recovery journey

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.

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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

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Ramble on

A lot’s happened over the past two days and even more is happening today.

On Monday, I attended the orientation session for the Health Careers NW study. It’s a federal research study to determine if providing vocational training in healthcare fields and employment support for low-income people receiving public assistance can help them attain a greater degree of financial self-sufficiency…uhmmm yeah!

In order to move forward with that process and when I, eventually, obtain a job, I’m going to need to show my Social Security Card. I don’t have it. Rather, it’s (hopefully) lost and buried somewhere in the depths of a very large box full of boxes and bags of papers…and by very large, I mean a moving box sized to carry several oversized pillows and lightweight items.

Trust me when I say there isn’t enough time or physical space for me to go through it and continue doing the job readiness, mental health recovery, and physical health activities I’m doing.

So, the Employment Specialist who has been working with me through the Social Security Administration’s Supported Employment Demonstration (a different federal research study to determine if people who have been denied Social Security Benefits for disabling conditions can successfully be transitioned back to employment with Employment Supports, Mental Health Case Management, and Physical Healthcare Supports…uhmmm yeah, again!) has been helping me get to and from some of these employment readiness activities I’ve been doing. She went to the orientation with me.

We decided to try to get to a Social Security Office afterward. However, she was on a tight schedule and had already agreed to take me to a store where I could exchange my empty 5 gallon water bottles – it’s too hot to go without decent water. The first place we went was out of water. So, we had to go to a different store.

While walking into that store, I tripped on a curb and went down on my left knee, then rolled onto my back. I managed to avoid going down too hard, thankfully.

By the time the water got replaced, it was too late to go to the Social Security Office. So, we agreed to go Tuesday…fully expecting at least an hour wait. Lo and behold, we got there and I had less than a 20 minute wait! 😮

I had tried to sign up for the NCRC, which I talked about here. However, I couldn’t just sign myself up. So, I called and spoke to the gal who’d led the Health Careers NW orientation on Monday. Now, I have four hours of testing to do today.

Not looking forward to it.

I tried to do math prep yesterday. I realized that geometry will kill my math score…which will kill my overall rating, since the lowest score determines the final rating.

The perfectionist in me is quite unhappy with that thought. However, the realist in me knows what’s what and that, ultimately, geometry is not a part of my career path and that my other abilities will speak for themselves when the time comes.

So, I decided not to make myself crazier with the math prep.

Later, I had a Volunteer Orientation at NAMI. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s a nationwide, peer driven organization offering support, education, and community engagement for those experiencing mental illnesses and their families. Since I want to get into peer work, this is my next logical step.

There are several opportunities for me here: teaching classes, as long as I’ve already taken them myself; Community engagement – speaking at schools, organizations, and businesses about my lived experiences as both a person living with mental illness and a parent/family member of others who have experienced mental illness; operations support, which will have me exercise my office and writing skills.

I start next week. My first volunteer project will be working on updating the local resource guide. The current one is two years old and things change.

I’m really excited about this next phase.

On my way home, I experienced another knee injury. I’m afraid this one was a bit more severe than the first. I’m really hoping that the pain subsides without me having to make another medical appointment.

What happened?

A slightly out of it man got on the bus, chose not to sit down, and neglected to hold himself steady. So, when the bus started to move, he came toppling down onto my lap like a felled tree, his shoulder gouging into the top, inside of my knee, above and to the side of my kneecap.

That’s the leg with the nerve entrapment in my foot and the same knee I’d fallen on the day before. So, now I have some radiating pain going down into my foot. Yay.

Since I’m hurting, sleep is elusive. Which means, I’ll be going into my tests sleep deprived and in pain.

Wish me luck.

Write about a time when…

Still feeling blocked. My soul is aching from all the hate and the suffering it’s inflicting on various people groups in my country. I’ve been housebound with a sick child this week and I’m dealing with some mental health stuff triggered by stress and worry about a family situation I have no control over or say in, but impacts me and my youngest child.

I’m determined to follow through with this session of The Ultimate Blog Challenge and write a blog post everyday. I just want whatever I post to be interesting, if not entertaining.

So, I searched for a prompt I could write about substantively. Here’s what I found: Writing Prompts: 60 Ideas You Can Use Today

I chose prompt 21: Write about a time when you or someone you love was scammed.


In some ways, this is my origin story…or one of them.

It was the beginning of my junior year of high school. My life had been upended…again. I was 16.

My uncle, who had been my guardian since just prior to my mother’s suicide four years earlier, had gone through a divorce and a custody battle over my baby cousin. He’d moved me in with my grandmother while he moved forward into a toxic and destructive new relationship.

Meanwhile, my grandmother and I were taking care of my cousin a lot of the time. She was with me so often that, when I was 15, I was often mistaken for her mom.

For whatever reason, I never knew, he moved my grandmother and me back to the place we’d lived when my mom and I had first landed in Portland. It was just down the hill from where his ex-wife was staying and back into the school district I’d been unenrolled from following the breakdown of our not-so-happy little family.

It was homecoming week and I was sneaking into school while other kids were sneaking out.

My uncle was MIA and had failed to do what was necessary to reenroll me in school and, because I was under a guardianship instead of living with my biological parents, I wasn’t allowed to enroll myself.

Contrary to everything pop culture indicates about the adolescent desire to avoid the confines of educational institutions, I WANTED to be in school…desperately. You see, I believed that the only way out of poverty and away from the kind of life I’d lived was my intellect and education.

I’d taken the PSAT (Pre Scholastic Aptitude Test) the previous year, as a sophomore. My scores were high enough that I received interest letters from Harvard & Radcliffe and Whitman College. I was also offered my choice of ROTC scholarships…all contingent upon my graduation from high school.

I was missing half of my first term as a junior and was anxious, angry, and feeling abandoned, again.

That’s when I met him.

At first, I shied away from him. We were living in the place where respectable morphs into disreputable and he was an unknown entity. Strange men were suspect and not to be trusted.

Then, when I was at loose ends one day, I ran into him again. This time, he was with a girl my age. I thought she was his girlfriend. It turned out that they’d moved in right next door. Within a short period of time, they became my port in the storm.

It turned out that she wasn’t his girlfriend, but someone he was helping to get her life back on track. Or that was the story…and I believed it.

He was 30, passably attractive, and treated me like I was an adult. He listened and talked with me as if what I had to say mattered. He was my safe haven from the drama and paid attention to me when no one else, my uncle, could be bothered. I fell in love.

Within a couple of weeks, I was finally enrolled in school, but I’d missed almost two months of the beginning of the school year and was struggling to catch up. I spent every moment I could next door, getting homework help, friendship, and feeling as normal as I had ever felt.

Things got physical. I initiated. In hindsight, I know I was manipulated to that point. But, I thought it was my idea. He pretended to dissuade me, but, took what I offered anyway.

Then, my uncle decided to show up and assert his authority. Probably because my grandmother had been trying to get me to stop going where I was headed and had reached out to him.

There was a scene right out of an angsty teen drama, where my uncle and I were yelling at each other (cue Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It). “We love each other!” I loudly declared. I don’t remember what was said next, but I got my face slapped. I almost hit back, but, my uncle was holding my 2 yr. old cousin in his arms. He saw the look in my eyes and taunted me, “Go ahead. Hit a man with a baby in his arms.”

Next thing I knew, I was out the door and locked in the bathroom next door. Shortly thereafter, the two men were squared off, outside, and I was on the door stoop, screaming for them to stop.

I went into my appointment. Things calmed down and my uncle eventually left. I snuck back out and went next door. We knew we wouldn’t be able to be together if things stayed as they were. The next day, we left.

Three months after we left, he got picked up on a parole violation. A month later I found out I was pregnant. A few months after lat, I turned 17. He was released, then, we were on the run, again. Almost a year after we’d first run away, our son was born.

We spent a little over three years hitchhiking across the country and living out of cars. We put notes up in rest areas and told people stories about our circumstances designed to manipulate them into giving us money, food, and shelter. He was a low level scam artist and I became his apprentice.

Two weeks before Christmas of 1988, a little over a month after our son turned two, I’d had enough. I was 19 and over it all. I was done and he knew it. He disappeared for a week with that month’s welfare allotment. The shelter we’d been staying in either needed the monthly “rent” – money they set aside to save enough for move in expenses – or we had to go. They gave me our “deposit” back so I could try to find someplace for us to go.

Somehow, he knew to come back that night. We fought. He wanted the money and I wasn’t going to give it to him. He almost killed me in front of our son, but, stopped short for some reason. Then, he left. I never saw him again.

His love was a scam that changed my life forever.

Blocked

I feel like my brain went on vacation and forgot to take me with it. There’s just a hodgepodge of feelings, thoughts, and experiences from the past several weeks, swirling in my psyche. I didn’t really know what or how to write about it. So, I started where I was and followed where it led.


When my mind is blank
and my vision dim;
my heart is heavy
and my soul is grim.

When my words are lost
and my mouth silent;
my lungs are empty
and feelings are violent.

Avoid and evade
the sorrow and pain.
Numb the body
Disconnect the brain.

This half life
I do not want.
Yet, in this moment
my will is daunt.

The tank is empty.
The drive is gone.
It’s time to rest
and wait the dawn.

Open the heart
and clear the mind;
heal the soul
and mend the blind.

Love lives in me,
a spiritual well
I forget to drink,
my thirst to quell.

Reach deep within
Touch the eternal
Connect with love
Fraternal

Grasp the vine
In him abide
Mind, heart, soul
Full life betide.

I got nuthin’ – free write

I had no cohesive thoughts about what to write for today’s post, day 16 of The Ultimate Blog Challenge. I know daily prompts are emailed, I just don’t get them, for some reason. So, what you get is a brain dump. Continue reading at your own risk. I have no idea what’s about to come out.


I’m on new meds…rather different meds. At least I’m supposed to be. I keep forgetting to take the iron. Liquid iron is an interesting thing. I need to figure out where to put it to where I’ll most likely remember to take it.

Or, maybe I forgot to take it last night because I subconsciously don’t want to take it because I was nauseated most of the day after taking it for the first time the night before.

Anyway, different thyroid med, different iron med, and brand new vitamin D. These changes are supposed to help mitigate the fatigue I’ve been experiencing.

Sleep would help with that, I’m sure. But, 30 years of disrupted sleep catches up to you.

Yes, I have sleep apnea…but not 30 years ago. Yes, there’s often a 10 year old Cling On, in bed next to me…but not for the first 20 years.

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia when I was 20, and one of the symptoms the doctor used to identify it was sleep disturbance.

My hands are tingling from holding the phone…yes, I mostly use my phone to write my blogs. That’s because I usually write in the middle of the night, when it’s dark and I can’t sleep, but the child who cannot sleep alone is asleep next to me. Also, for about three years, I didn’t have a computer. Now that I have one, I forget about using it a lot.

Anyway, the numbing and tingling has been happening for as long as the sleep disturbance has been a thing. Yes, I have diabetes, but, I wasn’t even pre-diabetic when I was 20. It was another symptom used to diagnose fibromyalgia…as was the fatigue, and seemingly rootless aches and pains.

My research found that often people with a history of trauma developed it. I also found out that, at the time, it wasn’t usually diagnosed until someone was in their 40’s. Of course, I didn’t do the research until 10 years after the initial diagnosis.

Why? Because I was a single mom, in college, trying to change my life and my destiny. So, I forgot about it. Poor memory is another fibromyalgia thing. Except, it’s also a trauma thing.

Something I’ve noticed is that my fibro symptoms have greatly diminished over the past five and a half years, as I’ve been in therapy and actively working on my mental health, including getting a diagnosis of and getting treatment for PTSD.

I wonder if, in my case, maybe the fibromyalgia is primarily trauma-based. I know that isn’t always the case for everyone who is diagnosed with it. I mean, I’d experienced plenty of trauma by the time I was 20: sexual, emotional, psychological, and physical. It wasn’t all at once and it wasn’t the same people for each kind.

It makes me pause and question if I had been diagnosed and treated for PTSD back then, would I still feel like a mental and emotional basket case most of the time. I mean, what’s past is past, I know. I’m just curious if there’s a connection between trauma and fibromyalgia, then couldn’t doctors screen for trauma and refer for mental health services.


Ok. I didn’t expect that. Now, I’m sleepy again and dozing off. So, I’ll close for now.

What if…?

Yesterday’s guest speaker spoke about sabbath, rest. She and I had talked earlier in the week about the subject, since I was the one leading last night’s discussion. Our conversation has been on my mind ever since.

After our conversation, I went to my R.E.S.T. group therapy class. I don’t actually know what that acronym stands for. I just know it’s a class about Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I find it coincidentally interesting that immediately after a discussion of “rest” as part of faith practice I would attend a class titled “REST.”

In class we talked about seeking happiness inducing experiences as part of managing our mental health issues. I think the two go hand in hand: rest and pleasure.

Rest means different things to different people and things which bring pleasure to one person are not the same as what brings pleasure to another.

What we, as Christians do know is that the Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath, at least according to Mark 2:27.

Another name for The Most High, The Almighty, The Lord, God is Abba or Father.

Now, if you’ve experienced the trauma of religious abuse or an abusive or neglectful relationship with your own father, this will be difficult, painful, or impossible to relate to, which is totally understandable and reasonable. I’m not trying to force feed my beliefs or faith on anyone. I’m simply saying what it means to me. You have free will and get to decide for yourself. No judgment. All are welcome here.

I never had a relationship with my own father. Nor has my life ever afforded me much of a sense of safety, an ability to rest, or experiences of delight. I didn’t grow up attending church, and I have had religion used against me and to manipulate me. It’s taken me a long time and a LOT of mental health healing to get here.

So, I find myself contemplating what it means to be a child of God, resting in his arms, and taking delight in him.

What if our hearts’ true desires are to be known completely and loved unconditionally? What if being fully known and wholly loved is our refuge and our shelter? What if what allows us to rest and let go of the tension, worry, and fear is a sense of safety? What if being rested opens our senses to be able to experience delight? What if this is what it means to become “as a little child?”

What if we could believe that God lives in us? What if we believed God is love? What if we believed God encompasses time and eternity?

Would all of this mean that we have constant access to God, who can fill us with love, offer safety, shelter, and rest, who can enable us to experience delight in the eternity of each moment in time…even in the midst of all the trials and pain?

What if…?

Showing Up

How are you showing up?

My faith community had our Picnic in the Park, this past Sunday. It was a mellow and low-key time. Several people came and there was conversation, laughter, play, and worship. It was a good time. At first, not even a handful of us were present, which was fine. The point is, we showed up. We shared stories and perspectives from our lives. Then, once we had as many as we thought were going to be there, we started singing.

While we were singing, I noticed a man with his daughter, who had come and sat nearby. He seemed to be trying to sing along. So, I took a lyric sheet over to him. He gladly took it. After worship, he stuck around and we got to know each other a little bit. Turned out he’d missed his regular church attendance and worship that morning and had decided to bring his little girl to the park he hardly ever even thought to come to.

The thing is, I had been tempted not to show up. I’ve been taking on some heavy duty new things, and I was feeling kind of low and really tired. But, I knew I needed to be there for reasons beyond commitments I’d taken on. I showed up physically. There are times when I’ve been physically present, but not actually present and aware of what’s going on around me. But, this time, I stayed present and aware. As a result, I was available for an appointment made by God.

It was a good reminder that showing up in our lives matters, wherever we are at.

It’s that reminder that has kept me going this week during the times I just wanted to stay home and in my bed or not open a blank page to write a post I had no idea what to write about (like this one).

Tuesday night, an acquaintance of mine took me to a Primerica recruitment meeting because she’d read a post I’d made on Facebook about what I’m up to these days. Of course, I didn’t know what it was when she first invited me. It was interesting and intriguing, but absolutely not for me.

However, because I “showed up” and went with her, a friendship is blooming and we’re talking about doing some collaboration involving my writing. Maybe it will happen. Maybe it won’t. Either way, I am engaging in deeper relationship with a dynamic, sharp, thoughtful, and caring human being.

I showed up at my mental health Socialization Group on Tuesday, where I’m not really comfortable and feel out of place at. I met a new participant who told me about the Peer Support Specialist Training put on by the community mental health organization we access our healthcare through.

So, I called the woman in charge of the training and left a voicemail. She called me back on Wednesday with the training information: it starts in September and I have until the 15th of this month to submit my application. Today’s the 11th. Less than a week to get a letter of recommendation and complete the application! I told her she would have my application by Monday. She replied, “I hope so.”

There are actually two trainings, Peer Support Specialist I and Peer Support Specialist II.

Oh, yeah, one of the best parts? The actual cost for the training is $750 for each of the two courses. $1,500!!! No, that’s not the best part. The best part is that because I’m a client of the agency, they absorb the tuition cost!

That means I can take a college level program (if I was an enrolled student at our local university, I could earn college credit), qualify for a high demand position in the career field I want to work in, and probably be employed before the ink dries on the certificate ten months from now.

All because I showed up.

G.I. Joe said, “Knowing is half the battle.”

I say showing up is half the battle.