Updated: Nov 20
My mum told me that there was a period in my early childhood where I would not talk. From what I gather, I began my speech development like most other children, then at some point in my preschool days I stopped using my voice to communicate. I do have vague recollections of this, the feeling of fear and dread as though I was scared to talk and be noticed, mixed with an awareness of frustration by not being understood. Sifting through my early memories and connecting those memories with what I have been told, brings me to the conclusion that the cause of my nonverbal stage was the result of a series of traumatic events. These experiences have been documented though my journal writing, sketchbook work, then eventually through my paintings. As a child I had very little control over my life or what happened to me and as a result I didn’t really enjoy being a child that much. Which is sad, because these early years are the foundations from where a person’s identity starts to really form and take shape. The photo above is me, not sure my age but I do know I am back with my mum as I have photos of me with her and her sister Barbra. Or I could have been visiting her, not entirely sure. They say a picture can tell a million words. If I was around three years of age here, I do know I was already harboring a host of complex traumatic experiences by this point in life and would go on to go through so much more. My body still holds these parts of me today, nearly fifty years later.
My mum never really left the days of her childhood in residential care behind, all those years of living too and froe, institutionalised, with short visits home where there was a lack of love, gloomy and grimy living conditions, a house governed under a damming faith in God, that lead to mental torcher and gaslighting for all four children. Living mainly in care from the age of two until discharged at eighteen made for years of deeply buried trauma that my mum would later go on to bring into our relationship, as mother and daughter. It would have been kinder of grandma to have given all four of her children a chance in life and surrendered them entirely up for adoption. Instead, she kept them in care, in a constant state of limbo, in and out, their whole entire childhood, refusing to let the care system take them altogether. Which in turn just left them locked in a state of confusion. My grandma still had a hold over my mum when I was a child, I remember her as this larger than life and very domineering woman, she kept my grandad under foot, he lived his life very much in the shadow of her, obeying every word. I remember him as being a very sickly man, weak and defeated, puffing away on his woodbines as though they gave him sanctuary, forever hidden under a cloud of smoke or with in the shadows of grandma.
If I were to go back further and investigate my grandma’s and grandad’s childhood, I’m sure there would be traumatic events, rife and present like great big ugly gushing open wounds. Trauma seemed to run through our family like a virus, infecting each member one by one.
So, this is me, in my tender preschool years, rebelling and refusing to use my newfound words, a consequence of the intensity of my circumstances at the time. I would not have had the emotional intellect to understand, or the words to describe, my young underdeveloped vocabulary was not equipped for such emotional complexities. So, I remained voiceless and I observed my surroundings silently. Living in a world that made no sense, I regressed and vanished into a realm of my own, where I chose the rules. An orbit into my celestial imagination, it was colourful, musical, rhythmic and enticing, where I’d dance and play silently with my invisible self and my invisible friends. It was here I found and began my love of the arts, sat with my crayons drawing, was the most magical place to be, me and my mind, concocting all kinds of wonderful adventures, daydreaming the most fantastical stories. My nightmares became illusions that would vanish, I would escape into a kingdom of mystical animals and beasts that would battle to protect me and keep me safe from harm. I locked myself away in my own mind, which is a state I have stayed in and out of ever since.
Looking back over this part of my life I was not only experiencing an adverse effect from my own trauma but also carrying the traumas of my bloodline within me.
I write and explore through my journals and paintings the parts of these fragmented memories of childhood that make for a very fragile sense of self. Unfinished, incomplete half told tales that make me, shadowy autobiographical memories that hold a significant part of my makeup, even though I don’t remember them fully, they are stored inside me, whether I like it or not. My body holds every part I have ever existed through. The unrememberable and the unforgettable. Reference to Douglas Watt and in psychology reads. What the mind forgets the body remembers.
By the time I decided to use my words again, I had split, I had become two, a coping strategy that I would go on to use many times throughout my life, but was it there I did it for the very first time? If I am entirely honest, I’m not sure it was. Subsequently, I became two girls, one that could go through the most arduous of situations and not be fazed, this little girl held the secrets, she kept them safe and if there was danger she would be there, she was lost, had a terrible temper and was reckless. The other little girl with the blond curls, blue eyes and the sweetest of smiles, she was gentle of nature and pleasant to be around. She didn’t understand or know about the dangerous situations the other would be involve in, even though these two girls were parts of the same child, they didn’t form a whole person, or a true identity. I now lived with the consequences of this as I grew up, I began to realise I had parts of my self that remained blank I began to live within this strange existence, side by side with these ambivalent parallels of being. A walking, talking living contradiction, a phenomenon. It became the norm to have blank memories of my passed, feelings of incompleteness and glitches that flickered though my mind. My memory would be triggered by all kinds of regular normal everyday life, such as sights, smells, sounds, tastes, I would feel raw and extremely vulnerable. So right out of the blue, I would remember vividly a challenging childhood incident, then just as quickly, I’d forget it, in its whole entirety. I now have a terrible memory because of this. It’s an in and out state of fog and clarity existence. Thus, a ghost I became, invisible, all because of this technique I developed, maybe as young as a baby, to survive.
Music playing in the background is by Bob Dylan, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
Through all of this, something wonderful and profoundly life changing was happening, the space between the splitting of self, was my creativity, wild, untamed and unapologetically free, keeping the whole of me somehow all together.
THE SPLIT Approximate size 115 x 80 x 2cm
A personal exploration into childhood trauma. How a young developing mind survives traumatic experiences by creating duelled personas, with areas of creativity between the two identities that endeavours to make sense of it all.
On display to be sold at the Banks Mill Open Studios. Follow Link
Thank you for reading all about the creation of The Split oil painting by Sara Jane Boyle.