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!