If we look hard enough, slow down and listen long enough, we can often find gifts in the places we least expect it. They are all around us; outside our window, while sharing a meal with friends or simply having a talk with someone we love. Hopefully we can realize how lucky we are to have these things in our lives, however tiny they seem. Tiny gifts add up to larger ones and if we begin to notice them, our lives can feel more abundant, even with sorrow, loss and devastation. It took me a long time to learn this.
One day several weeks after my mom’s suicide a close friend said to me, “Annie, you have to find the gift.” How could I possibly find a gift? The worst thing had happened. I had just started painting the demons, taking small steps to try and discover if I had the power to change the trajectory of my healing. But frankly, finding the gift just seemed like too distant a concept.
As I trudged through day after day in a cloud of fog I didn’t forget what she had told me. Maybe I would have discovered this on my own at some point in the future, but I know it would have taken me a long time. Finding the gift? This mantra stayed with me. I kept thinking about what this truly meant. How could I find the gift in such a disaster? Are there gifts among ruins? Finding the gift for me I knew was a journey unto itself. It felt like finding a needle in a haystack, and if you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation you know how daunting this feels. I knew the journey would be difficult.
As I continued to paint the demons, they became softer, as described in my last post, Sleeping With Demons. Painting them was becoming comforting and the fear was beginning to subside. I felt more powerful, able to escape their clutches and as I mentioned, I even began to feel compassion for them. However, at this point I was still feeling like I led a double life, the external life and the internal life. At the time, I was still doing illustration work for children’s books and magazines while simultaneously painting demons on the side. It was quite a contrast in imagery! However, what I started to notice was that it was the act of painting the demons, not just the finished art, that made me feel better. I remembered how much I’d enjoyed that workshop in California when I’d painted the dark, disturbing images before my mom’s suicide. I was beginning to connect the dots. By merely picking up that paint brush or that oil pastel and just seeing what came out on that piece of paper became the healing moment and the more I did it the better I felt. It didn’t matter so much what it looked like or if it was a ‘good’ painting. Admittedly, letting go of that concept was, at first, very difficult. As trained artists, many of us know how we can get in our own way. We ask ourselves constantly, “Is it good enough?” I knew that suspending judgment was key.
It would be slow, but I knew I was on my way and that was the best part.