Healing Expressions: Restorative Art

Yesterday, I was blessed with the privilege of attending a Therapeutic Collage Workshop, offered by Therapeutic Arts Facilitator, Lani Kent, of Healing Expressions, located in Vancouver, WA. Going into the workshop, I wasn’t sure how doing collage can be therapeutic, but, when Lani shared her story and her process, I saw how it can be another way to express and explore experiences, thoughts, and emotions. It can give the unspoken and unspeakable a voice and be a powerful part of one’s healing process.

Lani’s art both speaks from and to the soul. You can view her gallery here. You can also find her on Facebook.

img_7297When we arrived to the workshop, we were greeted by Lani and chose our seats. Each setting had a folder and a small gift packet with a Blessing Card attached to it. Each table had small displays of Lani’s collage art.

She had a very long table almost overflowing with magazines and had lined the perimeter of the room with more of her collage work.

After she had shared her story and experience with Restorative Art and how it had helped her on her personal journey of healing and recovery, she invited us to wander the room and select any of her pieces that drew our attention, in either and inviting way, or even one that repelled.


At that point she gave us instruction and time to reflect. Then, she explained how to go about the process of collecting the elements we would use in making our own collages.

I confess that I just started tearing into magazines and collected way more than I could use. I collected so many possibilities, that I probably only had time to cut out elements from 1/3 of the material I had collected. I suspect that I have enough leftover magazine pages to make several more than the two I did make.

We were encouraged to write the date and what we were experiencing during this time period, whether it was about what we were doing with the collages in that moment or in the greater context of our lives. Lani counseled that we may not know or fully understand the meaning of our collages, at first. That we may come back to them multiple times throughout our journey and learn more about ourselves, from ourselves, in this way.

As I said, I did two. I’m only going to show one, here. The other one requires some processing and unpacking with my therapist. Both of them do, actually. However, I think the symbolism of the one I’m posting here is probably a very universal theme. Though, when I researched the symbolism I learned some deeper meaning and insight into what this could be saying.

Please let me know how this speaks to you, if it does


Advancing ahead

I made it to and through my Advanced Word class on Friday and didn’t nod off once! Yay, me! I was kind of shocked considering the fact that, between fireworks, physical discomfort, and my brain, I didn’t sleep much or well.

I think a major difference is that I wasn’t already familiar with much of the material. So, I was actually learning and not just rehashing what I already knew.

Interestingly, it was my lowest assessment score of all seven MS Office classes I’ve taken so far. I’m kind of an intellectual perfectionist (trying to let that go). So, less than 100% causes an internal twinge and tic. Which is absolutely ridiculous because my score was over 90%.

Enough about that.

I’ve got two more computer classes to take, then I’ll be done with what Goodwill has to offer. Power Point is scheduled for Monday. Google got moved to the 24th when I went to the doctor about the sleep issues, which I discussed here.

I’m feeling antsy, like I’m kind of spinning my wheels. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I really want to work as a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist…which requires certification through the state. Certification classes usually cost money…of which I have none.

I had applied to the local NAMI affiliate, which offers a free certification class. Unfortunately, there were only 20 spots and 80 applicants. Preference is given to those already volunteering or employed in peer support work. So, I was part of the unfortunate majority.

Fortunately, I had already signed up for their Peer to Peer class, designed as an educational and practical class for those experiencing mental illness, led by those experiencing mental illness. I was already familiar with a significant amount we went over yesterday. However, it’s only the second class and I missed the first one – which I’d arranged when I signed up.

Towards the end of class, one of the leaders made a plea for volunteers to speak and share their stories at schools, businesses, and out in the community. There are also opportunities for training to become class leaders. They need leaders for the Peer to Peer class, which I’m in. They also need leaders for two other classes I plan on taking: the Family to Family class for those who have loved ones who experience mental illness and the Basics class for parents actively parenting children with mental health issues. Since both of my adult children experience their own mental heath issues, as does my 10 year old, who experiences life through the Autism Spectrum, I feel these classes will be helpful to me on a personal level and, potentially, on a professional one.

So, after class, I had a brief conversation with the leader who is in charge of speaker recruitment and got the Volunteer Interest Form. I explained to him what my employment goal is and he enthusiastically asked if I was taking their certification program. When I explained I’d applied but not gotten in, he looked slightly surprised – as if he felt I should have been accepted. I explained why and he seemed to have an objection to my exclusion, but said that I was in his class now, which supports my goal. I agreed.

I completed the Volunteer form and pretty much checked off all the things – including the office/admin support roles. So, we’ll see where things go from here.

Wish me luck!

C’mon Get Happy

Click image to see the YouTube video

This week’s WW topic is “Happiness.”

Today was the first of seven of these workshops I’ll be attending this week on my “90 meetings in 90 Days” journey. (I owe you a post to explain that. Tomorrow. Maybe.) Today’s discussion was interesting. I’m looking forward to see how it gets addressed in the other workshops.

The weekly handout suggested that being happy makes the healthy activities we do in our lives more possible and increases the experience of those things. It also acknowledged that partaking of those activities increases happiness.

The workshop’s Coach listed a formula that determines one’s happiness level:

50% Genetics
+10% Life Circumstances
+40% Attitude, Thoughts, & Actions

My immediate reaction was to scoff at the Life Circumstances percentage. I mean, although it hasn’t been as painful and difficult as other people’s, it’s been generously peppered with a lot of trauma. Consequently, I have PTSD. Plus, I experience Depression, Bipolar 2 Disorder, fibromyalgia, and am parenting a child with regularly tells me things like she wishes I would kill myself or that I had been born dead.

Yeah. Happiness is HARD. That’s a LOT of genetics and life circumstances.

I spend a lot of time fighting tears, dealing with bureaucracy, and managing conflict. I’m skeptical that Happiness is a state of being that’s more than occasionally possible for me.

I think Acceptance and Contentedness are much more doable. I think there can be moments of happiness. I think we have to be emotionally and mentally healthy and functional to be able to experience even those moments of happiness. I simply don’t believe that Happiness is achievable as a permanent state.

All that being said, I have my own formula:

Psych meds
+A supportive community
+Choosing to be in positive environments

The ability to experience happiness.

What say you?

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Writing Prompt: Photo Challenge & Word of the week.

Packing It In

We’ve lived like this
for far too long.
We no longer kiss.
With you, I’m always wrong.

You have too much anger,
I’m too sad.
We’ve lost our anchor.
Together, we’re bad.

This negativity can’t last.
I want you as friend, not foe.
I think our time is past.
It’s time to let go.

What’s next will be hard.
It will be rough.
We’ve both been scarred,
but, we’re tough.

I know you see what I see.
There’s nothing left to say.
This is what needs to be.
We must go our own way.

Word of the week: packing

Writing Prompt: lettrs Three in One – Skylark Challenge 152, Word of the Week, Finish the Story

The sky turned darker and darker as she walked toward the beach. “This can’t be a good sign,” she thought to herself as she watched the flotsam and jetsam of the tideline being washed back into the ocean. Crest ravaged crest as the waves rose higher and higher, each one violently crashing into the next.

Conscious of the increasing danger in the charged atmosphere, still she persisted in wading through the lacy, white edges of the ocean’s skirt where it brushed the sandy shore. Inhaling deeply, she felt calmer, even as the storm heightened around her.

Turning to face the vast, explosive power of the swelling tide, with hair blowing in the gusting wind, her eyes closed against the mist, she threw her hands in the air, and let out a howling scream, venting her ire and frustration about the painful events and circumstances she’d been experiencing, which were out of her control. It felt as though the elements were speaking through her, for her.

Finally, as the skies opened and heaven poured out it’s laments, she turned and slowly made her way back to the gray and brown weathered beach house. Step by weary step, she steadily paced herself as she sought refuge from both the actual storm and the storm her life had become.

As she closed the door behind her, she was filled with a calm resolve. She felt centered and at peace with vagaries of her life. With the storm raging around her, she slept soundly, for the first time in what felt like decades.

Upon waking, she saw the morning light coming through the window and meandered outside to the porch. Feeling the warmth of the sun contrasting with the cooling breeze, she finally felt content and knew the course she would take upon returning home.

After packing the car and leaving the house key in the lockbox, she cast a final glance towards the calm ocean, whispered a prayer of gratitude, and drove away.

Skylark Challenge 152:
Wading, Washed, Tideline, Crest

Word of the week: Packing

Finish the Story: The sky turned darker and darker as she walked toward the beach. “This can’t be a good sign,” she thought to herself…

Eating myself sick (pt. 1)

I guess it’s time to get back to recovery basics, when it comes to my eating.

Yesterday was hard. It was the perfect storm of hormonal cycles, PTSD triggers, and physical exhaustion. Truthfully, the eating spiral started while I was working on my food plan and trying to figure out how to make it work.

The rationalizations and justifications of, “I’m starting tomorrow, so I’ll enjoy this bacon, egg, potato burrito with country gravy and a Coke for breakfast, now,” and, “After all, you’re not supposed to go shopping on an empty stomach, right?” were the first steps on the slippery slope of my binge eating disorder.

Eating has been my consistent “go to” for self-soothing/self-medicating ever since I was a pre-adolescent. It started after I told my mom about my step-dad having molested me for the previous two years and we wound up going and living with my grandmother.

Dolly Madison Donut Gems in the morning for breakfast before school. Extra chocolate milk at school for lunch. Burger King on the way home from school with my mom. Snack or dinner while visiting grandma at the cafeteria she worked evenings at, during her lunch break. KFC when grandma got home after 9 p.m. from her job. Neither mom or grandma knew how much or how often I was eating. It was offered and I accepted. It replaced the “love and affection” I’d lost when my step-dad stopped paying attention to me  – which was the whole, warped reason I told my mom in the first place.

Getting fed was the way I felt like I was cared about and mattered…at home. At school, it was definitely self-soothing to drink that second chocolate milk. We’d moved several times during that year and I wound up in an inner city school in Houston. There was a large Latino population, a slightly smaller Black population, and a small White population. I didn’t fit into any of them. I talked White, was obviously a “half-breed” Latina, and obviously not Black. it was 1980, in Texas. Mixing races was very much frowned upon. Add into it that I was the “new kid” in sixth grade. I was either ignored or shunned, depending on which group of students I tried to interact with. So, I ate alone. That second chocolate milk and seconds on food, if it was available, filled in the interminable time between the end of one class and the beginning of the next, otherwise known as lunch and recess.

If I focused on how good the food tasted and how it filled me up, then I didn’t have to pay attention to the taunting or the isolation.

After school, mom would meet me in front and we would walk home, just talking about our days. These are vague memories, at best. However, I know that I enjoyed that time with her. Whenever, she could, she’d take me to the Burger King that was between the school and the apartment we shared with my grandma. Sitting there and eating my Whopper Jr. with fries and soda, extended my time with her. Time that was easy and uncomplicated. Time when I felt like she saw me and that I was loved.

Snack/dinner at Picadilly Cafeteria, where grandma worked, was usually an obligation kind of thing. Mom didn’t want grandma to know she’d fed me at BK. So, on those days, I’d have a snack – usally fried okra. I love the taste and texture of fried okra done right. Other days, when we hadn’t stopped at BK, I’d get a full meal. Mom and grandma, sitting with me while I ate, having quiet and easy conversation. Those were our family time meals.

Grandma LOVED Kentucky Fried Chicken, Original Recipe! My memory tells me she came home with a bucket nearly every night. My adult reasoning says it couldn’t have been nearly that often. Anyway, I was usually still awake, despite it being close to 10 p.m. If I was awake, the smell of the chicken was so good and grandma was so sure I hadn’t had enough to eat. So, I would eat…again.

So, food was how I knew I was loved. Food was how I received comfort and suffered through rejection and isolation. Eating was a deception and obligation for emotional safety. It was never about nourishment or health. It was always about emotion and relationships.

I suppose not much has changed on that front. On Thursday night, despite having eaten two very healthy and sustaining meals, one of which I stopped eating when I was satiated, that good ‘ole Southern comfort food got brought into my Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model group and I filled my plate. I overfilled it! Homemade mac ‘n cheese, homemade potato salad, greens & ham, and fried fish were irristable.

This was the fourth time I’d been in this room with these women, many of whom are African American, all of whom have experienced significant DV trauma. Some are recovering from substance addictions. None of whom did I feel a connection to. I was always uncomfortable in this room, with these women. All I could see was why I didn’t fit with them and the reasons why they wouldn’t feel like I should be there with them. I guess I was mentally back in that sixth-grade school yard in Houston.

But, that food! It was common ground. I was sitting at a table with a Latina and a White girl, surrounded by Black women. All of these women are so strong and so inspiring and I’d been so intimidated and unsure that I could be accepted by them. I ate, everything, after stating I’d gotten way too much and that I probably couldn’t finish it all.

Well, I finished it after a particular topic came up while we were eating and I got triggered into sharing a very painful memory of loss from five and a half years ago. Then, I ate a piece of homemade apple pie for desert.

Sorry this is so long. If you’re still reading, thanks for hanging in there. To be continued tomorrow.

Gratitude and Mourning

Lots of deep thinking happening this week, especially today as I have been around Jerry, his mom, and one of his sisters as they spent their first Thanksgiving without the good man they loved so much, Jerry’s father.

Jerry’s oldest sister had other members from her branch of the family tree missing and simply didn’t feel like celebrating. However, she showed up and ensured that some of her grand kids were there, which Luna appreciated.

Jerry was quiet, as usual, but did tell me he was thinking about his dad.

I listened to our hostess talk, at length, about the health concerns of her father, Jerry’s uncle. While she kept things light and matter of fact, I sensed her awareness that his health is failing and it is an inevitable matter of time before his chair is empty.

Jerry’s mom carried herself calmly and with her usual quiet dignity and assurance. Yet, I could see the toll these past nine months have taken on her.

I only connected with my family via text and Facebook, until I got to converse with my son tonight. LaLa celebrated with her boyfriend and a friend and seemed quite happy. The conversation with Marco was only mildly awkward a couple of times. He was hesitant to share what his experience was like in celebrating this day with his future in-laws and others, because our Thanksgivings, while he was growing up, were never the happy, wholesome Rockwellian ideal, quite the opposite, in fact.

The fact of the matter is that I am profoundly grateful my adult children are learning to move beyond the damage of our mutual pasts. It means that, somehow, I have been able to start changing and impacting generational cycles for them and future generations, even if I am still struggling with those things myself. It means they, to some degree, learned and gained in their lives through the struggles and challenges in mine. It means that my life legacy to them isn’t 100% damage and destruction, as I have believed for so long. Even if no one else sees this, I now can.

Someone posted a picture of a monument in Plymouth dedicating our national day of Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning for the indigenous people and their descendants, who were so damaged by the settling of this land by European refugees and opportunists.

Being the epitome of what it means to be a born American, when asked what I am, I tend to say, “Heinz 57: English, Irish, French, German, Native American, and Mexican.” I have ancestors on all sides of the oppression equation. Living the life I’ve lived and experiencing the things I have means that I understand how thankless Thanksgiving Day can be.

For those of us who have come from histories full of wreckage, destruction, and damage, especially those who have come from generations of oppression, prejudice, and marginalization, it can be incredibly difficult to recognize the things we have to be thankful for.

The temptation to hold onto the hurt and mourn the past can be incredibly strong, especially if our loss and suffering has been compounded by recent events in our personal lives and in the world.

Some of us find it difficult to celebrate and rejoice in the good and abundance we have, because so many others are suffering in such profound and significant ways.

Sometimes we need to see and hear what others are thankful for and know that even the darkness has gifts to offer.

Sometimes we need to share what we are grateful for, that others may be encouraged.

Either way, if today is a day of mourning for you and you see little to be grateful for, try borrowing the gratitude of another to help ease your burden. Likewise, if you have much to be thankful for be compassionate, patient and understanding of those in your midst who are struggling with thankfulness.

The following was written and shared by a friend of mine on Facebook today, and perfectly sums up my thoughts:

Today we remember
Those who are hungry
Those who have no home
Those without family or companionship
Those with an empty place at the table and a hole in their hearts
We remember the Native People of this land whose lives were changed forever by the greed and brutality of others
We remember their descendants. Many of whom still struggle for place and purpose in a world that tells them to conform. To get over it.
We remember those without freedom, who live in fear of tyrants and armies
We remember those who are persecuted because of the color of their skin, or the gender they posses, or the God they love but someone else hates

We remember that we are deeply fortunate in so many ways.
We remember these things not for a sense of guilt to weigh us down, but for a sense of mindfulness and purpose that will compel us to be love and light to every creature and creation in this world.
May we partake today of good food, warm friendship, laughter and love.
And may we remember every day hereafter those that it is within our power to help.
~ written by my sweet and dear friend, C.B.

Hope in Reconciliation

I’m feeling a toxic burn
Eating away my mind, subsuming my soul
Kindling a bitter churn
Resentment toward the player of a role

Desperate to be a savior
To fill the inner chasm of despair and isolation
Grasping to savor
The love of another’s salvation

Judge and jury self-appointed
Weighed and measured me, deemed unworthy
Presented self-virtue anointed
Usurper of my loss by profligacy

Love and hope embattled
Tattered remains in transformative redemption
True love unrattled
Offers divine freedom of reconciliation

Mommy needs a time out . . . (part 2)

continued from Part 1

As a person of faith, I know that God is with me and that I am provided for.

However, not only were we created to be in relationship with God, but also to be in relationship with others in this life. I think that’s one of the reasons why most faith systems have instruction in their holy books about how to relate to other people and reminders to take care of those who are not in a position to take care of themselves without assistance . . . which truthfully describes every single, living, and breathing human being, whether we realize it or not.

For a lot of reasons, many of which have to do with my own history and habits, the few relationships I have are primarily one-way.

Jerry is out on the road, doing a job that not many people can handle, and struggling with the stress and uncertainties involved in that position and whether or not he’s going to be able to fully provide for our little family. Homesick, missing the light of his life (and me too, I’m sure ~ smile, it was a joke), and no idea how or how soon he’s going to get his few days to spend with us, he is not well positioned to offer practical, rubber meets the road support for me.

Marco and LaLa my adult children are adults living their own lives and trying to make their own way in the world. 25 & 19 year olds should be moving ahead and into whatever future they are building for themselves. Marco and I are still navigating the rocky terrain of the dysfunctional childhood and adolescence he was raised in.  There are very deep feelings there and he has to be ready to engage in two-way relationship with me and he just isn’t there yet. Our conversations vibrate with both of us treading and tiptoeing around a lot of pressure bombs that could be triggered by either of us.  Things are improving, however slowly.  LaLa is repeating my past mistakes in her unique ways and all I can do is stand back and let her, while making sure she knows I’m here for her.  We probably have the least tense relationship, but it’s still a parenting relationship for me to a large degree.

There are people who care enough to ask what’s going on, occasionally.  They offer some encouragement and support,mostly verbal.  However, with one exception, the closest “true” friends I have live everywhere but here.  The two nearest friends I have are really not positioned to give me practical assistance, although they have the sincere desire to do so. I haven’t been able to build friendships outside of the times I show up for service at the tiny, budding, church we became involved with a couple of years ago.  The pastor has called to check on me a couple of times and everyone is genuinely interested, sincerely asking about our lives, when I do manage to show up.  Yet, aside random status updates on facebook, I have no connections to anyone there during the week.  I take that back.  One person brought soup a few months ago when Jerry first left for his job and both Luna and I were home sick with bad colds.

No insurance and limited funds mean I’m seeking my own services as a counselor and a therapist.  Life has been my educator: a variety of experiences receiving therapeutic services, multiple books and classes, and numerous healing and recovery efforts have all been part of my growth and development process. Thankfully, all of these things have given me many tools for dealing with my feelings and navigating the challenges.

None of this is intended to seek sympathy or imply my life is crap, because it isn’t.  I live in a beautiful city with many resources, services, and opportunities.  We have housing, clothing, and food. I may have physical and mental health issues, but I still have comprehension, intellect, and know how to help myself. The relationships and people I have in my life are amazing and committed to sticking around, even if they are difficult and challenging, at this time.  There are so many others in the area I live in, not to mention the world who don’t even have this much, I’m blessed, I truly am.  As I stated at one point last week, being my level of poor in the US, just means I’m less privileged.

This is just me reminding myself, that feeling drained, tired, and in pain is valid and not the manifestations of the symptoms of my illnesses. I will get through this, I’ve gotten through worse, with less and as in all things, this too shall pass.

Mommy needs a time out…(part 1)

An hour for each year + five extra hours might do the trick.

48 hours just to myself.

No having to monitor my thoughts, words, and actions for appropriateness or for the sake of others’ needs, wants, issues, concerns, demands, or expectations. No putting on a “front” to belie the pain I feel ~ literally and metaphorically.

No non-stop demands and obligations of being responsible for someone else’s needs and care.

No interruptions of thought, creative flow, reflection and the process of honoring my need to just be.

I love my family.

I am learning to love my life and myself.

I just need a time out.

It’s like building muscles and getting physically healthy.  It’s a process by which new patterns and new habits have to be exercised in order to create conditioning.  The breakdown and destruction of existing, unhealthy cell structures is a pre-requisite for new, healthier cells to form.  Light weight with a series of repetitions performed in sequence for a set number of times to break down the surface cells. Then rest a day and allow the body to eliminate the broken toxic debris and for new cells to form.  There is soreness, tenderness, and occasional pain as the body goes through this process.  Rest a day, sometimes two, then do it again, being careful not to overdo any one muscle group and allowing enough time for good recovery.

The same thing needs to happen for mental and emotional processes.

However, life, culture, society, and family don’t stop or allow for that.  There’s no time, we’ve got to move on now…

Recently, I watched an episode of Eureka when one of the characters experienced great loss of the one person and relationship he’d never hoped or expected to have, but was blessed with died, in a situation where he was completely unaware.  When faced with the knowledge of this loss, bewilderment and grief set it.  As happens in Eureka, some freak of science experiment happened and required all hands on deck and he decided to fast-track himself through the grieving process.  The resulting fall-out made for funny and entertaining television, but it makes for crappy and dysfunctional living.

I’m in the midst of huge transitions in my life’s circumstances, which are uncertain and seemingly endangered on a weekly if not daily basis.  At the same time, I’m actively seeking to change multiple layers of myself into a healthier version of me.  I’m working hard to carve new neurological pathways, redirect and change 40+ years of psycho-social-emotional conditioning and response.  I’m actively seeking to apply new behaviors in my parenting and intimate relationships.  Meanwhile, life goes on, bills must get paid, garbage needs to be taken out, and Luna needs to get loved, educated, engaged, disciplined, bathed, fed, and rested.

And I am alone.

Well, not completely…to be continued in tomorrow’s post