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Sketching Her Way Out

Updated: Apr 17


"Isolation is no stranger to me, but it feels much more real in this time more than ever. My mother developed compulsive hoarding disorder around the time my father was serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he made it back, although badly injured, he no longer lived in the same house as us.


I was only 4 years old. I felt so trapped, but as a young child, I had no clue how to help. The accumulation of “valuable” items began as a coping mechanism and quickly got out of hand. While I don’t believe that her coping mechanism was making things better, only worse, I can understand because she is human. I am not excusing her behavior, rather leaning more into understanding the mind-baffling question of ‘why’.


Just as I struggle with the effects of a chemical imbalance of the brain, so does she. We cannot control our brains, just as someone with asthma cannot control the disfunction of your lungs. What’s the difference? Shame. Growing up, I couldn’t have friends over. I didn’t have my own room until I was in high school. While I believe I had a relatively great childhood despite emotional and relational hardships resulting from the hoarding, I am almost twenty years old and there is still so much to heal from, so much to learn.


I am a college student and I normally live on campus in a dorm, but due to the governor’s orders forced us all to move out, back home, with little notice. I cried when I heard the news that we had to move out. I am a very organized and clean person, and I would have to continue my studies in an environment that makes me feel anxious and alone. I wondered how I could even make it through the remainder of the semester. I thought that distancing myself from the issues was my coping mechanism. Almost a month into our stay at home order and I realize that I was never coping, only running away and hoping my mom would heal on her own.


While I have honestly only been seeking resources and praying for healing for about two weeks, I have found that watching psychological based videos has helped me understand this most. The degree I am working on requires certain studio art classes for completion. I am currently in a figure drawing class, where we draw from observation and work with live models. Since we are no longer having in-person instruction, we cannot continue this practice. As an alternative, my instructor suggested to “draw a space you’re familiar with, and draw it from life.”


Since I couldn’t go to my favorite Chinese restaurant to draw inspiration, I had to find it in my home. My heart dropped, knowing exactly what that meant. The clutter in the past few years has made its way into my room, whereas previously it had not. This is something that irks me every single day, because this is how I am forced to live. I sat in silence for a bit, but then it hit me—this is an opportunity. I pick up my grey Crayola marker and start drawing my surroundings, particularly my workspace. I take a breath, I light a candle, and I untense my shoulders and unclench my jaw. I grab my ink pen and start to draw a continuous contour, where I do not lift my pen from the page. When doing these type of drawings, I strive to suppress my personal unconscious, or my individual thoughts, memories, wishes, and unaware impulses. This was popular in the abstract expressionism movement, with artists such as. Jackson Pollock (the paintings that look like random paint splatters, but they are so much more). This whole creative process took about thirty-five minutes total. In that short yet groundbreaking time, I had just found a new focus for my personal art journey, and also a way to healthily cope with my situation. The chaotic lines and claustrophobic feeling shared in the language of art what I had been experiencing for the past nineteen years of my life. Although I may feel isolated, I know that there is that one thing that can endlessly provide me comfort and assist me in healing from the deep scars I didn’t even realize I had — Art.


- "M", anonymous COH member








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