Taking Up Space

Photo by Godisable Jacob

San Francisco is a crowded place, where it seems like everyone is always moving at such a rapid clip, and has such important crap to do. I’ve noticed that sometimes there is an energy of “being in the way,” on the street, on the sidewalk, in the grocery aisle, in the coffee shop . . . Honestly, sometimes it gets to me. As in, “Am I not allowed to take up space here?”

Beyond that, any kind of human group or collective can create this sort of feeling that certain members are not allowed to take up as much space as others. It feels like, as a member of that group or collective, you have to know your place and know your space (i.e., how much you take up), lest you invite another group member to remind you. Tall poppy syndrome, thy name is. I believe we actually limit what we can be in the world for fear of this human tendency. For our species, group belonging essentially is survival, or has been, for the vast, vast, VAST majority of our history as a species. So you can sort of understand why someone would trade their true potential in for the safety of continued belonging. But the world has changed. If you fail out of one group, there is an infinity mirror of other potential groups standing behind it. Still, biology can be hard to override. And once again, it can seem as though we have to fold ourselves into whatever kind of space the group has afforded us.

I strongly suspect that womxn in particular feel this implicit message that they need to get out of the way, that they need to fold up even tighter, that they need to cut down their ambition or charisma or creativity, that no space or place on earth could ever be theirs, in a very special and poignant way. Taking up too much space, as a woman, sometimes actually feels dangerous– like an invitation to be rejected by the group. And there have been times in the not-too-distant past when the form that that rejection took could be pretty horrifying. I strongly suspect that womxn feel this in their very bodies– In the tightness of the rib cage area especially, as if there is an invisible, tight, boned corset zipping up the breath and voice and heart all day, everyday.

I spent an entire month after getting licensed just journaling about my niche and my practice name, and doing some deep dive introspection about all of it, all while driving for Lyft in the mornings and evenings in order to continue to have food and shelter (all while fielding lots of comments and questions about the novelty of having a “woman driver” and how scary, dangerous or weird it must be for me). When ‘Awake’ appeared on the page, it almost jumped out at me with a little life force of its own. I had been thinking about the depth psychological concept of ‘Psychoma,’ or ‘the sleep of the soul,’ and how it related to Eve’s admonition in the The Book of Secrets, “Beware the Deep Sleep.” I had long suspected that American culture (and probably all of modern Western culture) has created a situation in which there are not really a ton of options (for being a solvent adult) that speak to people on a soul level, so then having a soul becomes even more painful than it already needs to be, so people numb or put their soul to sleep in one way or another (by vegging out with bags of Cheetos in front of the TV after getting home from a job they don’t particularly love, or through other addict-like behaviors). You can’t really blame people for doing this. It’s hard to have a soul. But, like Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, I really desired, in a way that I can’t stop and I can’t explain, to help save the human heart and soul, which (Dr. CPE says) are the most endangered species on the planet. (Side note: Not all addictions are 100% related to this. Of course not. Addiction is complicated and too much to cover here. I’m speaking more of the everyday addict sort of behaviors, like iPhones, screens, food comas, etc.)

Then I saw that ‘Awake’ has the same root (according to some sources) as the word “witch” : a proto-Germanic word, “weg” which means, “strong, lively”. It immediately made sense to me that all of these concepts would be connected. The history of religion, and of most modern cultures, has not been particularly kind to strong and lively womxn, womxn who took up too much space, womxn who were awake in the sense that they refused to put their souls to sleep. And I strongly suspect that this kind of womxn was often called “witch”. There are other layers to the meaning of ‘Awake’ that you can find in previous blogs.

Now, I was pretty happy with the little life force that I could feel pulsing underneath “Awake.” And “Therapy” just made plain old sense. But it didn’t feel complete. The last week of February rolled around, and I was so ready to drive to the San
Francisco Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector to register my little baby business that people were nearly giving up their seats for me on the bus, as if they could sense my enormous metaphysical pregnancy. I had planned to go there the very first Monday of March, and that was it. So I drove over the bridge from where I was staying in Oakland at the time, and I still didn’t know.

I got to the Hall of Records, and I still didn’t know. I was directed to the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector and sat in front of one of the designated computers to register my business. I filled out the form and entered ‘Awake Therapy Space’. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it at the time, to be perfectly honest. I was just burgeoning with readiness to press “Go” and if I didn’t break the seal soon, there was going to be some kind of implosion.

For a couple of months there, I didn’t love my choice, honestly. The word “space” calls to mind Hubble images of deep space, “spacey-ness” and perhaps worst of all, emptiness. But it has grown on me. I have created a space in my community where anyone is allowed to take up as much space as they want, and where their internal space matters and can be looked at with gentleness and compassion. It is a space where people can allow their souls to catch up, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the week. I suppose the choice of name also nods to the space I was giving myself permission to take up in the world. None of this was entirely conscious at the time, of course. The creative process is like that.

Like anything that I ever create, through my therapy-related offerings or otherwise, what I am ultimately hoping to do is offer a gift from my heart, or the deepest place in me, that speaks to the hearts and souls of those who are meant to partake. That is what art is. It takes some time and some space to interact with life itself as if it were a work of art, and sometimes that space is internal until the day comes when the page turns and now a new chapter or creation has been externalized. I’m offering the space that I’ve created to anyone who wants to spend some time in there doing the same 🙂 “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” -Oscar Wilde (Another entire think piece, or body of work, this quote deserves!)

Published by annaliseoatman

I am a heart-centered, trauma-focused, licensed therapist with five years of experience working with traumatized, system-involved children and youth, adults moving through addiction and recovery, and older adults in skilled nursing facilities with HIV/AIDS-related health struggles. I earned an Oxbridge Masters in Philosophy (Mental and Moral Sciences) at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and a Masters in Social Work, with a concentration on mental health and direct clinical practice, at the University of Southern California. I love empowering, and healing trauma, and doing soul work with passionate, free-thinking, creative women, or anyone who has ever identified as having the female experience. My approach is warm, empathic and grounded, and I integrate an attachment perspective with a somatic and depth approach to healing trauma.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: