PTSD Spirituality: Art and Writing for PTSD Healing and Exploration

Embracing the arts is a way to improve our lives and avoid the PTSD-inspired act of suicide.  Frankly, if I had not invested myself into writing and the arts, my PTSD would have killed me long before I ever thought of creating this website.  Learning to play classical guitar, writing, painting, and other arts saved my life.  I can say this without exaggeration.  Due to some of my physical ailments I am no longer capable of doing several of the artistic activities that had saved my life.  My physical abilities have diminished and so has the range of artistic endeavors that are open to me.  But, no matter how crippled I become, there will always be some form of art and creativity I can embrace. 

Finding Meaning As We Explore Our Trauma

We learn about ourselves and make sense of our experience through writing.  At times, our writing becomes a form of prayer as we discover deeper meanings and values.  Just as every prayer we utter does not lead to a mystical experience, the same is true of writing.  Writing and art can lead to mystical insights, where we intersect with the divine.  We may discover some of the basics, largely ignored by modern culture: that there is something bigger than ourselves and that we have inherent value. 

The PTSD-Identity does not want us to ever find meaning in our experiences.  It wants us to conclude that nothing has meaning.  Neither acts, nor experiences, nor relationships have any real meaning according to PTSD.  If PTSD can deprive us of our sense of relationship, it is easier for it to kill us through self-abuse, addictions, reckless behaviors, and suicide.  Yet, writing and art enable us to explore and examine our traumas. 

We will still carry the traumatic wounds, but we need not allow our wounds to define us as having no real value or as being easily expendable.

Often, the exploration of our trauma and PTSD will be a lifetime journey.  At the same time, it is also a journey of healing and discovery.

In the last couple of weeks most of my time has been spent teaching and resting.  Lately, I need to take a lot of naps, more than usual – I spend more time down and out than up and at ‘em.  I have also been spending more time reading about the craft of writing.  In several different sources, I found confirmation that writing is exploration and healing.  Since I often need more convincing than the average national park bear, I was intrigued how providence brought out several emphatic connections between writing and healing, and writing and self-discovery.  I have included material from two of the sources below.

Pat Conroy: “Interpreting the world through story.”

In the June, 2012 issue of “The Writer,” writer and novelistPat Conroy, wrote,

“A novel is my fingerprint, my identity card, and the writing of novels is one of the few ways I have found to approach the altar of God and creation itself” (page 17).

Conroy continues:

You try to worship God by performing the singularly courageous and impossible favor of knowing yourself.

As a theologian I can say Pat Conroy is quite accurate in these statements (Then again, my theological assessment and a couple of bucks will get him a cup of coffee). 

While I don’t know much about Pat Conroy beyond his writing I can apply what he said above with what I know as a theologian who works with PTSD.  That is, even for someone who does not know or acknowledge God, that authentic writing and self-discovery is a form of prayer.  The better we know ourselves, the more we will experience God and the Creation. 

This is also applicable for those who have been alienated by Christians.  Sometimes, after toxic-Christians have driven us away from the altar of God, the act of writing allows us to experience God and realize that we all need more self-awareness and healing: Healing and awareness for both ourselves and also the very same toxic Christians who have alienated us and made church a toxic place to be.

Rochelle Melander’s “Write-A-Thon”

Rochelle Melanderrecently published, “Write-A-Thon.” This book serves as a manual that enables committed writers to “Write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it).”  Her website is the “Write Now! Coach” and is worth some of your time.

I was fortunate to have met Rochelle a few years back when I needed some professional insight from a busy writer on the subject of my PTSD, my physical limitations, and my need to write.  She is a writing coach and more.  Check out her range of accomplishments.  They establish Rochelle Melander as both a role model and an excellent writing coach

Part of her book deals with training, getting ready to be a writer.  This section includes valuable information and techniques that enable us to know ourselves more authentically.  A sub-section that caught my eye last week was a couple of pages under the heading of “Why Write? How Writing Heals.”

In this section Rochelle includes the results of a study that correlated how well one healed from a traumatic event if the individual writes about their trauma (pages 24-25).  Not surprisingly, those who wrote about their trauma had a better rate of healing than those who did not.  Did some people not heal? Of course not…we are still dealing with individuals, after all, and not machines. 

While healing PTSD soul wounds is not the primary aim of her book the data certainly indicates we are better off writing.  Rochelle also indicates that writing has been seen to improve physical health and also enables us to better achieve other goals.

Art and Writing Contribute to Our PTSD Healing

These days I am more involved with writing than playing music or painting.  When I work with PTSD survivors I ask them to try and commit to some writing every day, just 15 minutes.  In general, those who write appear to heal faster than those who do not.  The same applies to those PTSD survivors who create music, paintings, plays, any form of artistic endeavor.  The creative act is a healing experience.

We will heal from the spiritual damage of PTSD faster if we risk writing and art.  It is a risk because it requires a commitment and the possibility of knowing ourselves better.

The PTSD soul wound strives to make us hate ourselves and others.  One of the antidotes to this hatred is the creative experience.  As we experience creativity and take part in it, we gain the inherent knowledge of our self-worth and value.

Making the Public Commitment to Write and Heal

Regular visitors to the PTSD Spirituality website know that I am a strong advocate for daily writing and/or artistic endeavors, such as music, drawing, composing, sculpture, etc. 

Regular visitors also know I am something of a wanna-be writer in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.  As time and physical abilities permit, I hope to put forward some of my fiction and non-fiction work suitable for the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes and Noble Nook, and the Apple iPad. 

There, I said it:  I told you about my writing plans.  Now that I have said it “out loud,” I am more committed to keep writing.  Not only the healing act of the writing itself, but the commitment to deliver (foist?) it out there in the market place.

The healing aspect of art and writing does not require we try to publish, sell, or display our work.  The strongest healing comes when we sit down and write. I perpetrate a lot more writing than what appears on this website.  I need to write and it helps to heal me.  But much of it is too personal to toss out in an essay, I’ve not healed enough to do that yet.  You need not share any or all of your writing if you don’t want to. 

In terms of healing from the PTSD soul wound, the key is the experience of writing and creativity, not publishing or sharing.  Do so if you like, but it is not required.

We may sit down, encounter a blank sheet of paper, and think we have nothing to say.  If we start writing, we will soon discover what to say and perhaps be surprised at the contents of what we have to say.

Writing about our anger, bitterness, and also about our joys and loves, enables us to choose life over death.  Any work of creativity allows us a form of prayer, an opportunity to hold hands with God.

Don’t let PTSD or the popular culture fool you.  Always know that you have value, you matter.  Start writing.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

Comments

  1. Hunter Dracon says:

    Hehehe… I’m only a highschool student but your article is very interesting and relates to my newest english project. I love writing more than just about anything besides reading, sketching, and other activities.

    • Hello Hunter, I wish you all success on your English project. Good to hear that you are locked into the creative arts. That would have saved me a lot of angst had I been doing that in high school.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

      • Hunter Dracon says:

        I started writing in middle school and have come up with many stories and projects. half of which i was partnered with a very good friend of mine. He and i have known eachother since i moved to the school I currently go to. And I thank you for your support as well. A lot of my stories are actually fanfiction that i haven’t posted or just jumbles of different ideas (both mine and ideas based off of others’ work) and concepts of life and whatnot. Anyway, i hope to see more of your work later on.

        Thanks,
        Hunter_Dracon

  2. Thanks for the inspiring words! I’m not always good about writing, but I am going to try harder….I appreciate the inspiration.

    • Great news that you are going to endeavor more writing. It is really a healing journey when we write, even if only for ourselves – sometimes writing for ourselves can be even more effective because we can drop more of the barriers to creativity and reflection. Often, writing is a way to drain off society’s toxins. In this way we can pay more attention to ourselves, God, and the relationships between the two. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  3. Hi Dr. Z, Great to see that you are still writing. I am a big fan of writing to heal (I am writing a book about it right now) and am thankful that you have started this blog. Thanks for mentioning my book–and best wishes with your blog!
    —Rochelle

    • We’re looking forward to your book on writing to heal, hope it goes smooth and quickly! Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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