The breakthrough

Three days ago I wrote about The Slump… that dark moment, part-way in, when I question everything. Familiar with this heavy territory, I also acknowledged that “This is often the moment before the breakthroughs happen… when you ride the storm and come out the other side; brighter, stronger.” Last night I felt brighter and stronger than I have felt in a long time. The breakthrough came sooner than I thought.

On Thursday night, having raised my voice too loud, I was suffering from an anger hangover. The term references what Brené Brown calls “the vulnerability hangover”, a term that she coined when she needed a concept that captured that feeling of, “Oh my God! Why did I share that? What was I thinking?” My term “anger hangover” captures my feeling of, “Oh my God! Why did I just shout like that? What was I thinking?” It was one of those evenings when I was over-tired and going over old ground, asking nicely for things to be done to no response and being faced with yet another challenging episode of big boy picking on small boy, when the fuse blew. When all was finally quiet and boys were both in bed, I was still feeling the aftershock of being pushed to my limits and becoming a person I think (wish, hope against hope) I am not. I feel it in every inch of my body… the tension, the regret, the shrinking into myself, the desire to undo, the reality of what I become when I forget, for an instant, to discipline calmly or to walk away. It was eating me up and I had to get it out, so I turned to my art. I did not know where I was going, so I followed my instinct, went to the pen drawer and picked up the thickest, blackest pen I could find. It was how I was feeling. I rolled out a length of brown wrapping paper and taped it to the table. There is something about the shade and the texture of that paper that makes me feel happy and safe. It is comforting in a way that I cannot describe. I picked up a pencil, lay my head on the paper I traced my profile. It came naturally to me. I still had no idea what I was doing, just feeling my way. I traced another profile… my other side, making two faces staring blankly at each other. With the thick black marker I traced each profile. One appeared a little softer… the me I would like to be. The other I attacked with my pen, drawing in jagged lines, up and down, angry with sharp edges. I scribbled areas of black at the back of my neck where the tension lay and in my chest where I felt the embarrassing pain of the me I had been in that moment and the spikes and lines that came out from my throat were expressions of what I had done. It felt good, letting it all out. And when it was done, it was done. I had released the tension, expressed the feelings and the fear. 

I then turned my attention to the other face. I felt calmer; my edges softer and that came out in the pen, the fluid lines, the flowing, curling waves of the me I wanted to be. It was that simple. I was redressing the balance. I drew out the me I wanted to be and in doing so I became calmer in the moment.

Redressing the balance: how it was and how it should have been

Late Friday afternoon, I listened to an audio recording by Laura Hollick in which she explained how she had discovered a technique which had enabled her to heal her skin and grow in confidence; a technique which she herself had created, just by feeling her way and going deeply into her art. Hearing her describe the technique and listening as she shared this way of working, I realised that I had to share what I had done the previous night for myself. So, last night, when two friends arrived for my evening workshop, we first went through a few tried and tested techniques… playful ways to step out of your comfort zone and let go of the idea of making perfect art; ways to immerse yourself in the creative process and enjoy the pure pleasure of simply making art. And then, I took the leap of sharing what I had tried the night before. We traced our profiles onto paper and I asked each of my friends to think of something that was a challenge for them right now… to go deeply into that feeling and let it out on the paper. I did the same.

In creating my negative head, I could feel myself scratching away with pastel on paper, rubbing and smudging, blurring and spilling every ounce of negative feeling into the dark-edged drawing that was my fearful self. There were glimmers in there too… fighting the dark, but overall this image represented the fear of a beige existence, tied to a job I do not love, a reality that is far from my own right now, but a possibility that seems to be raising its head from time to time. I resist and resist and even thinking about it I feel the darkness descend, starting right in my eyes and moving up over my head and down my neck, into my back, shoulders and beyond. It comes from the fact that I do not have a steady, stable income. I am not in reliable employment, I am feeling my way, just getting by, and how does that equate with a life in which I have a mortgage and two children depending on me? But I trust in the process. I believe wholeheartedly (and some might say naively, but they may never experience) that this exciting and terrifying ride will lead to freedom. And when I say “freedom”, I mean freedom from the cage of other people’s expectations. I mean freedom from being chained to a life that is not your own. I mean the freedom to be me… the me I am yearning to be.

And so, in the other head, I created my colourful life. I filled it with layers of greens and blues and let the brightness of all that I wish for and all I am working towards shine, and it felt good and it flowed freely and easily and I rose above my shadow and felt liberated and ready to take on the world. All of the negativity had slipped away and I was left with a feeling that this was the way forward and I only wished that we had more time.

We shared our stories… the challenges and the desired outcomes and described how we had represented these feelings and how it felt to be creating and sharing amongst friends.

It was a powerful releasing and allowing…a shedding… a letting go… a way of tapping into our emotions and creating a new reality… a brighter future being mapped out right there and then on paper with our own hands. And in sharing we were connecting.

My immediate thought was that a whole day of doing this kind of thing could be so worthwhile… encouraging and allowing people to make imperfect art for the sheer joy of creating and using art as a way of tapping into our emotions and letting go and sharing the story with new friends.

So this is my path. For now, I will continue to map out my own emotions. I will empty the negative into my art and create the positive new. This is my breakthrough. This is my path out of The Slump and not only this one, but any more that await me just over the horizon too.

Letting go: the fear and the brighter path

I would love to know what big breakthroughs you have experienced following a slump. Have you used your art as a path out of the darkness and into the light?
Please feel free to share your experiences here…

With love,
Julia x

 

The slump

I’m there. I am there in the place I always arrive at, but choose to forget: the slump. It is a place that is part of the challenge and I am right back in the thick of it. By the the time I get here, it is too late to turn back. Day 12. I am not even half way through. I have made it this far, why stop now? Because now, the challenges outweigh my energy to deal with them. But I can’t stop. I am in too deep. This is the point at which the easy option is to give up, but then I would be right back where I started and that’s not the point of all this. The point is to push on through. The point it to come face to face with the challenges and keep going regardless… keep going even though I have no clue which direction I will take next or where all this is leading me or even why I am even doing it at all. I get here when I have been burning the candle at both ends, getting up too early, staying up too late, trying to squeeze a little something into a tiny window of time and then getting caught up in the flow and not wanting to stop. Those are the moments when I come alive… the moments I feel happiest, the moments when the creativity is just spilling out and I never want to stop. And then life kicks in and reality hits and I need to sleep, but I just want to keep going, and the house is a tip and we have no milk or bread and have work still to do, but it’s time for the school run and I am late again and I feel like a hamster on a wheel and that’s not the point of this.

Stop.

It’s OK.

It’s all part of the process.

I don’t have to change my life in one hit.

Patience.

Look at what I have achieved. This is not about beating myself up about what I haven’t done, or can’t do. This is the moment to step back and evaluate.

This is day 12. Less than 2 weeks in and I am back in flow. I am doing things that make me come alive. This is often the moment before the breakthroughs happen… when you ride the storm and come out the other side; brighter, stronger. This was about finding my direction again and I have already learned so much about letting go and I have already moved two people to re-commit to their creativity. Is that not progress enough? Patience. Time for a little self-care. Time to talk to myself kindly. Time to give myself space. Time to say that it’s OK just to post a little doodle I did whilst listening to a lecture on an artist last night. Time to breathe. Time to re-commit. Time to remind myself that this is worthwhile. Time to tame the voices in my head.

What about the fact that I am feeling like I have no direction?
What about the new pieces of art that are being created… more stuff to find a home for when I am trying to clear the clutter?
What about the fact that I need more work; need to make more money?
What about the fact that I don’t have a defined style and all the artists whose work I admire do?

I don’t even have to answer those questions right now. They are not important. They come ffrom the part of me that puts the brakes on. Acknowledge that they exist and move on through.

This is natural. It’s part of the process. Embrace the unknown. Push. On. Through.

What do you do when you hit the slump? I would love to know what you do when the slump hits you?