Dear Fellow Human

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Dear fellow human,

What is happening in the news goes far beyond politics for me. I see human beings when I look at the women who are accusing men of sexual abuse. Human beings who have come forward and said that something absolutely horrific has happened to them. While there should absolutely be investigations, due process, and justice, what I ultimately care about is the person telling her story.

A very small percentage of sexual assault claims are actually false (only around 2-6%). We are left with the task of caring for the 92-98% of people who have had their lives altered irreparably. They will never, ever be the same. Trauma impacts every area of someone’s life.

Can we shift from immediate judgement of the details when we hear someone say they’ve been sexually assaulted? Wouldn’t all of us want to be believed? Can we ask why we immediately doubt? If it all stems back into which political party this woman has voted for or is affiliated with, let’s pause and think about her the way we would think about a friend, sister, or daughter who tells us something horrific has happened to her. 

When we communicate about politics and sexual abuse allegations we cannot know how many of our friends have been hurt by sexual abuse. It sends a message to victims before they even open their mouths about how their story will be received. It can’t be about us vs. them, especially when it comes to abuse claims. Please think twice before you speak or post.

Love,

Your fellow human 

Helpful links (trigger warning, there are stories of sexual abuse shared in these articles and links):

https://theconversation.com/heres-the-truth-about-false-accusations-of-sexual-violence-88049

https://chuckdegroat.net/2018/09/24/believing-women-in-an-age-of-narcissism/

https://www.amazon.com/Body-Keeps-Score-Healing-Trauma-ebook/dp/B00G3L1C2K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1537979232&sr=8-1&keywords=the+body+keeps+the+score

If I answered you honestly...

"Inside/Outside"

“How are you?” The question is usually posed with kind eyes, a sweet smile, and said in passing.

“I’m doing ok,” is my usual stock answer.

If you listen closely, the way I say the word “ok” holds a lot. My words say I’m fine, but my tone communicates maybe that’s not the case. To be honest I’m probably trying to see how far you want to enter in to my story with me today.

You see if I was really being blunt I would tell you right now I’m in so much pain I can barely walk without crying. There are many moments that are sheer torture and it’s all happening inside my body.

It's safer for me to tell you I’m doing ok. At least that’s what I’ve told myself. I’m sure other people with chronic illness or pain will tell you sometimes it’s easier to soften the impact of what daily living is like, because in the past they’ve been met with disbelief, abandonment, or just plain disdain. Which says more about the receiver than the person sharing what their life is really like. It’s been safer for me to assume you won’t know what to say and I’ll be left feeling even more alone if I share it with you. While in the past this has been a lifesaving way of being, I've also realized this cuts me off from care I could possibly receive. 

However, that internal story has been changing. I’ve encountered more people who have been able to simply be with me as I cried or raged. They’ve grieved with me, that at 29 I am experiencing yet another catastrophic speed bump in my life that’s lasted far longer than I could have anticipated. I received such an overwhelming sense of kindness and warmth. It’s been life-changing to find a community like this. I’ve begun to be more honest about how I’m actually doing regardless of how I’m perceiving the other person is taking in the information. This is my truth. My reality. I don’t verbally vomit about what’s going on, but I try to be more truthful about what’s happening for me. If they choose to step in further I’ve left the door open for that. If not, that’s fine, too. I’ve realized it doesn’t take much for me to feel taken care of and heard.

Here are some tips for witnessing and embracing people with chronic health issues:

  1. Don’t try to fix or problem solve without asking if they would like that. They’ve probably been googling their problems for years, right now they just need you to be with them.

  2. Suggest things you can do for them. If they are in pain they probably can’t think of what they need, they just want to be out of pain. Even small tasks like getting up to get a glass of water can feel like climbing a mountain. Some ideas include; buying groceries, cleaning a room in their house, running an errand, or even simply watching a movie with them.

  3. Do not try to cover up their suffering with a spiritual bandaid. Saying things like, "this is happening for a reason and there is a purpose for your physical agony," (i.e God will use it for them to be able to help other people or He works all things together for good) can be hurtful. I grew up in a Christian environment where people who loved me sometimes threw scripture at me instead of just sitting with me in my pain. Jesus sat with the suffering. He served them. Being a religious Pollyanna regarding someone’s suffering invalidates the gravity of their current experience. Jesus is present in the room regardless if you say his name or not. Be with the person where they are at. If they want to talk about God and that's comforting to them or they want to talk about how they are angry at Him for allowing this, then, by all means, go there. 

  4. Volunteer to drive them doctor’s appointments or tell them you’ll take notes for them if they want you to sit in with them to hear results from a test. Something that has meant so much to me, are friends who have told me that they will go to the ER with me if I need to go to the hospital. Even if it’s in the middle of the night. Just having this in the back of my mind has helped me feel calmer knowing I have help if I need it.

  5. Ask them about their pain or condition. One of the best gifts someone gave me was asking me to tell them about my pain. Isolation in pain is one of the worst feelings, but when he asked me that question and humanly reacted to my answer it helped me know I wasn’t as alone as I felt. I didn’t have to take care of him after I told him what it was really like. He was able to hold me and his own experience simultaneously.

  6. Believe them. They are probably not even telling you the whole story of how bad things really feel.

  7. Chronic illness is a roller coaster with good days and bad days. If you have a spouse or a close friend who is struggling, the best thing you can do for them is to also care for yourself. Reach out to a therapist or a friend for support.

In short, be human. Be you. You can tell them you hate that they are in pain and you wish you could take it from them, but if they just need to sit and cry, rage, or laugh, you’re there for them. Being witnessed and held with empathy has changed the way I walk through my days with pain. I feel less hopeless knowing I’m being heard, that I am loved, and I am not alone.

What if...?

 "Have a Heart" watercolor and pen and ink on paper (2017)

"Have a Heart" watercolor and pen and ink on paper (2017)

What If...?

What if I choose to believe I am not too much and I am more than enough?

What if I choose to believe I matter even if all I can do is show up?

What if I choose to believe that offering people the honesty of my face and heart is not a requirement or burden, but a gift I can give?

What if I choose to believe my body is beautiful as it is and I don’t have to starve it, sculpt it, or harass it for it to already be magnificent?

What if I choose to believe trust is earned, but to not give it away means living a lonely half-life?

What if I choose to believe a gift is just a gift with no strings attached?

What if I choose to believe what my body tells me, what the Spirit whispers, and what my heart already knows?

What if I choose to believe love does not come in limited quantities?

What if I choose to believe resting does not mean failure, it means I’m listening to what my body needs?

What if I choose to believe all I am required to do in this moment is breathe?

What if I choose to believe the words a beloved friend whispers… that I am magnanimous, beautiful, thought about... even loved?

How would believing all of that change the way I live, breathe, and stand in this very moment?

Beauty and Brokenness

I spread out my plastic drop cloth on the floor of my apartment and grabbed my paints from the drawer. Two canvases were begging to be redone and I had the time and space to give them some attention.

That weekend had held remembrances of the past in the form of panic and anxiety and my body was exhausted from holding it all. Painting, for me, is a way of having a dialogue with those stories. Sometimes the way the work evolves is not a conscious choice. Art making can be unmasking. It can externalize the stories the body needs to tell. 

A kind friend told me, "the panic is just your body remembering things." Those words held peace for me. Of course. Such a simple explanation, but instead of viewing my body as defective I began to see it as a vessel impacted by the world around it.

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When I put the canvases side by side I realized that they were "talking" to each other. 

The canvas on the left represents the false front I put on for the world. I tell people, "I'm fine," "I'm hanging in there," "I'm ok." For so long I believed the lie that revealing some of the raw reality that comes with living a life on this broken earth would be too much for the listener and maybe even for me. So many stories sat bottled up in a corner until two years ago when I began to tell some of them at the Lay Counseling Certificate training program run by the Allender Center in Seattle. 

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The canvas on the right is the internal battle. The stories that bubble up from the deep. The messy reality. The things I try to hide because they can't be neatly summed up and put into a certain box.

Telling stories to those we trust means asking them to sit in the darkness with us. To hold the beauty and sorrow. It's incredibly vulnerable and I think touches on a young place for many. It's the little girl or boy who wants to share their drawing or story with an adult, their heart crying out, "look at me, tell me this matters, sit with me." 

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In the sadness there is beauty. In the chaos there is hope. I see loveliness in each of the canvases. They both tell my story. It's not over and it's still being written. By standing in the ocean of memories my body is asking me to remember, I can offer more kindness to myself and to others. I'm eternally grateful for those who step into the deep waters with me, hold my hand, look into my eyes and remind me I'm not alone.

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There's a saying at my grad school that we must learn to hold both things, the horrific ugly brokenness and the glorious beauty of the stories our bodies contain. Maybe someday those two canvases won't feel so far apart from each other in expression, but that's a part of the journey.

Artist Residency Day 5:

I can't believe it's the last day of the residency. I already miss the rhythm that the other artists and I established together. The past few days was a time of not having to worry about much other than continuing to focus on the work in front of me. It was a gift I didn't even know I wanted.  The community from my grad school came together and provided meals for us; they brought food that was organic, thoughtfully prepared, and given with a blessing. To say we were being spoiled is an understatement. 

At our last breakfast together we spoke about how we seemed to show up in each other's work in color, theme, and experimentation. Ideas trickled over into other people's work. One of my favorite parts was visiting each artist's space to see where they were in their process. 

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I'm incredibly grateful for the people I've met since moving to Seattle. The city has changed my life and the way I paint in dramatic ways. The adventure continues, but I hold the memory of this time very close to my heart. 

Artist Residency Day 4:

The last full day of the residency dawned and I felt drawn to read Rupi Kaur's book "Milk and Honey." It's filled with beautiful poems that turn my heart more tender. I was also ruminating on the theme "Prayer at Rising" that had been given to the artists for the week. It's based on the prayer by Catherine Maclean. 

PRAYER AT RISING
(From Catherine Maclean, crofter, Naast, Gairloch)

Bless to me, O God,
Each thing mine eye sees;
Bless to me, O God,
Each sound mine ear hears;
Bless to me, O God,
Each odour that goes to my nostrils
Bless to me, O God,
Each taste that goes to my lips;
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way,
Each thing that I pursue.
Each lure that tempts my will,
The zeal that seeks my living soul.
The Three that seek my heart,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart.

I was having a conversation with my friend Stephanie and we were talking about the body and pain. It's almost as if the body says, “well if you’re not going to cry, I’m going to cry for you.” All of a sudden there's a pain issue or a gut issue. Sometimes chronic pain is rooted in past trauma. The body never forgets even if we can't or won't remember. 

Stephanie then went on to add a line to Catherine's prayer,

"Bless to me, O God,  my body that speaks my pain when I can’t." 

Today was about having a dialogue with my body and emotions on a canvas. I want to bless my body even when I experience pain. What good does it do when I shut down my emotions from what's happening physically? I become disconnected from myself and then in turn less connected to those around me. 

A couple of years ago I would have called that woo-woo or shied away from the thought that my body would have much to say. But it's been crying out for a while and the kindest thing would be to give it space to tell me what it's been trying to communicate. 

Artist Residency Day 3:

Yesterday and today this piece called to me. It kept morphing out from under my brush, begging to be changed and not satisfied with any iteration. I think it finally settled down into a finished piece... at least for now (scroll down to the final image to see what it looks like now.) 

The building we're working in is such a peaceful place to be. The four other artists and I are being cared for by our community and it feels like a little cocoon. I'm really grateful to have this space to process things and to get messier than I usually do.

I'm reminded of the days when I shared a gritty studio with three other artists in Queens, NY. I realized I really do miss the camaraderie that sometimes comes with working in the same space as other creatives. Sharing dinners at night, discussing our process or laughing at silly things that have transpired over the course of the day is so good for my little soul. I'm already dreading the ending of this glorious time. I'm soaking it all in. 

 Close up #1 

Close up #1 

 Close up #1 

Close up #1 

 Close up #2

Close up #2

Artist Residency Day 2:

Today, I got into a groove of exploring and playing with my paints. My body is more settled into the environment. I normally paint alone so it's a change working in close proximity to other artists in the building, but I'm enjoying being closer to other creatives! It's so lovely to be able to throw around ideas and comment on each other's work as it evolves. 

I borrowed/stole some oil pastels from a fellow artist and I've been exploring mark making. I'm giving myself more permission to be wild and bold. My artist soul is crying, "Paint! Dance! Sing! You already have the freedom to do all of these things! Embrace it! Run after it!" 

I'm so excited to see what new ideas emerge on canvas and paper tomorrow! 

Artist Residency Day 1:

It's raining again. Seattle hasn't decided if it wants to fully embrace spring yet and I feel the heaviness of the previous semester of grad school weighing on my bones. Everything around me acts as if it is in waiting. Waiting to bloom, waiting to change, waiting to move.

I was grateful to be accepted into an artist residency program at my grad school during the break between semesters. It felt like a way to bring consistency and creative rhythm back to my body. I loved the idea that I was being given permission to just create and paint in a large space.

I watched as my canvases changed throughout the first 24 hours. I felt the pressure to perform, to put something out into the world that was "good." It was the fearful internal voice that pushed me forward. I realize now perhaps the kindest thing to do is to sit with myself as I wait with beauty, instead of rushing on to the next project or idea. 

I'm still here, waiting. Waiting to bloom, waiting to change, waiting to move. But it feels like something is happening even in the waiting.

Salt Water Echoes

I can sense anxiety bumping around in my heart again, crashing against my ribs like a frantic bird in a cage that's too small. I pull on my running shoes and step out the door. Cool air hits my skin and my feet know where to go as I head in the direction of the water.

When I lived in Queens, NY my feet often found their way to the East River. It didn't matter if it was 20 degrees out and I looked like the little kid from The Christmas Story all bundled up from head to toe. I had to go. It was a matter of survival. I would walk under Hell Gate bridge and stare across the water at Manhattan. As the sun dipped lower in the sky the buildings reflected the light looking like glowing jewels.

As a native Texan there were not a lot of large oceanic-like water sources at my fingertips. The southern sky was often my mirror. Giant clouds billowed out over fields warning of impending rain or a heatwave. Sometimes even snow. My heart felt echoed as I gazed up at a sky that seemed to stretch on forever. It expressed things I could not. Anger, grief, and even joy.

For so long I taught my body not to remember. Now the sky, water, and mountains are teaching me how to breathe again. I’m thawing out.

The crashing waves echo my grief and pull apart layers of feelings that I don’t even know how to verbalize. Words that got trapped under years of solidifying granite and amber feel loosened as I look out at the waves lapping against the shoreline.

Something about the act of putting on my shoes, leaving the confined space of my apartment, and running towards the water feels like coming home to more of myself. A self who is not encumbered by words that feel stuck in her throat. Someone who feels the power of the sea surging around her.

Today, it is calm as the tide goes out. Tomorrow it might be stormy somewhere out on Puget Sound and the water that I see could be frenetic as each wave connects back to the source of turbulence. It speaks for me when I have so many words that cannot escape the protective prison that I carefully constructed so long ago.

“I have no need of you now,” I think. "You were built for someone who was small and needed protection. Now that cage is claustrophobic and I am able to protect the little one who resides in me.”

I carry an ocean within me. Rollicking waves that crash together. Streams that flow into places I have not yet explored. Pools of ice, frozen ten feet deep, that have secrets I may never understand. All this I carry with me. Behind my lips.

When I see someone else, do I recognize some of what lies under the surface of their smile? We are two waves crashing up against the other. Forever altered by the meeting.