When you think about the recovery process from drugs and/or alcohol, you likely think about the most commonly components it usually includes: abstinence, therapy, meetings, finding a support community, and so on. While these are all important, and do make up the core recovery process often suggested, there are additional practices you can incorporate that can further help you along your journey. One of these is utilizing creativity through different art forms. While you are working on stabilizing your body and life by cutting out the drugs and alcohol, it’s excellent good practice to flex your creative muscles that have likely been dormant for a long time.
While considered by some as new-age or unconventional, art therapy has emerged in recent years as an incredibly instrumental form of therapy that can be very beneficial. This form of therapy has been found to assist with improving self-esteem, perception, emotional processing, and mindfulness in those recovering from Substance Abuse Disorder.
Who Can Benefit from Creative Expression?
For people recovering from Substance Use Disorder, a creative outlet is a helpful tool across the board. Some of the complex feelings that come up (particularly in early recovery) require levels of processing you haven’t done in a long time because of your substance use. Your way of dealing with things and coping skillset is like a bit out of practice.
Substance use often brings us to places that we would rather not remember. It leads us to harming ourselves and the people we love, neglecting the things in our lives we once felt were important, and operating on a lot of negative energy. When we remove the substances, the emotions we buried with those substances come bubbling up to the surface, and we have to deal with them as best we can in order to stay sober. This can be a difficult and emotional process.
Some of the feelings we might experience in early recovery that could benefit from creative exploration include:
- Shame + guilt: A lot of self-esteem issues stem from substance abuse, and can cause someone to shut down when they don’t have their old way of dealing. Art allows for exploration of that feeling without limitations—it can be a safe space to convey your feelings when words just won’t allow.
- Trauma: A lot of trauma is usually linked to substance abuse and the chaos it creates. Art can help you navigate through the difficult feelings, perhaps putting them into a visual representation or through written word to better convey your thoughts.
- Stress/anxiety: Art can encourage focus and feelings of calm when you’re overwhelmed with the pressures of everyday life. Coloring, in particular, has been found to combat stress and is even compared to meditating, as it can help quiet nervous and/or racing thoughts.
As humans, we often put too much stock in what people think, and that self-consciousness is often even more inhibiting in early sobriety. It is a very emotionally tense time as we start evaluating the damage we did in our past. With creative expression through art, we can allow ourselves to let go for a little while and just flow with how we’re feeling to make something outside ourselves. The process itself can be very cathartic.
Hidden Health Benefits
Recovery, as we all know, involves a lot of healing. It is your body and mind essentially regenerating after the period of time you were using a substance or substances, and its growth was halted.
Channeling your feelings in artistic ways can help you to cope in a healthy way. Prior to your getting sober, you likely used your substance of choice whenever you were uncomfortable, upset, angry, hurt, confused, etc. Once that option is removed, we are tasked with finding suitable and healthy replacements. Art can do that in a big way.
Just like exercise can benefit your body, expressing yourself creatively can enrich your soul. It can give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment when you complete something. Though it might seem silly, if you think back to when you were a child, you were always excited to share artwork or a good mark on an assignment with someone else. It also just felt good to know that you did it.
Specific Creative Outlets to Try
Creativity through art invites you to play around, whatever the vehicle you choose. It can inspire joy, wonder, and individuality if you let it! Any form of art is a meditation, and can lead to better focus, centering of self, and less cluttered thoughts.
Some different creative forms you can explore include:
- Art: Painting, coloring, drawing, sketching… any form of art can work. If you’ve never made art before, don’t be nervous. Just get some supplies and paper and let your mind go. There are a lot of adult coloring books today that are suggested to help with soothing anxiety and relaxing the mind. More advanced forms include sculpture/pottery, photography, jewelry making, etc.
- Writing: Journaling is a great skill to employ in the recovery process, but writing is equally beneficial. If you enjoy stories, try writing one of your own. It is a healthy way to escape and test out your creativity. You can also try poetry or even writing out lyrics.
- Music: Different forms of art can be very powerful in terms of healing, and the result can be instant. Certain music can transport us to different places, or it can help us cope with what we’re currently feeling. If you enjoy playing guitar, pick one back up again and see where it goes.
- Singing: Just like listening to music can be healing, so can singing! Whether you do it in the comfort of your car (or even your shower!), it feels good to belt your heart out sometimes. You even might consider joining a group—if you attend a church, find out if there is a choir you can join.
- Crafting: Hobbies such as knitting or crocheting can be very soothing and good for the mind. They also keep nervous hands busy and the mind sharp. A fun project idea for a group to try is making dream catchers—after the project is complete, you have something to display in your room or give as a gift.
- Dancing: If music can help bring certain feelings, so can dancing. Not only does it constitute as exercise (endorphins!), but many forms employ stretching techniques that bring blood flow to your muscles and allow you to relax from tension or anxiety.
- Yoga: Just like we mentioned in dancing, yoga has a lot of stretching that can relax your body in mind, but it is also an art form itself. Most forms of yoga aim to surface your subconscious emotions and connect the mind, body, and soul. In fact, the term ‘yoga’ derives from the Sanskrit ‘Yuj,’ which translates to ‘union’, referring to the union one individual soul with that of universal soul.
- Cooking: Though maybe not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of art, the world of culinary art is just as rich for self-discovery. Try to start off with something simple (chocolate chip cookies are a good one), and work your way up to something more challenging. This can also help you follow a more nutritional, healthy diet.
While a lot of the recovery process can seem a little regimented, the creative arts can give you freedom to explore whatever you’re feeling and let your mind have fun. It also can serve as a healthy distraction if you are overwhelmed with life and just need a little mental break. The possibilities are endless—art can take on any form, after all. You can even buy a Play-Dough starter kit and just play around for fun. There are no limitations or judgement.
Art and forms of creativity can help distract you from any cravings you might be experiencing, or bad thoughts you’re having. By giving it a try and becoming invested in a new hobby, you’ll find it can take the place of the bad habits you’re choosing to leave behind.
Freedom in Creativity
Don’t feel too much pressure when starting out. Art is about self-expression and learning more about yourself. You may not love what the result is, and that’s okay. The process is what’s important. If you happen to love what you create, hey – you may have found your artistic calling!
Becoming vulnerable to the artistic process allows us to dig deeper into that part of ourselves we have lost touch with. By tapping into it, we are cultivating the zeal and playfulness we had as children. This is a way we can start letting the light and the joy back into our lives, and ultimately ourselves.
If you or a loved one is struggling with Substance Use Disorder and would like to learn more about the programs we offer, we’d be happy to chat. Our Admissions Specialists are available 24/7 to answer any questions you may have. Please give us a call at 855.712.7784 today.