Stepping Away

Starting this blog almost two years ago required both courage and enough stability to respond to the internal wobbles and overwhelm that sharing openly and honestly about hard topics can bring. I have felt both courageous and incredibly shaky during this journey. Sharing the deepest and darkest feelings, thoughts, and fears that I hold inside of me is not an easy thing to do…even in this semi-anonymous blog space.

Yet here I am almost two years later, lost in struggle and staring at my white flag of surrender. I don’t really want to pick it up. I definitely don’t want to wave it. Hell, I don’t even want to look at it. But the cloudy-at-best purpose that I entered into this blogging world with two years ago has been consumed by a thick dark fog.

I am lost.

I can no longer see where I am going and what the point of any of this even is. I am lacking purpose, direction, value, and an overall will to continue here. I don’t understand all that I am feeling, but I know it isn’t healthy. Something has to change. Something has to give.

I cannot tell if this decision I am making at the moment is an act of self care or self destruction. Perhaps I will gain more clarity down the road. But for now I am choosing to stop – to step away. I am not quitting. I am not letting the darkness that feels stronger than me fully take over. But I am also not going to wallow in this dark space and continue to write and share what feels like endless meaningless drivel either.

I am intentionally resisting the strong urge to abruptly shut this blog down entirely. Instead I am going to quietly retreat and let my wishing tree go dark for a while. Maybe it will feel right at some point to return, or maybe it will feel right to permanently delete it all.

Perhaps…someday…until then…so long.

Stillness

watercolor painting – by Sara

There is a brief moment right after a snow storm, before the sun and wind remove the fresh fallen snow from every branch and surface that it drapes like a blanket. These calm and quiet wintry moments beg me to come find them – to venture out in nature for a hike or snowshoe and witness a familiar scene wearing a fresh coat of new colors. The stillness of these moments inspires a stillness within, especially in calming places like this one.

see details about this painting on my Etsy shop

The Sound of the Imposter

“Who do you think you are? Your work has no place and no value outside of the walls you live in. It’s laughable – like a little kid trying to sell pages from her own coloring book. You’ll see. This will amount to nothing more than another mountain of evidence supporting the fact that you are nothing but a drain – on money, resources, and those around you.”

This is the loud voice I hear as I try to attempt something new for myself. I have officially opened an Etsy shop where I am creating original works of art for sale. I have no clear expectations for this shop – just a bit of a scrappy adventurous spirit doused with hope while swimming in a sea of murky doubt. When I advertise this site to the rest of the world it will be presented with a strong exterior of confidence that I belong here and that this venture will prove worthwhile. But this wordpress site, my wishing tree, is a place where I choose to be honest about what lies behind the masks I wear each day. So on this day, while my mask is adventurous, hopeful, and determined; underneath I am nothing more than a puddle of insecurity, shame, and feeling like an enormous imposter. I hear all of my doubts – all of my fears – all of my worries – all of my shame. It’s loud, it’s ugly, and it’s not going anywhere. I am afraid of how failure might impact me in this somewhat fragile point in my life. I am fearful that I may not be able to handle one more rejection. I feel the weight and worry of all of that, and I’m showing up anyway. I type these words with the cringe on my face that best describes how I feel in this moment.

Welcome to my new Etsy site:

ScenicHuesbySara

https://www.etsy.com/shop/ScenicHuesbySara?ref=profile_header

The Portal

Round and round, back and forth, it moves in erratic loops. My eyes are drawn to it. It isn’t creepy to me as most insects are. It’s just a tiny bug crawling around on the floor of my therapist’s office no more than a few feet away from me. I hear my own voice in my head, curiously wondering where this tiny bug is trying to go. Then I wonder why I am wondering about the bug. I hear my therapist’s reassuring words that I am safe, reminding me where I am, and asking me questions I don’t know how to answer. I hear more words – they come from inside and feel like a reminder. “The bug is here – in your therapist’s office. You are in your therapist’s office too.” Those words seem to repeat like a mantra as my eyes continue to follow its unpredictable pattern across the floor.

I feel confused and scared. I can’t sit still. Something feels loud inside.

I see the bug. I know it is there. I know it is in this safe room with me. But that’s not what the young one inside of me sees. She sees the blinds in his bedroom. It doesn’t make sense. I look away from the bug to make the blinds go away. It works. I look back at the bug. The blinds come back again. I look away again. I don’t understand. I don’t know how to vocalize what is happening. It’s a bug on the floor in my therapist’s office. Just follow the bug. If you can see the bug then you are in this room with her.

I know I am safe here, but I can’t stop shaking. My body doesn’t feel safe. The young one inside of me doesn’t feel safe. Finally I reveal what she sees. She is confused. She thinks the bug and the blinds are the same – an indication that we must disappear from our body into them because something bad is about to happen. She thinks we’re not safe. She thinks we need to go away now. But I know it’s not the same. I feel my body fidgeting. I can’t stop moving. I can hear my therapist’s voice reminding me where I am – reminding me that I didn’t do anything wrong. I need the young one to hear that too. But she can’t hear it. She’s too afraid. She feels an urge to apologize and an urge to go away – somewhere far away inside of herself. I feel it too. I feel me. I feel her. I feel scared trying to hold both of us in this space. It feels slippery – like I could easily get lost here. I keep looking at the bug as if it’s some sort of portal of connection between me and her. But the portal feels hypnotic. If I look too long I start to believe what she sees too. In and out I move from my thoughts to hers, from my eyes to hers, from my body to hers. It moves faster and holds on longer and makes me dizzy and I feel sick inside. It’s hard to see. It’s hard to remember what is mine and what is hers. It blends. It confuses.

She begins to cry – big heavy tears. I don’t know why we are crying, but she does. She knows exactly why and that is enough for me. I let the tears that she’s been holding in for all these years pour out from me. It feels explosive, and I don’t have any say in what it looks or sounds like. I don’t like it. But in this moment we are as close as we can get. I feel everything she holds overflowing from me – everything she has felt and needed to release but never had a safe place for.

When the shaking and crying finally stops I breathe. Everything slows down. My awareness returns to the room and my sweaty body that sits in bewilderment at what just transpired. I feel embarrassed. I don’t fully understand what or how that just happened. I don’t want to look at my therapist. I’m worried about what she thinks of me. Shame tries to creep in and pollute this healing moment. Shame tries to attach this feeling to what it knows from other times. It tries to tell me that positive feelings of relaxation, release, or relief are gross and wrong. It tries to tell me that it’s the same as all the times pleasure was mixed with pain. It tries to convince me that I did something bad again.

My therapist’s reassuring eyes encourage me to look into hers, and her words remind me that I did nothing wrong. This helps to loosen this shameful feeling that sticks to me like thick tar. The shame doesn’t go away, but it doesn’t drown me either.

I feel something else too. I feel this young one relax just a little bit inside of me. It feels like maybe she’s been given a moment that she has desperately needed. She’s been waiting for this safe place to share what burdens her and shed these tears for a very long time. This makes me feel like maybe I did something right in my therapist’s office this time. And although I get a strong feeling inside that there are more tears to come another day it feels okay in this moment to close my eyes just for an instant and breathe. And that feels okay for the young one too.

Seasons #8

acrylic painting – by Sara

This series of art is inspired by the symbolic nature of the beauty within the changing seasons. It is a reminder to slow down, pay attention, and soak in the details of each moment. When I am in struggle painting helps to clear my mind and make space for thoughts outside of the ones that feel pressing and consuming. This painting presented a lighting and color challenge that I thoroughly enjoyed. I found myself delightfully immersed in the variety of warm and cool colors found in this serene winter scene.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”

Albert Camus

A Dream Of Safety

Her eyes are fixed, not on the slender blinds that cover the window across the room, but on the tiny spaces that exist between each and every horizontal slat that make up these blinds. These spaces allow the soft glow of the streetlight nearby to enter the darkness of the room she occupies. Just enough space to capture the flash of headlights that she hopes will soon appear for her. She stares at these small spaces wishing to disappear into them. Maybe if she can focus hard enough and long enough she will be pulled from this place and can breathe in the safety of what might exist beyond them.

A sudden spray of scattering light is cast on the walls all around her. The soft hum of an approaching car engine breaks the deafening silence and becomes the definitive sign. “They’re here! They came back for me,” she thinks. Thunderous slamming of doors and hurried footsteps signal a wave of protective care as it bursts into the house. Instantly they appear before her, overwhelming this small room like flooding water. They lunge forward, ripping him away from her, and sending him helplessly flying across the room and into a shameful motionless heap on the floor. They immediately turn their attention to her. They drop down beside her, moving in slowly and thoughtfully, offering safety in the focused gaze that looks deeply into her eyes. Without words they can see all of the fear and pain that lies behind her dazed and trembling stare. Her body is carefully and firmly wrapped up in a soft blanket and scooped up into the protective arms that came to save her. These arms wrap around her with such strong and tender care. She slowly softens into them, recognizing that she is now safe. And although her body continues to shiver, she closes her eyes. She can rest now.

New lights and colors begin to glow through the blinds and into this small space, and new footsteps are heard as she is removed from here. The protective arms take her away, straight out the door, past the flashing lights and commotion from strangers in uniform that begin to enter through the same door that she was carried out from. The arms hold her close, letting her soft sobs be cradled and absorbed into them. She feels so small and so safe in these arms that seem almost designed to hold and protect her. “Can I stay here forever?” she wonders as she slowly drifts off to sleep.

The blinds fall back into focus. The tiny gaps between them, glowing softly from the nearby streetlight, remain unchanged. It is dark and quiet around her. She is alone now, but she can sense that it hasn’t been that way for long. All of the hope of rescue that she felt just moments ago has vanished. In its place is a heavy weight that she cannot name but instead must learn to carry. She brings herself to her feet and scrambles to recover her scattered clothes, all while continuously and deliberately swallowing the rising lump that burns from within. There will be no more tears here. She must figure out a way to become the strong arms that she needs to carry herself out of here. She will have to learn how to emerge as her own hero.

Taking A Leap

acrylic painting – by Sara

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

This first step I am taking feels more like a giant barefooted and blindfolded leap – a leap right towards all of the thoughts that try to convince me to stay still, silent, and small. This painting marks the beginning of this leap.

Next month I plan to enter a new adventure – attempting to begin selling my artwork. I am in the process of creating an Etsy shop and will provide the link here on my blog once it is up and running.

It’s exciting to inch towards this new adventure, and it’s also terrifying. I know I am not alone in my thoughts of not being good enough or talented enough or whatever enough to attempt a new challenge. I know that even on the day I choose to open my shop and attempt to market and sell my work to others for the very first time that the voice inside that screams “your art is not good enough to exist anywhere outside of the walls you create it in” will still be there. And it might even get louder.

But I have to try.

Why? Because as long as I’m still breathing I need to keep trying. And right now I really need to try something new. I feel so incredibly broken inside. This feeling of being insignificant – that it wouldn’t matter if I just suddenly disappeared from the world – is immense sometimes. And it feels like it’s growing. I have this new default answer that comes to my mind every single time I meet someone new and they ask me what I do for work. I hate that it’s my first thought. I hate that it’s such a strong thought. But it comes screaming forward in response to that question every single time.

What do you do for a living? I take up space.

I need to push back on that thought. I need to find a way to create a new answer that I can fully believe in. When I paint that thought and that feeling shrinks just a little bit. It gives me space to breathe. It creates room for possibility. It gives me a momentary sense of purpose.

That is how I arrived here. Full of doubt, loaded with questions, and sprinkled with hope. This new adventure feels like something worth pursuing.

The Second Arrow

I recently filled my ears with a podcast in a moment when I needed a distraction – when my own thoughts were leading me to unhealthy places. On this particular day it was Glennon Doyle’s “We Can Do Hard Things” podcast which often leaves me both smiling and quietly contemplating after I venture into an episode. During this recent episode a Buddhist parable was explained. The message sunk in deeply when I heard it and has stayed with me ever since.

Imagine yourself walking through a forest when you are suddenly struck by an arrow. The arrow causes intense unavoidable pain. Then a second arrow strikes causing even more pain. Could the second arrow have been avoided?

Each time we suffer a misfortune two arrows fly our way. The first arrow is an event or circumstance that is out of our control. We don’t get the job, receive a bad medical diagnosis, or a global pandemic happens. This arrow causes inevitable pain. It is out of our control. The second arrow is how we respond to the first one. It’s the one we have control over. If we respond to the first arrow in an understanding, open, and compassionate way we can avoid the strike of the second arrow. But if we respond in a way that simply adds more pain then we are essentially stabbing ourselves with this second arrow.

Recently while out for a run with my leashed dog I encountered a couple walking their own dog. I approached them from behind and made a quick pass, swinging out into the middle of the road as I went by them. Their dog, on a leash as well, reacted aggressively but was restrained by the owner. Immediately after I passed them I heard shouting. I stopped and turned and then proceeded to receive an earful of barking from this couple who was upset because they felt that I didn’t give them enough space when I passed them. They were loud and abrasive. Surprised by their anger, I listened and apologized for not giving them adequate space while also reminding them that they turned around and saw me coming, which assigns a shared responsibility for each party to know their own dog’s behavior and respond accordingly. My dog was not the one that reacted aggressively in this situation so it seemed off to me to be blamed for their dog’s behavior. Nevertheless they felt I passed too closely, so I apologized and was on my way. No harm done – so you would think.

I carried on with my run with my dog by my side and proceeded to replay this encounter over and over and over again in my mind. At first I was proud of how I handled it. I thought they were unreasonably angry and confrontational, and my reaction diffused the situation and got me out of there quickly. But I was angry too. So as I ran I began to play out in my mind a variety of responses I could have said – some polite and direct and others not at all helpful but tremendously satisfying to think about. Then I started to feel less proud of the way I handled the situation. I let these unreasonable people yell at me. I didn’t even fully stand up for myself. I accepted all of the nonsense they were shouting by apologizing when I didn’t even believe I owed them an apology. I began to feel more angry and self righteous. I then started playing out scenarios in my mind about what I would say or do if I came across them again. This went on for my entire run. A time that I rely on to clear my mind and settle my system, and there I was getting all worked up over something so very small. When I got home it continued in my mind for quite some time. I kept catching myself going back to this story in my head again and again. It went on for hours. I couldn’t stop it no matter how many times I told myself to let it go.

After listening to Glennon’s podcast and hearing about this tangible idea of the arrows I realized how often I repeatedly stab myself with the second arrow. I do it in really small situations, like with the couple and their dog where I let those moments steal hours from me in rumination. And I do it with much bigger and more consequential situations where I let those moments become evidence of my brokenness and worthlessness. I take that second arrow and stab the hell out of myself with it until the next one comes. Then I pick that one up and repeat the process.

This blinding dose of self awareness makes me notice two things. First, it makes it seem more possible to change how I feel and how I self destructively respond in different situations. It may be a huge undertaking, but breaking it down into this simple example of arrows offers a sense of control over the outcome – a path towards less self inflicted pain. It also makes me feel bad, almost shameful, to notice how often and how strongly I react this way and how much energy and healthy thinking I rob from myself in the process. Just recognizing how much of a self-destructive default pattern this is for me ignites a natural urge to stab myself with an arrow for it.

This parable is such a simple lesson. We get hit by arrows every day. Things happen. Our car breaks down, we don’t get the job, a relationship fails, a couple yells at you on a run, or (as I am coping with this week) your therapist takes a vacation. We can’t control any of those things. But each time we respond in a way that doesn’t serve us well we are simply allowing ourselves to be struck by a second arrow.