Reflections on The Artist's Way — Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity


This is the fourth post in a series on The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, a book and a self-study program developed by Julia Cameron in the 1990s. Each week of the program is focused on a theme. In this post, I’ll be looking back on Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity.

“At the roof of a successful creative is the commitment to puncture our denial, to stop saying, ‘It’s okay’ when in fact it’s something else.” 
— Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way, Week 4

Over the past few months, I’ve sensed a bit of stubbornness, a general disinterest in pretending things are fine with me when they are not. As I worked my way through week 4 of The Artist's Way, I was reminded of my childhood.

I grew up in a dysfunctional family that was riddled with emotional abuse, conditional love, favouritism, and a mess of other things that I’ve spend thousands of hours and dollars trying to work my way out of through therapy, retreats, and the eventual realisation that they might not change, but I can.

For better or worse, my journey to reclaim my birthright as an artist has been intertwined with finally (or once again, depending on how things go) not pretending the environment I grew up in was okay when it clearly was not. In my family, I’ve been labelled the complicated one, the disappointment. The labels and names hurt, but not as much as the gentle and seemingly endless backhanded compliments and jabbing contempt I received from my parents throughout the stages of my life.

Every independent choice, from where I lived and where I worked, to whom I dated and how I spent my time was put through the strainer of judgement. Even when I excelled in school and displayed creative talent as a child and teenager, these things were somehow transformed into flaws, clues that I was destined to be a failure in life.

Materially I was taken care of, a kid in the suburbs, but everything came at a steep emotional price which contributed to me developing a severe anxiety disorder as I became an adult. I worked through it, and I’m a relatively well-adjusted grown up. Not surprisingly, by the time I decided to estrange myself from my family, it came with a sense of peace and calm.

If you spend time with me, you’ll notice certain things. I spend Christmas by myself (or with my boyfriend’s family if I find myself in a relationship as the year ends). I don’t talk about my parents, and when asked, I offer vague answers, then change the subject or move attention back to you.

Eventually, you'll realise I don't have a good relationship with my family, but it will be unclear why. I seem nice, well-adjusted, calm. At first, you won't know, but you might wonder, start looking for the flaws, the issue with me. That's when I start worrying. Will you be able to hear my father's voice telling me my boyfriend will never love me? Will you be able to figure out they said I'll be poor if I am an artist, then laughed? Will you see me as a child, curled up in bed listening to their hateful arguments while I silently prayed to become an adult so I could make the beautiful life I knew was out there waiting for me?

‘People frequently believe the creative life is grounded in fantasy. The more difficult truth is that creativity is grounded in reality, in the particular, the focused, the well observed.’
— Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way, Week 4

I've decided to post this because I'm done pretending the environment I grew up in was okay. Trying to hide it was painful, felt dishonest, and took me to places that only caused more damage. My experience is my story to tell, and sharing more of my journey seems inevitable.

It feels good to go public and just be me. I am free, and I am happy. Finally, it is okay.

‘All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life.’
— M. C. Richards

If you, like me, grew up in an emotionally dysfunctional home, you might be interested in reading Toxic Parents by Susan Forward. I read this book around twice a year and it’s been essential to my emotional recovery.

Read my other posts about The Artist's Way