The Power of Art as Therapy Part 1 – Transformation and Growth – Unequivocally Me 2.0

The Power of Art as Therapy Part 1 – Transformation and Growth – Unequivocally Me 2.0

I didn’t specifically mean to go down a pathway of art as therapy and a form of healing; rather, it found me.

It was 2012, and I was still in recovery from my stomach cancer. My life as I knew it had been turned on its head. In a parallel universe, I’m sure I was enjoying motherhood and socialising, and my hopes of finding myself again included rejoining the workforce. This timeline, however, looked very different.

I started back up again at a weekly women’s circle, and my circle mentor suggested that I try pastel drawing. Up until now, I had only ever played with abstract acrylic art, and I dabbled with some cartoons. My mum was the artist in the family, not me!

Side note: In truth, when I first started Circle in August 2009, my interests were mainly focused on developing my psychic abilities. As it turned out, this was not a class about chakras, crystals or the paranormal. Most weeks were spent peeling off layer after layer of belief and societal patterns, fears, religious dogma and lifetimes of karmic dross. I learned a lot about myself during these years, and it had its time and place in my life, but by August 2017, I was grateful when the spotlight didn’t fall on me on a Monday night. There was a moment when I knew in my heart that it was time to step out of Circle. It had been brewing for a while, and one thing I knew for sure was I shouldn’t feel worse when I left than when I entered. It had become a toxic environment for me. It is an interesting reflection knowing that Circle itself became something that I needed to let go of.

Lynn Whitty (Shiona as she is known in the Spirit Art World) became my art mentor for many years after 2012. I remember getting my first packet of mungyo soft pastels and driving myself to her then home in Springvale (southeast of Melbourne). She had the most amazing acrylic painting, which had been an Archibald entry, hung at her front door. I stood there in awe and thought to myself, ‘ One day, I want to be able to paint like that.’

Lyn is a bright and colourful character. Her modern hairstyle, funky glasses, and laugh make her stand out in any crowd. The room she taught from had a room full of easels. It was warm and cozy, with years of pastel dust staining the carpet. I felt instantly comfortable. As several other ladies came in, chatting, mingling and settling down with cups of tea, Lynn asked what I wanted to get out of class. I stated “I can’t draw animals and I can’t draw people.” Boy, was I wrong!

My first drawing was of a man in a green cape with a wolf. It was pretty two dimensional, and his eyes were a little close set, but considering I had never used soft pastels before, I was really proud of what I had achieved.

Something shifted in me during that first lesson. I realised I was capable of much more than I had imagined. Getting through stomach cancer and surgery had mostly been out of my control. I had to hand my life over to other people. I had to trust that the doctors, surgeons and specialists did what they were trained to do.

There were many lessons in there for me, including that of letting go and being more vulnerable than I had ever been in my life. This ‘creating space’, however, was a place that was just mine. A place where my inner child could learn and play.

My inner child! Of course, I had been neglecting her. I had all this grown-up, responsible stuff to do. From the age of 6, when I lost my father to bowel cancer, I became the responsible one. My childhood had been cruelly snatched out from under me, and now, with the help of my cancer, I had a chance to embrace her again.

This time, she could be encouraged, nurtured and supported, and I realised it was my job to give her the time and effort she needed to flourish. I was starting to really understand the meaning of gratitude and abundance. My vulnerability had opened up possibilities. It created a place for growth and transformation, so that is what I chose.

If I could get through stage 3 cancer, then my life, as I knew it, had already jumped tracks. What did I have to lose? The worst that could happen is that I could fail dismally. But how was I ever going to know unless I gave it a go?

My Wednesday mornings became my ritualistic art day. I set up a small easel at home in our family room and I worked at my craft every single day. This was the beginning of my art as therapy.