I am a master of disguises. Not just because I grew up in New Orleans and I’m quite the experienced costumed reveler. No, I am a master because you would never know that I battle anxiety and to a lesser degree, depression every single day. Outwardly I have spent the majority of my life an extravert, a social director, hostess with the mostess and, up until I quit drinking, the life of the party. First one out and last one up.
Alcohol allowed me to hide in plain sight the feelings of inadequacy and fear so I could be alongside my peers in what I perceived to be how one should be in order to be social and popular. When alcohol stopped working for me and sobriety crept in, I was suddenly an introvert. The social anxieties that I had hid from for 36 years were suddenly ever present, terrifying, disorienting and at times debilitating.
Coming to grips with the fact that I have probably always been an introvert wearing an extrovert costume was an insight into myself that wasn’t all that welcome. The people that I saw as “cool” were most definitely not introverts. Without drinking, the mask became harder to put on. I could only be myself and I have never necessarily liked myself very much. My physical attributes were never “in style”. The things I was good at have never been the “right” things. I have never felt right in the world. I know exactly what Smokey Robinson was feeling when he wrote Tears of a Clown:
Now if I appear to be carefree
It's only to camouflage my sadness
In order to shield my pride I try
To cover this hurt with a show of gladness
That’s what it was…a show. Three months after I quit drinking, I started painting. I have an art background, but I had not stoked that fire in many years, and painting was never my favorite medium. But so it began. Not having many painting supplies (I had long since given away most of them from my art school days) I started with simple paintings on paper. I would sit in the corner of my dining room and paint; sometimes for hours at a time. I didn’t know what I was trying to paint or if I had any clear intention at all, but I could feel the pull of a far off realm encouraging me to dive into the paper, into the color, to make any stroke with the paint brush that popped into my head.
I wasn’t at that point thinking about color wheels or composition. It was a call from my Self to myself. I began painting with fervor, experimenting with anything and everything that came to my hand. It was within these arts induced trances that I was calm, breath and heart beat steady, without thought of the terrifying thing called sobriety on which I was embarking. In fact, I wouldn’t be thinking about anything.
Photo of me feeling camera shy...and scoping out some waves
(Photo Credit: Chris Goodyear)
It was and is an active meditation for me and it carries over into my every day. The more I practice this, the more influence it has on my confidence. I can speak up with a greater ease. I’m not so worried about what people are saying about me (because let’s be honest….usually they’re not saying anything at all). I am sometimes amazed at what I create. The process is what keeps me active and the end products make me proud. This is not me pretending to be anything. This is not a deception because it would be impossible to fake it. It is as honest as I can live and honesty is the base of my confidence; it is unshakable. It allows me to live peacefully in the present, leaving resentments and expectations at the door.
I’m always expecting something to go wrong. I’m constantly taking deep breaths so my heartbeat doesn’t pound in my chest. I’m scared of saying or doing the wrong things around people that I don’t know very well or who I look up to. Three years and a body of work later I know now what has happened. Without getting into a long spiritual conversation, I can say that I was given a gift. I began painting at the same time I started a seated meditation practice and began taking surfing to another level. These are all the same practice and when I don’t tend to these activities, my anxiety grows and depression is usually pretty close behind.
Staying active in mindfulness is about as easy as getting to the gym to exercise. So hard to begin and yet the feeling of accomplishment and nourishment is unparalleled. So I keep at it. I know that my feelings are not always facts but I do know that when I paint, the dire feelings that I have about going to the grocery melt away. The fear of living up to everyone’s expectations is squashed. I actually feel more beautiful when I paint and more comfortable in my own skin. Even when I’m not happy with how a painting is going. At least I am doing it. I’m putting myself out there. I’m taking chances. I’m excited about what comes next instead of terrified by it. Those feelings stay with me after I wash my brushes and clean up my studio. I am less likely to slip into negative thought patterns and I am in general, a happier person.
So I think I’ll stick with it. Plus, I see how far I have come over the past 3 years and instead of being terrified that I’m going to lose it or that people won’t like it, I am excited to see where it will go next. I look forward to surprising myself over and over again.
Painting at top is Storm 28"x22" Mixed Media on Canvas
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