After working on demanding projects during my early career as a freelance television producer, and more recent years as an independent documentary producer, I’ve needed frequent vacations and significant downtime before starting another project.
These necessary periods of retreating seemed frivolous and even dangerous to my family and relatives with strict work ethics and more ‘normal’ jobs. When I saw my aunt at a cousin’s wedding, after not seeing her for years, the first thing she said with her typical bull-doggish sneer was, “Are you working? You know you really need to get a job.” Before wandering off, she let me know my cousins, her daughters, all gainfully employed, worked very hard – and did I know, my oldest cousin owns a successful business now?
Wondering in a fog through the crowd of wedding guests, I saw a group of these work horse cousins chatting away, glamorous in their gowns, pearls, and pumps, with perfectly highlighted hair.
After that evening, vowing to be more normal and successful, I set new goals to land ongoing work for national television programs. Manifesting back to back projects that lasted for years with ABC, NBC, Discovery Channel, and HBO, I kept up a rigorous pace until I collapsed on 42nd Street on the way to work after traveling around the country for months on a demanding project.
As an ambulance rushed me to the emergency room, I was sure I was dying (my soul was for sure), but after doing the normal examination, the emergency room doctor assured me I had a panic attack –which is probably as frightful as a massive heart attack.
Eventually, I moved from New York City to San Francisco for a slower paced life, where I did freelance work, and started producing independent documentaries which allowed more freedom to make my own schedule.
After marrying and becoming a mother, my need for downtime increased as motherhood lured me into it’s womb. During a stretch of time I wasn’t working, another relative called to touch base. When my husband answered the phone, the relative inquired about what (not how) I was doing. When my husband shared that I was taking a break, the relative said, “Oh, she’s always been such a vacation queen”.
The spiteful remark felt like a knife in my side. To him, I was simply lazy. I felt deeply hurt and misunderstood. Being labeled a vacation queen meant that all my hard work growing my career, even producing a successful documentary, never existed. The label inferred that living to the beat of my own rhythm was wrong, inadequate, abnormal.
I surely wasn’t living a fairytale life, traveling the world, relaxing in a private beach estate in St. Tropez with butlers serving caviar and exotic cheeses while the nanny rocked my son to sleep.
Being labeled a vacation queen plunged me into questioning the heart of my true identity, but not without questioning my sanity. Was there something wrong with me? Why did I need so much down time? Why did I isolate myself for long periods?
It took years before I journaled through the pain of my relative’s lingering comment. As I lay in bed with pen and journal in hand preparing to write, a haunting image floated into my mind — a muted image of the face of a young, anguished girl below a cloudy sheetrock of think ice, pounding her small fists against the icy wall.
Horrified, I scribbled, “Who are you? What do you want?”
A meek, muffled voice cried out, “I need air, help me out.”
But in a moment she was gone. The bathroom door closed, my husband was getting ready for work.
For days afterward, I thought about this image, this young girl. I knew she was a part of me, and I had a dire need to reach her.
I imagined her like a mute child tugging at my shirt sleeve, pulling me into the depths of a dark forest toward a mystery destination, a place I wouldn’t dread.
I felt an urgency to rescue her from behind the icy depths. The realization of her significance took my breath away. I knew she’d change me, twist me into another shape and form, make me more whole.
Another day, I’m determined to approach her through journaling, hoping my pen will melt through the wall’s icy hardness. I’ve learned dialoguing with our inner voices and images are powerful journaling techniques to reach disjointed parts of ourselves.
“Tell me, who you are?” I ask.
“It’s me”, she whispers.
I hear now the voice of myself as a child, the sensitive little girl buried so long ago. Breathing deeper, I give her much needed air.
How beautiful that the word spiritus in Latin means breath. I hadn’t taken such a deep breath in years. How holy and pious I was as a child, immersed in the great expansive security of God, the God I knew before religion, before words. I imagined myself going into a dark, cold, shut-off part of my soul, and taking her hand.
I sense her small hand grabbing mine, my heart opening so wide it hurts –the ache that happens when truth opens wide it’s doors.
As I continued writing, I recalled shameful feelings of inadequacy, the loneliness I felt as a child when my family members told me I was too sensitive and too deep. Why did I cry so often? I wanted to be understood then, to have someone explain why I felt different. I remembered how misjudged I felt when my relative called me a vacation queen. Why did I need more downtime than anyone I knew? Reflecting on just how hard I had worked in my career, even if I didn’t always keep up a typical work pace, I also realized some of the time I wanted recognition.
I wrote, “Where can I find a place of rest for my soul, to be okay just living and breathing without doing, without a title, without a to-do-list of achievements. Can I just rest in knowing I am a child of God? And rest in the arms of this mighty love, in the true deliverer of our callings, the revealer of our true selves?”
I wrote about my pious yearnings in childhood, the hours spent immersed in the quiet holy moments in my bedroom playing alone, comforted by the presence of God, of angels.
Breathing deeply again, I returned to the comfort of Jesus’ agape love I found in my Big Dream, a love that has weaved threads of holiness – wholeness — into the mysterious tapestry of my life.
Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”.
Pondering, I sketched an image of glimmering crown beaming with rays of light in my journal.
Ah, I thought, holy vacation queen. Whole, Godly, at rest, and true to myself.
The thick wall of ice between me and the holy child I abandoned so long ago melted. She grabbed my hand tight.
I realized the burnout that held me captive much of my career was the exhaustion of a world I couldn’t keep step with. My ravenous need for downtime has always been a hungering for reclaiming my true self, the holy child, the knowing I am a child of God.
Jesus says, “Knock on the door and it will be opened, Seek and you shall find”.
The holy child knocked and knocked, and the door opened.
“The most tremendous thing in the world is for people to find that door–the door to God. People die outside that door, as starving beggars die on cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winder—die for want of what is in their grasp. Others live, on the other side of it, live because they have found it”. –Celtic Prayer Book
What about you? Have you, like me, struggled to find your true self?
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