Monday, January 30, 2012

Hiding in Plain Sight

“We have art so we don’t die of the truth.” Nietzsche

I don't suppose that Neitzsche was talking about Art Therapy, but it certainly applies.  Recently I have revived what I call my “Self-directed Art Therapy”.  When I started, I was trying to use art as a coping skill (it has less calories than chocolate), and also I had heard that it is a way for our unconscious to speak to us.  Anything that will help me heal faster.  At least this is what I always think until some painful memory hits and I retreat…that’s what happened the last time I did art therapy. 

After a break, I decided to try again.  Sometimes I try to learn some actual art skills, other times I just doodle, occasionally something will “spark” an art project.  For example, recently I was reading about someone doing art therapy with patients in a mental hospital.  She gave them cereal boxes and magazines to cut up and redesign into a house that represented them.  A house that represents “you”, I was immediately intrigued by this idea.  What would I make?  How would I design it? 

I didn’t have the material, time (or desire really) to make my creation out of cereal boxes.  I just wanted to draw it.  Pencil drawings are my preferred way to express myself.  I have also tried collage, oil pastels, colored pencils, crayons, paint…but pencil and paper suit me best, with the exception of the color red.  Red often finds its way into my otherwise black and white creations.  (Yes, it’s a bit disturbing.) 

For the “house” project, I opened my sketch pad (really I should call it art diary, as it can be more personal than my journal).  First I drew a house. Simple. Plain.  The kind a kindergarten might draw.  Then next to it, it’s twin.  Same size, shape, design, everything.  Then uncharacteristically, I put down the pencil and got a black crayon.  I blackened that house so that the only discernable thing was the outline.  Then I surveyed my work and smiled.  If only the black were a little blacker, it would be perfect. 

Then a picture of another house flashed on my mind. Much of my art therapy comes this way.  An image from my self-conscious that attaches itself to me like a song that gets stuck in your head and plays itself relentlessly throughout the day, I knew if I didn’t draw this image, it would haunt me until I did.

I turned to a fresh page.  This time I tried to draw a house with two stories, a porch and a gable   and then the red crayon.  When I showed my husband the picture, he thought the red surrounding the house was a moat.  It wasn’t. (Don’t blame me, it’s my unconscious speaking).

The next time I went to therapy, I mentioned to my therapist that I had started drawing again.  I thought he would be interested, not so much in the houses, but in the fact that I had returned to drawing. 

I showed him the first one.  He asked me some questions about it.  I explained that the blackness is about the shame I feel, and how dead I can feel inside at times.  Then I showed him the second picture.  The one with the red “moat”.

“How do you feel when you look at this picture?” he asked.

“Sad.” The picture was disturbing to me in a way I couldn’t put words to.

“What do you see in this picture?”

I was confused by this question.  Surely, he doesn’t think that is a moat?  He should know better.  He knows about that red often appears in my art.  I looked at the picture again, “just a house.”

“Ok.”  He said as if he were dropping the subject.  “I was just wondering about the windows.”

The windows?  They are just windows illustrating a first floor and second floor.  I looked at the picture again.  I saw it.  The windows weren’t windows any more. They were eyes and a mouth,  a face that looked angry and scary.  I turned the sketch pad over so I didn’t have to look at it any more.  “I didn’t mean to draw a face, they were just supposed to be windows.”  I said.

He gave me a moment and then asked, “And what about the right side of the house?” 

No! There is nothing else to see in this picture.  It’s a house.  Only a house. Slowly I turned the sketch book over and looked at the door, porch and gable.  I noticed that the triangle of the gable was emphasized.  Triangles often appear in my doodles and sketches, only after months of drawing them (with usually with one very acute sharp looking angle) did I realize the symbolism of a body part that could cause pain like a knife.  But gables are triangles, it doesn’t--  then it I saw it.  It wasn’t just the gable, but the porch around the door also.  The image was suddenly, unmistakably a body part.  I thrust the sketch pad away from me, placing it face down on the couch an arm’s length away.  I wanted to throw the thing across the room or in the trash, but I didn’t. 

After taking a few silent moments to compose myself, I said, “I guess it’s better than nightmares.”

When trauma occurs, the unconscious mind and body remember even if the person’s conscious mind chooses not to.   However, the unconscious won’t keep “the secrets” forever.  A day comes that the unconscious begins to tell the story: through flashbacks, nightmares, or even art.  The story must be told.  Pain needs a witness.  

Friday, January 20, 2012

Winter's Nightmare

Hello, hello! Something new today.  I joined a writer's website, Absolute Write, and from there, a blog chain.  The idea is that we all write a post on a topic, and then share! 

The topic is "Winter's Nightmare", as my regular readers can imagine, only one thing came to my mind.  Try as I might I couldn't shake it.  So I decided to take one of my experiences in healing from child abuse and fictionalize it.  So this is fiction, a first for me, but yes, it is based on my own experiences.  I have to tell you, branching out into fiction was fun, but nerve-racking.  I needed a few friends to read this and assure me that it was ok, before I could dare to post it on my blog.  Special thanks to them!  After my post, you will find a list talented writers and their Winter's Nightmares, be sure to stop in and visit them!  

And here we go...

Winter's Nightmare

She was only a child, and yet she haunted my dreams as if she had had a lifetime to learn the art of it.  Waking did little to mute the sounds of her crying.  Still I did not want to help her.  I wanted her to go away.  You may think me cruel, but it was not cruelty that stopped me. It was fear; I was terrified of her.
I sought the assistance of an advisor.  I wanted him to help me silence her.  He encouraged me to rescue her.  I listened reluctantly.  He gently assured me that I could help her.  I disagreed.  He said helping her would help me as well. I didn’t care.  When I felt alone, he suggested that she must feel the same.  I could see her in my mind, sitting with her knees to her chest, her head down and her long dark hair falling over her face.  The site of her filled me with such pain and fear that I instinctively recoiled. How could one so small and hurt, terrorize me so?  My advisor was patient.  He didn’t push.  One day I agreed to try.  Looking back, I still cannot say if it was his gentle urgings, or her nighttime hauntings that changed my mind.
Once the decision was made, he wasted no time in taking me to the entrance of the cave.  I had visited there only in my dreams.  The lifeless desert and sharp crags of rocks surrounding the cave mirrored what I felt inside.  With no sheltering trees, a chill wind pulled at the edges of my cloak. Reflexively I pulled it tighter around me whether from the cold, fear or both, I cannot say.  My advisor seemed not to feel the wind, he simply nodded to the entrance of the cave.  I held my breath for a moment, then released it.  My head ached, and I was nauseous, but I stepped inside.  The darkness poured over me like a waterfall.  Seeking reassurance, I turned back towards the entrance, and my advisor, but there was only blackness.  Other options removed, I took a step, so small it can really not be called a step, deeper into the cave. 

That was when I saw him.  His green eyes shone in the darkness, but beyond that it was difficult to make out his face or the shape of his head.  I thought he might be a dragon, and yet that might only be the lying whisper of the darkness itself.  Darkness and I were well acquainted.  I had heard his lies and believed them on many occasions.  I felt myself being inexplicably drawn inwards, the direction I did not want to go, as if he was inhaling and I, with the air, was being pulled in.
“Come,” he breathed for truly it seemed more like a breath than a word.  “Come closer.”  His words wrapped themselves around me.  I felt the pulling sensation magnified.  I didn’t answer.  I couldn’t.  My body had turned to clay.  My mouth seemed filled with sand.

He stared at me, his gaze unwavering.  “She’s mine,” he hissed.
Ancestors forgive me, but I reached deep within and with all the strength I could find I shook my head, “She’s not real. She’s not real. I don’t have to rescue her because she’s not real.”  My head was throbbing now.  My thoughts churned.  I thought I was losing my mind.  I cried and tried to grasp on to one thread of reality before it was all snatched from me.

“LIzbell, come back,”   It was my advisor’s voice.  Each word, like a firefly, brought light into the cave.  The grip of the words and the hot breath loosened, the green eyes started to recede.  He hissed at me again, beckoning me to stay, calling me back.  I struggled against him determined to follow the firefly words.  I pushed forward, he pulled me back.  I fought now with strength that I hadn’t known I had earlier.  And slowly, slowly, I made my way out of the cave.  The cold wind once again tore at my cloak.  The sun was bright, and my headache was gone.
Advisor was there.  I stood before him with my head bowed ashamed.  “I failed.”

“No, you did well,” he said gentle as always. “This is a long journey, and you have just begun.”

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