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Sin Eater

There are memories and there are memories. Until recently I know I have memories of five years lived in an old post and beam house for twelve years of my young adulthood. I can remember the spaces of that house in the time before my wife got together, yet when I go to the years when we were together there was no-thing but blackness. I close my eyes and see a black bar in my field of vision.

The house was old, built in the mid-1800s. There was no insulation in the walls and when it rained hard water poured into the always musty dirt basement. The garage was something from another time with a door that would only fit the smallest of compact vehicles. There were old, rusted out oil filters in the woods and broken glass in the garden. The toilet base was rotted out and rocked a bit when you sat down anything but perfectly straight.

Yet the house had it’s charm. The high ceilings made summer living more comfortable and tulip poplar floors lent warmth each day of the year. Each spring I would climb up on the roof with a couple, few gallons of roof patch and attempt to keep new leaks on the roof and chimney from accelerating. Eventually, this house grew into a homestead and that homestead grew into a vegetable farm. It was imperfect and it was my amazing home.

Some years after I moved out the house was stripped and then burned by the fire department in a training. I got to watch the house burn to the ground. That, I remember. It was a cold January day in the teens and wet, cold fire fighters trudged in and out looking exhausted. There were smoke trails running from the windows and doors. Finally, they lit the fire that would take the place down for a whole lot less money than having an excavator do the same.

The house went up and I could feel the heat coming through the windshield of the car I sat comfortably in. Flames now licked out of the windows and as the exterior caught the chimney picked up a serious lean before falling into the yard. The wood house went up like a pile of matches, scalding nearby maples and peeling back their bark. In minutes there was little left of the structure besides a big hole that the flaming remains of the house collapsed into.

That house had been my home for twelve years. It was where I learned the joy of wood heat, where I learned to grow vegetables for a living, and where my wife and I had lived for the last five years of her able bodied life.

Just like that house, much of my childhood has been shrouded in black, only coming back in bits and pieces as those same bits and pieces of me return with the sustained effort of healing. I can still remember the big pieces of my childhood, the fights and battles and tears and mindfuckery. The well worn patterns of my childhood stand out most of all when I’m called to look back.

One pattern is my perception, my wondering, of whether I am my family’s sin eater. Sin eaters of old consumed literal meals that were, metaphorically, the sins of a recently departed soul. These sin eaters were poorly compensated for taking on the karma incurred by another’s departed family member. Whether this worked is largely irrelevant, however consider for a moment the dynamics of someone hiring another to become the vessel of a deceased family member’s lifelong sin is an incredible proposition. The premise of sin eating is that another that is expendable takes on the ill made decision of the deceased to clear this person and the family line. One is used so that another may get out of their experience on Earth without consequence. While so-called modern humans have given up the overt practice of sin eating, we continue to ask those that come after us to bear a heavy burden in their own.

Children are emotional sponges. Have you ever seen a kid on the playground picking on other kids with words that are very un-kid-like popping out of their mouths? I wonder where they heard those harsh words. Children are mimics. The home(s) that they live in are their reality, their only reality now that everyone is boxed up in hermetically sealed sticks and bricks. This environment can be amazing, or it can be a tortured hell. Which it becomes depends on the so-called adults in the room and their level of awareness and emotional intelligence.

I grew up with a father that’s emotionally five in one house and a mother that is a persistent 13 years old. Neither acknowledge their emotions. One pushes them down so that he can remain safe in all circumstances while my mother vacillates in extremes from endless tears to manic episodes. One ruled with fear and control while the other had little consistent structure or any illusion of control. Both governed with unspoken rules and expectations that led me to wonder whether they were making up the rules as they went along or if I was crazy. Both failed to have consistency that marked a stable frame in their parenting, and both expected their little one’s to be adults in any moment where a rule was violated or when their emotional needs were unmet.

My mother would rock in the chair of her deceased mother, as if wishing to either go back to her own childhood or sit with her mother one last time. In that space she would reach out with what seemed like tentacles and attempt to suck me into her despair, as if a child had the ability to relieve her of pain. “I cannot help myself, help me,” she clinged. These were her desperate, despairing moments. The ones that she would fall into after extreme anger, grief, frustration or physical violence. Whether she called for help or not, I became less and less willing to engage her with my time and attention.

There is a memory though, in the wayback. I was little, maybe five or six. My mother sat weeping in a chair with her hands over her eyes. I put my hand on her shoulder in comfort.

What happened after that, I cannot say. I wonder if it was the first beginning of a toxic emotional enmeshment or slick, sticky codependency. Whatever this wordless sense was, I had compassion and understanding stripped from me because of her endless need and unwillingness to help herself.

My father is a carrot and stick or hammer and nail kind of guy. When he wants something from you, even if that want is a life lesson he has chosen to grace me with, he would tie a carrot to a string and dangle it in front of me. “Do this and you’ll get the candy,” he seemed to say. As soon as I grabbed the carrot, I got the switch in the form of sadistic, premeditated lashings of words and consequences that still ring of contrived covert manipulation.

To be clear, when I say that he was a ‘hammer and nail kind of guy’, I mean that he was the hammer and I was the nail. Never an accomplished woodworker like my grandfather, my father was rarely consistent in the delivery of a blow. Like a young man days on the job, he swung overly hard or too wildly and sometimes injured himself in the process by exposing his agenda, sadistic intent, or hypocrisy. Once exposed, he believed he could remedy the problem by swinging his hammer with renewed and increased force, as if strong enough blows could erase his mistake from memory. Unfortunately for me, I was both the nail and the witness, and I learned to take those blows without allowing any evidence of aroused feeling.

In all of this, my parents asked me to take on their unprocessed shit. Picture your own parents for a moment. How old are they emotionally? How have you decided to respond differently with your partner, your kid or yourself?

My baggage is unprocessed grief, rejection and betrayal. My baggage is having believed myself to be the nail pounded relentlessly into a wall by one or another emotional terrorist. My baggage is having been born into a dysfunctional family where the so-called adults in the room were callously blind to the natural consequence of their violent words and harsh (re)actions. They asked me to eat the sins of their lives, passed to me through generations of dysfunction. Here lies transgenerational trauma. The sins of the father. The sins of the mother.

Sin is a loaded word. I’m not a believer in a biblical or religious sense. The totality of fear based control leveraged against innocents by a malevolent hierarchy of old white men is not my jam. Yet, the concept of sin is interesting to me. I know this reality to be a mirror. I know that what I give I receive. “As above, so below. As within, so without.” The fucking bible doesn’t have a monopoly on natural law, the Hermeticists knew this long before old men sliced and diced the bible to suit their desire to control, use and abuse human communities for their own wants and needs.

This sin, if one can accept this reality as a mirror, is to one’s self. Unprocessed anger and guilt and loss and sadness puts these emotions, internally, in a pressure cooker. These repressed emotions become longstanding resentment, betrayal, shame, rejection and frustration that foment with no hope of escape except when one becomes triggered. These repressed emotions become an internal prison where one becomes their own prison guard, the self enforcing old rules and patterns and, most substantially, belief.

Truly, both authors and recipients of family dysfunction come to believe that ‘this is how it is’, and they cannot see or feel beyond what they believe of themselves to be true.

I am the misfit.
I am the outcast.
I am the black sheep.
I am the scapegoat.
I am the sin eater.

This becomes the survivor’s world. This belief. This perception of who and what they are is based on what has happened to them. Yet, in all of these archetypes there is the longing to return to a space of liberation. This desire is innate, I have come to understand. Let’s test this. . .

If you grew up in a dysfunctional family and you’ve made it this far in this article, please check in with yourself.

How do you feel?

Where do you feel it in your body?

Is this feeling familiar or new?

If this feeling is familiar, you know it is a trigger. You know the past is coming into the present because that is the nature of a trigger. Because you know this, perhaps you can acknowledge that there is work to be done here, something from the past to unpack in a tender moment with a dear one. Is it possible that simply acknowledging this feeling, bringing awareness to it, is an aid in and of itself?

Be honest, do you really want to live with this shit any longer?


I decided for myself in 2018. I came to the conclusion that my family’s dysfunction was a delusional hamster wheel, and it was a ride I could tolerate no longer. I had just gone through a series of hypnosis sessions and had a vision of what I was truly capable of. It didn’t matter so much whether I stumbled along the way, I knew I had found a pathway out of my self-imposed prison and I didn’t give a damn if the wall I was tunneling through was 100 feet thick.

In all of our old, repressed junk that we don’t want to look at, let alone feel, there are gifts. One of those many, many gifts is the possibility of reliving it once so that we get off the looped pattern of living it over and over and over again with our partner, our kids, and ourselves. Liberation from these long standing belief systems is possible, even for the lowly sin eater.

Hypnosis. Energy work. Plant medicine. Soul retrieval. Yoga. Massage.
All the tools in the box.

This emotional shit is stuck in my body, maybe in yours too. It is trapped energy that is keeping me from living my best, most amazing life. The stuckness is the feeling that comes back around, that familiar feeling of here we go again before the argument, the fight, the tears. It’s the unexpected blast from a baton of the prison guard, maintaining order within one’s self even when we know that the way things are is not what we want for ourselves, let alone anyone else. It’s the hope that we pour into our kids as witnesses of their innocence, or desire that they be free in ways we have not yet discovered.

If we zoom out far enough, if we understand that kids are emotional sponges, if we can admit that this reality is a mirror to our own internal states of being and feeling, then we know that we’re expressing all of our unprocessed emotional shit all the time until we unpack it. That sounds heavy, unpacking. It feels like something another might not want to look at, let alone feel.

Would you rather feel it one more time, or on a patterned loop of triggers and reactions you cannot yet see past?

Do you want to hand your kid all of the shit you weren’t brave enough to reflect back on, to review from a new perspective?

I know you’re bigger than that. I know you’re the adult in the room. I know that once you set out to do it, there is no-thing that might stand in your way.

So, this is self-forgiveness work. To admit that you made a mistake, then to acknowledge that mistake and choose again how you want to move through the world knowing what you know now. Whether that choice is made in the negative (I don’t want to be like them/that) or in the positive (I want this in my life) is important, yet we are where we are and both perspectives are valid when approaching healing.

Then, at some point, after one has licked old wounds, the positive becomes essential. After reflection has percolated and simmered to the delicious scent of a timeworn recipe, the question must be addressed, “what do you want?”

Do you want to carry this shit any longer?

Do you want all of this junk trapped in your mind and body and spirit?

Logically, the question becomes, “What is so important in your life that you are willing to make a change for? What do you want so much that you’d be willing to feel it again one more time knowing that you have all the power you need to release it permanently?”

I mentioned gifts.

What’s the gift of the sin eater that has absorbed his or her family’s junk and crap and bullshit for decades?

It wasn’t ever about you.

It wasn’t ever about me.

It is not your fault.

Really, it had no-thing to do with you or me.

Maybe you grew up with some emotional terrorists of your own. Maybe they taught you their tricks. Yet, their mindfuckery never had anything to do with you. Shared space and experience does not equal complicity. You were simply a bystander to their inner turmoil, their unprocessed and unpacked pressure cookers of rage and resentment, loss and grief, guilt and shame, rejection and self-rejection.

So, how far are you willing to go to never be them again?

How can oppositional defiance be turned and leveraged towards one’s own liberation from the past?

Where might you go, what might you do once you know yourself to be liberated from the heavy chains of the past?

It’s time to rise and shine, folks. That best self, that true self is hiding behind a fog of old crap you never wanted to see, let alone feel. It’s hiding in the back forty waiting for an inner landscape that is safe enough to allow return.

Know that the pieces you lost along the way want and need to come home. They whisper in your dreams and startle you awake with forgotten memories. So, decide. Who and what do you love? How far are you willing to go to reclaim what is rightfully yours, the stolen pieces of yourself?

You are surrounded by love and support, always. And also, you have to ask for it.

“Humanities awakening depends on humanities awakening,” Edward Mannix.

That means the change begins with you.

Right where you stand in this precious moment.

about author


A dad, a kid, a kelpie and two cat brothers rubbertramping around the country doing our best to live authentic lives while awakening to our birthright. 

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