“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to
remain an artist once we grow up.”
– Pablo Picasso
I’ve always been an artist… of one kind or another.
As a child, and as Pablo has previously said, we are all artists, marvelling at the world around us – the shapes, the textures, the colors, the forms, and how the light looks and what it tells us about what we see. The beauty of it all – that’s what impresses us.
As we grow older, some of us, not all, lose that innocence and wonder, and become hardened like dry paint. Like me. Events occur you have no control over, you suffer incomprehensible losses, and you lose the rose-tinted glasses you wore when you gazed upon what was around you. That’s what happened to me, and I know I’m not alone.
As a young adult, I continued my artistry using the medium of other substances.
Not acrylics – alcohol. Not oils – cocaine and weed. I was your proverbial complete and utter piss artist, because the world seemed to make better sense to me when I was high, wasted, and blasted. Maybe, the seeds of my addiction were sown when I started to look more cynically at the world. During my addicted years, “Cynical” was my middle name.
Fortunately, I found recovery. Out of the depths I had sunk to, I was pulled up by a mix of family and good friends, who together staged an intervention with the help of some other good people from a drug rehab in Denver.
They rescued me (although it didn’t seem like a rescue at the time), they detoxed me, they “rehab-ed” me, and then, when they considered me to be well enough, they released me back into the world I had viewed so cynically before. However, now I was in a far better position to look upon it, deal with it, and move onto what was important to me.
The rehab gave me tools, too. Tools to keep me safe, aware, clean and sober. One of those was the power of art therapy, and that’s what this is about – how I benefited from adding art therapy to my rehab, and my life after rehab.
Here – “4 Reasons to Add Art Therapy to Your Addiction Recovery” – I’ll tell you how I reverted back to the little kid with the wondrous gaze.
Addicts tend to shut themselves off from the rest of the world – mentally and spiritually, and even physically. I know I did, for sure. Any desire to connect with others, to share yourself, your thoughts and your feelings is lost. It’s like the addiction is telling you, “All these other things, these people and experiences – you don’t need them. What you really need is me. I’m the only constant you need in your life.” Pretty soon, that’s the only thing that makes sense.
However, it no longer makes rational sense once you become sober, and that presents a problem – one of many as you move through the addiction recovery process. Just how do I reconnect with a world I turned my back on? Yes, it’s real, it’s right there in front of me, but how do I make myself a part of it?
Answer – art therapy, whether it’s drawing, painting, sculpture, whatever. Art moves us to say how we really see the world, what it looks like to us, and we interpret it. Yes, we may view it as in a number of different ways at first, but art helps us to understand why. Why do we look upon it, and our lives within it, as fragile, or without meaning, even possibly dangerous? Art, expressed purely and honestly, gives us understanding. It’s like a graphic personal journal. Furthermore, with understanding, we can reconnect to whatever we want. On our terms.
The Power of Expression
Expression is a human trait. Everything we do is an act of expression – either verbal, physical or through creation. One of the most powerful aspects of using art therapy in recovery is as a tool for expression, the ability to connect and communicate, especially around things that are extremely personal and painful. Art gives us the mask of anonymity should we choose – the confidence to reveal what we truly are, and what is essential to us as people, either good or bad.
By expressing ourselves through art, we are using inbuilt coping mechanisms that we may have not recognized in ourselves before. The thing is – they work. Art therapy is proven to improve the mental health of those who use it for expression, particularly those who suffer with anxiety of any kind.
Dealing with Anxiety
Dealing with anxiety is no easy thing, and one of the issues around substance addiction is the creation of anxious tension within the addict, even to the point where anxiety can be diagnosed at the same to time or even after the diagnosis and treatment of the addiction itself. If you are anxious, expressing yourself through art therapy is proven to help you greatly.
Art therapy is exactly that – a therapy. It can calm us, ease our tension and reduce our stress. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) has this to say about art therapy: “The therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development.” In other words, it helps us with our internal struggles, such as anxiety.
Art is personal visualization. It’s always amazing to me how my own subconscious seems to take over the controls (and the brushes or pencils) when I sit down to paint or draw or sketch. Often, it really is like I’m just watching, looking at what is happening, what is appearing, and then understanding why. Just so as you know, I am sketching all the time, it seems.
This visualization and its accompanying understanding is an exceptionally powerful tool. Many times, I have visualized my own emotions and my own pain as different animals or faces, and sat and watched them come to life in front of me. By doing this, I am in control of how they appear, and just exactly what they may mean.
More Than Words
As an addict, verbal and written expression often failed me. As a practising artist, my images, these pictures in my head, say much more to me than any amount of words could say.
These “4 Reasons to Add Art Therapy to Your Addiction Recovery” – simple reconnection, the power of expression, dealing with anxiety, and visualization – have all become tools that I use on a daily basis in my recovery from addiction, and in life in general. I’m no longer the cynic I used to be because art therapy has given me the understanding that I felt was beyond my reach before.
Have you ever used art therapy to deal with issues you have faced? How did you find it? Did it work for you?Please feel free to leave a comment to share with others – thank you.
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