Artwork enables the healing of PTSD soul wounds. The process of craft allows for the continued polishing of our souls. PTSD inflicts blemishes and fractures upon our soul. Those wounds to our soul are meant to force us into isolation and then kill us. Those soul wounds are meant to make us sever healthy relationships and seek out porn, drugs, reckless sex, booze, and oblivion. Artwork, in any of its manifestations, helps to heal these wounds. The artist engages life on both the physical and spiritual levels and endeavors to translate that experience into an expression others can comprehend.
Artwork and PTSD healing are wonderfully expressed in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s column by Jim Stingl entitled “Vietnam Veteran Puts Pain on Canvas.” It is worth your time to read it about how Jim Finnerty, a Vietnam veteran, utilizes artwork to help heal his PTSD.
Artwork as Conception and Midwifing
When an artist begins to conceive a work of art, it is a birthing process. There can be joyous sensuality mixed with anticipation and also pain and fear. The artist thinks through, conceptualizes, and then executes a work of art. It is a process that affirms life and is a form of prayer all at the same time. It is also a process that heals us.
The working of art can be painful. Remembering an experience, or the effects of that experience, propels us into a sublime reality that is more than merely physical and scientific. It is spiritual as well. When we engage in a work of art we give something of ourselves, we identify and let loose some of our pain and some of our joys. We midwife with God a new creation that can translate the Truth of our experience to others.
As we identify our pains, we pry them out and new life grows in that soul space. As we identify our joys, that soul space is invigorated and adds to our healing. Such is the work of an artist, to express truth and heal the soul.
PTSD Does Not Want You to be Creative
This aspect of giving birth, of co-creation, is why we are so hard on ourselves as we create (artists sometimes call this the “Internal Censor”). PTSD and material culture do not want you to be creative.
If you are creative, you will heal more, you will recognize there is more to life than material things.
You will know that life, your life, matters.
Many is the time when an artist trashes a work in progress or won’t even begin an artwork for fear it is not good enough. In the money-oriented culture of America we often ask ourselves (and others are quick to reinforce this) what is it worth? Will it sell? We are trained to ask, Will it be accepted and paid for? We are not trained to ask, Is this artwork honest, is it authentic, does it bring about in some small way, what I have experienced and felt? Does this art help me heal?
We often fear to show our artwork to others for fear of ridicule or being asked, Yes, but will someone buy it for money?
Most people miss the fact we need to compose, paint, sing, play music, write and recite poems, because only in those ways do we understand reality – and ourselves – better.
The better we understand ourselves, the less PTSD can grip us.
The More We Try to Create, the More We Will Heal
Not every artwork fulfills the promise of its conceptualization. That is why we must practice and continue to risk ourselves in committing more and more works of art. In each case, we heal a little more, we discover a little more about the truth. We need to allow ourselves to make multiple attempts and drafts as we walk down the dark tunnel of creation. Eventually, if we stick to it, we find the light, that truth we were trying to convey.
If we find that truth, and convey it even marginally,
then we have healed more from the very PTSD that seeks to isolate and kill us.
Artwork is Prayer
When we release ourselves to the co-creation of a piece of art, as we struggle with and shy away from painful memories; as we then grapple with those memories; as we ponder the joy of some other experience, people we love; in all of this we are in communication with God. We are in prayer.
We know that not all prayer is recitation or verbal. Those forms of prayer are important, but other forms of communication with the Ultimate Reality that is God, are also important. In artwork, even of painful subjects and memories, we can discover and experience love. That love is part of our prayer. That love is part of our healing from the trauma which damaged us.
Taking the Long Healing Journey
The soul wounds of PTSD are the natural byproduct of trauma. These soul wounds can take a lifetime to heal. Paradoxically the initiating trauma can be exceedingly brief in its occurrence, yet the results are long lasting.
When people tell us to “Get Over It!” they express more about their own wounds than our own. That is simply someone who has disqualified themselves from hearing my story. They are afflicted with Compassion deficit Disorder. If they eventually mature and become compassionate then I may share my pearls, my joys and pains, with them.
But we know that PTSD soul wounds are part of the long haul. They are like having an amputation. The loss of an arm may have been sudden, but the living with the loss of an arm is the rest of my life.
In art we often revise or redraft a work in progress. In terms of our PTSD, this allows us to revisit the traumas and continue our healing.
Each time we revisit through the artistic process, co-creating with God,
we own the trauma more than the trauma owns us.
Each time we grapple with our experience through drawing or writing or painting – any form of expression – we then derive more meaning from our suffering and become less isolated and thus more open to life and relationships.
Someone who tells me to “Just Get Over It!” is telling me to quit healing. Many people are too ignorant to realize this.
Art and Sanctification
Healing from our PTSD soul wounds is a form of sanctification, becoming more authentic, more of the person God created each of us to become. Artwork is a form of sanctification.
Regardless of if our art “sells,” or society finds it “valuable,” as long as it conveys some sliver of truth as we experience it, then it is truly valuable. Part of the healing of our soul lies in the creation process, that cosmic struggle with the divine to translate unutterable truth in a way we can understand.
Our souls are cleansed through artwork the same way dialysis cleanses our body of toxins.
Never Give Up.
Your PTSD does not have to isolate you and kill you. You have value. God made you, so you are inherently “very good.” Learning to express the pain is difficult and it can be a challenge to find people who will truly listen non-judgmentally. Yet, in expressing your experience, then some of your pain will diminish and more life and light will fill you. If it is too soon to say it verbally, then express it in art.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z