Content warning: nudity
Giving away my power:
It is an insatiable habit to look to other people, things, achievements, and circumstances to affirm our worth and goodness. For me, I felt a gaping hole whenever I put an expectation in the hands of my friends, family, or partner to give me the right flavor of love that I so desperately wanted. And when I do this, it’s almost always been a tragically disappointing scenario.
Many times, I found myself longing for validation given by others, thinking that it would be a balm for my anxiety, doubt, insufficiency, or depression. There I’d be, sitting in front of my lover, waiting for specific words to come out of his mouth: “I love you, no matter what.”
In these moments of longing, I’d feel like a dependent child on the edge of a cliff; waiting for him to pull me back as if I were unmovable by my own agency, unable to crawl away from the fall.
And when he’d finally say, “I love you,” the emptiness would either dissipate momentarily until an internal voice would sneer he’s just saying that because you’re desperate, and he won’t love you if you keep doing this. Or, that emptiness would expand tenfold, leaving us both feeling hollow and near helpless. I’d sink heavily into the bottomless void.
Each time I’d approach the edge again, reaching back for someone or something else to hold me and save me, the fall before me grew. The habit of making others’ voices more important than my own kept me on the rollercoaster of dependence and emotional dysregulation. The more I gave my power, agency, and self-responsibility over to others and to life’s many and varied circumstances, the more I dug deep pits into my character and sense of self. My physical and internal voices became quiet and airy. I would let people cut me off, tell me what to do, how to feel and what to believe in.
Listening to my inner voice like a friend:
I remember the first time I approached my sketchpad with the question, what do I long to hear right now?
It was after learning many lessons from falling down that void despite my loved ones’ attempt to save me. It was after all the times I didn’t allow myself to be saved despite hearing longed-for words from another’s mouth.
After I was constantly left with myself.
So there I was again, on the edge, this time looking down at a blank page and asking myself, what do I long to hear right now?
One of the first affirmations that came told me that I was smart, purposeful, and important.
It was so potent for me to see her on the page looking like me, hugging herself in peace and realization. Seeing growth emerging from her body was refreshing and soothing. She is connected. I sometimes feel cortisol released in my body when I look at this, like I’m actually being embraced!
Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was a start to an empowering practice.
Breaking habits can take time. So it took a few more times of falling over the edge into a vexed void (and it still happens today, albeit less frequently and intensely) for me to return to a blank page again, asking myself, what do I long to hear right now? The more I did this, the more I allowed space for my inner voice of strength and affirmation to rise to the occasion.
There were some images that resonated immediately after they manifested on the page in lines, color, and character. I’d look at them in their completion and feel so validated, seen, and heard. Releasing the energy onto the page in this way made me feel more spacious inside.
A certain style that was previously unknown was developing. I used to love creating detailed and cluttered art, filling every inch of white space with geometrics and color. However, when I sat down to affirm myself with art, minimalistic and simple illustrations emerged, and that was simply enough.
The conceptualization of these pieces came about shortly after the last U.S. presidential election. It was a time of a lot of uncertainty, hopelessness, and confusion – both personally and systemically. I was relying on this process to feel connected with others and in solidarity with justice and peace.
When I was feeling lonely, this practice reinvigorated a sense of interconnectedness, which has since become a core value of my work and mission as a creative entrepreneur; both in my art and the community spaces I create, specifically centered on girls and women of color.
Increasingly, I discovered myself depicting what I wanted to see in the world; kindness, compassion, forgiveness, self-awareness, and community.
Then there were many illustrations that collected dust in a pile because I thought they were ugly or dishonest. I didn’t always believe the words that I craved to hear, even when they came from myself.
Weeks or sometimes months later, I’d unearth these drawings and feel a different resonance with them without taking them personally, judging or criticizing them. It was like their energy moved through and out of me, allowing me to empathize without internalizing it again.
Reclaiming my power:
Within the first couple months of discovering this practice, I was coming to my 8 x 11 paper canvas almost daily, asking the beloved question: what do I need to hear right now?
The more I drew, the more I began to feel inspired by the things around me. I found muses in flowers, in trees, in podcasts, in my psychology classes in graduate school, and most lovingly, in myself.
I found that affirmation was making a home at the tip of my tongue, ready to be offered to myself and anyone around me if they needed it. My inner voice of empowerment was being emboldened, and it was overflowing out of my mouth and into my external world. Writing this right now makes me emotional because it’s such a beautiful evolution and process, and we can all do a version of this for ourselves. We have power within us that we need to actively excavate and exercise.
Sharing the power:
I began to share my illustrations on Instagram in December 2016 and people immediately engaged with their real, vulnerable and affirmative messages. I learned that so many of us long to hear similar things; we all want to know that we are intrinsically worthy, loved, and connected.
We all want to be held however we are, accepted, welcomed and embraced in our vulnerability and in our strength. We all need to know that we belong.
You belong, dear one, you belong.
All illustrations provided by Chetna Mehta.