Finding the antidote to social validation

“A sculptor starts with a hammer, but finishes with a fine polish cloth.”

Having the patience to wait for the “next thing” seems to be a great paradox in this existence.  Recently I abandoned social media as a place to share photography. I’d come to the conclusion that I didn’t have a healthy relationship with it, but in that time I haven’t been able to figure out the crux of that relationship.  

I’ve been working with a therapist for nearly 12 years, starting just before going through a divorce. The initial years of therapy weren’t always easy and it involved working with my HMO therapist and then a crisis counselor through my employer. While this all seemed to work and get me through some very difficult stretches, it wouldn’t be until a very accidental conversation that I found the therapist that would help me deeply understand the discomfort I was experiencing.

This accident led to a nine year relationship where uncertainty and delusion would give way to quilt, quilt would give way to anger, anger would give way to grief and grief would link and reveal the lifetime of choice and consequence that brought me to today. In building any relationship a rhythm is established. Time in and out of an office, reading different articles, some sessions seemed frivolous, yet for far more sessions than not allowed for deep dives in the present emotional state, why it was that what, and how to move forward in the messy, new uncertain space. 

Many things have passed in those nine year from a marriage and all the familiar relationships that were intertwined in it, a role as a parent would evolve with children moving out and establishing their own paths, the death of a sibling and the end of a life-long activity, running, that gave me both a release for frenetic energy but a real sense of self and fulfillment. In this time I came around to photography. Photography had always held a place of wonder and interest, but I’d never had the opportunity to pursue it – and so now I would. The beginning of this journey paralleled a brief and intensely intoxicating relationship, which roared off from the start and seemed to be so perfectly a fit, before crashing back to the ground.  While the abrupt and chaotic end to this relationship was deeply painful, it revealed an ugly truth about my motivations, my sense of self and how my behavior was a result of this ugly truth. 

My journey through photography would continue, on what still felt like a meteoric arch of its own.  A quick succession of mastering gear and technique, selling my first few images, and earning praise and awards left a svengali like spell on me and this photographic journey. And having moved through many of my own interpersonal and relationship demons, many of my therapy sessions turned to photography and how I could avoid the pitfalls I’d experienced in my personal life while growing into my photography life. Unfortunately I didn’t.  That self-doubt that crept into my earlier interpersonal relationships had burrowed into my relationship with photography, and the relationship that I began to develop with social media would amplify many of the doubts and insecurities that still simmered below.  This was the impetus to leaving social media.  I knew something was amiss, that there was a disconnect between the work I was creating and sharing, but most importantly what was happening to my sense of self. 

So leaving social media was as much about self-awareness, it was also about returning to a center, to re-integrating the act of photography with the joy of photography. Like this transition, I’d come to recognize that another transition was drawing near. The word surrogate doesn’t necessarily convey a detrimental relationship. In the language of the therapist, surrogate is used to indicate when a help set of positive interactions have turned into something else. If ultimately the goal of therapy is to return to a whole, as a person who can see their place in the world and understand their place without judgement, along with a sense of value and a forgiveness for past mistakes, then at some point that work needs to be done on our own. 

So much like the sculptor, the early work in therapy is often blunt and rough, seeming to quickly plow through the unknown form while creating a crude outline of the intended outcome. But that took hundreds of hours and thousands of words, both spoken and written. Now, I’m in the polishing stage. It isn’t a fine-cloth that I’m working with, more of the rough sanding paper that is still forming some of those shapes.  But I think the work is now mine. And, like taking the break with social media, taking a break from therapy is about integrating the words and experiences and returning to the joy of living, not just living. 

This will be an experiment on its own.  Like photography and social media it seems that the heart of many of the deepest misgivings can be distilled to the following quote; “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So it’s time to invest in myself, my craft and my voice, both for myself and the photography that I enjoy.  I leave therapy at this humbled and grateful to have found a relationship that could be sustained for nine uninterrupted years. I know that the relationship is still there, and that accessing it again is a simple email away. For now, it’s me – I need to do my work.

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