Sunday, March 30, 2014

Healing and Art: The Truth Will Set You Free

"The Way Home"          Finished Painting

Sometimes life is stranger than fiction.  Life certainly gets interesting when you are truthful with yourself.   Somewhere, deep inside our subconscious, where no one else can give you directions, where no teacher dictates right from wrong, where no dogma, definitions and simple answers can exist, there we can find the truth.

I began a strange and very interesting journey this month when I decided to write about my painting, "The Escape" in a post titled "Victim no More, Silent no More." (03/10)  Circumstances beyond my control compelled me to write about my own experience of domestic abuse and the therapeutic way it appeared in my art, revealing to me my suppressed emotions and memories.  Writing about the painting, I exposed myself to public scrutiny with my own issues, many of which have been subjects of pain, shame and fear.  I could not have foreseen the encouragement and insight that would bless my life as a result of the simple act of telling my story.

A close up from "The Escape"    There is a struggle and conflict in my heart and my mind, as I give away my power.

In the original painting, I appear in several forms.  One of these is a dog.  I allowed myself to be treated like one.  This is how it feels when you have lived through an abusive relationship.  And so many of us stay, like a dog that returns to an owner who beats it.  It is a dehumanizing experience, and looking at it as a part of my own personal history filled me with shame.  I think of myself as a strong woman.  Because I had memories of allowing myself to be treated in this way, there has been a fundamental disconnect in my own definition of self.  It lead to a certain lack of honesty in everything I did.  It split my self image into two parts, the one I cognized and the one I suppressed.  In the original painting I am the dog, but I am also a bird fighting the dog.  The figure who represents my abuser has his fingers in my head.  The suppressed self image remains in this passive dog-state without power and without a real form.  It is skeletal.

In reworking the painting the fingers get pushed out of the dog's brain and the dog and bird metamorphose into a new creature.  This new image of self is not perfect, but whole and united, with yet to be realized powers.

When I approached this part of the painting and saw what I was denying to myself, I started to remember parts of my life I had pushed aside and buried for so long.  Some were horrific acts of physical and sexual violence.  Others were moments of shame, when I supported my abuser and his actions with my silence.  When I met him I was 20 years old, and I was a naive and idealistic young woman who was in a state of constant rebellion from the world I was raised in.  I grew up with privilege, but I knew the world was unjust and was unable to accept it.  I spend so much of my teenage years battling my father and anyone who considered themselves a realist.  In my mind accepting the world as it is, unequal and unfair, was nothing short of treason to a higher sense of justice.  My youthful idealism met many obstacles head on, and an undeniable one was the injustice of my own middle class childhood in a world where many have so little.  My childhood starkly contrasted the world of poverty and violence my abuser came from.  His pain pulled at my guilt as much as his violence transformed my innocence.  That was the initial dynamic.  He showered me with praise and adoration, while reminding me of my shame: my birthplace in an unjust world.  When his behavior shifted from "sweeping me off my feet" into violence, rage and blame, I was left mute and paralyzed, like the dog on its back in my painting.  I was dependent on his affection as the only redemption for my guilt.  If I left him I only proved him right, life was easy for me and hard for him.  I did just that and I never found a way to address that fundamental conflict in my mind and heart.  How quickly and easily I went from rebellious teen to submissive victim, never leaving either completely healed.  It has been a truth of myself I refused to admit.  It has been the suppressed spilt.  I couldn't bear to see myself with that kind of unflinching honesty.

Facing my fears means facing shame, regret, and things I haven't wanted to believe about yourself.
It has made it possible to transform.  The transformation helps me feel courageous, powerful and honest.
I am becoming a person my idealistic teen self would have looked up to.

Since I started writing about this experience I have received vicious backlash from my abuser, I have been able to finally get a temporary restraining order signed and served, I have found inner strengths I didn't know I was missing, and I have been reminded, over and over, that I am not alone.  I have been added to a directory of healing artists, been highlighted in the local paper's e-newsletter and been asked for permission to share my stories with social workers and their clients.  I have sometimes stayed home, too tired and confused to face the world.  I have established healthy boundaries in all areas of my life.  My paintings have reached a deeper and more dynamic level, acknowledging the dualities of dark and light without judgement.  I have found a voice within me I didn't know could be so raw and honest.   I am moving beyond the classifications of abuser and abused.  We are all victims until we heal our own internal divides.  Only then can we understand healing in the world outside of us. 

I have never mentioned the name of my abuser and I never plan to on this blog or any public forum.  And yet he has revealed himself.  I was unable to get papers served by the police, but he showed up to confront me and was surprised by a Sheriff with papers.  The ironic and fateful way my story keeps unfolding as I do nothing but tell it with candor has given me a new faith in justice and fairness.  I do not accept injustice, but I am waking up to the realization of the divide, that creates it.  I can live without hidden shame and suppressed pain.  I can be my best, and that is what we owe to life, and to the world.


  1. I love hearing how you are processing the past and present and having this glimpse into your heart and the art it has produced. So powerful. I love the ending statement, "I may not like how cruel the world can be, but I realize I can be brave and honest." As a Christian, I believe that this world is not our ultimate destination or purpose.Many people think that in this life they deserve reward for goodness and long for the big pay-off. It may never happen in our earthly existence. Yet, we can be brave and honest and true and powerful - and that is what you are doing my friend.

    1. Thanks Jamie. It's been a powerful process, in ways I could never have predicted or foreseen. Your comments mean a lot to me, especially about writing, as I admire your writing a lot.
      It's funny, as I gain strength through this experience I feel more open to the world, in all it's harshness.
      Thanks for your support!

  2. I have been very moved by reading your posts, as well as entranced by your artwork. I relate to a lit of what you say, though the specifics of my experiences are different. It took me. Long time to own my victim self too, to accept that we were in a situation in which we were for a while powerless is extremely different, and yet it's so necessary for healing isn't it? And how can we have compassion for both ourselves and our own experiences and for others if we don't accept our vulnerability.

    It's courageous to talk about these issues and your experiences and I am applauding your courage and honesty in both accepting the parts of you which did not correspond with how you saw yourself and with being willing to share part of that journey here. I hope your healing continues and at some point you are able o view your younger self with compassion, she was after all being manipulated and abused by someone who knew exactly where her insecurities and vulnerabilities were, and how to use them to his advantage. I hope you don't mind my saying that!

    Anyway I am enjoying you amazing work, and pleased to discover you blog and Facebook page.

    1. Your comment has really touched me, Birdie. I don't mind you saying any of it! Rather I appreciate the support. It is challenging to be so public about a personal story, but I have learned how universal these personal stories can be.
      I also have enjoyed following your work! I was immediately drawn to your imagery and colors, which are both gentle and magical!

  3. Thank you so much Dawn. I am appalled by how many typos there are in that comment though ;)

    And thank you too for your kind words about my work, I'm honoured.

    There is so much depth in your work, it's wonderful and I love the way you collage your drawings. The graphic element of the black and white lines against the passages of paint is really striking, and magical. Even when the subject is dark, there is this feeling of journey both through the work and out of the darkness.

    You have the rare ability to express your personal story in a way that communicates universal truths. That's a very precious gift.

    1. I appreciate your comment on the darkness. Much of my art is about dark topics, but I love life and am thankful for it. I try to see the darkness for what it is, and paint it without judgement, and without trying to gloss over it.
      So thank you, for the affirmation that that comes across in some way!


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