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.

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