This series of art is inspired by the symbolic nature of the beauty within the changing seasons. It is a reminder to slow down, pay attention, and soak in the details of each moment. When I am in struggle painting helps to clear my mind and make space for thoughts outside of the ones that feel pressing and consuming. This painting was a fun challenge to find and express the variety of colors within a wintry white frozen scene.
“The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.”
Almost two years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, I picked up a paintbrush and revisited an old passion of mine. Drawing and painting have always been an interest but often existed in the background with only occasional inspiration. In recent years art has developed into a therapeutic means of self expression and has enabled me to access feelings that are often difficult to wrap words around.
When the pandemic began and my part time job was replaced with remote learning facilitation duties for my two kids, I dove into a creative project that I am now close to completing. I decided to dig through photographs from my favorite trips, places, and memories and paint them. I devoted a room in my house to hang all of these painted memories. As the months passed by more and more paintings were completed and added to this collection. The more I painted the more I enjoyed it.
Almost two years later and the walls of this room that I have devoted to this creative project are nearly filled. I still have plans to paint a few more, but this project is now nearing its end. The interesting part about this challenge that I ventured into is that now as I look back at my first paintings in this series I see them differently. I see parts that I like as well as ways in which I might approach the paintings slightly different – color choices I would tweak, composition choices I would alter, or details I know I can express better now.
Reflecting on this past art work has caused some deeper thinking. I can see in my paintings that my skills have improved over time. It may not be a quantitative measure like improving a test score or a race time, but I see growth in areas that I struggled with at the beginning, and I even see growth where I didn’t know I needed to grow.
As I sit here today in a space of personal struggle – with uncertainty of my value here – doubting my own self worth and purpose – perhaps my paintings can show me something I’ve been failing to see.
Sometimes it’s hard to know where we stand. Sometimes it’s hard to have the proper perspective to find the space that exists between our shortcomings, our own personal growth, and our potential. It can feel so dark and murky that it just feels safer to shrink down in place. Perhaps this reflection on my painting process can be a reminder to look back and remember the struggles that have been overcome and the growth that has occurred. Perhaps then it might be possible to pave the way for a new healthier perspective that has seemed otherwise impossible.
My shame is a shapeshifter. Its ever changing presence lurks nearby at all times. Like my shadow it feels almost a part of me, never missing a step as it creeps along by my side. My shame has evil desires masked by a comforting and soothing facade. It knows me by name. It can sense what I need, and its conniving ways enable it to convince me that it holds the answers I require. Its constant presence is worn like a blanket, draping me in the kind of familiarity that I no longer question while it continues its work to change and steal more and more of me.
My shame understands that patience is a necessary component for its success. It knows when its strength is greatest and waits for those prime moments to slither out of the darkness to strike. When it senses an environment of joy, connection, or engagement it carefully retreats to the background, not in defeat but instead with a sense of knowing that it must patiently wait to resurface later in order to be most effective. While in waiting, my shame compiles all that it needs in the darkness of its lair, gathering each soul piercing ingredient required to overwhelm me when it chooses. I can feel the undercurrents of these preparations. I know it is there and feel powerless to stop it. I know that no matter how much I try to resist and counter it my shame is too clever to reveal its full plan.
My shame watches you. It is learning how to exist around you. It may reveal little morsels of its intentions to you – just enough to make you think it is possible to subvert it. But my shame smiles at these attempts as it hovers behind me with its dagger pressed firmly up against me. It dares you to step closer. It welcomes your attempts to pull me away from it. My shame will simply absorb and catalog your efforts to later assist with its mission when it is required. It knows that your help has limits. Your presence won’t always be there. Yet shame has unrestricted access to me. Your limits will become more fuel doused onto its fiery wrath when it finds me in solitude.
I have learned that naming shame can help to ease its strength. Calling it out by name shines a light on shame and makes it retreat back into its darkness. Its power wilts when this light can reach it. I feel the truth in this, and I try to offer myself this gift of relief by using my voice to dampen it. But my shame is learning too. Like a virus, it keeps shifting and adapting to grow in strength. It is finding new ways to maneuver in plain sight in the midst of a glaring light in its direction.
I need a new strategy. I need a new angle. I feel myself stumbling and submitting. I understand that there is no future beyond surrender, and this is not an option I wish to consider. But my shame has infiltrated my eyes, and I can’t seem to see a path forward from here. My shame is winning, and it knows this. I need to find a new way out.
This series of art is inspired by the symbolic nature of the beauty within the changing seasons. It is a reminder to slow down, pay attention, and soak in the details of each moment. When I am in struggle painting helps to clear my mind and make space for thoughts outside of the ones that feel pressing and consuming. This painting is the result of an attempt to redirect myself out of a dark place.
Welcome to the 5th creation of my “Seasons” series.
“Meet me in the middle of your story when the soul is worn but wise.”
This series of art is inspired by the symbolic nature of the beauty within the changing seasons. It is a reminder to slow down, pay attention, and soak in the details of each moment. Welcome to the 4th creation of my “Seasons” series.
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
This series of art is inspired by the symbolic nature of the beauty within the changing seasons. It is a reminder to slow down, pay attention, and soak in the details of each moment. Welcome to the third creation of my “Seasons” series.
“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all.”
Tuesday wears the scars of yesterday while clinging to the promise of tomorrow She has seen enough to be afraid but not enough to abandon hope
She is unaware of what lies ahead Blinded by faith and youthful innocence Tuesday believes what she is served
She trusts the messages in place of her own experiences for She has not witnessed enough sunsets to understand the difference
Later days will teach her Later moments will change her but for now Tuesday’s teary eyes still gleam with hope and possibility
This poem begs for an explanation. It was born from a very recent connection to a set of conflicting feelings from my inner wounded child. With some time and reflection I have come to understand a difference or split between the child within me at the time when the abuse first began and the older child who experienced routine abuse for years. This poem is a connection to that younger wounded child – the one who hurts but still believes in and longs for help and care. I call her Tuesday because in the span of a week Tuesday holds hope. Even with a bad taste from Monday, Tuesday offers the days ahead to look forward to – to turn everything around and make it alright.
I sat at a table of mostly strangers. We were engaged in the kind of small talk that induces a moderate level of anxiety within me as an introvert with socially uncomfortable tendencies. But it was a welcoming and lighthearted get-together, and the connection that brought me there was strong enough to make me feel secure in this setting. I approached this gathering prepared to be introduced or identified as a sexual abuse survivor. While this was an unusual setting of disclosure for me, it felt okay as it was thoughtfully discussed beforehand with the close friend and fellow survivor that invited me to the table that day.
As the conversations moved from various topics I recognized a similarity between myself and one of these strangers. We both have children the same age. I offered up this common ground that we share, creating a brief moment of connection before the conversations continued. Then later this common ground resurfaced. It was discovered that not only do we have kids the same age, but they also go to the same school. And not only do they go to the same school, but her child has participated in a sport that I have coached there. In a matter of seconds it was revealed that I was her son’s coach a couple of years ago. Suddenly this person who was supposed to be a complete and total stranger to me became something different.
This revelation would hold little significance to me in most circumstances, but there was something uniquely different about this particular connection that day. I was in unfamiliar territory. I had offered up my title as a sexual abuse survivor in a setting where I didn’t expect to be connected to any other aspect of my life. And there I was facing a collision course of identities as both a youth sports coach and a survivor in one setting. Internal rattling ensued.
It took some time to unpack what this encounter meant to me and why it resulted in an uproar of internal disruption. After all, I rationally know that I am both a coach and a survivor. Those two identities can and do coexist. So what’s the big deal? The big deal for me is that my life is organized into compartments – separate and distinct compartments. Certain parts of my life do not intersect with other parts. This is by design. This is surely a result of a compartment that was painfully thrust upon me as a child. But my maintenance of these separate compartments has kept me alive and safely protected over the years.
I am very actively involved as a survivor in both my own individual and group healing work as well as through a passionate involvement in education and abuse prevention efforts in youth sports across the United States. This is a huge part of who I am. And yet this part exists separately from all other aspects of my life. The work I do and the amazing connections I have made within this community are treasured by me, and yet they are kept almost entirely disjointed from the rest of me.
This compartmentalization, for better or worse, is how I function. When a situation like this arises where two compartments that don’t operate together are suddenly thrust into interweaving light it causes two things to happen inside of me. First, there is panic. An automatic emergency response happens inside indicating danger and a need to fix, or change, or flee the situation. When I can eventually ride that feeling out (hopefully without succumbing to the panic) then a second feeling always follows. Self-judgement. What is wrong with me? Why do I feel the need to hide? The fact that these compartments still strongly exist for me today fills me with uneasiness and uncertainty about myself and my own healing. It makes me question how secure I can feel in my own story if I must keep these parts entirely separate. If I claim to own my story of childhood sexual abuse then why must I keep it separate from some other areas in my life? Doesn’t that mean I am still bound up in the same shame I have been working so hard to break free from? Doesn’t that mean I am much farther away from healing from all of this than I even imagined? Does that make true healing even remotely possible for me?
I think the answers to these questions have many layers. I unfortunately know first hand how much ignorance and cruelty exists in the world around the topic of childhood sexual abuse. I have heard comments with my own ears and have read statements with my own eyes that have placed the blame of what happened to me squarely upon my shoulders. And I know that no matter how strong and secure I can feel in the knowledge that what happened to me was not my fault or the result of some kind of brokenness or defect in me, the words of others still have a way of cutting into me in a deeply damaging way. This reality makes me hold my story close to me. It makes me very selective in who and in what settings I choose to share. I can never be certain that ignorance or cruelty will not interfere with my coaching positions, so I don’t advertise it there. This saddens the advocate in me as I believe I am a better and more equipped coach because of my experiences of abuse in sports. But I can never be certain that ignorance and cruelty wouldn’t find me in this role. And I can’t bear the thought of even one parent wrongfully expressing that my history makes me a potential unsafe person around their child. That kind of ignorance exists. And that kind of ignorance hurts too much. So I choose to keep these compartments separate. Maybe it won’t be that way forever, but it feels safer for me now.
The fact is, no matter how much work I do and no matter how secure I feel in my story, my story is still my own. It still hurts sometimes, and it can still cause hurt when it lands in the wrong hands. My healing progress should never be measured by a willingness to shout my story from the rooftops. It’s much more complex and personal than that. I get to be careful and selective in who I allow to see each compartment I carry. I get to decide, as Brene Brown has so powerfully described, who “has earned the right” to hear my story.
Sometimes I will mess up and share with the wrong people. I will have to learn from those moments, pick up the pieces, and carry on. And I will be okay. Other times, I may sit at a table and share with the right people, and it might make everything inside of me shake a whole lot. That doesn’t mean I messed up. It doesn’t mean it was wrong. It just means it is scary. And that’s okay too.
This series of art is inspired by the symbolic nature of the beauty within the changing seasons. It is a reminder to slow down, pay attention, and soak in the details of each moment. Welcome to the second creation of my “Seasons” series.
“Autumn shades the weary soul in golden dreams and long lost hopes.”
This series of art is inspired by the symbolic nature of the beauty within the changing seasons. It is a reminder to slow down, pay attention, and soak in the details of each moment. Welcome to the first creation of my “Seasons” series.
“As long as autumn lasts, I shall not have hands, canvas, and colors enough to paint the beautiful things I see.”