The beginning of my story.
At the age of 3, I was walking home with my mother from playschool when I suddenly realised I didn’t have my teddy bear. I let out a scream and could not stop. I remember my mother saying, ‘why are you screaming? – stop it – stop.’ But I couldn’t. I could see she was getting really upset and angry, but I couldn’t stop. I needed her to understand that my bear was gone and I was really upset.
Unfortunately that was not possible for me at the time, because I was unable to talk. My poor mum could not understand me and all she could see was this little person screaming on the pavement.
Today, I can imagine my mother’s powerlessness and confusion but, for me at the time, I just felt so frustrated and upset for not being understood and devastated because my comfort object was gone. The insecurity I felt was immense. My mother said, ‘wait until your father gets home.’ I felt awful with shame. My father scolded me when he got home although, a couple of days later, he came home with a new bear. I remember from the eyes of that little 3-year-old feeling confused, guilty and unheard. I never loved that new bear.
In my back yard at 3 years old
I have learnt that grief does not like to be brought. We need to grieve our losses, only then can we move forward and embrace the new. The messages I took with me from that incident and many similar at the time lodged inside my brain. They were ‘don’t feel, it’s not safe, I won’t be heard, I will feel worse, I will get told off and others will be upset with me.’
So I became silent in my emotional life.
I am not here to blame my parents, but it’s been very important to understand where silence comes from. Today I love my parents dearly, for I know they only passed on what was taught and passed down to them, through many, many generations.
The Relief I felt being able to Communicate!
By 5 I was taught to speak successfully by a wonderful speech therapist at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. There, she sat patiently with me saying – ‘shhh sssss’ encouraging, supporting, and also empathising with my difficulty. It felt glorious.
Being seen and heard helps our brain to settle, increasing dopamine, which is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. So, of course, I was able to learn and grow in this environment. It was easy to overcome this first adversity, by feeling encouraged, supported and being shown how to do the thing that I was finding impossible. We need at times – to be shown the way forward. Within a few months, I was able to speak and at 5½ I was heading to school.
Unfortunately, the negative messages followed me through to both primary and secondary schools. I was sent to a mixed comprehensive and, at the time, being Jewish was not tolerated. As a small child, I did not understand this and started to suffer from racist comments and bullying attacks. Unable and afraid to communicate my emotions in a clear way to people who would hear and see me, left me feeling very isolated and alone.
So, I made a difficult situation bearable.
I left my authentic self behind and started to wear a mask which said, “I am ok, all is ok, I will make this ok” but inside I felt broken and very, very sad and angry.
It’s amazing what human beings do to survive situations that feel impossible to them.
Have you hidden a part of you that felt so hurt and vulnerable to survive an environment that was unsafe?
This lasted through to my late twenties, by which time the use of alcohol, food, TV, people-pleasing and care taking supported me to continue to numb my emotions and survive life. But I was slowly becoming aware that theses tools were making things worse. The addictions were causing failed relationships and my body was exhausted.
Self Discovery and Personal Development
In 1995, I found myself in therapy, which started to uncover my internal little girl and what she did to survive life. It was painful and at times challenging, but it was when I walked into a workshop that used writing, the arts and dance, I felt a sense of joy. Don’t get me wrong I was absolutely petrified, I did not think I had a creative bone in my body, but something moved inside of me. I remember the facilitator – Bob Earl – saying “fly, fly, fly like a bird” as I danced around the room with my arms stretched out, breathing. My heart felt like it was soaring high into the sky. I felt so free and happy.
With this connection to little Helen, I felt seen and heard. I slowly started to heal from the silence, feeling empowered to be ok in my own skin.
I started to understand what was right for me and with that information, I started to take action. I know without a doubt without this connection to self and a lot of encouragement, I would not have taken these scary actions:
- I left my job.
- I began exploring things that I loved, including the therapeutic arts and intuitive painting
- I went back to school to re-educate myself, via art college and then university, gaining a 1st Class Honours Degree.
- I started working with children and qualified as an Art teacher in 2003
- I trained as a Counsellor and became Accredited with the BACP in May 2023
- I am now looking forward to doing my EMDR training in September 2023
At Nottingham Trent University, designing the costumes and taking part in a Live Art Performace – titled Decay
My First Drawing Class
I remember my first life-drawing class blew my mind.
Brene Brown in her book Rising Strong talks about the Creative Wound, she says.
“For the people who really struggle because they don’t think of themselves as creative, there’s a lot of shame around creativity. People don’t think of themselves as creative, they think creativity is self-indulgent. They don’t think it is productive enough. They don’t understand what it means. It was shut down in them as children. For those folks, when I say “unused creativity is not benign”, what I really mean is it metastasizes into resentment, grief, heartbreak. People sit on that creativity or they deny it and it festers.”
When I started the research on shame, you know, 13 years ago, I found that 85% of the men and women who I interviewed remembered an event in school that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. But wait – this is good – fifty percent of that 85% percent, half of those people: those shame wounds were around creativity. So fifty percent of those people have art scars. Have creativity scars.”
I had a Creative Scar within. I felt petrified and shame with the old internal messages racing around in my mind ‘I’m not good enough and I can’t do this,’ but I was also excited to connect to my truth. As the teacher spoke, I took a breath, following instructions and popped my charcoal into my non-dominant hand, to not look at my paper, to not try and get it right, and draw.
So I did.
I remember thinking – ‘what I can’t do this, really, it’s going to go all over the place, it’s not going to look like anything.’ I reminded myself that I can take risks and hey it’s ok to give it a go and trust.
And WOW! I stared at this woman in front of me, naked and standing there with a broom in one hand and proud as proud can be. I drew with my heart and let go of everything I knew. Something happened in that moment. Something took over me that I will never forget, a creative power that I long to connect to every time I pick up a brush or pen.
I let go of control, of knowing it all and of getting it right.
5 mins later I looked at my drawing and the most amazing thing happened. It looked like a warrior woman, the powerful essence of the women in front of me. I captured something that I never thought I could do.
From that moment on, I realised that art and creativity had me. I recognised a power within me that knew what to do. I was able to express something that I never thought I could – internal wisdom.
I believe that we don’t need to control, we don’t need to know – We can allow ourselves to feel our vulnerability and then just be and it will all be ok.
It is a way of living that inspires me to this day and continues to fill me with complete joy and happiness.
Since then I have been on a continued path of discovery.
Discovering the power of the creative arts.
It’s taken me down interesting paths, all have led me to this point of expression.
Final Textile Art Piece at University
I had met my partner at 41 and at 43 we made a decision that we would give ourselves the gift of trying to have a family together – it was both our dreams to be parents. Unfortunately, both these IVF cycles were unsuccessful.
It was a time of many highs and complete lows for me. I had trusted my path and myself. I had always thought that eventually, I would become a mum. Deep down I had always wanted to be a mother so it was very hard to let go.
When that time came, I was gutted. I screamed and cried. I expressed my emotions through painting. I shared and I am so pleased to say that at most times I was heard and seen. What I learnt was that there was far more that needed to be expressed and understood.
I grieved deeper than I ever had before and I felt completely powerless. No one had taught me how to grieve and at times I did not know what I was doing. I felt weak, overwhelmed and completely powerless. It was like I had been taken over in every way.
Throughout all of this, the expressive arts saw me through. I learnt how to grieve deeply, honour and embrace this courageous journey of mine. I learnt about the power within, about expression – the importance of seeing, hearing ourselves deep down and the power of empathy. We don’t always know what is being called to be heard and seen but trusting can support us to stay in empowerment and know we are worthy.
The Birth of Empowered Childlessness
In 2016 during Jody Day’s Reignite Weekend, Grieve with Gusto was born.
After all my experiences of working with the arts, I wanted to see if what I had learnt would possibly help others. So I put together the tools that I had been using and created a workshop called Grieve with Gusto.
I loved creating and working with the first participants during the in-person workshops. I saw early on that there was something extremely special when women came together to talk and create.
In 2018, my heart was calling me to take this online to women from around the world. I was scared senseless and I had no idea how to do this, but within 6 months of talking about it, an answer came.g The arts showed me the way with further learning and opening to new beginnings and friendships. Cosmic Smash Booking came into my life and it made so much sense for it to become part of my toolbox of therapeutic arts skills.
In 2019, Empowered Childlessness was born. I felt like I had given birth to something huge and with the virtual online retreat in Sept 2019 and 24 amazing guests supporting the cause to empower childless men and women. I felt like I had become alive again.
Throughout the pandemic, Empowered Childlessness grew and I continued to facilitate Creative Healing Programs and Workshops, supporting other women to connect and heal through the therapeutic arts.
In 2020 I lost my father and my beloved cat MeMe. I also realised at this time that my teaching career of 18+ years had also slipped away.
I continued to paint, create and journal through these feelings of grief and loss. I did this gently but also with intention, kindness and empowerment.
I found that I was not getting stuck in my grief, but it flowed through me. I was learning so much about myself, and more importantly I was able to be more grounded and in service to others. I was feeling a part of life and the world again.
Today, I have found myself.
I have found my passion again
I have re-found my life.
I can truly say that I am finding the meaning of life and my losses.
Just writing this, truly blows me away, I truly did not expect this 7 years ago. Yes, my grief is triggered at times, with feelings of slight sadness having not had a life I thought I would have – children, family etc.
At these times I feel the need to light a candle, hold my heart with my hands and breathe, feeling that life not lived. But, as I sit here I am incredibly proud of the life I am living. I am proud of the woman that I am becoming! This is the life I am living – embracing the one that I have been given and I want to live it the best way I can.
I know that the only way I have been able to get to this place is through grieving with as much gusto as I have done. Without allowing shame or guilt to hold me back.
I have allowed myself to be honest with safe people and work through my losses. Only in this way, have I been able to truly be open to living and embracing my life today.