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To Be (or Not to Be) Truly Seen

Embedded in being truly seen is the "as I am" part.

abstract painting by Nicole Javorsky

Dear Doodle Soupers,

The painting above is from my latest series called Into the Light. It's called, "We are not alone." This is the poem I wrote to go along with the painting -

We are all human beings, flawed and still breathing. Our hearts go on beating.

We are not alone. There is always a special kind of light to turn toward: the path of a vine twisting and turning across a wired fence, the morning dew on a lone leaf that stretches its body onto the cement, or the song of a stranger that somehow speaks only to us.

I may feel alone from time to time but it is the familiar ache shared by person after person, time after time. It is loss and it is grief. It is the fear that no one can or will dare to know this pain by knowing me. And I don’t mean knowing the everyday faces we assume so that we can get on with daily chores and work and life. I am referring to our souls, the innermost layer of who we are, the keeper of every truth, every burden we’ve borne, every hurt, every bruise, every time we’ve been silent and every time we’ve tried to share the truth.

Is it that knowing we are not alone will remind us of every ache we’ve tried so hard to forget before it sets us free?

What does it mean, to know me?

Before I dove into abstract painting and found my artistic home, I spent many years working on portrait drawing skills and watercolor techniques. These skills are very important to the artwork I make today because I was learning how to really see what’s there and still find a spirit in the whole composition, the details working toward the heart and soul of the artwork.

Sometimes, it’s harder than you’d expect to really see what’s there. We have an idea about what a tree or flower or face or hair looks like and though our eyes are looking, these schemas get in the way of observation. Instead of looking for the facial features, I learned to look for shapes, lines, gradations, etc. And what follows is the realization that the differences, even just between two similarly sized Granny Smith apples, are infinite.

This idea extends to everything and it’s really important to me as a person and as an artist. I know what it's like to have others be unwilling to see me as I am. As a child, I learned to pretend, in order to avoid being further hurt and abused. But, it wasn't really pretending, was it? Pretending can be a form of freedom: experimenting with personas, exercising creativity, imagining what it'd be like to be somebody else, trying on other hats out of curiosity or to discover my own preferences and interests. I guess what I was really doing was hiding.

I couldn't just hide though. A part of me believed that if I said it the right way, if I explained it better, if I dealt with my pain on my own, if I was "easier" to love, I would change the reaction. They'd finally understand! If I could only get the formula just right. I had so much hope. I kept trying and I kept getting hurt, and I kept hiding to protect myself, and then I tried again, and on and on and on.

As Sara Bryan, LPC and complex trauma specialist, writes, "For survivors of complex trauma one's hope of feeling better was based on hoping someone else was going to make different choices."

I still have hope, but my hope has a different basis now. My hope is not that I will be able to change the reactions of those who've been abusive toward me or that I'll be able to help them understand or see me. (Though sometimes, yes, I still wish I could.) My hope is based on knowing my own non-negotiable value simply as a human being, as I am. I know me now. And my hope is based on the fact that I have people in my life now who do love me as I am and who treat me with care and respect without stipulation. I do not have to earn love. Love is something simply given. Otherwise, it is really love?

I do not have to downplay my own feelings and hide my true nature. I cannot earn being and feeling seen by trying to be easier to understand, by convincing myself it's not that bad so my story will seem more palatable for others to consume.

Embedded in being truly seen is the "as I am" part. Without "as I am," who do you know? Who are you seeing? Not me.

Take it as a challenge or something to be curious about: how often do you strive to really see your surroundings and the people in your lives as they are versus the corresponding schemas or ideas in your head? When have you felt like you aren't being truly seen and when have you felt like you are? How does it feel not to be seen as you are? And how does it feel for you to be truly seen by someone else?

With true love and the intention to truly see you, dearest doodle souper,

Nicole Sylvia Javorsky


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