I slip brie crostinis into the oven, turn around and pour myself a glass of wine. One of my guests’ voices comes slightly mumbled from the hallway, “Guys, everyone! Come down here, you’ve got to see this.” Something in my gut feels instantly nauseous. I slowly close the oven door and turn around. I hear the footsteps of everyone shuffling on the carpet toward the caller. As I turn the corner of the hallway from where the voice came, I see it. A door to a hall closet is open and everyone is staring into it in shock, their faces illuminated by its dim light.
I feel momentarily as if I’m hallucinating, where did that closet come from? What is everyone looking at? How have I never noticed that door? I make my way through the crowd and their faces are shy and sympathetic as they meet mine. As I look into the closet the slight nausea I felt in the kitchen reaches into the sinking of my entire abdomen. I feel like I may need to sit down. In the closet lies every embarrassing, broken memento of my life.
The shock of seeing them all stacked together in that tiny room is like being punched in the stomach. When the shock wears off I become more aware of the faces around me, how they are all seeing me. Seeing the glittery hostess who invited them over to her home for a nice meal and a prayer. And they are seeing me, the shamed, drunken, teenage girl who has been hiding in this closet. My shoulders are limp, my spine curves like a wave about to meet sand, and I want to hide. And I’m shocked when I notice it, the slightest warmth in my ribcage, something like hope is all mixed up in the fear.
This scene is straight out of a dream I had recently. Now I’m sure you’re tempted to go all Freudian on me (and trust me I’d be a rich case), but stay with me.
Since this dream I have been on a journey to find out what it is I’m hiding in that closet, from myself and those I love.
I’ve had a strong desire to look into the dark corners of my life and to own my story in its entirety: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve been doing my best to face all the things I was afraid to before: past hurts, insecurities, less than delightful parts of my character, un-forgiveness, worldviews, big dreams. It has not been easy. My weeks have been filled with hard conversations, long journaling sessions, shedding distractions (buh-bye Netflix), reading, prayer, seeking advice, and practicing mindfulness.
Some days it hurts like hell. Overall, I can say it has absolutely been one of the most rewarding seasons of my life.
Here’s the tough part, I think we all have a closet.
I think the only way to be really honest in our creative work, to have lasting patience and compassion for the humans around us, to shed shame and perfectionism, and to have grace for our own imperfections—is to open the door and turn the light on.
We all secretly hope that if we look away long enough, if we make sure no one ever sees what’s in our boxes and photos; they’ll dissolve under a layer of dust. My fear however is that if the door stays shut, we will spend our days in freshly ironed aprons hosting dinner parties with smiles that aren’t really ours. Pretending to be present. Always just a little worried that someone may come too close or see too much. Trust me, I don’t take this conversation lightly. These closets can contain some ugly things: abuse, abandonment, insecurity, shame, betrayal, weakness. It’s exceptionally hard to open that door. If I can throw in my two cents though, Brave One, it is worth it. The freedom you will find in your heart, the benefit your loved ones will reap from having the full you available to them, and the deeper impact you will have on the world are always worth it.
So, if you’re in, if you desire to bring all things to light, here is some wisdom for the way:
When you begin, some of these things will happen: you’ll apologize, you’ll forgive, a memory will hurt, you’ll get rid of a silly lie you believe about yourself, you’ll see yourself clearly.
Journaling, meditation, prayer, and talks with a friend, mentor, or counselor are priceless. We all process in different ways and getting help going through your boxes is a great asset.
Here are some journal prompts that will get you off to a great start:
Who am I, how do people perceive me, and who do I want to be?, What do I love about myself?
What areas of my character do I want to see improvement in?, What relationships are most important to me?
What can I do to make them thrive?, What areas do I want to explore in my creative field?
How can I be more honest, raw, and authentic in my creative work?
If you feel overwhelmed or are dealing with something hard or major please, please, please ask for help. Go to a trusted friend or a licensed counselor—you do not have to go through this process alone.
And then some of these things will happen: you will begin to truly accept and love yourself, you will find deeper intimacy and freedom in relationships, gratefulness will sprout up from within you, you will feel more present and alive, your compassion and patience for others will increase.
The bravest thing you will ever do is own your own story: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The ability to be really honest with ourselves about our past and present, to ask for help when we need it, and take responsibility when we see an area that needs improvement are critical in bringing about our best creative work, in having more compassion for the women around us, and having enough grace for ourselves that we believe we are worthy of living a great story even in our imperfection.
The end of my dream:
All the people I’ve invited tonight are my friends, people who’ve been there for me over the years. If I was going to find this closet eventually, there’s a sense of relief that they are seeing it with me, that we are in the mess together. There’s a very real sweetness that I can count on each of them to lend their hands and prayers as we remove one box, letter, and scar at a time.
Photos by Karen Marie for Yellow