There are countless ways to embark on the journey of recovery. Some people choose single therapy, in the hands of a professional. Others prefer group therapy, or something like a 12 Steps program. Some people turn to family and friends, and seek their help to get better. A few overcome addiction all on their own, through sheer will, and accountability.
Yet the common thread to any instance of successful recovery is a reason and a method. You need a reason to give up the drugs – and you need a method towards doing so. Most people simply choose the reason that they want to be in control of their life, without having to fear for their livelihood, the life of their family, and the relationships they spent years on. Others want to overcome addiction as a matter of pride, wanting to be in control because it’s their life, and not that of a substance. And some do it for the people they love, to become better mothers, fathers, siblings, friends or lovers.
When it comes to the method, however, there is no end to the possibilities. Yet a particularly successful one is leveraging creativity and imagination towards the purpose of defeating an addiction. And as unlikely as it may sound, art – in all its forms – is a very effective way to ease off the drugs, reflect on your inner motivations, and find other ways to soothe the mind, calm the spirit, and live life without overwhelming stress.
Art as therapy is nothing new, but its effectiveness and definition is broader than most would suspect.
The Power of Expression
The way addiction functions are that it hijacks certain parts of the brain and changes the way you perceive pleasure. However, it’s a little more complicated than just that. Mentally and psychologically, addiction puts us in a place where our bodies and our minds are momentarily in conflict with one another, to such a tremendous degree that it becomes deeply unsettling.
At the same time, we perceive addiction to be entirely our own burden, our own fault – our own shame. It becomes hard to forgive yourself when confronted with every consequence that follows an addiction – from financial hardships to broken relationships – and the pain creates a void, which company, food, work and play can’t remotely fill as well as opioids, alcohol or cocaine could.
This creates a sort of need to hide our true emotions. Normal people eventually deal with their emotions. They must confront it, to overcome it. We confront our grief, our sadness, our irritation, our anger. Whether we deal with it in a healthy manner or an unhealthy one is an entirely different discussion, but it does eventually come out.
In an addicted state, there’s no need for emotions to mature. They stew to a point, until an addict gets the chance to repress them further. It’s hard for them to burst or be resolved, because the option to push them back with an easy form of stress relief exists. All the while, the brain makes it increasingly harder to stop – the addiction becomes the one thing that gives pleasure.
So how does expression matter in this scenario? Most cases of addiction end in the same way – the withdrawal phase. Regardless of whether you do this at home or through a professional residential treatment center, addiction physically ends when the body has finished flushing it out of its system, and has dealt with the withdrawal symptoms that, because of tolerance and physical dependency, build up over time.
Once this stage is over, the process of recovery begins, and sobriety kicks down the front door and enters life once more – with a vengeance. For most, this includes an explosion of positive and negative memories as all the clarity begins to wash over you. It’s not so much that you suddenly realize what you had done, but that you now must process through everything you didn’t have the chance to truly feel.
Art as Therapy
Proper and healthy expression is important here. However, this can be done through all forms of art. Here are just a few activities that are useful for emotional expression, and the initial stages of the recovery process:
And the list goes on and on. These have one thing in common – they require you to create. Not destroy, or consume – but create. Hone a skill, gain experience in a sport, create an experience, a piece of music, a work of fiction, a technical design. Whatever you consider most interesting, take it as a form of art. Architecture can be art. Designing furniture is art. Building furniture is just as artful. And by focusing on these tasks of creation, you achieve several things:
- You create something. This is something you can be proud of, a quality and skill you can hone and improve to create even better, more appealing things.
- You focus on a task. This is a perfect way to take your mind off stressful things, calm down, and be constructive – especially in early recovery. By spending an hour or two a day working on something as a form of therapy, you can keep your emotions better in-check.
- You hone discipline. Discipline isn’t just something children learn. Anyone can improve their discipline and their patience, and the determination and discipline required to maintain sobriety means taking every little bit you can get.
Art is more than a gallery of painted pictures from various time periods. Art is unique human expression, regardless of where it came from and in what form. And if you take the time to create something for the sake of creating it, and expressing your feelings, you’ll feel an immense relief.
There’s More to It
Sure, there’s more to recovering from an addiction than art therapy – and there’s no guarantee that creating something, regardless of if it’s a weekly short story, working on painting daily, or honing your athletic skills at a gym, will be enough to help you work through your emotions. But it most definitely doesn’t hurt – and there’s always more you can do.