Hey I'm Siva Kami Hanson. So, what's there to know about me? Like the real personal me? Are you interested, or curious? If not, maybe just skip to the art sections, because this is a bit of a read. But if you are interested, here's my story, as I choose to tell it today. Trigger warning, this story includes subjects that may be sensitive to some readers.
So painting, yes painting. When did I start painting? The easy answer would be September 20th, 2020. This is the first day I would say I started my journey of painting with intention. The intention to become an artist, like an actual artist who shows and sells their work. But when did I start creating art? When did I realize I was good at it? Always. As long as I can remember.
I have memories of being a small child in elementary school and drawing cartoons, and bubble letters, and trees and clouds and skies. Every art project I would have other kids in the class coming to watch me draw, and often asking if I would draw part of their title pages and projects too. Which I did, happily, because art came easy to me, and it was a way I could connect with other kids. Social skills on the other hand did not come easy at all. I had a lot of trouble connecting and making friends as a smaller child. That could be my inherit personality, or it could have had to do with the fact that I was being raised at home in an offshoot repressive cult. The kids in my family weren’t allowed to watch mainstream television or listen to mainstream radio. We were mostly allowed religious music and practice. No Christmas, no Halloween. We actually had to home school the last week of October and all of December so we wouldn’t be exposed to the evils. Needless to say the other kids at school noticed I was different. We were also genuinely poor, so I did not bring fun lunches or wear new fashionable clothing. All of that and my bright red hair. I imagine I stood out. I actually remember some boys at school following me home and singing “Siva’s a white Hindu vegetarian red head who has no cable” on repeat. But the teasing at school didn’t bother me all that much, because the things the kids were doing at school, were nothing compared to what was happening at home. I spent most of my childhood living in my head, in my own little world, and drawing. I did somehow manage to get a hard cover black sketch book and one of those metal boxes with all the different leads of pencils inside from the stationary store at the local mall. And I remember drawing and drawing my days away. Mostly cartoons, but flowers, nature, everything really. I said when I grow up I want to be an illustrator, which was a bit of a problem, because in the cult, woman did not work. They got married, and served their husband.
Eventually for reasons beyond my control, my family left the cult. At first it was exciting because I was suddenly allowed music, and tv, and I even got to go to school and be in a Christmas concert. But at some point it became something else. The rules of the cult were very strict. No drugs, no alcohol, no sex before marriage. But now that we weren’t in it, the flood gates had opened. My parents starting partaking in light drug use and moderate alcohol consumption. One time when I was probably 13 I did magic mushrooms with my Mother and one of my brothers, it was scary as hell. Overall at this time, there was a complete lack of parenting and I’m honestly not sure if we were actually “allowed” to do drugs and alcohol and have sex as much as we did, or if my parents were just so mentally unwell and wrapped up in their own issues that they didn’t really notice what was happening. Either way, I was young, and I had older siblings, and I wanted friends. So junior high hit, and I got into drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol were a way of connecting with people for me. But I still loved to draw. I had become really interested in anime and I really streamlined my art time into drawing all things anime. I drew my friends, my own characters that I planned to write comic books about, even naked girls for the boys in my class who asked me to. My art teacher hated it. She knew I was a good artist because when we had guidelines to draw scenery or anything else I would get top grades and praise, but she hated the “inappropriate” sexy anime girls I loved to draw. Looking back I was hitting puberty and hadn’t yet had sex, and this was probably a way of me getting my sexual aggression out. So I can see why she would have been put off.
By the time high school rolled around I was an alcoholic with full blown anorexia and bulimia. I had lost my virginity the previous year to being raped. I was fucked in the head, but still somehow managed to get honours grades at school. I did no homework and put in as little effort as possible, but did really well on exams. At the time, I didn’t think I was smart, and I was under the impression that university was only for rich people. I had fully accepted the idea that art was not in fact a real job, and it was not a way to make money. I still drew pictures for friends and did paintings here and there for the next 20 years or so, but never with any consistency or intention. Just a painting here and there a friend had requested for their home, or something I wanted for myself. I got very distracted by the chaos and trauma I was living in.
After graduation I was drinking so much and had no plans for anything. I got involved with some scary people and I took a bit of time away and moved in with one of my sisters in Winnipeg for a year. It was peaceful there, but my sister couldn’t have me bumming off her forever, so I came back to Edmonton. I reconnected with some friends and got a job as a bartender. That lead to more drinking, and I even worked as a bikini wrestler for a summer. I think because I had been raped, at this point twice, I felt like if I took the control of my sexuality then no one could take it from me. Can’t rape the willing I suppose. I was very promiscuous, and I was looking into doing a gig as a topless waitress. I was really just drunk all the time. But I had a very best friend, who is still my best friend to this day. She knew I was an artist, in my blood, in my soul. And I remember being very hung over one day on her couch, and she told me I needed to stop being a bar tender, and go to hair school. She said I would be perfect at it, its like art you can make money from. I had no idea what I was doing at the time, but my grandmother had died and I got an inheritance of $10,000, which basically covered hair school. So I went. And I did well. Really well.
Hair dressing came very easily to me, as it was just another art form. And when I am creating art, I don’t think about my trauma. I don’t think about getting beat, or raped, or being scared and unsafe. I more or less don’t think at all. I just do it. I kept drinking, and I dated some pretty rough dudes, I did bad things and had more bad things happen to me. One night I was black out drunk in las vegas and I got violently raped again. But somehow through all of that, I managed to show up at work and do great hair. I ended up making a really decent living financially, but I was still a train wreck otherwise. It finally all came to a head when I was 24. Things had just gotten too out of control with the guy I was dating, and I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want my life to be like that anymore. I wanted peace. I left him, and I was living alone. No boyfriend, no friends, no family. And other than right now (with my husband and kids) it was the very best time in my life. I got into sewing my own clothes and reading. And I decided that if I didn’t meet someone who made my life better, I didn’t need anyone at all. But why not try and see if he’s out there I guess?
I put a profile up on match.com and I met my husband 3 days later. We talked for 3 weeks, and finally met in person. I didn’t think he would ever want to talk me to again, because he seemed way too good for me, but he text the very next day and asked when he could see me again. I knew I wanted to marry him within 2 weeks after meeting. I was still drinking then, but he wasn’t into it. At one point he told me if I was going to get drunk like that all the time, he wasn’t going to stick around, so I cut back, a lot. And eventually we decided to have kids. We got married and I had our daughter, and although it was of course the most amazing thing that I have ever experienced, getting to meet her, to have her, to hold her, this would in fact become the hardest and darkest time in my life.
Having a child opened up traumas and wounds I didn’t even know were there. I had thought I had always dealt with my problems through humour. But suddenly with this perfect child in my arms, starting up at me, I knew there had been something wrong with my childhood. The things that had happened to me, the thing that had been blamed on me. I knew I would never do those things to my child, and I suddenly had a realization that I was damaged and hurt, and that those things were not my fault. The love I had for her hurt me, because I realized that my own parents didn’t have that love for me. Or maybe they did love me in some way shape or form, but maybe their own mental illness was just too much to overcome. I am sure I also had postpartum depression, but I sunk so low into a very dark space. I did a lot of counselling and soul searching, and decided to cut ties with some members of my family. It was at this time that I got diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Disorder. I also realized that making jokes about abuse wasn’t actually dealing with it, it was just pushing it under the rug. I eventually got on some good medication and felt good enough and optimistic, so we had a second child. I never got as low as that again, but I had slowly slipped back into my old habits, and by the time my son was 2 or so I was drinking heavily again.
Two things happened at the same time that changed everything for me. On September 18th, 2020, I fell off my husbands skate board and broke my arm. I had to have it surgically repaired and I had to take 2 full months of work without the use of one arm. I was in a bit of a state, and I couldn’t care for my children at all, so my little loves were sent off to stay with my in-laws. I needed to do something, Anything. I couldn’t just lay in bed and do absolutely nothing all day I was going crazy. I remembered that I had impulse bought some nice acrylic paints and a canvas from Micheals one day a few years ago thinking I would try my hand at acrylic painting, but life got in the way and they had just been sitting in the basement collecting dust. I scrounged around in pain and with the help my husband I got out everything I needed to start painting. And I painted. I painted a landscape using a reference from a photograph my Mother in law had been kind enough to send me when I text her asking if she had any nice landscape photos I could paint. It wasn’t the most amazing painting anyone had ever created, but it was nice. And I had done it with only use to one arm, I actually had to get my husband to open and close the paint tubes for me. And the best part was, I had really enjoyed painting it. It took my to a place I forgot existed. A place of stillness, where I felt everything and nothing all at once.
The second thing that happened was my drinking had come to a head. I had been drinking quite heavily for the past year or so again and it was effecting my life in a negative way. But when I broke my arm I had to stop for a while. I couldn’t drink while getting a surgery and taking heavy painkillers. So I had taken a break, but once I was all healed up, I went ahead and got wasted. And I threw up all night and was sick for five days after. And in that time I realized something. I was still sick. Mentally that was. The counselling I had done a few years back, the cognitive behaviour therapy, the medication. It hadn’t “cured” me. And I was using alcohol to cope and disassociate from my PTSD. And I also realized that I had really always been using drinking to cope and dissociate from all my trauma. But I also realized that painting did the same thing for me. So on November 4th 2020, I made the decision to stop drinking, and start painting. I’m still not “cured” and I probably never will be. I deal with serious effects of PTSD and having a brain that was formed in a constant state of fight or flight. I am suicidal, I am anxious, I disassociate, I hate myself. But I also love my family, love my husband love my children, and love my life as it is now. I experience sadness and pain and confusion, but I feel joy and happiness and clarity too. As I write this I am one year ten months and 4 days sober. I have sold more than 50 paintings. I am at a place where I finally feel it is ok to do something for yourself and not just shrink into the background. Where it is ok to strive for something more. So here I am, and I’m not stopping anytime soon.