I am an artist. I am an artist. I am an artist. I am an artist.

It was so very challenging to form those words in my head…my fingers felt like they were dredging through quicksand just to make contact with my laptop’s keys…but there it is.

I am an artist.

I write poetry, essays, rambles of scrambled feelings and thoughts. I paint in acrylics and water colors. I hand-make paper and books. I sculpt and I sew.

I am an artist.

As a single Navy Lieutenant stationed at Fort Meade with more than six years of deployments and a divorce in my sea bag, I lived to serve. Going home every night seemed like a job to me – there was so much work to do and none of it unclassified enough to come home with me. Without family waiting for me at home each night, my only limitation to meeting mission requirements were hours in a day.

I couldn’t see the clouds darkening, the barometric pressure falling or the catastrophic storm tracking my way. Migraines became my only measure of “enough work.”  They were my body’s response to the stress I’d grown thirsty for. Multiple Emergency Room visits, injections, imaging and prescription drugs couldn’t get me back to “normal.” In fact, they landed me in Johns Hopkins Neurology Intensive Care Unit. The greater good, the work, my service…all suffered.

My  government-issue appointment planner was logging more than 30 medical appointments a month and With a four-hour round trip commute to Walter Reed, I often spent six hours a day in the hospital. I became a professional patient. A very exhausted, distraught and depressed patient.

Fortunately in 2015, a provider brought my attention to the Frontline Arts and Warrior Writers workshops at The USO Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda. It was my re-introduction to art, writing and creativity. It was my introduction to a supportive military cadre, a family that understood. A spark of hope ignited inside me that week and I wanted to hold on to it.

Until then, I relied on therapists, therapy groups and my husband for support. In this day of integrated medicine and whole body treatment though, other tools are available only if you know where to find them. Community Building Art Work’s mission is to help military and veterans find community through the arts.

I don’t need a holiday to be thankful. I thank the universe for all the blessings that have come from art.

Among them are the ability to channel my sometimes depressive days into something creative and productive.

Instead of building myself into a king-sized fort of isolation atop my bed, I’m comforted by the linen-like pages resting on my chest, sitting with me in supportive silence, waiting patiently for my Staedtler 0.05 to marry my heavy feelings to its cold-pressed pulp.

I am thankful for the safe space that a blank page or canvas always holds for me. With that in mind, there are millions of other veterans who could benefit from a blank page and a safe space. Please consider supporting CBAW this Giving Tuesday so your neighbor, brother, mother or fellow veteran has the same opportunity I did.

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