By Stacey Lyddon
My personal story that leads me to art includes struggles with mental illness, addiction, suicide attempts, and close to a lifetime of a spiritual separation. Though my parents did not raise me together, my creative and artistic nature were noticed and supported for as long as I can remember. However, my ability to feel like I fit in did not exist. I started to develop survival skills in an attempt to make or keep friends, feel happy, and just be comfortable in my own skin around people or even alone. My identity had been lost in a colorful hurricane created by fear. I survived this fear early on by medicating myself with behaviors. I ran away from home starting in the 2nd grade, I made up exciting stories, acted out criminally, eventually landing myself in halfway houses, more running, and then juvenile corrections. I was finally labeled seriously mentally ill, diagnosed with ADHD, and committed to a mental institution in Arizona until my 18th birthday. I longed to be an adult my whole childhood. A pretty “normal” desire for most kids maybe, but this is what I came to believe that December morning in 1995, “I can do what I want, I can go where I want, no one will chase or look for me because no one cares.” My adult life experiences started to unfold rapidly. I was married then divorced with a baby on the way within just a few months with no family left in Arizona. Not having a clue about how to be an adult or a parent, no social skills, and no self-esteem, I was again shifted into a new mode of fear-driven survival. I white-knuckled to people to avoid homelessness while I was pregnant. Then my daughter was born and pure shock set in. I went numb. I was without a doubt emotionally bankrupt. There was no hope for my future which meant, to me, that there was no hope for my daughter. She was too beautiful and perfect to look into her innocent eyes without being plagued with a belly full of guilt. So, with the last speck of love inside me, I gave my daughter up for adoption when she was 8 months old in 1997. I thank God today that she did not have to endure the next few years in my care. My emotional symptoms were stuffed as I attempted to consume myself in a relationship for 2 years that ended tragically when I started to use meth. Again, life starts to unfold quickly. Within 6 weeks I was homeless, accompanied by my only trusted friend, FEAR. Thinking back I find that it was fear that kept me alive. Fear gave me the strength, power, wit, and everything needed to survive as a young woman in these conditions. Fear fueled the resourcefulness needed to stay loaded so I could cope with my guilt, shame, and loneliness. My fear driven survival did not protect me from near death encounters as I was brutally assaulted on multiple occasions. I finally sought drug treatment and help with my new diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I was steady with my mental health treatment by 2003 and had somewhat of a friendship with my case manager where I received my mental health services. Then, after a serious emotional relapse in 2005 where I attempted to take my own life, my case manager suggested that I would be a good Peer Support Specialist and that she would help me get the job training. A new fire started to brighten my world getting me excited to help other people with mental illness. Before my training was even over I was offered a job as a Recovery Coach for a great non-profit organization. However, the psychiatrist on my clinical team at the time had other ideas for me and did not feel I was fit to be working and was not happy with my case manager for sending me to job training. My trainer opened a door for me just through the simple power of peer support. “Are they going to put you in jail for getting a job?” She asked. Being that I was still without much identity, still no home of my own, and being highly insecure I didn’t see that being very far from the truth. Well, going to work against doctors orders was the best adult decision I have ever made. That was March of 2005. I started out as a part-time Recovery Coach, and then went full-time 6 months later. At this point, I was able to get my own apartment and became a fully self-sufficient adult with meaning and purpose. Over time, and a lot of hard work and hats later, I fell into an amazing roll. I was offered a leadership position in 2013. True happiness was just around the corner when unexplainable challenges started to surface again. Life doesn’t make sense sometimes and my deeply engrained survival patterns snuck out from that dark place and wanted to take over. Then the emotional abuse started in my once fairytale relationship and my body suffered from the pain of endometriosis. I went back into the mental hospital. A very powerful thing happened to me during one of my counseling sessions. My therapist tried hypnotherapy. During this emotional session I had a vision. This was the beginning of my new journey of self-discovery. I want to share it with you. I call it A Vision of Transformation…
I’m at the top of a mountain in the forest just standing there facing North. The sunshine is coming through the trees at about 11am. The sky is so clear and blue. There is a huge tree against my back and its roots are so deep and thick around the base making this tree feel about 12 feet wide. My feet seemed to melt out in front of me as if the roots were pulling me into the ground with it as the tree supported my back and head. The air was so clear and fresh making it easy to breath. The sunshine touched the surface of my skin on my legs and arms except where the shadows of the other tall pines danced all over me. My body was so heavy at it melted into the base of this tree. The heaviness was not something I have ever felt before. As if floating and sinking into water at the same time. This tree was so large and healthy. I felt safe and protected. I look down the North side of the mountain as this staircase appeared. I was at the top of the staircase. Smooth wide steps, at least 30 of them went down in front of me with the slightest curve to the right. At the bottom of the steps there is a glass door. I just about can’t even see the glass because it is so clean and clear. I have this urge to start going down the steps. When I get about halfway down I see this woman on the other side of the glass door. She is so beautiful and brilliant. She just glows and I want to get closer. I tried to continue down the steps but there is all this trash on the steps. There is a broom in my hands now so I try to sweep the trash off the steps so I can keep going. As I clear each step of the trash in my way this golden bright light starts to shine on my face and light up each step as I clear them with the broom. It is so bright, I’m squinting my eyes and wanting to shade my with my hand with my palm turned towards the light. I have 3 steps to go but the trash won’t clear away. This light is piercing my eyes and I can’t clear this trash. Some tight emotion, like fear, is welling up and pushing on my chest. My breathing is becoming erratic. I’m hyperventilating. My nose starts to tingle with the feeling of sharp needles stabbing into the bridge just above my flaring nostrils. My eyes preparing to burst. What is this from? Why am frightened? I can’t get this trash cleared and I am freaking out. Tears gush from my eyes without blinking and I can only stare straight ahead. Paralyzed. She is so beautiful. I’m being told that she is me but how is that possible? She is just too brilliant. She can’t be me. There is too much goodness beaming from her. She is real. I am not. I’m still in a panic. I can’t move. With a SNAP I am lifted into the air as I watch the earth move away from my feet. What is happening? I can see that huge tree and the staircase far below me. I look up and notice the curve of the earth against the endless blue sky. The earth moves up to my feet. Panic replaced with serenity. I see her again. I’m told again that she is me. I may believe it now. I have been told that I look like her. I have her qualities, her talents, her wisdom, her beauty, her love, and passion. I am so broken. I focus on her smile now. She is motioning me with her glowing hands to come to her. I open the door and move forward to her. My body is tight and my arms are drawn to my chest. Static pumped my heart for one beat. I swallow hard and tears fall to wet my cheeks once more. She is pulling me in. Warmth fills me like a soft goose down blanket fresh from the dryer on a cool fall day. I step into her. A sensation of hot release rushes to my core and calms me instantly. Peace. Warmth. Freedom. Strength. Courage. Fear no longer exists. I look down at the palm and back of my hands. They are glowing with golden light, soft and smooth. This is me.
With this vision my passion for art was reborn. Slowly my collection grew into a handful of mediums over the next few years. I started to love myself and this was displayed in the creations of my hands.
Setting out to create my own coloring book initially came to me because I wanted to get “discovered.” As I have already mentioned, my family always thought I was an amazing artist and supported my art throughout this life. However, being that fear-driven lost soul, I never really discovered my true deep self. I have been asking myself some thought provoking questions and to meditate for answers. I came to realize that all of my past experiences are the true gifts. Good and bad. They are gifts that prove that there is life after trauma and self-love along with powerful recovery is possible. My dream is to help people, mainly women, become empowered to heal and transform their darkness into magnificent light. For me, I live to love, forgive, and never forget where I came from. Another part of this dream is to share my story with the details of coloring pages and to relate with women in recovery bringing us all together with a simple vision in mind. Self-love and discovery using every color of the universe. I can tell you today that there is next to nothing in my bank account but my heart is rich and filled with gold. My relationships have a healthy balance now. I am so blessed to share that I have been reunited with my now 19-year-old daughter and God has given me a beautiful son now 6. As the sun rises every morning I wish for new life experiences that bring lessons, growth, and opportunities. I will leap, take risks, and hold the hope for others whose journey longs for a brighter path. Colors of life are everywhere from the tops of the mountains to the deepest parts of the ocean. Discovery is limitless.