Spilling my guts out in near-gritty detail was like going through hard labor and ending up having to get an emergency c-section. I have been recovering ever since.
I had a professor in college whose work I loved, and who I enjoyed, partially because of his laid-back yet engaging way of teaching, (Printmaking and Design) and partially due to the fact that he found my creative brain entertaining. Evidently I was born to evoke strong emotions, delight being the favored one. There is a feeling of accomplishment and confidence that accompanies praise which fuels the passion for one’s pursuits. Being that I was constantly trying to prove my worth, these were the little victories that carried me toward my goal of success. He taught me the value of my ability to think outside of the box and be unabashed in wherever it led me.
For example, one of my early design assignments was to take 36 squares and inside those squares to draw a circle and a rectangle. My best friend and I, whose brains worked in synch, did the assignment together and showed up in class fairly proud of our individual interpretations.
Everyone put their work up for the class critique. When we saw what others had done we looked at each other with sheepish grins, our eyes cocked. What we saw was not at all what we had done. On their poster board were 36 squares placed neatly in rows, and inside each of those squares, a triangle and a circle placed according to their own creative interpretation.
We had taken creative interpretation to a whole new level, one our teacher could not help himself from chuckling at as he leaned back, arms crossed, with a finger to his mouth as if challenged for words. Here is what he saw from my friend and I; on each poster board we had made a circle out of 36 squares and inside that circle of squares we had artfully placed our triangle and circle. We were commended for our work in surprising him with the unique way that our brains had executed the project. This still makes me giggle. Can’t remember our grades, but I definitely remember our momentary shame being turned into a feeling of pride that only helped us to further appreciate our senses of humor and individuality. Not surprisingly, we are still the best of friends.
Another critique took place in my painting class. The teacher was out sick that day and so the same aforementioned teacher was filling in. The assignment was to create a painting with a minimum size requirement depicting something personal. I had been really challenged by it. My painting style is not classic or traditional but more illustrative and whimsical, which was a stark contrast to what I was feeling at that time. I wanted it to be fantastic and pleasing but with two days left before it was due, I could not for the life of me figure out where to begin. All I had was a quite large blank canvas and supplies.
During this time, in my early 20’s, I was living with my sister and dating the man I would later marry. Our relationship was intense, codependent, abusive, and toxic to the point where I did not know where he ended and I began. It was blindingly painful. He was an obsessively possessive alcoholic I was determined to “fix” because I believed that love had that power. He would get verbally abusive toward me for any man who could not keep himself from looking at me, and call me a whore, as if I was to blame. I had to dull myself, watch what I wore, how I walked, who I talked to, how I talked etc.
I can’t remember the specific trigger, but out of deep anguish I was motivated to pick up my paint brush, and though it was a frenzied couple of days with little sleep, my pain manifested itself on that canvas, to my satisfaction.
On the right side was a large depiction of my face in black and white acrylic paint, screaming and crying in agony with my hands at my temples as if my head might explode. Below me was what looked like an audience, each person the same gestural image of a guy tilting his head back, guzzling from a bottle. In the midst of this audience rose a giant bottle of beer with the same guy being pulled out of it by cherubs. He was besotted and his body, limp with the weight of it, proved too heavy a task to lift, but they were trying so hard.
The background to my left and above me was like a sunrise of colors going from darkness to warm golden light. To my left was an image in solid black of a female form, arms and legs spread into an “X”, inside a cage, grasping onto the bars, desperate to be released.
The rest of the piece was done in collage. Above the cage, a cut-out image of giant hands outstretched with doves carrying a banner that said, Loving God brings peace. To the top right was a torn piece of sheet music for the song, “Tomorrow”, from the musical Annie. It read, The sun’ll come out TOMORROW, so I gotta hang on til…
Here is my teacher’s response to it-
He took a step back, once again with his hand to his upper lip and his other arm folded as he took it all in, and chuckled before telling me I had hit a home-run in creating a very personal image. He said it was like walking naked, in a grocery store, under fluorescent lights. He said it was uncomfortable in that way, but powerful. He liked it.
I won 2nd place in my student art show for it. I wish I had a picture to share, but sadly my greatest breakthrough work of art was most unfortunately destroyed. I had it resting on my easel and one day I came home to find it had been stabbed in the eyeball and my face torn beyond repair. Not a good time. Well, it was never a painting that begged for display anyway.
But I digress. That process of creating was also like a long painful labor ending in a C-section. I had no choice but to go through it. I knew it was going to be raw and hard to look at. I did with paint what I am now doing with pen in telling my story.
There is nothing on earth more cathartic than having the ability to express yourself without limitation, pushing beyond the fear of judgement and criticism. I’m not here to offer some Hallmark story about overcoming my adversity that makes people feel warm and fuzzy so as to distract from the true ugly and insidious nature of emotional trauma and mental illness. I’m shining a light on the darkness.
My authenticity does sometimes make me feel like I am completely exposed, but it is expressed with purpose and conviction. I’m not here expecting not to be gawked at, shamed, ridiculed, applauded, my sanity questioned. I know exactly how uncomfortable and insane it is to be standing naked in the grocery store, but I am here nonetheless, despite my discomfort.
I am the lobster. I refuse not to molt. It is only when life becomes unbearable that we feel motivated to find solutions. As long as there is fight in me I am surviving. I want other victims to know that about themselves. There is no right or wrong way, only productive and destructive ways.
At long last, I have this survival part down, but my soul craves so much more than that. I want to thrive and I want to show others that they can too.