How One Woman Found Strength and Healing Through Creativity
At the beginning of 2017, Allison Adams no longer recognized the world. She had lost her husband, Vernon, or Vernon Version .02 as she calls him, two and a half years after he had been in a terrible accident. In May 2014, Vernon Version .01 was driving home on his Vespa in south San Clemente when he was hit by a truck. He went into a coma, where he stayed for three months, and never ended up going home again. He awoke from the coma with severe brain injury, broken bones and short-term memory loss. Allison, along with her two children, friends and family, spent her life during those two and a half years by Vernon’s side in the hospital.
After Vernon died, in the throes of grief, Allison found herself on a quest to gain inspiration, strength and perspective from some of the world’s most influential women. At the time, a friend was inspired by and writing a screenplay about Eleanor Roosevelt. Allison was so excited by her friend’s passion she decided to paint Roosevelt. She thought maybe she could find a little inspiration, too. As she went through the process, she also learned more about Roosevelt and then thought about painting somebody else. The idea to do a series came to her. She realized it would be a good way to educate other girls, including her own daughter, and remind them of their power.
Particularly to her daughter, whom had just lost her father, Allison wanted to send a message: “This is our world, too, still.”
This was the beginning of Allison’s Groundbreaking Girls project. Since conception, she has painted more than 100 women. She keeps a blog on the Groundbreaking Girls website (GroundbreakingGirls.com) where she posts images of the women, accompanied by information and a quote that resonates with her. Allison has been an artist for a long time but says this project has gotten enough attention to nudge her into becoming a better business woman as well. The images are striking a chord, and selling. She is also scheduled to put on a solo exhibit at a local, San Clemente art gallery, showcasing some of her Groundbreaking Girls. Allison is thrilled the project is reaching others in this way, partly because the journey has been profoundly personal.
For example, Allison was inspired by how Harriet Tubman managed to free 1,000 slaves in her lifetime, even though she suffered from brain injury, and was a slave herself. Allison laughingly recounts moments when she felt insecure about something trivial, and she would hear Tubman’s voice saying, “Whatcha talkin’ about? Gain some perspective!” With women like Helen Keller, she was able to gain more perspective around expression and creativity. She was inspired by how Keller lived in darkness, yet learned how to communicate with her teacher. Not only did she learn to communicate, but went on to fight for civil rights, women’s rights and the rights of the handicapped. Keller, and the other Groundbreaking Girls acted as a sort of guide for Allison anytime she needed perspective or encouragement.
After a family trip to Norway, Allison also got serious about abstract painting. She initially had an agenda for the trip but says she ended up just sitting and resting in the beauty of the place. When she returned home, she felt abstract painting was the only way she could keep the sense of space, light and peace she felt while she was in Norway. With Vernon in mind, she would start the abstract paintings by looking at his x-rays. Using the colors and light she picked up in Norway, she would start with something broken and reimagine it into something else, like a different world. Out of his broken bones, she created beauty.
Allison is passionate about living creatively, and going through this tragedy reminded her of something she believes to be true.
“Creativity is a powerful source to help one work through hard times,” she says.
She says while she was going through the process, people would tell her how strong she was, but from her perspective, she just didn’t want to have her life swept away from her, along with her husband. Exercising her creative gifts has empowered her to rise above the victim narrative and turn the experience into something else, and lead her kids in the same way. As she’s painted, and as she’s healed, she’s grown into her new life with strength, and become a Groundbreaking Girl herself.