Sliding Otter News 11/05/2011

The Art of Healing: Planning an Exhibit

Sunrise Over Nantucket Sound

Sunrise over Nantucket Sound

Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to do a little digging to find it

~Tori Amos~

Over a year ago I imagined a GO ART! exhibit of art by trauma survivors. I dove into my research to see whether this plan might work. I decided I could do it but the organization, networking and expense appeared daunting. My project idea generated some interest and not a little skepticism. Would survivors be willing to share their art in a small community? Could our community appreciate such an exhibit? It seemed like a risk.

As I have grown older I discovered that I don’t care as much about what people think. On with the show. I began with the Internet. Google images showed me a great variety of survivor art. Two themes emerged, the psychological horror of trauma and eventual hope for the future.

Once I worked in a sex abuse program. I saw the same two themes back then. Families devastated by errant sexual urges, felt torn apart and children felt caught between escaping abuse and feeling responsible for splitting up their families. Later in treatment, hope emerged for a life without the fear of the bedroom door opening and shadows over their bed late at night. Sometimes survival was the best a family could hope for. Occasionally a better life seemed just over the horizon.

Some trauma survivors escape to an out of body experience. They look down on themselves from the ceiling, detached from their trauma and all its emotions. Maybe survivors do this in their art as well. They distance themselves from what has happened and find a safe place in their art where their fears do not grip them quite so tightly.

When working with children subjected to sexual abuse, we had them make a book about themselves. On the cover they were encouraged to draw or paint a picture expressing who they were. Often these pictures returned to the familiar themes of terror and hope.

I wondered how art could help with trauma recovery. Angeles Arrien said, “The portal of healing and creativity always takes us into the realm of the spirit.” Perhaps she found the key. Physical trauma eventually ends and no longer afflicts their bodies. Yet the spiritual scars remain, sometimes indefinitely. Art and creativity are ways of entering their spiritual selves to understand what happened to them and find ways to mend their souls.

Art is a representation of what we have experienced, a mirror to hold up to our spirit. We can step back from troubling emotions and gain some perspective. We can draw, paint or sculpt an image of what we would like to be and then dare to become what we at first can only imagine. Making tangible our psychological scars and hopes for the future through art helps set boundaries on our pain and remove boundaries from what is possible.

Life Lab Lessons

  • What was the most traumatic event in your life?
  • Did you feel paralyzed?
  • Have you learned to put what happened into perspective?
  • What helped you do it?
  • Use what you learned to handle the next crisis.
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