My father believed in magic. He forever chased bigger and better, shouting his ideas from the rooftops so the world would look his way. My mother was, and remains, eloquent, challenging and well-spoken.
In childhood, I struggled to be heard and understood because the need of both parents to be heard by each other swallowed the space. I vacillated between keeping my nose in a book, hoping not to be noticed and being caught in the crossfire. If I shared my thoughts, instead of agreeing, or as they would say, “arguing”, with them, I was instigating another fight. My early need for approval guides my work in recovery to this day.
What I didn’t know when young, is that life moves fast. I found the man of my dreams when I was 16. In my childhood home, I had to measure my words, yet with this man, I could talk about anything. He loved to listen to what I had to say.
At our wedding, my parents’ speech went something like this: “Karen wasn’t going to give a speech tonight, but who are we kidding, we couldn’t stop her, even if we wanted to. She can talk underwater with a mouthful of marbles.”
The issue for me was never about talking. It was about being heard. It was about someone stopping to listen and ask, “How does that make you feel?”
Before I adapted to this new way of life with my husband, he died in a road accident, in a car driven by my best friend.
Survival is a funny thing for upper-middle-class citizens, who seem to have it all. After this tragedy, I held the trauma neatly together so no one could see the rock in the pit of my stomach weighing me down. Soon, everyone returned to their lives.
For more than three decades, I lived with trauma, believing I had no choice. I unconsciously turned the fight, the pain, and the grief inward, and set myself up for another fight.
As a result, I have lived (just) with an eating disorder for more than three decades. Now, after seven hospital admissions, more than five years in therapy, and two years in active recovery, I find the art of slowing down has eluded me.
Trust me, I have tried. Podcasts, music, bushwalks, yoga and meditation. None have worked for me. The relentless pressure to stop thinking, be quiet, sit, stand, or move a certain way, has been an invitation to do the opposite. Instead of soothing, my brain lights up like an arcade game with thoughts ricocheting back and forth in my head.
Work was my only solace. However, recently I transitioned from a corporate job to staying home to prioritise my health after 17 years on the run, and this move unleashed an emptiness formerly trapped inside. I needed to uncover what I had been avoiding and suppressing and overcome the fear of letting this darkness out.
As a mother of four, my family has been my world. I have watched and waited as they have forged their own lives. Now, without a full-time job and with the children almost all grown, the loneliness that had become part of my essence, surfaced louder than ever.
Trusting myself has been a major challenge. While still reeling after resigning from a long-term job that had become untenable, I tried another role, only to find this place was worse. Standards of behaviour were illegal, and immoral, at best, and I was pressured to perform tasks outside my values. I resigned after less than seven months in the role, fearing what might happen if I stayed longer.
Accepting I was neither willing nor well enough to return to the high-powered corporate life, I had to find the courage to do something differently. When an eco-therapist suggested that I paint a rock, I laughed and said, “I am not creative.”
I knew I was searching for purpose, but I was unsure how to find the “thing” that would fill the desperation and speak to my heart.
When my life feels overwhelming, at the very end of the beach, there is a cliff face. This is where I go to sit. Above I see clouds, while around me the ocean beats relentlessly against massive rocks, its spray saturating me, reminding me I am part of this world. This place is my sanctuary. My haven.
I have tried. I have knitted scarves (last Christmas I knitted 18 scarves in 38-degree heat as gifts for my family), I have a wall full of framed paint-by-numbers and have been working methodically to create my memoir. While doing all this and more, several truths have occurred to me:
Damn it, I am creative. With the spray of the ocean and the texture of the rocks under my feet, I know now, what I didn’t know when young. Life moves fast.
Self-healing is hard work. Most days I still give myself a hard time for not having a “paid job” to go to. However, my network of supportive and understanding health professionals has reinforced the truth that healing and growth come from within and through the connections we build. This is hard for me to believe. And the health professionals keep having to remind me.
This new path has been profound and sometimes terrifying. The challenges have often tested my resilience.
On the days I hover between denial and perfection, I am no longer addicted to thinking at the expense of feeling. For someone who never used to cry, I cry, and I am grateful I can.
I remain unsure how I first permitted myself to try rock painting and allowed myself to begin (I am a VERY harsh critic and perfectionist, getting past the gatekeeper is a tough job some days). I suspect it was my need to people-please that won out.
I am learning that creativity, in its many forms, can speak to us in ways that the spoken word sometimes cannot. Sometimes others are not willing to listen.
I have found purpose in painting pebbles. The pebbles instil empathy and compassion in each brush stroke. My hope, through the power of self-care, self-compassion and self-nurturing, physically, emotionally and mentally, has been to rediscover my true self. The pebbles are helping.
Each pebble becomes a vessel for emotion and personal interpretation.
While podcasts, music, bushwalks, yoga and meditation never worked for me, the combination of creativity and intention behind the pebble art provides resonance. I’m finding my pebbles hold meaning for other people too – inviting them to pause, reflect and perhaps find solace or inspiration.
The creation of the painted pebble, the hope of this outcome, the satisfaction of this dream, this is my mindfulness.
The images on the pebbles carry a profound meaning for me. They are helping me to create positive change. They also connect with others who might be going through similar struggles. The little pebble can ease the way to story-sharing, and each of us has our own story to tell.
I will continue my newfound passion for painting and sharing my pebbles and in time, my story will be revealed in my memoir. Both forms of self-expression will serve as a conduit for channelling my hard-won life experience and lessons to help others navigate similar challenges.
They say, “It’s not the only pebble on the beach.”
My answer is, “But it’s your pebble, and I made it just for you.”