Trigger alert for mature themes including child abuse, and trauma response.
I. So, there I am, sitting in my studio in a Zoom room with my therapist (bless her for offering virtual sessions), and I’m recounting the parts of my weekend that feel relevant. I move from one story to the next with a wave of my hands and an ‘anyway’ as usual, and then circle back to another part of my weekend, and she stops me, because when I was telling story A, I did something with my hands that I stopped doing when I was telling story B, but that I then repeated when I was telling story C.
She tells me what I was doing – a totally subconscious thing where I’m scratching the pads of the fingers on my left hand with my left thumbnail. She demonstrated the action for me, and then asked me to repeat the action, to slow it down, and to check in with myself about what comes up.
II. I’ve been doing the teeniest tiniest bit of Somatic Experiencing with her for a little while now, so I know some of the things I should be paying attention to. Any pain. Any buzzing in my forehead. Anything to do with my vision, my heart rate, or how embodied I do or do not feel, but this unconscious action – this tiny little clue to the fact that we were dealing with a trauma response in both story A and story C would have completely escaped my attention, because, listen – when we’re telling our stories, we are not conscious of the signals we’re sending, but someone trained in SE *is* conscious. They are paying very close attention to every damned thing, even in our silence. This is why I’m finding it so valuable, because I can headspace myself back to some semblance of centred if I *know* what’s up, but I am not always going to know what’s up. What’s up is often buried under layers of self-protection. Having someone help with the dig is *crucial* to trauma recovery. Sure, some self-help is possible, but a pro is *needful*. I know that better than anyone.
III. So, I slow things down, and I begrudgingly repeat the motion, scratching the pads of my fingers with my thumbnail, and as I’m doing that, I catch myself doing it with the right hand, too. Something is definitely in there, I think, as I sit in silence while she watches me like a hawk. Something is in there, goddamn it. Here we go. And up it comes. Up it comes. And I am thirteen, and I am lying on my side in the bedroom in my father’s house. I’m facing the wall, and he is very, very drunk. I am curled up into a ball, my eyes wide open but unseeing. I am terrified. I know what’s coming.
His check came in, so he’s drunk a case of Molson’s. He’s feeling talkative, so he’s pulled a chair into my room, and is sitting at my bedside, waxing poetic at me while I pretend to sleep. He starts sweet like he always does. How glad he is that I came to live with him. How it’s changed his life, given him purpose.
And then it shifts to how much he hates my mother and how awful she was to him.
And then it shifts to how sexy my legs are and how much he wishes I wasn’t his daughter.
And then I start to sob, and beg him to leave me alone, and that trips the wire in him, and he starts to beat me about the back of the head and shoulders.
I fight back, like I remember my mother doing. When he’s drunk, he’s weak and sloppy and a few well-aimed punches and kicks will send him whimpering and limping away in due time…
He never remembers in the morning. He wonders out loud why he is so sore. Assumes it’s some kind of flu coming on, which gives him the perfect excuse to lay in bed and drink all day…
This happened to me for about a year, like clock work, whenever the check came in or someone else brought beer.
IV. I have no idea why this piece was stored as it was in the pads of my fingers, and I may never know, but I know that hanging out in that action in silence unlocked it. I always had this piece *cognitively* – this is not a case of ‘lost memories’ or anything like that. What I didn’t have was the piece where when people are drinking around me, some part of me is thirteen and lying on my side in bed in my father’s apartment, waiting for the words and blows to come raining on down all over my little body, If people are drinking around me and there is even a hint of darkness in them, that part of me goes into a powerful and confounding trauma response.
This is not the fault of the people drinking around me, and of course, no one around me is raining blows down on me these days – they wouldn’t dare – but that doesn’t matter. There is no feeling safe *at all* in a trauma response, especially when one is completely unaware that one is *in* a trauma response.
V. I have been bewildered over this for years. I know that I am incredibly reactive around people who are drinking. There are certain smells, tones of voice, body postures that *terrify me* in these moments, but because I didn’t have *this part of the piece* I didn’t know why or what to do with it. I just fucking spin, and cycle through flight, fight, freezing, and fawning. I, myself, go to a very dark, hopeless place when I’m around people who are drinking. There is rage in there. There is disgust. There is, above all else, though, terror.
And now I know why, and now I know how to take care of myself.
VI. SE has been the single most useful and also hardest therapeutic process I’ve ever undertaken. It feels a little like magic, like something shamanic is going on – like my therapist and I go in through the body in search of splintered off parts of self that have been imprisoned for decades, and once we find them, we bring them back to the now, with the safety that exists in the now, and the compassion that exists in the now. Soul retrieval. The real deal.
I will love myself in all my parts.
VII. I hesitated to share this because it is such a vulnerable thing to reveal. I don’t want the people in my life who enjoy their drink feeling in any way responsible for me or my reactions to it. I, too, love to imbibe. I party like a Canadian, eh? And that’s not going to stop. But I want you to know how powerful this process is in case it’s something you need, and I also want to be fully, deeply, truly known, so voila.
Keeping quiet about stuff like this in the name of ‘propriety’ feels like self-abuse at this point. That old self that would just shut up and smile, that would clench her fists and her jaw, but dare not say what is actually happening within her in the moment? She’s dead to me. What is true for me is true for me. It is no one’s responsibility but mine to deal with it, to heal it, but I deserve to be heard, witnessed, and known and loved in all my parts. All of them. Including this part where things that are happening around me can make me feel so unsafe that I am transported back to my thirteen year old body and my father’s apartment and his boozy stench and his fists.
VIII. Like most women I know, I have a laundry list of violations that have happened when alcohol was part of the equation. Some of them happened when I was very, very young, and some of them happened when I was a fully grown person and in possession of a powerful no. They *all* came up yesterday after therapy. All of them, like a movie I couldn’t pause. I jotted them down as they came up so I could have some sense of control over the flood, so I was okay, and I didn’t spin out into the horrids like I have before. It was manageable. I acknowledged each memory, and when they stopped coming, I washed my face and got on with my day.
And now I know.
These traumas (and all violations are traumatic) have been stored up in my body. I can be sitting there *thinking* I’m having a good time, or thinking completely useless things like “Why are you not okay right now? What the fuck is wrong with you?” but if I check in with my body in moments that in *any way resemble* any of those past moments, it will tell me OH HEY YOU ARE NOT SAFE, and it will tell me that through my heart rate, my emotional state, the way I’m interpreting and filtering what’s actually happening.
IX. I have this piece now. It is a huge piece, and it’s going to change everything, because when you know the situations that cause a trauma response in you, you can go in with your eyes open and your awareness completely attuned to whatever your body is trying to tell you. You can remind yourself that this *now* and you *are safe*, and you can do whatever it takes to ensure that you remain safe, and that you are responding to the truth of the moment.
X. C-PTSD fucking sucks, but I am bigger than it, and the work continues apace.
I believe there is enormous energy in our emotional states, and energy is power. It can be used destructively or constructively, or it can be suppressed. I’m a fan of the middle option. Use it. Constructively. When we vent the energy contained within our emotional states – especially the more challenging or difficult ones – without first working with that energy through some kind of creative action, I believe we are spending that energy unwisely. Venting feels good, and we feel like our needs have been met when we do it with safe people who feel with us, affirm us, validate us, and hold us in love, but sometimes that can actually allow us to bypass the part where we come to our own conclusions, or find our own solutions.
Here’s how using highly charged emotional states looks in my life:
If I’m experiencing a huge emotional charge, I like to tend it, privately, first. This is not about ‘sucking it up’ or being stoic. This is about building my sense of my own resilience. This is also about recognizing how powerful all that emotional energy is, and knowing that I can use that energy.
Usually, when I’m feeling something really big, it’s because I *want something*. I want an obstacle removed, or I want to feel at peace, or I want to feel like I matter, or I want to feel healed, or relieved or released.
When I merely vent, I am wasting an opportunity to use the energy I am using in the act of venting as spiritual energy that can actually help me get where I want to go.
Obviously, this isn’t always going to work. If I’m in *crisis* and I just *can’t* be alone with whatever I’m feeling, I will call on someone to be with me while I sort through it. Meatspace people (as opposed to virtual space or online people) are going to be my first option, because they bring touch – a hug, a held hand – but if a meatspace person isn’t available, I will write it out in a safe space and get the thing witnessed. Then, though, I will *do my work* with whatever is going on so that I am not just dependant on venting as my only way of dealing.
Once I come back to ‘centre’, I record what happened in my journal, or I art it out so that the energy I have leftover after venting can be used effectively and powerfully toward the attainment of my desires.
Your mileage may vary. :)
In BOD in May, we’re going to work with difficult or highly charged emotional states in the art journal so I can demonstrate how that works for me. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a thing I have become kind of expert at over the years, since I’m often in a highly charged emotional state. Heh. :) It would be lovely to have you join us if you haven’t already.
IN OTHER NEWS
I want to end today off by letting you know that Art For Earth closes for registration at midnight PST. I have plunked both of my Facing Forward classes down in the bundle, and there are 75 other amazing offerings that you will not want to miss! There’s enough stuff in this collection to keep you busy for AGES and you’ll be getting over FOUR GRAND worth of classes for about a hundred bucks.
Over the years, as a way to correct what I’ve labeled a ‘self-care deficit’, I’ve embarked on a journey of self-care.
I started therapy with the question “Why can’t I feed myself breakfast, for fuck sakes. What’s wrong with me?” That was the tail end of Ariadne’s red thread into my own inner landscape. That thread has led to an increased ability to care for myself in all the ways one should *and* can. Not just the water/food/rest equation, but more. The flowers I buy myself on therapy days. The gifts of mindfulness – journaling, that early morning tarot draw to set the tone for the day, the intentional way I meet myself on the page. The choices that foster a soul-nourishing life, like the courses I invest in so I’m always on top of my teaching game, or the ones I buy so I’m always on top of my sense of self-possession.
But in all that self-care, there was a near violent steering away from other-care.
Imagine, if you will, a life in which needing others to show up was dangerous.
That is the life I’ve lived, and in this life where needing others to show up was *very, very fucking dangerous*, I became ever increasingly more self-reliant.
And that’s not a bad thing, my loves. Not at all, but when you (and by ‘you’, I mean ‘we’) are covering a deep desire for ‘other care’ with self-reliance, you can grow very, very weary of self-care. You can start to resent all the care you so carefully extend to yourself. And you can start to slip. You can let go of the nourishing practices that you’ve established, because you *get tired* of always doing for yourself what you *wish others would do for you*.
Real talk, babes. 100 percent.
Your journal is precious. The time you spend with yourself, exploring what is true for you is precious. The flowers you buy yourself, the little acts of tenderness toward the soft beast of your body are precious. The nail polish, the things you choose to adorn yourself with, the excellent food, the copious quantities of water…precious.
But all that self-care can’t take the place of those things that others do for you. They can’t replace the fiercely loving rage, expressed on your behalf, or the food prepared, and served to you at a table set with love. They don’t cover the way that one takes a moment to check in, or the other one arrives with your best interests at heart.
We need other people. We *need* them.
Self-reliance is a thing I am very, very fond of, but I have, over the years, grown *too* fond of it, because SAFETY.
Safety of this kind is isolating. It creates in me a refusal to accept what’s on offer from those who are offering out of a sense of *care*. When someone shows up with offers of *caring*, I get scared. I get resistant.
I can be in the darkest of dark moments and still, even now, say “Go home. Leave me alone.”
I can be in the loneliest, most dire need for human contact and say “I’m just fine, thanks. Let’s talk about you.”
Because, needing people has had a history of being unsafe. Needing people has, in my history, led to abandonment, ridicule, being taken advantage of…
Being raised by ill-equipped parents set me up for this, and so my ‘people chooser’ has always equated a traumatic or dramatic bond with love.
I’m learning how to choose otherwise.
In the last seventy-two hours, I have been:
Attended to when I was about to bite off more than I could chew.
Witnessed while I rage-sobbed. Handed glasses of water, tissues. Laughed with when the storm passed. Tucked into bed.
Told “I get it. I got you.” multiple times.
Fed. Taken for a drive. Heard.
Led by the loving hand of a friend (as in, this was not a romantic or sexual gesture – this was platonic and somehow more poignantly caring as a result) to a drawn bath strewn with lavender flowers. Offered candlelight, firelight, music, and whatever degree of conversation or solitude I needed from moment to moment.
Checked in on with “I know this is an anniversary for you. How are you?”
Told exactly why I matter.
These are the things I have always craved, and also the things I have always lacked, and here they are, arriving, like a migration of butterflies, gathering, like a murmuration of swallows, taking over my sky.
Other-care. A lot of it. And I’m letting it come. And I’m taking it in.
And I’m not just accepting whatever is offered. I’m asking for very specific things. Like “Oh, hey. Please read this collection of memories that are coming up right now so you can know.” and “I need a human. Would you please bring food and sit with me?”
Asking. Receiving. Noticing who shows up and who doesn’t. Noticing what special brand of caring each beloved has to offer. Accepting limitations with grace, but also setting boundaries accordingly. Having a life time of corrective experiences packed into the space of a weekend, and letting that flow into all my wounded places like cool, clear water.
Self-care matters. But the care you get from others also matters.
In the journey towards wholeness, it might matter even more.
Come find me on Instagram for peeks into my personal practice and other shenanigans.
I like to think that one of the most important things I foster as a teacher and creative enabler is PRACTICE. And by that, I don’t mean ‘sketch for 2 hours a day’, though that could certainly be a part of it. When I say ‘practice’, I say it like one might say ‘yoga practice’ or ‘meditation practice’. I want to get people into their painty spaces (wherever they may be) on the regular, meeting themselves on the page, falling in love with whatever they see reflected back at them in the mirror of their journals.
I don’t know about you, but the only way for me to ensure that I do anything consistently is to make space for it as a regular PRACTICE. If I wait for inspiration to strike, or if I just do it when I ‘feel like it’, I lose steam very quickly. If my motivation is the end product, samesies. Steamless. Juiceless. Interest wanes, and I move on. But if I think of what I do as a practice, and if I know my reasons why I’m doing it as such, things shift for me.
Why I Engage Creativity As A Practice
If you were to ask me what my most important goal in life might be, I would tell you that it is to be self-possessed. I know that’s a big goal, and I know I’m not quite there yet, but my heart’s deepest desire is to know and love myself in all my parts so much, so fiercely, so consistently, that I cannot be knocked off course by anyone or anything else. I want to, in the face of a storm, declare that I am the storm. I want to, when feeling buffeted by waves, declare that I am the wave. I want to ride life. I don’t want it riding me.
If I know anything about riding life it is that it requires self-awareness. It requires regular visits to the internal landscape where the truth of my reality resides. It also requires self-compassion, because if you’re riding your life (as opposed to letting it ride you) you know yourself to be ultimately responsible for your every response. You are in charge. The buck stops with you. The good, the bad, the ugly, it’s all on you, and that’s a heavy responsibility to bear if you’re doing it without self-compassion.
This practice of meeting myself on the page, whether through written or art journaling, allows me to know myself much more deeply than I might otherwise, and knowing myself deeply allows me to have more self-compassion than I might otherwise. In an atmosphere of self-compassion, I can try and fail, grapple, soar, plummet, weigh, sift, heal, and grow under the watchful and tender eye of a self that loves herself like a mother loves her babe.
And, given where I come from, that’s huge.
Somewhere over the last couple of years, I fell out of practice. Everything I did, I did for work, and because it was for work, I was focused on technique, focused on teaching, out of alignment with my deepest desire (which is to be self-possessed). Everything I did, I did for your eyes, not my own.
I had other practices that kept me somewhat in touch with that self that makes magic, and I made a lot of beautiful, worthy spreads for you all to engage in the classes I was teaching, but I started to feel lonely for my *self*. I started to wonder where *I’d* wandered off to. I longed to woo myself back into alignment, to woo that wild child within me to come play, to reveal herself to me anew.
I needed to revisit my own reasons why I do this thing I do, and I needed to recommit to it. I needed to rebuild trust with the self I’d all but abandoned.
Last year, I made a decision to shift things around a bit so that I’d have more time for my personal PRACTICE. I went monthly with BOD instead of bi-weekly, which made *all the difference* and freed up so much time that I could gently ease myself back into the daily routine of meeting myself on the page with the video camera OFF. When the new schedule went into effect, I dusted off a journal given to me by a beloved friend, and I returned to my practice with gusto. The spreads I make in this journal are for me and me alone. I may share images of them, but I don’t feel compelled to explain them, film their creation, or otherwise leverage them for work.
It’s had an enormous impact.
I forgot, while I was off trying to run a business, how effective art journaling is for sifting and weighing the contents of my soul. I’d forgotten how good it was as a way to self-soothe, to bring more self-compassion into my every day. I’d forgotten what a lovely way it was to be in conversation with myself – with all my parts. I’d forgotten how nourishing it was, and how this kind of unfettered creativity seeds more creativity. The less I practice, the less inspired I feel. The less in touch with myself I feel. The less self-possessed. The more I practice, the more ‘in my own skin’ I feel. The more beloved. The more seen. The more attended to.
My daughter arrived on Friday, and we have been completely wrapped up in the comfort that is the two of us in the same space at the same time. There is a feeling of ‘home’ that happens when my girl is here that is ineffable. I wish I could find words, but love like this – fierce, protective (both of us), honest, true – is beyond my writerly reach. It is purely good. That’s all I got. Purely. Good.
She got to spend time with my boyfriend, too, and they adore one another. We were sitting there in the auditorium talking before the show started, and she was telling me what it’s like for her to watch him and I together. She tells me that there’s this thing he does with his eyes when he looks at me that feels to her like ‘home’. Y’all, she CRIED. In PUBLIC. It was the sweetest thing ever.
We called him last night so she could tell him how she feels about him, about us, and she cried a little more.
Yes, my mini me is just as tender a wee beastie as I am.
Anyway…he gives her ‘worthy of my mom’ feels, and that is saying something, yes? Yes.
*And now I’m crying, for fuck sakes. Moving on!*
We went to see Marianas Trench yesterday – my daughter’s 31st birthday present. We did the whole VIP Meet & Greet thing, and while I had a really good time, I hate to admit it, but I feel like maybe I’m getting too old for and cranky for *waves at all of that*. At least, the part where you stand in line for hours and then stand on your feet for a few more hours. I’m aching all over, y’all! BUT! The show was really good, the band was thoughtful, and I admire their musicality (even if they’re not really my jam), and my daughter was absolutely thrilled with the whole affair.
Hello, hello, hello! It’s been a long time since last we typed, eh?
Aside from some promo stuff, I haven’t properly written here in eleventy million years, and you’ve probably forgotten all about me! All good, though. I know you’ll wander back when you’re ready and we can clink mugs together once more.
As I type, my daughter is on a train from Ottawa to Kitchener to spend her birthday weekend with me, so I got up super early this morning so I could keep the train on the tracks with my mind, like mother’s do. She’s due in at 12:30, and I CANNOT WAIT TO SQUISH HER FACE. We’re having a little party here for family with cake and Fireball whisky and Caesars and beer and wine and whatever else folks bring, and then tomorrow, I’m taking her to see Mariana’s Trench – first for a meet and greet, and then the concert itself. She’s all kinds of kermit flails over it, and I am thrilled about that. She’s going to be here ’till Monday, and we have the usual stuff planned for the rest of her visit – hollandaise sauce at some point, a lot of sitting around together doing our own thing, watching something on Netflix.
We are the best of friends, my eldest child and I, and if you’ve ever hung out with us together in the same room, you know we are eerily similar. Like, we have the same facial expressions, and we finish one another’s sentences. She is so like me, but then again, she is also so unlike me. We’re both pretty flowers in the garden called life, but where I’m a thistle, she’s a rose. Where I’m all sharp edges, she’s a soft place to land.
She was the first person to call me Mama, and I am grateful to her every day for the role motherhood played in growing me, and for the friendship we’ve built together. I don’t know how I got so lucky. I just wanted you to know.
Speaking of Motherhood
Salem Bowie Floofenhauser Wild
Four weeks ago, I picked up this little beauty from a farm about an hour from here. This is Salem, the newest member of my fur family. She’s a Pomsky, which is a breed created by crossing a Siberian Husky mom with a Pomeranian dad. (You can imagine why you’d never do it the other way around, right?). I’m not into designer breeds, but I fell in total FACE LOVE when I was window shopping on Kijiji, idly scanning the ‘puppies for sale’ ads one day when I really needed a pick me up. There she was, with her heterochromia and so much attitude that I could *feel* her through the screen. I knew she was mine the moment I laid eyes on her.
She’s 14 weeks old now, and is already so much a part of what goes on around here that it feels like she’s always been here. She and her big sister, Sookie, have established pack order (Sookie is the boss of her), and half the training that goes on around here is done *by* Sookie who knows what’s what and who’s who (I’m the boss of Sookie). She beds down in the family nest every night and doesn’t budge until morning, which is very unusual for a puppy this young. She has her manic, gizmo moments, which we all call ‘crazy hour’, but she is also mellow a good part of the day, too, as long as she has one of my slippers nearby. Sybil, my cat, adores tormenting her, and she and Sookie play like they’re litter mates.
Some of you may remember that I lost a dog last year. She came to me as a rescue, and within six months, she herniated the discs in her back to the point where she could no longer even be touched without crying. It was heartbreaking, and even though she was only with us for a very short time, both Sookie and I really felt her loss. Salem has been a part of our healing. She completes the pack, and enlivens the household with her derpy, adorable face, and her irresistible antics.
She’s a blessing, y’all.
In Other News
My programs all opened in late December or Early January, and things are going gorgeously. I’m making so much art this year, and really digging into knowing myself in my parts. I’m keeping four journals this year – one a private art journal, the second my Book Of Days, the third, my Sweet Trash Journal, and the fourth, a private bullet journal that I use for tracking habits, media I consume, and ‘what was beautiful today’ spreads that include everything I find that delights or inspires me. The art I’m making this year shows a lot of progress, and I feel like I’m finding my style and my voice. Having a practice like the one I’ve developed over the years since I started doing this thing I do means that I have no choice but to grow my skills. It’s also grown my intimacy with myself and the world around me in ways that I could never have imagined.
Art I’ve made so far this year.
And yet more art I’ve made so far this year.
I’m still anxious, still recovering from C-PTSD, still working through trauma layered upon trauma layered upon trauma, and that sometimes makes for some pretty bad fucking days, but over all, I’m happy. I love my work. I love my people. I love this life I made for myself out of the ashes of The Tower experience that began in 2014. I’ve learned some things about myself over this last half year or so that I believe will help me progress, though. Feeling the feelings that have been stored in my body for 45 plus years will not kill me. I can do my work, and function in the world. There is value in showing up with all of this stuff on board, being honest about it, being transparent about my process. I’ve fallen in love with my own way of being in the world and I rarely second guess that. If I get criticized for it, I am now more likely to assume that’s a you problem, not a me problem. I’ve gotten better at boundaries. I’ve gotten better at self-care. I make a lot of space in my life for the sacred to arrive, and even take root.
Depending on the day, you will find me somewhere between totally together and never not broken on the floor, but I keep on keeping on, no matter what life throws my way, and I’m pretty proud of that.
In February, I dusted off a space that had been just kind of sitting there, and turned it into a HUB OF MIXED MEDIA MADNESS we call The Wilderhood. You might come for the art, but you’ll stay for the love. It is very much like my ‘outer court’ coven, a gathering place for my Wildlings, who are the most loving, generous, talented, kind people in the universe. Also, bad ass. SO BAD ASS. So many of my coterie are doing their own work, showing up, sharing their process, healing by leaps and bounds through the power of meeting themselves on the page. I am very proud of my community. Very proud. And I’m a devotee.
I’ve also got a quiet little pack of Wildlings over on Patreon, where I teach A Year Of Rumi as a month to month offering.
I’ve dusted off my YouTube channel as well, and purged it of a whole bunch of odds and ends that no longer belonged there, making the speed paintings infinitely more findable. I plan on uploading new things there on the regular, so please consider subscribing.
And, I think that’s it for now…
There’s so much more, but it would take me forever to type it all out, and I feel like this is a good start.
I want to be more present here in the weeks and months to come, since blogging is something I intend to do daily come April 2019 (expect poems! Many poems!), and there’s no time like the present to get into a good habit. Blogging might be ‘dead’, but its good for me, so even if there’s no one out there,
I will always return to this patient box of light where my words can find a home, and my heart can be unburdened.
As always, my loves, I will see you in all of our places.