Wear Sunscreen

So this might seem like a little bit sillier of a post, but this was a video I found and sent to my little sister a few weeks back, and she said that it really affected her in a positive way. It may seem slightly cheesy, but I think the overall message is very healthy. Some of the ideas/quotes could even be taken as a mantra for the self: to be kinder to yourself, more patient with your flaws, more patient with your healing process, ultimately.

The point is, we can never guess all the ways in which we might find healing. I hope this inspires you to be more brave, to be more patient, loving, and accepting towards yourself, and to further your journey towards healing.

How Art saved me

There’s been a lot of talk in the news recently about budget cuts. Where to snip away, where to delete funds altogether. Everything that’s not absolutely “necessary” must go. The sad thing is, many of these budget cuts are directed towards funding of the arts. Now, I’m not arguing any politics here, just personal experience. And to me, there would be nothing sadder than seeing the omission of the arts in our everyday lives. Because the truth is, as cheesy as it may sound; the arts saved my life.

I don’t mean they saved my life by enriching it, by helping me to feel, by making the world more beautiful, though I agree whole-heartedly with all those arguments. I mean they literally saved me from abuse, time and time again. They say as you get older, you should never lose sight of what you loved when you were little, and I agree. Because art saved me-twice.

When I was younger, I did ballet. I drowned in it, I should say. I loved it. When I danced, I felt free, I felt alive. When I danced, I was outside my home, away from the childhood sexual abuse (see aha! moment part 1). I poured all my hurt, all my anger, my confusion, my frustration, into something that made sense: the beautiful, meticulous art of movement. It was a healthy outlet. I could run in a way I could never run from the abuse. I could jump and fly, fleeing, if only for a few hours, away from the hurt.

Then I hurt my knees-badly-and had to have surgery. I was completely devastated. My release was gone, and I collapsed into a comatose “freeze-zone” of my life, unable to function. No longer allowed even the momentary freedom of dance.

Years later, when I thought I was in the clear, I once again found myself in an abusive situation; this time in the form of a domestically violent relationship. (see my aha! moment part 2) I felt weak, alone, easy prey. He made me believe I wasn’t worth anything. At this time, I had recently started a job as a gallery assistant at an art museum, and was simultaneously involved in that same museum’s Student Guild.

For background, research shows that viewing images-even violent/disturbing images-can have a positive effect on healing from trauma. They can bring up emotions and help the viewer to better understand them. Creating images can serve as an outlet for emotions that cannot be understood through words. Focusing on and describing images can actually help decrease moments of panic.

When a person has experienced trauma, the chemicals in the brain change, creating different/heightened reactions to certain situations. Creating art and viewing images is one method for retraining the brain and repairing those chemical connections to healthy, normal levels.

The technical information aside, I’ll now return to my story. Walking the halls of the museum everyday, surrounded by wonders of beauty (as boring as it could be at times) became a sanctuary space to me. The staff was respectful, and I was safe. Safe from my childhood abuser, safe from my violent relationship.

The Student Guild provided me a support group of girls that I became very close with. By surrounding myself with these positive influences, my life was forever-altered. It’s amazing the effect that being around healthy people, with healthy relationships, can have. Talking about art, working for art, being surrounded by positive, goal-oriented people; it gave me goals again. It gave me strength. It gave me confidence in myself that I stood for something more than just brokenness. It gave me a replacement for abusing drugs and alcohol. It got me volunteering, got me helping others.

I know I have stressed this before, but I have found that the more we learn to take care of others, the more we start to take care of ourselves, which is something incredibly important. Ultimately, by surrounding myself with the world of the art museum, I found the strength to end my violent relationship-and a support group to fall back on.

After my knee-surgeries, when ballet was taken away from me, I was devastated. I believed for a while that all that made my life good and worth living was stripped away from me. I was broken, defeated, crushed once again. But art found its way back to me, in another form through the museum, and once again, it brought me back to life.

I’m sure everything above sounds cliché/cheesy, but without art in my life, it would be much darker. Art gave me a goal, an emotional outlet. It introduced me to positive influences, to hope and beauty in a time of ugliness and hopelessness.

(For more information on art healing, check out this book: Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul, by Shaun McNiff)

Feeling the Pain

Sometimes it’s important just to feel the hurt. To feel everything that happened and let it out. Cry, punch a pillow, write, paint, something that just breaks you down and chips away the wall and lets the flood come out. I’ve spoken of this need to release earlier, but I wanted to share this podcast. It’s from a podcast called The Moth-which invites writers, comedians, etc., to tell different stories based on certain themes for the night.

This podcast features comedian Anthony Griffith, though the subject is not comedic. While having nothing to do with abuse, I thought this is a great example of letting go, and hurt in general. So many of the underlying themes are parallel to what it feels like to bottle up sexual abuse-the idea of hiding a haunting pain, the pressure to put on a laughing face when all you need to do is to breakdown. The feelings of guilt, helplessness, and hurt are the same regardless of what type of hurt. And the feeling of being overwhelmed is also similar.

Sometimes, we just need to let go, to breakdown. I invite you to listen to this podcast. The words are different, but the emotions are the same. Let it be your tears, your release, and take comfort in the fact that everyone has something they’re trying to overcome.

Intuition and trusting yourself

There’s a certain extent to which you follow your head. Thoughts, logic, a process of analytical decision-making. Taking the facts, breaking them down, and using them to come to the best conclusion. This is how I live most of my life.

But there are times when logic doesn’t make sense. There are times when emotions and intuition are the most powerful tools for making the best choices. Sometimes they are the only tools for making decisions.

The sad thing is our society trains us not to trust these instincts. We should consider feelings only in-so-far as they make sense to our minds. In today’s society, we demand proof, reliable sources, and intellectual argument.

But intellectual argument doesn’t change what happened. In fact, in my experience, argument and societal constraints have only served to reinforce the power of the abuser, and the shame of the victim.

Today, I want to discuss intuition. In most cases, we intuitively (and sometimes only on a very deep level) know who we can and cannot trust. We know what we want and don’t want. Who we want and do not want. But I know in my case, I often ignore these glaringly bright emotional reactions for the sake of “logic.” I second-guess myself and my instincts, mistrust my gut-reaction and how I feel, and reason those emotions away by telling myself I’m overreacting, making things up, going crazy, being ridiculous, etc, etc.

But they are instincts for a reason. They are gut-reactions for a reason. And 99% of the time, we are not being crazy when we have these feelings. They are our bodies trying to tell us something very important. And most of my problems have occurred when I ignore these instincts.

For example, with my ex-boyfriend, the one who was domestically violent, I knew I shouldn’t have dated him before I did. I knew, from the time I met him. I just had a feeling I couldn’t shake. But I ignored myself.

He’s cute, I thought. Everyone says he likes me so much. That he has a big heart. I shouldn’t be so cold, I shouldn’t judge him without really knowing him, I thought. I should give him a chance. That’s what I always hear anyways about relationships. I should this. I should that. I ignored my gut-instincts (that I should stay as far away from him as possible) and mentally beat myself into the submission of dating him.

I didn’t want to be cold, judgmental, etc., etc. So I gave him a chance. I ignored myself. I second-guessed my intuition. And in the end, I wish I had never dated him. Because in the end, my intuition was right. He was not a nice guy. He was not a good boyfriend.

Intuition is an amazing thing. We know who to trust for the most part. However, if you’ve been abused, chances are you’ve been trained NOT to trust yourself. You’ve been taught to need someone else to guide you, someone else to tell you what to do. You are “too-flawed” to be in control of your own decisions. These are the things my childhood abuser convinced me of. And if I’m out of control of my own choices, and not secure in myself, that leaves room for the abuser to step in and take control.

As I grow older, I learn to trust my intuition. Chances are, if I believe in my gut someone is not right for me, or that I shouldn’t be close to someone, then I’m right. So trust yourself, trust your body, trust your feelings, trust your judgment. And don’t second-guess yourself into letting people who make you uncomfortable into the driver’s seat of your life.