Healing exercise: Drawing Journal

When I was still attending weekly counseling sessions, my therapist learned of my love of art and encouraged me to use this interest to further my healing process. With her prompting, I started a journal, in which I drew my feelings and stages of the healing process, rather than writing about them.

This proved to be an interesting challenge, as it worked both with overcoming my extreme perfectionism, and with helping me to actually SEE things differently. I found this exercise to be very helpful. As with the poetry exercise earlier, it does not matter if you aren’t a master artist. Just grab a bic pen and a sheet of computer paper. This exercise is not about the resulting masterpiece; but rather, it is about the exercise itself.

This exercise is a way of taking the images that are in your head, that are associated with different ideas, different feelings, etc., and transferring them onto paper. This is also a good way of retraining a brain that has been damaged by trauma.

For example, one day, I was in my apartment, and I was feeling very scared about ever trying to date someone new, after what’s happened in the past. Then I heard the song “Jump In” (see healing playlist), and this image popped into my head of a toe being put in the water. Just a toe testing the water, timid of jumping all the way in. This was how I felt about relationships.

So I sat down, and I drew this toe, dipping into water, with a line from “Jump In” written across the top: “If you never take the first step, you cannot go too far.”

Then I sat with the drawing for a minute. Looking at what was in front of me. And just sitting there, staring at that image brought me a little more peace, a little more courage that healing doesn’t have to be taken in great leaps and bounds. But rather, it can be taken in tiny, minuscule steps. Just like, when you learn to swim, you never dive right in at first. You start by dipping your toe in the water, to test the temperature, to get the feeling. Then you might put both feet in at the top step of the pool, then slowly you slide down further to where you’re in up to your waist. Eventually, you swim out to the deep end.

Just like learning to swim, healing takes time. And this one, poorly sketched drawing of mine, brought me all of these thoughts in a matter of a minute.

I strongly encourage you, if you have any interest in this, to try it out for yourself. Grab a drawing utensil and a piece of paper, and sit in a quiet place by yourself. Find a place in which you are the most comfortable. Perhaps light a scented candle, listen to some soothing music, etc. Then think about the different images that pop into your head when you think of healing, relationships, abuse, phobias, etc. Next, try drawing one of the images that pop into your head. Again, it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, just a simple sketch will do.

Lastly, after you have finished your drawing, be sure to take the time to sit with it and really look at it. Ask yourself the following questions: Why did I choose this image? What feelings do I get just by looking at it? Does it make me feel sad, angry, hurt, trapped, panicked, scared, confused, etc? Next, think about WHY you feel that way? Then, most importantly, if the image is a negative one, or brings up negative feelings, think about how you could change that image so that you feel safer, more comfortable, happier, soothed, etc. Then draw the image again, this time with the soothing elements added. Look it over once more, and feel the peace that can wash over you now that you’ve adjusted the image in your brain. See how you can take a negative image, and turn it into something less frightening, something more positive.

Just like with finding the calm in your happy place, drawing images and then redrawing them into more positive scenarios helps you retrain a brain damaged by trauma. It helps you problem-solve what could make things better, and demonstrate in a tangible way the differences in your body between when you feel hurt/angry, and when you feel happy.

That’s the importance of the drawing journal. It’s a helpful tool to clarify specific physical and emotional reactions to different situations. Then to sit with those emotions, and figure out how to make the situation better; how to change the image to a more peaceful and soothing scenario. With practice, this ability can become more ingrained, and taken out into everyday life.

It’s an exercise in retraining the brain so that it can return to normal and healthy responses to different situations. So even if you only have 5 minutes, grab a pen and try it out. It doesn’t have to be perfect. After all, it’s just a step.


a healing playlist

“Music is what feelings sound like.”
“Music washes away the dust from our souls.”
“Music was my refuge. I could crawl myself into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”

One of the things I found most helpful during the healing process was music. Different music for different occasions, for different periods in the healing process and something for a range of emotions felt during the experience. I decided to share this playlist with my readers. Just keep in mind that these songs were just some of the ones I felt helped me most during my healing process. As with all art and music, they are not a generic prescription that everyone will enjoy. You may like some and not like others. Or you may disagree with my approach entirely. Any response is completely fine 🙂 This, as with my entire blog, is just a facet specific to my healing. For many of these, it is important to listen to the lyrics as well as the general emotion of the music. For others, it is necessary only to close your eyes and feel. And sometimes, the most healing part is just throwing your hands up and dancing along…

Some of the songs were for just sitting in my room, crying; angry at how my abusers had hurt me. These songs described the manipulation and the anger. Or the feeling of suffocation and inability to escape:

Florence and the Machine: Blinding

Christina Perri: Jar of Hearts

Sara Bareilles: Gravity

Some of the songs were for celebrating hope and renewal; for turning over a new page in my life, for finding something beautiful, and for looking forward to the future, by enjoying the fact that I’ve overcome so much:

Florence and the Machine: Dog Days are Over

Noah and the Whale: Blue skies

First day of spring

Massive Attack: Better Things

The Beatles: Here Comes the Sun

Some of the songs were for singing to myself. For reminding myself that I’ve got the love I need to see me through this process, and that I’m still an innocent. That what other people have done to me doesn’t make me any less of an innocent. I define who I am myself:

Florence and the Machine: You’ve Got the Love

Taylor Swift: Innocent

Some of the songs were for reminding me to get back out there. For reminding me that I can’t hide away from the world for my entire life, scared of being hurt again. But that one day, I must come out of my cave and face all the beauty that life has to offer. That I need to jump into the day, and that all healing starts out by taking the first step:

Mumford and Sons: The Cave

High Places: Jump in

And some of the songs, I have no idea what the lyrics mean (as in the Sigur Ros ones), but they are calming and peaceful and perfect for quiet meditations. Perfect for leading away from the pain, for letting go and relaxing in a soothing moment with yourself:

Sigur Ros: Ara Batur

Su i eyrum

Iron and Wine: Flightless Bird, American Mouth

Most importantly, music was just another piece in the puzzle of what saved me. It can express emotions that there are no words for, emotions that I never quite understood myself. It can take you on a journey; a journey through hurt that can lead to the uplifting of your soul. And most importantly, it can bring you a moment of peace and laughter amidst a swirl of anguish.