In 2017 I began writing the Porch Light Profiles as a way to support my journey of self-healing. I had recently read the book, Dying to Be Me by Anita Moorjani and was greatly influenced by what I learned from it. On February 2, 2006, at eighty pounds, the author fell into a deep coma. She had stage four lymphoma and her body was in full organ failure. Instead of dying she had a near-death experience. At heaven’s door she learned from loved ones that she had gotten the cancer from denying her true self. She had spent her life people-pleasing and going to the outside for answers. She understood that she would spontaneously heal if she chose to go back and live her life fearlessly, which she did. Within five weeks she was released from the hospital without a trace of cancer cells in her body.
Anita’s book struck such a chord in me because I had done the same thing as her. I didn’t lose my life to cancer but I had lost my life just the same. I had become so used to fulfilling other’s expectations, church doctrine, and societal conventions that I had lost myself. The only thing I was certain of was that I was driven to share my art with the world and my plans weren’t working.
My practice of going to the outside for my answers came at an early age. I had an emotionally unavailable father who drank too much. My mother was bitter and antagonizing. She took much of her anger out on me. I tried to keep myself safe by dimming my light and staying out of her way. I never once remember her holding me or telling me that she loved me.
Adding to my feelings of worthlessness was the shame my mother heaped on me for my body size. She hated that I was a big girl. She made a habit of belittling me and ignoring my gifts. The dominant message I got from her was that a woman’s looks were her ticket, and therefore I was screwed. I believed her and decided to focus on developing my artistic gifts. Creating soothed my soul. My talent was the only thing about me that felt remotely special.
Over the years I had gotten a lot of help to heal the damage from my childhood but had hit a wall. I realized that my art had become more about fitting into a mold then about expressing my true self. Trying to catapult myself into public awareness wasn’t working. I had turned my back on the joy of the creative process that I had as a child.
From Anita’s book I learned the importance of self-love. I could see that to be free from my past I need to make a concentrated effort to love myself. I became aware of how I constantly berated myself. I began treating myself with the same loving attitude that I did my own children. I had been going about life all wrong. Instead of goal setting I tried to stay in the now and do what felt light and expansive to me. If a choice felt heavy that signaled a “no” in my proceeding with it. The core of my being lost in people pleasing was now being mended by a connection to my heart.
At the same time I was changing my behavior I realized I needed support in this new way of being in the world. I started to study people in the arts who had found success by being themselves. They were living in the exact opposite manner I was. I discovered without exception that all of these people moved through life with a healthy dose of self-love. I wanted to know if it is safe to trust and do what feels right in my soul. Would a power greater than me guide my journey if I allowed it? That’s when the idea for my Porch Light Profiles began to take form. I thought the people that followed my blog would be inspired by what I was learning. The only stipulation I put on myself for writing about someone’s journey is that I must genuinely admire them. To my surprise most people I’ve asked to interview have said, “yes.” If I get a “no” I shake the dust from my feet and move on.
In the upcoming months I will be putting together more profiles of people who have taught me that it’s safe to listen to our hearts. Like Anita Moorjani their career paths have emerged from being themselves. I have learned so much from my interviews with people like Raine Wilson, Brandi Carlie, the Avett Brothers, Mitch Albom and Dolly Parton. Each of their stories will confirm that so many of us are living life backwards. Instead of making a a detailed step by step plan on how to realize our goals, we need to relax, be who we are, and allow our purpose to unfold. It is best to be loose with planned outcomes. That way you give God a chance to out dream you.
I have no idea if my Porch Light Profiles will mean anything in the grand design. I do know that creating them has helped me to walk through the door to my own personal freedom. Writing them has given me the courage to let my own light shine. I no longer am chasing a future that I think will make me happy. I now see that living itself is the prize.
Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com