As a child, I remember vividly the phrase, “Be seen, not heard”. I understood that publicly I was to be physically present, neat in appearance and polite. Whatever my childhood self had to say beyond traditional greetings was unimportant.
At home, my siblings and I fought endlessly, but when we went out in public, church, a restaurant, formal type settings, we were told to be polite and quiet, no fighting. This was a good thing in most settings and I commend my parents for teaching us public manners. We gave mom plenty to yell about when we were home, the least we could do is give her and my dad a break in public.
Being the oldest, as with most everything, I took the phrase “be seen not heard” to the extreme. Once school started for me, I sat quietly and was rarely heard from by anyone for years in any public setting. I did not question much of anything, even if I was dying to do so. I felt no one would want to listen. My voice had little value.
A bizarre fear was instilled in me that somehow I would be struck down and punished if I called attention to myself. Worse yet, I would be publicly embarrassed and humiliated.
A fear I manufactured.
That fear was rooted in my disappointment with how I was treated as a younger person and a deep personal anger for not being able to overcome that fear. And because public humiliation was always looming, those feelings of disappointment and anger were stuffed deep down into the depths of my being.
My public persona as that sweet quiet girl continued through adulthood. It was painful.
Setting the Stage
The upside to my quiet, sweet and submissive public persona as a child is that it set me up to be more in tune with my surroundings, observant and self aware.
I no longer seek end goals at all costs, instead, I saunter more slowly and allow the situation to work through me. That is not to say I practice this method all the time, because I do not. Life-long learned behaviors are difficult to shed.
When I don’t I take time to read a situation, breath, move with some kind of direction or purpose, I often regret my initial reaction. Learning is continuous.
Living A Different Standard
When my daughter first revealed her substance use disorder, I felt the same aloneness, denial, disappointment and anger I had experienced in my childhood. I returned to past behaviors and folded into myself like a shell. Hard are outside, soft, mushy, unsure, voiceless on the inside.
I lost myself and returned to reactive behaviors that served absolutely no one.
I still get triggered by the smallest deviation from the perceived norm. But a new standard exists for me now since the news of my daughter’s struggle with depression and anxiety. The denial I exhibited in the beginning has slowly given way to feelings and actions that are more open, truthful and in touch with what she is going through and how I react.
Strength in Voice
The similarities between Mckenzie and I are extensive, but the most striking of those is the strength we both exhibit. Our experiences, feelings and reactions have been vastly different, but we have found our voice in what this disease has done to us and are not afraid to put it out there.
The truth about my daughter’s substance use disorder led to a reawakening of my true self, not just as a parent but as an artist and citizen of the world. Authentic parenting involves meeting our children where they are at, not where we expect them to be. Unrealistic expectations make personal growth difficult, almost impossible.
Hard lesson, but one I have learned and one in which I am grateful.
At the age of 25, my daughter has had numerous episodes of these feelings of rebirth/reawakening but because of her depression and anxieties it has often been sporadic and inconsistent. Good when it is good, and feelings of uneasiness and fear when challenges are faced.
At 25, I was an emotional mess. Her level of personal maturity far exceeds mine at that age.
My Art is My Voice
During the years of working through the denial and eventual acceptance of the realities that substance use disorder brings to the family dynamic, my art has seen numerous ebbs and flows.
There also were times when I did not have the energy or motivation to create anything. I was spent, emotionally, physically and psychologically. But I discovered that if I simply enter the studio without any goal or intention, my subconscious takes over and guides me to places I need to be.
As my subconscious stores experiences and memories, it seems to release them through my art when I am in most need. The distillation comes in steps which helps me to feel them through to their core.
Although I am usually not conscious of this manifestation process at the onset, it becomes apparent through my use of colors, shapes, textures and movement. Sometimes nuanced, other times explosive. Sometimes immediate, sometimes it can take months for me to realize the impact.
What I continue to learn is the childhood myth of “Be Seen Not Heard” is unsustainable. My art is my voice and continues to save my life.
Image: “She Rises”
I chose the image “She Rises” acrylic on canvas, 22″ x 16″ because it is symbolic of rising above the fray, seeking higher ground, being resilient. The figurative, angelic image could be my daughter, me or any female working through their “stuff”.
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