March 4, 2012
My ol’ buddy the fan brush was speaking to me again, and I felt very satisfied as I was painting. As is often the case, I don’t know what this painting is about, but it felt right to paint it, and the image is really staying with me throughout the day.
Speaking of things that are staying with me, one of my morning rituals is to read Carolyn Hax’s advice column in the Washington Post. This morning’s column included a letter from a woman who didn’t want to invite her abusive father to her wedding. Carolyn’s response included this:
One of the most crucial roles a parent plays is of protector — yet children of abusers need protection from parents. All these kids, to some degree, are forced to protect themselves.
Once your father gave you the job of watching your own back, you earned the right to keep it.
Her words really resonated with me because I grew up in an abusive home, and I’ve separated myself from my family. I’m at peace with the decision, which was made not in anger but rather out of a profound desire to care for myself consciously and well, and to not subject my inner children to any more crazymaking family dynamics. I call it a “radical act of self-care,” though it’s actually quite a few radical acts because of the number of people in my immediate family. (I exclude my dad from this entire discussion; he died in 1991, and we had a profoundly healing time during his last days.)
Many days, I feel like Ayla from The Clan of the Cave Bear. At the end of the book, she gets banished from her adopted Neanderthal clan and (to quote Wikipedia), “sets off to find other people of her own kind.” I’ve been “banished” by a few family members and chose to “divorce” several others. Regardless of the details, it’s been an empowering journey to walk away from toxicity and consciously choose my circle of support.
February 17, 2012
I didn’t have much time to paint today, but what I did felt good and right. While I was painting the red lining, my mind started wandering to the topic of boundaries. I’ve worked on learning about healthy boundaries for most of my adult life, and it’s such a relief to finally feel as though I have some clarity about what’s mine and what’s not mine. That clarity has had a very significant positive impact on my mental health.
At the same time, it’s great not to feel as though I have to defend my boundaries all the time. If I feel as though I have to, that’s usually a clue that I’m not very compatible with the other person. If I don’t feel as though I have to, it’s generally because there’s enough common ground in our perspectives that boundaries are honored without needing to work out a lot of stuff. But it’s still good to know that I can if I need to.
Here are a few of my favorite books on healthy boundaries, all by relationship coach Dr. Susan Campbell:
Getting Real: Ten Truth Skills You Need to Live an Authentic Life
Saying What’s Real: 7 Keys to Authentic Communication and Relationship Success
Truth in Dating: Finding Love by Getting Real
February 10, 2012
I didn’t have a lot of time for art today, but it sure felt good to start this drawing. I’ve been increasingly fascinated with the experience I’m having of the physicality of process art, especially when I use chalk pastels or paint. Last night I showed yesterday’s drawing to Charlie (my husband), and I mentioned that I was really getting into the rubbing and smearing. Right as I said that, an insight came to me about what that’s about, or at least an aspect of it.
I was a highly sensitive kid who was raised in an atmosphere in which everyone was always pushing on me—to be louder, spunkier, more social, more feminine, more political—in essence, different from how I was. I was also pushed on to suppress my anger and “uppityness.” It was really unsafe to push back when people pushed on me, so my pushing-back energy went underground and mostly expressed itself as withdrawal when I was around my family. I think a lot of this rubbing and smearing thing when I do process art has to do with a somatic need to push back.
As I’m writing this, I’m remembering that I worked with a somatic therapist for a while in the late ’90s, and he had me push against walls to have an experience of something solid that wouldn’t collapse under the pressure—and to experience myself not collapsing as I applied pressure on the walls. It also reminds me of a Chinese medicine book I read a long time ago in which the author talked about the importance of there being balance between the pushing-in energy that comes at us from the outside and the pushing-out energy that represents our ability to “hold our own” in the face of that pushing-in energy. Something in me got messed up about all that when I was young. I’ve spent decades learning how to have healthy boundaries, and I think this rubbing and smearing is some of that same work, this time focused on reclaiming a somatic sense of my ability to “hold my own.”
The drawing I started today feels different from that, though. It feels like gentle caressing and comforting—something else I’m reclaiming that my body treasures as well. Never mind that it looks like a giant sperm. I’m not going to try to figure that out—at least not publicly. :)