There’s been a lot of talk in the news recently about budget cuts. Where to snip away, where to delete funds altogether. Everything that’s not absolutely “necessary” must go. The sad thing is, many of these budget cuts are directed towards funding of the arts. Now, I’m not arguing any politics here, just personal experience. And to me, there would be nothing sadder than seeing the omission of the arts in our everyday lives. Because the truth is, as cheesy as it may sound; the arts saved my life.
I don’t mean they saved my life by enriching it, by helping me to feel, by making the world more beautiful, though I agree whole-heartedly with all those arguments. I mean they literally saved me from abuse, time and time again. They say as you get older, you should never lose sight of what you loved when you were little, and I agree. Because art saved me-twice.
When I was younger, I did ballet. I drowned in it, I should say. I loved it. When I danced, I felt free, I felt alive. When I danced, I was outside my home, away from the childhood sexual abuse (see aha! moment part 1). I poured all my hurt, all my anger, my confusion, my frustration, into something that made sense: the beautiful, meticulous art of movement. It was a healthy outlet. I could run in a way I could never run from the abuse. I could jump and fly, fleeing, if only for a few hours, away from the hurt.
Then I hurt my knees-badly-and had to have surgery. I was completely devastated. My release was gone, and I collapsed into a comatose “freeze-zone” of my life, unable to function. No longer allowed even the momentary freedom of dance.
Years later, when I thought I was in the clear, I once again found myself in an abusive situation; this time in the form of a domestically violent relationship. (see my aha! moment part 2) I felt weak, alone, easy prey. He made me believe I wasn’t worth anything. At this time, I had recently started a job as a gallery assistant at an art museum, and was simultaneously involved in that same museum’s Student Guild.
For background, research shows that viewing images-even violent/disturbing images-can have a positive effect on healing from trauma. They can bring up emotions and help the viewer to better understand them. Creating images can serve as an outlet for emotions that cannot be understood through words. Focusing on and describing images can actually help decrease moments of panic.
When a person has experienced trauma, the chemicals in the brain change, creating different/heightened reactions to certain situations. Creating art and viewing images is one method for retraining the brain and repairing those chemical connections to healthy, normal levels.
The technical information aside, I’ll now return to my story. Walking the halls of the museum everyday, surrounded by wonders of beauty (as boring as it could be at times) became a sanctuary space to me. The staff was respectful, and I was safe. Safe from my childhood abuser, safe from my violent relationship.
The Student Guild provided me a support group of girls that I became very close with. By surrounding myself with these positive influences, my life was forever-altered. It’s amazing the effect that being around healthy people, with healthy relationships, can have. Talking about art, working for art, being surrounded by positive, goal-oriented people; it gave me goals again. It gave me strength. It gave me confidence in myself that I stood for something more than just brokenness. It gave me a replacement for abusing drugs and alcohol. It got me volunteering, got me helping others.
I know I have stressed this before, but I have found that the more we learn to take care of others, the more we start to take care of ourselves, which is something incredibly important. Ultimately, by surrounding myself with the world of the art museum, I found the strength to end my violent relationship-and a support group to fall back on.
After my knee-surgeries, when ballet was taken away from me, I was devastated. I believed for a while that all that made my life good and worth living was stripped away from me. I was broken, defeated, crushed once again. But art found its way back to me, in another form through the museum, and once again, it brought me back to life.
I’m sure everything above sounds cliché/cheesy, but without art in my life, it would be much darker. Art gave me a goal, an emotional outlet. It introduced me to positive influences, to hope and beauty in a time of ugliness and hopelessness.
(For more information on art healing, check out this book: Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul, by Shaun McNiff)