Maybe I don’t always need words

Monday morning, I set out my paints and my paper, paint brushes and oil pastels before I log into therapy.

Bea logs in, and we talk for a while about nothing type stuff until she asks me if I bought paint.

“Yeah. I bought paint for myself.”

“What kind of paint did you get?” Bea asks.

I hold up a watercolor palette with close to 30 colors.

“Ooooh, nice. I love all the colors. Did you want to paint together today?”

I shrug. “I guess I can paint while we talk.” The teen is way too cool to say what she really wants to— yes, I absolutely want to paint, I’m desperate to find a way to let out all the ick inside and words aren’t working and I just really need you to get it.

“This is hard,” I tell Bea. “I don’t know how to paint feelings.”

“What about a color? Is there a color that feels right to you?” She asks.

“I don’t know. I mean, yellow is happy and red is mad and blue is sad and black is probably depressed and I think green means peaceful…….”

“Why?”

“Because the rules of our culture say so?” Even though it’s not really a question, the words come out with a sassy teenage lilt to them and the valley-girl-esque way of speaking with every sentence sounding like it’s a question.

“Well, that’s true,” Bea laughs. “I think that is the logical way of doing art you were talking about in your email. But this….we want to try to focus maybe more on the process than the end result.”

“I guess I can try.” I pick up an oil pastel and draw lines on my paper to make the corner of a room. I’ll draw me, sitting on the floor doing therapy. It’s a straight forward thing to paint, and I need a plan. I use a pencil to quickly sketch out a human shape sitting on the floor. I can use paints to draw the rest.

“Can you pull up my emails?” I’m not looking at Bea when I ask this, I’m carefully painting hair on the girl in the painting.

“Yeah, sure. I have them right here. Did you want me to go through them like your notebook writing?”

I nod my head, and Bea starts the familiar rhythm of her reading my words and responding to them.

I’d written: I think, looking at the whole of what is stirred up in my head, there is a theme here. The window memory, I don’t know if that one fits, but the rest, it’s this theme of being in trouble for the something that happened. It’s a lot of out of control feelings and shame, and I don’t know what. Maybe something to do (and I’m cringing writing this, wanting to hide or maybe throw up or both) with the whole ummm, you know growing up and curiosity and figuring things out stuff. Ugh. Ick. 

“I think so, there is a theme of blame and shame. A lot of shame for feelings that were normal, and for things that happened that were not your fault. It makes me sad for the little girl, the teen, that they didn’t get to experience these normal feelings in a safe way.”

I’d written: And from the teen because well, she’s just so here and stirred up right now: So maybe you are right and it was something. But it’s not as bad a something as the real somethings. So is it okay to even be upset like this? Do you think I’m over reacting? I don’t know for sure what to think. But you were right about one thing and I hate it that you were right because I just don’t want it to be true. The crush feelings. They were like not there at all and then he was smiling at me and telling me I was too pretty to be smoking and that cigarettes kill people and then he kissed me and all those disgusting feelings were there. So quick. You don’t know how bad that feels. I can’t even put it into words. But it’s very bad feeling. 

“Yes, I really do think the window memory was something. I really do think it is okay to feel however you feel about it. It makes sense to me, that you would have a lot of feelings and overwhelm about it. I know it feels really bad and really confusing.”

I don’t look up from my painting when I speak. “I just…there were no feelings about him at all, I wasn’t scared when he walked up to me, even. Well, maybe I didn’t want him to tell my parents that I was smoking. And then, he kissed me. And I just….ick. It’s just ick. I can’t breathe, or think. I just…it’s so confusing, everything in my head and it just needs to stop. I can’t……” I trail off, absorbed in the process of putting paint onto my paper.

Bea says something, but I’m not so focused on her right now. I’m no longer painting a planned out picture, but swirls of dark purple and blue and grey. I’m upset, overwhelmed, confused. And suddenly I am painting feelings. I finish painting, and look in the container for a black oil pastel. I sketch out what I couldn’t paint. When I look up, Bea is there, waiting patiently.

“Sorry….I wasn’t listening to you,” I whisper.

“No, no sorrys needed. You were really intent on your painting,” Bea says.

“Yeah, I….well…” I look then, really look at it and while it’s not technically good, and it is painfully obvious I don’t have a talent for art, the painting looks like I feel. “I didn’t paint what I planned.”

“No? What did you plan?”

“To paint me, doing therapy in the guest room. It’s all big easy shapes to draw, so I figured painting them should be pretty easy.” I shrug.

“Ahhh. That makes sense. What did you end up painting?” Bea is asks the question with curiosity and no judgement.

“I…well….it’s…” I shake my head, and finally just hold up my picture. I hide behind it though.

Bea looks, and then says, “I love it. There is something so safe and protective about it.”

I feel like she’s slapped me in the face. Safe? I painted my pain, and I know I am not the best artist, but where does she get safe from? I pick up a pillow, hide behind it. I can’t look at her right now. This was a horrible idea.

“Alice, where did you go? What happened?” Bea notices right away that something has gone very wrong.

I shake my head, feeling miserable. “You don’t get it. It’s not safe. I don’t think you even looked. Just never mind.”

Bea doesn’t respond right away, but when she does, she sounds cautious. “I want to get it. I did look at your painting, but maybe I didn’t see what I was supposed to. Could I look again?”

I sigh, and hold up my artwork again. This time, I stay hidden behind the pillow. Bea doesn’t say anything for what feels like forever.

“Oh, yeah,” Bea says slowly. “I really missed the point. I didn’t see the hand reaching or the face screaming. It’s creepy, isn’t it? And feels like the girl in the picture is doing her best to hide from all the chaos. It’s like she’s trapped in the center on a tornado she can’t stop.”

“Yeah,” I whisper the word. I feel something lift inside me, Bea does see, and she gets it. For today, it’s enough to feel understood, even if I don’t have any words all.