“I just want to crawl out of my own skin” is a thing I said often in the first weeks and months after he died. For the whole first year really. That was my existence much of the time. Every cell of my body – every hair, every pore, every organ, was reverberating a constant and loud message of denial. Every cell of me, bumping up against the truth at every turn, abrasively, painfully. And then violently pushing and pushing, trying to thrust the truth out of my world. No, no, no, no, no, NO, NO, NO NO, NO!!!… vibrating loudly within every inch of me, trying to fight off a reality too painful, too unbelievable to comprehend. This single aspect of his death was by far the most agonizing of all.
I have wanted to create this image for almost a year now. It came to be randomly one day, just an image in my mind, and I knew that it needed to be made. Sometimes I find I need to sit with these visuals a while though, until I feel the time is right to create them. After a session with my grief coach this week, I instantly knew it was time.
I was describing to him my experience of joining the gym – how working out each day and watching my body change and become stronger has so deeply empowered me on so many other levels. And I said to him… “I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have in my life”. He had to repeat it to me in fact, just to make certain I grasped the sheer magnitude of that statement. And he was right… wow. Because just two years ago, I wanted to crawl out of my skin. That is when I knew it was time for this one to happen.
There’s something else I feel I need to share here too. When I sat down in front of this final image tonight to write about it, I was so overwhelmed by how much of my past it spoke of…
I was in an abusive relationship in my early twenties, several years before meeting my fiancé. It was another extremely dark time in my life, and a very lonely one. What I did not expect to find in this image tonight, was part of that story, too. Not only the fear and pain of that past, but also the inner strength that came out of it. Because when I look at the woman in this image… she has not only been through the unbelievable pain of losing the love of her life. She has – at a much earlier time of her life – been pushed and intimidated and made to feel small and forgotten and scared and alone. She has been made to feel worthless and shameful and flawed at her very core.
The woman in this image has been through all of that. And she has fought with every inch of her life for nearly a decade to heal all of these pains. She has fought to become strong so that she could guard herself well enough to remain soft. She is now a woman who is never pushed nor intimidated, and who does not tolerate anyone who makes her or others feel small. She knows her worth, she is not ashamed of who she is or where she comes from, and she knows she is beauty at her very core. She knows how brightly she can shine.
We all have our own story like this. We all have the battles that we have fought, or are fighting through right now. The pains that break down our doors and leaves us battered and bruised. The pain that makes our very foundation of a future crumble beneath our feet. Even if it cannot be seen on the skin… all of it still lies within me, and within you. And I hope that when you meet such pain that you stand up when it knocks you down. That you square your shoulders and look it right in the eye. That you are mindful of what you can gain from it – strength, wisdom, and a radiant inner beauty that surpassed anything you ever imagined yourself to be.
About the Series: Through 40 weekly photos and accompanying essays, 'Still, Life' captures a deeply emotional and psychological journey of what it means to grieve, to heal, and to live on.