Recovery is a different journey for everybody. Finding which combinations of treatment work best for you is the key to successful sobriety, but you might also consider trying a 12-step program or reaching out to loved ones to repair damaged relationships and establish your support network.
Over the course of your recovery, the constant focus on therapy and support groups can feel like your creativity has to take a backseat. However, artistic endeavors are not only good for you to build up your life beyond therapy. Moreover, seizing opportunities to express your creative side can actually aid you in your recovery process too. After all, there’s a reason art therapy works: It gives you the chance to return to neglected hobbies and otherwise enjoy the things that you love without having to worry about things like profit or productivity. In recovery, opportunities to be creative are also opportunities to remind yourself that you are so much more than your addiction.
The Four Benefits of Creativity
Creative therapies aren’t a replacement for more clinical forms of therapy and rehab. Rather, they’re meant to work alongside those more traditional methods, preferably with the same therapist who can address or leverage creative breakthroughs during counseling sessions. Expressing yourself creatively is a way to draw out feelings that you can’t ordinarily express and help you develop more effective coping techniques for the future.
As is the case with many mental and emotional diagnoses, addiction can be brought on by trauma or it can be caused by it. Individuals may find themselves with people or in places where substance abuse is common or encouraged, and many individuals turn to substance abuse as a form of self-medication. For this reason, learning to cope with trauma is an important part of the recovery process.
Art therapies offer a means to recover that doesn’t necessarily rely on verbal discussion. This can be particularly valuable in certain situations, including when the patient is experiencing feelings of shame and low self-worth.
Pain, shame, guilt, and other difficult emotions that can be difficult to express through words can be depicted visually through art. In fact, some of the best artists in the world are individuals who simply turned their pain into beauty.
But you don’t have to be a talented artist to benefit from art therapy. The idea is to simply exercise your feelings.
Emotions always have a way of intensifying during therapy. There is nothing wrong with emotional expression as it’s healthy and normal as long as those emotions are expressed in a healthy manner.
Learning to cope with negative emotions and coping with them is what the healing process is all about. The idea is that by facing negative emotions as they come, you will be better able to remain sober.
Art helps with emotional regulation in a few different ways. But it doesn’t even have to be art that you created. Even listening to music can reduce stress; no need to participate or create it. Of course, direct participation, especially as part of a larger group, helps too.
The vast majority of individuals who make the choice to pursue art therapy end up learning new skills, which can include things like drawing, sketching, painting, sculpting, and photography. But even more importantly, gaining these skills can boost your confidence and build self-esteem, which is another important ingredient for the recovery process. When you make art, you’re creating something that you can take pride in and share with others…or you can destroy it to regain a sense of control and catharsis from negative emotions.
Art therapy doesn’t have to be related to learning visual art either. It can be almost anything—cooking is a common one. But no matter what you choose to learn, it’s important to remember that you will inevitably experience some failures as you experiment with different arts and skills. However, failing gracefully is also an important skill that, in the event of a relapse, may make it easier to get back on the wagon.
With time and practice, you may find yourself able to tap into what creative types often call the "creative flow.”
This means being able to really lose yourself in your work and forget about everything around you, whether that’s trauma, anxiety, lost connections, troubles at home, or any of the other things that make your worry. You can “step out of the routines of everyday life into a different reality.” In that state, you no longer worry about the chance of failure and, rather, are creating for the sake of creating.
Additionally, overcoming a fear of failure is another way to reinforce yourself on the road to recovery.
Seven Ways to Aid Your Recovery Through Creativity
When it comes to leveraging your creativity for your recovery, the most important thing is to find a style that appeals to you. For example, you’re not going to take up pottery if your background is in painting (unless you’re exploring different ways of being creative).
If you’re looking for ways to utilize your creativity to help with your recovery, then we have compiled some ideas to inspire you.
Also called “bibliotherapy,” writing therapy is all about expression and exploration. You can express ideas and emotions through writing, and the process of writing these things down and thinking them through helps you better understand your feelings. You can always share that information with a counselor, therapist, or trusted loved one if you aren’t sure of the best path forward.
In any case, bibliotherapy is an opportunity to identify your emotions and unconscious thoughts in order to better address them.
Art therapy comes in many forms, from drawing to painting, sculpting to graphic design, and everything in-between. Like bibliotherapy, it helps you depict emotions you can’t easily talk about. In this case, you visualize them. And in translating those emotions to a visual medium, you’ll likely experience some level of catharsis.
As with many other options on this list, you gain a sense of accomplishment from learning a new skill. The boosted self-esteem is its own reward. By working closely with your therapist, you’ll gain a better understanding of the creative process and how to use art therapy successfully.
Simply listening to music can relieve stress, so it should come as no surprise that music therapy can be an effective recovery tool. Musical therapy can include listening but also can include improvised playing, songwriting, lyrical interpretation, performance, and more.
Gardening is probably not the first activity that comes to mind when you think of creativity. Even so, it helps you to gain new skills and works your body for strength and balance. After all, exercise has a huge effect on your mental health just like spending time outdoors.
In addition to the benefit of actively gardening, you can look out at your garden with pride. It’s a beautiful space that gives you a place to meditate or simply enjoy.
For those exploring it as a form of creative expression, cooking is an opportunity to learn a valuable skill. Because in addition to encouraging creativity, cooking can improve your coordination and balance in addition to being a highly rewarding form of therapy since you get to snack on the fruits of your labor.
Cooking is also a great study in cause and effect since each action has a reaction when you’re making a meal. This gives individuals the chance to gain a better understanding of personal responsibility while getting a sense of control over their lives. Through cooking, you get to experience the satisfaction of completing a task and of a job well done. Plus, what you eat also affects your mental health; if you eat healthier, you live better.
Dance and movement therapy refers to the “use of movement” to bring your mind and body together in a social atmosphere. It’s a way to express yourself and get your body moving. Like the other skills on this list, dance therapy will improve self-esteem as you get more comfortable with your body.
And when you feel more comfortable in your skin, you live better. It might seem simple, but it’s an important part of addiction recovery.
As with dance therapy, drama therapy is a way to move your body and express yourself in a social setting. And much like art and writing, it’s a way to express yourself in ways that you can’t through speech alone. But participating in drama has an added bonus, which is that it can’t be done in a vacuum. You build relationships with your fellow actors, audience members, and crew—which might overlap in a group therapy setting with a small group of people.
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