Tell Your Story in a Safe Way With Art
I wasn’t always an art therapist. I enjoyed drawing and painting from a young age, but I didn’t enjoy art because I had talent. It was so much more than that. Art gave me meaning. When I explored art, I found value in myself. When I created art, I gained self-esteem. In my young mind, without art, I was nothing.
Oftentimes when people hear I’m an art therapist they share with me their favorite coloring book from Barnes & Noble. I never want to discourage anybody from coloring or painting or sculpting; you do you. However, art that you do at home, is not art therapy.
Before I get to my own art, I want to clarify that art therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach, which requires a minimum of a master’s degree.
Now that that’s out-of-the-way, let’s get back to making art! When you make art for yourself, whether it’s to relax, to accomplish a goal, or to help you feel less anxious, this is called “art as therapy.” I love that you are doing art as therapy! I do it every day too!
While I have spent most of my life educating myself in the arts of painting, drawing, sculpting, and even using coloring books, I have spent much of the last decade creating art for myself. I have filled more sketch books than I can count. These books aren’t filled with masterpieces, or highly realistic drawing; these books are filled with feelings in the form of artwork.
During the times in which I could not afford therapy, I brought this little book around with me everywhere I went. I would open it up on my train ride back and forth from school, I would write in it on Sundays in the far back pew of my church, and now it lays next to me at night in case I have a thought or feeling I need to get out. My current little book is almost filled too. It sounds like these books are my therapist, right?
I want to share what I learned about myself through my sketchbook pages. Over the next few months, I will share a new piece of artwork that has led me to the healed individual I am today. My sketchbook contains some of the greatest lessons I could have ever taught myself.
This piece of artwork is about Hopelessness.
We have all experienced it.
It is not a feeling that we need to feel shame about.
At one time or another we all experience
Hopelessness. Even as a therapist, I have spent many days in darkness.
When I first completed graduate school, I was sure my life was going to
change for the best, and fast! I had worked hard in
school to make sure I could support my family. Once I
had my diploma, I knew it would be my time to shine. My time
to prove to everybody that I was finally an adult.
I had spent a good chunk of my life being reminded of my
past mistakes. Earning my master’s degree was just a way
for me to prove to everyone that I was worthy of
something! Ha! That will show them!
Or so I thought.
The reality was, a part of me truly believed that I was a failure. I began to realize that I only pursued my education to prove to myself that I wasn’t a complete failure in life. I spent months and months applying to hundreds of positions for which I was under-qualified. One after another I was turned down. This wasn’t what having a graduate degree was supposed to be like. Graduating was supposed to be the light at the end of my tunnel. You see, I had been sitting in a hole for a long time. Not a real hole, I have an actual house, but an emotional hole.
Looking up from this hole, I could see a bright light, but I couldn’t quite get to it. It was cold down here, you know. I just couldn’t get out into the warm sun no matter how many things I accomplished. I had dug myself into this hole and I just couldn’t get out. I couldn’t find the right tools to get out of my hole, but I was like a shovel, weak and covered with rust– shaped only to dig deeper. When I was digging, I was clearly not finding a way out despite my constant desire to escape from this dark place. Some days I would throw shovelfuls of dirt and other days I would just simply chip away at the ground. Little by little, my hole became progressively deeper. I could have used my shovel to dig myself out, but I was using the one tool I did have against myself. I was my own worst enemy.
How was I going to climb out? Was it even possible?
I was sure that I could just climb up those walls after graduation. I was going to climb so high, towards that light at the top. When I got up there, I was going to hoist myself up onto the grass and begin running to the place where everyone else was. A place of happiness and success.
It wasn’t the degree that I needed, it was something much bigger, and deeper. It didn’t matter if I had a degree, it didn’t matter if I had a high-paying job, I was stuck in this hole without an essential tool.
Can you guess what tool I needed?
Don’t worry, this has a happy ending, I eventually got out of that hole, but it took a long time.
This piece of art was created during that time. This is what I felt. This was my mind. Art is what helped me get through those times.
You can see my figure drawn out in pen, standing in darkness with a shovel. That was my shovel. I made that hole with my shovel. You can see my watercolors are washed over my figure. The watercolors become lighter as they fade from a dark blue to a yellow. I wasn’t too far from the light. You see it only a few feet above my head, but it surely felt near impossible to reach up high enough to just touch it, to just climb up to it.
Sometimes, you might feel too ashamed to share your emotions or your experiences with other people. I, too, felt too ashamed to share what I was going through with the world. How hard it must be to admit that we got to this place because we simply just didn’t love ourselves enough.
With art, I was able to tell my story in a safe way. Art was a safe place to express what I was going through. Drawing became a coping skill. This drawing is a window into my past.
The pandemic has instilled a lot of hopelessness into all of us. Maybe you feel like things are too difficult. Oftentimes, we are our worst enemy, we discourage ourselves and make ourselves feel like things will never get better. It’s easy to tell ourselves that no one else can possibly understand our experience, but you are not alone.
My hope for you is happiness.
You don’t have to find a way out of your hopelessness today, it’s not something you can do overnight, it’s a journey. On your journey this week, I encourage you to find a quiet space and take a moment to reflect on your hopeless feelings during this time.
When you’re done, create some art about it.
by Samantha Walsh, Licensed Professional Counselor