Who Sees You?

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I took an art class as a college elective. The first assignment challenged me to communicate the divide between who I was and who I thought I was supposed to be using only a black marker to draw basic lines and shapes on a four-inch square of white paper. As I brainstormed ideas in my sketchbook, a small, stylized stick figure imprisoned in a bold spiral was the closest I came to depicting the words I’d scrawled across the page:

My body keeps going through the motions of life while I retreat further inside myself . . .  Can I bridge the distance and become whole again or will I disappear entirely, leaving only a hollow body? . . .

At the time I was focusing all my resources on fortifying my outside, making it strong and impervious like an exoskeleton. Behind the facade of perfection I hid the parts of myself I was afraid wouldn’t measure up, trying to starve them out of existence. Even my creativity, curiosity, and originality were too risky. People might not like what they see.

Trying to protect myself from rejection isn’t worth the loneliness.

Recently I was flipping through my old college sketchbook when my doodles and laments caught my eye. For a moment my insides started to shrivel and fade until I realized, this time I didn’t have to disappear.

Those many years ago, the longer I hid the less I knew who I really was. So I’m on a journey now towards healing and wholeness. Before I can live as a whole person, I must learn to see and embrace who I actually am. I’m digging deep to reconnect those parts of myself I shunned as unworthy and hid away.

I’m making time first thing every morning for journaling, reading, and a big mug of tea. I treated myself to a new sketchbook and a colorful box of chalk pastels. I’ve uncovered growth, connection, and creativity as my top core values and am trying to support others in their own journeys out of hiding through sharing my stories and listening well.

As I awaken and reclaim the parts I’ve hidden away, I am expanding to inhabit my body more fully. I think most clearly while I’m walking and my fingers transcribe my stories into shareable form. Even though I’ve been too straitlaced for such silliness, I dyed the tips of my hair purple and dance to my favorite songs. As I speak with my mouth and wrap my arms around those I love, I’m using my body to express instead of disguise.

When a friend asks what I’ve been doing my impulse is still to hide behind safe, responsible tasks like laundry and dishes. Throughout our conversation I hunker down and watch her interact with a person who is not quite me. I get stuck talking about grocery shopping and freelance projects when I really want to discuss ways to find freedom from perfectionism and people-pleasing. Voices of self-doubt beg me to stay hidden until I can prove I’m worthy of being seen.

Trying to protect myself from rejection isn’t worth the loneliness. Slowly, incrementally, I’m letting my outer shell soften and stretching my hidden parts tentatively toward the surface. The first time I had a guest post published I finally found the courage to tell my friend I had started writing again. A few weeks later I admitted my disappointment when a different submission was rejected instead of hiding the failure away. Maybe soon I’ll share with her one of my stories that is still too personal for a broader audience. Now when we hug goodbye I feel her embracing all of me.

Being myself is not about which parts of me are worthy to be seen. Denying parts of myself won’t make them go away. I’m tired of trying to cover my scars and hide my weaknesses. I’m not always who I want to be, but only when I learn to accept who I am do I dare bring my whole self into the light where there is space to grow.

As I inch out from my hiding place I’m offering myself with all my hurt and all my hope. I’m not perfect, but I’m worthy of love. I have something to give.

This is who I am. I’m becoming visible.

Johanna Schram

Writer at joRuth
Johanna Schram is learning to value wrestling with the questions over having all the answers. She craves community and believes in the connecting power of story. Johanna writes at joRuth to help others know themselves and find freedom from the “shoulds” keeping them from a joyful, fulfilling life.

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  • Terri

    Good morning Johanna, you write so beautifully of the journey out of hiding. I could picture your morning time, I love how you have nurtured yourself with a new sketchbook and chalk pastels. Our scars tell our stories, they are hard to share with the world. I also loved your thought about bringing our entire self into the light where there is room to grow. Thank you for sharing your journey, you have given me the nudge of courage I needed this morning. Wishing you a peace filled day.

    • Johanna

      Terri, thank you so much for your lovely comment. The journey out of hiding is certainly ongoing for me. I find that each little step I take helps me find courage to take the next. It helps so much to find ways to nurture myself and continue to know myself more deeply. I’d love to hear whether you have some favorite ways to nurture yourself…or if there are any new ones you’d like to try.

      • Terri

        My favorite way to nurture myself right now, is time with my camera. My husband gifted me with a dSLR after years of me saying “no, its too expensive, I don’t have time, I can’t learn,” – one day I said Yes! Pure magic. I can get lost with my camera for hours. When I can capture a shot that I saw in my head, it touches me like nothing else. Thank you for asking!

        • Johanna

          Yay! What a beautiful way to nurture yourself. Love this. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Johanna, I’m so glad to see your words at The Mudroom. I love reading your journey back to yourself, back to being visible and strong. Thank you for sharing your strong story; I love seeing all the little daily ways you’re nurturing you from tea to chalk pastels.

    • Johanna

      Thanks, Ashley. I’m so glad to be sharing at The Mudroom. Thank you for your generousity and encouragement in coaxing those details out of hiding in this piece.

      • Happy to help Johanna. It’s so lovely. I hope for lots of beautiful artistic moments for you — in everyday and for wonderfully creative, you-visible moments.

  • Johanna, I love this: “Before I can live as a whole person, I must learn to see and embrace who I actually am.” I am also learning how to do this. Learning to see how the light and the dark play together. Learning to let go of the illusion of perfection. I wish you peace and beauty as you journey out of hiding.

    • Johanna

      Thanks for sharing. It can be so hard to show who we really are…even to ourselves. Sometimes it feels just as hard to own my strengths as it is to acknowledge my weaknesses, but it’s that unique blend that makes me who I am. Wishing you peace and joy on your own journey.

  • Rebecka

    Wow, I love this! Thank you so much for sharing, Johanna. I feel like I’ve recently started on a similar journey and your words encouraged me to take the next step!

    • Johanna

      Thanks, Rebecka! I’m so glad my story could encourage you on your own journey. Sometimes that next little step can feel so hard and scary…but we can take it one tiny step at a time. Wishing you the best on your journey. I’d love to hear about it.

  • “Now when we hug goodbye I feel her embracing all of me.” Oh, I struggle with this too. It’s hard to let all our messy bits show to the people we love, but how can we be embraced fully unless we do?

    • Johanna

      Yes, Heather! The more I care about people, the more it will hurt if they reject me. It’s so hard to share those messy bits, but it’s the only way to be seen and loved for who we really are. I wish this wasn’t such a struggle, but it helps to know I’m not the only one who feels it.