Music, poetry, and art of just about any kind can help us diminish the life-destroying affects that PTSD can have on us. Art, like prayer, is a voyage of discovery. Art is like an antibiotic against the PTSD soul infection. We discover the value of our own souls, we are better enabled to seek forgiveness and become more compassionate. In art, we can begin to understand the meaning in our lives and unshackle ourselves from PTSD-induced despair.
Music, Poetry and Art are Voyages of Exploration.
We learn and experience more about our authentic selves as we experiment, practice or preform. Every time we pick up the brush, or pick notes, plink piano keys, or recite a poem, we are involved in the creative act. This creative act peels away some of the self-deceptions and pain that the PTSD-Identity inflicts upon our soul.
The creative act is healing. Deep down, when we endeavor to create art we are trying to express some element of life. Art is about love, sharing, creating healthy relationships. Deep down, art work serves us as one of the mediums to better understand God. If we are creative, we are engaged in prayer, if we know it or not – if we like it or not.
Even if our sense of self and relationship with God have been damaged by organized religion or organized religion-haters, we can seek out and experience the divine in our creative expression; we can touch and be touched by God in the process of authentic artistic creation. Some people who don’t know how to pray or have been damaged by toxic Christians, priests, or pastors, can re-connect with God through art. There are numerous ways to touch God’s face, art, music, poetry are among them.
Toxic people who take the opportunity to discourage you from artistic endeavor are trying to make your PTSD worse. They will fear the role of creativeness in their lives; they will want to suppress the urge to create in others.
God and the Divine Are Not Wind-Up Toys
While never guaranteed, and never a mechanical experience, the practice of art and music have within themselves the seeds of potential mystical experience. There is never a guarantee of that mystical experience because God is not a clock that we can manipulate and force to ring at certain hours. Yet, our prayer, art, poems, and music are mystical. But by trying to express our experiences and our meaning through artwork opens us to God more than if we avoid art and craft out of fear about what others may say.
The artistic path is potentially a mystical path. It can teach us about ourselves and helps us to better understand the who, how, and why of what we are, the what have we become due to our PTSD and trauma. It can allow us to express the things we are not capable of expressing in mere words. Many trauma survivors can express their pain and healing better in paint and poems and pottery, than they can in verbal words for a clinician’s score card of symptoms.
At times this voyage of healing discovery may have blazing moments of understanding. At other times, after we have walked away from working directly on the artistic craft, do we later realize that we learned something as we practiced our art. That is to say, in our artistic paths and voyage of discovery, we accrue wisdom.
This accrual of wisdom, the discovery of meaning and personal authenticity, has the potential to be mystical. These artistic acts are mystical because they serve as an axis mundi that can connect us more fully to God.
Axis Mundi: Where Heaven and Earth Intersect.
Where the mundane and the supernatural connect.
A place or moment where we touch the face of God.
The Risks of Art’s Axis Mundi Moment for PTSD Survival
When we create, we risk tapping into the divine. We risk discovering we are in the image and likeness of God. We risk realizing that we always have self-worth, inherent value no matter what we have done, what we have seen, what has been done to us, and what we have failed to do. I may have been a failure or selfish yesterday, but that in no way requires me to choose failure and selfishness now and tomorrow.
I can choose to persevere in art, whether it is in the form of writing, drawing, singing or painting, you name it; at any moment I can choose life. At any moment I can choose to live a culture of life and I can choose to disengage from the PTSD culture of death. Any moment I take on the artistic risk of discovery and self-worth, I am dousing the flames of PTSD. This is why PTSD will gnaw at us and try to convince us to abandon any form of relationships that engages learning, prayer, or artwork.
Alas, these are not only risks, they are opportunities. They are risky because they can be painful experiences of maturation. They are opportunities that allow us to experience the value of life and not just know it intellectually.
If we are willing to be open to the experience of the divine in our creation of artwork, we risk knowing, discovering that we have authentic value.
If we can get past the intellectual acceptance of our own self-worth, we may feel we should start living our lives as if we have inherent value. I may start on the long trail to diminish the soul-eating addictions that my PTSD tries to smother me with. I know this transformation rarely takes place overnight, but knowing that I can create, that I have value, empowers me to make the first – and then continual – steps to assert my right to stay alive in the face of PTSD and society’s willingness to let me kill myself.
Through art work, we can surpass the mere intellectual knowledge that we have value and thus experience the authenticity of our self-worth.
Artwork can be frustrating and even emotionally painful. People will often delight in trash talking our attempts at poetry or music. Their derision is often from an unconscious fear that if they see you or I doing this, they may realize they could do it too – but they are too afraid to voyage for the truth. It is easier for them to discourage you, than it is to take encouragement from your example of risk taking.
The people who actively discourage us from artwork or ridicule our trauma and suffering are people to be avoided when possible. We don’t need to be around toxic people who try to pull the spiritual stitches out of our own soul wounds. But, as annoying as these people are, they still need to be prayed for. Their own pain and background has crippled them from seeking life or encouraging it in others. They can’t stand to see someone else start to heal from PTSD. Their own soul wounds inhibit their ability to be life-affirming for others. So, they will try and discourage us.
When you embrace art, writing, or music you become a living example of embracing artwork’s clarion call for us to live and celebrate life, even amidst our pain.
Where there is art, there is life.
PTSD hates life, thus, it hates art.
Finding Hope and Life in Our Stories
Often we can only tell our stories, express our suffering or our joy, in art. Most of the Bible is filled with stories and examples. Relatively few pages are devoted to rote legalistic commands do this or don’t do that. Story and poems are the dominant means of healing and teaching in the Bible. These stories allow us to become aware of the axis mundi moments in everyone’s lives. They can encourage us to seek out God not only in words, but also image, silence, and grace.
Below are some links that can help us understand how art and healing may be intertwined. Some of these are explicitly related to PTSD, while others are more about how life thrives in the art moment. Jason Moon’s CD is all about finding his way home after being taken so far away in terms of military deployment, but also in the PTSD-induced alienation. (Note, if you buy Jason’s CD, I will get nearly a dime from Amazon!)
In art is life: Take the opportunity and the risk to discover who you really are, that you have value. Art will not change our past, but it can help us better understand our now and our forevers. Our art does not have to sell and make money and we don’t have to go on tour. Our art just has to be meaningful and authentic. In that meaning and authenticity lies our healing. We will often not know it until after we engage it.
Vet Art Project website.
Guitars for Vets website
Guitars and Healing PTSD, a Washington Post article by Chris Richards. (Not sure why, but sometimes this link works and other times, it does not work)
Brian Turner, Author of “Here, Bullet.” A significant book of poetry.
Singer-Song Writer Jason Moon’s website
Trauma Informed Art Therapy. An important website by Cathy Malchiodi.
Gary Marcus, Applied Neurolinguistics, and Learning Music at Any Age. A New York Times article by Bruce Headlam on learning music at an older age and how it affects our brain.
As always, remember that you have value. You will discover and experience some of that inherent value as you write, draw, sing, compose – as you practice art. In that set of moments, we have the possibility, risk and opportunity, to learn more about ourselves and extend ourselves beyond our mortal, earthbound pain, into the heavens.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z