train. Shadow work doesn’t mean banishing the trash, it means sitting with it, holding it, even welcoming it in—not so it can be vanquished, but because it’s part of your whole.
And there are reasons beyond knowing your own kind that drew me to this person in the first place, just like all the others he reminded me of who once caused me such confusion. Anyone who can enter into the depths also has a deep and spiritual side that goes largely unseen, because it can only be reflected. Trash is vulnerable, and only when we’re stripped of all the shininess can we refract the truth back to each other. I realize now that this can be my gift, an offering, something beautiful in me: I can go there with you, I can see you no matter how deep you have sunk; even in those who seem lost I can find the light, and now, with all the work I’ve done, I won’t get stuck down there. I can sit with the just-one-mores, the weirdos, the outcasts, the others, because I am them, we all are, and in denying this we deny our humanity, and the light is extinguished along with the dark.
It starts with loving ourselves, trash and all, and I think that part of me is finally coming home. I sat on the floor at 2 a.m. eating baked goods and singing along to Shovels and Rope, “every now and then I get evil, I’m ashamed in the shadow of the steeple,” but it’s not evil, it’s just dark: a thing we pathologize in this consumer culture that depends upon us fashioning specific versions of ourselves, requiring constant maintenance. What if the darkness could be seen as equally beautiful? What if it was okay to just be, rather than to do or make? What if we could just have fun, however that looked, even if it involved no effort or expenditure? What if it was not only seen as okay, but necessary to get lost, flounder around, and “waste time”? What if we could own our individual and collective histories and all that they entail, rather than pretending the dark parts never existed?
Of course, this doesn’t mean glorifying unhealthy choices or giving platforms to hate; we all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to keep our bodies, minds, and souls safe and well. But sometimes we struggle, and we fail, and that’s okay; the struggle is the point. The work is not to shame those choices, but to transcend and include, doing our best to make different decisions next time and sitting with each other on the journey—nursing hangovers, licking wounds, and holding space, telling each other, it’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay. We will pick ourselves up, and we will try again.
I seek the trash that reflects my darkness back to me, because this is the truth I’ve been running from my whole life. Let me say it as loudly and proudly as I proclaim my queerness or my spiritual seeking: I’m trash, and I like it. I’m also light, and I like that, too. Real love means loving it all, including the garbage, and the people who make us see the parts of ourselves we might prefer to hide, because only then may we be made whole.