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.
As I indicated in my first blog, I have continued to make art. Not all of it has been profound. Sometimes it's just play- which is great. How often do we stop to play in our lives? The pieces that follow had a deeper impact on my awareness. I conceived them as a series that would have common elements that would let a story or idea unfold. I didn't know what the story would be, nor even what elements would be consistent. What I knew was that I had a strong sensation to connect deeply and let the colours of my depth reveal themselves. Like unmasking at a costume ball, I imagined that there could well be surprises.
Some surprises are welcome.
Three canvas boards. All different sizes. Each one holding possibilities. I looked at them and wondered what possibilities they might hold for me? In what ways would these three empty spaces allow me to go deeper into self- awareness. How could these three small canvases facilitate my knowing, my ability to be compassionate, my healing?
I felt open.
I had no preconceived idea of what needed to appear. I had no image, just a felt sense that I am still uncovering the layers; looking at each from different angles.
My intention as I approached my art session, was simply to let the media guide me, to 'trust the process'. With this in mind, I chose materials that appeal to me for various reasons: oil pastels because I can really feel them adhere to the surface as I apply them. I know I will have a visceral sensation of hard work. My big tub of gesso- because you just never know when you'll need the properties of gesso. A small selection of watercolours- because I love them.
The smallest of my three images was possibly the most impactful, at least for for me. The lesson was carried throughout the rest of my art making experience. I started with crimson oil pastel, and then added black; hard lines that couldn't be broken. I knew that the characteristics of watercolour would not cover the oil pastel. I painted over my lines with brown watercolour, only to find that I was being buried alive... swallowed whole by the process.
What I KNEW was wrong.
I had the dawning realization that this was a metaphor for old beliefs, lies that I had absorbed, as if in my DNA. I had created an in the moment experience of changing my beliefs, or, at least, recognizing how my old thoughts clung to me, like an odour I couldn't wash away.
While this may seem very simplistic as a process, as my awareness was open and ready to shift, it just made sense that the old thoughts and messages that I have held onto for my whole life just might possibly be untrue. I still live with the fears that what is deep within me is bad and ugly, and that saying the words is fraught with danger.
So I CHANGED the image!
I scraped away the paint, so the underlying 'original' was visible.
I moved to the next canvas board immediately. I felt emboldened by my shift and was anticipatory at the thought of what the next piece would hold. Without hesitation I picked up the crimson oil pastel, and then added, what I had come to think of as its alter ego, the black. The black pushing hard against the surface felt right in my hand. It was like I was pushing back against the deep blackness I had encountered in many corners of my life. I added a perpendicular line of black and covered it all with thick gobs of gesso.
Without letting anything dry or settle, I covered most of it with a great swirling, blue and yellow sun.
The image felt complete.
It seemed like the perfect balance of layers uncovered, texture and warmth overlaying all. This seemed like balance to me- what I aspire to.
My third image in this series was a more cognitive piece that the first two had been. It was a matter of applying what I had taken from the experiences of art making. Out came the crimson and black- bold lines that bordered the experience, providing a safe buffer for what was to come. Adding grey pastel, it turned itself into a tree.
As I worked, and added a thin line of dark blue pastel I decided that it could be a boundary. I decided that there could be a more harmonious blending of colour and media, that they could share the space. Blue and white that hold spiritual elements for me, and a bit of yellow at the top for warmth.
And then the door. A portal to...?
This was an art experience I came to with readiness, and willingness to explore what my unconscious mind would share with my more cognitive aspects. In my willingness to let the forms shape themselves, to let the colours move where they needed to be, I let my innermost thoughts, ideas and fears appear. Subtle though it may be, there was movement from the fear, but great desire to reveal the underlying self- secrets and all, moving to an image of warmth and expansiveness and finally coming to a negotiation with that which has previously buried me, covered up the innermost. I came to a conclusion that is comfortable for now. I re- visioned the dark strokes of red and black into supportive backing that could support growth- metaphorically, the tree. A balance of covering and blending, revealing and holding close appeared in my felt sense of this work that I had done.
In terms of my current struggle with healing past hurts that have caused pain and subsequent unhealthy coping, this session of art making is a step towards recognition and ultimately acceptance of a reframe of the past, yet again.
There are always layers to uncover, and wisdom to be gained as I delve deeper into my central core being. Understanding of 'un- learning' useless, hurtful lies, and my power to transform my experiences into growth is what I see here today.
As always I welcome responses, and share, share, share...
I am fifty- six years old.
And I still battle inner demons, taking the form of anorexia.
I thought I was done with this 10 or so years ago. But I find that there is still more to do. More stories to tell, more wounds to heal.
So here I am- AGAIN.
I thought very hard about publishing a picture in this blog: a picture I took of myself a couple of days ago. It's a scary picture. I talked about it with a few trusted friends and family, and came to the conclusion, that although a picture is worth a thousand words, it would not serve to use it just now. It would be a reminder to me of the work I must do now, and also the long way I have come. It would remind me that I am committed to this project of healing myself through my art. But it would not serve the greater good. Since this is a blog that addresses eating disorder, and since I know that the eating disordered brain can be addled by ideas that are simply not true (like "I need to be that skinny...), I also know that a person with an eating disorder might really hurt themselves with it. Plus- it's really not pretty. So I will just tell you that I look old, and haggard, and very, very skinny in this photo. I don't look like the grandma I am about to become with great excitement and anticipation. I look anorexic.
I took the picture of myself in a bikini because, true to the anorexic mind frame, I am not able to see my own image clearly. I know in my rational brain that I am too thin, however that doesn't really translate adequately to understanding. When I took the picture, I was far more able to see what other people might see- and I scared myself into action.
My purpose here is to chronicle my healing process through art. It is meant to be an inspiration, or even a demonstration of the healing power of the creative beauty that dwells within all of us.
This is NOT a blog about trauma- past or present. It is about healing from trauma, and the ways in which I reframe my experiences so that they may become of service. I am committed to diving into my art as a way to express both the turmoil that has existed, and to create the unfolding of the next part of my healing path. My intention is to create art every day, as a barometer of my healing process. I will post my pieces from time to time as a very public statement of my commitment to this action I am taking. I hope my commitment will have a positive effect on any who need the encouragement to undertake their own healing journey.
I decided that instead of the very unflattering image of myself, I would give any readers a reference point of where I am right now. I painted this picture over the course of six or seven weeks. It is about nine layers of different kinds of art media; it went on in layers and then I sanded and scratched each layer with muscle and grit, until it was shaped and moulded into this image. It transformed itself almost daily until it told the story of the chaos I have been feeling, trapped in the lines that are all around me. There are images and metaphor hidden in every aspect of the finished painting. There are old, dirty, ugly places and a bridge to new ways of thinking. As I look at it, I am satisfied with the complexity of it all. I also am wondrous at the simplicity of putting paint on paper and releasing a story, previously untold.
It feels, to me, like it tells the story of how I landed here once again- knowing that it is as simple as eating- and that it simply isn't that easy at all.
What is impossible to see in the finished product, are the layers that transformed markedly from one day to the next.
The first image is one of the early under layers. It is lighter- testing the colours and paying attention to the actions of painting and sanding.
The second image is much more chaotic, there is a change in colour, imagery and suggests loss of control, OR letting go of controlling.
This process (thank you to Lenore Walker Art Therapy for guidance), was a raw, tactile experience of the pain and confusion that took my life by storm once again, catching me unaware, erasing the ability to manipulate the tools I've used for years to keep moving forward.
My deepest hope is that transformation from the heavy way that I am holding my current stuck- ness will be evident in the art making process. I believe it goes both ways: as I imagine growth and how that needs to look on my paper/ canvas, I am able to experience a lightening in my body. AND as my feelings become less burdensome my art making moves with them.
I welcome feedback on my process- the rah rah kind and critique as well. Also art invitations from any of you Art Therapists out there.