[Email delivered me this most marvelous note. The writer gave me permission to use it on the blog but asked to remain anonymous. Wonderful story! I love how this person creatively protects boundaries. Here's to subversive toes! ]
I just read your post “Courageous Conversations Continued” on February 8th about your father and his comment about your toenails and thought you would be interested in a technique I use to control boundaries and stay present.
I participated in a Safely Embodied Group led by Amy Zajakowski Uhll at the Cathedral Counseling Center in Chicago this last spring. Amy is wonderful and the group has been a very important experience for me for which I am very grateful.
While I was in the group I somehow came up with a technique for declaring my own boundaries using nail polish. My parents, for whatever reason, hate nail polish. Hate it. My sister and I think it is based on some feminist standpoint against decoration mixed with a classiest view of somehow being too tacky and therefore beneath them. I am 38 years old and I have never really felt a desire to paint my toenails until recently.
The day after the Safely Embodied Group ended I had to take a trip to my parents’ house where I grew up. My parents like to read the newspaper at breakfast which means they don’t like a lot of talking at the table. They are rigid and I have always had a hard time getting through meals with them.
I got my nails painted (complete spa pedicure) before I left.
I just got my toenails done; the color I chose was Mermaid green with sparkles.
At meals with my family, under the table and inside my shoes there were 10 sparkling toes that only I knew existed. For me it is a completely subversive activity (which I love) and as I sit there in silence I like to imagine each toenail is like a scrabble piece and I try and see how many 10 letter words or phrases I can think of that spell fuck you, or fuck off most effectively.
I don’t really think of the whole activity as yet another thing I keep from them but rather just something that is mine and is private. I have not told anyone in my life other than my therapists about my traumas or even about being in therapy; it is not safe for me at all.
So far I have painted my toenails, a Mermaid green with sparkles and a Ruby Red with sparkles, like Dorothy’s shoes. When I visit my parents I make it a project to take a photograph of my painted toes somewhere in their home.
When I got back home I printing the photograph out and titled it,
Safely Embodied Mermaid Green, 2010.
I know the project sounds odd but it works for me, it helps me stay present and therefore safe.
Thank you for all of your hard work and insight. I desperately want my life to be different and not to be so stuck. If it weren’t for my therapist, Maureen Kelly and people like you and Amy I would not be alive.
Here is the quote I found while I was in the group, it is by the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, “My last defense is the present tense”. This is my new saying and I use it frequently to stay present. I love it so much that I might even get it as a tattoo.