Christmas is over, as evidenced by the Turkey Pot Pie in my oven (I'm dubious that my puff pastry will really puff). Instead of a lump of coal, I got a block of clay.
Looking at this slab of clay on my table can be daunting. Long ago I had the experience of being 'triggered' when using clay. Only during my Art Therapy training did I understand that clay elicits that response from many people who have had experiences ofsexual trauma. In the past, that triggering effect served to make me feel more crazy, different, like I didn't belong, etc. With my current knowledge, I chose to approach my slab of clay like any other art medium, and let the process guide me. I stayed cognizant of the possibility that I COULD be affected by the feel of the clay, and I knew that at this point I am able to manage those feelings.
The piece I subsequently created was no accident. While the feeling of the clay squishing through my fingers did guide the image, the intent was born of an art invitation that was very specific. This is another way to use art therapy- as an invitation to give form to a specific image that wants to be released from our bodies.
This invitation was a spark of an idea that grew out of a conversation I had with my long- time therapist/ mentor. We were talking about ways that I could nurture the little girl within who had been so badly hurt all those years ago, and he asked if I could picture holding her. In that instant I had an image in my mind, and I knew what I had to do.
So I sat with my lump of clay, inhaled deeply, and put my hands on the clay. I felt an immediate jolt of pain- a memory that found its way into my hands as I worked. I continued to breathe rhythmically, and reminded myself that a memory cannot hurt me (although it certainly feels like it can). I allowed the feelings to just 'be' until I was ready to shape and mould my image.
I was surprised to note that as I worked I found a calm that I gleaned from focus on the details of what I was doing.
The conversation I had with Floyd (my EXCELLENT therapist) played itself out, as I very literally gave form to the formless.
I worked in stages, forming first the body of ME who could hold all that needs holding in my life. Then I created an image of the child that I was- still part of me, reflected in the umbilical chord still attached. Finally came faces that haunt me even today.
The first depiction of 'me', captures the deepest sense of me, the heart and soul of who I am. I believe that I am 'mother' at my core, meaning that it is my greatest desire to nurture, to heal. It is that essence that Floyd was inquiring about: could I find a way to give to myself that which I have always given so naturally to my children, and now- to my grandchild?
This being has a strong, grounded base, connected to the earth of which it was made. Hollowed belly serves as a reminder of two levels of awareness: 1- the starvation and purging that I have inflicted on myself, as a result of: 2- the evil I perceive is within me.
The smaller aspect of me has lived among the demons: the animal face that torments me with blood curdling howls of both the tortured and torturer, 'moon face' who has no affect, and the 'normal' monster, who looks like all of us from the outside. There are many more, but as I scourge myself of their power, I may stop listening to their taunts.
They live in the hollow space in my belly. Sometimes they hurt that tiny being who experienced so much pain, and I feel that pain. I created these images separate from 'me', so I can move them, making room for all of me. When I attempt to banish them for life they reappear, a reminder that kindness will soften them too.
Then there is the small, infant me, who longs to be nurtured- held as a mother does with tender love. Connected by an umbilical chord- I am not willing to let her go too far away. I need her to teach me more: to be kind and gentle, to find self- compassion, and to know that it is alright to love and nurture her- particularly when she is hurting.
Creation of my exploration of 'me in clay' was cathartic. I externalized the voices, and gave them form and faces. They are no longer hidden beings. This was a step towards freeing myself, at a newer and deeper level, from the very hold that the past sometimes retains on me. It will sneak up now and then and grip me in its paralyzing darkness. Unable to see them, I imagine the demons to be all- encompassing. They are not- today, they are only miniature faces made of clay.
There are so many things still to say about this experience. I will let the ideas flow through me, and continue to process their meanings. For now, I will focus on the art therapy aspect of this. From the medium I chose, specifically for its earthy, though potentially triggering, properties, through the meditative way I worked, to the specific theme I chose to address, this was typical art therapy session. It gave me voice, I conquered my fear of using a medium that could be emotionally challenging, thus gaining confidence, and I was able to see some of the challenges the past holds for me from a different perspective.
Plus- I really enjoyed doing it!
It doesn't escape me that there are some meta- themes that showed up at my table. My husband walked past when I was done, and said: Oh nativity... Though he knew that it wasn't my subject matter, that is what it conjured for him. And then my son came home and asked me if it was for Charlotte (my daughter who is newly a mother). That had a ring of truth in it for me, as it is both currently in the forefront of my thoughts, and this piece is about mothering myself.
These meta- themes are universal and may speak to a wider audience than my unique issues will. It is my hope that others will resonate with some aspect of this work and be inspired to connect, create...
As always, I welcome comments.
Wishing a happy and healthy New Year filled with joy and peace to all.
I need to learn HOW to hold.
Upon reflection, I sense that sometimes I hold too tight, at other times I let things slip through my fingers so they escape me entirely. I mean this in a feeling sort of way. How can I hold on to a space that is filled with ease that I have created? How do I hold onto the feelings of love and joy so they can sustain me when I am stuck for a bit?
I am asking myself these particular questions right now, because I'm home from being immersed in my grandma role, and I have been considering the Christmas frenzy that is upon us. AND, I would like to stay in the calm, nurturing state of mind that I was in while away.
Holiday/ family times are decidedly difficult for people who struggle with food issues of all kinds. The holidays are notoriously centred around food, drink and parties. If you are a person who overeats, you may dread the party scene- being unsure if you will be able to resist the temptation of mouth watering morsels that will surely be laid out in front of you. If you struggle at the anorexic end of the continuum, you may feel so out control and out of your element in social situations that revolve around food, that anxiety may rise, and you may fear eating and the reaction of people to your NOT eating with equal concern.
I notice that I am not in that place of 'fear of fat' or 'fear of food' most of the time. This recurrence of eating disorder behaviour feels different than at earlier times in my life. I think I have said already that the deep awareness I have of this process is both a gift and a bit of a curse. With awareness I understand this behaviour as the coping mechanism that it truly is, and I am grappling with the 'holding on' (or perhaps better viewed as 'letting go)of it. I am aware, however, that I have choices, and the moment to exercise them in a healthy way is upon me. The 'curse' is really a positive attribute as well- that awareness doesn't allow me to pretend that the behaviours are about food, calories or fat.
So HOW do I hold on to what is good and let go of the distorted eating disorder thoughts and messages, and hold on to the calm I created for myself (and hopefully for my daughter's young family)?
I saw this on Facebook, and I don't really even remember where it was taken from. I love it though. It answers the question: how does art therapy work? At least at its simplest, it defines the feeling of relief when we externalize our turmoil in the form of art.
While this is frequently akin to my process, my need to creatively release my tumultuous feelings, I have also talked here, about how art making can be a gentler, calming experience. It can be both an emotionally difficult action and a sweet moment in time full of beauty. These two ways of viewing art making are not mutually exclusive.
I wonder how many different ways/ times I can say this: art making engages every part of my being- mind, body, spirit. As I pull out the art materials, my creative juices start to flow. Even when I feel stymied, or intimidated by a blank piece of paper or canvas, I allow the colours, the sensory aspects to carry me until I have created and feel done.
Before, I may have thoughts about what it is that will emerge. During my session, often time becomes suspended and I will be truly 'in the zone'; thoughts will be more about the way colours are blending, what parts of the paper want to be covered... And after, there is time for reflection, in the form of conversation, poetry, etc, that addresses the meaning I attribute to my work.
Art making is very sensory- loaded for me. I frequently use my hands to apply paint, blend pastels, or use whole body motion to sand away bits and achieve the effect I am looking for. In this way, I engage my body felt sense of the moment, with as little censorship as I can muster. I am guided by the colour and the body felt sense.
And art making is truly a spiritual experience for me, as I define spirituality. When defined as attributing meaning to life's events, what could be more true to that than understanding the essence of my inner perception of my experiences and thoughts.
I was out once with my daughter and her friend, and her friend asked me what my favourite colour is. As I threw out a few colour names, my daughter stopped me and said with a definitive tone: mom, your favourite colours are blue and navy blue!
After many years of being drawn to blue with a great deal of frequency, I had an 'aha' moment a few years ago that shed conscious light on my attraction to the colour. In some way, the colour blue has become fused with a sense of awe- something greater than myself. Some people may call that divinity, god or the like. I find those terms to be too narrow and limiting. When I think of 'something greater than myself' it is more likely to encompass the feelings I have about being human that are difficult to express- enter BLUE.
I sat with my daughter and painted this just last week. She was dealing with her own creative expression after the birth of her daughter. And I played with blue. I had no conscious place that I needed to go, but given my understanding of blue for me, it was fitting. I painted with ease, and it was a sweet moment.
When I reflect on this piece I see a small but sturdy boat sailing toward... safety? security? And it has to travel on stormy seas to get there.
Kind of like life.
And, of course, there was new life in the room with me as I painted this.
New life has a way of injecting us with contagious laughter, calm and joy. I am still 'holding' some of that from my baby holding experiences as a first time grandma. I hope to internalize as much as I can, to carry me until my next visit with my daughter and granddaughter (son- in- law too).
I will close by wishing everybody a loving and peaceful holiday season.
Take time to be creative and enjoy the effects!
Shift happens .
Sometimes shift is a result of enormous effort- a process of going deep within, seeing ourselves with open, honest eyes and allowing awareness to come to our conscious lives. At other times, shift just happens when we are looking the other way. We look back in an introspective glance, and see the changes that have occurred. We didn't plan the shift- it happened as part of a natural process of healing and evolution.
It is this second form of change that I have lived this past week and a half. It is interesting to me, and worthy, I think, of debriefing.
I am now grandma to a beautiful girl- 7 days old as I write. I was gifted with the joy of being a part of my daughter's labour and birthing. The experience was completely engaging, and so full of love. It was awe inspiring to see my daughter as she blossomed into motherhood. I saw her strength, courage and beauty as she brought her daughter into the world.
So this shift happened as my focus was drawn outside myself and the health and safety of my family became the object of all my attention. In this circumstance the shift was just that- a change in focus. I was not preoccupied with my weight, body image, etc.
Part of my eating disorder behaviour has always been caught up in a cycle of over- exercise while restricting my food intake. Those behaviours had no place in my world during this time that I was focused on new life, and they dwindled as part of my repertoire. I'm not suggesting that I'm 'cured', or that I haven't had any distorted thoughts, old messages, the horrible tapes that have run in my head for decades. I am saying though, that they were quieter, allowing me to hit override, so that my attention could be diverted to what was (is always) really important: family, children, LIFE.
Healing process is rarely a straight line. There are bumps, curves, and ups and downs. Sometimes I have taken breaks from the task of healing myself- long or short, I have always come back to purposeful self- awareness. That purpose has been in the name of self- healing, of course, but more importantly, I have always believed that my journey has been made more bearable, and I have embraced it, because it provides me with the compassion and tools to help others.
With all this in mind, I realize I can learn something from this 'break' in eating disorder behaviour. I am reminded that I have choices. I know that I don't always exercise my ability to choose something else, and that at times I am not even able to see the choices through the distorting fog of 'triggers' and eating disorder.
But the choices are there, and when I accomplish what my psyche has sent me in quest of- I will choose health again. Many of our unhealthy behaviours are coping mechanisms- smoking, and drinking come to mind. I was not on a mission to lose weight, rather, when my unconscious was on overload, and I had to face the reality in the present, the eating disorder popped up again so that my full focus would not be taken up with the pain I was feeling.
Let me be clear. I am NOT choosing to stay stuck. I have had a glimpse, a reminder of what it takes to come unstuck, and move forward.
And THAT is a choice I am exercising.To remember the tools and reasons for living in the world in an engaged and healthy way.
Art therapy and the shift...
As I sat with my daughter as she laboured to deliver her beautiful daughter, I painted. Making art has many benefits. In this instance, painting relieved stress, kept me in a calm mode, so I could be present for my daughter.
This piece I painted early in the labour process- calm and muted colours, it reflects the serenity and peacefulness I was feeling. This was a soothing activity, and I enjoyed the way the colours arranged themselves on the page to form a city scape with an almost pastoral sense.
Here is evidence of a tired and scattered time. I painted to externalize my feelings of apprehension.
As I look at these two pieces together, the change in my emotional state is visible. It isn't hard to imagine the difference in how I was feeling.
Through the posts I have added, I have provided examples of the different ways that art works for me. It changes and morphs as I approach the art making experience. Sometimes I draw myself a map to another way of seeing, at other times, it is soothing, and provides me with a place to position emotional questions.
I was asked recently, by one of my readers, how the art works in the healing process. As I write, I am relaying my experience of art making in my healing process. I will address this question more fully when I get back from my grandma outing.