In our last two- part blog series, we discussed the use of yoga and meditation as a tool for the addict and the alcoholic who are seeking to remain clean and sober. This week we plan on exploring creative arts and their positive therapeutic effect on those in recovery. In general creative mediums such as painting, sculpting, dancing, drawing, acting, music and poetry, help the recovering addict and alcoholic express and articulate those overwhelming thoughts and feelings which in the past would have driven them towards drugs and alcohol.
Celebrity news is rife with accounts of famous actors or musicians who have just hit rock bottom and are entering a rehab centre. While many say that the quality of their work was better when they were high or drunk (this topic in and of itself is a blog for another day!) , most claim that their artistic talents are enhanced by their sobriety and that they are able to channel the feelings of frustration and anxiety which had led them to abuse drugs and alcohol, into their acting. Actor Colin Farrell genuinely felt his work as an actor would suffer if he became clean and sober “I was terrified that whatever my capacity was as an actor would disappear when I got sober… I ascribed to the notion that to express yourself as an artist you have to live in perpetual pain. And that’s nonsense.” (1) Thus celebrity actors and musicians who channel those emotions and feeling they cannot or will not articulate not only enhance their craft, but have a greater chance of remaining clean and sober. This is all well and good for famous people, but for the average person struggling with recovery, acting therapy or drama therapy has a variety of benefits. Through story-telling, role playing, and improvisation participants develop a better sense of self, improve their communicative and interpersonal skills, and help reinforce positive behaviors. One participant described acting therapy as “… a way to have excitement in my life without the use of drugs. I can have fun being me without having to put on a mask”. (2)
The written word, whether it is in form of a story, poem, or personal journal entries, is the most popular and easily accessible form of creative therapy. Story and poem writing are like a the form of role playing we saw in acting therapy, the writer can insert him or herself within the story and become the person they hope themselves to be, while journal writing is an excellent medium for those who need to purge their feelings and their emotions. Bestselling author Stephen King has said that as a young boy he suffered from horrific nightmares, and as he got older he realized he could write all of his monsters away and so he did, banging away on his manual typewriter (if you don’t know that that is google it) until” one day the M fell off” (3). It is also no secret that he was addicted to both alcohol and drugs and his sobriety resulted in a temporary writer’s block, but when the fog lifted what emerged was “a new intelligence and depth to his writing” (4). King has been clean and sober for twenty years, and he still writes away all his fears and anxieties.
Painting, drawing and sculpture are another area of creative art therapy and, while these mediums require specific tools (paints, ink, canvas etc.) and the proper space and lighting, their results are just as advantageous. Painting and drawing in particular allow for thoughts, and emotions (both good and bad) to flow through the artist and onto the medium (canvas, paper etc.). This creative therapy is ideal for those who find it difficult to articulate what they are feeling and thinking, helping them realize that they can relax and let loose without the aid of drugs or alcohol.
Creative Art Therapy will help the recovering addict connect with, and accept their true self, in addition to helping them express those thoughts and feelings they cannot easily identify or articulate. The inability to positively channel any overwhelming emotions and anxieties can negatively impact the recovery process thus, creative art in any form becomes a vital tool in a recovering addict’s “coping toolbox”.