As the Art Instructor at Victory Bay Recovery Center, there is one thing I have noticed – a pattern – and one that I am working on breaking every chance I can get.
I notice over, and over again how people that struggle with addiction are exceedingly hard on themselves. I would even go as far as to say, that I see self-hate in some of my painters. It is one of the hardest things I come across. Because honestly, it’s an easy trap for any of us to fall into, let alone someone who has a huge mess going on in their life.
Picking up the pieces
When someone gets clean, they seem to have this huge epiphany or realization of the mess they created in their life; a real self-awareness, so to speak. It becomes something that feels bigger than them and what they can handle. What work lies ahead in order to repair relationships? They perceive that they are behind their friends; some may be graduating college or getting married or buying a house, while they find themselves in a rehab and starting from scratch. All of this “awareness” is a double-edged sword for sure.
This is all part of the process, it helps drive the person forward, to make choices that will get them back on track and grow and change and become an active member of society. However, it tends to be an area where they are super hard on themselves. How they speak to themselves during this time can make all the difference in the world, for their future.
Noise in the air
So many times, I will hear my painters say things like:
“This is crap!”
“I can’t paint.”
“My art looks like S@#$.”
“I told you I couldn’t do this!”
“I screwed this up, it’s going in the trash!”
So, I walk over to their easel, expecting a train wreck of a painting, and find astounding beauty. Like, WOW!!! And I am so confused by this. I also teach to the general public and although I may hear similar things from them, they are much softer, less harsh, and way more forgiving. The general public may have an awful painting staring back at them and they are still proud of it. Why the big difference?
A New Beginning
I tell my painters this: “When a recovering addict speaks self-hate into the air, it is damaging. Their brain thinks it, their mouth says it, their ears hear it, which confirms it for the brain all over again. I am not allowing this in my paint classes at Victory Bay, “only positive talk”. I walk over to their art only to find that their talent, the beauty that they created on a blank canvas, and their words do not match their art.
I stand back holding their painting asking them to shut their eyes, wait a second or two, and ask them to look again. Almost every time my painters will shrug, and say “huh, it’s not that bad after all”. So many of them have never painted before. They didn’t know they could do it, or that they would like it, and some have found a new beginning.
There is freedom in finding something new that you are good at, or simply just enjoy. Freedom when you pick up a brush, not just because you quiet the pain in your head when you concentrate on art, but because every time you pick up the brush, you learn. You become stronger, with each and every mistake as your teacher. Each time you have to step back and correct something, you learn.
Every painting they are proud of, is one more time where they confirm to themselves that they are good at something, or can try something new, or even just step out of their comfort zone. Everyone could use that, especially someone that is trying to rebuild their life. Because their life is worth rebuilding and worth all the work it takes to stay clean.