What I'm learning, over and over again, about this project and about myself, is that I am continually granting myself permission to tell the story of what it used to be like when I was out there drinking. My mind revisits what it was like and sometimes I get stuck in a moment, and other times I just keep circling the confines of my mind looking for the kernel of truth hiding just underneath the surface of my memories. Walking this labyrinth in Los Osos last weekend reminded me about the meandering path I've been on since the day I chose to quit drinking. All of my little choices and shifts keep returning me to the center of myself and for that, I'm grateful.
The personal and creative work I do feels like a constant returning to my heart, my center. And in choosing to live my life in this way, I feel like I am allowing myself to listen to the knowings about my true self and to gain a deeper understanding about the meaning of life and my place in it. Sounds heavy, right? It can be.
This morning, in a room full of people who share my common problem with alcohol, there was talk about the concept of turning it over. This is shorthand for the full expression of turning it over to God, a phrase I once recoiled from but now can hear without rolling my eyes.
I turn shit over like nobody's business. I mull over my past relationships, former and current grievances with others and take a daily inventory as part of my Step 10 work. I'm in a constant state of trying to reconcile my past with my present and what that means and even what it looks like. Sometimes it can be self-indulgent, but more often that not I'm acting as a historian of my own life. I need to understand how my choices landed me here, today, right now and taking inventory of my past (and present) is the easiest way I know how to do this.
What I heard in the room this morning resonated with me and I agree that it is indeed necessary to turn things over in our lives but this action alone doesn't cure what ails me. No, there is another action that must piggy-back the decision to turn things over and that, my friends, is to let it go. Those three little words are loaded, but I firmly believe they are the solution.
I've been turning and churning so many memories in my mind lately. My anxiety attacks have re-emerged. Feelings of overwhelm and spiritual suffocation are happening on the daily. I was reminded that all I need to do is turn it over to my higher power and then let that shit go. That's it. If I can do this with great honesty and intention, I know I will find relief. This is my emotional and spiritual work today, this week, this month, and forever, really.
Being a 47 year old returning college student has been both liberating and intimidating, all at the same time. Walking into my geometry class this week, I felt prepared and ready to ace the test - only it didn't go down that way. I ran out of time. I took too long. I was too careful. I checked and re-checked each problem as I went through the test. In the end, I overworked every problem and didn't allow myself enough time to finish.
I did the same thing with a simple art poster I was asked to create this week, too. I overthink and overwork almost everything. I've been told I over-function and, as much as I hate to admit it, I know it's true.
How does this relate to my painting project? Well, I think I'm doing the same damn thing with all of my works in progress with The Geographic. I'm dissecting the layers of paint, as well as the layers of story, and getting stuck in the big feelings. I'm simmering in the muck, really. I'm also letting fear of the unknown or, god forbid, fear of success with this project get in my head. I'm having trouble getting out of my own way, so I stopped making art associated with this project over the seven days. I hit pause.
And, you know what? It helped. Giving myself permission to slow the fuck down, enjoy my family, connect with new friends and spend hours talking to old, dear ones and staying off of my phone was exactly what I needed.
Upon returning to painting class this week, I had a great chat with my professor about where I'm at with my progress on this project. My professor is my mentor. I deeply value her opinions and suggestions. We chatted about the pressure I'm imposing on myself with this show.
She matter-of-factly posed the question - If your show was tomorrow, could you put together enough paintings for a show? I responded immediately with a big fat NO. No, nothing is DONE. I could not have a show just yet. And then she asked - Who would know that these aren't done? And I had to think about that for a minute. Well, no one would know they aren't done. I guess I get to say when they're done. I get to decide, along with the painting, when it's really done, right? Riiiiiiiiiiiight.
Her words made me pause and think about what was really going on.
I've been turning things over in my head for months and creating a lot of expectations for myself when it comes to this future art show. I want to be taken seriously as an artist, but no one is putting additional pressures on me about it. No, that job has been all mine. I've been my worst enemy and that feels all too familiar, it reminds me of how I used to feel when I was drinking. I never felt seen or heard in my life, like, not the real me, the one who was underneath the outgoing gal who had a lot of friends and volunteered for everything. The one who judged everyone because fear was her biggest emotion. The one who tried to go back to college three times and never followed through (until I finally did).
Underneath all of that was this young woman who wanted to talk about her anxiety out loud, but instead just went to the OB/GYN a lot in her twenties and thirties to talk about debilitating headaches and the best forms of birth control to insure she would NEVER get pregnant. The woman who would go to therapy with her husband for seven years before ripping off the emotional bandaid and finally admit she had a problem with alcohol. It took my whole life to finally tell the truth about who I was and once I did, I didn't want to stop. And that's what this project started meaning to me. I was creating a way to tell my story without verbally vomiting it onto people.
The paintings could be my voice.
And just like that, I told my professor I knew what I needed to do and I set to work adding anxiety tick marks and circular forms representing my journey to wholeness to my largest painting.
I have got to start trusting myself.
I need to paint how I feel and quit thinking so goddamned much.
The feelings I carry around about who I used to be are heavy and I know I need to lighten the load.
I have to start turning things over AND then...start letting them go.