Altered Selves

In my work as an Art Therapist and Licensed Counselor, I am helping adolescents and adults dealing with substance abuse issues.  We have been creating “altered books” as a means for journaling and self-expression. I have come to see the altered book as a metaphor for the physical body, and its alteration from substance abuse.

I am using hardcover books – cast-offs gathered from friends and the local Goodwill thrift store – that my clients have reinvented and redefined to hold words, images and transformed paper; the altered book releases feelings and communicates ideas. Covers are collaged and fixed with Mod Podge, and then about 1/3 of the existing pages are torn out from the book to relieve the binding and allow space to add new works.

This has been a powerful art experience for everyone. While there are wildly creative and endless possibilities, here are a few images from my own journal just to give the idea. A special thanks to those friends who have rallied to collect books for this ongoing project.

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the sunflower house

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Light & color: making marks

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Fairy Condos

Adding some pint size (maybe more half-gallon) magic to the property this spring with milk cartons, acrylics, Sharpies, stickers, varnish, sticks and glue gun…
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Question Box

The older I get, the less able I am to multitask. Or, perhaps it’s not age but hours of sleep I miss each night (see previous posting :). Either way, after tending to the household tasks, little ones’ needs, and work prep, by the end of the day I can only focus on one thing at a time.

It’s possible that this is in fact the time of day when my daughter’s charming curiousity cuts loose and needs the likes of Google-for-preschoolers to sate her questions: “Why do princesses have so many dresses? How did the creator create the world? Where did I come from?” Truth be told, there have been times I’ve just had to ask her to stop talking so I can finish the thought in my own head.

Several days ago I vented to our beloved Auntie Beth who, without blinking, offered up the idea of a Question Box – a special place to hold the question until I have time to give her the attention she seeks.

Using cardboard scraps and a glue gun, I constructed a small box with a piggy bank type slot on the top and a flap on the bottom to access the question cards.
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Elena decorated the outside of the box with tissue papers and aluminum foil. While the glue dried, she furiously worked on index cards drawing symbols and letters to record her thoughts. IMG_0946 Thankfully, collecting her questions in the box will allow me a little time to prepare my responses. “Why did the creator make bananas? Was that before the dinosaurs?” and “How does Peter Pan fly?”. I’ve got some research to do.IMG_0948


Birth Story Revisited

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I am blessed. Let me say it again, I am blessed. I have two beautiful children, an amazing husband, and an overall rich and full life.

I am also sleep deprived. Like, from the last 8 months, sleep deprived.

Ever since we tried transitioning our 14-month old son from co-sleeping in our bed, three out of four of us haven’t slept more than 2-3 hours at a time, sometimes up repeatedly for hours during the night. Thankfully our oldest sleeps soundly.

I’ve read books, talked with moms, spoken to the doctor, vented and cussed and struggled overall with how to help our boy. Pick him up, don’t pick him up, let him cry it out, don’t over-stress him…And until this week, I now realize, I was looking at the entire problem through the wrong, foggy-eyed lens.

We went to a sleep specialist, who is actually a pediatric nurse practitioner with a holistic philosophy. I find her utterly fascinating. I’ve known about her for some time, went to her once with our first-born, have friends who use her and am awestruck at how she weaves her understanding of biology and chemistry, perinatal psychology, energy therapies, nutrition and more, all within the family context of what she calls the “heart centered relationship”.

Milo wakes up often each night, in a highly agitated state. The specialist stated it was neither comfort seeking nor night terrors. She looked deeper and further back. She asked about his birth story.

Ever since his birth, December 10, 2012, I have looked back with great pride to the water birth, the one hour delivery from the time my water broke and the two pushes that carried him out and up into my arms. It was so fast that his head did not mold.

I never considered what his experience was. Could it be possible that what I considered -from my perspective- a beautiful successful birth was, for Milo, likely traumatic?

According to our specialist, an abrupt transition from the womb into the water was for my baby likely rough and rushed, flooded with adrenaline. She spoke of the cranial nerves which carry the impulses down from the brain and have ties to the nervous system. She mentioned that the presence of adrenaline will diminish the body’s natural release of oxytocin, the calming hormone.

Because of the nature of Milo’s birth, a pattern was set early for tension, hyper-vigilance, and adrenaline imbalance. This helped explain some of the early behaviors we have observed as well, extreme sensitivity to noise, need to touch my skin while he slept, hyper sensitivity to diaper changes, and a strong desire to be held.

Where do we go from here? We have a list of behavior modifications to try such as earlier bed time, increase melatonin rich foods to help stabilize sleep cycles, massage and joint compression to help him feel comfortable in his body, and more. We were also encouraged to visit an Osteopath who could provide manipulations to assist in calming Milo’s nervous system. Paramount here is to pattern behaviors that reassure our young Milo that the world is a safe and secure place.

Being a therapist, and advocate for children it was hard to realize I had overlooked Milo’s experience at birth and the ripples it could produce. We all are sensitive beings and our feelings, behaviors and physiology are connected to the experiences we have had. From the perspective of an infant entering the world, it is no different.


Spontaneous Art Making – 101

Just before bed time last night, our daughter was inspired to make her 1 year old brother a pirate boat out of wood. In the basement wood shop she had her first lesson with her dad on using power tools. Furious that there was no time left to paint the boat before going to bed, we urged her to come up with a color plan. We drew a picture of a boat and encouraged her to plan out her colors. Off she went to bed and continued to draw, filling her notebook with countless drawings of pirate boats. Today, she had her first color mixing lesson and finished the boat. A most charming experience to watch.IMG_4391IMG_4395IMG_4400


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