Life’s a Joke…

Life’s a joke, but the pain’s not so funny! That’s the title of Elizabeth’s painting on the cover of her manila file folder she’s been working on for the last several weeks at The Lighthouse, a year-long treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse. This week’s image was an invitation to paint, draw or collage an image that represented the face they put on for the outside world, but also expressed the contrast of what they really felt like on the inside. Elizabeth acknowledges she’s ready to make a joke of, laugh off, or make light of most of what happens in her life because it is just too emotionally painful. To some degree or another, we all present faces to the public that don’t necessarily match with what we’re feeling on the inside at the moment. At times that’s a helpful life strategy, but when that disconnect becomes a life style, it’s not so helpful.  

The reality of this disconnect was recently expressed to me by a woman who is nearing her second year of sobriety. A woman, highly competent as she navigates her multiple roles in the world, spoke of how anxious and undone she feels on the inside. She would look at all the other women picking up their kids from school, standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, or sitting in church, and think how put together they all looked, and then think how wretched she felt on the inside. To her amazement and relief, she meet many of them at AA meetings when she began to attend. She learned that they felt just like she did. And as they’ve begun to talk about their interior turmoil, their fear, anxiety and pain have begun to diminish…not magically, but with consistent, persistent hard work. She’s working at feeling as strong on the inside as she appears on the outside.

Amy’s working on a similar theme through her painting on the cover of her file folder which is entitled I Look STRONGER on the Outside than I Sometimes FEEL on the Inside. The really significant word in her title is “sometimes.” That’s a word that’s indicative of growing emotional health – she no longer feels wretched all the time with a need to numb her pain with drugs or alcohol. With time, her interior strength will correspond with her external appearance. She will be able to appropriately affirm in herself what other see in her.

That kind of self-observation and evaluation isn’t possible for many of the women just entering the program. Dora was at a lost to describe, let alone paint, draw or collage, the face she presented to the world or what she felt on the inside. Homelessness and substance abuse had effectively helped numb her on many levels. But she’d found a kindred spirit in Rebecca, another woman further along in the program. They often sit together and Rebecca was soon helping her pull collage images out of a magazine for the art task. The images were astonishingly beautiful. Quite in contrast to Dora who’s been worn down by a hard life and poor choices. My curiosity was peaked. 

I asked Dora to tell me about her collage. She said she and Rebecca were working on it together because she had no idea how to portray herself – inside or out.  For her, it was easier to admit stuff she’d done wrong than acknowledge her personal characteristics. At times like that, we sometimes need others to mirror to us who we are, who they see us to be, especially as Dora said, to see virtues in us that are all but lost to our own awareness. The images, taken from an art magazine demonstrating the stages of underpainting in a portrait, represented to Rebecca who Dora used to be, who she is now, and who she will become as she grows through the recovery process. The floral images represent “virtues” Rebecca sees in Dora as a woman, daughter and mother. A tender softening has begun in Dora since she’s been in the program as others are mirroring to her her inherent lovableness as a child of God.

If you were to draw the face you most often present to the world, what would you title your picture? When you’re having one of those perfectly horrible, terrible, awful, really rotten days (see last week’s post), do you have someone who can mirror to you your “virtues?”

I love sharing your comments with the women at The Lighthouse. It is so important to them that they are having an influence on others around the world while, at the same time, they are doing the difficult personal work of healing and transformation. Keep those comments, poems and pictures coming!



6 comments to Life’s a Joke…

  • Deanna J Bowling

    My heart goes out to anyone who is brave enough to attempt to “slay the dragons” of substances and behaviors that enslave them to the dark sides of life. It is indeed a noble deed to make the attempt to be free. I appreciate, Lynne, the opportunities to share of my struggles from time to time.

    I am pretty much who I am, and who others see, at any given time. There are a few who know me well enough to know when I am not being every thing I can be at a given time, and some of those who know me that well are able to mirror to me who they see me as being versus who I might want to be portraying myself at being, at any given time. It is generally very difficult for me to deal with the two visions of myself at any given time if they are very conflicting in nature.

    I can appreciate people trying to not portray a part of themselves that would allow others to apply a label to them at any given time. My prayers for everyone at The Lighthouse is that they will come to a time in their lives when they no longer have to “put on a face” in order to hide their real circumstances, rather that they can be who ever they are, whenever they are, with a sense of comfort and peace.

  • Sara Blackburn

    When you pointed out the use of Amy’s word “sometimes” as a measure of growth, it made me realize that of the homeless women I work with on a weekly basis, those who have been coming to art class for months now are the one who are using less definate word when it comes to the negative things in their lives. The absolute words like “never” and “always” along with the phrase “I can’t” are beginning to fade away. They are beginning to see the good inside of themselves. Last week we made blotto butterflies. I thought it was such a childish project to offer to grown women, but none of them had ever done it before. They were amazed at the transformation of a few dribbles of paint into a beautifully colored butterfly. We equated that to the transformation that God can make in our lives. Taking that which, to us, does not seem like much, and transforming it into something beautiful! The talk was much more positive this week and even when one did not turn out very beautiful, joyful laughter ensued and the creator tried again with new colors. They amaze me and there are weeks when I feel I learn more from them than they learn from me!

  • If these women could only see themselves as God sees them – beautiful and wonderful. If they only knew that all the women who look “together” on the outside, have all the same feelings they do on the inside. We all need an “off” button for the negative, hurtful messages we hear in our heads!

    Learning to be authentic and genuine is the journey of life. I will keep you all in my prayers!


  • So much to think about. So glad that God is working in the lives of these women and in our lives because of them. Keep up the good work, Lynne. You are the light of the world – literally.

  • Deanna J Bowling

    A friend who is a pastor uses the term congruegency. To walk in congruency-that is being the same in all areas of our lives. Hard to do, but necessary.

  • Robin Rice

    “I Look STRONGER on the Outside than I Sometimes FEEL on the Inside.”
    How those words ring true. Since I was a tiny child I have never allowed myself to cry in public. I remember second grade recess, the bee landing on my arm, the pain of the sting and the resulting cut in my tongue from clenching me teeth in strong determination not to cry at school. The family law was that there was something weak about crying or over “soft” emotions, you should never show those to the world. Anger, sarcasm, these were fine emotions to show to the world. How I have wished so many times that I could just fall into a heap sobbing, but that is just not allowed.

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