I came across a quote from the fabulous Laverne Cox the other day: "By doing the work to love ourselves more, I believe we will love each other better."
That simple line holds so much resonance for me. You see, there was a time I did not love myself enough. I didn't even realize it. I knew I was struggling with anxiety and unhappiness, but wasn't everyone? I knew I could be caustic, but that was what everyone around me was like too, so it seemed like the way humans just were.
I was not a happy person. I had no center. No grounding. And I was so caught up in worrying about what others thought, and how to pay my rent, and if that cute friend of my roommate liked me, that it did not even occur to me that my unhappiness might be stemming from a lack of self-understanding.
I had been going to therapy and certainly that helped. I talked and talked and talked and worked stuff out. For sure. But I lived in my head. I was completely disconnected from my heart and body (although I probably would have rolled my eyes at you if you had said that to me).
And then I moved to New Mexico. Everything was different there. Slower. More soulful. I found a therapist, but this time I did something different - I began to work with an art therapist.
At first the work was really hard for me. I was mortified to share any "art" I made in session. I apologized for my incompetency. I cringed at my drawings. I wasn't an artist, I made crap stuff, it was all embarrassing, what was I even doing there? But slowly, with her steady presence, I stopped making so many excuses for my work. I began to relax into the process and enjoy talking about what I made with her.
And I started to make art at home. I played with art supplies. I experimented with color. I had fun. I didn't have a clue that this was a formative time in my life - that these evenings of art would lead me to be where I am now. But I did know I was on to something that felt good in a really healing way.
Two big things happened during this time. First, these recurring nightmares that I had had since childhood completely shifted. For years and years (I was five when I first remember one) I had nightmares of being in the dark but unable to turn on any lights. I might be in a room surrounded by lamps, but no matter what I did, they never turned on. It was completely terrifying to me. But now when I hit a switch, there was light. Beautiful, safe light. I even remember having a dream in which as soon as I turned on a light, five singers in matching outfits began to serenade me, assuring me I was doing just fine. This was just miraculous to me.
I began to have moments of pure joy. I felt calmer. I slowed down. I noticed the beauty of the clouds. I let myself notice the beauty of the clouds. More than once I stopped on the side of a highway to get out of my car and stare. (New Mexico has magic skies like that. They are extraordinary.)
And here's the other big thing: I began to trust myself. All parts of myself. I had been taught that my intellect was everything. Any other part of how I interacted with the world was small, insignificant, silly even. My open experimentation with creativity slowly made space for my intuition to reemerge. I began to trust myself in a way that was completely new. I started to value the artistic and emotionally-based pieces of me. I came into more balance. I felt myself becoming more whole.
The upshot of all of this is that I discovered more of me. These parts were already there, of course, but I had shoved them in a drawer because of messages and experiences that told me they were not valid. Our society is a tough one. It's based on shame and scarcity and always moving to achieve and succeed and climb the ladder to the next rung. We are never told we are good enough right where we are, right as we are. We are not encouraged to stop and consider who we genuinely are inside instead of who we should be to conform to what society identifies as "right."
There are no right answers to creativity and art-making. They are expressions and explorations. Moments on a journey. You really can't do them wrong (and if anyone tells you you can, turn around and walk the other way). Practicing doing things that allow you to be just you is a darn healthy and healing activity. Throw in the importance of expressing ourselves authentically and creatively, and you have a pretty potent process.
I am so grateful to that art therapist and my life-changing time in New Mexico. When I said yes to something new, I embarked on a path of healing and growth. Now I make art all the time, just because it's fun and I know that I feel better when I am doing it regularly. Sure, there have been twists and turns on my journey since then, but here's where I am right now:
I really like myself.
I trust myself - all parts of myself.
I value all parts of me, even the ones that don't fall neatly into a generally accepted societal category. And the ones that aren't always so pretty.
I am happy to wake up in the morning and live my life just as it is.
Those are pretty great things, and ones I did not feel for many, many years. I have therapy to thank, yes, and the natural self-acceptance that grows with age. But so much - SO MUCH - of my growth has come because I allowed myself to play and experiment and practice self-compassion and embrace my inner creativity. And make art.
Now I help others find their whole selves. As a Creativity Coach I don't do therapy, but I do use art and creativity to help folks experience those big inner shifts. To get to know themselves better. To find joy and play and to trust themselves - all parts of themselves.
You are creative, you know. If you feel stuck or unhappy, or like only a part of you is visible, making art and being creative might be something that helps. It sure helped me. You can find a group to play with. Or gather some art materials and experiment with no expectations. I offer twice monthly online workshops called Community Creates as well as one-on-one coaching if that sounds like something you might like. And remember, above all, be curious and self-compassionate.
If you want to talk more about this, reach out. Shoot me an email at email@example.com. Or set up a free chat through my Calendly. You can do that HERE. Or come to a Community Create, a twice monthly, online creativity workshop. Low pressure, no art experience necessary, and filled with fun!