(24″X36″, oil on canvas)
For the majority of my life I was deathly afraid of being vulnerable. I’ve developed an almost allergic aversion to pity. I was horrified by the idea that someone might feel sorry for me. After all, I was raised to be stoic.
One of the most memorable stories my grandmother told me was about breaking her arm at a conference. Someone inadvertently slammed a folding chair on her arm and broke it in several places. She wanted to scream in pain, but forced herself to start laughing instead. Incredible self-control. Lesson learned: Never show your pain.
As a teenager during WWII my grandmother was evacuated to Russia and worked there at a factory manufacturing ammunition. Oftentimes, she slept on a cement floor right there so she can wake up early to start her shift. Consequently, her previously robust health got ruined and she spend the rest of her life sickly. No one ever heard her complain.
My other grandmother was just as strong when it came to holding it in. She lost both her husband and child during WWII. Then, barely escaped from the Nazis with her two sisters. They’ve ended up living in a tent for a year surviving by selling baked goods. Although, I’m still unclear where exactly they were baking them…. She was also an orphan who lost both of her parents as a child. My grandma rarely talked about her youth or what she has endured during the war. When she did talk about it, it was always very matter-of-factly.
Both of my grandfathers were in the army during the Nazy invasion. One was terribly wounded returning to front as soon as he was able to. At one point his unit was surrounded by the Germans. Almost everyone got captured, but he miraculously managed to escape. He walked home for days or rather nights because he could’ve been easily spotted during the day in his uniform. He referred to himself as a soldier until the day he died.
I was raised to be a little soldier too. Don’t complain. Be strong. Never fall apart.
So I’ve plowed through all types of trauma like a champ and prided myself on being to maintain an unflappable interior under any circumstances. There were moments when I was dying inside, but not a single person around me could’ve suspected I was going through an inner turmoil. At one point it got so bad that I started randomly fainting, but interestingly enough never in front of other people.
It took me about three decades to be able to open up to people, to cry uncontrollably in front of others and not to give a s—t if I appear weak. There is an immense power in vulnerability. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a sign of strength, not weakness. I wish it didn’t take me so long to understand that. But I guess we all come to certain conclusion at the time that’s right for us as individuals.
When I painted my ‘self-portrait a la Klimt’ it was a way for me to showcase to the world that I’m no longer afraid of vulnerability. I chose to emulate Klimt’s style because for me it represents nostalgia and innocence. This self-portrait was a way for me to cement in my mind that there is no shame in feeling vulnerable and exposed. I’ve embraced my own weakness and I’m at peace whenever I feel like a scared little child. I don’t fight my feelings. I let myself experience whatever I’m going through to the fullest knowing that ‘this too shall pass’. Life is awesome like that…