As a child carrying an overstuffed suitcase of secrets, art was my silent voice. Specifically poetry and short stories, which I began creating at around age 7, not long after learning to read and write. My early work was not that of a prodigy by any stretch of the imagination. But it was not the content of my words that moved me (or, most likely, anyone else at that point). What touched me was the passion and process of creating, and what that did for me. How it shifted me into a place of being fully alive, of drinking deeply from the stream of life. How it fascinated and thrilled me, made me feel strong and connected and wise. How I belonged in those moments to all of life, even if the rest of the time I didn't feel I belonged even in my own skin. How it healed me, even though I didn't realize I was wounded.
Almost 20 years after I began writing, I returned to my hometown to recuperate after I grew weary of carrying that aforementioned burden of old wounds. Being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse was no longer something I could keep wrapped up neatly in a storage bin on the upper shelf of my inner closet; its consequences were leaking out everywhere in my life. I knew I was in need of intensive, concentrated healing work to be free to live an authentic, fulfilling life. Therapeutic arts were a significant part of that recovery process. After a solid five years of dedicated personal work on childhood sexual abuse, family addiction and PTSD, I found myself more joyful, integrated, conscious and grounded. I no longer desired to be who I wasn't because I had finally embraced my true essence.
I felt so passionate about the power of arts to heal that I joined a volunteer initiative at a maximum-security prison for women, in which inmates created self-directed visual art with supplies donated by the community. The project culminated in a public art show that offered the opportunity for participants to be seen and counted as equal members of the larger community. The importance of being visible profoundly touched me on one particular afternoon, when the inmates were detained in the mess hall for the duration of our class time. They showed up for class about 10 minutes before we were scheduled to end, so there was no time to even set up art supplies for a partial class. Still, the women were visibly moved that we had waited for them - that we had actually shown up reliably and valued them enough to be available to them, even for just a few minutes. I wondered whether anyone had ever done that for them, and I realized then that just holding a safe place for them to be themselves was more than enough.
I learned from these experiences just how deeply I value and enjoy therapeutic community work though the arts. I believe passionately that holding a space for free equal exchange, empowerment and self-actualization in diverse settings is a vital form of compassionate social activism. I wish for all survivors to discover the gifts that inevitably live within them - not in spite of, but because of experiencing such deep trauma. May we all continue our courageous path of transformation, and from our individual healing find our passion and purpose in the world. Someone once told me that the abuse would become more palpable when I could help someone else with my pain; I now know this is true, and that is why I am now pursuing a career in art therapy.