Tag Archives: boundaries

Crummy Birthday, Interesting Exploration into Boundaries

The process of creating transformative art; a backstory

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A work in progress (acrylic color and sand on canvas 160x160cm) about loving self and allowing myself to get lost and, well, something like that. Let’s see where we end up.

The big painting has been stuck for a week, almost. I have been gazing, staring, willing it to move. Even dabbing it gingerly with a brushful of transparent red iron oxide. All to no avail.

Until, as so often happens, when I start to focus on a new painting project, the deepening experiences start piling up. When I was in Scotland, re-experiencing Crimson Circle’s SES workshop, I wondered a bit that my mother and my relationship to her did not come up. Ah well.

This week on my birthday, my mother called me. I hadn’t talked to her in three months. At eight in the morning, she was drunk. I listened to her slurry, wobbly words, as always wondering at how the alcohol could completely deprive them of meaning for me, despite her telling me that I was a beloved, expected child. As she talked, I was revising my plan for the day. Usually, when I am in touch with my mother these days, deep emotions may start arising and spread outside my control.

2015_046havemyheartThat day I was supposed to lead a core art workshop in drawing. These workshops are intense and require my deep presence as well as all my abilities. I was already in Rastila, waiting for my core art students, scent of coffee in the air. The open art studio was starting in an hour and the first student would arrive any minute.

I suggested to my mother that we meet, but she said she was injured some way and could not move. Alarmed I asked if she needed help and became even more alarmed when my proud mother said yes. Again, thoughts racing, planning, moving the components of the day this way and that, I asked if she needed help acutely and if I was to come to her. When she laughed resentfully and said no, I asked if I could call after work and said I’m here for her. Grating some more piercing laughter, I heard in her voice, this was not good. I ended the call as swiftly as I could.

Diving into the challenge

“Well, happy birthday to me.” I thought bitterly right after the call.

No need to do anything but breathe. Drawing made with markers, 16x25cm.
No need to do anything but breathe. Drawing made with markers, 16x25cm.

Then I noticed the oozing touch of self-pity and asked myself what I needed. Eating a bit, drinking something hot, doing some deep breathing, I did what I do well; I carefully compartmentalized the little girl inside of myself and the art teacher part of myself in different boxes. While I knew from experience that I would later pay the price of this, at that moment keeping my promises and taking responsibility for all different roles and parts of my life seemed to be of utmost importance.

What you aren't aware of, hides in your shadow. 24x16cm, created with markers.
What you aren’t aware of, hides in your shadow. 24x16cm, created with markers.

Although I felt sad and worried during the day, momentarily distracted, always bringing myself back to the present, the core art workshop was gentle, flowing and even fun at times. Once again I was amazed at the power of art, self-made or enjoyed, to transform anything. What I was less aware of, was the automatic mode I was in – I can carry anything, I can pay this bill, I can afford this, I will carry this [for you] because I can.

During my breaks I was in touch with the Engineer and with my dad, so I could get the necessary information and organize the rescue mission of the evening. After work, I and the Engineer went to my mom’s with two bags of groceries to see what kind of situation she had. In the car, I could feel emotion swirl around in my body. Old, familiar poison. My mind was full of thoughts I recognized. I told the Engineer that voicing those thoughts would only increase the emotion and drama I was aware of inside of me. I felt helpless. When we came to my mother’s apartment building I was relieved to see the building door was open, because I couldn’t get a hold of her on the phone. We rang and rang the doorbell. She didn’t open the door. Her neighbours said she hadn’t been home for days. She still didn’t answer her phone. We left the non-perishables behind the door and got into the car.

Whose box, indeed. 24x16cm, created with markers.
Whose box, indeed. 24x16cm, created with markers.

In the car, my body started trembling. I asked the Engineer if we could stop at a drive through, so I could have a sugary drink and something to eat. That would bring some balance and stability into the moment. The kids were waiting at home for night time stories and the rituals of going to bed. I cherished each bite of the hamburger, sitting beside my husband, each ketchup filled bite. The junk food fit my inside state.

Emotional radiation

The next morning when I woke up, I had a text message on my phone: “Thank you for the food. Very kind. Give me your account number and I will reimburse you. I am not available tomorrow, I am at a retreat. Hug.

This is when I snapped.

The visible effects of emotional radiation started. I felt my shoulder blade area shut down completely, as if someone had stitched iron wire throughout my skin and muscles. The thoughts of self-hatred started gushing forth in a never ending stream. Anxiety made it hard to breathe fully. Deep currents of self-doubt ran through my mind, doubting everything from my skills, to my life choices, to my right to exist. Tears started flowing at unpredictable intervals. I staid in bed, lifting any part of my body felt like an insurmountable task.

Feelings are good. Watercolor in thought book 24 × 17 cm.
Feelings are good. Watercolor in thought book 24 × 17 cm.

While I rationally knew that this was an automatic reaction to the interaction with my mother, based on deep patterns unresolved, it was hard to keep on breathing, keep on functioning. In these situations I would love to be able to be calm, collected, instantly healing myself in some deep mystical or instant way. Instead, in the midst of the considerable inner pain, concepts of self-love feel abstract and unreachable. So I attempted to just be aware of what was happening inside of me, not trying to change anything, concentrating on breathing, letting the painful emotions move through me like weather and tried my best to not hold on to any of the venom that was flowing through me.

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When the Engineer came home at five p.m. I went to sleep and slept through the night.

What was different this time?

For someone who has never lived with an alcoholic, this reaction may seem way overblown. For me, it’s automatic. Through the years, my needs have had to wait and the needs of my mother have come first. Still, one day a year, on my birthday, there is the expectation that it is my day, something for me. Instead, I spent the whole of my birthday, trying to help my drunk mother, calling forth the emotional reality that was my norm for so long.

Discerning between self-pity and self-compassion has been a challenge for me. Yesterday, someone said: “I wish you would always feel appreciated and loved.”

Marker drawing, 24x16cm.
Marker drawing, 24x16cm.

That moment I realized, the only person who can give me that kind of stability is me. Today, after another twelve hours of sleep, I think the biggest difference between self-compassion and self-pity, for me, are boundaries. After experiencing her twenty years of full blown alcoholism, I have still longed so much for a nugget of love from the mother I once knew, that although I have put my children’s needs before her needs, I have always put myself aside.

I have never said: It is more important that I love me and care for me than that I please my mother and father. Not for my children, for my family, for my relationships. For me. Just for myself.

The practicality of loving self

In conclusion, I am here, sitting with the part of myself who resists the thought of drawing boundaries. Life is clearly showing me the need to do so. To say a clear yes and no to how I choose to be treated. The little girl part of me is saying: “But I want myself to love my mother, the way I used to love her. But I want us all to be friends. I want love to be the norm. I want to be gentle, kind and smiling. I am afraid of what will happen if I am not.”

And I ask in return: “Who am I to think I know what other people need? Who am I to say that the minuscule connection I have to my mother is wrong? Who am I to judge how other people create their lives, to criticize what they choose? The only thing that IS my responsibility is choosing whether I want to participate, to choose how I am willing to be treated. And THAT is done by learning what my boundaries are and then expressing them.”

Self-pity is allowing myself to be badly treated, and complaining, heaping on blame and suffering afterwards. Self-compassion is saying: This is not okay.

From life to painting to life again

What I’m learning, already, from this painting project is that loving myself actively doesn’t make life easier, exactly. It doesn’t decrease my sensitivity, or remove the pain from a difficult experience. What it does is increase my sense of being alive, of having a right to simply experience what I do, as I do. With support and love, whatever comes next. When I allow myself to get lost, in my life, inside myself, I find areas and solutions that I haven’t found before.

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Found where I live, today.

 

Self-love Skill #2; NO.

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Self-love skill number two. Saying no appropriately.

Man, how I struggle with this one. There’s saying it, of course. Hard at times, almost impossible at others.

But before you can say no, you have to be able to feel into what you really really want. Yes or no. You have to be able to say, I’ll come back to you, I’ll think about it for a while.

You need to accept, appreciate and allow your preferences.

Then, you may need to calmly say no thank you. Sometimes forcefully.

So, the practice continues. 🙂

Oh, and what do self-love skills have to do with creativity? My current experience is that the more I make art, the more productive I am, the more time I need for empty space time, bupkis days, taking care of my needs. It’s all part of the whole of creative work. Although the final act of creation may be fast and expressive, what makes that possible is sometimes a lot of time spent incubating, ruminating and in general just containing different kinds of tension.

This means I need to carve out that time by saying no. A lot. Trust the process, trust the need for this time, trust myself.

Sometimes saying no to the outside world is saying yes to your own art, whatever its expression.

What can you say no to today, as a way of practising self-love?

Safe Space

My safe space, in the thought book, by MDT.
My safe space, in the thought book, by MDT.

 

I watched the last episodes of Flashpoint, season 5 yesterday, while I was filling in this drawing. The name of it came to me while I was in my Sunday morning writing & heavy metal mini-retreat. I had drawn this a year ago, while leading a creativity liberation workshop. Now I realized what it was that I had drawn.

A while ago, I attended a workshop where we talked about self-love. At the beginning, the leaders discussed appropriate ways to share painful emotions and how to stay in our own center. They said that we can all choose to be in a safe space, simply by choosing to be there. Although I felt doubt, I chose to be in my safe space. And I was.

After the workshop, this has been one of my favorite things to keep aware of. To choose to be in my safe space and cultivate the safety inside.

When you choose your safe space, what kind of colors, sounds and feelings [or something completely different] does it contain?

Take Nothing Personally

A balm and a blessing, take nothing personally. Thought book 2013, by MDT.
A balm and a blessing, take nothing personally. Thought book 2013, by MDT.

 

So, of course, most of my life I’ve taken EVERYTHING personally, quite up to the point that it was painful to walk on the street, because people’s looks [that I interpreted as dismissive or disapproving] would turn up the voice of my inner critic. The end to that came with this summer’s bootcamp of boundaries. Suddenly I get what it means to take nothing personally.

Most of the time people outside of us think only of themselves. The actions, thoughts and energy that they focus on have nothing to do with us, not even the ones that are potentially hurtful. We are all the center of our own universe.

When we take nothing personally, but stay in our own core, we free up our energy, focus and time to do things that are both important and beneficial to us (this often includes helping others, too). There is a clarity that comes with it. We are free to connect to other people, without static, projections or worry.

You may notice that the ‘nothing’ part is wobbly. That’s because it isn’t easy. If I’m to take nothing personally, I need lots of time to reload my energy, which I do best alone, enveloped in a world of music and art.

How do you need to recharge in order to take nothing personally?

 

Boundaries…

Boundaries, thought book, by MDT.
Boundaries, thought book, by MDT.

Old Patterns Arising

This summer, an old pattern between myself and the Engineer slapped us in the face, again. As a rule, I abhor fighting about the same thing more than a couple of times. I believe fights should lead to change, ideally and as swiftly as possible.

The pesky little sucker of overgiving had followed us for a long time though. I gave too much, he gave too much – we concentrated on what the other was doing, instead of taking responsibility of our own wellbeing and at some point got angry “for getting nothing back”.  Useless, useless fights of the kind that swirl around in Foggyland and lead nowhere, until they kind of die of their own, until next time.

 

Oh Man, Boundaries Again

In a moment of clarity I remembered the saying: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. For a longer time already, I had been butting heads with the concept of boundaries in both work settings and personal settings. It seemed that everyone was throwing the word around, but I for one was always aware of this sense of confusion during those discussions. Now it was clearly time to start understanding, so I googled “boundaries”. Here’s what Wikipedia said:

Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for him- or herself what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how he or she will respond when someone steps outside those limits.

Yes, that was the definition that I had gotten until now [and implemented in my life]. But there was something missing here, so I read on.

Personal boundaries define you as an individual, outlining your likes and dislikes, and setting the distances you allow others to approach. They include physical, mental, psychological and spiritual boundaries, involving beliefs, emotions, intuitions and self-esteem.

Here was something that made instant sense to me. I immediately started getting nauseous and flushed all over.  Until this time in my life, I’d used boundaries like I would use a paint by numbers model, tongue in cheek, not understanding what I was doing. My reaction to what I was reading, told me I had hit the jackpot of personal change and it was going to get uncomfortable soon.

 

Change

Back home, I informed the Engineer of my plan. Always the intuitive master of all things internal, he got it immediately and the practice began.

Sounds so easy and harmonious, doesn’t it?

 

Fear

The truth is, it was and is the most frightening interpersonal project I’ve ever done. The only thing keeping me from bolting, is the trust and love that has deepened over the years between us. Like many others, I am terrified of being abandoned. Down to my toes, bone grating, alone pressed under an avalanche in white silence petrified. So I have given everything that has been mine to give, been sweet, warm, understanding – to draw people closer and create the connection that keeps the feelings of abandonment away.

Understanding that makes me nauseous all over. There is also another thing that is true. Being alone with myself is not the same thing as being trapped under snow anymore. Being alone with myself is sweet and safe, these days.

Implementing Boundaries in Our Relationship

We have been on new ground, in our love. Staying inside of our boundary circles, as two separate people, has at times felt distant, cold and boring. It has also led to amazing communication, learning to know him as a new person, going out on half hour dates every day of the week, increased intimacy and hilariously – it has lead to a clean house.

When I am not constantly looking for ways to please him, keep him happy and nurtured, I have energy to go for a run, play with the kids, tidy up, eat well, cook beautiful fragrant food. What I do is not in any way tied to his stuff anymore. And vice versa. Both of us are nicer to be around and the need for alone time decreases dramatically. Not being emotionally tied up in his inner world (are you okay? what are you thinking? how are you feeling?) creates space to seek him out and want to spend time together.

How?

So what do I do, to become aware of my boundaries? Sometimes I fill in the drawing above. Who am I and who am I not, in this particular situation? I listen to signs of nausea, a foggy head, shallow breathing or irritation as pointers that I’m about to go over my boundaries. I say things out: “Would you give me a hug?” “Can we go on our date now?”, instead of expecting him to initiate or insinuating what I want. I slow down my reaction time to requests until I have a clear head and calm breathing, the answer always comes. I move physically every day.

This is what I love about inner phenomena, awareness and recoding the inner programming – even though the psychic work sucks and may be frightening, it leads to increased ease and to always being more of who we really are.

 

How are your boundaries doing? What’s easy? What’s difficult?

 

 

 

 

#Scintilla Weekend Bonus Prompt – Temper!

Today’s prompt is about a time when I lost my temper. There are many that aren’t ripe to write about, anger is a power readily available to me. A wise woman once told me anger is like an ax, you can use it to hurt people or you can use it to build a house.

One time when I used it like the tool it is was when my son was six weeks old. My mother was coming to see my son for the first time, she didn’t make it to the hospital. It had by then been a long time since we had a normal mother-daughter relationship.

I’m feeding my son. He is wriggling closer to me, making these breathy sounds while he’s eating ravenously. My body does that melting thing that it has done ever since my son was born. Natural, I guess, after him being in my belly for nine months. Sometimes it feels like my body is more connected to him than my psyche, which is still reeling. I’m a mother! is my first thought each morning and it feels incredible.

The phone rings.

– “Hi sweetie, I’m going to be there in thirty minutes.”

– “Okay Mom, welcome.” I say, as my heart starts beating loudly in my head. There was just a second of a voice in the background. A drunk voice. But it cannot be, so I put it out of my mind.

My boy is making anxious sounds. Bodies don’t lie. He senses my feelings immediately. I breathe deeply to calm us both. It is time to change his diaper. I lay him gently on the changing table, fuss around with his tiny clothes. Carrying him to the bathroom, I speak inanities that my dad used to say. Phrases that have always irritated me are now my compass in this strange land of motherhood that I am learning to navigate in. My baby loves the water and he kicks his legs in glee when the warm water splashes over his bum. The weight of him on my arm is a miracle.

When he’s all changed and happy, I put him on the bed next to him and we socialize for a bit. More of Dad’s expressions come from my mouth. My mother spoke Finnish to me and my sister. To speak Swedish to my son, is to learn the language of love from scratch. My Dad used to call us sisters his blueberries, in his warmly clunky way. I name my son every berry I know and taste words like darling, sweetie, prince in this language that is foreign to me in so many ways – just like my father was.

The door bell rings. With my son in my arms, I go open the door. I feel tremulous at the prospect of showing my first born to my estranged mother. The minute the door is open, adrenaline starts pumping into my veins in super speed. My mom is there with stripey, unwashed hair and I know she is drunk before she utters a word. There is a man standing at a neighbor’s door, back to me, and while my mom yells:

– “Surprise!”

I identify him as mom’s violent man friend. He turns around and starts walking toward me, my baby son and my mother. Pointing to him, I say/yell/roar:

– “You. Stay.”

Grab my mother. Draw her inside. Close door. Pushing air out of my lungs, I try to breathe calm into my son who is screaming.

I glare at my mother.

– “You are leaving. Now. Drunk and bringing your violent man with you. I can’t believe it.” My voice is loud and cold, only I and my son sense the tremor, which is making him whimper.

She comes closer, her eyes mossy, glazed, draws a cross over my baby’s forehead, except I drag him away and point at her.

– “Out!”

She shoots arrows at me with her eyes.

– “I never… I am NOT drunk. How can you be so impolite?!”

I would push her out the door, but I’m keeping my body between her and my child. She throws her stinky hair back and leaves. I run to the door, close the security lock with my key, screeching baby in my lap.

Slowly I walk to our bedroom, holding my prince gently in my hands. The sudden support of the bed is a benediction that allows me to rock my scared little blueberry boy in my arms until he falls asleep, still hickupping from his crying, chubby cheeks firey red. When he is sound asleep, I bundle him up in the blue overalls with yellow patterns, the ridiculously huge hat, the down sleeping bag and put him out on the balcony to sleep. He loves it there.

Back inside, I start shaking. The adrenaline has left my body. Everything tingles weakly. The betrayal I feel is complete. There is no trace of the mother I remember left. My eyes are burning open, while I am sitting on the bed, hulking. I call my husband, my love and sob out the story.

– “I will be there right away. Check that the door is locked.”

The following night I dream. My son is in his stroller. I search after my mother, chase her from dream landscape to dream landscape. I keep forgetting where my son is and when I find him, he is screaming, wet, hungry. When I wake up, I know what I have to do.

 

More about Marriage after Battle

There’s more
the bitterness of what remains after battle
you say there are no ruins
but I miss you so much
for me, all I sense is a wreck
and I fight against what is true now.

and that is always such a bad idea.
because I also miss what is growing
Faith.
What is left when perfection is demolished?
Grace.

let me explain;
Ideals real as this fake wood table and the green backpack
that holds my stuff
pointed the way for my motherhood
being a wife.
being a friend, entrepeneur, sister, daughter.

I aspired for greatness
and just maybe for a while with my son I
came close
but perfection and judgment are best friends
and my daughter was born
to teach me all about it.

the past couple of years
I have, in my mind, failed in everything
I have learned to grovel
to ask for help, to beg for assistance, to confess my
weakness, to recognize what is intolerable to me.

again again again again again again
again again again again again again
again again again again again

they tell me I’m stubborn
but boy did this one sink in good

my boundaries and limits have become
as intimate to me
as the way my fingernails grow,
or the way my hair curls when it sprouts out of its cut.

I have learned to say I cannot
I will not
No no no no
Nope
No
Not that either
No I can’t, it is impossible to me
I don’t remember, I forgot, I screwed up
I’m sorry, forgive me, my bad.

again again again again again again
again again again again again again
again again again again again

you said in the night, while we were trying
to get through to each other
we’ve been through hell
It was honey to me.

you were so strong
you came to me
you picked me up
you saw me helpless enraged scared desperate
suicidal bitter worn out exhausted ugly
all the while cleaning, wiping butts, nursing
cooking, making love, waking up, comforting, soothing
failing failing failing failing failing failing

again again again again again again again
again again again again again again again
again again again again again again

you did not shrink. away. leave. bolt. run. abandon. scream.
hit. break your fist on the wall. give up. burn out.
give up on me. isolate. yell. get angry. give in. push away.
me.

I did my best every day
it was not nearly enough, not nearly
and you saw my best
you saw me
you said: you aren’t sick, you are tired.
trust yourself. trust yourself. trust yourself.
and then you trusted me with our children.

it is your turn.
it is your turn now.
I will wait.
I see you.
I trust you
I trust you love. I trust you.

 

Bad Thoughts

Twitching turning an itch on my skin
I need to run
from putting up my unruly hair
from making my face
from being disturbed in the bathroom
and feeling that my skin
is stretched on so tight
that even a caress will make
it snap

My breath is hot in my throat
I want to devour
anyone who disturbs
my staring into the sky
my mindless wandering-wondering
my building a safe nest from the hair on my head

I want a M-E-T-E-O-R-I-T-E
to hit the sounds that jar me
into my bones
I want a destruction
of the ants crawling against my
boundaries, like a stinging sea of brown

My heart is in flames
the soles of my feet are prickly
I need to run
run towards the vast open space
in my soul
run

Rush on, Tiger!

I opened all the doors
to let the stale air out.
The tiger awakened.
In a few years she grew
from a wild pup
to a calm[ish] adult
with awesome power.
Anger bursts out
scraggly and BANG
helps me carve out boundaries
from the marble of emotion.
It is the bitter roots
of cold hurt
that I want to get rid of.
The roots are buried deep
within my intestines.
Fat, white, shiny roots with small hooks
for better hold.