When a child reaching out looking for love or having other basic needs met, is met with physical or verbal violence, the child can learn to fear asking for what it needs. The situation also creates insecurity and a lack of trust within the child. Add to that psychological ramifications of sexual abuse, and you’ve got one very dysfunctional upbringing. This was the beginning of my story. The result of that has been a greater connection to animals than to people, a long journey of healing, my spirituality, managing fibromyalgia, a desire to help others heal, and my art.
My parents divorced when I was 5 and were two different religions. So, until I was 8, I was only raised with a vague concept of God. At that time, my mother suddenly decided I needed religion to fit into society. She started me in private lessons on Catholicism. My father was Christian Scientist. He wanted me to choose which religion I was. My mother insisted I was to be Catholic because I lived with her. That was ok because I couldn’t grasp the concept of mind over matter. I was 8. If something hurt and it was bleeding, it hurt and it was bleeding. I couldn’t fathom the idea of praying the injury away.
I was never a very healthy person. I had my first surgeries to open clogged tear ducts when I was a toddler (which had to be repeated when I was 12). When I was 10, my knees went out from under me a couple of times and I started having blackouts. At age 12, my right knee was in a brace for about 6 weeks, but the orthopedic doctor said there wasn’t anything he could see wrong to be causing the pain. At 16, I was diagnosed with asthma, which explained why I always got dizzy when I played the flute (age 10 to 12).
My father’s hobbies were wood sculpting and photography. Plus other people from his side of the family were musicians and dancers, so the arts were important in our world. As dysfunctional as my family was, they did foster my talent by giving me supplies, equipment, and lessons. I was an only child, and had quite a bit of time on my own. I spent most of my free time reading, drawing, painting, and doing photography. This is how I developed my skills.
School was a lot like home. I did everything I could to make everyone around me happy, so that I would not feel anyone’s wrath. The result? Great grades! But also getting bullied and otherwise taken advantage of.
When I wasn’t in school, I was shuffled around to different people’s houses. Someone had to look out for me while my mother worked and dated. Or, at least, they had to pretend to. When I was a teenager, I spent the weekends at a friend’s house. Things went a little bit better there, although I still got bullied by the friend’s older sister. They introduced me to historical romance novels. Why on Earth is this important? Because that’s where I got my first introduction to Native American spirituality, and, consequently, it was the beginning of my healing journey.
I fell in love with the belief that everything was connected and that we should honor all life, and that animals are our cousins. I researched where I could, although admittedly at first I was learning solely through the novels, rather than through non-fiction. I included other pagan systems such as Wicca and Druidism in my studies.
Junior Year of high school, I got into Emerson College on “early decision” for Technical Theatre (making costumes, sets, and lighting). One day spring of my Senior Year, I learned 1) I wasn’t going to get enough money to go because my father refused to provide his income (his reasoning being that it would keep me from getting financial aid); 2) my mother and I were getting evicted because the landlord was bankrupt, selling his house, and moving into ours. I went to school and was getting pushed and teased. I lost it, and screamed, “F__K YOU!” at everyone. I got sent to the Guidance Counselor, and while waiting one of the other Guidance Counselors (without asking me a thing) said, “Oh, it can’t be THAT bad.” I told him off and went to see my art teacher instead, until I calmed down. I spent the rest of that day with my classmates doing things like saying, “Cuckoo,” as I walked by.
Graduation rehearsal was shortly after this. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a major trigger for my Fibromyalgia (which I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with). My back was all tight, I was in a lot of pain, and I could barely walk. But I had to walk 1.7 miles to get to the rehearsal. I started early and shuffled along as best I could. I don’t remember how I got home. I think someone felt bad and gave me a ride. Knowing what I know about my condition now, I know that the stress of seeing my classmates caused my neurotransmitters to malfunction, my myofascia to become rigid, and my mobility to be decreased. Around this time, I also lost 16 pounds in 2 weeks. My doctor could find no reason for it, other than two 24 hour periods where I was so upset that I couldn’t eat.
For a year, I ended up going to a local college that had rolling admissions; then I bounced around a bit. I struggled with my knee, hip, and lower back bothering me, but soldiered on. My father died of cancer in 1995, which brought about mixed emotions for me. He left me enough money that I could have gone to Emerson, but I didn’t even try. I ended up at Bridgewater State College (now called Bridgewater University) in 1996. I began having other symptoms of stress, along with all the previously mentioned health issues. I had undiagnosable rashes. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks, a boyfriend woke me up a few times because he said I had stopped breathing. After we were split up for awhile, there was the acid reflux. That often made me late for class (or have to run out of class abruptly) because I was vomiting. Since I was single at the time, I worried that it was the Second Coming!
In 1999, I was working full time in a sign shop, and taking one last class. In May, I finally finished with my Art degree. Graduation came, and I stiffened up again. I started going through further medical testing. I had bone scans and nerve conduction studies done, and was sent to some specialists, including a Rheumatologist. The diagnosis: Fibromyalgia.
My Primary Care doctor told me she knew that this was what was going on, and had been treating the symptoms because she didn’t think I could handle the stress of being diagnosed with an incurable disease. She was right. My mobility greatly decreased. I started moving like I was pregnant or in my 90s. I had to use my arms to get out of chairs and up stairs, and I had trouble raising my arms up in order to do my hair or wear pullover clothing. My pain level was around 8.
In 2000, she had to give me antidepressants because, in addition to not coping well with my diagnosis, my boss was yelling at me in our production meetings every morning (I was Manager of the Graphics Department by this time). Each meeting would end with me hiding in the bathroom and crying on the floor, and then having diarrhea throughout the day. After a year of this, I quit and no longer needed the antidepressants.
In 2003, I did my painting “Transform and Be Free”, after going to Landmark Forum. I had already started bouldering (a form of rock climbing), which had helped me greatly, but nothing like this. I wanted to create a painting to symbolize the changes I had gone through in that program. We had done an exercise, the point of which was to learn that we are all afraid of something. What I discovered, was that I had subconsciously been blaming myself for my abuse and my parents’ divorce. I had a huge release with that realization, which made my stiffness and pain just melt away, as I sat draped over my folding chair. In that one tiny little exercise, I went from a pain level of 6 to 0.
I sat myself in my room with my easel, facing the corner. I kept staring at the canvas, unable to start. I just had all these negative thoughts running through my head about fear of failing at creating the piece and doing it well. Then I burst out laughing at myself. I remembered when I was in daycare, around age 5. I was drawing a scene with a tree, grass, pond, and sky. One of the teachers came over and told me not to scribble. I tried explaining that I wasn’t scribbling (I didn’t know the word “texture” yet, but that’s what I was doing, creating texture). I said, “Bark goes up and down, water goes side to side, grass goes up and down, and the sky goes side to side. She grabbed my arm, yanked me out of my chair, told me not to talk back, and slammed me down into a chair facing the corner, until my Mom came. Yup. There I was 23 years later being triggered into feeling like I was not good enough to make my butterfly painting because that teacher was having a bad day and took it out on me. So, I laughed at myself, turned my easel away from the corner, and started painting.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my first experience with true forgiveness of one of my abusers. Forgiveness isn’t about absolving the person who hurt you, as if nothing had happened. It’s about letting go of the idea that things should have gone another way, accepting things as they are, and no longer carrying the stress of that baggage around with you. It is freedom for you; not for the other person. Letting go, brings you peace.
In 2007, I continued searching for things to help me. I started learning energy healing methods, Buddhism, and Hinduism, along with conventional medical and psychology practices. To this day, I’m still learning that I have triggers that need to be cleared; I’ve got hidden patterns to work through.
They still don’t know what causes fibromyalgia, but there seems to be a link to trauma. Dr. Ginevra Liptan, author of “The Fibro Manual”, has fibromyalgia, herself. She has done extensive research (personal and otherwise), considers herself the fibromyalgia specialist, and she believes fibromyalgia is actually a sleep disorder.
I have learned that keeping my stress levels low, avoiding foods that cause inflammation, doing moderate exercise, and getting good sleep is key to managing my symptoms. This sounds easier than it is. Mindfulness practice helps, as well as some aspects of Buddhism and Hinduism, in addition to my previously mentioned spiritual explorations. Gentle stretches and yoga help. Good sleep doesn’t just happen by making sure you are in bed for at least 8 hours. The stress also has to be low, or you just lay in bed awake worrying about everything, including how much you hurt, and if you’ll ever get relief. When I’m feeling good, I can be on my feet all day, work on the computer all day, and work with people. When I’m having a bad day (and they come on without warning), it’s everything I can do to get myself out of bed. Or I could be walking normally around a store, and then, suddenly, I’m unable to bend my right leg, so I have to continue shopping by hobbling along. When I have a FibroFlare and I can’t sleep. I am exhausted. I can’t digest properly, think straight, breathe, walk, or any combination of those.
But I persevere! Why? Well, in addition to my adorable, special needs, pug who gives me emotional support and relies on me, giving up would mean giving in to my abusers. They would win. They would have succeeded in overpowering and destroying me. I won’t let that happen! I created The Unfolding Butterfly to share the beauty of my art and my mind, to share the things that I have learned help me along my journey, so that I may help you on yours.