Vulnerability...this has been the big theme for me lately. When you are a special needs parent you are automatically put in a position where you have to ask for help, making one feel, well... quite vulnerable. You might say that all mothers have to ask for help, and they do, but not on the scale that mothers of special needs children do. You need people, and lots of them. Family, support groups, church community, therapists, social workers, doctors, qualified babysitters, home health aides, etc. This needing, that requires asking for help, is absolutely incredibly difficult for me.
I didn't realize how difficult it was for me to ask for help until I read Brene Brown's book on vulnerability; Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (link on top). This apprehension for "help asking" caught me by surprise. I have two children on opposite sides of the autism spectrum. My oldest is 11, I am not exactly an autism mom novice. I thought I dealt with this whole vulnerability issue with my first child. I guess there is more work to be done and much armor to chip away. Brown talks a lot about armor:
"We emotionally 'armor up' each morning when we face the day to avoid feeling shame, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. The particular armor changes from person to person, but it usually revolves around one of three methods: striving for perfection, numbing out, or disrupting joyful moments by 'dress rehearsing tragedy' and imagining all the ways that things could go wrong."
My kind of armor is perfectionism. She goes on to say,
"All of these types of armor can make us feel safe and 'in control' in the moment, but they're really doing us more harm than good. Perfectionism is a 20-ton shield-we think it will protect us but it keeps us from being seen."I spent a big part of my life, armored up and I guess it's harder to penetrate than I thought. I grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who, although extremely loving, cared intensely about what people thought. We were never allowed to tell people we were living with a raging alcoholic even though our house was figuratively and literally falling apart. I also grew up in a fundamentalist Pentecostal church where proper dress and behavior were the norm and we were always to answer, "en victoria!" (in victory) when asked how we are doing. Growing up, armor was my middle name.
Now you throw autism into the mix and what do you get? Vulnerability. Autism has been chipping away at my armor little by little and this summer, it came to a head, it took out a big chuck, leaving me feeling raw, disempowered, and helpless. This past summer was the toughest summer I had ever had to face, my most vulnerable summer. Lana del Rey's song "summertime sadness" does not even begin to describe it. Okay, I'll stop saying summer now, lol. Anyway, I needed a lot of help and I wasn't willing to ask for it until I broke down. There were other things happening, not just autism, that I might unveil in future posts but for now, I will say, that, although there is work to be done, I'm on the other side; I feel joyful again, reconnected, and extremely hopeful.
"Art is a prayer. I believe the two are the same thing. So there's not any difference between being creative and being spiritual."
My art/prayer happens to be making clothes and so I decided I wanted to make a collection that reflected this whole idea of armor and vulnerability. My clothes have been so literal in the past, with the icons and all, I have been longing to make clothes that are more conceptual in nature, garments that tell a story. This is not a full fledged collection yet; so far, it's only two pieces, but I didn't want to wait until I finished them all before I posted about the concept. I figured I'd give you a sneak peek now and will let you in on my process in future posts. I am still not sure if these pieces are just for me, whether I will sell them in my shop, whether they will be used for a future fashion show...I just knew I had to make them.
Here's the first piece. I have been working on it since September. You might know by now about my love of sweatshirts. I love elevating the lowly. That is exactly what God does.
"But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;"
1 Corinthians 1:27, English Standard Version
This dress is made from two sweatshirts. Humble, lowly material, no?
I chose beige to simulate flesh tone. I then screen printed the lace pattern. Lace is delicate, rips apart easily. It's a very "vulnerable" fabric. This is how I felt this summer. I ripped apart easily. Lace also speaks of intimacy. You usually see it on lingerie and screen printed on the beige, it gives a see-through illusion. During this time, I felt quite disconnected from all that compose my community. I felt alone but desperately wanted to be seen.
|What's a post about vulnerability if I don't take off my glasses!|
The lower part of the sleeves are made from the top part of stretchy boots that I wore for years, the heel worn to disrepair. I wanted to use something recycled because nothing is discarded in this journey. This tough summer experience has informed me greatly, I learned a lot. I know what to do differently next time.
The boot material also simulates leather, a tough material. Armor, if you will. As a special needs mom, you have to wear some armor, it goes with the territory. People can be mean to your children, to you. I often feel I am on warrior mode all the time, repelling bullets with my big Wonder Woman cuffs.
However, sometimes, that same armor can prevent you from being vulnerable, being seen, asking for help. For me, the trick is to NOT see vulnerability as weakness and opening up to the right people is key. I took the first step in asking for help by opening up to a lovely woman who took me out to dinner, listened to me, spoke truth, prayed for me, followed up, and guided me though this time.
|I was actually on the phone here, I had to take this call, lol.|
I love that, unless you look really close, you can't tell that this is made from two sweatshirts and recycled boots. The screen printing process was more expensive than the actual materials! All is not how it seems. To the naked eye, I looked fine, was even praised for holding it all together, it was so far from the truth. This, an ordinary dress with layers of meaning, is just like all of us; ordinary people with lots of layers...and unless we choose to open up to people, the right people, and allow them to get close, they won't see the real you.
How do you model vulnerability? What do you do when you're feeling down? How do you process? For me, art is my saving grace! God always reveals truth to me while I create. Whether it be sewing, singing, collaging, it's what gets me through. I would love to hear your thoughts and I look forward to sharing more about what I have learned.