My previous blog post was about mourning the loss of my inner artist child. Today I’d like to delve into how do we reconnect, recover, rediscover our inner artist child? The blog contains a series of questions you could do on your own to get yourself back on track when life choices just seem too overwhelming or you start to feel like you are going in a path that doesn’t feel like your true calling.
The circumstances of my life forced me to face this in a very tough way. When I was in treatment for being a recovering achievement junkie and workaholic, I was pretty much stripped down to nothing. I woke up restless and filled with lethargy. I didn’t have hope anymore and the simplest of things were so difficult for me to accomplish. I started forgetting things and being around people made me so anxious.
I spent three months with a list of restrictions: no work, no running, no caffeine, no alcohol, and limited social interaction. I asked my psychiatrist what I was supposed to do with all my free time. She told me that I had to connect with my true self, and I immediately checked myself into two programs: a therapy program for overachieving women and an art therapy program. This was in addition to the talk therapy and anti-depressant medication that would leave me feeling very slow and dull and make me fall asleep.
I told her that the only 2 identities that gave me confidence was my career and training for race competitions. I wanted external accomplishments because if you see all my resume swag and all my medals on my wall, people would not judge me and people would believe I was successful. My addiction to my career and to my physical training were two masks I hid behind for so long. It was my protection from digging deeper into who I truly was. It’s easier for me to go to an office and obediently obey orders instead of (gasp!) figure out what to do with my own time.
In order to discover your own inner artist child, you will have to dig deep and be quiet enough to listen to yourself. Grab a cup of tea or a glass of scotch and get a journal out. Block out some time to answer some of these questions.
1) What did you want to do when you were growing up?
One afternoon, I remember expressing how dissatisfied and bored I felt. My friend Thuan turned to me and said the most insightful thing. He asked me, “When you are dissatisfied with life, you have to remember what you liked doing as a kid.”
I was kind of embarrassed by my answer. And well I was amongst friends, so it was much easier for me to get real. I wanted to be a ballerina and an artist. At the time, I wasn’t really motivated to go take ballet classes for adults or start running off to auditions. The last time I took a legitimate ballet class was in the 3rd grade. That just wasn’t what I wanted to do.
2) What is it about your childhood dream are you attracted to?
While I did fantasize about being a leg warmer wearing cast member of “Center Stage” or “Dance Academy,” I got quiet with myself and really thought about what is it about being a ballerina I was attracted to specifically in a nonjudgemental and safe manner for myself. So remove any attachments to any criticisms that pop up and any external or societal censors. I really loved the creativity involved in dancing. When I dance, I feel lighter, happier and confident. I love the challenge of learning a new routine and combination.
When I was 16, one of my music professors told me that because I was exposed to music at a very early age (age 4 for ballet lessons in Montreal and age 6 for piano lessons in Pearland) I had a very natural ease with learning patterns, finding the beat, and picking up a piece of music very naturally.
When it came to being an artist, I also had this fulfilling sense of feeling lighter, happier and confident. As far as being a visual and creative human, it was developed almost instinctively as child. My classmates in elementary school would ask me to draw pictures for them. My best friend Alicia asked me to draw a picture of a horse, and I remember feeling so joyful because the picture made her feel so happy. I remember a boy I had a crush on asked me to make him a friendship bracelet because the neon colors matched his Ocean Pacific surfer shirt. I loved creating beautiful things for people and I also loved tinkering around at home making stuff. Reading and doing the projects in the arts and crafts section was always my favorite part about my monthly subscription to Highlights magazine.
3) How can you infuse these elements of your childhood dream?
One of the exercises my book club badasses do is called “imaginary lives.” According to Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,”
If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them? I would be a pilot, a cowhand, a physicist, a psychic, a monk You might be a scuba diver, a cop, a writer of children’s books, a football player, a belly dancer, a painter, a performance artist, a history teacher, a healer, a coach, a scientist, a doctor, a Peace Corps worker, a psychologist, a fisherman, a minister, an auto mechanic, a carpenter, a sculptor, a lawyer, a painter, a computer hacker, a soap-opera star, country singer, a rock-and roll drummer. Whatever occurs to you, jot it down. Do not overthink this exercise.
You have to take actions towards what would make your artist child happy. For me, I made the choice to attend the Glassell School of Art in Houston during the summer I was getting treated for depression. I remember walking in and paying my tuition. My heart was jumping out of my chest and my hands were shaking. I denied myself this joy of exploring something I wanted to do for so long. It felt almost rebellious and also it felt amazing. I remember tearing up a little when I got back into my car. I remember the long exasperating conversations with people for years when I asked people if I should do with this creative desire that dwelled in my heart.
And if you do not have the time or money to go to the Glassell, can you find another outlet for your creativity? Can you spend 30 minutes doodling in a sketchbook? Is there an art project on Pinterest you can copy? Are you really good at taking photos and posting them on Instagram? There is always one small thing you can do today to build the strength be more comfortable being a creative person.
4) Are you quiet enough to listen to the people around you?
By pure synchronicity or through the clues that God and the Universe give you, there are people around you who will keep nudging you or shoving you back to your destiny. Every guy I dated in my past was always trying to push me into the art studio giving me small hints and large obvious hints.
One guy I dated hijacked me from my office because it was way past the normal working hours. He literally had to drive me to my cheap “crack den” of an art studio in midtown Houston and sit in the studio with me reading a book making sure I finished my paintings for an upcoming art show. I never took my dreams seriously and I sure as hell never considered having any real artistic talents. It was always this puttering around BS in the studio. In his gruff East Coast accent, he said, “You are too fucking smart to be doing this bullshit, Nicole. If you can’t do this for yourself, do this for the people who need to see your art. Don’t bullshit around in that office. We are not leaving here until you finish this painting.”
Another ex-boyfriend bought me a sketchbook and a fresh set of charcoal pencils before I jumped on an airplane to the Philippines. “Oh I don’t know how to use charcoals?! I will just leave them here.” He literally made me promise him I would draw every day while I was on vacation in Asia.
A woman came up to me in Austin while I was art journaling. She asked me, “What are you doing? Where do you teach this?” I was on a work trip busy planning a football party. I looked at this woman like she had three heads Like how dare she bother me. (LOL!) I was basically art journaling to stay sane and keep my mind off things. Art journaling was my way of occupying another part of my head so I wouldn’t get taken over my the anxiety and stress of event planning. It was a tool I learned in therapy. I said, “I just do this for myself.” She kind of shrugged her shoulders and walked away. My boyfriend at the time overheard the whole conversation and said, “I think you spend way too much time in your art journals. It’s time for you to share. You need to go to that woman and tell her you are willing to teach her.”
So kudos to all of the people in my past who kept trying to pull me out of the closet and kept telling me I was a shadow artist. From the English professor who told me I didn’t belong in med school to the guy from New Jersey who literally had to babysit me in my art studio, I am grateful. It must have taken a lot of courage to break down the walls of stubbornness and the ridiculous pile of BS excuses I invented for not doing my art.
5) Can you face the inner dialogue and outer criticisms that keeps you from being your true self?
There are demons, censors and critics out there who don’t want you to pursue your inner artist child. I remember one close “friend” saying, “You know, if you an go to art school and take a French class while you are undergoing therapy, I think you are healthy enough to go to go back to work.” Okay because this person has a professional degree in treating depressed people. The comment really hurt my feelings. I was already fragile, sensitive, and exhausted. I was already trying to resuscitate and reconnect with my true self. I wanted to discover who this amazing person was deep down inside me. So hearing this criticism was a very tough blow to me.
In addition to the BS that people around you say, the worst kind of criticism is the harshness that I would say to myself. I mean there were some pretty cruel toxic people in my life. My psychiatrist is convinced that the abusive language and treatment in my life (personal and professional) created a series of traumatic events that triggered my depression, anxiety and PTSD. And, I was truly my worst critic. Maybe I thought that if I could be cruel to myself it would be much easier to take in all the negativity going on around me. I have no clue. Ultimately, I was my biggest reason for not fulfilling my dreams of being an artist.
Looking back at these tough and challenging times, I know that I had to face each demon (real or imagined). I had to remove each obstacle. The desire to please people, the desire to feel successful, and the desire to be in control were obstacles that I still have to face each day. Each time I am willing to work through these struggles, I strengthen my will to continue pursuing my real true self.
Whenever I connect with people about “The Artist’s Way” or in that moment I help a client pursue his own artistic dream, it truly makes my heart smile. I have come to terms with this emerging artist inside of me, and it honestly makes me truly fulfilled and nourished. As I kick off my online #artyogaplay academy for the fall, I am always reminded that the discovery of your inner artist child is a serious and life-changing matter.