Art Heals

Have you ever felt that there just weren’t words to describe how you’re feeling? No matter how hard you try, you just can’t verbally express what you’re experiencing? In recovery, it can be difficult to share personal stories, to navigate the intense emotions that block effective communication. So, what can you do? Try art therapy!

You know firsthand that illness and addiction are associated with intense emotions. And recovery from them dredges up even more! Art can provide a refuge from these feelings. Tactile activities like painting, sculpting, or drawing are effective in revealing material hidden in the unconscious, promoting outward expression and cathartic release. Art lets you use your imagination and creativity in a positive and productive way. The variety of mediums available expands your ability to articulate your experiences and emotions nonverbally, giving you an additional language for exploring, understanding, expressing, and resolving the issues in your life that caused your need for escape through substance use.

There are several ways to introduce art into your life. Want something quiet and soothing? Try painting. Whether it’s acrylic, oils, or watercolor, painting is a calming activity that allows you to leave your emotions on the canvas. Painting has been proven to reduce anxiety, foster selfawareness, and raise self-esteem, so why not give it a try! Don’t mind getting a little messy? Give sculpting a go. Carve out your thoughts and emotions in clay and bring shape to the problems you’re facing. If all you have at hand is a pen and paper, try drawing – one of the earliest forms of artistic expression. Remember how excited you would get as a child with a fresh box of crayons? Grab some and let loose! If you don’t think you can draw, start with a mandala; start with one central shape and add peripherally to it in layers and soon you’ll have a beautiful work of art made through a reflective and creative process. The best part about art is that you can do it from anywhere. And the methods of art therapy are limitless: you can paint, sculpt, draw, collage, scribble, write, carve, doodle… the limit is your imagination. Just grant yourself permission to try! Adult coloring books may be a good place to start if you REALLY feel that you don’t have an artistic bone in your body; experiment with different colors as you fill in all the empty spaces and see what wonderful pictures you can create!

If you’re open to it, recovery and art therapy can go hand-in-hand. As an introspective process, art therapy allows you to start a deeper conversation with yourself that allows you to explore aspects of your life that words and traditional therapy don’t. It provides an opportunity to work through the emotions, experiences, and issues that contributed to developing an addiction while offering you a safe means of sharing with others. Art therapy also facilitates and strengthens the mind-body interaction, bringing awareness and greater connectivity to the self. Unlike other activities, there are few rules in art therapy. The goal is simply to create and the project is entirely your own, from start to finish. At the very least, art therapy offers a refreshing change from sitting on a couch rehashing the past, a break from hearing, “and how does that make you feel?”

Creativity is an antidote to stress. Using art in times of anxiety can help you fight against the urge to use again, proving an invaluable tool against relapse. Art therapy allows you to go beyond the limits of language, to explore yourself in new ways, and to give tangible form to psychological distress. Use art to give voice to your painful thoughts and feelings and you will find relief from the difficult emotions that seek to derail your recovery. Just the process of creating can calm your mood, releasing dopamine (the “happy” neurotransmitter) in the brain. Finding nondestructive ways of experiencing pleasure that don’t harm your mind or body is vital to recovery, and art is a surefire way to get you there!

Just like recovery, art can be unpredictable and chaotic. But also like recovery, art can be rewarding and meaningful. So, go ahead. Roll up your sleeves and get messy!

How To Boost Your Self-Esteem In Early Recovery

Feeling like your self-esteem is shot? Facing a lot of negative self-talk that’s bringing you down? It’s important not to beat yourself up over every little mistake, particularly in early recovery when you’re bound to slip up. When you have low self-esteem, you may become depressed, enter into abusive relationships, or fail to meet your potential. These are all risk factors that can lead to relapse, so it’s important to work on building self-esteem and self-respect in early recovery. A healthy self-esteem can protect you from being overwhelmed by shame and selfhatred, helping to keep you on the right track. Plus, it’s much easier to engage in positive activities when you feel good about yourself! So, how can you boost your self-esteem?

Challenge negative self-talk. Catch yourself when you say things like, “I’m a total failure,” or “I’m worthless.” Is this really accurate? Can you find evidence against these beliefs? Chances are, you can. Try using more balanced statements that acknowledge your shortcomings while leaving room for improvement. Isn’t “I made a mistake and I’m working on improving” much nicer to hear? Give yourself credit for trying rather than beating yourself up if you haven’t achieved a certain goal. Acknowledge what you have accomplished and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Spend time with yourself. Try meditation or mindfulness to bring awareness to your body and to get in touch with who you really are. Engage in self-care. Show yourself you are worthy of your own love and take care of your body in kind, gentle ways. Exercise daily, eat healthily, get plenty of sleep; you owe your mind and body rest and rejuvenation. And fun! Get a manicure, take a nap, buy new clothes, go on a hike. Do something purely for the sake of enjoyment!

Stop with the comparisons. Don’t judge yourself based on standards you see in others. You’ll only make yourself feel worse! You never know what those “better” people are struggling with, or how their experience differs from your own. Our journeys are all different; no two will look the same! Affirm yourself. Acknowledge the qualities you like about yourself on a daily basis to help boost your self-esteem. Finding positive attributes will help you feel more confident about yourself, which will carry into other areas of your life. Take time to reflect on things you do well and give acknowledgement to your accomplishments.

Practice self-acceptance. You’re going to make mistakes – and it’s okay! Messing up is part of being human. The point is to practice compassion for yourself in times of struggle and learn from where you went wrong. Try to see the good in every situation and realize that you’ve tried your best, even if the outcome is not what you anticipated. Forgive yourself. You’re not perfect. You make mistakes. There’s not one person in recovery who hasn’t. Learn to let go of perceived failings and instead focus on the possibilities ahead of you. Acknowledge mistakes you’ve made, make amends, and move forward. Just take it one day at a time!

Be realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting goals that are unrealistic or unattainable. Break your goals down into manageable chunks and go after them one by one. Congratulate yourself whenever you do meet a goal and acknowledge how far you’ve come.

Focus on the positive. Take inventory of your skills and strengths, especially the ones that have helped you to overcome challenges. Focus on what’s going well in your life – friends, family, school, work – look at where you are today versus where you were in your addiction. Remember, it’s all relative!

Surround yourself with positive people. Choose friends who lift you up instead of dragging you down, who are as enthusiastic about your recovery as you are. Tackling challenges is so much easier when you have a support system in place that believes in you! Let their optimism rub off on you and watch your self-esteem soar.

Self-esteem won’t emerge overnight. It’s going to take a commitment to yourself and recovery to rebuild a strong sense of self. You’re working hard to achieve your goals in sobriety – giving acknowledgement to your efforts can help boost your self-esteem. Some days will be better than others – love yourself regardless. Remember, self-esteem comes from within. You own how you live your life. Be proactive about building self-confidence. Make improving your self-esteem a top priority. Your recovery will thank you!