Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reparenting Yourself: a healing strategy

As you all know by now, I was a severely abused child. I know many of you who read Sublime Mercies were also abused in childhood. Like me, many of you grew up without love and all those little things that love brings. I bet someone, somewhere along the line suggest that you "reparenting" yourself. But what is that? 

It's a fancy name for a very simple concept really: Do things for your traumatized child self that no-one did for you when you were little. I find it really does help.

Reparenting is different for every suvivor. For me, it involves things like reading children's books and watching children's movies that I liked, or would have liked, when I was a child, or having a teddy bear even though I'm over forty, or sometimes having pancakes for dinner. 

You'd be amazed at how healing these little things can be. Whether you have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) alone, or also have DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), the principle can work pretty much the same: give yourself, or your "littles", the the childhood comforts and joys that you/they deserved but never got. 

As some of you who read my blog know, I've been having a tough time adjusting to living with my partner. I'm part of a "family" now and the idea of "family" is quite triggering for me. It is bringing old traumas to the fore, and I feel more like my child self these days than I'd like. 

I didn't draw this myself but I love whatever little kid saw fit to draw it. It brightened my day.
In other words, reparenting myself is important for me right now. Incidentally, it's also important for those around me; the more at peace I am, the more peaceful it is to live with me.

One way I reparent myself is to sometimes let my child self have a hand in picking my outfits. Think about it. What's in your closet that you would have loved when you were a kid? Why not wear it today? 

Sparkly pink is almost always a winner, right? 

Add a glittery sweater, an almost lacy shirt, a skirt with flowers and a pink ribbon on it, and a 3-D flower bracelet and, well, you have one giddy, happy inner child.

How often were you happy as a child? Don't you deserve that feeling now?

T-shirt: Reitmans; Shoes: Ecco; Skirt and sweater: thrift; Handbag, bangle, earrings, and Sherman brooch: vintage; Hair clip: Stylize
And you don't have to look like a freak doing it. It's true that I do have to reign it in a bit. If you have children in your life, or remember your own childhood, you can imagine how I might look if I hadn't let my adult self have some say in this ensemble. Bows in my hair? Every single bangle I own up my arms? Sparkly wings? It could have happened. Even inner children need some adult guidance.

But you can go pretty wild without drawing too much unpleasant attention to yourself. This hairstyle isn't all that conventional but it's also not too kooky for public viewing, at least not in my neighbourhood.

Besides, what else could I do with my hair at this point? What with the stress of our move, I hadn't cut my hair for ages and it was completely out of control.

That halo of fire in the sun, though? That's not about my hair being out of control. That's about being Jewish. I've had that halo all my life. Some call it a Jewfro. I suppose I could straighten it all sleek and smooth, but why bother? I like it like this -- mostly, sometimes, depending on my mood, the level of frizz, and the weather.

But I digress. We're talking about reparenting the inner child and what she wanted me to wear that day.

When I was a child, I was always enchanted by little details that took on magical qualities to me. In a way, I guess I still am. This bracelet's "3-D" quality is mysterious to me even now. I think it was achieved by carving out the flowers from the back. Do you know the technique? I'd love to know more. 

I got these earrings in a grab bag at Value Village and knew right away that they would match my hair. Plus, I'm a total sucker for old-fashioned mill-graining in jewelry. That's those little dots or "blobs" of metal that give the earring a lacy effect. 

Mill-graining has definitely found its way onto the engagement ring that Beau and I are designing for me. (He doesn't want any on his. Fair enough.)

And what little kid hasn't gone through a period of loving to carry around little handbags? There may be some but, boy or girl, I'll bet most of you reading this did it at least for a while as a child, or wanted to anyway.

This one probably dates to the 1930s. Note the Art Deco geometry in its texture.

But the most important detail was this Sherman brooch. I actually bought it specifically for the little girl I once was. It's a bit too pink for the adult me, but the child me? Well, it's perfect, obviously. Duh!

In fact, the whole outfit was built around this brooch.

Children like pink. 

I'm not talking about that noxious pepto-bismal pink that's being forced upon all girls and denied to all boys these days. 

I'm talking about that soft, gentle pink that just naturally puts children at ease. It's pretty

There was no shortage of pink on my walk on this day.

And the particular angle of the late March, spring light made everything that much prettier. Things were positively luminous. 

Even a cement wall had a certain warmth and glow ...

... let alone things that seem to be meant to glow, like yellow walls ...

... and flowers ...

... and little ol' me?

Almost anything is beautiful in light like this.

If you live in a place full of natural beauty, all the better!

It made the squinting worth it ...

... if we got to see things like this.

It even made a little sunburn on my bare legs worth it. 

I'm crazy white and, yes, I can burn in March -- or even January if given about fifteen minutes of sunshine.

But wasn't it glorious not to have to wear tights? Air on my legs? What a lovely sensation. 

Did you have shoes like this when you were little? I always insisted on Mary-Janes for years. No ugly runners for me! (That's "trainers" to you Brits, and "sneakers" to you Americans.) No way!

The trick is to find the magic and wonder in everyday, prosaic things and events.

Wouldn't the light through this crystal, glass, and water have fascinated you when you were a child? Let it fascinate you now.

Reparent yourself.

Start with something small that both you and your child self love.

Do this even on a sad day.

It will help.  Maybe not a lot, but a little, and isn't any balm better than nothing?

It might even help you notice still more things that help you feel a bit better.

Do you like this little spot? Want to see more of it? Check out this post, about fairy tales, and Art Nouveau:
Or even a lot better.

Like sunshine itself.

It's all in how you see it.

Now it's over to you. Tell me how you reparent yourself. If you have DID, feel free to use plural pronouns, call yourself "we," use the names of your inner children and call them "she" or "he". It's all fine by me. I'd just love to hear how you help yourself (or yourselves) heal.

Maybe it will give me some ideas.

(I'm linking this up to Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet, to Second Hand First at Citizen Rosebud, and to Shoe Shine over at Ephemera.) 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Loved and Feared: Mucha's Maids and Females in Fairy Tales

As I may have mentioned once or twice, spring has been springing her for quite some time now and I'm loving it.

No matter how often I see the flower shoots coming up in late December, no matter how often we're surrounded by blooms here while my eastern friends are digging themselves out of blizzards, our early spring never stops feeling magical to me.

And this year, to add to the charm and magic, I'm in a new home and have a yard for the first time in... forever. I have no knowledge of what the previous tenants planted so each growth that springs forth from the earth or blooms out of what looked like a weed is both a mystery and a surprise to me.

Dress: Soprano ; Tights: Reitman's; Boots: Ecco; Cape: a gift; Earrings, and necklace: vintage; Right hand diamond ring: Birks; Diamond solitaire: heirloom; Barrettes: Stylize
When Beau and I take photos for Sublime Mercies, I can't help but pose in front of (and beside, and behind, and under) all these flowers, in my yard and in my neighbourhood.

By Mucha
When I came home and looked at these photos, I couldn't help but think of paintings and illustrations of late 19th and early 20th century idealized "nature girls," as exemplified in the works of Alphonse Mucha.

(In putting this post together, I tried my best to find the names of all the artists I used but I wasn't always successful. I should say also that not all of the images here come from the period I'm discussing, but they do presage or echo that period and, thus, I chose to use them. If you can give me dates and artists' names where I haven't done so or where I've made a mistake, please do.)

Unlike the real women of the day, in their corsets and fussy outfits, these women were natural and free, dressed in vaguely Grecian gowns, often in forests, and always surrounded by or even wearing flowers. They weren't just in nature, they were a part of it.

They were desired, mysterious, lovely, and often associated with the ancient and the magical.

By Florence Harrison
When young and beautiful, they were often gentle, ethereal, and nurturing.

By Edward Robert Robert Hughs
All the wee-folk loved them, whether the wee-folk were fairies, or elves...

By Warwick Goble
... or dwarves.

By Mucha
They were the stuff of ancient legends and fairy tales, revised every few generations by those who painted, wrote about, and drew them.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, they were something of a pin-up girl.
By Mucha
This pin-up girl was used to sell everything from cookies...

By Mucha
... to cigarettes.

And, as with the idealized images of women in magazines today, her look was impossible to achieve in real life...

... though there were certainly women who tried, just as women try to achieve physical "perfection" and whatever version of beauty is trendy today.

By Michael Frederick Howard
In older literature, she can be the witchy woman, the banished girl, the frightening fairy, the nymph, and she shows up over and over again, from the dangerous sirens of the Odyssey, to Titania in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, to Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

You remember Titania, right? She's the queen of fairies who, through an enchantment, is tricked into loving an ass, a foolish man with a donkey's head. It's funny and it's fun but I can't help but think that it's also payback for the power she wields both in the world of magic and in the world of men.

When I was looking for images of her online, I found mostly images of her asleep, being enchanted, or being made a fool as she fawns over her beloved donkey man.

I found very few images of her in her full power...

By Arthur Rackham
... even though she is very powerful, as evidenced in this wonderful depiction of one of her encounters with Oberon.

Note the few streaks of grey.
Not unlike today, even as a powerful and sexually free woman was desired and even admired, she was also feared.

Her power was frightening. What chaos would she bring?

Her mystery made one uncomfortable. What did she know? What would she hide? What would she reveal?

By John Gilbert
This fear of the witchy nature woman transformed into revulsion and hatred if the woman was old. Now, she was the hag, the sorceress, not to be trusted, and certainly not to be desired. Who better exemplifies this than the weird sisters in Shakespeare's Macbeth who have generally been portrayed as ugly and even vile?

But, really, what do the the three witches do wrong? They simply tell the truth in such a way that a power hungry, murderous couple misunderstand them and start what is to become a bloodbath of, yes, epic proportions.

Old legends, epics, and fairy tales repeatedly give the same message: Watch out for those older women of magic and nature, all swathed in cloaks and mystery.

I was born in 1970. At forty-three, I would very much qualify as one of those frightening and vile hags of lore.

What powers might I have?

What nefarious deeds might I inflict on the world?

Who knows what older, nature women are up to? They just have too damned much power...

... with their magic and potions and crystal balls and magic wands.

By F. Juttner
And here's where it gets even more nasty. More often than not, these women are depicted as bitter and cruel, no longer desired by men, and jealous of a young, innocent, beautiful girl whom she tortures, banishes, and afflicts with all kinds of nasty enchantments, poisons, and potions.

Indeed, the girl she hates may well be a younger version of herself: the beautiful woman of nature so idealized in art. This younger woman whom she persecutes is, in essence, her replacement.

Think of Snow White.

By Arthur Rackham
Think of Cinderella.

By John Everett Millais.
Heck, even think of Shakespeare's Ophelia, not so much in Hamlet itself, as in Pre-Raphaelite depictions of her. Would she be floating downstream, singing, beautiful in death, garlanded and lovely... if it weren't for the machinations of the powerful, lusty Queen Gertrude?

There are, of course, some exceptions. Think of Ozma in The Wizard of Oz book series -- though, when you think about it, she's really not that old and the youth whom she treats so well is too young to be a real threat.

After all, it's also in the Wizard of Oz books that we find one of the most horrifying and literal versions of this witchy woman in the person of Lady Langwidere. She literally steals the heads of beautiful women so she can change heads each day the way she changes outfits.

Would she want to try my head on for size?

Probably not.

I'm too old.

So let us return to that poor, banished, younger innocent. No matter how entrapped she is, her sweetness and her rapport with nature bring her comfort. Cinderella finds it with the birds, whose freedom she craves.

By Anna Brix Thompson
So does Sarah in A Little Princess when the evil school mistress banishes her to virtual enslavement in the attic.

By Inga Moore. It's interesting to note that, in the book, The Secret Garden, Mary is described as ugly, yet I found virtually not depictions of her anything but very pretty. At least in this illustration, she looks rather ordinary, if not actually ugly
So does Mary in A Secret Garden.

By Emma Lazauski. 
These beleaguered girls and young women are shown the way to a better place.

And that place is generally a place of magic...

... or nature, or both.

When I was a little child, cruelly abused, I could relate to these stories. I could relate to their horror. I could relate to the loneliness of the heroines. I could relate to finding comfort in communion with nature.

Of course I wanted more.

I wanted to find a secret garden too. I wanted escape.

Snow White
I wanted friends.

I wanted to discover how to grow life out of nothing.

I wanted magic.

I wanted power.

By Mucha
And I wanted beauty too. Doesn't everyone?

In my way, I've found all of those things.

They come with age.

No matter what the fairy tales say.

(I'm linking this up to Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet, The Thoughtful Dresser literary Thursday at My Closet Catalogue52 Pick Me Up at Spy Girl, and Share in Style.)