Sharing “Family Secrets” can be powerful

Steve Head has learned how to address his life experiences in a way that's healing him and others.

“Family Secrets” is on display at Spiva Center for the Arts through October 10th.

We all have our own internal struggles, and often what makes them so painful is that we keep them to ourselves.

Missouri artist Steve Head held onto his for a very long time, eventually learning that if he let them out of their cage, the one that’d be set free — was him.

“When you put something out about your own experience with childhood sexual abuse or something like that, it’s pretty scary,” he tells us. Even with glasses, hat, and beard, Steve speaks more openly than those with a similar journey often can.

“You grow up feeling like, ‘What are people going to think?’ Hey, I’m doing this with you right now. It’s gonna be seen by thousands of people. What are they going to think of me?”

For more than fifty years, it’s thoughts like these that kept the artist from addressing his childhood trauma.

“It’s a hurt. It’s a wound that you don’t really know how to describe or put your finger on it,” he says to our photographer. “A lot of the secret keeping is done because of the feeling of shame. You don’t want to tell your story because you’re ashamed and sometimes that shame is not even yours, it’s a feeling that doesn’t belong to you.”

That shame is what kept Steve’s pain internal for so long, and turned him to alcohol at the age of fifteen.

While he was able to put the bottle down by age thirty, the pain from his younger years remained bottled up until his mid-fifties. That’s when a church program for adult survivors of abuse opened his eyes entirely.

“That was the revelation that happened to me. All the stuff that made me feel empty inside, I figured out that’s what it was! Once you can recognize, ‘Oh, that’s what happened. That’s why I felt that way. I can get healing from that.'”

Finally, Steve was able to confront his monsters. Shortly after, he began expressing those festered feelings through art.

Today, his work is shown in galleries around the 4-States, including his current exhibit titled Family Secrets.

“Sometimes you feel like, in your pain, in your hurts, in your woundedness, that nobody understands. Nobody really knows what I went through or would ever, ever understand what I went through.”

As he articulates the loneliness he felt for so long, his work surrounds him. It’s as though the walls of Spiva’s regional gallery are hugging him in the way he never felt growing up.

“With this exhibit, I think people realize you’re not alone. Other people do understand. Other people know what it’s like. Other people understand exactly what you felt when you visited your Uncle Oscar.”

Before we leave, Steve shows us a box full of pieces of paper. After walking through the gallery, people can write Steve a note.

He tells us he’s received hundreds of them — mostly written anonymously — with people opening up to him in a way he never imagined.

Thank you. I am a survivor of childhood abuse. Emotional, physical, verbal, alcoholic single parent. Now I struggle with that addiction and mental illness. I work hard but I can’t ever undo it completely. Thank you for this. Thank you so much.

Looking at us, Steve can’t help but smile.

“…and that’s what this is all about.”

One of the many reminders to Steve that, he too, is not alone.

For more information about Steve Head and his exhibit, click here to visit Spiva’s website.