10 months ago · Leah Fogt · 0 comments
One of the first things people notice when they come in my office for the first time is the series of three paintings of giraffes on my wall. Many have asked, “Leah, what’s with the giraffes?” I LOVE to share the answer to that question.
There’s no doubt that giraffes are a source of inspiration for many people. They show up in art, literature, children’s toys and books, music, and mascots. Their graceful and majestic appearance captivates the eye and the mind, and their endearing expressions draw us in. For many, giraffes symbolize welfare and happiness. Often referred to as “Africa’s gentle giant”, giraffes represent cooperation, resourcefulness, intuition, and patience. Due to their height and long, elegant necks, they are frequently used as symbols of vision, perception, and the elevated mind.
Giraffes, particularly in their various stages of development, can illustrate the stages of recovery, and that is precisely the meaning I wanted to convey when I selected this art for my office. Each of the three giraffe paintings in my office is intended to depict a phase of healing or recovery. For the sake of this explanation, I will discuss the paintings in the context of recovery from addiction, however the concepts certainly can translate to healing from other forms of trauma or adversity.
The first painting depicts a baby giraffe with its mother, and it represents the beginning of the recovery process. Baby giraffes are born after 14 months gestation, and delivery typically occurs while the mother giraffe is standing. This means Baby drops about six feet, crashing down head-first into a new, scary, and dangerous world. The fall does not hurt Baby, but forces causes him to the first deep breath of life. Not too long after delivery, the baby giraffe begins to test out his body, walking on long, gangly legs with knobby knees and a wobbly gait. Baby is very vulnerable at this stage. In the wild, predators like lions, leopards, and hyenas are a threat to giraffes, especially calves that don’t yet have the strength or awareness to protect themselves. So this means Mama Giraffe (and often times other females of the herd) look after the little ones, providing protection and guidance.
To me the calf parallels the experience of individuals who are newly sober. Even though they may believe that sobriety is good and desirable, sober living is a scary thing because it’s new or even unknown. In the early stages of recovery, we need the support of safe and trusted people to help us, guide us, and even offer a little protection. Supportive family members, AA sponsors, counselors, and trusted friends can offer the much needed encouragement to help us through the scary and vulnerable beginnings of recovery. We also sometimes need a protected environment like a sober living house, treatment program, or new housing arrangements as a part of relapse prevention. Just like the baby giraffe is not helpless (remember Baby gets up and walks very soon after delivery), in early recovery we must begin by taking action toward change. This can look like joining a 12-step fellowship, participating in an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and changing up our habits to limit our exposure to the people/places/things that can lead us to use.
The second painting in the series depicts the juvenile giraffe, or as I like to call him, Junior. By now he has grown larger and stronger. He moves with more confidence and can run, reach, and explore. He has learned some things about the world around him like who is friend and who is foe, where there is safety and where there is danger. With this growing strength and confidence comes a little curiosity and even some boldness. Junior begins to stretch, reach, and try new things – he’s learning to “stick is neck out”, as they say. Sometimes Junior might get a little too bold and find himself in some sticky situations that could require the help of the older, wiser, or more experienced members of the herd. (Actually, Google tells me a group of giraffes is actually called a “Tower.” Very apropos.)
To me Junior reflects a lot of the experiences that go along with middle stages of recovery. By this point we may have a few months or even a year (plus) of sobriety behind us. We’ve identified triggers, overcome some cravings, and begun to establish habits that support continued sobriety. We might be more than familiar with the 12 steps and have a growing number of effective coping skills and resources to help us manage when life gives us challenges. There is still danger at this stage though. Sometimes, like Junior, we get a little too bold and take chances that can compromise our recovery. It’s important to stay self-aware and have accountability to others (like an AA sponsor) to help us stay on track or get back on our feet if we slip up.
The third painting is of the fully grown, adult giraffe. I like to call him Dude. The mature giraffe is fully developed, strong, and aware. He had gained a lot of experiences that inform his decisions, keep him safe, and help him thrive. Dude has strong muscles, and he moves with grace and efficiency. He knows how to navigate his world and is able to find food and water to help keep him well. When Dude encounters a problem, more often, than not, his instincts serve him well. Giraffes, even fully grown, are still prey, so Dude has to remain aware and pay attention to his surroundings. While he is self-assured and resourceful, he knows he is still vulnerable. Hungry predators are still after him, so he can’t let himself become overly confident.
The adult giraffe shares a lot of similarities with an individual who has been sober for an extended period of time. In order to achieve years of sobriety, we have learned a lot about ourselves. We are more self-aware and resilient than before. Like Dude, we are skilled and equipped to handle many of the challenges that everyday life throws our way. We have instincts, knowledge, and reliable resources. But just like a mature giraffe, we must remain alert and aware of potential dangers. We must be on the watch for threats to our sobriety and make daily efforts toward relapse prevention. Too much confidence can land us in precarious situations.
Recovery from addiction is not the only way to relate to the giraffes. Certainly we can all relate to the process of growth and healing. The dynamics of healing from just about any adverse life experience can be reflected in this metaphor. Getting through a painful breakup, recovering from a severe illness or injury, moving to a new school/job/town, grieving, and so many of life’s challenges take on a similar progression.
My invitation to you is to reflect on these three paintings and their messages. Which painting do you connect with the most at this point in your life? How can you use that awareness to help you be health, safe, and fulfilled?
A Message from the Artist
The three giraffe paintings are the work of artist and writer Amy Jacomet from the Miami Valley. You can find some of her commissions on display at Dayton Children’s Hospital. A courageous woman with a strong sense of spirituality, Jacomet shares her faith through her art. Here is a bit of her story:
“A type 1 diabetic at age 10, I found myself blind, with kidney failure and desperately needing an organ transplant at age 26. By 28, I received two healthy new organs and had regained some of my sight; however, I was left with the inability to see colors correctly.
I went back to my roots of art many years after that and took to painting. At that time, I wanted to find a way to glorify God through my work. He had shown me so much love through my valley and I wanted to return that love to Him.
After a quick prayer and creating my first painting, I heard Him say that He wanted His messages on the back of my work. I didn’t know what that meant until He gave me my first message and then placed it in the perfect person’s hands.
Since then, I have been creating pieces for Him to show this world His great love.
He has used my “inability” to see colors and detail to show His ability. I have felt so honored and blessed to be on this amazing journey with Him.”
Below are the messages Jacomet inscribed on the back of each of the giraffe paintings.
A journey awaits you. Do not be afraid to step into the unknown or unseen. Instead, know that I have already gone before you, and I am patiently extending My hand to pull you up out of your debris. The past is the past and you are no longer bound to it. Be of good courage and take the first step. I promise I will be by your side. I am leading you to a land of prosperity, so take My hand, child, and allow Me to be your guide. I know you are fearful, and I know you feel unsure. But know that I would not call you out of your dry and desert land if I didn’t have a plan and a purpose. You were created for great things. Believe these things I say to you. You haven’t yet seen your best days. They lie ahead. Now venture out and take this journey with Me. I promise you will not be disappointed. I have so much ahead of you as you draw near to Me. Take one step at a time. I promise you will get there. Take that first step. I am waiting to embrace you in My loving arms and show you the person you were created to be. Trust Me. I have you.
You’re experiencing so many new things and being tested in new situations and circumstances. Keep your eyes focused on Me like never before. Allow me to lead you on the path to the mountaintop. You’ve exited the valley and are growing by leaps and bounds, but do not forget about Me and all that I have done for you. I am still working My will and purpose for your life, shaping you along the way. Allow Me to mold you. Allow Me to show you the way to your victory. You will conquer all. Just be patient and do not rush ahead. There is a time and place carved out especially for you. It has been set aside and you have been set apart. Be patient in your process and see what I can and will do in and through you. You will be in awe when you see My plan unveiled before your eyes. Trust Me.
You are bold and courageous, strong and enduring. You have shown great perseverance on your journey. Taking on battle after battle and conquering all that has tried to rise up against you. You have overcome and come to a place of victory. Be very proud of what you have accomplished. You have refused to give up and met every obstacle placed before you with great courage. You didn’t give up when times got tough. Even when you’ve been knocked down, you’ve gotten back up and continued on the path that has led you to success. Congratulations. Be very proud of who you’ve become. Be very proud that you have withstood the test of time. What was once a valley for you has now become a testimony. Never forget where you came from, as it will keep you humble, but always look toward your future. It is so bright, and you are going to embark on many amazing things and opportunities. Always see yourself as I see you. When you look in the mirror, be grateful for you position in life. When I place others on your path, use your discernment and seek My face in knowing who and how to help. I have brought you through this journey for a reason and a purpose. You have not been forgotten. You will be honored. Keep walking forward with your eyes on Me, and know that I hold your destiny in the palm of My hand. I will never let you down.
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