This year has been nothing short of traumatic. I entered 2019, not dealing with an impending burn out, guilt over placing work before a health crisis, a sneaky little episode of PTSD... and then the universe slapped me hard - in the face - repeatedly, forcing me into an unplanned sabbatical where I had nothing else to do, BUT to work on me.
My downward spiral began with 1 simple question… “Who the hell told you it was ok to speak to yourself that way?” It was in response to my usual self-deprecating humor. And it stopped me dead in my tracks. FULL STOP. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I couldn’t answer the question, which I think made it even harder for me to move past it.
I asked that question over and over and over for months!
Enter The Photo Rehab, it is facilitated by a very good friend of mine - Chad. I had wanted to go for years, even before I knew Chad, or even knew that he was the facilitator. It was a Bucket List item, as was its location - Puerto Rico. However, I knew there was no way I could afford to go this year… no matter how much I wanted to. And that fueled even more depression, desperation, and WHY THE HELL DID I HAVE ZERO WORK?!?!?!?
1 (one) week before Rehab, Chad messaged, said we would work it out… and we did. I used American Airlines Travel Vouchers to pay for my airfare. I decided that I would fly in the day before and fly out a day later then everyone else, to allow me to explore San Juan on my own terms. I used hotel points & rewards to book my hotel stays, last minute. And in true Amber fashion… did not pack my bags until 10 minutes prior to me needing to leave for the airport!
I needed some not so gentle coaching from my brother to get on the plane after my layover in Dallas. I could not get my legs to move. My chest tightened. I couldn’t breathe. Luke - screamed “GET YOUR ASS ON THE DAMNED PLANE!”, “YOU ARE GOING TO PUERTO RICO! GET UP AND GET ON THAT FUCKING PLANE!!!” And eventually I stood up, and was the very last person to board the flight.
I arrived in San Juan at 10:45pm local time and proceeded to go to my hotel that I booked while waiting for my suitcase in baggage claim. - Read more about my San Juan adventure here -
Rehab started with an extremely long (2 hours) drive to a quant little coastal town, Isabella, Puerto Rico. I dropped my suitcase off in the blue villa that would be my home for the next few days, and made my way to dinner. I sat with friends I have known for a bit that were newbies to Rehab as well. I watched how everyone interacted with each other. Names of artists that I have known about forever it seems, finally had faces and a laugh I could hear. It was in that moment that photography developed a humanity and it is in that moment that everything began to change.
I would like to say that it was all beautiful and chocolate covered with sprinkles… but for me it wasn’t. I lost track of how many times I said to myself and to Shane, I give up… I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to be in the business of photography. I have no joy with it. I would sit for hours listening to the tide coming in and going out again. I would feel the ocean mist on my face.
And… I would cry… a lot.
I took a class called Work Less/Make More by the amazing Robert J. Hill. And I cried… listening to his story, it was so similar to mine. A sick spouse, downward spiral of depression, suicidal thoughts… ALL OF IT RESONATED and then he put up a slide that said “Falling apart was the BEST thing that happened to me”, it took my breathe away. I had been looking at my previous year in utter dismay. How did I let myself get so far from any form of true happy? How did I fall so far? Why could I just not fake it anymore? And at that moment I realized that my falling apart was the best thing that ever happened to me. It broke me open, left me raw and wounded. There was nothing else but to be true and authentic to me and to my art. Which posed its own damn problems!
Who the fuck was I?
I thought I could break it down, and after taking a marketing class with Haley Nord… I realized I had so many more questions then I would ever have the answers to - during this week long stay in paradise. Make no mistake, I am not a quitter, but I was super ready to quit. Staring at a blank piece of paper, not knowing how to answer the question of “Who are you?” Is probably one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had.
I decided in that moment, looking out at the ocean… that I was done. I was giving up this business. It was the first time I felt good and solid in a decision all year. But don’t get all up in arms… I wasn’t going to stop taking portraits, or helping people become empowered. I was going to stop trying to be like everyone else - and go back to my roots.
I left Puerto Rico, feeling like that second to last scene from Jesus Christ Superstar, you know the one where all the actors are getting back on the bus. And all of them are sad, but filled with a joy that they can not quiet explain.
Yeah that was me. I left a piece of me back on that island. Its a piece of me that I have hidden behind for far too long.
The piece of me that gets in the way and tells me that I am garbage. The piece of me that screams that I will never amount to anything in this lifetime, so I should just give up.