I know I may have posted some of these before, but I wanted to post a group of specific collages that have a PTSD theme.
These collages depict the thoughts, feelings and images that I relate to my childhood and the severe sexual abuse that I was going through at that time. I still struggle, on a daily basis, to remember that I am good. He did not break me, ruin me or cause me to become evil. I did nothing to make him hurt me. I was just a little girl. I was innocent, but he stole that from me. I’m working hard in therapy to learn how to deal with all these feelings and memories that I repressed and kept secret for so long.
Part of finding freedom from my past is getting these long-held secrets out in the open. I want others to know they aren’t alone. The feelings and struggles that we go through, as survivors of abuse, are very normal for what we’ve experienced. Never, NEVER feel bad or ashamed of who you are! Your past does not define you! It may impact your world, but you are not bad because it happened to you!
And you’re never alone…
Here is a collection of collages I made representing my childhood.
I may have posted some of these previously, but since they fit with this theme, I thought I’d re-post them.
These are actually pictures of me when I was around the age when my abuse was happening. (Yes, I know, I’m really freakin’ cute!) Even though there is a smile on my face, there wasn’t a smile inside. Inside, I was a very angry, confused, hurt and scared little girl. I learned from a very early age how to “fake it” and put on a great mask to make everyone think I was normal and good.
This collage represents all the stuff I wanted but didn’t have. I have most of those things now, but as a kid, I didn’t. I love the expression on the face of the little girl in the picture. She looks delighted, excited and full of innocence with a tiny bit of mischievousness mixed in there. In the center of her arms, there is an owl. I didn’t have a stuffed owl as a little kid, but I love owls now and I have a stuffed owl named Lumpy that I take to therapy sessions with me. Lumpy is my friend, he keeps me safe, he listens and he comforts me. As a kid I really didn’t have that stuff.
This collage is a bit different from a lot of the collages I make. In most of the previous ones, I’ve used words and pictures cut from magazines, but in this one, a lot of the words were hand written and decorated with a specific purpose. The specific phrases “I am bad” and “Naughty” were written with my left hand, which is how the little girl part inside of me communicates. The picture of the bird in a cage represents how trapped I felt then and even now.
Just to get this out of the way, yes, this art journal was loosely inspired by Miley Cyrus’s song, “Wrecking Ball”.
Actually it was just the words “wrecking ball” that made me think of this art journal piece. Throughout my life, I’ve had a lot of dreams, wishes and visions of what I want for my life. I’ve also had a lot of those dreams shattered because of the damage my past abuse has done to my mental and physical health. One of my dreams was to become a cosmetologist. I’ve always loved hair and makeup and girly stuff like that, so I thought cosmetology school would be a great avenue for me to learn more and become a great hair stylist. Well…..that didn’t happen like I had wanted it to. I’ve actually been to cosmetology school twice and was expelled due to the way my depression, anxiety, eating disorder and self harm were affecting my performance and attendance at school. I was a great student. I got almost perfect grades and I loved what I was learning and doing….but there were a lot of days that I wasn’t able to even leave my house because my anxiety was so bad. There were days I’d eat lunch and purge in the bathroom at school, or go to the bathroom and cut myself. On more than one occasion I was caught and finally was confronted by the school administrator. I knew I wasn’t at the level of functioning that I needed to be in to finish school, so it was basically a mutual decision that I needed to quit school. I tried to go back again a few years later and the same thing happened. I was 5 months away from finishing school….but I just couldn’t do it.
Dream = Broken
There were other dreams, projects & plans that were broken. I lost many, many jobs due to my depression, anxiety, PTSD symptoms, frequent hospitalizations and overall inability to function. I lost friends when I would isolate and not leave my house or answer my phone for weeks at a time. A few amazing friends have stood by my side, but a lot have left too. My parents have suffered greatly. They’ve continued to pay for school loans for school that I couldn’t finish. They’ve invested so much financially into my treatment, therapy and care.
Life throws us a lot of curve balls. Wrecking balls smash into the dreams we have sometimes. But I’m learning to go with the flow. Take the punches and get back up. I’m even learning how to duck from some punches. I’m rebuilding dreams and a new life. This may not be the life I envisioned for myself, but I’m doing the best I can with what I have. I have an amazing wife who loves me with all her heart. My parents are so supportive of where I’m at in life. I have wonderful furry cat-kids who adore me. I have food, a lovely house to live in, clothes, a warm bed and most of all, I’m safe and loved.
Those are the things that matter now.
Broken dreams are in the past.
I’m rebuilding a new life.
It’s part of the healing process.
In a recent therapy session, I was telling my therapist that I felt like my past abuse and abuser filled me with poison and I still felt so tied to the poison. My therapist suggested that maybe I should do a piece of artwork on that theme and somehow find a way to replace some of the poison with something more healing. So that’s how this art journal piece came about. That’s me in the middle. On the bottom right is the poison of my past that I’m still holding on to, but also on the top left is a Healing Potion that is slowly filling me and replacing the poison.
Imagery like this doesn’t always work for me. Lots of therapists have suggested other ways of looking at things and replacing bad images with better ones. But the bad images are still there. I almost didn’t do this art journal because I felt like it would be a waste of my time and wouldn’t work. It certainly hasn’t been the magic answer, but it s a good reminder for me to look at occasionally to remember that the Healing Potion is there. It is within me and it’s continually being poured into my life through many different avenues. It’s also a good reminder that I am still holding on to that poison, but some day I will be able to let go of it and not let it ruin my life. Looking at this piece reminds me that I have to keep working hard and I have to keep fighting.
Because freedom is possible!
I couldn’t get away from him. I was just a little kid. He was a grown man, so much larger and stronger than me. He held me down, pinned me to the ground. Sometimes he tied me down. The things he would do to me could easily be considered as torture. I know that no sexual abuse can be considered “run of the mill” but this stuff wasn’t just touching my private places. It involved full force rape. A grown man raping a 5-year-old. He would penetrate me with other things too; sticks, toys, pencils, silverware, knives…basically whatever he could find to shove in there. I remember blood. Lots of blood coming out of my body. Lots of physical pain. After he was done, he’d leave me there, usually in the dark. I would curl up in a ball because the physical pain was so intense. I was scared, alone and in pain. I was little. My mind created a great escape plan to protect me. I would dissociate. I would leave my body. When I would leave my body, it felt like I had a special door on the top of my right shoulder that would open and I could float out of. I’d float to the ceiling, in the corner of the room and just watch, that way I didn’t have to feel it.
Our minds do amazing things to protect us in traumatic events. Some minds create alternate personalities to deal with situations. My mind just left. I was freed, leaving just an empty body for him to hurt. At the time of my abuse, this dissociation served me well. It was my safety. But now that I am trying to face my past, sometimes I don’t want to dissociate. I want to stay present with my body and my feelings. My dissociation became such a natural coping mechanism throughout my life that it happened automatically. I didn’t have to do anything or think anything to make myself leave my body. I just did. Now I try to fight to stay in my body. I’ve learned that my friends don’t want relationships with an empty person. I want to be an active participant in my life now. It’s not always pleasant to feel and remember, but it’s part of the process of my healing. It’s part of my journey and I now have the support I need in order to face my past and learn to live as a whole person again.
These are a few more collages that I made in 2007. Geez, that feels like forever ago. I hardly even remember what my life was like then because it honestly was pretty chaotic. I had so much going on with my eating disorder and my self harm, lack of good therapy, being severely over medicated by my psychiatrist…things were pretty crazy. I used making collages as a safer form of self expression. When I wanted to cut myself, instead I’d grab a stack of magazines and just cut out words and pictures that jumped out to me. When I felt like I didn’t have a voice, like I couldn’t speak out my feelings and thoughts, they would come out through my collages. I think that using collage as a therapeutic art form was truly the beginning of using art as a form of healing. Within the past few years, I’ve definitely branched out in my artwork. I’ve learned how to paint, draw, make ceramics, make jewelry, and many other art forms.
Sometimes I feel like I just don’t have the right words to say about some things. I guess this is one of those kind of pieces of artwork. I just know I was feeling very angry and hurt the day I made this. The words on this collage speak for themselves.