The Person I Needed

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Abigail Taylor/ Community Voices

Abigail Taylor shares her experiences after attending the first Real Life Conference in 2016.

I attended the first night of the first Real Life Conference that Erika Mann founded as a way to support women as photographers, individuals, and communities. It sounded like heaven. Everything I wanted to be a part of.

Except I had this overwhelming urge to run as far away from it as possible. It was an urge that made no rational sense. All I wanted was to take shelter in a quiet, dark place where I could safely recover from wedding season and being a human. I wouldn’t have gone at all if it weren’t for women in the community who encouraged me to come, if only for the first day. They went out of their way to support me, even though they had their own things to organize around the conference. At that point, such an offering of kindness, understanding, and acceptance was pretty new to me, and it felt pretty special.

So, I got myself into a pair of outside pants and made my way to the conference. I got to see two talks that inspired me to the point of realizing an image I wanted to create, gathering all the materials needed, and creating it that week. I saw Susana Barbera and Gulnara Samoilova talk about their artists’ journeys and their personal work. I was inspired by how they gave themselves permission to create what they wanted, and how much importance they allowed it to have. That, along with all the creative energy in the room, gave me a clear vision of the piece I wanted to create.

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Susana and Gulnara reminded me that photography can be used for creative expression and catharsis just as much as it can be for making money, and that all are equally as important. I got to reconnect with a part of myself I had neglected in lieu of everything that had been deemed more important. I reconnected with my inspiration, my creativity, and my voice. It was healing to see that part of myself again.

And with all that magic, I still didn’t come back the next day, or even stay for the group dinners. I loved the talks and the women there. I wanted to grow and connect with them, but instead I drove home in a teary confusion. What the hell was wrong with me?! I didn’t understand how I could so want something and yet feel so conflicted about it.

It's been nearly three years since that conference. Three beautiful years filled with ups, downs, and illuminations, as I delved into parts of myself I'd been hiding from, without even realizing it. I’ve been training and practicing my way through navigating being a human.

I understand now why it felt so painful to pull myself towards and then away from the conference. There were a couple of reasons. One was being a highly sensitive, empathic person without a practice of self care to clear away the noise of everyone else's thoughts and feelings. A perfect recipe for overwhelm and wanting nothing more than a dark, quiet place to hide in.

The other reason was more subtle, but also more influential. It was a belief I’d had most of my life; a belief that wasn’t actually true for me. It was one that I started healing with the help of Erika while she was running me through an exercise she would present at the second Real Life Conference. I was to write down something that I felt was holding me back in life.

So, I wrote down what felt like an old, familiar friend: “You don’t belong here.”

It had been there for as long as I could remember. But, I had never exposed it in writing before. Doing so created a sense of space between me and it, and in that space I felt a little more free.

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The second part of the exercise was to write down what I would say to a friend if they were dealing with this. I thought about my friend who felt like she didn’t belong. I let myself feel love for her. What would I tell her? I allowed my mind to go blank, and after a few minutes, an answer appeared…

“You belong in your heart.”

It resonated throughout my whole being. There was truth in it, I could feel it. And it was the beginning of letting go.

I left the conference three years ago because I listened to a lie that said I didn't belong. I didn’t yet have the understanding or the tools to move through that belief, and I let it hold me back from something I so dearly wanted; community, connection, and growth.

But now I have the tools and understanding to move through those beliefs. I’ve dedicated the past three years to healing painful thoughts with deeper truths, and facilitating this process for others. It’s my passion, purpose, and most fulfilling work. And now I get to attend this year's Real Life Conference as someone that I needed on the first night of the first day. Someone who can listen and understand, even when it doesn’t make sense to me yet. Someone who can help me come home to myself.

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