I have to apologize again for the weird week. This is not a usual occurrence for me to get sucked into a quilt so completely I leave the world behind. But this needed to happen, so please bear with me as I share the experience and the revelations that have come to me over the last two days.
Of course, I need to start with another warning that I will discuss things in this post you may not want to know, particularly issues with my mother, verbal abuse, and finally finding the turning point to my life.
On Tuesday I spent most of the day preparing the pattern pieces for Sinkhole. This quilt really is a two step process - first prepare a double layered, thick piece of freezer paper, mark the individual pieces on top and cut it out.
The second step is to iron the freezer paper onto the fabric, turn the raw, outer edge using spray starch against the edge of the freezer paper, then layer the new piece with the others.
This is a highly modified version of Sharon Shamber's Piecelique technique, but instead of popping open the pieces and seaming them together, I've just been removing the freezer paper and machine appliqueing over the top to secure the layers together.
So Tuesday was largely spent drawing and cutting, and of course thinking.
It's easy to think while doing rather mindless tasks like tracing shapes and cutting them out carefully. I didn't try to distract my brain with an audiobook or even music and simply allowed my mind to wander freely, dealing with the thoughts and issues that surfaced.
Since my son was born in 2007, I have made enormous leaps in understanding, not just about myself, but also the people around me. I guess you could say I've become a student of psychology because the books that fascinate me the most are the ones that explain WHY we act the way we do in certain situations.
For years I've sought understanding of not just why my parents were bad parents (the endless cycles of abuse and dysfunction, depression, and alcoholism were probably the most significant reasons), but also why I would sometimes take their behavior (anger and verbal abuse) to the playground with me.
Even into my early 20s, I didn't understand why I would be fine 90% of the time, but then, very rarely, I would lash out at another child or friend in the exact same manner my mother or sisters would at me. I could never fully understand my actions as a child, and often assumed that I was intrinsically very bad, selfish, and even evil.
Even as an adult, certain episodes stick out in my mind like flashing lights because my behavior was so completely different from who I was. I could never make sense of how I could suddenly mutate into that terrible person, and for most of my life this colored my self image of being intrinsically bad, defective, potentially dangerous, and absolutely unworthy of love.
What I've come to realize now is that this was an absolutely normal reaction to be the lowest member of a dysfunctional family. In "Playful Parenting" by Lawrence Cohen I learned families have a hierarchical system where abuse, feelings of powerlessness, and isolation trickles down.
Basically this explains why my mom would get home from a long day at work, tired and irritated, and take out her frustration by criticizing my dad. My dad would in turn retreat into silence, only speaking to yell at my oldest sister to shut up, even though she wasn't being that loud.
My oldest sister would then roll that hurt down to my middle sister by hitting or verbally abusing her and then my middle sister would roll it down to me with a similar action.
So as the youngest of three girls, I had no one to take my aggression out on, so I would take it with me to school. That I was able to bottle up this hurt for years between periods of lashing out now makes me see that I was the very opposite of a bad person. Instead of releasing all that pent up negative energy daily, I would store it inside until it reached the absolute boiling point.
Stored up, this negativity slowly ate away at my self esteem and sense of self worth, until by the time I was 12, I truly believed I was an ugly, terrible person, totally unworthy of love or compassion.
So extreme was this conviction that I felt a near splitting of my identity. I was divided into my mental self - the person inside my body which was intrinsically bad and ugly and my physical body which was obviously pretty, talented, and smart.
When designing Shadow Self, the Yin Yang over the goddess symbolizes both the darker side of my mind and this duality of self. By creating that quilt, I began to chip away at my personal divide and find the answers that would explain my childhood behavior in a different light.
But there were still large issues left to work through after Shadow Self. I knew, even halfway through that quilt, that I would need to create another, specifically on the issues I've had my entire life with my mother.
For years I've tried to understand my mother, to put her words and actions into a context that would make them make sense or even sane. Coming from a background of abuse, neglect, and alcoholism, I now believe my mother has been a closet alcoholic and severely depressed for most of my childhood.
This knowledge helps in a very small way to explain how verbally abusive and destructive she was. The house I grew up in was tainted with her negative, angry energy. She was critical of everything and everyone, but did nothing, absolutely nothing, to change the situations she didn't like.
At an early age I found that the easiest place to be was out of sight, out from under her radar, so I wouldn't be a target for her endless complaints and criticisms. From the age of three, I can remember playing for hours each day behind a chair because that was the only place in our small house that I could have all to myself.
What is awful to realize now is that my love for all things creative: knitting, crochet, beadwork, sewing, and, of course, quilting, came to me as a reaction to her abuse. I found ways to "go away" in my mind through these activities so I would not have to listen to my mother complain. It was the only way I could relax and find peace in that house.
When I realized this on Tuesday, that my talent - the way my hands work, how well I can cut following a line, how small my hand stitches are - these are all abilities I have because my mother was abusive, I literally screamed in rage at her.
In the book "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell explores the true source of talent. We all like to think people are born particularly talented, that world famous musicians like the Beatles became world famous because they were intrinsically different from everyone else. Like there is a special gene just for talented people.
But this is not actually true. The Beatles became the Beatles because they had the opportunity to preform more than any other band at the time, amassing more than 10,000 hours of performance time before they even became popular.
The same is true for world class soloists. What sets one music student apart from another is not intrinsic skill, it's the number of hours they spend practicing each day from the time they start playing the instrument at 7 years old until they're 20.
There's a big difference between the kid that practices 5 hours a week verses the kid that practices 15 hours, and that difference compounds until, at the age of 20, the professional musicians are always the kids who amassed 10,000 hours of practice time through their childhood.
I'm the kid with 10,000 hours of crafty play under her belt.
While I certainly wasn't free motion quilting at 5 years old, I believe the general skills I developed, and mostly especially the fine tuned control I have over my hands and fingers, most definitely affect how quickly I was able to pick up quilting at 21.
It just really sucks that my skill is largely a product of my rotten childhood and abusive mother.
This realization has hit me like a ton of bricks in the face. It makes me angry and it also makes me feel that my talent is somehow tainted, somehow twisted because of its origin.
But the more I think about it, and through yesterday I did almost nothing but think about it, the more I realize that this is the one, single positive thing I have from my childhood.
When I was cutting paper, stitching, or sewing, I was able to find peace in house full of negative energy. I was able to find a place of quiet and solitude even when people were yelling.
I was even able to produce beautiful things - origami boxes, knitted socks, crocheted sweaters, beaded jewelry and tailored garments. While impossible to counteract the blows to my self esteem and image that I received on a daily basis, I now believe that these small items, produced by my hands, gave me hope.
Hope that one day those beautiful things would carry me away from all that ugliness. Hope that I would one day have a home full of positive energy, smiles, and laughter.
Hope that I would have the strength to overcome the limitations of my childhood, put the past where the past belongs, and raise my child outside of the endless cycle of dysfunction and abuse.
Before piecing Sinkhole, I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff. To jump off the cliff and dive into Sinkhole was to stir everything up, to rip through years of politeness, to explore and finally make decisions about my life and who was invited to be a part of it.
I stood at the edge of this cliff and avoided thinking about it through August and September until it just couldn't wait anymore. I had to jump off and just hope that I would land on two feet.
And I have.
I have landed on two feet with a better understanding of myself: of who I am, who I was, and now a complete acceptance of both.
It's not that I'm no longer the little girl behind the chair because she will always be a part of me. Instead I'm the adult that has forgiven her for her weakness, surrounded her with love, and brought her out into the light of day.
Looking into the depths of Sinkhole, I see where I have been in my life, the rings of dysfunction and abuse I have overcome. I feel strong enough to move mountains, smart enough to have confidence in myself and my abilities, and courageous enough to confront any and all obstacles head on.
One such obstacle is still my mother. Over the last year her anger and depression have escalated until even my dad could no longer take it. She left him only after he made it clear he was no longer willing to endure her endless complaints.
I really wish there was a way to help her and I have tried for many years at the expense of myself and my family to make her happy.
But now I know with absolute certainty that people will not change unless they want to. I cannot make her happy, any more than I can go back and change her childhood or mine. She has made the decision to be mean, spiteful, and selfish, and I refuse to continue this cycle of abuse.
I have made the decision to cut off my mother completely. It may be hard to see what a positive decision this is. Many people have very positive relationships with their mothers, or are able to find it eventually as an adult.
For me, though, I now know that 90% of my negative voice was her voice, insidiously cutting me down and destroying my self esteem. In our last telephone conversation, my mother openly questioned my ability as a business owner, fueling my anxiety about Josh and me working together full time.
I simply do not want or need this type of person in my life. Being a mother does not grant a person a lifelong "get out of jail free" card.
She would say over and over during my childhood that "It will all even out" as an excuse for her behavior. As if at some golden moment in time every unfair, unjustified action would be suddenly made right.
I realize now that life will not "even out" on its own. We must choose, and choose, and choose to right the wrongs that have been done to us, to say "no!" to the labels that have been applied to us, and to find the different paths, out of the cycle of abuse and dysfunction, even if this is harder and more painful than simply maintaining the status quo.
The status quo would tell me that I'm being horrible and selfish to make this decision, that it is an unthinkable choice to cut off one's mother, even if she is a hurtful person who sucks the very joy out of life.
But this is MY choice and just like I'm free to choose what I eat for dinner tonight, what clothes I wear in the morning, and what quilt I work on this afternoon, I am also absolutely free to decide who is allowed in my life, who is allowed to know me, to be close to me, and ultimately who I will be willing to allow to hurt me.
People hurt one another; it's as simple and uncomplicated as that, but I've decided that my mother's brand of hurt is no longer something I will endure for even a moment longer.
This is me evening my life out. This is my turning point.
That I am still sad and angry is no surprise to me. These feelings are strong emotions and I'm finally allowing myself to feel them fully and allow them to pass naturally. I've stopped constantly yelling at myself to "Get over it already! Just grow up!" because that obviously doesn't work.
Feelings are strong because they need to be FELT, and I'm allowing myself to feel fully until the feeling passes. Even this morning I woke up feeling more content and stable than I had in years because I'd finally made the decision I'd been avoiding for so long.
And this is not the end of Sinkhole. To finish this quilt, it must be layered and quilted.
I've already decided how I will quilt this quilt using a design I will share in a few weeks. To describe it simply, I'm going to fill every dark ring with the darkest, most hateful words that have ever hurt me. By quilting them in, I believe I will be quilting them out of my body and mind.
On the lighter rings I'm going to quilt every positive, truthful phrase I can think of to counteract the dark. I want to heal all that darkness with positive, loving words.
I believe words are an extremely powerful thing. They have the power to hurt, to humble, to crush, and destroy. But words can also heal, empower, uplift, and enlighten.
Now the hardest part will just be picking the right thread colors!
Let's go quilt,