The Free Motion Quilting Project: Emergence: Part 5 - Unshackled

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Emergence: Part 5 - Unshackled

If you're a follower on Facebook, then you've already gotten a heads up that I've been spending the last week blasting through Emergence like a freight train. Basically I took a hard look at that quilt and decided it MUST be finished THIS year.

I'm a bit weird with this, and yes, this will be a weird post, and with the holidays coming up and family stuff on the rise and emotions probably running high, you might not want to read it, particularly if you have a wonderful family, and lovely sisters who treat you great, and you have absolutely no understanding of sibling abuse. This is definitely not the post for you.

So instead feel free to click over to design posts and have fun watching videos instead.

For those of you that are sticking around, I'll treat you with a pic of how Emergence is looking after 3 days straight of 6 hours or more of quilting:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
free motion quilting | Leah Day(sorry the photo is pieced together this way! She's very difficult to photograph)

I'm honestly surprised I was able to blast through this so quickly. Had I known I was only 3 days away from getting through these sections I would have done it months ago.

But then again, maybe not. This has been a very weird year and I have to say I'll be very glad when it's over. 2011 has been hard and I would like to stitch out most of my feelings, now that I'm finally starting to understand them, before the year switches over. Silly? Maybe, but at least I have a deadline now which means this quilt won't sit on the wall unfinished for the next 6 months!

As of right now the top is entirely quilted. Is it done? No. Definitely not.

For one thing the sun is all wrong. I realized this after designing it, but it was too late to sketch something in on the quilt itself. The sun needs to be a big impact area, but I only designed a simple oval shape at the top.

So for the last two months I've agonized over what to do in this area. What should go here? How should I change it? How can I make it work and balance with the bright tear in the center? Doesn't this goddess need hair? How do I attach the hair? What if it messes up the back of the quilt?

All these unanswered questions just created a lot of stress and tension, which just makes me hate working on it. Quite simply - I was afraid of this quilt. I was afraid of messing it up, of ruining it, and ultimately it not living up to what I wanted it to look like.

Emergence has always been an important quilt. From the time I first sketched the goddess, I knew this would be a really pivotal quilt, but it was only after burning sinkhole and connecting the second half of the image that it really came together.

What it represents, quite simply, is the process of emerging from a dark past, of coming out of the darkness and gray area and into the light.

This is even more symbolic because my maiden name happens to be Gray and my married name is Day. You can't really get more straight forward than that! I'm emerging from the memories of my childhood when my name was Leah Gray.

But emerging from memories is not an easy thing as I've found this year. The main reason 2011 has been difficult is because the first half of the year I lived in terror of having to deal with the three women of my family: my mother, my older sister, and my middle sister.

Well, terror isn't exactly the right word for it...more like I was constantly anxious about a confrontation. I had indicated clearly that I wanted no contact, but when have they ever listened or done what I wanted? Never. Why should I expect my wishes to be granted or respected now?

Mostly I've felt paralyzed about writing or talking openly about these feelings because, logically, that could instigate a confrontation.

Finally October rolled around with my birthday and...dum dum dum....the dreaded phone call came and....I ignored it. Simple as that. All year, practically 10 months spent worrying about something, and when it finally happened, it was really not a big deal at all.

Quite simply: I realized suddenly that I am an adult and I don't have to pick up that phone, I don't have to listen, I don't have to respond at all. All my life I've been reacting and reacting and reacting. For once, I simply didn't react.

That experience taught me that continually worrying about something is a huge waste of time. I feel like I've largely stalled out this year, both with my personal development and my quilting, and I largely blame this nagging worry and anxiety. It's simply hard to create or move or change when you're stuck in the mud with worry.

So this is me getting unstuck, unshackled, unbound, unfettered, free and emerging.

And the very first thing I need to do is break this pattern of silence. I'm learning more and more that silence is a hallmark of dysfunctional families. We could rage at one another at home, but if we dared bring a fight into public, the fire storm would reign.

In many situations the only time we were punished was because a fight was witnessed by others, not because of the fight itself. We were allowed to hit, kick, pull hair, and verbally abuse with pretty much no limitation (at least we never drew blood). The only resistance my mother ever put up was to say "Girls, get along."

For this reason, I'm going tell you about my sisters and why I never want to see or speak to them again.

Quite simply, I'm afraid to. The last time I saw my middle sister we ended up in a hair pulling fist fight. We were 24 and 26 years old. Had we both had weapons or even a sharp object to hand, I don't know what could have happened.

I know this sounds crazy. Why would two adult girls still feel the need to fight with one another? Why couldn't we talk it out and explain our feelings like adults?

I've thought about this a lot while quilting Emergence and finally decided that there really isn't a single answer.

Part of the fault lies in me. Growing up, my role in the household was that of a typical youngest child - I was the peacemaker and the resident doormat. I hated fighting and raised voices. I really hated getting in trouble and being spanked so I made an effort to stay out of sight by playing behind a large chair.

But that changed when I reached college, and especially changed when I married Josh. Suddenly I was no longer so easy-going. I was no longer the peacemaker and if you tried to walk all over me, you'd be much more likely to get a twisted ankle. Essentially, I changed a long running and deeply ingrained family dynamic, and almost immediately things started to get tense.

In my early twenties, I really didn't understand how dangerous (or dysfunctional, or weird) our physical confrontations were. I didn't see then that small spats, passive aggressive behavior, and a total lack of respect were characteristic of abusive families.

In movies you always see big burly men as the bad guys that beat their wives. In my house it was my mother that would start the abuse and my sisters that passed it around. I reached a point in my early twenties when I realized that I didn't have to take it anymore.

But the other reason we fought like cats as adults is because of the long standing competition that has raged between me and my sisters probably since the day I was born. At any point in time, based on how mom talked about each of us, you could tell where you stood in the scheme of things.

I'm not exactly sure why this was. Overwhelmingly I look back to my childhood and feel a totally lack of love. It was like a void, like someone had stuck a vacuum to the house and sucked the love right out of it. There just wasn't enough to go around. This was exacerbated by the fact that mom began telling us around the time I turned 12 that she "had nothing left to give."

For a long time I felt that I would never be capable of loving myself simply because my mother didn't love me and didn't want me. After having James, I know that my mother did love me, but I also know she had serious issues with expressing it in a healthy way. Over the last year especially I've had to reprogram my mind to view love as a continual energy stream (like the sun), not as a glass of liquid, that once depleted can never be full again.

I know I was never taught to love, respect, or even like my sisters. On no occasion was I encouraged to "hug and make up." I can remember being around 7 or 8 and watching an episode of Ramona on TV where the parents have a fight and the sisters get in bed together to comfort one another because they're scared their parents are going to get divorced.

I remember watching that episode and thinking "Why have I never wanted to do that?" Probably because they'd kick me right back out of their bed, then make fun of me for a week for showing weakness.

Weakness, sadness, anger - these are normal emotions felt by everyone, but in my house growing up, I wasn't really allowed to show this. From the age of 4, my oldest sister, who was 8 at the time, took care of my middle sister and I while mom was at work and my dad slept (he worked 3rd shift). The general idea was if we caught the house on fire or hurt one another seriously, Dad was still in the house and could take care of it.

But my parents never knew what my sisters did while they were at work or asleep. My oldest sister got the most attention from our mom by cleaning and pretending to be a good mom, so she would stage cleaning "games" were we were each assigned a room to clean.

In order to go play like a normal kid, she would inspect the room you cleaned and it was never right. Hours would go by until I grew so frustrated I quit working, and then she'd punch and pull hair until I got back to the task. To this day, I refuse to clean the bathroom.

When asked about this behavior when I was much older, my mother would laugh and say "Oh, Leah, you had 3 mothers!" No, I didn't. I had 1 mother who didn't really care what was going on, and I had 2 tyrant sisters who drove me crazy.

And behind the scenes of everything was our constant competition. We competed in school - who has the best grades? We competed with friends - who is the most popular?

Eventually I think we stopped competing for mom's attention and just challenged one another because that was just the established thing we did.

And by middle school we were competing with boyfriends, which needless to say is a very stupid (and dangerous) thing to compete with. I can remember my middle sister once boasting that she had 27 boyfriends in 6th grade, and by the time I reached 5th grade, I was already being continually teased by both of them for being "square."

The truly ironic thing is that my oldest sister who was 4 years older than me didn't get her first kiss until high school! The hypocrite made me feel so ugly and unwanted that the pressure to find and guy and make myself not "square" was overwhelming.

It's only recently that I've linked up a whole host of experiences through middle school and high school when I made decisions just to fair better in our competition.

As adults, I "won" for several years just for giving birth to James. The first grandbaby is quite a winning commodity apparently, and it was around that time I started to notice it shifting to our new families. If our relationships had continued, it would have become a competition over how our husbands looked and how our kids behaved. Who has the biggest house in the coolest city?

It's all so pathetic and stupid that I often find myself laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. Why compete if there is absolutely no defined goal? No one will ever "win" for good because it's a constantly changing battlefield.

Finally, the last reason I don't think a relationship with my oldest sister will ever be healthy is because she doesn't respect me or treat me like a separate person. This might sound crazy, but it's typical of extremely narcissistic people.

My oldest sister would enjoy giving me her old clothes, but then every time I wore them she would ask "Is that my shirt? Take it off, I want to wear it." or "Is that my shirt? Make sure not to goodwill it when you're sick of it, I want it back." Essentially she could, at any time, literally demand the shirt off my back.

She would often come to holiday gatherings and play with my son and talk to my in laws as though it was her house, not mine. It's like she felt she could borrow my family whenever it suited her, and all the while she would passive aggressively criticize my clothes, my hair, my house, or whatever else didn't fit her idea of perfection.

I still largely hear her voice sound off in my head whenever I consider leaving the house in something weird. "What will people think if you wear that? You need to change!"

No, I never needed to change because no one ever thought anything. It was always what she felt and thought and always assumed it reflected on her. The sad fact is that my oldest sister has never learned that the only person she can control is herself. She had, for the better part of 15 years, two smaller versions of herself always ready to do her bidding, and she had our mother's support for her abuse. I seriously feel sorry for whoever is unlucky enough to marry her.

Reading through all this, you might run away with the idea that I was an angel. I wasn't. I gave as good as I got on many occasions, and pulled large amounts of hair, and I would often take what I'd learned from my sisters at home and hurt other kids at school with it. For a very long time the shame and regret of my actions stopped me from moving forward, stopped me from loving myself in any way.

But understanding is the key. I understand now where certain feelings and actions came from. I still have regrets, but I no longer hate myself with the self loathing I felt a year ago. I have too much understanding and compassion for myself now.

And it is precisely that understanding and compassion that allow me to make the decision to never see my sisters again. Why see someone that just makes you crazy? Why talk to someone that only cuts you down in passive aggressive ways that dig deep under your skin? Why bother?

I once went to a lecture with Sherman Alexie, a wonderful Native American writer, and he said something to this effect:
"You white people, you're always afraid! You're afraid of the black man and the red man and any stranger on the street, but guess what? There are about 700 people in here, 3 to 8 of you will be killed by one of your family members."
I don't think I need to test Sherman's theory. I'd rather just walk away and mind my own business and live my life and be done with the riffraff of my past.

So that is what Emergence is about. The rings of gray in my past, the tear, which I might explain more next year, and the goddess emerging to bright, colorful freedom.

There's still a lot to do on this quilt. A sun to create, threads to couch, hair to attach. But overwhelmingly this has been a freeing experience. I have broken a silence that has lasted for 28 years and shared with you the truth of who my sisters are. No matter what happens next with this quilt, I've learned the most important lesson of all: the truth always sets you free.

Let's go quilt,



  1. WAY TO GO LEAH! Well said and so so true!!! It is a hard thing to say to a family member you are terrified of, "Don't talk to me anymore" but then peace does come in some weird way. I was about your age when I did the same thing and the world DID NOT end:)
    You are in my thoughts as you continue to grow.

  2. You are doing a fantastic job on the quilt too. I am awed by your ability to bring so much meaning to your art!!

  3. Wow, what an amazing post, you're so fearless to share this.

  4. Sounds like you've done a great deal of ruthless self-examination. Family dynamics are our foundation in life and I'm sorry your's was as riddled with holes as it was. But the first step in being able to love is to tell the truth and it looks like that's what you're doing.
    Often, it's not our biological family that ends up being our real family in life, but rather it's the friends who truly listen and love us for who we are.

  5. Leah, thank you for sharing your story so openly. I have huge respect for all the effort and pain it must have taken to get to the point you now are. Your quilts are masterpieces because you have invested your fears hopes and dreams in them. I wish you a joyful reblossoming in the new year!

  6. Thank you very much for sharing your journey. I know myself that "family of origian" is not synonymous with "love and happiness". I am glad you've found peace and love and healing with your new family, and are experiencing the serenity that comes with knowing what to let go of.

  7. Leah, I don't know you but I am so proud of you! You are one exceptional human being. Getting it out in the open has likely been such a healing experience for you. Enjoy your new family. Live, Love and Grow!

  8. I am so sorry you grew up in that environment but so happy you have your wonderful husband and cute little boy and a much better life now. You can make sure he grows up in a better world than you did. Congratulations on seeing and changing your life to make it better for all of you and let go of the past. Merry Christmas to you all.

  9. What a courageous post!!!! You have to do what's best for you and your son and husband. You have encouraged me to investigate some feelings I've been dealing with. Thanks

  10. It is an amazing symbol of your progress.

  11. Hi Leah. The quilt is looking amazing. Thank you for having the courage to share your story. Have a wonderful Christmas. C x

  12. Glad you are breaking the silence, and that you feel able to do so. What a burden to let go! I recently made the decision to cut off contact with my dad because he always wants to preach to me about what "right" behavior is like, then talk bad about everyone he ever comes into contact with. It just starts to wear you down, you know? His anger probably stems from his relationship with his own father, but I'm not going to let that be my problem anymore. Of course, I got diagnosed with cancer about a month after making this decision, so he just thinks I'm in hiding right now. I know this should frustrate me, but frankly, I don't care as long as he leaves me alone. I'm tired of all the negativity, and like you, I choose not to be the reactor every time he wants to bitch and moan about how the world treats him.

  13. Hi Leah,
    My childhood wasn't always rosy, I was a difficult first child to two very young parents but we all got through it and we're all still talking lol. I have a wonderful husband and three adorable sons that mean everything to me.
    I teach a lot of children who have similar experiences at home to the ones you are describing. I am so relieved to know that despite that all you have found your wonderful creative way of expressing yourself - and maybe some of my students will find their way, too. You give me hope, thank you so much for being so brave and sharing your story!!!!

  14. I haven't seen my three brothers for many years and don't miss them one little bit.
    I only see my sister rarely. She has recently been diagnosed with cancer, I would have felt more sorry for a complete stranger. Its been hard to come to terms with but I've realised it is her problem, not mine.
    If she had been a better human being all these years I might be more willing to help but at 52 she isn't going to change.
    I need to look after myself and only let people into my life who will enhance it, not bring pain.

    It is tough at first, but in time you will feel so much stronger for what you are doing now.

  15. Good for you.

    I am loving Emergence.

    It does get easier, year by year. I am coming up on 5 years since I made the split from my family. It is only occasionally difficult, compared to previous years.

  16. Dear Leah,
    Thank you for sharing. I am sure it will help someone else to recognize what they experience is not the normal. I thought my family was normal until I met normal ones. Despite all the damage and dysfunction and the understandable desire to not be in contact, one thing needs to be done: forgiveness. That is not excusing behavior or saying it was right at all, just saying in your head and heart I forgive- I will not hold that in account against that person. You don't have to say it to the person, just your mind and memories.God will give you strength and you will be set free from the weight of it. I know this from my life and many others as well as God's Word. You do not have to be your past- your choices can be the healthy ones, ones to bless.

  17. I am not reading the other comments, but I know in the short time I have been following your posts, I believe you are an amazing artist, and a very generous person. I don't know of any other that shares her designs and ideas so freely. YOU HAVE MUCH TO BE PROUD OF YOURSELF FOR.

  18. Leah I applaude you. You have grown so much this past year, and I can see through your writings, the beautiful woman and person you have become.

  19. Family. It is good you have realized that you do not have to do what othes think you have to, but what you know you need to. You are a survivor. And your goddess' have come from you to show you how wounderful you are.

    I understand not talking to people in your family - you do what you need to do. Thank you for having the courage to share these personal feeling. Merry Christmas.

  20. You are courageous and honest in your post. How many of us can identify with it.
    Quite honestly, I think family “love” is overrated. I’d rather be kind, considerate and polite, and receive that treatment in return.
    I left home at 17 – distance made family much easier to deal with.

  21. Leah-
    you are a very strong and accomplished young woman. i am in awe of your determination to work through your past and move forward. it is so courageous of you to share your story. your spirit shines in your work. happy holidays.

  22. Emergenc is amazing and so are you. My dysfunctional parents are dead but the craziness that was my life hangs on at 61. I'm facing the end of my life from heart disease and can't say I was ever made to feel loved or "good enough". Let it go now while you are young, run from it, replace it with love and supportive people or it will consume you until the end.

  23. Hi Leah,
    We pick our friends not our relatives. If I had a magic wand I'd cover you with shinning pixie dust to wash away your pain.

    I'm very pleased that you have freed yourself from your toxic sisters and mother. It is important to share your life with people who support you and pump you up, rather than folks who belittle and drag you down. Emergence is an absolutely gorgeous quilt..I love it exactly the way it is. Perhaps in 2012 or later make another quilt with goddess who has long flowing hair and a brilliant sun.

    You are a wonderful, caring and loving person. Leah I respect and love you. From my home to yours, I wish you Peace, Joy and Much Love this Christmas and always.

  24. The quilt looks stunning, can't wait to see it finished. Your thoughts and journey has been so profound. I hope you are keeping copies of these posts somewhere... because the internet may glitch and they may get lost - plus perhaps you might want your son to read your inner most thoughts behind life decisions, at some point.

  25. I can SO relate! Being the youngest of two siblings who hated me retarded my emotional growth. Even now as adults, being around my brother makes me feel like dirt. I admire your strength to put your foot down and not accept it any more. Way to go Leah!

  26. Hello, Leah. Your story is very sad. But look at you ! You are the strong and amazing adult now. I admire you, your skills, your accomplishments.
    I read somewhere that forgiveness is giving up the hope for the better past . Forgive your family and let it go, take care of your family and be in peace. Teach your son to love , to care, to respect. I send you love, joy and happiness

  27. Yes, Let's follow OUR certainly gives freedom....

  28. Some kinds of 'love' are dangerous and harmful. I can so relate. Congratulations on your understanding and growth. Hugs

  29. Wow so inspiring. Your mother was my mother. The only difference is that my mother started saying that stuff when my little sister was about 10... Right after I turned 18. My sister luckily still has me. I have more pictures of her than my parents, she stays at our house all the time and I am here for her whenever she needs someone to talk to or just be there, you know? I am so so sorry that you had to go through that but hopefully it has made you a better person in some way - that's all we can hope for from the negativity of others. My sister actually wrote her high school English essay this year on me as the most influential and meaningful person in her life. When she read it to me it brought tears to my eyes.

  30. Thanks for your courage Leah, in sharing this. In fact , thanks for all that you share, designs, ideas, I am always turning to your posts for inspiration. THANKYOU


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