Friday, March 21, 2014

The Healing Power of Art: To Look Without Turning Away

Painting in Progress.  The Escape is becoming a new painting.  I'm still not sure  of the new title.
I posted my last post ten days ago.  It began with the phrase "Victim no More,"  and when I wrote it I knew that would happen, but I didn't know how.  As I move along, I have learned if I try very hard to be honest with myself, my actions will continue to lead me in a direction that helps me to be the best I can be.  It is a destination that is far from the attainment of perfection; it may never lead to material success, and it will not make everyone like me.  What I do believe is that unflinching honesty to oneself is the only reliable guide in a fluid, ever-changing approach to life without a roadmap.

Sounds simple, but it's been the most challenging approach to life that I have found.  And it is the most rewarding,  if what you're striving for is to feel fully alive and present in your own life.

Anyone who read my previous post knows I recently opened up and told my own personal story.  As a survivor of a very violent and traumatic relationship in my early 20's I have struggled to regain my strength and power throughout my adult life.  Painting has been a vital tool that has helped me to understand my subconscious thoughts and suppressed feelings, and communicate them first to myself and finally, to my family, friends, acquaintances and even strangers.

There have been consequences to telling my story.  There was immediate retaliation from my abuser, in the form of comments.  I have been feeling exposed, both emotionally and physically.  Many of my fears have surfaced, not only in my painting, but in my life.

Facing my fears one by one and looking at them  long enough to understand them completely.

In the center of the painting I have discovered my fears, as each one unfolds.  I have been afraid of being physically harmed.  Being verbally attacked in such a public way by my abuser was not something I predicted, but it has always been a threat and a fear.  I was afraid I would be seen as a weak person for having even been in an abusive relationship.  (I was afraid I would be judged in so many ways.)    I was afraid of remembering what I have pushed aside.  I was afraid of so many regrets.   I felt ashamed, scared and anxious, but I wrote down my story and I posted it publicly.  And the fallout has been huge; for ten days every single one of those fears has sat down in front of me and beckoned to be seen. 

As I painted the visual manifestations of my fears I felt each one acutely.  I tried to see them through to their worst case scenario.   It was exhausting, but they are losing their power over me.  I am seeing the strength in vulnerability, the courage in taking chances and the power in honesty.  I have begun to realize that certainty is an illusion sought out by fear.  I have also learned that fear cannot be escaped by running or hiding.  As I paint, I literally FACE MY FEARS.  And they become known to me, and I regain power over each one.

      In order fully own our own lives we must fully participate.  To do this well we must
have boundaries, and our boundaries are our own to define and defend.

Boundaries have always been an issue for me.  I would venture to guess anyone who has been in a relationship where they were physically violated has boundary issues.  But just as challenging for me are emotional and psychological boundaries.  In the past few years I have begun to realize and assert boundaries, often with very little grace and a lot of clumsiness.  It's a learning period.  I intellectually understood my abuser had no right to contact me, by phone, email or Facebook comments.  But in order to emotionally understand that truth I had to feel my own boundaries.  This took time.  When I began to publicly tell my story I took a quantum leap in boundary setting and my balance was very shaky at first.

Fortunately for me I have had a few really strong foundations in place.  I have a solid relationship with a supportive partner who understands me.  I have friends who cheer me on, even if we have moved to different places and rarely see each other.  I have family members who support my choices with respect and love.  And I feel more and more safe.  Safety is never guaranteed,  but I am secure in my preparation and planning for what I consider "worst case scenarios."  If I felt isolated, alone or ill prepared, I would not have told my story.  Speaking out can, at times, be dangerous.  Each person must decide carefully.  It is not realistic to think it is always the right thing to do, but when the time is right, it is a choice that can give victims ownership of their lives.  That is what it has done for me.

Returning to my own life I weep tears for the times I have been emotionally absent.
There is a bittersweet blend of sadness and hope in seeing your life with clarity. 

Although I am learning that my boundaries can enable me to be vulnerable in many areas of my life, up until now I used the creative process to feel things fully and give those feelings and experiences form.  This has been my lifeline.  It is one of the most valuable things I have to offer from my life.  I know how to tap into emotions I have vaulted up and left in darkness, experience them in the present and give them symbolic form with line, colors and shapes.  A lifetime of thinking through pictures is now making so much sense.  It has led me to where I am, and I am excited to continue discovering what there is to be known in this life, through the visions in my paintings.

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