Recently I posted this little gem on FaceBook: So you want to be an artist... a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, doctor, lawyer, or chief--follow your heart, surround yourself with supportive, loving, humorous friends and leap into yourself full-on. I am admittedly, a self-proclaimed obnoxious FaceBooker. There are reasons for this that I will gladly share with anyone that’s interested, but there’s also the restricted setting, the delete button, the stretch, yawn and scroll up or down move and the “why the hell do I care what she’s having for breakfast or if she broke out in hives?” conversation starter to engage your partner in a romantic tête-à-tête about how lucky you are not to be me. Work it. I suppose I am simply pointing out the reality that we all have the choice to relate, respond and interact according to our own needs and desires. I posted this dime-store, arm-chair inspiration after a long-suffering, stuck-in-a-rut, paralysis, stagnation and dread episodic life-time achievement award stretch of time. Deciding to take a few BIG risks, put myself out there and hope for the best, be the artist that I wish to be, was not easy or cheerily achieved, at least not until very recently.
My full-on leaping into myself and a few frightened individuals nearby is in need of some attention and regulation and toning down occasionally, I’ll get there… It beats the alternative, unless of course you are the frightened individual nearby and well, like I just pointed out, choices my friend. Move over to the left slightly or put the squeeze on me, I’ll eventually cry uncle. I might give a little fight but I’m not that big or physically adept, you’ll over take me in a moment of hours….I like to imagine I still have a bit of scrappiness to me, depending on your size and stamina it might be mere seconds.
The launching pad for my full-on leaping seemed to be made up of years of carefully constructed and random acts of despair, with equal counts of hope. I think in many ways it was this equilibrium that kept things stagnant and ambivalent. Vulnerability began to seep into my existence until I was not able to act or live authentically or fully. I suppose I was lying in wait of a great big catastrophic act that would throw things off kilter enough to force change. Fortunately, that came to be, but this is colored with the shiny bright lenses of retrospect and hindsight. At the time of the catastrophic event, nothing seemed fortunate or even manageable. Everything seemed instead full of shame and distrust and unbelievable insanity and then cloaked in the fantasy of thinking I could take it, and manage it and wait it out after learning I couldn’t fix it.
It turns out that shame, and vulnerability and feelings of worthlessness are the very feelings that divide those that achieve whole-hearted lives and those that don’t. It seems I was on the right track all along. It doesn’t need to take as long as I took, try not to get stuck for too long. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, has been studying vulnerability, shame and whole-hearted living. She refers to vulnerability as the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change, and I have to agree. In a conversation she shared on TED talks, The Power of Vulnerability, she shares her findings and offers hope, as she focuses on the value of vulnerability in risk-taking and believing we are enough. She highlights qualities of those that live whole-hearted lives and the benefits of being vulnerable. She also discusses the pain and harm caused by shame and feelings of unworthiness that leads to despair. Feeling worthy and understanding the power of being vulnerable support authentic living. We can’t try new things, put ourselves out in the world and achieve if we don’t understand that we are worthy enough to be loved and alive even when we are vulnerable. It is this vulnerability that creates trust in ourselves and empowers us to achieve. The following excerpt highlights Brown’s findings:
This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee -- and that's really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that's excruciatingly difficult -- to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we're wondering, "Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?" just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, "I'm just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive." And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we're enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, "I'm enough," then we stop screaming and start listening, we're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves.
Around three years ago, I embarked on a train ride three hours north and inadvertently to the start of a new life. What I recall most about this trip was how I suddenly and unexpectedly experienced this overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety. I was so put off by this fear that I quickly started to attempt to understand how this could be possible. It was not plausible. I had traveled alone. I had taken public transportation throughout the entirety of my life in one form or another. I have traveled with others and organized and planned trips abroad for small groups. It didn’t make any sense that the act of taking a train, Amtrak no less, highly respectable mode of transportation, would unravel me. I was anxious. I was fidgeting through my papers, my purse, my laptop. I’m a travel fidgeter, but this was bigger. I was in search of something and I was sure I would not find it here. I was afraid to leave my seat to stretch and afraid to stay seated. I could not get off this train fast enough.
I realized that more than the train being the impetus for my fear, somehow I had discerned that I had lost myself. I had been on a longer journey that encompassed too many years of minimizing myself while zealously attempting to maximize those around me. On that train I seemed to finally notice there was very little left that was familiar. I barely recognized the person I had become and she was somehow at the helm of this trip. What had come crashing down on me was the realization that I was alone on a train- that I was alone, period. That I was alone without even myself to rely on and worse, I was not able to rely on anyone else.
The reality that I was not dealing with was that I was heading north on a train bound to the southern tip of my marriage. I am sure, now, it was probably pulsating in each pore not yet named or implicitly fathomed. How can it be? Few of us end a marriage with certitude and confidence. I was taking the train to spend some time to revitalize and recover my marriage. Instead it was the beginning of me relinquishing, removing myself from it and renouncing the falseness of it. My now former husband had taken his car a few days earlier and this was supposed to be an opportunity to spend a few days alone before driving back together, and so I took the train. The weekend was gentle and unremarkable as we tenuously moved toward the end of a 20 year relationship without entirely understanding or grasping the yet to be determined finality. Perhaps it was remarkable in it’s disquieting calm. Occasionally there were bright moments that felt supportive. There were moments of maybe and occasional glimpses at familiarity. I could not, however, shake the sense of fear that overtook me on the train. There were no attempts to heal or support or erase the damages long endured. Most of what was wrong was never even acknowledged directly it was hidden and tightly concealed. The train ride highlighted for me the depth of vulnerability and a sense of foreboding discomfort that would later force change. I suppose I knew I was not really getting off that train until I reached a new destination.
While the end of my marriage has been difficult and challenging, to put it mildly, the possibility of remaining in it would have been fatal. Maybe not in the melodramatic sense of the word but certainly the death of spirit and vitality was already evident. The vulnerability I felt, in nearly every waking moment and interaction, or perhaps the readiness to recognize the full scope of how it had sedated and paralyzed me is what ultimately saved me.
I hadn’t realized how much I had stopped being me. I had stoically carried on. I stayed busy. I have a tendency toward that busyness thing. I recently spent my first day of summer vacation tearing up my yard and laying stairs and a pathway through the backyard-because I had a day off and I had better fill it. I justify that this is “me”. This busyness is what makes me tick. Except that I often forget to step back and determine whether I am busy to avoid, or busy to fulfill. The yard work was to fulfill. I recently spent a great deal of time uploading pictures from my childhood in a blatant attempt to avoid. I need to apply to school for the program I have finally and happily determined I want to pursue, after months of avoiding and nearly heading down a path I have no need to be on. And quite frankly, some of this school pursuit is also an attempt to avoid managing some other areas of my life that need tighter management. Like paperwork and financial planning for the future, and for the here and now, just little stuff like that.
I had stopped being me, piece by piece, and over time. I think I held on to some remnants. I crafted, rather than created. I mothered. I did this fully and full-on. I sometimes did this very well and I often did this with many flaws and misguided attempts. But I always did this with love. Usually great BIG OVER THE TOP love with maybe sometimes not enough elbow-room for others. I didn’t realize that giving up big pieces of me would interfere with the authenticity of the relationships I had with my children in spite of my large attempts. That revealed itself much later. It turns out it’s hard to prompt and promote and motivate with genuine authenticity while promoting and pretending through a life that is false or superficial. I also did not realize to the full extent that the tension and strife that I had been feeling, made me incredibly stressed. It turns out stress has a way of landing on children in loud bursts of frustration at the fear of not being able to protect your children from things like, stress and fear. I gardened and labored and toiled as a way to make something grow with nurturance and love. My garden thrived. I could not make my marriage thrive or grow, or survive even. I laughed fully, less and less, but sometimes smiled widely. I seldom played, but occasionally with fervor. I was serious, sad, and so entirely uncertain. But I was busy! And afraid. And sometimes smiling with fervor. I was someone else entirely.
I tried to smile through the pain. I shut down and shut out. Alone, I questioned and searched and looked within. I wanted for more and cautiously attempted to initiate, engage or otherwise interest. I was rejected. I attempted to minimize the feelings that followed of deserving to be disregarded but they seeped in until I was almost full of unworthiness. Thankfully I had not given up all of myself. I knew that this did not match the inner reality of me. I was worthy of more. I awoke and slowly rebuilt. I restored and improved. I smiled more, and laughed fully. I made decisions, independently, and did not ask for approval or forgiveness. I got my groove back, and remembered that I had a great big groovy thing going on. I recognized my limitations and my strengths and embraced them both equally. I relied heavily on the kindness and support of a few close friends and I did not buckle under the weight and former shame of asking for, and needing, this help. This may have been the hardest part of my journey, with the exception of forgiving myself. And it was the most important part, the life-reviving part. This sense that we are needed and we need and we are equally worthy of both is what makes us thrive and grow and live fully. We can’t do it alone. We aren’t meant to and we aren’t made to.
I am still working on forgiving myself. For staying. For going. For giving up me. For getting angry. For not getting angry enough. For blaming someone else for not caring enough. For taking on debts and taking on the bulk of responsibilities and then blaming. For thinking that I was helping my children when so much turned out hurtful and could have been avoided. For not seeing things as they were, so flamboyantly loudly, full of fervor they were. I am forgiving myself for not fighting back the untruths and the accusations, and I am forgiving myself for believing it was better to quietly move on. I can’t change anything that happened, I can only move on with acceptance and purpose. I forgive. I hope. I live.
It becomes too easy to blame and begrudge and belittle. We live in a society that celebrates weakness and ugliness more so than it celebrates strength and honor. We create monsters so we can excuse our own transgressions. Or we become the monster someone else created to make them less accountable for their own indiscretions. At the end of the day, I know who I am. I know what I have achieved and what I need to do differently next time out. At the end of each and every day, I know my son is sleeping soundly in a home I have built for him. I know my older children struggle, and play and work and at the end of the day if they need anything, they can and will call me and we will struggle and work and play through it to the end because we are worthy of this life and the love we have to give and take. We value.
I am working on some dastardly patterns that I finally see, full on. There is one in which I throw myself at someone unavailable in an effort to test my worthiness. I throw myself at someone unavailable so that I may avoid finding out if love and trust truly exist beyond my controlled attempts at convincing myself they do not. This has been tested again and again. The results of this test: I am worthy, he is still unavailable-it is time to let go and "to love with my whole heart, even though there's no guarantee -- ". It’s a pattern though, it may need a more comprehensive approach- sandblaster anyone? Lobotomy? A large brick wielded at the right side of my cerebral cortex with precise aim, that's where my art and creativity function, so be careful. Hypnosis? You are sleepy, and hot and worthy, avoid the unmovable. At the count of three you will stop attempting contact with the unavailable. And you will only attend to yourself for the time being. 1….2…..3…. I better go check my messages and send five to see if he is available yet… Patterns die hard, and the first step is recognizing them. The second step is avoiding, denying, minimizing and rearranging. Relinquishing comes later. I have a little time yet. I have a hard time with relinquishing, which explains why I am honestly imagining where it will be tattooed upon my………cerebral cortex ? I’m just not sure if that will have the same impact as the coveted lobotomy. RELINQUISH How will that look on my bosom, my lower back or upper ass, maybe my calf? The trouble is I need to have it in full view all the time. Can they tattoo the inside of my cornea?
I am working on friendships. I am starting new ones and feeding older ones. I have not previously done so well here. I have tried to live alone in privacy to hide or shield or build upon or maybe deny shame and sorrow. I have left friends for relationships, or relocation, or reasons no longer remembered. I have been righteous and I have been reverent and at the end of it all I have realized I have missed out. I have not been a friend fully, because I have not been living fully. I am ready for friendship. I have been blessed with the opportunity to reconnect. I am also recognizing that I have some incredibly worthwhile friends new and old, and I have room for more. I have the desire and determination to work on them and enjoy them fully, finally.
I am working on being an artist. I am creating and experimenting. I am exploring my inhibitions and I am pushing some of my limits. I am exhibiting my work, and I have had success selling a few pieces. I have achieved much more from the support and encouragement of friends and strangers. I have not had any of my biggest fears validated. I have not been questioned or rejected or criticized. Which does not mean I have attained complete adoration and unbridled levels of worship, but that was never the goal. I am an artist. I am working on it and with it and in it. Most of all, I am thriving in it and loving it, the struggle, the challenge, the tension and finally the trust in myself that shines through and makes it possible.
I am vulnerable and I am worthy, and I am so much more.
I have to go, I think this is my stop, it’s been a great ride, except for those several bumpy patches of tumult and fear, but they were also important and worthy and life giving. My soul was nourished on this ride and it was strengthened.