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As a freshman in high school, I discovered art, in particular, ceramics.
The process of working in earth and clay was grounding. I didn’t, and still do not, wholly understand the healing that happens with working in clay.
After high school, an artist and I crossed paths in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. His name was John Blaine and his wife was Irres, both from Chicago and retired from commercial art. He was looking for new creative energy, and I was interested in learning about art. He taught me the basics of oil painting. Mind you, he did erotic art, and I was a naive, sexually suppressed 18-year-old. It was an education.
He taught me how to shift my mind into flow and the foundations of beating down the critic—not just in art, but in my life. Art is enmeshed in every aspect of our beings and those ignorant of it cannot fathom the life lessons it can offer.
Art literally saved my life. Art can save yours, too.
Art can help those who want to help themselves. In the beginning, it was an escape—a distraction from emotional pain and self-harming thoughts; an exercise to focus nervous energy and escape from panic attacks.
When you are a puddle of negativity, the positive strokes help to rebuild your self-esteem. I was able to have thoughts like, “I think I could be good at something.” Art gives you a purpose—something to be passionate about in life when you feel like you have nothing else.
Going to college and taking art classes gave me the opportunity to learn how to socialize and not isolate myself. I could feed off the creative energy of others, and I was surrounded by others who felt similar about art. I am just now comprehending how I hyper-intellectualize my world to feel like I have some kind of control over a chaotic mind and environment.
Art is a form of mindfulness.
I felt alive creating, instead of feeling hopeless and like I wanted to die. Now, I can create freely without all the self and societally-imposed roadblocks. Imagine only creating without any worry and the flow undulating through you? A most wonderful feeling. I wish all could experience it.
My art helps me answer questions, especially in the past, and express emotions when I don’t always have the tools to do it in a healthy manner. I am subconsciously able to work out emotions and communicate internally with the different parts of me: David the critic, David the abused child, hopelessly stuck David, disempowered David, David wanting to live, and wise David.
Art is a language I can use to communicate to the world about what PTSD is and isn’t—from the dark abyss to seizing all that encompasses my life back. The life that was stolen from me as a child. Art, to me, has demonstrated that we all can overcome great struggles from within and with the help from outside forces.
My experience with PTSD and not knowing what it was for the majority of my life was/is all about self-protection. Art gave me a foundation to create a safe place for my mind to explore, while in reality, I would never leave my home except for college and work.
I also made short and long-term goals; every day I told myself not to end my life but wait until I graduate from college, or I’d remind myself I want to experience love, and then later, maybe have a child. Now, my son and my wife give me a reason to stay as I learn more compassion for myself and others. I am often reminded that when others appear to be hurtful or even evil it is mostly because they too were hurt and have undigested trauma.
Art has gifted me with the ability to see the big picture and learn a deeper understanding of what it is to be human.
It has been a struggle for me not to be forever in an existential crisis. Difficult not to be lost in how small and finite we really are. Art helps me understand our/my existence. I love fractals, and often think of our one universe as a big fractal, and is the creator’s signature.
Helping others by teaching is an intrinsic value. The same goes for teaching art. I have worked in mental health and had a great opportunity to work as an artistic behavioral technician. I became aware at that time of how we all have a story, and by sharing, we can help those who are open to helping themselves. I led groups about mental health topics with art projects mainly focused on painting. While observing and asking questions of the artists, I was able to absorb more understanding.
I believe my ignorance, or lack of the PTSD label, was a positive thing. I only asked to be diagnosed and was labeled with PTSD at around age 47. I am 50 now. I do not like the idea of labels because they can become a crutch and another barrier for growing. I now am investing in growing spiritually, fostering kittens, self-compassion, loving my family, my two dogs, fish, and adult cat. I crossed paths with a Not-So-Wiseman (NSWM), as he calls himself; a prominent figure in the Lakota Sioux, and this has opened doors for me that I could never imagine. For the last three years, I have been working to break down the virus in this world of insecurity, fear, doubt, blame, shame, and guilt.
I now live by compassion, respect, responsibility, and accountability. I am fascinated by archetypal symbolism, and you will see the spiral repeated often in my art with others.
I realize now living with and surviving PTSD may be a lifetime lesson.
I still have episodes of disassociation, panic, social anxiety, fighting substance abuse, anger, fear, and more. However, I now recognize them, and acknowledge my emotions rather than stuff them down and dismiss them—a major step in the healing process.
Utilizing art has helped me not to worry about what others think. So now, I am me, and I am embracing all my strengths and weaknesses. Now, I can live and paint more freely as well as live more peacefully.
I was told by NSWM maybe to not use life so much as a teacher but to enjoy it more.