Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Summer Sabbatical, Fibromyalgia and Stillness




This Spring I decided to take a  Summer sabbatical from - writing, over-efforting, convincing, pushing - doing anything that zapped the precious bits of energy I had remaining in my body.

My intuition to shut down a lot of things not working for me and focus on self care was spot on. Just a few weeks later I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.

For those of you who don’t know or maybe have been misinformed, Fibromyalgia is a complex central nervous system disorder, causing chronic pain and fatigue (among many other things) that affects an estimated 5 million Americans. While it occurs most often in women, it strikes men and children, and all ethnic backgrounds.

It has been a relief to FINALLY know what is going on with my body as I have been struggling with pain and massive fatigue as well as misdiagnosis, for over 6 years now. 

For many of those years, I pushed myself to make things happen. I facilitated workshops, traveled and did what felt like pushing a massive boulder up a hill, trying to maintain my “normal” life as much as possible. Now that I know what’s going on, I see how the pushing - so intricately ingrained in our culture - only made things worse.

I am not writing this for sympathy or attention, only to raise awareness and to share how I am choosing to work with this in the studio and in the unfolding of my own creative self-discovery.

I hope by sharing, others will do the same and by doing so, some of the shame we’ve cultivated as a society, around this and other invisible diseases, will begin to lessen.

My life has changed dramatically… but it doesn’t have to end. I am working on living much differently now, and that includes how I will be facilitating.

I will be letting go of process painting classes indefinitely. However, that doesn’t mean I have stopped creating or facilitating - things are just shifting.
I will be offering HeART Journaling from my home studio on Friday mornings with an option to join online.

I will continue to be part of The Walkabout and Rise and Shine  (online options) as these things are HELPING me to stay grounded and connected to my center as well as giving me a sense of community, even when I can’t leave the house.

I probably won’t be writing as much because it definitely takes its toll on my body, so I may be sharing more images and less words.

I will be cultivating more stillness in my life and look forward to seeing where it takes me. And I welcome the chance to work with others wanting to creatively connect to their own stillness.

Sending Much Love and Endless Gratitude,
Steph

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Taste Of The Walkabout - Part 2

Here's another peek into what happens in The Walkabout -  Sarah's response to my letter from July's correspondence.


A snapshot of Sarah's studio wall.


Hello Steph,

The universe does have a way of holding our toes to the sacred fire by sending us pop quizzes. And it's hard to prepare for a pop quiz.

I may think I'm prepared for any pop quiz coming my way. But on the day it's given, all my preparation evaporates. That's when I find myself left with two choices: Staying connected to myself. Or abandoning myself.

When I can stay with myself, listening deeply and allowing the messiness of what is, I drop down into the vast territory of my broken heart. Where there is room to notice what you noticed at the vet's.

In that vast space, of broken-heartedness, I find I can hold all that's there. Holes. Grief. Joy. Gratefulness. Tenderness. The present moment and all of its feelings and sensations.

I bow down to you and how you stayed with yourself. In the hard grief of letting Tilak go. Listening to the beat of his heart. Feeling the in-out movement of his breath. Smelling the graham cracker-ness aroma of his fur. Present for Tilak. All the way through. From the medicine he was given to end his suffering to holding him until he gracefully let go into your arms.

Knowing what is needed in these times is essential. How to soothe ourselves. How to offer ourselves loving-kindness.

Two things I can easily forget when life shit is hitting my fan. Because, like you said, there will always be fans. There will always be shit. And there will be derailment when the brain does it's brain thing. Telling stories. Digging up memories. Dreaming up scenarios. Asking questions for which there are no answers.

However, remembering, when I can remember, to just feel what I'm feeling, in my body, with my breathing, I'm reminded of my unlimited nature and ability to hold all of my life. Even when it isn't unfolding the way I had imagined, planned or dreamed. While staying connected to myself. Just as I am. Right here. Right now.

Standing, grounded, in my amazing ordinary human being-ness. Living the ups and downs of my ordinary life. Where there is messiness and chaos. Where, at times, everything, including myself, feels foreign and broken and lost. Where I have the opportunity to find, in the midst of what is challenging and hard, a clear alive spacious peaceful here-ness living deep inside of me. That holds all of what ebbs and flows in me.

That's what's possible when my - your -our heart breaks open. And happened to you, with Tilak, as you let go of him.

I love you, Steph! For living from the vast territory of your broken-heart. For sharing the challenges and wonders of living that way with me and bringing it to the work we do together. This quote made me think of you.

"The heart that breaks open can hold the whole universe.
Your heart is that large. Trust it. Keep breathing."

- Joanna Macy


Love,
Sarah

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Taste of The Walkabout

For the next couple of weeks Sarah Oblinger and I would like to give you a taste of what happens in our collaborative offering, The Walkabout – an online journey of wandering back to yourself – Information found right HERE
In The Walkabout, Sarah and I write to each other about our lives and our process and include writing prompts and creative nudges for those walking the journey with us. So, for the next two weeks, we’d like to give you a peek into our sacred journey and share with you what we’ve been writing about. (This week is my letter to Sarah and next week I’ll post her response.) 
Love, Steph
PS - Our correspondence is not always this heavy, however this is the crux of our offering - staying with yourself as you navigate your life, EVEN the heavy parts. And try as we might to avoid the weight, there will always be heavy times.

PART I – Grief, Masterpiece Theater and Staying The Course




Good Morning Sarah,

Well, in keeping with last month’s feelings about the fragility of life and meeting life at my own pace….the Universe seems to be holding my toes to the sacred fire and has sent me a pop quiz.

Thursday I had to say good-bye to one of my furry family members. My boy cat, Tilak was part of the”holy trinity” of animal companions that has helped to keep me sane and grounded for the past 17 years. The hole he has left in my heart is deep and I am grieving.

It is amazing the love I have for animals. They are so full of life and LOVE and present moment awareness……and when they leave me, I truly miss their presence.

Something struck me hard on Thursday at the Vet, as I held him for the last time. I realized I had been in similar positions with many other feline companions. But this one was different. THIS time, I was really there. I was there and awake and F**K, it was so freaking painful. I wasn’t checking out and numb to it. I was feeling every beat of his heart and his breath and smelling his fur (he always smelled really good – like graham crackers) and when they injected him with the medicine to end his suffering, I felt all of it stop as he gracefully collapsed in my arms. WOW.

So, it’s been a hard few days. I almost forgot to write you today. I am grieving. And I am okay. 

I am also learning what I need in times like this. What my heart needs and what my body needs (with all of what ails her right now). It would seem I need to greatly calm my brain. I realize when I am fully present to my feelings they will pass through pretty quickly. It’s when my stories and memories kick in that keeps me in pain. 

So, I have been consciously distracting myself. My brain does her brain thing and plays my memories of Tilak like a slide show. Sometimes I give in and start watching (here come the tears). And other times, I feel the pain in my heart, I paint it or scribble it, and I move on to what is next.

ALSO….(you guessed it) Netflix. HA. On Thursday when I literally could not stop crying, I finally had to get some relief and so I consciously numbed out to a long PBS Masterpiece Theater series, set in  1700’s England. Not too emotional. Not too anything except beautiful accents and scenery. AHHHH. Just what I needed. I stopped crying and was able to make myself a protein shake!

I feel like these moments, right here, when the shit hits the fan (and there is always shit and some sort of fan) is why we do this work. 

Not only do I live in a more present and engaged way (which yes is sometimes much more painful) I know myself  SO much better now. What do I NEED to heal? WHAT truly nourishes me? Questions only I can answer and I feel like I am doing a pretty good job of it! (please remind me of this when I am feeling otherwise, as I know I will.)

Thank you again Sarah.

I love You

Steph

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Falling In Love With My Inner Fat Girl


Almost as long as I can remember I have fought with my body and how she looks. As a child, I was pudgy and had buck teeth. By third grade, I had glasses. OH and let's not forget the curly red hair.

Even now certain memories still stick out in my mind:

 In grade school - at my first concert - the girls I was with all got to take turns riding the shoulders of the mom who chaperoned us. When it got to be my turn, she tried lifting me and couldn't and then let me know I was too heavy - this was the first time I really felt shame about my body.

Then there was the time in high school, with my first real boyfriend. He broke up with me because "I was too big for him." He actually told me he wanted someone with a better body (I was a size 7). I have to give him kudos for his honesty.

 I can still recall the reactive diet that followed. I remember going to a convenience store for lunch and eating a single sized bag of chips and a diet soda. I can remember how good it felt to deprive my body of things. She was getting me into this trouble....and she would pay. I would show her who was boss.....I WAS IN CONTROL.

This cycle of excessive dieting allowed me relief and was my constant companion for decades. I'd lose some weight, feel in control and then start eating whatever I wanted again - until I was triggered in some way.

Throughout the years, I've also had my teeth fixed, started wearing contacts and learned to straighten my hair.- adopting even more ways to fit in, be pretty and keep the possibility of shame and embarrassment to a minimum .

Thankfully, things have slowly been changing. I've been on a mission to figure out what foods are best for my body and will help me to manage my arthritis and pain. I've started to see food as something with healing properties, not as a vehicle for punishment or reward. I am learning to listen to my body, and ask her what she wants. And I am learning to be okay with my body size. I've also realized how much energy I have spent trying to keep an image of myself together that isn't real.

Right now, I am dealing with chronic pain, a slowing metabolism and the inability to exercise as I would like. ALL I care about it feeling as good as possible and living as much of my life as fully as I can. I know I have gained weight and I know I am doing the best that I can. This is why, when I received an automated email from my last doctor's visit letting me know that my BMI was now in the overweight status, I didn't totally freak out.

Don't get me wrong, I tried.... for a few minutes. I started thinking about drastic diets and how to lose some weight fast. I started to think about what a bad deal this all was.....and then I stopped. I just STOPPED. I had painting class that morning, and I focused on that. I started painting my body, as realistically as I could. I painted my fat folds, my uneven teeth, my thick black glasses and my curly hair up in a bun on top of my head.

As I painted, I fell totally in love and adorned the plump little creature with flowering vines. Her face revealed a relieved and enlightened grin and that widened my heart even more.When I had negative thoughts in my head, I allowed them to show up on the page as well. And when the painting was finished, I felt a little sad. The experience I had with her, was deeply personal and transforming and it was hard to say good-bye.

I knew when I was finished I would have to share this story. She is beautiful. I am beautiful. I see that now. This painting process is a powerful agent of change and is allowing me to become more of myself every day. It feels less scary to get real. I don't find myself needing quite as many layers of protection around me...and I feel like I am living my truth, from the inside out.