I struggle with the bleeding. I think most do. The living with an open wound, the pain holding itself strong in clenched teeth, a racing heartbeat.

The culture of vulnerability avoidance is the air we breathe and the water we drink. We like stories that are tied up with a bow, wounds that are healed over like scars - see, I survived it, I’m okay now. To see the hurting in action - emotional or physical - is the bleeding, and we, as a culture, don't know how to handle it. A story of pain told in micro bytes.

It’s easy to hold this ideology when we hold our own pain. It’s easy to internalize the idea that we can’t be vulnerable, or honest, even with ourselves. It is an undoing of culture, of what we have learned, to live with our open and bleeding wounds.

I internalized this idea when I was young. My mother, sick with cancer, was the top priority. I learned to share my trauma, my feelings, my problems, when it already had a solution. When it already had a bow on it. Neatly packaged trauma. It’s easier to digest.

Culture and my experiences taught me this. It was how I could survive it. How I learned to be. What I know now is that I also learned to tie up the bows for myself, and not see my full, open wounds myself. What I know now is that I was dissociating in the midst of the pain in order to survive it.

In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, a collective trauma in itself, I moved to another state, I renovated a house, I said goodbye to the friends and the life that I knew for 12 years and started a new one. My son was in virtual school. My work was virtual. We knew few people in this new city. With Covid, we isolated hard. When memories came up, as they do, I could not distract myself or busy myself in the same old ways. I always felt like I just got through my traumas, the life that would flow, but I felt like so much was still there still bleeding. Healed enough to live with everything, I moved through life. Learning to welcome intuition back into my life, breathe my heart back into my life, this quiet of the world gave me the gift of quiet in myself, and I went into it. But in this winter, this long quarantine winter, this long self-wintering, I learned to see for the first time. It was a prime space, an open space for navigation, and it called me into it. I learned to hold these wounds. I learned to sit with them.

Many times, I sat with the young teenage girl who carried the deep shame that she could not help her mother more with her cancer. I cried and held this self and told her it was not her fault. I held hands with my mother, on her hospice bed in our living room, and my 22 year old self who laid with her. I held them both. I held us all. I sat with the girl who felt lonely as a child. I mourned the person who had to grow up too fast, screaming in cars in empty parking lots, knowing now that she did what she had to do at that time. Holding hands again as I, many years later, was facing the same scans and surgeries as my mother, I rewaited for results with her. I helped to fold her clothes and kissed her forehead as she cried before heading into each of the operating rooms. I was with the girl, just a few years ago, that didn’t think she was worth sharing her boundaries, or worth love, and who lived in fear. I stepped into the memory, I stepped into each of the moments, and I relived them all, becoming the person that I needed in all of these years.

I now know that this work is called shadow work. The shadows, the memory, the trauma and wounds and scars that we carry. We all have some, we are all human and we pick things up. Emotional weight and memory.

What I learned most of all is that I don’t have to carry a bow to make it neat, I can live with my messiness and my wounds. I will always have these things, and that is okay. What I have seen, and the pain I have felt is also with the great joys I have known. I can’t and I wouldn’t change a thing. What I learned is that I can hold memory, whereas before I just wasn’t ready. I can give my wounds the air they need, take off the bow, take off the bandaid, give light to the shadows that haunted me. And, in meeting these selves, in sitting in the memory with so much love, I gained new tools: I have learned how to stand. I have learned to hold my own heart with love. I learned how to be aware of dissociating feelings in my body, and can choose to hold my pain and memories with love.

This work is of trauma, of memory. It is uncomfortable. It is the scars. It is the healing in motion. It is the evolution of self, of the layered experience of trauma and memory. For this work, I share the layering of memory, grief, and trauma. Layering in stripes of watercolor in gray, black, pink, and red, this work bleeds. Using photos of my own breast cancer surgery recovery, I stitch in lines in the way I was stitched back up. Universally, this piece shows the scars that we hide, the shadows that we carry. Some are more red, from recent wounds, some are pink and more healed, some are white and nearly forgotten, but shape us nonetheless. While this is a piece of my personal recovery, it is also a piece about the memories that we are all composed of - the things we carry, lightness and darkness, and the layers that make a person up.

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