ChristinaSome weeks the artwork at the Lighthouse is all about art. Some weeks it all about work. This last week it was the latter as the ladies created the masks they wear so that others wouldn’t know how they really feel inside. Christina’s image was classic – parted bright red lips revealing ambiguous bright white teeth. Was she smiling? Or was she baring her teeth in anticipated aggression? Or both?

The bruise on her lower lip and drops of blood were a statement about being abused. But it was the rainbow behind her amazing mouth that surprised me. Because the Lighthouse is a twelve-month, faith-based residential program for women recovering from substance abuse, rainbows appear frequently in their artwork, but usually as symbols of hope. Not surprisingly, that was my go to assumption when I saw she’d added all the color around her prominent mouth. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The rainbow colors signified her ability to be a chameleon – the protective ability to hide herself and her feelings when life was dangerous and she needed to blend into her surroundings.

TammyTammy is slow and meticulous with her artwork and we almost always have to wait until the end of the workshop to have the full story of her artwork revealed. It’s always worth the wait. This week she created herself sitting on a Greek pedestal surrounded by the dark clouds that overshadowed her life before recovery. She was deeply immersed in the drug scene, using and dealing, making a lot of money, enjoying fast cars, brokenhearted, with a lot of people she was responsible for – people who have put her on a pedestal. Yet it was a pedestal of death as she noted with the inclusion of a skull next to her.

Kathy’s self-portrait says it all. The image she presented to others was all about her being strong and confident. It was all about her, yet she was scared and lonely. The many months at the Lighthouse have seen Kathy soften and mellow. She’s become more out going and expressive. Shall we say…she’s become stronger and more confident as she’s found comfort in her recovery and the Cross. She’s due to transition to an independent living program in the near future with her son Nathaniel. We applaud her hard work and wish them well.  

It’s somewhat common for the women to draw self-portraits with totally black eyes when they’re in the midst of their addition. They describe themselves as having dead eyes much as Veronica drew in her self-portrait – a beautiful woman with dead eyes. However, the picture she drew that represented her recovery wasn’t a self-portrait but a picture of a house decorated for Christmas. It required a few questions and a little unpacking. Her house is symbolic of the safety and security she wants to provide for her children, a place of celebration and life with stable boundaries. 

Jill’s two stars are a contrast between black and white and light-shining yellow. The dark smudgy grey star represents the ways she was unloving and unforgiving. As she shared the progressive light shining in her life now, she also uncritically observed that there are still parts of her that behave at times like the “old star” – unloving and unforgiving. My observation to her was that her “inner witness” seemed to be growing in compassion. Where she would have been judgmental and condemning of herself in the past, now she was simply observing what she felt at the moment without being critical. She’s anticipating growth and change at some point in the future. That’s good work.  


If you wear a mask at times out in the world, how is that helpful for you? As you grow in strength and confidence, are there ways such a mask might be unhelpful? As we do the hard work of growing in compassion toward ourselves, are there places in your life you’d appreciate some gentleness? If you were to write a poem or create a picture of your growing gentleness, what would it look like?

Thanks to the many of you who responded to my post “Nate” in person, via email, or with blog comments. As I said, it’s a story I love to tell.

1 comment to Work

  • Masks….great blog. I’ve been trying to take off masks since my 20’s. Chuck Swindoll introduced me to the idea years ago. Having said that, there are times I need to put on a mask in order to function in a particular role. A moment of particular note for me, I was officiating at a funeral for a young father. He had two teenage daughters who both spoke – it was impossible not to cry – not just cry but weep deeply. But in the moment, someone needed to help keep the service together (that someone was me). I needed to do my deep grieving later. In one sense, I put on the mask of liturgist and read scripture – to talk personally at that point felt impossible, so the liturgy saved me.

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