We were not allowed to have a lot of feelings in the household where I grew up. But there were lots of feelings. Big feelings. But we weren’t allowed to talk about them. We weren’t allowed to show them. In my household, there was so much pain and sadness and we all suffered in solitude. I was loved and I don’t doubt that but the sadness… I remember when we would make the annual trip to my grandmother’s gravesite. I was still young so my brother and I would play while my dad stood alone, staring at the gravesite of his mother. When it was time to leave, I would notice him inconspicuously wiping away the tears he tried so hard to fight back. I have faint memories of my grandmother. She was kind to me and would give me change to buy treats at the neighborhood candy store. Other than that, I don’t remember much about her. A few of years ago, my dad shared with me a little bit of his childhood, which he usually kept tightly guarded but which old age helped loosen. “She was cruel to me,” he told me. She would express her anger by cursing at him and using cruel words like “you are useless!” She would hit him for the slightest offenses. My father said he would get so mad that he’d sit outside stewing until he’d see boys walk by whom he would then beat up. Despite all of this pain, my father said he felt bad for his mother. She had suffered such a difficult life and he understood her pain…

There was a lot of anger in the household in which I grew up and I learned to resent my father. He never put me down or said a mean word but he had a lot of anger in him. He would often lose his temper and yell…a lot. I was never allowed to react to his yelling or show any emotion. I had to stuff the feelings all down until those feelings developed into struggles with my worthiness. So, as soon as I was able to go to college, I ran away as far as I could. I always felt I couldn’t be myself if I stayed near my father and I continue to feel that way to this day. But instead of feeling resentment, I feel empathy for him. He had learned from his mother that he was unworthy of love. His anger stemmed from the sadness from feeling unloved by his mother.  As a parent, I realize what a tremendous feat it was for him to never to speak a cruel word to me or my brothers. It makes me appreciate him because he was loving and did the best he could with what he knew at the time.

Embrace Sadness.

I talk a lot about how we have to learn to accept ourselves, how we need to embrace ourselves fully before we can show up as our truest, most authentic selves. Embracing sadness is difficult to do. The feelings come and go, sometimes without cause, and allowing myself to sit in them without running away or pushing the feelings back down is uncomfortable. But learning to love ourselves means learning to love our shadows too, not just the things that make us feel good like joy and gratitude. I have a lifetime of sadness I need to give permission to surface.

In setting this intention for the year, I wanted to take a portrait of myself as a physical reminder to embrace my sadness. But that is hard to do. I’ve been putting it off and delaying it because I was too afraid of looking at myself that way. The thought of seeing the sadness was painful and I worried the portrait would be ugly. I was worried I would be ugly and I would want to turn away. And I was scared to share it with you too. But with discomfort comes growth and I’ve committed to living my life leaning into my fears. “Lean Into Fear” was one of the intentions I set last year. So I finally leaned into my fear and took the self portrait.

I will have this printed and hang it in my studio. Embrace sadness, I need to remind myself. When those feelings of sadness decide to visit me, I will not judge them, I will not resist them. I will welcome them and be grateful for them. Sadness can be beautiful too. It is a very real and important part of what makes us human. Accept myself fully so I can love myself fully, I remind myself, shadows and all.

This is from a personal journal writing shared in the newsletter and typically not shared on the blog. To read these, subscribe to the “I Matter” newsletter below.