This is a post about getting messy again, in emotions and in art.
It is quite lengthy and contains lots of run on sentences. Buckle up and away we goooo!
It all began in the spring, when I started to feel like my heart might burst if I didn't put paint to canvas (or wood panel or paper or *something*) stat. But, truthfully, the whisperings began long before that. After The Very Bad Day when everything came crashing down around me, I first felt numbness (for a very long time, just numbness - still working through that), then a little fireball of anger that was hard to identify as anger at first because I am not very good at letting myself get angry (working through that, too) but would come out at inopportune times and places like crowded airports after delayed flights while trying to manage bags, a fussy toddler and an injured brain...and my chest felt like it might explode (or implode maybe) from the weight of all that unspoken, numbed-out anger and anxiety and raw emotion. The whisperings came allll the back then, at that airport, three months post-surgery, fighting to be heard from within that burning spot in my chest: you need to paint.
Even though I knew it could unlock me, de-stress me and possibly take away that burning, crushing weight, I didn't paint. I made excuses...some really good ones, like "my head hurts" (it did) and "I have no space to work" (I didn't). But then time marched on, we moved, my head didn't hurt as often and we got more space. I heard the whisperings again but I didn't paint. I buried that voice and the desire it was stirring within. Maybe because I knew. I knew that listening to that voice, His voice, and opening myself up to that process meant feeling things again, and dealing with really hard, raw stuff and that just felt too overwhelming and messy. I wasn't ready for messy in 2012, or 2013 or 2014 (aside from the few Etsy items I created mid-December, but that was safe and contained because those were for customers and not for me). But then along came 2015 and I guess I was ready to get messy and spill out my heart because I began to google. And The Google taught me that one of my very favorite artists, Kelly Rae Roberts, was about to offer a mixed media painting e-course. The focus? Painting our "soul mantras" or the words/messages within us that need to get out of us. Essentially art therapy. I took that as a sign and enrolled. The Google also taught me that an encaustic painting class was being offered at a school nearby (encaustics - painting with wax - is a technique I had always wanted to learn) and so I signed up for that as well. Coincidentally (or not?) they started the same week. Paying money and locking myself into these two commitments, which I needed for motivation and follow through, came first. Then the excitement slowly started to build. I was going to hold a paint brush again; squish colors onto canvas with my hands like a kid again; go shopping at the local art store with it's rows of beautiful, colorful tubes of paint, breathing in the scent of canvas and wood and shiny, new art supplies...ah, bliss!
And so my journey back into art & my soul -- or as I like to call it, The Great Awakening -- began. As I said, I had a strong suspicion that there was lots of raw emotion and anger and what not bubbling under the surface, a wound that had been festering since that Very Bad Day (and probably even before then, honestly), tucked neatly under the band-aid of numbness that I slapped over top of it. And I had been taking steps to deal with it all leading up to this point (counseling and community groups within our church to address the emotional side of things; acupuncture, yoga & chiropractic work to address the physical manifestation of all that stress). All of which helped immensely. But there is something about art. It has this ability to break you wide open, allowing you to purge things that you don't even know how to name, and deal with trauma in such a gentle way. Because really, that is what it came down to. I had/have been traumatized by my brain tumor experience. I didn't ever really think about it like that. I was so focused on healing and "getting back to normal" that I swept that piece of it under the rug. But the reality is that I was traumatized. Personally, and on behalf of my family. "My poor husband, his wife has a brain tumor, how awful." I was traumatized for that sweet man. And Miles -- oh my sweet baby boy. I constantly worried about how the sudden emotion shift in our home affected him, as well as my sudden disappearance for nearly two weeks at hospital. He was only 13 months old -- so developmentally impressionable and so very bonded and reliant on me at the time. And then there was the fear. Of not making it, of leaving them behind. And if I dwelled on that too long, oh boy...it would take my breath away and shut me down real quick. So yeah. There was so. much. to. deal. with. Layer upon layer of emotion of every varying shade. No wonder my brain tucked it all neatly into a tightly sealed box in the dark recesses of my mind, with a label that read "DO NOT THINK ABOUT, EVER."
But in art making, there is a release, a floodgate of all those tucked away feelings...but, as I said, in such a gentle and manageable way. And with that release comes relief, acknowledgment and JOY. One of the very first mixed media paintings I did through the e-course sums it up pretty well. It says "Let joy in, shine joy out". Kelly Rae walks you through a time of self-reflection and journaling before the painting part begins, and through that time it struck me that I hadn't allowed myself to feel joyful in a long time. And I hadn't even noticed. It was as if Joy had snuck out the back door while I was cooking dinner and washing dishes and JUST TRYING TO SURVIVE in my day to day life. I certainly didn't feel like I was in crisis-mode anymore, but joy? I had fleeting, happy moments, sure, but mostly it was something I recognized and missed from my pre-BT (brain tumor) days...what I felt like were the real and true good ole days, before tragedy snatched it from us. As I picked at that scab (sorry for the gross analogy but it works) and began to stir things up, I realized that I wasn't just numb, I was also without joy. How sad. Now I'm not talking about the fake it til' you make it kind of stuff, and I also know we can't always control our emotions (I certainly can't). The ups and downs of life are inevitable, and being honest with ourselves about how we are feeling is important. But I realized I could take a stand and DECIDE to choose joy. Decide to acknowledge and honor those raw emotions and dark feelings surrounding the last few difficult years, but then declare that it is time for a new season. One that included - allowed - joy. I didn't have to be a prisoner to the past, chained to or defined my trauma. I am allowed to enter back into my life, fully, again and receive joy! And perhaps, just maybe, the trauma and the hardships I endured created deep crevices within me that closely held those emotions, refining them in the fire like a precious jewel, until they were ready to be released and used to create something beautiful. Beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61). And so...out came that painting. I tapped into my inner 8 year old and got messy and sticky and smiled almost the whole time. And in the end, without even knowing exactly how I got there, I had a beautiful, layered painting in hand, broadcasting the message I always had within me and that I needed/need to hear in this new season: let joy in, shine joy out. Amen.
Now, I am not saying that I've got it all figured it out, or even that I am trauma-free, with every emotion dealt with and laid bare on my various canvases. But I am in it, walking through it, allowing myself to feel things again. And trying my best to choose joy each day, and not let fear hover so thickly over this new season, as it did the last three years. And that is something, yes?
There is so much more to say, but I'll leave it there. That's a little slice into my life lately. Thanks for reading :)
Proof of and prints of my heart spilling exist currently in my Etsy gallery. You can go here.
Also, I should mention that I have fallen head over heels in love with encaustic (wax) painting. Signed up for second session this Fall. It is such a beautiful medium that is hard to control, and that is why I like it. I never know what it will turn into, I just follow the wax as it shifts and swirls and melts and I bury papers and images and scratch into it until it says stop and then...yes, that's what it wanted to be all along. A little bit like life, right? If I want to create something really special, I need to let go.
more encaustics here
Interestingly, I am posting this on the eve of my three year anniversary of the Very Bad Day.