By Thurston Gray, CCASA Guest Blogger
It started as a whim. Using Sculpey® clay, I would create an art project every day for a year. 365 pendants. Simple enough. Except it wasn’t. Because instead of just designing a wearable piece of jewelry, I decided to express an emotion I had felt that day, each day, on the clay pendant and then journal my thoughts.
The Pendant Project, as I had dubbed it, proved to be much more than a simple challenge on being creative. Instead, it began a journey to awareness. If I was going to create a pendant representing my emotions or feelings then I needed to pay attention. I needed to ask myself: What was I feeling? Did I even know the name of the emotion swelling up inside me? I had to ask because for years, I had pretended to be “fine.”
In college I was raped. Shhhh, don’t tell. Instead of reaching out for support and assistance, I kept quiet. I believed, at the time, that it was my fault. It was the belief that had me lying to my friends, my family and myself. I was fine.
Truth is I was either totally overwhelmed by my emotions or unable to connect to them at all. Four years ago, I started therapy. That helped a lot. It gave me a safe place to explore, acknowledge and express what I was really feeling. Therapy gave me a place to be authentic; I didn’t have to pretend anymore.
The Pendant Project took it further. Instead of weekly I-hour sessions of authentic-ness, I had to do it every. single. day. From the time I woke up in the morning until I sat at my art table I tried to be aware of the emotions flowing through my body. Some days many different feelings would flow in and out; other days I would get stuck in one emotion. Admittedly, the stuck days were the easiest to recreate onto the clay pendant. On the days where I felt and could identify different emotions, I focused my art and journaling on the one emotion I knew the least.
There were days throughout the year where I would sit at the table and just stare at the blank pendant. That’s when I would let the art talk to me, for me. I would start randomly painting and the emotion would emerge. Only after I had completed the pendant did I understand what I was really feeling.
I completed my year-long project. All 365 days. With each pendant, I took a step towards my healing after sexual assault. I developed the ability to pause, identify and feel my emotions – without being overwhelmed or disconnected. I was able to finally acknowledge my pain, my fear, my loss and my struggles. The pendants also gave me a space to share my joy, my love, my learning of acceptance and forgiveness.
Expanding from a simple art project to a journey to awareness, The Pendant Project gave me the opportunity to be present, be authentic, and to truly be me.
Thurston Gray lives in Denver with her family. After completing a year-long journey of developing her self- awareness and reconnecting to her emotions through art, Thurston put 100 days of her experience into a book. The Pendant Project: My Journey to Awareness Through Art was released to Amazon.com in June 2012. By sharing her story and art, Thurston hopes to inspire other sexual assault survivors to find their own creative healing journey. Thurston also expanded her project into a workshop series, creating a space for survivors to come together as a community to develop personal awareness through creative expression. She can be contacted at thependantproject.com