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Take Me Away!
Picture yourself on the beach, waves crashing and trickling up to your toes, sailboats in the distance, seagulls and kites above catching the breeze. The salt water smells delicious, and with every breath your body just calms.
As you read this, I am hopefully do that very thing, fleeing from the city, from everyday life, and diving head first into the ocean of escape that is VACATION!
As I write this I am painstakingly counting the days… Calgon, take me away!!!
Escape is vital. In fact, how do we come to appreciate and value what we have if we can’t get away from it from time to time? We need to be able step out the door, get some fresh air, and come back. Of course the coming back is not always so easy either, there’s the inevitable jolt that occurs from returning from vacation back to the real world. Ouch!
Humans are expert escape artists. We do it all the time, every day. We take an extra long lunch, get on the internet, turn on the tv, procrastinate, job-search, avoid eye contact and walk the other direction, let the phone ring. These are all normal, healthy means of coping with daily stress. And then of course there are the ways in which we escape that are potentially damaging: drugs, alcohol, compulsive destructive and self-harming behaviors. To get away from the stressors and real life we will dissociate - that escape which literally takes us out of our bodies, out of our minds.
I’d like to talk about the ultimate escape, the one that actually brings us closer to who we are, and helps us return into our own bodies. This ultimate escape happens in creative arts therapy sessions all the time. Creativity, and particularly the use of visual and dramatic arts, helps connect us to both worlds: the escape fantasy, and the the sensory world that is our own physical self.
As an actor, the ability to escape my own life and persona, and enter into the world of another character has always been therapeutic for me. It is what led me to become a drama therapist. Yet paradoxically, though I am no longer “myself” in that moment, I am continually engaged and held within my body. I am viscerally connected to the experience of the character, but I am expressing it through being completely tuned into my self.
I also have recently started painting with watercolors, at night after long days. I sit down, try not to judge or think, and just paint. So far what has emerged are mostly nature scenes, lakes, trees, mountains...it’s my escape. I want to jump into that place I’m creating. And though I can’t physically do that, through the act of creating and envisioning it, I can feel my body calming and focusing. I’ve decided I need to make this a nightly ritual as much as possible.
People come to therapy to deal with the real world, which is hard, often too confronting or overwhelming. But by allowing clients some distance, letting them step one foot on the side of creative exploration, while keeping one foot in the present body, we are helping people feel more comfortable in both places at once. Together we may create a mountainous terrain on paper, explore it in physical space in the room, and then take a few minutes to stand in the deepest darkest cave--together--before going back to reality and ending the session. And if we acknowledge exactly what those metaphors mean, then maybe next time we can try to stand in the cave a little longer. Or maybe we’ll just decide to take a break and go smell the flowers in the valley. Either way, our creative process allows us the space to go places, and the ability to gauge how far to go.
This is the poetry and power of using the creative process in the therapy space.