The Balance Between Saving and Numbing

Many Years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come speak at his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked him. 

“Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he answered. It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground. I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone. I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves. – Barbara Brown Taylor, author

With our life in major transition mode for the past few months I needed something to save my life. I needed something that would take my mind off the to-do list and the longer list of unknowns. I needed something to give me breath.

I found myself letting art absorb me. I grabbed my basket of fabric scraps and set up the sewing machine that’s been in it’s case for months.

I scoured Pinterest for ideas, bought more bits of fabric and sewed piece after piece.

Then I grabbed my paints and again went to Pinterest for inspiration. I painted watercolors, determined to learn more about the method I so admired. I used my acrylics, some mixed media and even did a collage or 3.

In the process I had an idea that I’d start a new blog that could encompass all these art mediums: photography, making and writing.

Several months later I’m asking myself has that been saving me or numbing me? And is there a connection between the two?

When I was having extensive dental work done I welcomed the numbing ability of the Novocain. It would be poor medical practice not to give a patient something to numb the extreme pain cause by some procedures.

Working in recovery we talk about numbing our feelings and how that isn’t a good thing. As Brene Brown has told us, when you numb the pain you numb the joy.

So what gives here? I feel a little like all this busy-ness of making is numbing my emotional distress as it saves me. It’s a healthy distraction from seemingly endless lists.

When I’m in the creative process my mind is free to wonder. I’m not thinking about work or politics or what I should have done. It’s focused on what’s in front of me. Did I sew that line straight or does it matter? What color will look best on this painting? Should I ink in details or leave soft?

There are no right or wrong answers to those questions. Even the mistakes I think I’ve made aren’t mistakes. I have no one to answer to so I can think freely if I allow myself. Is this numbing or saving?

detail of bird mini quilt
watercolor of Sarge

Maybe the saving isn’t numbing but taking the edge off of my mind that struggles to shut down. Maybe it’s putting things into better perspective as most of the overthinking I engage in won’t change things and doesn’t really matter.

I posed this question to my therapist. Is art saving me or numbing me? She tilted her head and thought a moment and said, “Does it give you joy?”

We talked about the beneficial and harmful powers of numbing. She asked a few more questions. Is art causing me to neglect or ignore other things? Is it taking me away from life?

My floors might go a little longer between sweeping but the laundry is done, groceries bought and meals prepared. I still feel the pangs of loss and celebrate the joys of life. I am engaged in life.

As time gets shorter before our move I’ve had to put the sewing machine back in its case. Fabric and notions have been boxed up and most days my camera sits idle. Soon my paints will be packed except for my watercolors, 2 small watercolor tablets, and a few brushes. 

God saves us in many ways. Art is my gift from him. His way of giving me breath.

What is saving your life today?

3 thoughts on “The Balance Between Saving and Numbing

  1. Linda Stoll says:

    Oh I love these kind of saving your life posts. And I love your therapist. She sounds like a wise soul …

    Yes, joy can co-mingle with pain.

    Keep on creating, friend. Therein is life …

    • Debby says:

      It’s one of the things I actually like, that joy and pain co-mingle. Not that I like pain but it’s not always either or. And yes, I’m grateful for my therapist. She’s a gentle soul too. Always grateful for you, friend. xx

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