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Where have I been?

Palette Knives

I don’t paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.” Frida Kahlo

Autumn is happening in Detroit. I sit with my cup of green tea looking out the window at a maple with bright golden leaves in my neighbors yard. I had to pull out an extra quilt last night even with the furnace on. The smell of oil paint fills the air as I have four small paintings drying next to me. So hard to believe that almost a year has passed since I sat down to compose a blog post. There were many mornings after writing in my journal that I thought about sharing what was happening, how I was navigating what has turned out to be a year of tremendous change, how my view of the world has shifted. How I am finally learning what deep self-care and respect looks and feels like. What it means to live commitment to myself. But then I felt uneasy, not ready. Scared I was going to lose this new found space, peace and quiet in my life.

About two years ago I was challenged by my therapist to take the summer off from everything but my day job. That summer turned into years in which I got still and quiet for the first time in a very long time (maybe ever?). I had no idea how much doing, pursuing and pleasing was actually keeping me from acknowledging what was important and really who I was. How much it was draining me and keeping me from taking care of myself. And now, I can’t go back to my old ways.

I only have so much time and bandwidth so I had to make some really hard choices. One was to put teaching my writing workshops and developing more offerings on the back burner for now. I had to choose me and my health right now. The fact that I am middle age has everything to do with this choice. I need to take exquisite care of my mind, body and spirit to shepherd myself through peri-menopause. This means less doing, more rest, more moderation. Ignoring my body and its needs are no longer an option as it was when I was in my 20s and 30s.

This choice means that I need to honor my spiritual and emotional needs as well and that means painting and visual arts. I have put this part of me on the back burner for too long. I told myself after my son graduated high school I would refocus my budding art career. But then our world was turned upside down when his father died. Instead of returning to my art career I started blogging and teaching. I honestly I started blogging and teaching telling myself it was for me but really it kept me from feeling because I kept plowing ahead doing stuff I loved but also using it to avoid feeling the great amount of grief loss and pain from so much of my past.  

I was coping. I was doing what I knew how to do. Stay perpetually busy, in motion so that I don’t feel. Even my meditation time felt rushed. It was a box to check and not so much as space to allow curiosity and exploration of the present moment. It was to get it done so I could move on. It was not until I stopped all of my projects and teaching that I realized how much I needed to rest, how much I needed the self-care of nothing. Still take care of my responsibilities but not add to them.

Which gets me to crux of the matter. I didn’t need to put myself in continuous service to everyone outside myself. I was brought up as an extension of my mother. My whole reason for being was to take care of her. As a child, my needs didn’t exist or matter. It was her and only her. I learned early that in order to survive and get any type of love I had to be of service. Then I left home at 17, got married and had a baby. My whole life has been about the care of others. For many years, even my self-care was about others needs. I took care of myself so I could be there for others.

Never have I had the courage to prioritize my needs. To make myself feel good, whole and loved. Yet here at midlife, I need to give myself this gift. I need to be in service of my care, my needs. Not so I can refuel for others but because I need all of my efforts to get myself through peri-menopause. It takes great physical, mental, and spiritual effort and reserves to transition. It is a great uproar and disruption.

In practical terms that means putting aside teaching writing workshops for now. I need my creative energy for me. It means finally pursuing my fine art career that I started so many years ago but put on hold. Not more putting it off until one day. Painting and drawing seems so selfish like I am the only one who benefits. Especially when I am still learning. The hours in the studio replenish me in way I didn’t know I needed.

So where have I been? I been releasing what seems hardwired habits of doing, pursuing and pleasing for the first time. Or what seems like the first time, I like to think there was a time when I was young when I was not doing, pursuing and pleasing. A time when I was simply able to enjoy laying on the damp grass on a hot summer day when the cicadas buzzed and there nothing to do but stare up at the clouds drifting by.

I honestly can’t remember when I had that much freedom from responsibility. Now as I approach 50 years old, I am doing what I can to cultivate this kind of space in my life. Moments where I can sit and watch the golden leaves fall to the ground. Moments where I feel free from responsibility.

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