Writing and Healing: 3 Lessons I Have Learned

Writing and Healing: 3 Lessons I Have Learned

By Jennifer Lucas  – We are pleased to bring you this guest post from Jennifer Lucas. In addition to writing, Jenn does web design, practices Bikram Yoga, dabbles in various art forms and has an interest in non-profit management. Oh yea, she was also one of SpeakArtLoud’s first volunteers!  

Writing is My Art

Writing has been an important part of my healing process for as long as I can remember.  I’ve dabbled in painting, collage and other art forms, but I always come back to writing.  I write poetry, short stories and I have started a memoir a thousand times over.

For me, just taking a few minutes to write down my thoughts and feelings is a healing experience. Sometimes just the act of getting the words out of my head and onto paper makes room for what is even deeper and that is where I find I really heal.

I was in an abusive marriage for 15 years; I’ve been divorced for six years and have three children.  I was also raised in the LDS (Mormon) religion and was married in the Mormon temple.  I raised my children in the Mormon faith and did the best I could to live “in” that religion, though I could never really “be” in that religion. I struggled with my belief in the Mormon Church for most of my life.

After I got married I had to hide the physical abuse from almost everyone, leaving me feeling empty and alone. I made my way out of the Mormon Church while still married, causing my ex-husband to ramp up the emotional and financial abuse.

It was ultimately my writing that helped me get away, but it was also my writing that cost me dearly and I’ve learned some valuable lessons over the years about art and the healing process.

Lessons I Have Learned

(1) Turn Off Your Inner Art Critic

For years I was lucky enough to be able to write unfiltered.  I wrote poems and short stories and I blogged online.  But after my blog was discovered (more on that in a minute), everything I wrote was tainted by my inner critic who told me my writing was terrible, that people would make fun of what I wrote and that no one was interested in what I had to say.

After my blog was discovered I was unable to write for years. I would start writing and within minutes what I saw on the page was white-washed words that held no meaning to me.

It took some time, but after struggling with my inner critic I started writing about how much I disliked my critic and how much I hated what she was telling me.  In many of my writing sessions I had a pit in my stomach, I squirmed in my chair and my anger would spill out on to the page, but after I got all that out of my head my inner critic left me alone to write what was in my heart.

In the last year or so I’ve been able to put pen to paper and really get back in the groove of writing and really feeling that healing process that comes from my art.

(2) Your Artistic Process Is A Powerful Part Of Your Healing, Be Careful Who You Share It With

About nine months before I left my ex-husband I decided to start writing online.  I started writing online because I wanted desperately to connect with people and deep down I wanted validation that getting divorced and leaving the Mormon Church was not selfish.

I had reached out to Mormon leaders in the past, talking to them about the physical and verbal abuse, but many of the leaders (all men) told me to honor my husband, read my scriptures and pray and everything would be fine.  I was counseled that leaving my husband was a selfish act and would harm my children.

By the summer of 2004 I was struggling so much that I told my story to the world, publishing it all online. I used a fake name, showed only a baby picture of myself and never used anyone else’s real name, but as my blog became more popular it was only a matter of time before it was discovered by people I knew.

The fallout was epic.  I lost a lot of friends and my ex-husband and I, who had a tenuous co-parenting relationship at best, could not overcome the fallout.  We haven’t spoken in years, and while that may seem like a good thing, it makes life very difficult for our children who’ve grown almost to adulthood with parents who do not communicate.

There is a deep connection between art and healing. Make sure that the people you share your art with love you, care about your feelings and can be constructive (if need be), but are also understanding of the relationship between your art and your healing.

(3) Be Gentle With Yourself and Respect That Healing Is A Process

When I was 9 years old my dad left our family while we were on vacation; he left our family in a small town with nothing but our suitcases. I wrote a play soon after that scared me so badly I had to sleep with my mom for a week.

I’m 43 years old now and I am still writing stories that touch me deeply.  Some days I let it all out and feel replenished and vibrant. Other days, I’m writing about feelings and memories and places I’d completely forgotten and by the time I’m done I’m exhausted, my head aches from crying and I crawl in bed, pulling the covers over my head just like I did when I was 9 years old.

I was abused by a man and by a patriarchal belief system that upheld that man’s power for over 15 years. Before that I took care of my mother and my little sister after my dad left our family.  I’ve been away from my abusive ex-husband for six short years, while I’ve made leaps and bounds in my healing and have radically changed my life and how I chose to live it, I am still healing.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m not done yet and sometimes I get frustrated with the tears and the post-traumatic stress. But then I remember to be kind to myself, to give myself space and time to recover.  I must be gentle and respect my process.

I am always healing.

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The Use of Art in Medical Health Care

In recent years there has been a growing interest in incorporating the arts in the medical health care field.  Research has shown that the arts decrease stress, improve communication, and help the healing process. With this information, hospitals, medical centers and care facilities are beginning to incorporate visual arts, music, and writing programs into medical care services.  This more integrative model of health care recognizes the connection of body, mind, and spirit.

Though I do not have a background in health care I am always interested in learning more about how art influences well-being and given that November is Art and Health Month I have been reading information on this subject. I thought I would share a few examples of how different art forms are being used in medical care.

Visual Art

With the recognition that art actually helps people feel better and heal more quickly, Sacred Heart Medical Center in Oregon has worked with an arts consultant for hospitals to select artwork intended to be comforting, orienting and calming to patients and, as a result, help promote their healing.

Another example of the use of visual arts is the Art-Cart program in St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Texas, where a rolling gallery of photographic art work makes the rounds, allowing patients to select images for their room.

Music

Eisenhower Medical Center in southern California has had an arts program in place since 2001 and has a staff of nine musicians, four visual artists and a writer.  The Healing Harps program at this medical center offers patients and staff harp lessons.

“Studies and statistical evidence from major hospitals across the country have shown that relief from anxiety, pain, difficult breathing, nausea and depression are often addressed by the use of live harp music, the special timbre of which induces a deep relaxation response which in turn allows the body to heal itself at a more rapid rate.”

– Healing Harps program description.

Writing

Hospitals around the country have writing groups to help patients heal physically and mentally.  US News carried a story about Sutter Health Systems in California offering a range of writing workshops t patients as well as family members and care givers.

Research indicates that after writing exercises the levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone that may affect immune levels, are lower and studies have shown that writing about trauma improves the health of people with chronic disease.

Use of the arts in health care is steadily moving forward. The small but growing body of research is demonstrating the positive impact art has on health, healing and well-being.  Further research on this subject along with partnerships between art institutions, schools and heal care organizations will allow for more research and greater engagement between the arts and health.

For More Information

Current Research in Evidence-Based Art Programs From American Art Resources
Future of the Arts and Health Care Green Paper