I haven’t posted much in awhile. I could blame it on being a single mother but that is only partly true. It would be more accurate to say I’ve been going through some bullshit for the better part of the last several years and my desire to share my personal journey through these shadowy times was just not there. So I stopped writing here and also on my professional blog. It’s been almost a year since I was able to leave a very bad situation & this entire year has been dedicated to rest, recuperation and reclaiming me.
As part of this process, I recently had the chance to work with Thinn Aung, a Central Florida therapist, who is pioneering a unique practice with her photographer husband, Chris Court, to transmute emotions through embodied imagery….well, at least that’s my take on it. She calls is Soul Exposure Photo Therapy, and my experience is that it is a transformative fast track to freedom.
The morning of the session, my Alice-esque apron caught my eye. My favorite red cardigan and heels, last worn during a sinister set-up where six men conspired to swindle me (say that six times fast), caught my eye. My frilly pink slip was plucked from it’s hanger. The rabbit mask hopped into my daughters wicker basket. It was not pre-meditated, this costume. I had only told Thinn that I wanted to smash some teacups to smithereens, but this symbol rich ensemble didn’t come together until that morning.
My destination was the Johnson Manor, a sacred place where I have taken part in many ceremonies. On the ride over, I had visions of smashing teacups on a stump. As I met with Thinn and her husband Chris, the photographer, we took a brief survey of the property and honed in immediately on the massive woodpile. An ax had to be close at hand.
To cope from childhood antagonizers, I learned to shrink, retreat & quickly numb my emotions in the face of daily abuse. My survival mechanism was to appear fine to prove to them and myself that I was kind and good and not worthy of this treatment or a threat to them. I also completely disassociated from any of my own rage at being treated like this because I associated anger with hate. I wanted to be loved and loving. I did not want to turn on others the way I was turned on, instead I channeled my sense of injustice to doing what I could to create a fair and just world where I had influence.
As a child, there was no way to leave this situation. In adulthood, circumstances made it almost impossible to extract myself from a basic repeat of my childhood experience. I was conditioned to endure toxic situations. As a kid, I compartmentalized my worlds – outside of this environment I felt free & expansive and appeared happy to others, yet I wet my bed until I was twelve, I frequently fainted from low blood sugar during long, emotionally abusive tirades and slept a lot due to depression. My confidence, intelligence and creativity were encouraged in one sphere, but mis-characterized as egotistical, vain, fake, dramatic, lazy and crazy in the other.
That ax is heavier than it looks. As I struggled to stand on my own two feet – heels digging into the soft forest path – I commented that the ax was designed for man hands. Thinn and I had sat together to access some of the emotions needing release that we had discovered in an hour long therapy session prior to this day. I had a bitter lump in my solar plexus that was sandwiched between gut level anger (although probably more accurately fury) and a heart filled with sadness.
Standing with that ax, allowing myself to look unkind, unfriendly and totally owning my suppressed emotions so as to not hurt others…. this exercise allowed me to embody all of it without dumping it on anyone else. A healthy capture & release. You are only the monster when you unleash this beast on another. Owning our “darker” feelings and expressing them in a healthy manner is the call of our time. Otherwise, if we manage to avoid abusing others with our torrential emotions, we end up abusing ourselves inside.
There is always a third and better option. It matters how we do things. Feel it to heal it. Be it to free it. Express it to unmess it. Expose it to depose it.
The entire process of taking these photos was a trip. From handling a too-heavy ax while wearing heels to standing in a very…cocky…. “man pose” like the one above. Unapologetically looking life in it’s face. Maybe I’m dangerous. Maybe I’m just out chopping wood. Either way, I am definitely not one to trifle with, even when the weight of the burden seems too big for me.
That felt fucking fantastic.
Several weeks ago I posted ONE of these photos on my private facebook page. The response I got was incredible. I’ve known the power of images to move and heal an entire community based on the reaction to Maya’s Birth images, which have served me a million times reminding me I can do hard things with grace and ease. Still, I was not prepared for the deep chord this image, offered without much explanation, struck in so many people. I got several private messages like this one:
Your images moved me deeply. I am in the hardest transition of my life. Trying to get myself the last push and move out away from ex so I can be free. I’ve had to be so strong I haven’t been able to cry. I started group therapy and thought I’d be able to cry there and I still couldn’t. But seeing you let out that rage and feel your sadness and be reborn really shook me up in a very good way. Thank you for sharing so freely with your open heart! – Anonymous (shared with permission)
When one of us heals, it gives permission for the rest of us. My session was not just about being furious at those individuals who were not strong enough to “do no harm” but at the injustices that happen in small and large ways and that we, the people, (not “them out there”) are responsible for so much of it. I also see how deeply wounded and conditioned we are as a society, so I also know there is no blame or shame. Inside of all that fury was deep sadness that I hadn’t been able to notice, distracted as I was my the anger.
There is a deep grief hiding inside anger, which seems to be flaring nationwide. As I watch what is playing out in current events, I know that ultimately this is a positive thing. Suppressing emotions doesn’t do anything but create a bottleneck – a pressure valve that will one day burst. How I wish we had more ways to express our emotions through constructive avenues, how I wish we had more cultural competence with navigating the full range of emotions. How I wish we were encouraged to creatively express ourselves through art, music and “Soul Exposure” instead of turning ON one another, puking our more intense emotions onto other people with a vengeance, trying to annihilate someone with our words or actions.
I love the photo above. After the cups have been smashed to delightful smithereens, after the tears have been shed, it’s that moment of realization….I’ve come through this wave… I’ve survived it, I’ve expressed it to it’s fullest and now…..
Free to just be.
There are more photos in this Soul Exposure set, as well as gorgeous shots of some of Thinn’s other clients who are willing to share their images. She also does group sessions. Obviously, I highly recommend her work.
Acknowledgements: To those who tried to knock me down, you had no idea that you were actually activating me to a higher power and purpose. For that unconscious outcome, I am grateful for the experiences. I want to thank Kelli & Coyote for the use of their healing space for this process. I am beyond grateful for my dear friends Amber & Bridget for supporting me through my angriest & ugliest moments last year. Holy fuck, y’all are true friends. For my lover, who acknowledges my right to be angry and stands with me there. For my little girl, who gets some of the residue …. I hope I’m teaching you resilience! And for all of my people who have loved the shit out of me, especially my oldest and dearest who invited me to crash vacations last summer so I could breath and be. And Kali, of course, I would never forget to thank Kali for this brutiful awakening. I can see clearly now.