Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 (colorized by InnerSelf)
I discovered the healing power of getting in touch with feelings while struggling with a serious illness many years ago. My condition defied medical diagnosis or treatment and I seemed to be getting sicker by the day. Lab test mix-ups and errors in prescriptions made matters worse.
Realizing that these particular doctors had no answers for me and that they were beginning to be part of the problem, I turned in desperation to my sketch pad. Without realizing what I was doing or where it would lead, I scribbled and doodled my feelings out on paper. These strange drawings scared and puzzled me.
I had a degree in art and had worked as a professional designer and artist for years, but these drawings didn't look like any art I'd ever done. The posters, greeting cards, and banner designs I had created for Hallmark and other companies had been anything but mysterious. They had been bold, colorful, and decorative. There was nothing to interpret.
A Drawing is Worth a Thousand Tears
By contrast, these spontaneous drawings seemed oddly primitive, reflecting none of the technical skill I had achieved as a professional artist. I didn't understand them. In one felt-pen sketch, a little girl crouches under the ground, her tears watering the earth beneath a giant heart-tree that has been split asunder as if by lightning. A dark rain cloud looms above on the left, while two butterflies emerge on the right.
Without intending to, I had portrayed the preceding five years of my life (separation, divorce, breakup of business partnership), the present (financial struggles, single parenting, illness, grieving) and the future (rebirth and a new life). I didn't realize any of this at the time.
While creating these drawings, it felt as if my hand had taken over and was doing all the work. My conscious mind had stepped aside; it was like dreaming on paper. I had tapped into the same place we visit in our sleep.
Am I losing my mind? I wondered: This looks like the art of mental patients I saw on a college field trip to a psychiatric ward. My drawings made no sense to me, they were like books written in a foreign tongue. Had I really drawn them? What did they mean? Like Alice in Wonderland, I had unwittingly fallen into a mysterious subterranean realm in which all the rules had changed. Yet I always felt better after doing these sketches, so I kept drawing.
Dropping What Didn't Feel Right
What didn't feel good was going to the medical clinic for test after test, getting confusing diagnostic results and hit-or-miss treatments. After still another lab error, my patience ran out. One day, out of sheer frustration, I ran to my medicine cabinet and dumped all the capsules and pills in the trash, many of which had caused terrible side effects. I never returned to the HMO.
There had to be another way. I didn't know what it was yet, but I knew this wasn't working. Many years later, after I had completely recovered, my condition was diagnosed by an expert in iridology and sclerology, an ancient method of reading markings in the eyes for past and current health problems. I was told I'd had a disorder of the connective tissue or collagen. My life had fallen apart, I had come unglued. But I had also put myself back together.
I started sharing my journal drawings and writings with a couple of close friends and co-workers. One of them was Sally, an avid journal keeper who urged me to take my drawings and writings seriously, especially the notes on dreams I was having. I also found my way to some practitioners of holistic health care, a physician who practiced preventive medicine and a nurse trained in bodywork that combined acupressure and massage.
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From Dreams Into Reality
My first session with the nurse, Louise, turned into a literal reenactment of a healing dream I'd recently recorded in my journal. In that dream a woman dressed in a doctor's white coat held and comforted me, saying that she knew I was afraid of dying. She also assured me that everything would be all right.
I felt as relieved after my first session with Louise as I had upon waking from that dream. Something truly miraculous was happening in realms that I had never explored. Dreams, drawings, stream-of-consciousness writing, precognitive imagery were all blending with waking reality. I was beginning to feel again; my emotions were thawing out of the deep freeze. By recognizing my feelings, I was coming back to life.
At just the right moment another friend suggested a local therapist named Bond Wright. The significance of her name did not escape me. I had fallen apart and needed to put myself back together again. At the mention of her name something deep inside said "Yes!" It was Bond who opened still another door into my emotional and creative self, using an eclectic blend of transactional analysis (often referred to as TA), Gestalt therapy, and neo-Reichian energy work.
When Bond and I entered the magical world of therapy, I was directed to hold certain physical postures until my energy started moving on its own. As my body started to vibrate with surges of renewed life force, I saw powerful images in my mind's eye, such as a bottle blowing its cork with emotions gushing out like a geyser. Never had my feelings been allowed to express themselves with such purity and directness. I felt an immediate relief after each of these sessions, and the images and insights I had there always got translated into journal drawings.
Time to Come Out and Play!
At the end of one session Bond sat me down on the floor with a large pad of newsprint and a huge kindergarten crayon. She wanted me to write how I would apply these insights to my everyday life. There was only one catch. She insisted that I write with my nondominant hand, which for me is the left hand. This seemed odd, and I wasn't at all sure I could do it.
Little did I know that I was about to do something that would transform my life completely and irrevocably. Here is what I scrawled in huge, awkward letters:
I GIVE MYSELF PERMISSION
TO LET MY CHILD OUT
AND FEEL MY FEELINGS
AND SAY I'M OKAY!!
As I sat like a young child on the floor struggling to form each letter on the page, the words came out of my mouth spontaneously with the same lisp and tone of voice I'd had during my preschool years. Bond later told me she wished she'd had a videotape of the session. I'd regressed to about four or five years old. That's exactly how old I had felt while slowly printing on the paper. She explained that this was the point: to give me a firsthand experience of the Feeling Child who was inside me. Buried, perhaps, but still alive. It worked.
I left that session floating, as if a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It had taken huge amounts of energy to keep those emotions stuffed down for thirty-five years. No wonder I had gotten sick. Now they were pouring out, and I was feeling a lightheartedness and effervescence I had never known. At times it was scary but also exhilarating.
The more I followed my own advice and gave myself permission to feel and to express my emotions creatively through drawing and writing, the better I felt physically. In three months of weekly sessions with Bond, my goal had been reached: full recovery of my health. Most important, I had come home to my true self -- the person I was meant to be.
My heart then prompted me to explore the expressive arts therapies. Working with pioneering art therapist, Tobe Reisel, for several months led naturally into a new life and new career in art therapy. In my ongoing studies of art for healing, I realized many dreams that had been dormant since childhood: the wish to study dance and movement, to sculpt with clay, to act in improvisational theater, to write and to publish.
What If You Can't Draw a Straight Line?
But what if you're not already an artist, musician, dancer, writer, or actress? How can you be expected to use the arts to feel and express your emotions? The fact is that you are an artist, you just don't know it yet. The arts are our natural birthright. That is, until someone tells us we're tone deaf, or have two left feet, or have no artistic talent, and on and on. Let me show you how this happens in just one area: visual art.
The visual image precedes spoken and written language. We think, dream, remember, and imagine the future in pictures. Before there was written language, there were cave paintings. Before children learn to write, they draw.
Living With Feeling: The Art of Emotional Expression
by Lucia Capacchione.
An outline and instructional guide explains how to use simple exercises to express pent-up anger by drumming, release hurt feelings by molding clay, contact our inner child by writing with our non-dominant hand, and ultimately begin on the road to self-discovery.
About the Author
Dr. Lucia Capacchione is an art therapist and bestselling author. She was an early pioneer in Journal Therapy, Inner Child Work & Expressive Arts Therapy in the 1970's. During her extensive career, she has originated unique approaches to well-being and creativity. Her original Creative Journal Expressive Arts (CJEA) method is used internationally in mental health care, addiction treatment, body-mind healing, education, life & career coaching, creativity, spiritual guidance, education, and more.
Visit her website at http://www.luciac.com