Not long ago I lived in Hollywood. I woke up to my light-drenched, hardwood-floored Spanish style apartment. Crossed the street in my vintage mini-dress to the local organic store. Walked back with my kombucha, batch of raw crackers and a string of flattering glances from men with great hair, impeccable jaw definition and surfer torsos.
I wake up in a compound in Saudi Arabia to an air-conditioned, carpeted house, designed with just enough windows to self-protect from the harsh heat. I cross the street in a modest, previously-checked-for-see-throughness muumuu, which will not entice the lonesome workers who have been shipped from their East-Asian countries without their wives or have yet to see a female body.
I head to the local mini-mart and walk back with a diet coke, a bag of Lay’s chips and a nostalgic whiff of what it was like to feel feminine, attractive and fill my slender body with enzyme-packed whole foods.
Maybe I should also mention that I was a type-A, deeply ambitious and driven working actress? I had done a handful of exciting guest-starring roles on TV, became a soap star and fulfilled my desire to be in a big Hollywood movie by landing a role in Sex and the City 2. My career, looks and glamour were a huge part of my identity, and I lived for freedom, love, connection and uncensored self-expression.
Soon after, I realized my life-long dream of giving birth naturally at home, with a midwife, my beloved husband by my side and not a trace of drugs. I set-up all my expectations to be blissed-out and giddy about life and our beautiful baby girl. What I didn’t expect is that she’d be struggling to breathe upon her birth and that I’d have to decide whether to have my five minute-old baby rushed to Cedars-Sinai in an ambulance or with my husband as I bled on the bed.
Our daughter turned out to be perfectly fine, but they kept her at the hospital for monitoring. Four hours later, after my midwife fed me a placenta mojito; I’ll just say it: a chunk of my own placenta blended with grapefruit and parsley, which by the way, was surprisingly tasty (think Carpaccio-gone-Tropicana), I finally go to see my baby. I find her crying her heart out and sucking on my husband’s finger for lack of a nipple. When I try to breastfeed her, it is not the blissed-out, endorphin-gorged, romantic love fest I had envisioned since my early childhood. I am crushed. With no rooms available that night, I find myself commuting back and forth between our apartment and the hospital every two hours to breastfeed. With over a dozen painful stitches between my legs.
Besides much joy and gratitude; the post-birth shock, fear, separation, exhaustion and hormonal cocktail replaced much of the blissed-out motherhood with postpartum depression. I felt like an utter failure and was deeply disillusioned with life and myself. I was inconsolable.
Around the same time, my husband gets offered a job that we cannot refuse. An exciting professional, creative and financial opportunity. Great timing: we both want to be back in the Middle East. I’m sick of auditioning for TV parts I feel no connection to and no passion for. I want to work in my country and language again and develop my own projects in the region. I also want to work in Europe again, in French, Italian, Spanish. I’m sick of stifling my skills to fit in the Hollywood-machine-box-label-fear system. I’m over the volatile free-lance lifestyle of yo-yoing between making $40,000 one month then not working for an entire year. We love the idea of being close to the Far East to raise adventurous kids and gypsy our way through Bali, Goa, Nepal and Bhutan. We want stability yet crave a radical life adventure.
Both my husband and I being clear about what we want and quite intuitive, we decide to take the leap, for better or for worse.
No matter how much I prepared myself psychologically and relied on all my absorption of alternative healing modalities, be it yoga, meditation, acupuncture, colonics, cranio-sacral therapy, Hellerwork massages or ecstasy-inducing Agape services, nothing would prepare me for the shock I was about to live.
Overnight, my entire life changed from one extreme to another.
Overnight, I went from working actress in Hollywood to stay-at-home mom in Saudi Arabia. I don’t know where my postpartum ended and where my new existential crisis began. Or if they just bled into one another like some murky joke.
Overnight, I went from having a solid, like-minded tribe of loving friends to being dropped into a circle of people I could not relate to. I went from driving my shiny Audi to not being allowed to drive outside the compound. I went from going out dancing in drag clubs with my gay best friend to having tea with women who proudly advised me not to shop at The Home Depot because apparently it supports “the gays.” And I went from wearing see-through designer dresses on the red carpet to wearing local Muslim attire.
I went from setting my own schedule with my man who also set his own schedule so that sleeping in, cuddling, working or doing yoga happened mostly whenever we found it pleasant. Overnight, my artist husband is waking up at 5:30 am to go to his office. No time for cuddles. Since I’m the one at home, I have to cook. Every day. No more strutting to Whole Foods in my mini-dress. Overnight, my husband, who, when we met, used to dress like Lenny Kravitz meets Oscar Wilde on their way to a rave party in Versailles, is wearing politically-correct pants, shirts and belts.
Overnight I find myself running in front of every mirror, window or back of a tablespoon just to catch a glimpse of the woman I knew I was. But I couldn’t find her. Not only did I not recognize the woman staring back at me. Worse, she was precisely the type of woman I despised: at home with the kids, in sweatpants and an oil-treated bun, cooking, picking up squeaky toys, huffing and puffing without a career and nowhere glamorous to go.
When I wasn’t breastfeeding, changing a diaper or making a vegan curry, I would Google “I don’t know who I am,” look-up symptoms of bipolar disorder and read suicide blogs. I secretly wished someone would just shoot me in the back of the head already.
Cut to the other side of darkness:
I give birth to my second baby, a beautiful boy. And this time around, it is all bliss and love and no postpartum.
Today, I can finally clearly see the many gifts that my annihilation and existential upheaval have bestowed upon me. Namely, cutting the umbilical cord with the Hollywood machine that ruled my timetable, peace of mind and self worth for years, deciding to pursue success on my own terms, genuinely not caring, for the first time in my life, what other people think of me, putting an end to my decade-long creative block by finally awakening to the truth that I am a confessional artist and am entering a new era of putting out there self-generated projects I am utterly passionate about and which I hope will empower others.
Most importantly, my inner struggle broke down my walls of judgment and opened my heart to others and their own struggles. Today, when I glance at a woman for the first time, instead of checking out her vibe, style, manicure, number of cool rings on her fingers and whether I could be friends with her, I see her beauty and potential and wonder how I can assist her in their unleashing.
We need to give ourselves and each other permission to express, verbalize, give a name, meaning, face, image, scream, drawing or masterpiece to the transformations we live through. They are monumental, sacred, scary, painful rites of passage that ought to be deeply respected, listened to, nurtured and ushered towards liberation and self-realization. Communities should rally around the person going through deep metamorphosis. Instead it seems our modern society marginalizes and shames for being “lost,” “depressive,” a “loser” or plain “crazy.”
Throughout history, from South America to Northern China, it is said that Shamans-to-be often go through a rite of passage involving psychological crisis and/or physical disease which pushes them to the brink of mental illness or death. This happens so the young shaman can venture into the underworld and come back with a true understanding of destruction and death. Overcoming his own inner-death empowers the shaman to cure the suffering of his tribe.
This is the poetic paradox of Jung’s “Wounded Healer.” It is an archetype for the shamanic journey.
If our modern society understood that inner death and transformation were a roadmap to healing our human tribe at large, then an individual’s painful process of transformation would be embraced, honored and celebrated instead of being shunned.
I only now know that my descent into the underworld was a shamanic rite of passage. It was necessary and sacred so I could heal myself, tap into my power and assist others in their own quest for growth, healing and transformation.
I am proud of my scars. I am a Wounded Healer.
Aren’t we all?
Rana Alamuddin, aka Raya Meddine. Actress. Writer. TV host. Daughter of diplomat father and sociologist mother. World traveler. Beirut-L.A girl. Fluent in five languages. Split her childhood between socialite cocktail parties and muddy donkey rides in her grandparents’ village in South Lebanon. Reincarnation devotee since the age of five. Head over heels in love. Mother of two. Inspired by Reinvention.