One of my favorite art forms is collaging. I could spend days looking through magazines, cutting out words and pictures. I have a whole scrapbook sleeve full of stuff I’ve cut out already. When I make a collage, I usually don’t go in to the process knowing what I want it to look like, say or have pictures of. I start by choosing some sort of background because I generally hate having white, open space in my collages. After that, I just start picking out words and pictures that jump out to me and a theme starts to form. Usually that theme is about my feelings at the moment, or what I’m struggling with or thinking about at the moment. In my collages, you can definitely tell my good days versus my bad days. Honestly, there are a lot more bad days, than good ones….but there is hope! I know there is an end in sight. I know that someday I’ll feel able to cope with life better. I know I’m not alone. I know I’m safe, loved, cared for and special…all in wonderful ways.
This collage was definitely a bad day when I was thinking about my childhood sexual abuse. I carry so much shame and guilt about what happened. Sometimes I think the abuse was my fault. Sometimes I still feel scared that the man who hurt me will come back and hurt me again. I know that there is no way that will ever happen, but it’s just one of those irrational fears I have sometimes.
One day when I was feeling especially down, I was talking to my art therapist about it. She suggested doing a project that would help me turn my yucky feelings into happier ones. The basic idea of the project is a 2 layered approach. The bottom layer is made first and decorated with your negative feelings. For my piece, I just used some poster board and I colored big, geometric shapes in lots of dark colors, representing the anger, frustration and sadness I felt. The second layer uses tissue paper to cover up the first layer, but with the tissue paper still being thin and semi-transparent, you can still know that the other feelings are there and that is ok. So for my second layer, I used a childlike scene with a blue sky background, a sunshine, green grass, fluffy clouds and flowers. I used Mod Podge to glue the tissue paper over my first layer. It didn’t turn out stunningly beautiful or anything like that, but I liked the process of changing my thought process a bit. Sometimes all it takes is a change in perspective to make our attitude or day a bit better, and some days, that’s all that matters.
This is another piece that represents the confusion of emotions I feel on a regular basis. Because of the abuse I went through, my mind and body learned to separate themselves as means of protection. This is called dissociation. Because of the way I would dissociate, I learned not to feel anything, even happiness. I was an empty shell. In the beginning of my therapy process, we worked a lot on allowing myself to feel…..to feel anything. I had a very hard time staying present during therapy sessions because my gut reaction to feelings is to dissociate. But slowly I learned to stay. Sometimes it was only for a few seconds, but as time passed, I was able to stay present for longer periods of time. I was beginning to really, truly feel emotions. I was able to cry, be angry and even be happy at times. This was a long and grueling process, but it was also amazing to recognize that I had something outside of my empty, dark shell of a life.
It was also during this time that I became so easily overwhelmed by emotions that I didn’t know how to deal with them. Sometimes I slept. Sometimes I binged and purged. Sometimes I would cut myself. Somehow the feeling of cutting myself was a release of my feelings, like when the blood would come out, so would the feelings. Same thing goes for the purging too. When I would force myself to vomit, all the feelings I had went down the toilet too.
In the process of my art therapy, I was talking to one of the therapists and he asked if I’d ever used scratch art as a way of dealing with the urges to self harm. I had seen scratch art kits at the craft stores, but never tried them. He suggested that maybe the physical action of scraping the paint off of a board or paper with a sharp tool could take the place of my self harm. So I tried it and IT WORKED!!!
This is one of the first scratch art pieces I made. In the bottom left corner, I’m curled up. I feel scared, alone, overwhelmed, angry and confused. The swirls all around represent those different feelings.
There are some days when I am so overwhelmed that I just can’t think straight enough to even function. Thoughts, memories, body memories and flashbacks fill my mind. This painting represents those kind of days.
So on the topic of secrets, back a few years ago, when I first really started my trauma work in therapy, my therapist recommended that I write down a list of all the secrets I’ve been keeping and as I felt comfortable, I could share them with her. So I did that. My list was 3 pages long.
Later on on my therapy process, I decided to make a box to keep my secrets in. I used a small cardboard box with a hinged lid. I crumpled up some muslin material and Modge Podged it to the box. I used some red burlap to make a heart on the top of the box with a safety pin going through the center of it. Then with some wire, I made a clasp that I could put a lock through. I wrote out ally secrets individually on pieces of brown paper that I folded up and put inside. The box is really full. I kinda had to squish all the secrets in the box.
Just getting the secrets out of my head was a huge relief. As I began to tell the secrets, the shame and guilt I felt began to lessen. Finding a safe person to share your secrets with is extremely therapeutic! Like I said in my other post, “secrets keep us sick”. If you have secrets, I really encourage you to begin sharing and letting go of them. My secrets held so much power over my mind. Letting them go and getting them out has brought me a lot of freedom.
The day I did this painting, I had just come from a very difficult therapy session. I was feeling very angry about my life and about where I was at in life because of the abuse I went through as a little girl. I didn’t really think about what I was going to paint. I knew I just wanted to spread paint on a board and get my feelings out. As I was putting the paint on my board, I remember feeling a release of some of the anger. Don’t get me wrong, this painting didn’t “cure” my anger, but it sure helped in the moment and it kept me from using my anger against myself through cutting or binging and purging.