Dear Sweet Sisters,
Thank you for being here and thank you Leslie for allowing me to share my story. There is healing in story sharing, for both the listener and the teller. Healing in identifying; healing in releasing. As my words flow free, so does my pain. As you hear my story, you may identify with parts of it and thereby realize you are not alone. And just in case you really think I’m the cute blonde with the bright blue eyes in my fb profile pic, I am, but here’s the real me.
“Some days I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, like I’m just floating… like I’m not grounded to anything. Sometimes, when I can find my wallet, I open it up just to see what my name is. Today I know that my name is Barbara Elizabeth Hitchcok and that you are mine and I have always loved you.”
Words spoken by my mother and forever etched into my heart by God. An answer to a prayer I cried out earlier that day. A prayer that God would calm my frustration with her, my resentment toward her, and let me see her genuine need; to let me see her as a person and not just the mom who broke me and left me to fend for myself… The mom that now I must take care of because that’s what good daughters do. Where were my other 5 siblings? Why was this my responsibility alone? Why am I always the one who can’t say no; who always does the right thing?
I never had a good relationship with my mom although I’m not sure she ever knew that. I was, after all, the good daughter who did what she was told. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mom dearly and she loved me. I was the good daughter because of my love for her, but I was always full of words and full of emotion and she never knew what to do with all that. Wearing her heart on her sleeve was not something my mom did, nor was she fond of others doing it.
Many words that my mom often spoke are etched into my heart, like, “You take what life gives you and you just deal with it.”; “Nobody ever promised you fair.”; and my least favorite of all, “You’re so sensitive!” None of these words were ever spoken with love and compassion. You could always count on her to tell you what you did wrong and what you should have done to get it right. Because of that, I never told her I was raped, not ever.
My mom was not a horrible person. She was a person that had a horrible life, just like many of us here in this sisterhood. She did the best she could, and I have no doubt of her love for me even if often I could not feel it the way I wanted to feel it… even if we didn’t speak the same love language.
I was always there for my mom. I never lived more than 20 minutes from her and for the last 20 years, she and my step-dad lived across the street from me. He lives there still. My mom passed away in October of 2017, following several years of living with dementia.
I was never really able to find my autonomy from my mom until I was in my early 50’s. (FYI, I’m still in my 50’s, 54to be exact). I always strove to please her and set my own thoughts, ideas, and feelings aside for the sake of having her be pleased with me. This is not a characteristic of mine that was exclusive for my mom. It was the way I lived my life. I am very good at everything I do, and I will win the “People Pleaser Crown”. (Second FYI, most people don’t get my humor, so this would be where you chuckle).
Living as a people pleaser is a very draining and self-destructive way to live. Eventually I became physically ill and was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease and Stage 2 Adrenal Fatigue. Trying to run a business, work a 2nd job outside the home, please 5 children who all wanted different things, and 2 aging parents, plus fulfill all the other commitments I thought I should fill, eventually took its toll on me and I nearly crashed and burned. Maybe I did crash and burn… Praise God I have a low maintenance husband who is loving, compassionate and supportive. He is the best.
At 52, I quit my job outside the home. I stopped calling my adult kids, kids, they’re just adults, I began to see a counselor and I’m learning to say no; I’m learning to stop caring how people view me; I’m learning to stop thinking that it is my job to fix everything and make everyone happy; I’m learning to grow up, find my voice and stand up for me. I catch myself sometimes… lifelong habits are hard to change. But I now know that my value is not in my actions and what I can do for people. This new thinking has ended a few relationships in my life, some of them very close relationships, and that will just have to be okay. The ones that have stuck with me are the ones I want around.
Art has always been a part of my life but somehow, after my dad died when I was 12, it went into hiding. I felt a lot of pressure from my mom to produce art, but I had lost the ability to believe in myself; to believe that I had any talent at all. She always supported my art and looking back, I think it really was genuine. Unfortunately, there were just too many other things I didn’t trust her about and I couldn’t help but let those feelings pass on to my art.
It would be nearly 30 years before I began to create again, and it would be the scrapbooking industry that drew me in. In 2004 I jumped on the bandwagon and immediately fell in love. I worked in a scrapbook store for 5 years until they closed in 2010. My work was featured in the store as a design team member and I have taught many women how to scrapbook. My scrapbook mentor, friend and boss, gave me the confidence to set aside my perfectionist ways and find freedom in paper. Because of that freedom, my style is almost always grungy and shabby with bling. It is imperfection. I love torn edges, smudgy ink and wrinkles, and I love to add sparkle on the top. I think it is an outpouring of how I see life… it’s a mess but we can shine like diamonds among the mess if we choose to.
This friend also convinced me to go to a 6-week writing class on learning to tell your story. For the first time since my dad died, I poured it all out, onto the paper and the tears flowed as much or more than the ink. It was a harrowing experience, but it was also a healing experience.
I had taken writing back in college and my professor wanted me to have my work published in a magazine, but I did not believe in myself. People often tell me now that I should write a book and I always say one day I will… maybe that’s just an excuse.
About 3 years ago I began keeping a daily journal. I kick myself all the time that I have not always done this. Maybe if I had I could write that book because there my life would all be. I feel like I’ve forgotten so much of the day to day stuff. And honestly, after my life was done being shit, it’s been a really great life with so much love and laughter. It’s worth writing about. It hasn’t been without its struggles, for sure. There have been financial hardships, not once but twice. One of those times is right now. I don’t know how it will all turn out financially, but I know God’s got this.
My mom’s dementia was for sure a hardship on all of us. I hope you don’t misunderstand when I say what a blessing it was as well. The years of walking with my mom on that journey… wow. God showed me so much; taught me so much. I met a beautiful woman who just happened to be the woman I always called mom. I found my voice during those years, found the courage to stand up to my mom and have conversations I always wanted to have. Oh, the irony in that because by then, she couldn’t remember much of anything, so the conversations would have been pointless. I felt a little bit cheated I must say. But I also must say God is gracious and as my mom’s memory faded, so did my resentment toward her; so did my need to stand up for me. I began to see my mom as a real person and not just as the woman who broke me. I came to genuinely love her, not just love her because that’s what good daughters do. “I know that you are mine and I have always loved you.” The voice of my mother, and the voice of my God. That hasty prayer of mine in the car years earlier began to be answered within minutes that day and continued to grow until it was complete in me and my mom’s life was complete.
2017 was a horrible. As you read my timeline (found on our group page) you will see it there. You will probably look at my timeline and say, “Are you kidding me, how can parts of this be anyone’s life?” …And you’re just getting the 2 second versions of what took place. When I look at it, I say the same thing. If I knew someone else who had lived this life, I would think they are super amazing, colossal, strong and oh so brave. But when I look at it for me… well, I just took what life gave me and dealt with it because no one ever promised me fair. Truthfully, my life breaks my heart when I step outside myself and just look at it. But God, my husband, my children… they have mended it back together and they keep mending it.
Somewhere along the line between scrapbooking and journaling, journaling and scrapbooking, I just began to do both on the same page. I didn’t know about this thing called art therapy, I just knew it helped me feel better. It helped me say what I couldn’t always say. When I look at my journals from the last 3 years, the thickest ones I have are from the last 5 months of 2017. The following is an excerpt from the day of my birthday.
December 30, 2017
“I wish I could share with you in a photograph, the beauty outside tonight. But it can’t be captured in a split-second snap shot. It must also be felt and heard and tasted. It must be seen with your bared soul.
The day spent itself clothing the land in a thick, heavy blanket of purest white and now it rests in utter silence. The night moon, nearly full, commands the trees to lie flat and dimensionless atop the blanket and they oblige. It commands the blanket to sparkle and dance like diamonds. God has commanded the clouds to part and they open to reveal the outer banks of a heaven we cannot see with our eyes. He whispers hush… and there is silence.
As I look heavenward and breathe in the beauty of it all, tears begin to flow down my face. Everything that I have held inside, everything that I have kept in check so that I could physically, mentally and emotionally make it to this moment, is released in a silent breath not unlike my mother’s final breath… no frills… no drama… no sound… only the letting go of all that hurts.
Wrapped up in the vapor of my breath is so much pain and heartache; things that people have said and done to me… things I have done to myself, the grief of saying goodbye to my mother for years. Pains, big and small are wrapped in that vapor we call life. I thought surely the weight of them would keep it inside me forever, yet if flowed from my lungs as effortlessly as the tears from my eyes.
I didn’t know it was going to happen. Just as I didn’t know my mother would leave the very moment I told her it was okay to go. I had told her 3 days earlier too, but she knew I didn’t mean it. She knew me…still in her heart, she knew me. She knew I was just telling her what the nurses told me to say. She was simply waiting for me to mean it. She was waiting for me to use the voice in my heart that told her I would be okay without her and when she heard it, she was set free.
My pain, my sorrow, my anger, my resolve to be strong, my willingness to accept that God has allowed all these things for a reason, have given me the strength to make it across each hurdle since my mother died in October. As I crossed each one I would tell myself, “You did it, you’re that much closer to the end.” Hurdles like her funeral, Thanksgiving, Christmas and today, December 30th, the highest and final hurdle… our birthdays.
It is 11pm and I am outside declaring to God, the world and maybe mostly to myself, that I made it, I survived! But what God hears is the voice in my heart saying, “I will be okay without all the pain and sorrow and anger and resolve to be strong.” I don’t know I have said it until I look up and see it floating in the white vapor of my breath, being carried up to God… up to my mother… up to my father. I don’t know it until I breathe deeply and discover that my breath is not stopped short; until I no longer feel its weight.
I have only one thing on my list for 2018 and that is to HEAL. My healing will not look like you want it to look and when I finally emerge from my healing I will not be who you are expecting me to be. There is much to be healed from, a lifetime of battle and injuries, the last 6 months of pain, heartache and betrayal like I have never experienced before. I won’t be healed overnight.
It is in my nature to nurture and I have spent my life trying to nurture, heal and restore others. So much so that I have nothing left for me. I have lived forever thinking that if I were good enough, smart enough, kind enough, pleasing enough, that I could be loved enough to be lifted out of the stone fortress that I built around myself. I’m not talking about salvation, I’m talking about the value I perceive others place on me. In this twisted thinking, I have found no one that finds me worthy of lifting out. Now I know full well in my rational mind that this is wrong thinking, but I have lived my entire life with this thought process.
The reality is that when I needed the people closest to me, more than I have ever needed them, they either turned away from me or they still expected me to perform for them. But I have also discovered genuine compassion from the most unexpected places and for those friends, some new and some from as far back as high school, I am grateful. The time has come for me to transfer what I know in my head down into my heart. God has opened the space in there tonight for the work to begin.
The time has come for me to stop trying to be rescued from my fortress and just rest in it. Rest in peace and solitude until I see myself the way God sees me… pure, holy, radiant, clothed in white because of Christ, not because of my performance. When I can do that, when I can rest in his shelter, then he will bring me out.”
I’m still there; resting; healing; waiting. I’m content. I’m learning to be gracious to myself and know that I wouldn’t expect more from someone else who has been through what I have been through. I deserve that grace too. I am worth it, and spring will come eventually.
I have a lot of favorite quotes, I’m kind of a quote hoarder. Tanya Markul, the Thug Unicorn, is one of my favorite writers right now. She is raw and edgy and honestly, I feel pretty raw and edgy these days. But to bring it a bit closer to home, one of the quotes I find myself quoting the most is from my youngest daughter, Chelsea. “They don’t call them growing pains for nothing.” I can attest to that. Growing hurts like hell.
When I create art, I love to use ink and bling which I’ve already told you. I also love ephemera of all sorts; ticket stubs, postage stamps, clothing labels and tags, fortunes from cookies, cigar wraps… you name it, the possibilities are endless. Most “junk” I find lying around must pass the “can I use this in my journal” before it gets considered as trash. I also love to use paint chips and things I find in nature; pieces of bark, flowers, feathers. I draw a ton of inspiration from the magazine Bella Grace. I have several others I like but that one is my favorite.
My art is not limited to my art journals although it is my favorite. I still scrapbook. I watercolor. One of my favorite pieces is one I made for my mom. I hope one day I can have it back… my step-dad is one of those people who has not been happy about my ‘lack of performance’ these days.
I do alcohol ink on canvas, torn paper art, write on my blog, and my lifelong passion, photography. I find freedom, healing and peace in all of it; a mindlessness that is so rare for me.
Photographs from August 2017 ~ “Life’s Blessings”
May you all find the blessings hidden in among your trials!
Thank you so much, Chris for sharing your Story with us!!
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