The Wilderness Phase: Out With the Old, But Not Completely In With The New

By Marian Haile

Every person in the world goes through an in-between phase(s) in life, the most popular being the uncomfortable transition between childhood and adulthood. We usually see this relatable transition in hundreds of films, books, TV shows, etc., that depict coming-of-age stories that star teenagers going through it, generally finding some answer or path that suits them at the end of it all. However, many of the artistic approaches in coming-of-age stories always center around white teenagers, and, as a 24-year-old Black woman, I truly cannot relate. The thing is, I feel like I’m in my version of a coming-of-age story except with different obstacles in regards to slow adulting, being unapologetically me, healing/moving forward, accountability and acceptance.

As of late, I’ve been rewatching episodes of shows like Insecure and Ugly Betty with a pair of new and more mature eyes only to laugh at the awkwardness of feeling lost and not being where I thought I should be in life. I want to be the Black woman in her 20s/30s with all the degrees, the job, fashionable clothes, the perfect partner, a fantastic place to live, etc. I want it all, but the reality is I don’t know what I want…at all. Characters like Issa and Betty are wonderful breaks from social media personas that I feel like I need to live up to (based on appearance and aesthetic) and has given me the courage to own my current broke, living at home, boring, single, not knowing if I want to get my masters, etc. type of life. That I’m lost, and it’s going to be okay.

Right now, I’m beginning to close a chapter of my life full of bad habits, falling outs/conditional friendships, toxic behaviors, lack of accountability & authenticity, and, honestly, not caring about myself. Many of us have and are still going through 2 pandemics and the traumas of COVID-19 and police brutality. Not to mention struggling and constantly standing up for our intersectional identities online while neglecting our well-being behind closed doors. This moment in life can be categorized as “the wilderness phase”: an experience filled with trials and tribulations that involuntary isolates you as an individual to achieve the “new” self. I stumbled upon this Christian term on Twitter, and, with further research, I found an article that breaks up the experience into four specific phases.

While I do follow Islam, these steps were truly insightful, and I wanted to share. So, below are the four stages slightly altered and applicable for those who aren’t super-spiritual and to Black womxn everywhere, so you can recognize each moment and feel less alone during these times.

  1. Stripping and breaking

Black women have been advertently and inadvertently affected by the coronavirus and state terrorism at higher rates than anyone in this country. Yet, there is little to no recognition of how this has torn families apart little by little in the last few years. Additionally, being a Black woman has become an aesthetic for those online. In contrast, many women of color, especially Black women, are critiqued by institutions for the way we look, dress, and act. The identity we hold is constantly being shattered and stripped away from us as we attempt to prove that we, too, are human with lives and emotions just like everyone else.

Seeking therapy, spirituality, Black women healing centers, and using creative channels to speak out about what you’ve been through is a significant first step in entering the newfound self.

2. Struggling to find ourselves

Finding ourselves and our voice is a journey we constantly embark on. It’s imperative to dissect whether your insecurities are a societal problem or a momentary roadblock. Whether it’s colorism/featurism/hairism, your interests, what you want to do in life, or how you present yourself, it is PARAMOUNT to do what you feel like you do best and own the complexion, body, platform, and space you’re in. Speaking out against harmful language, addressing intergenerational trauma, implementing the change you want to see in your field of study/passions, and surrounding yourself with people that look like you, think like you, help advance your pursuits, and appreciate you are a giant step in real life and on digital spaces.

3. Finding genuine intimacy and peace

To find genuine intimacy with others, know that it is okay to be vulnerable and that vulnerability and strength aren’t mutually exclusive. Being open to starting relationships outside your comfort zone (whether racially, culturally, or sexually speaking) and accepting the treatment you deserve is a big indicator of growth and wanting to live in peace. You are allowed to develop boundaries and standards for your relationship, as well as paying attention to red flags and how that person shows up for you when you feel like your livelihood is on the line and when you’re letting your guard down.

4. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and patiently waiting

This uncomfortable period of feeling alone and feeling in-between does not last forever, so don’t stop living your life because of leaps of faith you’re taking. Being patient is key and knowing you’re new self already lies within you.

Marian Haile is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. A literature graduate, she believes that storytelling and analyzing history can assist in developing an understanding of those around us and ourselves. You can follow her Instagram @marianhaile.

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