Who Are You Wednesday:Standing Before A Blank Canvas

Sitting in my room right now is a blank canvas. It is a white cloth board completely empty, unused, waiting to be decorated. It is waiting for inspiration. I have a container of crayons, colored pencils, and paint dying to be put on the canvas. I look at this empty canvas every day and am brought back to the comparison of it to life. They say when we were born, we were given a blank canvas. It is our life. The world supplies us with the necessary tools to decorate it. It is up to us to grab them and use them in any way we see fit. It is in our hands what it will look like. Just like the blank canvas in the corner of my room, our lives need to be decorated. 

I agree with this comparison but see it a bit differently. I feel life is more than just one canvas. I see it as a series of them, each documenting a season of our life. When our life is over, they are put together and make for a beautiful masterpiece. Each canvas will make sense when seen in the whole picture.

They all start out completely unmarked. Our actions every day are what decorate them. Each one is a brush stroke on the canvas. It could be dark or light, short, or long, thin or thick, bleak or colorful. It all depends on how you choose to live and act. Every phase of our life will create a different painting. No two canvases will ever be the same. There will never be such a thing as a perfect painting. There are no expectations to how it should appear or the way it should be created. Not every instrument has to be used. You could use one or all depending on the circumstances in life. You could use every color given or stick to one.

My life has had two canvases so far; childhood and the years with the anorexia. But I realized, when I chose to embark on the path of living, I had been given a new canvas. Before me was a blank canvas. Not just in the corner of my room but in the corner of my heart. It was the canvas of recovery. I foundd myself at a loss at what to do with it.

Growing up, I had a habit of buying art supplies or asking for them but never using them. I had numerous unopened crayon boxes, unused paint sets. Everything had to stay in its original form and not to be touched. But that was not what these things were created for. It is much like where I was in the beginning stages of recovery. I had so many resources and people and options in front of me to be used to fully experience life but was not utilizing them.  

It felt as if I had forgotten how to paint. I had forgotten what it meant to live. In the beginning stages of recovery, I had to retake lessons I took as a little girl to learn again that the years with the anorexia seemed to erase from my memory. There were certain things the anorexia prohibited from me painting. I lost more than weight and my health to the anorexia. I lost friends. I lost ambitions. I lost the ability to laugh. I lost the ability to have fun. I lost the energy to live. I lost the ability to feel. I lost the ability to make my dreams come to life. I lost the ability to paint with all the colors of the world, with every technique ever created, with a brush not matted by despair and pain. I was left with a dark canvas of black and grey strokes, void of light and hope and love. The anorexia was the artist of this canvas as Jenna sat back and watched helplessly. It grabbed the brush from her hand as she was painting the canvas of her childhood, not yet complete in her eyes, and created a new canvas. It hated where Jenna’s painting was going, how joyful it was, how much hope it possessed, how much potential there was in it. It needed to stop it before it went any further and the dreams displayed on it were made real. The anorexia wanted control over the next canvas and what it would look like. It did a pretty awful job if you ask me.

But thankfully, I was able to rip the brush back from its hand. After years of great struggle with it, finally it was no longer the painter of my life. It was in my hands again. But I sat there, realizing I don’t know what to do. I don’t know the next stroke to make or the right color to use. I didn’t remember how to draw friends and happiness and dreams. Here before me was a white, clear, untouched canvas. Tools and paints were scattered around me waiting to be used. I felt so confused which is not surprising.

Essentially, I had forgotten how to live a “normal” life. For sixteen years, the anorexia had been my world, my everything. It was my every thought, controlled every feeling, dictated every behavior. I was its puppet. Now that I was free and my stings were cut, I had no idea what to do with myself. Its absence left a huge void that I had no idea how to replace. I was alone. I felt abandoned. The anorexia became my sole companion. I lost touch with many childhood friends and never made any strong connections with people after school because I was too wrapped up in the eating disorder and isolated myself. I cut myself off from the world to be solely in the one I created with the anorexia. When I finally gained the strength and courage to step out and back into reality, it felt like I was starting my life from scratch, a whole fresh new canvas to decorate.

One would think this would be full of excitement and happiness for the opportunities are endless, which it is, but it is also extremely scary and at times greatly uncomfortable. The task before me seems intimidating and overwhelming. It can be painful to feel so lost and out of place. It left me sometimes questioning the reasoning for choosing to steal my brush back and leave behind my old canvas. Yes, it had been wonderful to have more freedom and to be in control again and to have more energy and to not be so trapped in obsessions, but I could not stop feeling like I was so far behind in the concept of life. It seemed everyone around me had these colorful, near full canvases in front of them, and then there was my blank one. How do I live, TRULY live and not just exist? There were days I felt like I woke up and was just waiting for the hour to strike when I could finally go back to sleep and bring closure to my day only to wake up and have to do it again, and again, and again…

But I was so unsure how to change that. I was frustrated that I seemingly forgotten how to paint. There was nothing stopping me from picking up the brush and moving my hand back and forth, but I didn’t know how. It was like my body was paralyzed, my mind erased memories of what to do. I made myself submissive to the way things were, despite how dark and painful they were, and became so used to the anorexia being the artist that I didn’t picture me being in that place to need to know how to paint again. I came to terms with the fact that I would never see a recovery canvas. Now that it was my reality, I was at a loss.

I wanted to make it perfect. I wanted it to be full of color and a beautiful masterpiece. I wanted it to have no flaws. But maybe that was my problem. Maybe I was trying to create something that I knew subconsciously would never exist, and because of that, I was afraid to start it. I was scared to ruin something that I believed should, from prior misconceptions, be pure and full of beauty. I was frightened to start living and build a life of mistakes and risk dreams failing. All those fears, however were holding me back. They were keeping me trapped. They had me tempted to hand back my brush to the anorexia. I needed to realize I need not be Vincent Van Gogh. I didn’t need to have perfect technique. All I needed was a brush of hope, love, and faith and just begin to move my wrist back and forth with passion in the idea of being alive and having a purpose for surviving. It was those things that will create a museum worthy painting, a beautiful work of art I get to call my life. It is time to start painting. Join me in the process.