Saturday, August 17, 2019

As If

Brene Brown has a phrase for that feeling, the one that we get after we bare our souls or reveal something we've held close for so long, it's called the vulnerability hangover. Admittedly, this isn't my first go round of waking to this discomfort. As an introvert, I tend to pull back, go inward, and sit with it while it has its way with me. It rolls over as a wash of accusations, shame, system shock, and embarrassment. Did I really just say that out loud? Imaginary faces swim to the surface, nearly cartoonish in their looks of horror, laughter, rejection. It's the backlash meant to silence-- that tried and true, albeit broken response, meant to protect me from ever feeling that raw and exposed again. 

A few years back, I sat around the dining room table with a group of friends taking turns reading descriptions of each number on the Enneagram. We each took the test to determine our number and spent the evening laughing and bemoaning the fact that we were so easily typed, recognizing ourselves in these numbers. 

My number was a six, fear and anxiety driven, security and stability seeking, and divided into two subtypes, it is one of the most complex numbers on the Enneagram. And in spite of my moaning, I recognized myself in the pages of that book. In everything I do, anxiety is my constant companion. Fear driven scenarios play themselves out in my head and tend to cripple me before I can take action in whatever thing it is I'm facing; A direct result of the learned hypervigilance, and too often, rapid firing of adrenaline growing up with an alcoholic in the home. 

On the flip side, the more healed version of being a six, is a strong sense of intuitive discernment, a knowing within, a way of seeing that is a bit deeper and more nuanced than the average bear. A bonus to our friends and loved ones, we are loyal to a fault-- though often to our own detriment. And we always always have questions. We sixes need to know what makes the world tick in order for it to feel safe

We want to understand what you are thinking so that the wool doesn't get pulled over our eyes, or from under our feet. 

An Enneagram 6 has one of the strongest senses of justice of all the personality types, we want and need things to be fair. It is the only way the world makes any sense to us. We feel things deeply. And often for a girl growing up wired to be sensitive, it is the feelings of others we can more readily identify then our own. 

Constantly at war inside, are these two distinct qualities; that need for feeling safe, while the sense of injustice is being challenged. On one side, I am the pleasant, goofy, loyal companion, always ready with a helping hand and a supportive comment. Whatever you need me to be so you'll like me. On the other, I am outraged when I see injustices happening and feel a responsibility, nearly a compulsion, to speak up and lend my voice against the oppressor. 

Waking a few days ago, I felt a blanket of depression hovering over me. Depression has paid me a visit many times in the past and I know how easily I can get lost in it. Manifesting first in a heightened sense of anxiety, whence I can see every potential scenario resulting in my own doom, and that of the world. The long slow descent grows more rapid when I turn on the news. The world is doomed. We are all doomed. Everything is broken. This is when depression really sets up camp. I don't know how to fix it. Fix myself. Fix you. Fix the world, so I pull inward. Deep deep inside and pull that blanket over me, where I can remain detached and insulated from it all. It can be so welcoming and tempting at first. 

But that blanket is heavy and once it settles, it is hard to take off. Life continues all around, but I'm watching it from a great distance. Like a tv station with an undercurrent of static, or the way sound comes to you more slowly underwater. 

Having succumbed to it many times before, I know that depression is a liar. It doesn't offer me the security I desire. It isn't a safe place to hide until danger passes. It simply makes me want to vanish. Be invisible. Depression isn't the source of that message in my life, it is merely the vehicle that delivers it. Clutching at my throat, reminding me it is better to be silent. It is usually accompanied by a hefty dose of shame.

Don't be loud. Don't speak up. Your voice doesn't really matter. It tells me that showing real feelings is bad. Anger is dangerous and unbecoming of a lady. Don't be mad, it's safer to be sad. Don't talk out loud about the unpleasant things. Don't tell someone they hurt you. Be positive and happy and upbeat. Just give it to God. Nice girls say nice things. Don't you want people to like you? 

This is the loop I so easily get stuck in. Anger and a strong sense of outrage over the things that have been done to me, to you, to the world, rise up and I get close, so close to being able to identify the truth of it. To name the thing doing the harm. Then the backlash, the vulnerability hangover, the lies, come out swinging, pushing me back to my safe place of compliance. Having an opinion isn't an option. When you have little sense of your own worth, it's easy to believe nothing you say really matters

This year, something pretty amazing has been happening. Suddenly I am feeling emotionally stronger. More resilient. Better able to identify my own thoughts, feelings, and needs. I have been able to look at myself with more acceptance and grace. Loving the parts of me I once felt ashamed of and hoped you wouldn't see. Feeling empathy for the things I have done and the decisions I had to make with little in the way of mature guidance. When I see old pictures of myself, or watch myself on video, I've had this profound sense of compassion. I don't hate myself! Wow! A totally new revelation! 

I actually don't hate myself! I like what I see in the mirror. I am not bothered by the worn out and frazzled parts of me. I love the strong voice that compels me to speak. I am starting to think I actually matter. When I get the pushback that almost always happens when I start feeling too comfortable in my own skin, it hasn't been taking as long to come out from under it, and I'm recognizing this comes from allowing myself to be heard even when you might not like what I have to say. From allowing myself to say things even if they aren't polished yet. Standing in the face of potential rejection. 

Fear of rejection has been a crippling force in my life, born of that childhood wound of abandonment, skewing the unique qualities of my wiring, coupled with all the mixed up, upside down signals and cues that a girl can gather over time. So waking a few days ago with that old familiar blanket beckoning me to retreat, whispering its fears of a world gone mad and problems so large nothing I do possibly matters, left me in a state of confusion. Was my awakening too late? Was none of it true? Did I step out too far? Did I make a mistake? A tunnel of darkness formed in the peripheral, the way an old black and white movie announces the end. Anxiety drove a series of everything is doomed, I am doomed, everything is pointless, texts to a few good friends. 

Then a fork appeared in the road before me. 

One direction I saw the tried and true, the comfortable, the safe and the familiar. The other direction looked wild and dangerous. Uncharted territory. I don't have a map for this new path. I don't know what will happen if I continue down this way. What will happen to me if I get lost? 

I sit looking forward, I turn to look behind, voices rise and tug at me luring me to come back! come back! Then something inside begins to rise. A memory of the old days working as a project manager, needing to assert myself to lead a team to get the job done. Unnatural behavior to me, so I learned to act "As if". As if I had confidence. As if I weren't shaking in my proverbial boots. As if I had something to offer. I took the advice I so frequently offered my children when they faced a challenging situation, other people can't see your insides, act as if you aren't intimidated or shy and they'll believe you. 

Acting as if isn't the same as trying to fit in. It isn't pretending. It is acknowledging what I know to be true and what I am trying to nurture inside of me, walking it out even before my legs are fully developed. Acting as if is a way of owning my own power. Of shushing the fearful voices and saying no to that heavy blanket of depression and shame. No! I will not cover myself and hide any longer! I will not give way to the old familiar, dysfunctional, comfortable patterns! No! 

Acting as if allows me the strength to show up and be seen. Only this time, instead of acting as if in order to convince you that I have something to offer, I am acting as if in order to affirm it to me. 

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Seeing My Reflection

Acre Of My Soul - Detail shot,   Encaustic Collage Assemblage by Crystal Marie Neubauer

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

In my own voice,

before it was too late
to turn my face again.

~David Whyte, The True Vow

Saturday, August 03, 2019

This is going to be one of those posts...

The Face She Shows detail - shield series by Crystal Marie Neubauer
I'm having a bad day and I need to process it. And you may wind up unfollowing me as a result. I kept telling myself to get out my journal, but here I am writing a blog post instead. 

This is going to be one of those posts I warned you about- not my usual bubbly, optimistic, always a lesson to be learned, or a moral to the story, kind of posts. But one where I'm in the midst of it all and don't have a resolution yet. The kind where I may not make you feel good with the stuff I write. The kind where I might just sound like a victim, or an angry woman, or someone who has not got her shit together. Yet.

I posted some pretty art here to cushion the blow. Like one of those chipper songs on the radio that lures you in with it's upbeat tune and then smacks you between the eyes with morbid lyrics. 

You have been warned. *resisting the urge to use a smile emoji here, you know, so you might see me smiling and not as an angry hostile woman. 

The Face She Shows- detail   by Crystal Marie Neubauer
It's not one particular thing. It's a lot of particular things all at once. It's everything. Or maybe it just feels like it. It's one thing that happened on top of these things.

I woke today with runny eyes and snotty runny nose, all achey, and chilled, and fevery. Masto symptoms flaring from a reaction to something in my house that could still be mold. Or it could be the enzyme the landlord just used to fog for mold, fingers crossed. 

On top of feeling pretty damned crummy, I got some unwelcome news with one of the labs that just came back from the last round of tests. It wasn't a complete surprise because I knew this particular thing was a thing I'd be dealing with eventually, according to one of my lupus doctors who nonchalantly mentioned it years ago. There have been symptoms lately, so I knew it was flaring. I just didn't know how much. I'm not really ready to share too much yet. I'm still rolling around with it. Rolling with anger and sadness. Why now??? There will be other doctor appointments and another specialist and more meds and doubling down on eating clean - well okay, I haven't been doing such a hot job with that lately. Since it's been so hard to find foods that don't trigger me, I've been a bit permissive in some of the choices I've made. 

Don't judge. 

Or do. I don't think I care anymore. 

Okay, I don't want to care anymore whether you judge or understand or not. I want to be comfortable in my own skin. In my own choices and decision making. I'm getting there. 

I need to be well. I have a new grandson set to make an appearance any day now. I have the privilege of getting to stay with my granddaughter when mommy and daddy are at the hospital. I'll get to be there when baby brother comes home. I'll get to see my daughter and her husband have the joy of introducing him to big sister. Can life get any better than that?? 

I can't be sick. I've been hanging low on the couch today willing myself to be well, giving in to the feeling of defeat. With the housing situation. With the health issues. With the overwhelm of trying to drum up enough work and sales to pay my bills when just getting out of bed is a major accomplishment most days.

I've been posting things on facebook to make you laugh and to give you a lift. To make you stop and think about things bigger then you and me. It's what I do. It is the face I tend to show the world. Humor is my default. It feels good to laugh. 

And also you won't think I'm such a loser. 

I think we all do that on social media to a certain degree. We want to see the pretty and the polished lives of others. It gives us something to measure ourselves against. If one post makes us feel like a shitty person, we can keep scrolling until we find another post that helps us feel better about ourselves. 

It's not all that bad, but we do that so easily, don't we? Compare our insides to other people's outsides? 

And boy howdy do we all love a victory story. 

I love a feel good weepity weep victory story too. I watch them on tv and the movies. Read them in the books I choose, listen to them on podcasts. We just love to be inspired by the overcomers. But we are so uncomfortable when there's still so much to overcome. We don't want to watch the struggle. We want a two second version of the mess that comes between the challenge and the victory. And we want our victory stories to fit in a tidy box. 

Sometimes the chipper, positive vibe, prayerful, well meaning people can make it so much worse. When I first talked about my diagnosis I got the gamut of responses. It has been an eye opener to all the ways I've blown it when I was the one faced with being there for a friend going through hard times. I am as guilty as anyone of trying to "fix" the other person's problem with helpful suggestions without being asked for advice. I have also been guilty of being too chipper in the face of another person's crisis. Like that neighbor on The Simpsons - boy how diddly doodly, turn that frown upside down - everything's going to be just fine!

One person's first words were a chipper "wow! What an opportunity for God to get the glory!" 

Ahem -let's all have a crash course in empathy, shall we? First words when someone shares life altering news, or any news they feel upset about? Maybe just start with something sincere like "I am so sorry this is happening to you."  Period. You don't have to say anymore. You don't have to do anything. But if you feel like offering prayer or help or support. You can simply ask them if you can offer them prayer, or help, or support. 

You can listen to what that person says they need. It is probably something they really need. Like when I asked you all to help me pack and you came. You packed. You laughed with me and made me feel loved. Or like how so many people sacrificed financially in a really big way when my friend started a gofundme. She graciously waited until I had a chance to be more comfortable with it before she did it, and you graciously responded. That made me realize how very many of you are out there. How many of you actually feel connected to me in one way or another and wanted to show the love in this really amazing tangible way.

It's hard to remember, I know. I have years under my belt of getting it all wrong. Of saying all the wrong things when I really wanted to be there for a friend. I just told you a bit about that. 

There have been implied between the lines judgements that I have not prayed hard enough. That I am resistant to trying the right treatment. There have been quick change artists who are masters of talking about any subject other then the hard one you just tried to share with them. 

Damn this post really is turning into a pity party. It's not too late to walk away. Go now! I'll be fine, I promise. Save yourself! Run!

Oh, still here? Okay. Here's the real story. 

This week out of the blue an old "friend" texted me to say she's been thinking of me and praying for me and just wanted me to know that. Isn't that an absolute sweet thing to do?

Friend is in quotation marks, because 5 years after the last conversation with this person, I am able to look at it with more clarity. It was not a friendship, it was one of those weird situations where someone comes along and takes an interest in you precisely because they think they can save you. Because they think you need saving. The dynamics were never equal. It was always as mentor to mentee that this person would respond to me. I might have an amazing revelation or insight on my own and there was always some sort of correction to let me know I wasn't quite seeing things right. And there was encouragement. She was great at encouragement too, but it always felt like a teacher to her student, or big sister to the daft but loveable little sister left in her charge. But 5 years ago, when the long slow unraveling of my marriage began in earnest, I hadn't been able to fully acknowledge that yet. I was trying to shift the dynamics of this friendship to an equal peer to peer relationship, but we both had a load of toxic waste from our pasts getting in the way of making that transition happen. 

So just when I needed my friend the most, this person decided to ghost me. She didn't like that I was leaving my husband. Didn't believe I had reason to as a good Christian woman. Because you know in some of those circles it doesn't actually matter how the husband behaves, the onus of responsibility for keeping that marriage together is typically on the wife. So I was in process of making that decision, to leave what was a very unhealthy situation. And to make a long story a little shorter, after several conversations and many tears in which she tried to convince me I was making the wrong decision, she just ghosted her way out of my life. 

It didn't start that way. It was one of those honorable situations where good Christians tell the wayward sinner that they are on the wrong path and try to warn them to turn. (I was the sinner in this scenario). Then they bring two more friends to put in their two cents about the error of your ways - because verbally abusive toxic apathetic underfunctioning men just need their wives to be kinder, and more loving, and compliant. That's how they are shown Gods love -by their wives standing in the face of the unfaceable, no matter what. Don't even think about protecting yourself by leaving. 

You know, I sat in a tiny church service once and listened to the pastor tell a story about a good woman who was being beaten by her husband. She didn't yell and scream back- she stood silently and took her beating. She just stood there and took it and her loving demeanor afterwards actually changed her man. Her silence allowed him to see the love of Christ. And if Christ didn't run from his beating, then by golly who the hell are you to think you should? Yup. I shit you not. I sat there in the basement of that place knowing that this sermon was pointed my way, my shame pinning me to that seat. I wanted so badly to be a good christian woman. And things weren't so bad. I wasn't getting a physical beating. 

I tried. I worked hard at getting counseling for my own problems. Came to some hard reckonings about my life. And little by little I was healing. But this thing that kept me trying in this marriage, taking all the responsibility to fix it - that was a hard one to let go of. And I'm not saying he wasn't trying. He just hadn't come to his own reckoning yet. 

So coming to that place 5 years ago of actually making the break, that was something of a major victory for me. Yes it's true that I gave it another whirl after a couple of tough years on my own. I told you it was hard to let it go. It was hard as holy hell. And I needed support and I needed love. Not the tough love of a church that had told me often I was family, until they disagreed with my decision. And especially not the tough love of a friend who thought that she was on some high spirit led road following scripture by putting this lowly sinner out of the circle in order to bring me back to the flock on my knees. Fuck that.

To this day there hasn't been one iota of ownership from her. Not one peep to indicate she felt bad for her decision or had come to realize she errored in abandoning me. Nothing to indicate any sense of remorse for the way she handled it so shittily. so very shittily. Oh did I mention how they all, her included, rallied around poor pitiful him after I left? They poured out their love and support and their prayers over him for the abandoning thing I did. Good women just don't leave. They don't even dain to talk about what goes on behind closed doors with their husbands. It is up to us to protect our mans reputations at all costs. 

Do I sound angry? God it feels good to let it out. This is not my dirty secret to keep anymore. Toxic relationships were my specialty. With my church, my friends, and my marriage. 

Sidebar: Because I still do care a little too much what people think, and I still have my fair share of insecurities, let me stop here to defend myself a bit...

I've never walked away from my faith. I have a freaking amazing counselor who has been helping me to heal all of the wounds that kept me in very sick and very unequal relationships. And I have finally come to understand that my walk doesn't have to look like yours. I have a different audience and different circumstances then you. If I have any sort of testimony that Jesus wants me to tell, it speaks to different people than you. They get it. And I'm not disqualified because I swear or left a toxic relationship or have a fucking illness that God has not healed me from. To God be the glory - indeed. But He gets to decide what that looks like in my life, not you. So if I am not getting a miraculous healing and if I haven't had a perfectly hey-diddly-oh chipper attitude about every single thing I have on my plate right now, it doesn't mean I am lacking in faith. Good Lord have you even read the bible? Not everyone escaped their circumstances scot free. You are following a prosperity gospel if you think every sick person in your life just hasn't found the right way to pray or wants to hold on to their illness for some sinful godforsaken reason. What a terrible thing to think about someone.

Also you are a bit of an asshole. You hurt people with that attitude and that plain sucks. God doesn't need that kind of representation. Thankfully for both of us he has immeasurable grace.

God that friend liked to warn me about taking advantage of grace. 

Back to that "friend". Let me just give you all a bit of advice from my indignant and chaffed perspective. If you have ever ghosted a friend for any reason - disappeared out of their life for years on end because you couldn't deal with it, or you judged them for something, or like my story, you thought that some tough love would help bring them back to their senses, and like that parable of the prodigal son, you've likened yourself to the father waiting with open arms for your friend to return dragging her mud stained pig slothed self back to beg for your mercy, do not send random texts out of the blue to let her know you are praying for her and just wanted her to know that. You only made yourself feel better, or more righteous. Just go out and get a can of salt and pour it into the wound, why don't ya? 

No, do everyone a favor and go get your good self into some counseling and figure your own shit out. Then when you have a little humility and can actually own up to your own wayward way of handling things, and if you really think that person you ghosted needs to hear from you after all these years, start the conversation with I'm sorry I abandoned you. Own your shit. I am not the only one with wounds that make me do stupid or ugly things. 

Don't skimp on the counseling. The world needs you to be healed too.  

Gah - I warned you it was a bad day. Don't worry, I won't stay in this pit very long, I'll be able to tell this story with less vitriol and more grace one day. This is just the messy middle. I'll wind up on the other side of this with a deep appreciation for the new perspective I found in the midst of it. I always do.  

Shield Series L-R; The Eyes Have It, Selah, Tell Me No Lies, The Face She Shows
Encaustic Assemblage Shield Series by Crystal Marie Neubauer

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

To Get To The Center

Have you ever had that feeling you've been someplace before? 

You know the feeling, same experience, different circumstances. Or exact same circumstances, different life stage. Or exact same life stage, exact same experience. 

How many times do I have to go through this? How many times do I have to learn this same lesson? Am I ever going to get this right? Will this thing ever stop tripping me up?? Why do I have to deal with this again??

Why am I here again???????????

You know the feeling. When you're lamenting to God and he simply says "look up". 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

For Mature Audiences Only (Or for those who need to hear they are enough)

It’s been interesting watching myself dance around being as authentic and honest as I wanted to be in my writing. Having made a triumphant announcement in a sort of public way, by broadcasting live on Facebook, my intention. 

It was never about being able to say whatever popped out of my mouth unfiltered. God knows, I do plenty of that. It was about an awakening I’ve had through this process of creating my shields series. Awakening to the realization of the number of ways I edit myself. In person and online, in order to present a more pleasing and acceptable version of who I am. 

So with that awakening came conviction. I want, need, must take off the masks, put down the shields. You know the ones, the faces we carefully craft to show the world a polished up version of ourselves, the shields we construct from learned behaviors that have helped protect us for a time. 

Protection seems like a strange choice of words for this particular shield. Adaptation to early conditioning in order to gain approval might help you understand. We grow up in home environments that teach us different lessons throughout early life. 

Shake Your Money Maker        Encaustic Assemblage Shield by Crystal Marie Neubauer
Other little girls grew up being told they were the apple of their daddy's eye. One strong image of a little girl being tossed in the air and twirled around the room in her daddy's outstretched arms while he looks at her adoringly stays with me. Not a memory of my own experience, but memory as witness to my childhood friend and her father when he returned from work one evening. The kind of reception I craved from mine. 

Shake Your Money Maker-detail     Encaustic Assemblage Shield by Crystal Marie Neubauer

Messages other girls grew up with might have been on their beautiful smile and bright eyes. Perhaps they were told they were beautiful, smart, funny, curious, strong. My messages were always directed toward my body. I was clumsy, awkward, knobby kneed, flat chested. My messaging repeated throughout the years from my father included an encouraging "so lucky you got your ass from my side of the family" and "she doesn't need a bra, she needs a box of bandaids."

Puberty brought unwanted attention from drunken old men, eye's waggling as I trailed behind my father, chortling gleefully after me- "she's such a tease, jail bait, that one is". and "don't worry honey, I'm more of an ass man myself!"  

Shake Your Money Maker      Encaustic Assemblage Shield by Crystal Marie Neubauer

Girls growing up in the 70's and 80's were bombarded with messages about our bodies. Sure, we could bring home the bacon, but we damned well better fry it up in the pan wearing something pleasing. And for god's sakes eat a salad! Look at you, just packing on the pounds! How are you ever going to keep a man like that?

Girls growing up in dysfunctional family systems got the message compounded, mixed thoroughly, shaken, stirred, and offered up on the rocks. We knew what our worth was. We knew what was expected and we knew how to be accepted. Like many women my age, I grew up believing it was only skin deep, needed to be outfitted in short skirts, and flaunted. You caught your man looking sexy, and you kept him by being pure. Be rugged and outdoorsy and learn all the drivers names on the Nascar circuit. Sit entranced with the boys during the boxing match. Fix him his favorite snacks on Super Bowl Sunday.  And be in the mood at the drop of his pants. 

Shake Your Money Maker      Encaustic Assemblage Shield by Crystal Marie Neubauer

Inspired in part by the visually graphic coin purse placed in the center of the shield, (a symbol made iconic by artist Suzanna ScottShake Your Money Maker represents all the ways I learned to use my body to find safety in an unsafe world. Safety, I believed, that could only be found within the confines of marriage. The number of shields that I've had to put down before this one could be unearthed was surprising. 

But the biggest surprise in this awakening has been the shift from believing my body was my worth to understanding that my whole being is my worth. That my being is not weakened or missing something vital without a man. That indeed I am powerful and whole. 

And enough. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

When Helping Really Hurts and Other Life Lessons

I got really tripped up in my newfound commitment to writing more this week in an obsessive desire to tell you a funny story about this crawfish and this dog. I wrote and wrote for several days trying to get the story just right to connect it to a deeper lesson, life as allegory, if you will. 
As that post grew lengthier, the point grew more elusive, getting mired down in my laborious explanation. I was doing exactly what I said I didn't want to do anymore- trying to curate the moment, give you a laugh and end it on a high note. 

After several days of this circling the drain exercise, that lightbulb finally went off, the one that shines its damned light on the thing I don't necessarily want to see. But there it is, daring me to look. Sitting at the table under the single bulb hanging from the ceiling, a suspect ready for my interrogation. Who are you, and What business do you have here??

Avoidance. My name is avoidance. I come to offer you distraction. Distraction is a lovely way to pass the time so you don't have to do that thing you're convinced is too scary to do. 

Distraction is what you do to justify avoidance. You look busy, you have important things going on. Distraction comes with a benevolent partner that enables you to keep doing the thing that distracts you. That partner is cleverly covert. It's name is denial. 

Denial, let it have its way long enough and pretty soon you find yourself in a freefall to the bottom of a very deep pit, wondering where the hell the last three days went.

It hurts to wake up at the bottom of that pit, realizing shame is having its way with you. Shame is the master orchestrator of this evil plan. Shame is insipid. It begins its work long before you wake up in that pit. Long ago, it slithered into your life and buried its lies deep into your psyche. 

It trained it's voice to sound just like your own. 

Or your mother's.

Or your second grade teacher's.

Make no mistake about it, shame wants to silence you. Shame thinks it is a superhero, there to serve and protect. But shame doesn't help you face your giants. It tells you that they are invincible and the only thing left to do is hide. It does anything in its power to knock the glasses from your face, it keeps you from opening your eyes. 

If you're lucky, you'll look up from the bottom of that pit with an unobstructed view and call shame out on it's bullshit. See the liar for what it is, and do the thing it wanted you to be afraid of. 

This shame buster came in the form of an innocent walk with the dog. An encounter with a crawfish. Distraction told me I could be a hero. I could save that damned mudbug, whether it needed me to or not. Avoidance played it's part by convincing me I could weave a story about how sometimes helping can really hurt. 

A long story it was. So let me tell you the Facebook version: 

This is me falling face first down a rocky incline into a pond, after getting caught in a fist fight between a crawfish and the dog. My finger happened to be holding the camera button while I went tumbling down. No one won.

The End. Akeru. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Freedom's Just Another Word

Freedom's Just Another Word
Encaustic Mixed Media Assemblage by Crystal Marie

Remember that song from the 70's? It must have been the 70's, when I think of it I can remember feeling that freedom in my bones as I rode my banana seat bike with it's pink plastic daisies and streamers around the neighborhood. 

My commitment to getting messy here on the blog and saying all the things out loud is really challenging me this morning. My thoughts are swirling around waiting to be heard and yet I can't seem to get them past the back of my throat. 

My teeth are clamped. The old accusers have stirred from their slumber to begin lobbying their complaints against me. The one side shouting "get a grip! nobody cares!" The other side arguing that my inability to put fingers to keypad and spill, is evidence of my cowardness, and even more evidence that in spite of my realization that I might be "the one person" I seek to help with my own writing, thus my commitment to write as if it's just for me, I still do actually care what other people think of me. 

And I know I do, care. I do.

I don't intend to get so hardened as to notreallygivearatsass about you at all. I simply want to be able to speak my truths and release you from responding. Or myself from needing you to. Let alone from the pressure of needing you to prop me up with applause. Because isn't that what approval seeking is really? The need to feel affirmed by others? I want to care about you and still be okay if you don't approve of me, or downright disagree with my words. 

And lest you be confused. When I say, spill, I don't mean spill all the family secrets. Good Lord, how much time do we all have anyway? No, it's the daily stuff, the ways that early conditioning is still dictating how well I manage my life. That's where I am right now. That's where I think so many of us get stuck. Where I worry over the shield of "what will people think of me?" it's a tough one. 

So back to that song..."Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose". Exactly what is it I am afraid I'll lose if I speak all of my truths here? 

Exactly what is it if you do?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

This Blog Is About To Get Messy!

The Acre Of My Soul   
  Collage Mixed Media Assemblage by Crystal Marie
Oh the bunny trails I can follow when I'm avoiding doing what I should be doing. The shoulds should mean the stuff that is unpleasant to do, but really I can twist the most pleasant of activities into a should if you give me enough time. This morning I should be writing. Because I want to be writing more. 

Yesterday I went crazy and broadcasted live from Facebook with a radical idea for my blog that might not sound so radical or earth shattering to you, but  because you're not the one about to get naked in the middle of Times Square. 

Okay that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but that's the feeling of it for me. To decide to get more raw, more real, more truthful and honest here on the blog in my writing style is to expose the thoughts behind the thoughts I typically show you. To be messy here means to stop editing myself out of fear of what some mysterious internet reader, or a long lost acquaintance, or friend who's ghosted me, lurking around on social media might think.  It is to stop trying to put a positive spin on everything out of concern that you, my readers *(reader? Is it still just you out there mom?), might think I sound like a victim or a drama queen.

Some would say I’m addicted to drama. They see someone who’s life seems to always be in chaos and they say maybe I'm just addicted to the pain. They don't see the woman who is pulling herself out of a pit of early dysfunction and conditioning, and attempting to pull others out with her. 

But I’m done with that self blaming talk- not done like I’ve conquered it- but done like I’m actively working on recognizing all the ways the Insipid blame the victim game works inside my head. It doesn’t serve a higher purpose to self-flagellate and it sure as hell doesn’t lead to recovery. It simply serves to shame the person into going even further into hiding.

That’s what addiction really is, it's hiding to numb old feelings of abandonment, fear of rejection, inadequacy. A sense of not belonging. 

It is the action, the symptom of the issue, not the issue itself.

Those behaviors aren't caused by addiction, they come from conditioning. Addiction is the thing I do to try to run from, hide from, or even agree with that conditioning. Addiction doesn't always look as destructive as we think. Addiction is simply the actions we take to numb the conditioning. 

Taking drugs or alcohol, maxing out the credit card, hopping from abusive relationship to abusive relationship, people watching, and judging others (so much easier to do anonymously with the internet now), mindlessly scrolling through social media, people pleasing, perfectionism, codependency, these are all the addictive behaviors we act out of desperation to numb, to hide, to avoid what we really want. 

To belong. 

Because we don't think we do. We might believe we don't deserve to, or that we're too flawed too. We might have found ourselves as odd man out so many times we believe the only way to find acceptance and belong is to pretend to fit in. To present to the world a persona. We put on masks and pick up shields to avoid rejection. But this armor we believe we need to be accepted by or cope with the world, is the very thing that actually prevents the world from knowing us. From seeing us. From connecting with our true selves. Our true flawed and broken beautiful selves. 

It keeps us from truly feeling like we belong. 

So here I am. Putting down my armor, shield after shield. One layer at a time. I'm committed to showing up here and relaxing a little bit more. Letting go of the fear of rejection - which I manage by carefully curating what I write. Letting go of my need to please you by always putting a positive spin on even the most miserable of situations. Laying down the armor of people pleasing and control. The one that is the chameleon to help me blend in. The one that is more concerned with hurting your feelings then telling the truth. 

This blog is about to get messy because I plan to write more of what I really think. To stop editing and curating and spinning my life to make it more palatable for an imaginary critic. I might swear a little. Or a lot. I'm sure I'll express opinions you disagree with. There might not be a happy conclusion. Or even a conclusion at all. Basically this is going to be my morning dumping ground before the coffee kicks in  enough to stop me. 

So if you just subscribed because you watched that facebook video, welcome to my mess. 
You've been warned. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, And The Sublime - A Progress Report In That Order

Hope Medallion - Encaustic Mixed Media by Crystal Neubauer

Looking back at the date of the last post, I realized it was time for a progress report of sorts. Here's the skinny on the time that has lapsed in the past month. 

I continue to get settled in to my new home, a lovely townhouse in a beautiful community in Gurnee, Illinois. It is 40 minutes to my Racine studio, but an easy enough drive, which I am committed to making at least twice a week. 

I made the decision to move back to the Illinois side of the border for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to be closer to my children, grands, and several close friends. My doctors are all located in Chicago, and I've applied for and received my license for medical marijuana. Shocking I know, but it is the only thing that's even come close to helping with the chronic insomnia that is a major symptom to the illnesses I'm living with. No weird side effects, no new meds to control the symptoms caused by other meds, and the added benefit of helping to manage my inflammation, which is astronomical in lab numbers, and the pain that it causes. It is also reported to kill the Lyme virus.

The home - it really is lovely. Each day I've gotten a little more organized, a little more used to waking up in this space, and a little more attached to this feeling. The one that feels like love and light and gratitude. So much gratitude. 

I've spent the month and a half since moving here reflecting on the astonishing response to the gofund me that my friend and guardian angel, Jana started for me. The ability that money has given me to relocate, not just flee a bad situation (read that post here), but to actually have the peace of mind of knowing there were deposit monies and first months rent, moving helpers and truck money, and all the millions of little expenses that chip away at the savings during a move. I can't really describe that feeling yet, it's still feels fairly new to me. 

More than knowing that there were funds available to help me get set up in a new place, to pay for the initial doctors visits and labs not covered by insurance, and the meds that have been helping me get physically stable, has been the feeling of being lifted by a community, bigger, wider, deeper, than I ever understood was there. 

You all had my back. And then some. 

Letters, messages, cards, and gifts of encouragement continue to come - and I continue to receive each one in awe and gratitude. This above all else, has been a defining moment in my life. I close my eyes and see myself being held - skimming across the top of a crowd of people, hands outstretched to lift me, as if surfing the crowd at a rock concert. I still can't quite describe that feeling. 

Physically the move has been one of the hardest I've ever experienced - and people who have had to devote entire pages in their address books to updating my information can testify to the enormity of that statement. Emotionally, well, reread the few paragraphs above. The daily waking to a profound sense of emotional well being regardless of physical status is more than I can put words to. Thank you. Thank you. And a thousand times thank you.

The initial doctors visits yielded a prescription for Ketotifen and an over the counter supplement called HistDAO. One is a histamine blocker, the other breaks down histamine in the stomach, and both are mast cell stabilizers. The consistent use of these two products has helped diminish that constant stabbing pain in the gut feeling, alleviate most of the pounding heart, and many unfortunate bathroom symptoms after a meal or an environmental trigger, broke the whole-body migraine that nearly crippled me, eased some of the facial flushing, and has enabled me to start adding certain foods slowly back into my diet. As of today I've gained 10 pounds back - and let me tell you, the difference between 98 pound me and 108 pound me went from looking like a sad nutritionally starved anorexic teenager to a slightly underweight but leaning towards better life adult woman. 

Life is good - but many challenges remain. The next steps on the health front involve more tests and upcoming appointments. Exploring other meds to add to the regimine, and still to be determined stage of the disease progress. 

The month of June was brilliant, beautiful, rare in the midwest, with daily temps hovering just below 80 and low humidity levels reminiscent of my stays in California. Each day I started out sitting with the dog on the back deck soaking in the rays and sweet breezes. But summer has arrived, and with it, the need to turn on the AC. This is where my story takes a turn. 

The new house has mold in the HVAC system. 

I am devastated at this realization and at having to report this. It's toying with the old ingrained sense that I need to make sure everyone else is okay and that I'm responsible for what you think about me. That's a screwy sentence to write, but bear with me. 

I can't wrap my head around the fact that this is the sixth home I've moved to with a mold problem. I can't wrap my head around the fact that I only rented the last home for six months, two and a half of which were spent staying in other people's homes. I can't wrap my head around the fact that I was meticulous in my search for a safe, clean environment. I didn't let myself look at the old houses that I gravitate to and love. I let my nose do the inspecting after ignoring tell-tale mildewy smells in said older homes in the past. I opened closet doors, inspected the utility closets, counted the cost of air quality living in apartments, verses houses, verses the townhouse I finally chose. I was eager to get on with it, but I didn't let my actions become desperate - that was part of the gift from you all with the support you gave. 

The ugly truth of it is that living in the US, more then 50% of homes have had some sort of  water damage and a good majority of those are in the midwest and southern states. With my genetics, and compromised immune system, multiple former exposures to toxins - mold, Lyme, and last years food poisoning, have left me with a full bucket of toxins and a system that has a very difficult time properly emptying that bucket. An average person with a healthy immune system and functioning detox pathway could live with this level of exposure without much notice - the exposure is not good for anyone long term- eventually there might be tell-tale symptoms like sinus allergies and unexplained illnesses for most, but for me - with that bucket already full, the symptoms are more serious and come on more quickly. 

I've been hard pressed to talk about this to many people. I get stirred up in the "what will people think" and "no one believes me" lies that have bound me for most of my life. Don't even get me started on the one that says "you got what you deserved." Hell, I don't want to believe it so how can I blame you for not understanding? But here I am, living in a new place that I am in love with, dealing with the very thing I moved here to escape from. 

So what now? 

Luckily, at this time, the problem seems to be contained in the HVAC system - only presenting itself to me upon turning on the AC. So I purchased an enzyme solution recommended by the remediation company that my mold health group recommends, talked to the landlord's brother (he's responsible for the carpentry and maintenance of the properties),  and he took the unit apart piece by piece cleaning it with the solution meticulously. He spent hours on it and reassured me that if the problem continued, he'd go into the crawl space and open the ductwork and treat it from down there. 

This week the temps have dipped again, though Wednesday it was nearly 100 so there was a brief time of AC and so far so good. Some of the exposure symptoms remain - but I am in a wait and see, don't panic frame of mind. If the problem is indeed only in the system - which isn't uncommon for central AC units, then fingers crossed, and prayers said, the solution is enough to remediate it. It is when there is water damage to the structure of the house that it becomes too big to be safe for me to hope for remediation. Add your prayers and light and energy and well wishes to mine for a good outcome to this unexpected bump. 

Work wise, there has been good progress on the shield series for my solo show opening at RAM Wustum Museum in Racine next month. The ideas that have been pouring in have begun to take shape in the studio. But I'm down to the wire and don't have time to do some of the experimentation I had hoped to do for this series, this show. I've promised myself to keep playing with these materials even after the show is hung. I've been posting progress shots of the works on my Instagram account here

I'll be taking a short break once the pieces for the show are complete, to clean up, tear down, and reset for my September workshop. My wheels are turning for future endeavors and ways to make the actual studio profitable enough to justify keeping it. I'm badly in need of some time to start developing my video courses -  time has been flying by with the focus being on the move and the RAM show.The pop up shop will open Monday - with expressions of interest having first dibs at the offerings on Sunday. Keep an eye out for it here. Leave me a comment on the blog below (be sure to include an email address) for the Sunday advance opportunity. And sign up for my newsletter here if you don't want to miss out on this or any of the future pop ups planned. 

This time there will be a series of 4" square encaustic paintings, each with a small bit of a book spine set in the middle, which symbolizes inner strength to me. That spine of the book is typically hidden beneath the skin of the books cover, but it enables the book to stand - and it is what I have hidden beneath my own surface, the stuff on the inside most eyes cannot see, that enables me to stand through all of the challenges and thrills life has sent my way. 

It is the spirit of those whose arms are raised to lift me, the spirit of my own being, The Spirit of a God who loves me, and the spirit of knowledge, and hunger, and thirst for living my best life, not in spite of these challenges, but because of the transformation happening through them. 

It suddenly occurs to me I actually do know how to describe that feeling. It is sublime.