It was my first night in a residential treatment center for eating disorders. I was nineteen, scared, and alone. I had just gotten off the phone with my parents who were half a world away; I was in Arizona and they were in Brussels, Belgium. I hung up the phone and cried hysterically. Tears poured out of my eyes like never before. So many tears, I thought I would never stop. I buried my head deep into a pillow, sobbing.
A gentle tap brushed my shoulder. A girl who looked to be about my age was hovering over me.
“It’s going to be okay,” she whispered. “We were all scared. This is a safe place.”
With a soft smile gently lighting her face, she sat down next to me and opened up two coloring books. She set one down in front of her and the other in front of me.
“Here, take the pink one. I can tell it’s your favorite color,” she said as she handed me a bright pink crayon.
I couldn’t remember the last time I colored. As the crayon stroked the page, I could feel my tears begin to dry up. The knot in the pit of my stomach that had been there since I arrived, began to unwind. I felt calm.
I brushed the crayon back and forth on the page. Something in the repetitive motion lifted the weight that I had been carrying for years. The weight of a small child buried beneath a blanket of shame from sexual abuse. The weight of a young girl exhausting herself by doing to keep herself from feeling. The weight of a high school student striving to appear perfect so no one would see the darkness that lived inside her head. The weight of a virgin who had just been raped. The weight of the world- my world, slowly began to release.
A little over a year later, I found myself hovering over someone’s shoulder with two coloring books and a pack of crayons in hand. We were in the psych ward of the local hospital. I was there to detox my body after spiraling into a dangerous alcohol addiction; he was there to treat his schizophrenia and Tourette’s Syndrome.
I offered him a coloring book and crayon after he had experienced an outburst that ended in a physical restraint. He looked up at me with a a look that begged me to question if I had suddenly grown another head. He didn’t say anything to me, he didn’t take the book, but I sat down next to him and started coloring in mine. Within ten minutes he picked up the book I had set in front of him and joined me. We sat in silence and colored for nearly two hours.
The next day, his daughter came to visit. I was grabbing myself a snack in the common lunch room and he rushed over to me, introduced me to his daughter and said, “This is the girl I was telling you about. This girl just saved my life.” He went on to explain that his Tourette’s is largely triggered by anxiety and coloring with me was the first time he had felt calm without having to be sedated in a long time.
Yesterday, nearly ten years post psych ward, I sat at my dining room table and started to color. A dear friend died this weekend, I’m having surgery tomorrow, my kids are being kids (loud, messy, needy, rough), and my husband and I fought after dinner. My brain was spinning in a thousand different directions, my blood seemed to be boiling and my gut organs felt like they had been ripped out, knotted up and shoved back in. My tension was so high, my grip was so tight, and my pressure was so hard that I broke the first crayon to hit the page. But as I continued to stroke the crayon against the the page, the noise in my head began to hush. I took a deep breath and felt the air dancing around in my chest. My muscles relaxed and I felt calm.
As I watched the colors vibrantly fill the page, I felt as if I was transported back in time. I was five; I was three; I was an eager soul connecting with life. I was pure and innocent; life was simple. I was free from the chaos of my circumstance, from the anxiety of a mind trying to make sense of a world that never seems to make much sense, and from the brokenness of a shattered heart.
*This was written on November 11, 2015. For those who know me personally, I am not having another surgery, just slow with sharing my writing sometimes 🙂