Anne

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* I met Anne in her row home in Philadelphia where she lives alone with her cat, Black. Her entire home is basically one large studio space – each floor containing art supplies and space for creating and there is artwork all over the walls. I saw a space devoted to carpentry; Anne makes the supports for her work herself. She is in her mid eighties and has been making art for most of life, though she told me that she only started to find more recognition in her seventies. So she told me to “never give up!” My impression of Anne is that she is very much her own person. She lives her life as she wishes and despite difficulties she keeps on doing what matters to her, as she said not “giving up”. She says what she wishes to say and makes the art that she wishes to make. I find her quite inspirational.

“Interior strength is the awareness, willingness and the ability to cope with being a vulnerable and productive human being in a difficult, complex and mysterious world.

I understand that there are no black and white answers and solutions except in the most extreme circumstances. I try and  grasp my position and act accordingly hoping that my decisions are as un hurtful as possible to myself and others.

I’ve spent a life-time trying to figure it all out. I’m a “work-in-progress”. At 84, I’m still able to consider options, ideas, example of others and obligations to myself, others and my work as a practicing artist.

I have a reasonably positive and progressive out look. I am an optimist.

The above has gotten me through all kinds of difficulties , including mental illness , cancer and some serious financial problems.

A sense of interior power, for me , must embrace reality while maintaining the ability to simply “let go” and journey to where my imagination and desires suggest.”

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Sufey, One Year Later

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*I first met Sufey one year ago when she was pregnant with her daughter, Tahvy. She then spoke to me about pregnancy and the prospect of becoming a mother – and about growing and birthing a child, things she had never done before. I wanted to see her again to hear what she had to say now that she has spent nearly a year with her daughter. Had her perspective shifted?

“Motherhood is an initiation like nothing other. I thought I was strong before? Forget it. This year has taken me to my knees and shown me, to the core, what I’m really made of. 

I think strength is what it takes to sit with our shadows and meet them with curiosity. It’s the open embracing of all that is present, observing instead of projecting. It’s drawing from the infinite source of energy that we are all connected to — to shift, expand, rise, and hold the ever loving, ever awakened space. 

I never knew I was capable of such love. To show up with such grace on such little sleep to be fully present for my baby. But truthfully this strength isn’t something that belongs to me. It simply flows through me as I open my heart to receive, receive, receive.”

Charlene, One Year Later

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** I first spoke with Charlene just over one year ago. Below is the photo that was originally posted in Dec. 2017 along with her original story. She shared about the sexual abuse she suffered and how she has been on a path towards healing after spending many years of her life burying and hiding her past. Over the past year she has made great strides towards lessening the pain of the trauma, opening up, and letting go.

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“Telling the story, for me, has been really healing because my story was very much a secret. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t actually begin to talk about it until about four years ago after I had my son.

My family has a long line of sexual abuse. I was sexually abused by my father from the time I was very young, and I have suspicions he also did it to my sister. My mother was emotionally unstable, had violent outbursts and was verbally abusive.

The sexual abuse that happened to me, I really feel like it caused so many issues, symptoms in my life, starting with severe anxiety. That was probably the first thing. Stomach, severe stomach issues, starting from when I was – kindergarten all the way up until – I still have it, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. Eating disorder, alcohol and drug addiction, so many identity issues. Self harming, self destructive behaviors.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and on some really heavy meds for a long time, and then – only in recent times, like within the last year have I totally stopped taking that stuff because my psychiatrist and I, and my therapist, it was kind of just like, we don’t really think you have this. We think you have PTSD from trauma. And that’s really what it was.

It’s gotten a lot easier for me to talk about it. I didn’t used to be able to talk about this without breaking down. Every time I talk about it, it gets a little easier. It’s like I’m unleashing the secret into the world.

I recently spoke at a survivor’s meeting…and I left there with this really intense feeling of strength. There’s so many people that are benefiting from what you’re saying, and even though it’s hard for you to say it, you’ve given them such a gift.

This is me, this is you, this is so many people. And we all have this similar story.

As soon as I started realizing how shut down I was about it, it was like the floodgate opened. I couldn’t ever go back to that denial.

I think for me remembering every detail was giving validity to it. It was validating my experiences…. But I’ve gotten a little better with realizing that I don’t need that to heal. I don’t need those memories to heal. And I don’t need anyone to validate what I went through.

My father – he has manipulated everyone into believing that he didn’t do anything, even though he so much as confessed when it initially happened. It’s bizarre the way the brain can transform what’s said and then alter it.

I left the family completely, but do have some contact with two of my sisters. I’m the scapegoat. I’m the pull apart. It was a leaning tower, and it toppled when I decided to do what I did, but it was the best thing for me and my family. I do not have any connection with my mother now, but when I think of her, my brain is still like a child in the way that I wonder why didn’t you save me? Why didn’t you take me away from this? And she didn’t. She couldn’t. Because she’s a victim herself.

I think for me one of the things that is so hard with abuse is that at your core you feel worthless. You feel like you are constantly trying to achieve the unachievable, and you live in this – I feel like for me, I live in this perpetual state of motion, where I’m constantly chasing something.

The silence is so much based in shame. It’s this cycle…It’s so shameful that you’re locked.

I have been using yoga as a tool in my healing and today I thought of the things that yoga has taught me. So many things, but the biggest thing is breathing to let go. I am learning that there is so much healing in the letting go. Through my breath-steady, in and out- I have learned to move with so much more grace through this world. To soften my face, to feel compassion when I want to judge. I am reminded of love and courage, moments of clarity that have brought me into the present. Those moments are invaluable to me.

Yesterday after we got home from a long day, my son Miles said “It’s 8:56!? I never go to bed this late. I’m so tired. I just want my bed. Ah, peace. I have so much peace in my bed.”

When he said this my heart leaped and hit the bottom all at once. My husband and I, we have given him that peaceful rest, a peaceful life. I never had that. It’s a big deal for me to be able to give that to him.

My biggest fear is that he will one day hate me, as I hate my Mother and as she hated her own. Yet, it is in so many moments that he has told me this is not to be…and here is yet another. I am doing something right, I have to tell myself that sometimes.”

Iris

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“My life has had difficult and painful experiences. These experiences gave me the courage to stand up for myself. Indulging myself and reflecting give me the opportunity to understand— what once made me weak, today makes me strong.   I’ve also learned to let go of things that don’t help me reach my higher self, whether in relationships or in the spaces I occupy.

Today, I can see that challenges were not breaking me apart, but were sculpting me into being the person I am today. Life has helped me grow into a very independent and mature woman with a sense of compassion, kindness and, above all, self worth. Today I can celebrate my troubles and also my  successes. I  focus on the things that bring joy and happiness to me and my family.

As a way to self care and finding myself, I practice Reiki, meditation, self talk and self portraiture. Photography gives me space to bring out ideas and thoughts and to create art with no judgment. Years from now, when I look back, I want to see all my dreams come true, or at least see that I tried to reach them! I have rediscovered myself—who I am and what I stand for.”

Iris is one of the photographers in the  Women’s Mobile Museum  I recommend checking out her work, which is both self reflective and inspiring, at the Dixon House. The opening celebration is Oct. 27th from 1:00 – 4:00!

Julia, Take 2

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*Note:  I first met Julia one year ago, when I took her portrait for the Strength Source Project. The portrait below is the one that I took of her then. She is in a different place in her life now, and I met with her again to talk about what has changed and how she has grown since that time. 

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“I thought I wanted to be married to him. I bought the wedding dress, threw the party, but never signed the papers. I realized after the ceremony that we were no longer on the same path together. I made the decision to keep moving forward, moved into a new house without him, spent a summer working in Europe, and restarted my life. Looking back, I see that I had trouble differentiating between what a person tells you they can be, from what that person actually is and will be. I now see that what I gave as mental, financial, and career encouragement, was routinely discredited. I realize now also that I was a bit fearful of breaking up, because I was always optimistic that they would live up to their potential and because I didn’t want to see them disappointed. But that caused me not to admit that I was slightly disappointed in the years leading up to the big party. And now I accept that it is perceived that I’ve disappointed everyone after the party.

But in finally articulating what I didn’t want, I have found strength in no longer altering my voice on behalf of someone else. I know I’ve confused people because of the way that I had internalized things, but I think it’s never too late to reclaim your story. My newfound strength and clarity has filtered back into all aspects of my life. After finding my voice leaving a relationship, I found my true voice at work, in executive meetings, meetings completely in French, on holiday, with loved ones, and over executive business dinners. One year later, I stopped looking back.”

 

Strength Source Show!

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If you haven’t been out to see the show, it is hanging at Abington Art Center until October 26th! The gallery is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and Saturday. Seeing the portraits and stories up on the walls has been a wonderful experience. I am so thankful that I have had the chance to take the work out of the digital realm and into “real life”.

Eva

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“Six years ago I decided to leave Philadelphia to drive cross country and find a job in a warm climate by the ocean. At the time, I thought that meant I was going to California. I lived on the east coast for my entire life, surrounded by family and friends. It was my first time venturing out completely on my own. I gave all of my belongings away aside from what fit into my car.  I didn’t have a plan, a job prospect, or much money, but I had a dream and I had faith that I would achieve that dream. It crossed my mind that selling my possessions instead of donating them would be a better financial decision- but worrying about money wasn’t part of my dream. 

The initial few months weren’t the easiest – mostly because I was making a big change for the first time in my life, and I was leaving a comfortable home and job without knowing where I was going or what I would do there. The anxiety of the unknown weakened me physically and emotionally. I questioned myself relentlessly. After some sleepless nights and a few poor decisions, I eventually surrendered realizing my mind wasn’t strong enough to figure out what to do next and that I had to simply trust that the Universe would work out the details for me. Surrendering to faith required so much strength. Letting go of the illusion of control was much harder than I ever imagined it would be, but once I surrendered, my intentions became reality. I ended up NOT in California, but in a place even more magical – Hawaii. I was offered a job doing what I love, moved into a house overlooking the ocean, and started a new chapter in my life. I haven’t regretted any part of my journey.”

Strength Source Project Show Opening!

There will be an opening for the Strength Source Project Show at Abington Art Center on Friday, September 21st from 6 – 8 pm. The show will be on view until October 23rd. I hope you will come by to view 27 portraits and stories hanging on the walls of the center! 

Abington Art Show Opening

 

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Jessica

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“My name is Jessica and I was born with a Cleft Lip and Palate. For the past several years I have been working with Philly Phaces. Philly Phaces is a local non profit for families to connect with other families that have children with a craniofacial difference.

I am a Philly Phaces Ambassador. I go to different elementary and middle schools with other children and young adults. We share the message of choosing kind. We tell the students about ourselves and what we have been through in our lives. At the end of our presentation we open it up for questions. The students can ask us anything from what our favorite food is to how many surgeries we’ve had. I think that is always my favorite part. I think doing these school talks and helping with Philly Phaces has made me feel strong inside because I love to educate students about being kind to others no matter what their differences are. It’s rewarding being a friend to someone who maybe going through a surgery that I had and being able to talk with them and let them know that it will be ok and that they will be fine.

I think being someone that has grown up with a facial difference has given me the strength to help others going through the same journey. “I want people to notice what’s on the inside, not what’s on the outside.”

You can read more about Philly Phaces and the work that they do here:

http://www.phillyphaces.org/

Sarah

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“As an adult, people have always perceived me as strong and I struggled to understand why. I believe many of us get our strength through survival, meaning our strength rises to the occasion. The strongest women I know are those who have come through the hardest times, it seems. While I’ve had my share of struggles, I have been lucky. Through most of them I didn’t recognize my strength until later. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who got sober when pregnant over 22 years ago, and I had to learn how to live like a normal person for the first time when I was 26 and a new mom. I’ve been through heartaches and love affairs, a marriage and the end of a marriage, and raising a child when I felt like a child myself. 

 It wasn’t until I hit bottom with my depression 3 years ago that I truly felt strong. I was suicidal and crying every day for months, with bouts of debilitating anxiety that made it hard to breathe. It was because of the experiences I had up to that point that I was able to reach out for help when it was the last thing I wanted to do. I found myself utilizing the tools I learned in recovery and applying it to my depression. Do the next right thing. Ask for help and accept help. Stay for another day. I went into my doctor’s office for an emergency appointment and spent the next few months crying and trying different medications, going to therapists and slowly coming back to life. It was up and down and sometimes worse, but I kept trying because I knew that how I felt wasn’t my fault and I was so tired of living in the dark, never feeling joy and never feeling like I deserved anything good. Eventually we found the right medication for me and I have a therapist I like and I’ve been above water for a good while now. I have days here and there where the depression tugs me down, but I am learning how to let go and float through those times.”