When you think of recovering from traumatic events or a painful past, does creativity come to mind as a method of healing? Creativity is something most of us do when we have extra time- and extra time seems to come almost never. We set goals for work, we drive kids to practice, and we make food for dinner (or get something on the way) but prioritizing creativity doesn’t cross our minds in life’s hustle.
But it Should. Especially when healing is needed.
If you are recovering from a divorce, or adjusting to an empty nest, or working through childhood sexual abuse, or rebuilding after bankruptcy, or recovering from chemo, you have encountered trauma. You have been dealt a blow that affected your body, soul and mind, and you need extra care and attention.
That care and attention may come in surprising ways. I’ll show you.
PTSD results in tightened muscles, shallow breathing, racing thoughts, rapid heart rate and hyper vigilance. Contrarily, creativity directly affects those symptoms by relaxing the body, deepening the breath, focusing the mind, slowing the heart rate and calming response triggers.
Creativity helps you deal with your trauma through the back door of the brain. When you create, you don’t have to think about painful memories or traumatic events. You can give your brain a break, and just let it create. The creative energy does the healing for you. Here are some examples that work:
- Play Without Competition- Play for playing’s sake. Blow bubbles, roll play-dough, play games, play with children and play by yourself without competition. No winners, no losers, no competition, just play. There is so much about our current day lives that demand our A Game, (work, parenting, surviving!) that PLAY is forgotten. Work some play time into your schedule, and don’t stop until you laugh.
- Creativity Without Judgment– Making things is good for you. You are made in the image of God, the Master Creator. If you don’t CREATE, you will feel incomplete. But when you create something, make sure you don’t judge yourself for it. I volunteer in an art class for children, and once they are given a compliment for completion, some will say, “Well, it’s not very good.” Where do they learn to judge their art so critically. Say to yourself what I say to these children, “Well, I like it. I like it because YOU made it!” When you create something, be careful not to judge it poorly- that steals the creative juices. Just let your creation be. Let it have its day. Let it have its space in the world. Its valuable because YOU are.
Art, Poetry, and Photography for the Soul, not for the Wall- Often, people won’t create unless it’s for an audience, a purpose or to show others. So here is a challenge- buy an art journal, a writing journal or a picture portfolio that is PRIVATE, and just for you. Write for yourself, create for yourself, experiment and explore for yourself. Don’t judge your creativity as valuable only when it is used for something beyond yourself. Some creative work is ONLY for you and should be a gift back to yourself. I think of God creating the universe, the billions of stars, the things humans have never seen but imagine, yet those ancient, far away creations were made and still exist, like a private portfolio just for Him.
- Memorial Making– You may need a way to honor your past, your memories, and your inner child. Collect objects, symbols and important words to build, create, collage or organize your feelings. This is important work. A while ago, a friend of mind was having difficulty grieving the death of his daughter. He wanted to “just get back to life” and couldn’t even let himself cry. He decided to build a memorial for her by hand. Shovel, stone, brick, and grit- he painstakingly created a small memorial where he could go to remember her. This moment by moment building project allowed him the time to grieve and let go. You may want to make a memorial to your innocence, or to the person you were. It doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be meaningful. This kind of project can help you let go of the pain of trauma, and accept the goodness your future holds.
- Gardening- Gardening is a process that requires patience. Sometimes we get inpatient with ourselves when we are not recovering, rehabilitating, or healing “fast enough,” as if our recovery should follow our instructions for speed. But gardening, with its seasonal requirements, makes us slow down our expectations, dig our hands into the dirt, and nurture delicate life. When we nurture someone or something else, our desperate insides receive the nurture too. We slow down our expectation for ourselves and receive nurture from God and nurture from ourselves.
With each Creative media, whether art, building, playing or planting, slow down enough for it to replenish you. Use your creative time to push back the demanding outside forces, and nurture the life within you. Give creativity a chance to console you, heal you and revive you. You may experience a kind of life cycle with your creation- a degeneration and death of things that must go, a season of dark, and then a spring of new life. Ride your creativity all the way through, employing faith that you are worth the time, money and effort it takes to create, to heal, to flourish.
How about you? What have you created that has given you healing in return? What creative project or playful activity has given you happiness and health? I’d love to hear from you for more ideas!