I Can't Draw and Other Stories #1
A zine about personal stories and how they can get in the way
Once upon a time, I couldn’t draw. Well, more accurately, I believed a story that I couldn’t draw. Illustration is now central to my creative practice. What happened in between? Vulnerability, trust, bravery, surrender, fear, desire, and lots of practice.
Not only did I have to learn to draw, by finding my own style, I also had to learn to quiet a story that was stopping me from doing something I always wanted to do. The title of that a story was: “I Can’t Draw“ brought to you by co-authors, Inner Critic and Survival Brain.
This dastardly duo has stopped me from doing things before. They will try to stop me from making this zine. But the better I get at seeing the story, the faster I can regroup, recover, and share anyway. Because sharing who we are is important.
This zine is an offering of my experiences, insights, and personal magic from a decade spent learning to claim space. I’ve received help and inspiration along the way from teachers, authors, healers, friends, and artists. My hope is that you find something here that helps you too.
Take what works, leave the rest behind.
If nothing else, this is an offering of belonging. I see you. You are both the only You, and not the only one. Healing is a lifelong journey, there is no destination, but I’ve reached places in my own recovery that I was unable to even imagine until I got there.
Perhaps something here will help you get somewhere new.
I was inspired by the work of Marlee Grace to create my list of the things that help me get back to centre when life feels decidedly off-centre. I had to learn every single one of these tools - none of them just happened. The items also change – nothing is fixed because this is the opposite of a “To Do” list.
While scrolling through Instagram recently, I came across this from @theswell “Healing is not ’fixing’ yourself, it’s discovering yourself.” Who you really are: not what someone else has said about you; or the role you were assigned in your family of origin; or what your brain tells you in the wee hours of the night to try and keep you safe and small.
The only you there is in the world with your unique purpose and offerings. There is nothing more spectacular than seeing someone shine from their authentic self.
Story can get in the way of the process of finding your shine if it contains limiting beliefs about who you are. If you’re new to the concept of personal stories (as I was once upon a time) the work of Brene Brown was truly transformative for me. Get acquainted, you won’t regret it. But essentially, we all have stories about who we are in the world. These stories form the bedrock of our identity, but here’s the rub: not all of them are true.
In fact, leaving these stories unquestioned can sometimes keep us blocked from being who we TRULY are. Acknowledging and accepting our complex characteristics is something we can inhabit: “I’m an empathetic person.” But a story about thatmight be: “I’m too sensitive.” A story I was told a lot as a child. A story that I carried with me for a LONG time until I finally challenged it and moved it out of the way. I worked the story by first recognizing that it WAS a story. It was someone else’s take on a situation that had more to do with their own discomfort with my feelings than a reading from a sensitivity barometer
THAT DOESN’T EXIST.
Confession: at this point in writing, my brain went on blast saying: “this has been written before, there’s nothing original here, what a terrible mistake.” Yup. Thanks buddy. I know it’s just trying to protect me because this shit is vulnerable, BUT it’s also important for me to share. Like, to my soul. So, can I find a way to see these thoughts as “not me” and “not true” and carry on? Carrying on.
All of the scariest things I’ve ever done included feeling scared. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never done something scary while feeling calm, cool, and collected. Never. I’ve only ever faked it (badly). My new approach is to try thinking of fear as a companion (this is where the imagination tool is helpful) who is going to come along for the expansion ride but is not the driver of my chariot. Fear can be a reminder that you care – this thing you’re doing is meaningful, or you wouldn’t take the risk. Nobody likes feeling this way. Fear can tell us what matters (as long as it is in the window of tolerance*).
*Sometimes fear is actually too much. If it feels unbearable, it could be activating a trauma response, in which case we need support. Ease off, don’t do it alone. Be gentle with yourself.
Here’s a story I worked recently.
I woke up from a dream that pulled me into some old family dynamics. A multi-generational romp that left me with this gem: “I’ve never had anyone who was on my team say: ‘I see you having a hard time. How can I help you here, how can I make this better for you?’” And poof, I was IN IT. I was heavy with the sadness and grief of this belief. Not only had I NEVER had this experience, but I NEVER would. I will ALWAYS have to do everything alone. Once the thoughts move into a feeling state, it takes some next level wherewithal to undo the spell.
This stuff isn’t easy, but it does get easier over time. I ended up talking about it with someone who reminded me that he has actually done this very thing for me in the exact scenario from my dream and bingo bango the potion began to wear off and I had an access point. Sometimes all it takes is one external act of denial to start the process of resetting. Sometimes I can do this for myself, sometimes I need help. Either way, it’s damn vulnerable and something I had to learn to do.
Also, a note on signs that you might be in a story: ALWAYS, NEVER, and SHOULD are dead giveaways for me that I’m likely caught in a full on Narr. A. Tive. It is very, very, VERY rare that a thought or statement about my interpersonal relations using one of those words, is actually true. If it feels hard to prove unequivocally, it’s likely untrue.
Next, I went to my tarot cards for some guidance. They’re a big anchor in my practice and always provide medicine. They led me a little deeper into the story by showing me there were some nuggets to be found in the grief. My amazing therapist once told me that we can grieve things that don’t happen as much as things that do happen and are now gone. That was news to me and explained so much.
I do have grief about not being partnered in the way that I want to be. I honour a deep desire to build a life with another human – share growth, make a home, make things better for each other. It’s a desire I hold very gently, along with so many other things that may or may not happen. I don’t want those desires to take over so that my life is defined by lack, but I do mysef an injustice by denying that they’re present. Like anywell-crafted piece of fiction, amongst all the stuff that’s made up there are poignant truths. Working the story is about teasing those out. Or like the Three of Swords in tarot, removing the swords of judgement so we can tend to the original wound. Telling ourselves we shouldn’t feel grief is what causes the most suffering.
As that “too sensitive” person in the world, I was often told that what I was feeling was unwarranted. My feelings were too big or didn’t belong. I felt a lot of shame about that and believed that my feelings were an unpredictable and chaotic weather system that couldn’t be trusted so I shut them down entirely. Putting that story to rest allowed me to see those same feelings as a powerful beacon in the storm of what’s happening for me in any given moment. Sometimes the work is in getting things quiet enough that I can be with what needs tending.
Mostly, it’s about trusting that my feelings matter. Every single one of them. Creating a stable container that can hold them is my most important work because that’s how I become whole.
If you’d like to receive a printed copy of this zine, you can purchase one on my website for $10 and I will mail it to you.