I’m alone on Cape Cod this week. I am here to write for a week and I have a house and a beach and some woods to myself. It’s heaven. Every couple of years I get the chance to do this and each time it takes just 36 hours to drop down into a deep place, and everything else falls away. And that includes caring about how I look.
A few years ago I was on a month-long writing retreat. I lived in a barn with a bedroom and an art studio and I didn’t care about clothes or hair or even bathing. I didn’t wear any make up for a month and I liked how I looked. But at the end of 30 days I began to wonder if I could go back into my “normal” world without make up?
I think about that now. What is the difference between this face I like on retreat and my discomfort with this same face in my other life?
In early recovery I used to wonder in any new situation, “Who do I go as?” The question was tribute to my years of people pleasing. A breakthrough moment was the day that it came to me that, “I can go as me.” There was a “me” there!
As I packed to leave the retreat I began to ask, Can I go another week without make up? Can I go 21 days? I wanted make up to be a choice and not something that I have to do. If I can be in the world without make up then make up can be a choice. Can I use makeup but not be defined by it?
When I talked to my sponsor I said, “I think I’m reclaiming my face”.
If this is what I really look like, I don’t want to hide that --especially from myself. I don’t want to be afraid of my own face.
It’s timing of course. Many of us admire the freedom of appearance of someone like Georgia O’Keefe but most of us admire her 90-year-old, desert-artist face. Yes, I may be willing to look like a chic, elegantly wrinkled woman when I’m 90, but what about at 57 and 67 and 77? The face we fret over most is the getting-old face rather than the being-old face.
Maybe this reclaiming of my face is reclaiming of my mortality. If I change the appearance of my face does that change what is inside? Face-lifts might make us look younger but they don’t make us be younger. Botox may make us look less worried but it doesn’t make us less worried, it simply disguises an even greater worry.