Note: I have used the term “recovery” here to include any process of healing from dysfunctional behaviors, outdated belief systems or traumas.
Human beings are unconsciously drawn to what we know. If what we’ve always known is suffering, our familiarity with struggle can be a threat to us coming into the life we want. It happens all the time in the world of substance and behavioral addictions—on one level, people want to get better. On another, they fight tooth and nail to stay the same.
Most people in recovery have an intimate relationship with suffering. And so wellness tends to feel simultaneously promising and intensely frightening.
If Ten of Pentacles represents a life studded with the things that are most precious and valuable to us, Knight of Swords is the aspect of the psyche that is wholly uncomfortable in and even threatened by our growing connection to that space. Knight of Swords lives inside each of us, and shows up in the ways we self-sabotage, fall back on old behaviors, and draw on psychological defense mechanisms that don’t serve us.
The Devil represents addiction and compulsive behaviors. He reminds us not to underestimate the elaborate ways in which the Knight of Swords aspect will express in our patterns of behavior—all to ensure that growth does not happen. All to keep us “safe” in the home frequency of struggle.
Adaptive as we are as a species, our minds haven’t evolved to be especially welcoming toward change. Change is inherently uncertain, and we are the descendants of ancestors who lived in wilder environments where uncertainty could have easily meant death. It makes sense, then, why even positive change is often experienced as a grave threat in some corners of our psyche. And that’s when the Knight of Swords shows up, to cut off fresh growth wherever it is longing to burst forth.
Our resistance to change is not a personal shortcoming. It is a part of what makes us human. Knowing this about ourselves can help us extend compassion within when we feel reluctant. To cling tighter to our values. To muster a willingness to feel fear and still move forward. In knowing that resistance to change is coded into our DNA, we are empowered to choose change anyway.
When we’re in struggle or crisis, we see getting well as a golden ticket to a life that will be sweet and cozy and safe. We see it as an end that, once reached, promises perpetual peace and ease, and a sure end to the troubles of our lives before.
But it doesn’t usually work that way. There are stages of shock and grief that we go through during the processes of healing and recovery. It is during these stages that we are most vulnerable (Nine of Wands) to attack by the psychic Knight of Swords, calling us back to our old ways, growling, “where do you think you’re going? Your old life wasn’t so bad now, was it?”
It is wise to consider recovery and healing—from anything—more of a process than an end point. Like an ongoing battle that sometimes involves moments of rest but ultimately doesn’t really end. To be in longterm recovery requires that we be willing to ruthlessly defend the things we hold dear, and to tirelessly redefine and affirm what those things are. Because our priorities change as we heal. Things that once mattered become meaningless.
And little by little, we find ourselves playing catch up as what once felt impossible becomes feasible. We start with normalcy, living a life that isn’t under constant attack by dysfunctional behaviors (Nine of Wands). Then we begin to experience reciprocity in relationships. And then intimacy. And thriving.
To ensure our safety from the Knight of Swords, The Star says that we must be vigilant about gazing and moving toward the things that matter to us. That we must use what’s precious as a compass, an internal north star, guiding us through the psychic desert that we must pass through on our way from an old life to a new one.
It is scary to move forward without knowing what will be there when we arrive. What it will feel like, who we’ll meet. But when we look to our values, we know we must move forward, no matter what. Our values are the things that keep us in alignment with God, Spirit, or the Universe. They are how we stay on the path in the midst of traps and temptation.
When we are committed to a path of healing and recovery, we are on it for better or for worse—there are downs and ups, like a ferris wheel. We see life from new vantage points almost daily, and it sometimes feels as if we have left the old life behind absolutely. In some ways, we have. But we will continue to cycle and pass through some of the same lessons again and again (Wheel of Fortune) to reinforce, deepen, and ensure that we’ve truly learned them.
And we should be gentle with ourselves if we find the Knight of Swords driving us back to old ways, from time to time. Ask anyone in long term recovery from anything and they will tell you: Relapse is as much a part of the process as are moments of intense clarity and hope.
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