I have always loved asking people I have just met what they do as a profession, and how they first became interested in this field.
Recently I’ve been asking myself those same questions. I have come to some answers and have decided to blog about some of my early life experiences. This is more emotional content than I have ever posted on my blog, and I hope my readers will understand.
I have come to believe the main reason for my painting and being a visual artist is not because of some talent, or special gifting, but because of an enormous level of pain, which has led to my life-long attraction to beauty, color and light. Painting has been a form of self-therapy. It is the way I have been able to create order out of chaos, and give the world beauty for ashes.
The Pain of Abandonment
“Your body is telling me you have a fear of abandonment. I’d say it’s more of a phobia than a fear and it’s been life-long.” A massage therapist who had never met me until five minutes earlier was saying these words as she gently tapped on my solar plexus and the top of my cranium. She knew NOTHING about me, my family or my past!
“Can I speak,” I asked her. “Yes, as long as it’s about what I’m addressing,” she replied.
“Well,” I told her, “my dad first left my mom when she was pregnant with me. My mother stopped eating for about three weeks at this time because she didn’t have money for food and was too ashamed to call her parents, so I was born three weeks late and weighed just seven pounds.”
“That would explain the abandonment being life-long,” she agreed.
Three at Home, 7×11 watercolor by Elise, November 2016
Emotions do cross the placenta. The reason pregnant women need stable, restful and happy environments is because what they are feeling does affect the growing child!
The main reason I had gone to this therapist was I had received three pieces of bad news all in one day, and I wasn’t handling it well.
I had gained a splitting headache, the closest thing to a migraine I’d ever experienced. I very rarely have headaches. My normal chiropractor was on vacation, so I had made an appointment with this massage therapist, who was also trained in EFT – emotional freedom technique – something I’d vaguely heard about and dismissed. The massage therapist had explained by phone that if my body wasn’t ready to heal and release emotions then she would just give me a massage.
I was hoping for some relief from the pain, and so I prayed for protection and healing and went to the appointment.
This was in 2009, over seven years ago.
I had been told previously by a doctor, around the year 2000, that I had major abandonment issues. This time they had again surfaced due to extreme stress and had caused me to throw-up uncontrollably for a couple hours. I was not sick with the flu, I had worried myself sick and a rib connected by muscles and nerves to my stomach was jammed. I had gotten an emergency appointment with my doctor, who had informed me the rib was not moving. I had looked up in my mind, in desperation, and prayed silently, “Jesus, heal the pain.” The jammed rib immediately moved. I went home and ate a full dinner. I was not bulimic, my body rarely throws up. It was again a very strange occurrence.
I thought, somehow, if I knew something was a problem and prayed about it, it would go away.
Apparently, that is not always the case.
December 9, 2016 – photograph of the view from my new art studio
In 2007, I again experienced abandonment. Someone I was emotionally close to left without saying goodbye. This caused me to shake uncontrollably for 1.5 hours without stopping.
It took me three months to figure out why this had happened. My dad had left our family when I was twelve years old, without saying goodbye. Twenty-five years later, this was repeated, with a similar degree of intensity, uncovering what I had tried to bury.
The Pain of Physical Violence and Abuse
One year ago another layer of my “onion” peeled off. I was in a safe place and had had enough rest and thinking time for another emotional “break-through” to occur. I was renting a spare bedroom from an old family friend. My friend decided she was bored and would watch a movie, which was highly unusual. As an extreme outdoor athlete, sitting in front of a TV is not my friend’s normal cup of tea.
She chose the Johnny Depp film, Chocolat. I had never seen a Johnny Depp film and agreed to watch it with her. At one point in the film I recognized the body language of a woman and said, “What, is her husband beating her? My mom used to have the exact same body language.” My friend spun around on the couch to face me, exclaiming, “This is a much better reason to avoid men’s attention than the one you gave me, Elise!”
I had told her I hated being “chased” because a boy in second grade had chased me during every recess. He never caught me, I kept just far enough ahead so he could not touch me. I was afraid of what might happen should he catch up. One day I led him up a jungle gym, leaped off and ran away. He tried to leap and run, too, but he broke his ankle and wound up in a cast, ending those scary recesses.
Then, in May of 2016, my older sister told me she remembers our Mom lying on the kitchen floor, passed out from being beaten by my dad. “Do you think I saw this, too?” I asked her. I have no conscious memory of it. “You probably did see it,” she replied. “This could be the reason my eyesight shut down at an early age!” I exclaimed.
We had grown up to the sound of plates crashing, furniture being demolished with an axe, names being thrown around, shouts and screams. My mother didn’t leave my dad often. She went to counseling and was told she needed to leave him, because the counselor was afraid she would become a statistic of domestic violence on the obituary page.
My dad’s leaving us probably saved my mother’s life. It is a hard truth because we all loved my dad so much. I have many, many happy memories of doing things together, and of his teaching me important and useful things. We were a very happy family when things were good. I adored my dad and remain grateful for all the good things he instilled in me.
Building That Which Remains, 14×11 calligraphy with ink and paintbrush, May 2016
Our dad died five years ago with large cancerous tumors in his brain and liver. I had not seen him in twenty years. He had not been able to hold down a long-term relationship outside of his mother during his entire life. I do not blame him, I forgive him. My dad was very ill on an emotional level for most of his life. He was diagnosed as “manic depressive and obsessive compulsive” but early childhood trauma, and a bad blood transfusion probably really injured his life.
But the fear created by the sight and sound of my mother being abused still seems very much a part of my unconscious.
The body doesn’t forget, even if we do on a surface level.
Our Father in Heaven says in His Holy Word that He will give Beauty for Ashes. When destruction of what God meant to be beautiful occurs, this is not the end. The recent forest fires in Eastern Tennessee created much death and destruction of property. The land that has been burned there will eventually recover. The lime in the ash will cause green buds and beauty to once again cover the land. It will take time, and patience is needed.
As I have sought our Father’s face over the years for healing, understanding, order and balance in life, I have invested much time in painting.
And so, I believe this is the real reason behind my “success” as an artist – my experience and then response to intense pain and loss in life.
Water Lilies – Deeply Rooted, 5×7 pen & ink with watercolor, November 2016
I have a few other things to say on this subject and will continue my thoughts in another blog. Thank you for reading, friends.
With Love for all that is Beautiful and Gentle,