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The Time I Lost My Identity and the Journey to Healing
February 24, 2020
The Candle Goes Out
There are moments that change our lives forever. In 2015, I was newly married and working in a church ministry. It was my first salaried job and I was full of zeal for the future. Less than a year later, we had been rejected and abandoned by that same community. My goal is never to lay their transgressions bare when sharing my story; it is between them and God. But as a result of this jagged fork in the journey, my life began to spiral into some of the darkest moments of my life. It took almost five years to fully recover from the devastation.
While I would not willingly want to experience anything like that ever again, these moments are vital in our lives in order to grow. This heavy blow left me with a loss of identity, motivation, and purpose. Through counseling, getting reconnected to healthy community, and establishing healthy rhythms, I am now a happier, healthier, and whole person. As I look back, I realize while some of these symptoms were from major trauma, some of these were unhealthy habits revealed under extreme pressure.
Creatives often express going through volatile seasons where the level their work, or lack thereof, does not match the level of their passion. In extreme cases, such as mine, passion goes extinct. There is a difference between a creative block and a total creative shutdown. What do we do when our trauma seems to snuff out our creative spark? Can we establish healthy rhythms that can withstand difficult seasons and still allow us to flourish? How do we begin to find practical ways to fan the flame of passion for our dreams? We must begin to see that our mind, body, and soul are all intertwined. When one suffers, they all suffer. We must begin to see that our creativity and passion are linked to the level of our wholeness.
This is the journey I have been on over the past five years. Only recently have I been able to put words to my experiences. There is no time table for grief; I am not suggesting you should be moving along faster than you are. I believe that had I developed some of these healthy rhythms and mindsets earlier on, I would have flourished in spite of my circumstances instead of being overshadowed by them. To describe my journey would take many books. This post is just an overview to help determine if this online space would be useful to you. I am going to lay out the symptoms of my experience, the root of loss of identity, the overarching moments that brought me through to freedom, and a major perspective shift that is helping me live in confidence.
The Death of Myself: Symptoms of a Broken Spirit
Phase One: The Syphoned Spirit
Burnout. If you consider yourself a creative, then you are well aware of this nasty little guy. When I sat down to engage in my art form, the creative flow of ideas seemed to have been snuffed out. This was more than a creative block. My creative spirit felt as though it had been syphoned by some unknown force. After a grueling battle to muster up enough creative energy I would eventually give up, feeling utterly defeated. My scariest moment occurred when I realized I had no joy in the things that used to light up my soul. I didn’t have dreams anymore. I didn’t have any ideas. Scrolling through social media gave me knots in my stomach because everyone else seemed to be loaded with ideas and motivation while I soothed my aching heart with another Netflix binge. I felt truly dead inside: no passion, no creative spark, no motivation, no desire.
Phase Two: The Wonder Twins
But let’s not forget about the wonder twins Anxiety and Depression. These two seem to travel hand in hand and enable each other to do unspeakable damage on a persons mind, body, and soul. While they are different from each other, they often orbit around each other and take turns creating vicious internal turmoil. There were times I could barely get out of bed in the morning without an overwhelming feeling of dread and purposelessness. Then there were those special times when my mind was so wrought with fear that I could barely make it through the day without falling to pieces at the drop of a hat. When I was exhausted from a bout of anxiety, depression would quickly swoop in until the whole cycle started over and over again. I felt completely crushed by the weight of it all: overtired, mentally overworked, overcome by fear, overcome by life.
Phase Three: The Cycle of Shame
In those rare moments of energy bursts, I would throw myself into various projects just so I would feel like I was doing something productive. Since my primary artistic passions were on lockdown thanks to burnout, I shifted into other pursuits that had some artistic appeal. I tried my hand at photography, graphic design, virtual assistance, social media management, and more. Little did I know it was a bandaid on a wound that needed surgery. I was creative enough to get away with being pretty good at a number of different artistic pursuits but not passionate enough to keep the motivational flame glowing. I would throw in the towel just as quickly as I had begun. Before long I was beginning yet another project to alleviate the pain of embarrassment from the previous. This cycle continued for years as I ran away from the things that I was truly gifted for. I was working from a place of shame; shame from the loss of creativity, shame from struggling with anxiety and depression, shame from cycling through endless projects with no real purpose.
The Pivot : Acceptance of the Pit
This may seem like a silly and simple start. It wasn’t until I fully engaged in the reality of where I was that things began to shift. I allowed myself to feel what I felt. I had gutted it out for years under the guise that I was “fine” when in reality I was far from it. We live in a society, especially in American, that praises the rugged individual who “has it all together”. We are making leaps and bounds in the department of mental health, but we still have some work to do. I continued to compare my trauma to others’ and deemed mine not worthy enough to be emotionally tainted by. It was painful to look in the mirror and admit I felt like a shell of a person. It was hard to say to myself and my loved ones that I really wasn’t doing well. But bringing all that ugliness to light, it lost much of its power. It was at that point I could actually begin the journey to healing. You cannot heal if you do believe there is a wound in need of healing. I accepted that I was not okay, but truly wanted to be.
There is a popular prayer that is quoted often that perfectly describes my internal shift at that moment.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Regardless of what you believe, the sentiment is universal. There are awful things that happen in the world and sometimes they happen to us. There are things that we cannot change. We do, however, have the opportunity to use those moments to our advantage. It does not negate the pain and difficulty of moving through those seasons, but it does not mean we have to be destroyed by it. This was the shift that had to take place in order for me to move forward. I could not change what happened. It was done. It had passed. I accepted that it hurt like Hell but was determined not to be buried by it. It was a fork in the road, not the end of it.
Out From The Ashes
Phase One: Unbiased Listener
I was blessed to be raised with a high view of mental health care professionals. My mom wholeheartedly believed in counseling. As the Executive Director at a Hospice for many years, she always pushed to make free grief counseling available to those who had lost loved ones. It was not only open to those who had gone through Hospice care, but the community as well. As a result, I have never been afraid to seek out counseling when life gets to be overwhelming. If accepting and acknowledging where I was in my journey was the first step, then counseling was my next. It was here that I was given the language to describe my trauma and how it affected me. My counselor helped me work through the darkest parts of my hurt from a place of unbiased observation. Because he didn’t know the people who hurt me or was personally involved, he was able to identify the trigger points and major mental blocks that were keeping me from living in healing. His counsel was invaluable and perhaps the greatest moment of forward propulsion in healing.
Phase Two: Letting the Light In
While in this dark night of the soul, I slowly withdrew from the world and shut everyone out. I had been shaken to my core and I did not trust people anymore. I always kept my faith in God, but my faith in people was shattered. In many ways that was a good and bad thing. I continued to move into my own cave of despair until I had successfully isolated myself. Part of the journey into healing was learning to allow people into my life again. It was a long, hard process and I dragged my heels the whole way. It was a good two years before I began to get involved in our faith community as well as the community around us. I tried many times but always kept a large part of myself back. Once the wounds began to heal, my confidence grew and I was comfortable enough with myself to let others into the good and the bad. I had to learn to be vulnerable with myself and others again.
Phase Three: Rooted Rhythms
I was slowly moving in a forward direction, but I needed to establish patters that would create a framework from which I could live out these new realities. I had come a long way already but still struggled with my purpose and re-engaging with my passions. I still felt incredibly lost. I was a musician but could barely touch a keyboard without being reminded of the knife in my back. I desired to pursue my dreams but had no idea where to start. It all felt too hard.
Over time I began establishing some rhythms I could see myself continuing throughout my life. I shifted to a plant-based lifestyle. I began weight lifting. I joined a group of women that met weekly. I tried to make space for solitude. The key to all of these rhythms was starting small and giving myself space to grow into them. I just needed to establish some predictable patterns in order to get myself moving again. The more I did this, the more my creativity began to return. Eventually, I was jotting down my dreams. Dreams and ideas I had not had in years. Some were old and some were new, but they were all birthed from this place of establishing healthy rhythms.
The Final Shift: Growing From Grace
I have a tendency to pendulum swing. When an area of my life is lacking, I often overcorrect in my zeal for finding balance. I learned this about myself over the course of this journey. I began paying more attention to the times I was tempted to overcorrect. I discovered I was living from a place of fear and desperation. I felt as though I had lost time in my season of grief and had to “get with it” to catch up to some unrealistic expectation I had set for myself. I was grasping at straws. I just needed to be more disciplined. I had found healing but had forgotten how to walk. If I forced myself into a long list of to-do’s, I could make this season worth it.
But that is not how life works. My motivation to be more disciplined and “put together” came from a fear of missing out. These were not sustainable rhythms. They were overcorrections to my inaction. I had gone through all this healing only to find my feet tied at the beginning of the race. Through a friends wisdom, I changed the language I was using. I may have needed discipline but that word brought very little grace with it in my mind. Instead, I decided I needed rhythm. As a musician, rhythm speaks to me much clearer than discipline. Rhythm is patterned and predictable, but it can change and flex along the way. Rhythm brings fulfillment while melding multiple musical aspects into balance. Rhythm can be as rigid or fluid as you want it and still produce an amazing piece of music. Rhythm felt like less of a to-do list and more like a flow of healthy habits/patterns.
Ultimately, I wanted to grow from a place of grace. I wanted to be holistically healthy in my mind, body, and soul but I didn’t want to beat myself into a bunch of “should do this” fads. I wanted to embrace hard work and lifelong personal training, but I did not want to submit to pop cultures rat race in order to achieve it. I quickly observed that when I was fully rested in my identity as a loved created being with a purpose, I actually saw progress in the vision I had for my life. It might have been a small thing like choosing a healthier food option. But I was honestly excited to work on those things. It wasn’t a “should do”. It became an “I want to”.
There is a difference between striving and striding. To stride is to walk with long, decisive steps in a specified direction or cross (an obstacle) with one long step. To strive is to make great efforts to achieve or obtain something or fight vigorously for. Striving can often come from a place of fear. I must do this. I should do that. There can be little grace in it. We look at where we are and where we “should be” and attempt to make up the difference through vigorous and stressful effort. Striding comes from a place of energy and excitement. There is graceful determination in the movement. It is facing obstacles without panic and walking confidently past them. I began to feel the difference when I was moving from grace; fully resting in my identity versus dragging myself along in fear of never being enough, having enough, or finding enough.
I have so many lessons I continue to learn on a daily basis. Sometimes it was as easy and changing the language so that my mind could grasp the direction more fully. Sometimes it was as difficult as being vulnerable with others or letting go of the pain that stalled me for so long. I hope by sharing this brief part of my testimony you find encouragement in your own journey. If you’ve ever gone through your own sort of trauma and feel overwhelmed by getting back up, then you can relate. As I continue to learn more and more about creating long-term, healthy, and sustainable rhythms, I hope to share those milestones with you. Perhaps you will pick up a few rhythms that really fit what your soul needs.
Here’s to the future of living from a place of rest and grace knowing fully who we are and living in the excitement of who we are becoming.