My daughter went through a phase when she was young where she brought a backpack with her everywhere she went. I’m sure this was a phase born from a variety of factors. For one, she was really excited about this new brightly colored backpack that was given to her. She also watched and wished to emulate the grownups in her life who carried important belongings with them in various bags. And she watched just enough kids tv shows, like Dora the Explorer, to know that she wanted to be ready for adventure at any time. So naturally her backpack was filled with everything that her young mind considered essential – a stuffed animal, a toy magnifying glass, a purple beaded necklace, and an empty metal mint container repurposed just in case she needed a place to collect and protect something very small. In her mind she was prepared for anything and carried these valuables with care wherever she went.
I too carry a backpack. But mine is different than the backpack my young daughter carried, and it’s different than the ones you see on the backs of strangers walking down the street. My backpack cannot be seen. It is only felt.
I cannot absorb the kindness of another while in their presence. I try. I sometimes get close. But something exists within me that prevents these types of messages from fully penetrating and resonating in front of others. Instead I have learned that in order for me to feel the full impact of another person’s kindness or support I need to pack up their words and intentions and take them with me. Much like the prized possessions wrapped up and placed in my daughter’s backpack, these messages are protected and carefully carried with me. Later while in solitude I can safely set my backpack down, unzip it, peek inside, and slowly let the messages emerge. Here they can get closer to me, slowly reaching the places within that they were meant for. I can feel a softening inside that was not possible while in the company of others. It feels different. It feels warm and safe and inviting. So I take my time with this process. I let their words linger, fluttering around me at first, weaving and dodging the swift countermeasures that occur from the dark places within. Slowly and carefully they circle around me before landing and softly soaking in. I feel a weightlessness in my chest that makes it easier to breathe. I feel a quieting inside that is almost as startling as it is refreshing. I want to savor these moments. I want to draw them out and let them last forever. So I hold on tight and try to replay their words and their support over and over again in my mind. This often works for me.
Although I wish it was possible to accomplish all of this in the moment, in the face of the one whose words I wish to absorb, that is not a realistic expectation I can place on myself at this time. Maybe someday. But for now my backpack system will suffice. This process has been a part of me for quite some time now. It’s been part of a purposeful progression – of slowly learning to let the kind words of another reach a place beyond the protective surface that tries to filter and distort them. It’s an intentional practice, and one I wish to improve upon.
Lately I have found myself in a recurring place of heavy struggle. My sense of self worth and purpose feels continually challenged by self destructive messages from within. I reach for options and solutions that simply feel like trapdoors, leading me to an ever sinking feeling that the message I am receiving from the universe is that I have no value here. It’s a painfully lonely and desperate hollow feeling that keeps finding me. I can’t see clearly when these thoughts take over, and I feel as though I’ve exhausted all viable options to find my way out.
Surrender is not a choice I wish to consider. So although feelings of being a burden or a soul sucking leach to others are immense at times, I continue to convince myself to reach out for help in the form of therapy and friendship connection. The support is there. I can hear it when I am in their presence. The messages are strong. I can recognize that I need to hold onto them and take them with me. But something isn’t working the same. By the time I reach into my backpack for their supportive words in private it feels like they have disappeared. I can’t find them. They’ve vanished. It’s almost as if a hole has formed in the bottom of my backpack and every ounce of supportive kindness that had been carefully packed in there now trickles out long before I even have the chance to access it. By the time I land in solitude, unzip my backpack, and reach inside I find nothing but dark emptiness. The messages have fallen out somewhere along the way and are long forgotten. I am left with nothing but the internal dialogue that I was trying to override in the first place. I’m left questioning if the messages and support were even real to begin with. Were they ever really there? Were they even meant for me? And why would I think I deserved them?
I keep looking for external ways to pull me out of this dangerous head space I keep finding myself in. What can I do? What can I physically put in place outside of myself to focus on to move forward? While I recognize that external factors cannot fix something broken within, I do know that momentum can be gained from putting certain outside pieces in place for myself. But when I continue to fail in these efforts and begin to spin in thoughts of hopelessness, I wonder how I can possibly continue to keep digging, clawing, and searching to find another way. Maybe nothing can stick. Maybe nothing will help. Maybe there is no outside option right now. Maybe instead of trying to find a way out I need to focus my attention and figure out how to mend the hole in my backpack.
Everyone has their limit. Everyone has their own personal breaking point. What’s yours? Do you think you know? Do you think you could tell if you were getting close to it? What if approaching this limit was like trying to navigate through a thick dark fog after being bound up and spun around in circles a few hundred times? How are you supposed to know where, when, and how to move when you are unable to even recognize where you stand in space? How would you know if you were standing at your edge – at your own personal limit? Maybe it’s only a matter of one step forward, or back, or to the side that spells safety or peril. But how could you tell if you were that close, and how could you possibly determine which way you needed to go?
Maybe you test all conceivable options. You outstretch your leg in each blind direction all around you, mapping the edges of safety with your foot as it carefully reads each surface like Braille. You find that you are trapped and can’t make safe progress unless you find another way. Something from deep within urges you to keep trying – to find another way. So with only the resources on and around you, you build ladders and bridges and try to make them long enough and sturdy enough to connect you to safety. But everything you construct seems to crumble under your own weight. You try to reinforce your failing ladders and bridges with nuts and bolts and duct tape and super glue and silly putty and bubble gum – with anything that might help – with anything that could make a difference. You try everything you can think of to help navigate your way out of this space. Yet you come up short – again and again and again. This leaves you with nothing but disappearing options. So you stand frozen in place for a while, thinking that maybe a new path will emerge if you can just think hard enough and be patient enough – because hope drives you to believe that a way out must somehow still exist. This flicker of hope is what keeps you searching – keeps you driving towards a belief in what might still be possible. You hang onto this hope. You need this hope. It’s your only way.
But what if while you are waiting and searching and holding onto hope the ground begins to crack and crumble and disappear beneath your feet. As you scramble for new options the edge you fear continues to creep closer and closer to you. You try to get smaller. You try to occupy less space than you require, folding yourself into a ball of crumbling hopeless self protection. Your efforts feel futile. You fail time and time again. You begin to feel a sinking force take hold of you – a convincing voice that echoes a message you do not want to own. Yet this voice tries to claim you. It’s message is loud and very clear. It leaves you questioning everything you reach for and everything you search for because none of it can actually be attained. In the end you start to believe this message. In the end it starts to become a part of you. In the end you realize that maybe chasing hope and purpose is nothing more than a fool’s game.
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. While I may currently find myself relating to these barren trees I see before me, a search within for a reframe guides my way towards more hopeful thinking.
“Take a breath and rest your weary soul – for life will bloom again.”
The messages she carries try to convince her that her home is in the darkness that surrounds her and seems to know how to steadily lurk just one step ahead of her. It makes it hard for her to maintain traction on where or even who she is. Yet something inside urges her to focus beyond the darkness – beyond the pain and strain of what pulls at her – and fight like hell to somehow reach the light.
May 11. This date carries incredible significance for me. I wrote about this day one year ago as I ventured into the world of blogging. Today I am revisiting this post to remind myself of what I wish to hold onto – to keep my focus aiming forward towards hope, healing, and empowerment – to remind myself of how far I have come on this journey – to keep raising my voice however shaky it may feel at times – to no longer be silenced.
Four years. Today marks four years since the man who sexually abused me was arrested based solely on my police report. Today marks the pivotal day where this man learned that he can no longer hurt me.
As a reminder of this day I have the lasting image of his mugshot in my mind. His beady tear-filled eyes – his short trimmed spiky hair – his sun damaged wrinkled skin revealing his aging face – a face that is tangled up with countless memories and experiences that I did not choose. However, the most striking detail of this image for me is not in his face but instead the orange jumpsuit that he was wearing. Seeing him in orange in that mugshot four years ago changed the way I viewed him.
In an instant he transformed from a manipulative, haunting, shame inducing abuser to one single redefining word – criminal.
What truths do you possess about yourself? What beliefs about who you are provide a foundation of guiding support in your life? These are questions that have been swirling in my mind this past week. These are questions that don’t seem to have easy answers that I can securely hold onto.
I enjoy hiking. Summit hikes are a particular favorite of mine for the effort it takes to reach the reward of a beautiful panoramic mountaintop view. I love to let my mind wander as I hike, absorbing the surroundings with each turn I take. I don’t have much knowledge or interest in the types of plants and trees I encounter along the way. Instead the artist in me is struck by colors, shapes, and unique features that catch my eye. I’ll stop and study a tree whose trunk is twisted and contorted in awkward directions on its journey upward. I’ll wonder what forces caused such a dramatic shift in its growth. And I’ll marvel at how the tree did not stop growing despite the overwhelming obstacle that required it to shift and adapt. Its twisted shape tells a story of its resilience to grow and adapt against the odds placed before it.
There are so many metaphors that can be connected to the qualities and characteristics of a tree. A resilient twisted trunk, a firmly rooted foundation, swaying branches of openness, renewed blooming life each spring, and rings that record its ongoing journey of growth. If you’re at all familiar with my writing then you’ll understand that metaphors tend to be my language of choice. In fact you don’t even need to look further than the name of my blog to recognize the significance and connection of the tree.
I have spent some time recently talking through this metaphorical concept with a close friend who was asked a question about what qualities and beliefs exist at her core – what makes up the trunk of her tree?
As she described her difficulties in answering this question, I found myself connecting and relating to her struggles. I can find the answers that I want to say – that I think I’m supposed to say. But finding answers that all of me firmly believes in and is proud of is another story. Trying to search for what I deeply and truly believe about myself leads me straight into another metaphor – the spiderweb. I can’t seem to connect to genuine positive answers without feeling tempted, tangled, and pulled into beliefs that I wish to shed from myself. I struggle to feel a genuine connection beyond the dark, dead, and rotting tree trunk that feels like home inside of me. Yet as my friend described this darkness that overrides her system, I felt a calming that only comes from this type of understanding and validation. While we talked and related and joked about our dead trees, I noticed something important. It’s not that I am unable to recognize the qualities in myself that I am proud of. It’s that the messages I learned long ago have twisted and contorted the lens in which I view myself. These messages take all of what I wish to be true about myself and sprinkle poison into it. This makes it difficult for newer and healthier messages to flourish. With all of the healing work I have ventured into, I have felt growth and progress. This is an indication of hope and life within in my tree. Where I find myself stuck is that my progress feels fragile. Just like new leaves that bring life and color to a tree, I experience healing growth. But these leaves are often at the mercy of strong winds that threaten their place on the tree.
I think it is hope that has kept my tree alive for all these years. But I am humble enough to recognize that I need help to keep my hope alive. Connection and support from others helps to bring new life to my tree. It shows me that healing happens both from the flicker of life that shines from within as well as reaching out for the transformative growth and support that can be created from the outside. It comforts me to know that my tree is not the only one twisted and contorted and struggling to maintain life. And that knowledge alone allows hope to flourish and more healing growth to emerge.
Anniversaries are thought provoking. We use the word “anniversary” to label a wide variety of events, each with their own layers of memories and emotions attached to them. We celebrate joyful milestones, and we also acknowledge painful moments in time with this one single word.
A few days ago I received a notice from WordPress acknowledging my one year anniversary of this blog. And just like any anniversary in my life this has generated some deep self reflection. I looked back over my very first post – a post about connection – a message that still resonates deeply for me. This led me to question where I started and where I have come on my writing journey here.
When I started this blog one year ago I found myself grasping for something I could focus on as a global pandemic began to tear through our lives. I wasn’t entirely sure about my purpose and intention here. I think I hoped that my words and actions would carve their own way towards purpose.
There were a few things I was certain of one year ago. I was struggling to maintain my footing in the healing progress I had begun to make. And I knew deep down, no matter how hard shame tried to tell me otherwise, that I was not alone in my feelings and struggles. I struggled then and I struggle now with the idea that my words could possibly have an impact anywhere outside of my own head. Yet here I am one year later still sending my thoughts out into the world.
I write in an effort to untangle the confusion and pain that lives within me. And I share because I know that my experiences exist in the minds and hearts of others as well. I reach for that validating support while at the same time offering it up wherever it may be needed.
Healing – Connecting – Empowering – Thriving. These words appear as the tag line on my site. While the writing and art I express here often comes from the darkest places within me, it is hope that urges me to write, inspires me to draw, and begs me to share. I hope for continued steps in my own healing. I hope for deeper connection within myself as well as with others because healing doesn’t happen from a place of lonely isolation. I hope for empowerment of my young wounded internal parts that were never seen and afforded a voice just as I hope for empowerment and freedom for all of the silenced voices of abuse. I hope and I wish to achieve a state in my own healing journey where my wounds can fully heal – where I can rise with confidence no longer burying but instead wearing the scars of my past as a cloak of all that can be overcome. This is where thriving begins.
One year ago my wishing tree was created and shared with all who welcome my words into their hearts. And now on the first anniversary of this space I created, while I still wrestle with the darkness inside of me that regularly tempts me into silent withdrawal, the gratitude I feel for this community of readers and writers has become a new beacon of healing light.
We were not meant to silently wrestle with our deepest struggles alone. Thank you for being a part of my wishing tree.