When you think of "Emotional Trauma" what do you imagine? Someone who has lost a close friend or family member? A victim of poor circumstances? Abuse?
I want to delve into crochet and similar art forms to understand how they help people cope and recover from events or occurrences that have caused seemingly irreparable emotional or physical damage. Recover and coping are often thought to come from a counselor and a prescription bottle. But it can also come from the creation of new things, and the pride in that creation.
For me, "Emotional Trauma" says "Patchwork of abuse and self-hatred". It also says "Ignored" and "Distrusted" and even "Pathological Liar". It screams "Denial".
My emotional trauma, like with so many others, begins in my childhood. Memories I'd suppressed for years came bubbling to the surface when I was in my late teens. Memories I'd been called a liar over, memories of actions taken by people I trusted that forever changed my perspective of love and family.
When I reported the abuse, my parents were in denial that "no one who loved a person could do that" and later that "He is Old, so he doesn't always know what he's doing.".....because that made it better, more excusable.
When I was 5 or maybe 6, it all blends together.... my great grandma taught me basics to crochet. She said it kept me busy and out from under her feet. As an adult, I learned that it kept me entertained while she drank her alcoholic beverage of choice for every meal and snack through the day. She'd sit not so patiently and coax me through the basics, and then send me out to the porch or the guest bedroom to practice for hours.
When I was 7, I'd gotten fairly good at making cat toys and washcloths. Grandma still worked away at granny squares or Granny Stripe blankets even though her sight was dwindling. I fell asleep on the couch one afternoon after crocheting for the morning. Grandma went to the grocery store.
I was awoken, shocked by the sensation of pressure on my chest and my sweatpants being pulled down. When I opened my eyes after realizing it wasn't a nightmare I was having to see-and feel- my great grandpas face in my crotch. He was licking my "private parts". I should have shouted out. I should have thrashed away and got up, but I couldn't find my voice. I couldn't move a muscle. When he'd finished what he was doing, he pulled the blanket down over me, released the pressure from my chest, and went down to his basement-workshop space to stoke the fire.
When I was able to move again, I wrapped tight in my Gran's blanket and picked up my hook. When Gran got home, I didn't know how to tell her, so I just stayed very quiet until my parents got there. On the way home, I told my mom what had happened, and she told me to "stop telling lies, they can get people into trouble."
A few months later, I was spending the afternoon with my grandparents again. It was getting colder, it rained a lot where they lived. Grandpa asked me to bring another batch of newspaper and matches down tot he workshop so he could start a fire (wood stove was in the basement). I took it down, set it on his workbench and turned around to see that he'd pulled his penis out of the sipper in his deep blue overalls and was waving it at me. Stroking it. And I was backed into a corner. I had nowhere to go.
I heard Grandma coming through the door with a load of laundry, and I used that moment of distraction to run past him, up the stairs in and into the guest bedroom. I picked up my hook and started chaining, endlessly. I didn't care what I was making, but the repetition of stitch after stitch after stitch helped me to breath through the trauma, and slow down my heart. Tears began to pour, and Grandma came in. I told her what had happened, she scoffed, rollers her eyes and told me to stop telling horrible tales, and being facetious. I didn't know what facetious meant, but her tone said that I was in the wrong. I didn't eat or say another word until my parents came to pick me up.
When I told my mom, she was quiet for a few minutes. "Sometimes when people get old, they don't realize what they're doing. I'm sure he didn't mean to." That was the end of the matter, there would be no further discussion.
I didn't want to to go their home anymore, I knew that I wasn't safe and further, that no one would take me seriously. I'd beg to go with my parents when they went to their car auctions for work, I'd sit in the car all day listening to books on tape and crocheting. I'd rather do anything than spend another unsupervised day with grandpa.
I turned 8 in the summer of 1998, grandma moved on to a nursing home at the end of the summer - the stairs became too much- grandpa fell ill, and passed away that fall. After his passing, grandma told her daughter about the things that grandpa had allegedly done to the neighbor girl, and my sister (16 years older than me) told me about the things he'd done to her. I realized I'd never seen her go to his house, not even for family holiday gatherings.
My mom was in such strong denial that her dad couldn't possibly do anything wrong that she sat back and ignored that two of her children were sexually abused by him, and who knows how many neighborhood girls. While I am upset, it's been 20 years. I've learned that while I don't excuse my grandma's willingness to ignore the flagrant crimes happening, I realize that in her generation the man has all the say, and if something happens you stay silent. I wonder if this may be why she drank.
I continued to learn to crochet, first from family friends, then from teachers at school, until I got so good people were asking me to make things for them to buy. I sold my first crochet item in 7th grade. I was 12. Just after 9/11, a classmate bought a crochet bunny to give to her baby brother.
As I moved into high school, I didn't crochet much. I simply didn't have time between classes and theater. Around Christmas time, I'd sell a few hats, and headbands to classmates, even the occasional teacher would request a commission for their kids. I wasn't making a ton, but enough to pay for gas and insurance on my car. I got a job, moved up to assistant manager, and moved in with my then boyfriend. I was 17. It wasn't until the lease was signed, and my mom had filled my bedroom space with storage and it was too late that I realized he was abusive.
He'd come home from school or work, drink something, smoke a bowl, and come to bed. I was typically watching movies or doing homework, and he'd force himself on me. He'd start with foreplay, which was fine until he started ignoring when I said no. I had no one to talk to. I thought maybe that how it was supposed to be because that's what I'd seen in my childhood. I lost my job and started focusing more on my crochet and my college classes. I was advancing in school and taking some classes through the college. The sooner I could move on to college full time, the sooner I could afford to live on my own. I put up with that treatment regularly, started drinking and smoking before he got home so that I could numb everything. He told me repeatedly that if I wasn't bringing in my portion of rent, I'd need to pay him somehow else, he was just extracting his payment.
My little sister called me one night and told me that she had some bad news. Our baby sister had been lethargic, and unable to speak for a few days. Her face had started to swell, so they took her to the hospital. She was diagnosed with severe brain cancer, but that at the time, they had no idea what stage, or if they could do anything with it. She was 11.
To Google I went. What can I do or make to ease the discomfort for her, now and throughout her treatments? What were her treatments going to look like?
I picked up my hook, and tears streaming down my cheeks, I started crocheting her a blanket. I got a text shortly after saying that the specialist wanted to start her on immediate chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Google to the rescue again, I researched the effects of Chemo, and started making hats, and continuing on her blanket.
She was a trooper, and through her treatments, she never complained. Despite the treatments, she would pass away 3 years later.
Shortly before my sister passed, I found out my other little sister was pregnant at 15. Finally something happy to crochet about! Her pregnancy tore apart her side of the family. Her boyfriend was kind on the surface, and she only saw that side of him. She was blind to his flaws. We could see that he was duplicitous and unfaithful. But she refused to see it. Until the day she gave birth, she never saw a single flaw. On her daughter's delivery day, he was nowhere to be found. His best friend was by her side instead. He was off with his 2nd girlfriend, who he ended up getting pregnant while my sister was in delivery. My niece has a half-sister, less than 10 months younger than her.
I've spent years and years, nearly a decade, crocheting and doting on my niece, and the children that have come after her. I now have 3 nieces, and 4 great nieces by my oldest sister's children.
When I got married in 2009, I made all the decor, stationery, and even my own cake. We were on a very strict budget, with very little contribution from our parents. I was able to sell some of my crochet stuffed teddy bears around Valentine's day to pay for some of the supplies, our marriage license, and associated costs. Once again my craft had pulled me out of a bad spot. We never got our honeymoon, my crochet didn't earn us enough cash, but we got married, and we were able to move into a nice place, with a few roommates, and start living our life together.
That fall I started college, again, after having to drop out when my sister's health declined. I found it hard to focus, and I struggled to keep up with conversations in class. I was distracted, and thinking about a million things at once. One of my classmates in a basic business class would doodle in a sketchbook,, and always seems to be able to contribute to the conversation, and remember details about lectures. I asked her about it, and she told me that since she was a kid, she had to be doing something with her hands to focus on things like lectures. I figured it was worth a shot, so I brought my crochet to the next lecture, sat in the back to avoid distraction, and felt so much more engaged. I could recall lecture points and even managed to take better more understandable notes. Art and craft once again helped me to be a better person, a better student.
Two years passed, I was in a pretty bad car wreck. I couldn't drive to school and had to drop classes. I wasn't able to return until the following term had started, but my student loans that I depended on for rent had been delayed because of the previous term's academic performance. I used the holiday season to bolster sales, and crocheted hats and other winter accessories to pay for my rent. It got us out of a tight spot again.
I went back to school and finished out the school year. I was in my 2nd year of school. Fall term, when I discovered that I was pregnant. Between morning sickness, acid reflux, and insomnia, I started to fall behind in classes again. I'd bring my crochet, but I'd doze off regularly. I barely scraped by that term, finishing with C's across the board.
The next term, I was in my 2nd trimester of pregnancy, and the morning sickness had passed. I was back on top of my school work and feeling like I could do well this term. I took part-time classes because I was still struggling with insomnia, but I felt good about this term.
Feb 28, I was rear-ended at high speeds in traffic, and due to the injuries and my physical therapy, I failed 2 of my 3 classes. When classes started back up in the spring, I was too large to fit into the desks, and I took the next 2 terms off. I started doing crochet and set up at Saturday market selling my crochet wares. I'd easily bring in $500-600 in sales just from the markets each month. My husband worked and went to school, and his job paid well. The major downfall was that he worked graveyard shifts 6 days a week at the local hospital. He was not home at night and was sleeping during the day. It certainly made it difficult to spend time with him before baby.
The night that my first child was born was his first night on shift after training. Baby wouldn't latch. I'd been in labor for 21 hours. And I was tired and frustrated. I'd thought that I'd be okay, mostly sleeping and feeding and eating, so I told him to go to shift. He'd be in the hospital, so if I needed him, I could call him. Baby wouldn't settle, baby wouldn't latch. And I was losing it. After we finally got him some expressed milk, he settled down to sleep, and I was too upset to pass out. Not even a mother for 3 hours and I was already failing. I turned the TV to the Olympics and watched the speed skaters on mute. I crocheted a little baby hat and dozed off until the next feeding. It was the crochet that calmed me down enough to catch a few winks.
Time and time again, any major stressor, anytime I can't quite make ends meet, I turn to my hook.
At this point, I have people seeking me out and ordering huge amounts of gifts every year. I have a large consignment contract with a toy store from my hometown, and I have a post-apocalyptic trade still. My adventures into parenthood have included a 2nd child, a broken foot during pregnancy, moving over 200 miles away, and returning to school to finish my degree 11 years after I started it.
The only consistent thing in all of it has been Crochet.
I know that it's a lot of information, and most of it isn't happy. But I really appreciate your readership. I'll be publishing other similar stories from other people around the world in the upcoming weeks.
I want to explore how art can help people cope with what life throws at them.