Anger – Untangling the Knots of Confusion

For the last few weeks in the art workshops my art partner Lee and I facilitate at The Lighthouse, a residential substance abuse treatment program in Oxnard, we’ve been focusing on the emotions the women most frequently and intensely deal with on a daily basis. Not surprisingly, the emotion that was at the tip top of the list was anger, followed closely by fear, anxiety, sadness and sorrow.

The first week each woman drew three pictures: an image of her anger in the past, an image of her anger in the present and an image of what she hoped her anger would be like in the future. While some of the women had shared their pictures with me personally, we hadn’t had time to share them in the larger group so last Friday’s workshop began with a larger group sharing. It was apparent to many their anger had been out of control in the past, but they were making progress in expressing their anger more appropriately in the present. That gave them hope for the future.

One of the most eloquent explanations of her art was given by Veronika, the artist of the anger image above. She described her anger as being full of confusion and chaotic disorder and her picture certainly expresses that. She went on to describe her confusion as being like a whole bunch of necklaces tangled in a knot and that “undoing her angry confusion” was about trying to untangle one necklace at a time. It was a fabulous metaphor that all the other women immediately identified with, and there were whoops as delight and applause.

While the other women set about drawing their three images of fear, Veronika spent her time drawing pictures of the knotted necklaces in past, present and future images. The picture at left represents her present, active undoing of her angry confusion. Click on the images to see them in greater detail.

Lee and I had taken a three week break from our time at The Lighthouse. We returned to cheers and applause. The art workshops are the gals’ favorite part of the week. While it feels wonderful to be so warmly welcomed and appreciated, I have such a fondness for these wonderful women who have suffered in such a wide variety of ways.  I am so proud of the courageous work these women are undertaking, and so pleased that art-making can be a therapeutic part of that.

The goal of this six week series of workshops will be to gather each woman’s drawings into a handmade book as record of her growth and future goals regarding managing her emotions. On a positive note, the women were reluctant to fill their books solely with negative emotions; they decided their final images will focus on love, happiness and hope. That makes me want to draw a smiley face!

As you think over the span of your life, what would your past, present and future images look like regarding anger, fear, anxiety, sadness and sorrow? What about past, present, and future images of love, happiness and hope? What’s a metaphor you’ve found helpful in dealing with a difficult emotion?

PS – This art activity was inspired by Barbara Price Davis, one of my favorite artist/practitioner buddies.

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5 comments to Anger – Untangling the Knots of Confusion

  • Sara Blackburn

    You may have just inspired my curriculum for our after school art class for next semester. I want to focus on self awareness, who we’ve been, who we are and who we want to be. Projects of that nature would be perfect!

  • Deanna J Bowling

    When I think of some of the places where I have “hung out in life”, I literally get the shudders.

    Almost 30 years ago, I worked for a local attorney. His office was in the shorter of the two towers on Esplanade Drive in Oxnard. We worked on the tenth floor. A radio station broadcasted from the top floor of the building. When the santana winds were blowing, the building would “sway”, and if the radio station’s antennas got “tweaked”, the electrical feed through out the building was affected.

    I worked evenings for the attorney. I would get there about 5:30 or 6:00 p.m., the attorney would go home around 7:00 pm or so, and I would be left with a transcriber and a typewriter. Sometimes when I plugged in the transcriber, it would be like plugging in a radio tuned in to the station located up on the top floor.

    My sister died from cancer while I worked for the attorney, I was working two jobs, my boss on the day job was a control freak to the hilt, and I was sitting at a second job trying to take transcription from a tape machine that was feeding the latest and greatest platters. I was living with my cousin who was doing cocaine and lying about it. I didn’t know at the time, but I had fibromyalgia, and that’s just what I remember at this moment. I think you get the picture —

    Speaking of pictures, mine at that time would consist of a side view of an ear with multiple speakers surrounding it, the speakers probably being painted dark red to portray the intensity of the sound coming out of them.

    These days, there wouldn’t be so many speakers portrayed in the picture, and they would be more of a blue/green color, somewhat like the color of the ocean waves.

  • Helen

    Your article gave me goosebumps! I too am busy untangling my past and present just now. Last night I was seeking support for a particularly challenging day from my closest friend and as I tried to explain it all the word that came into my head was ‘knot’. And I found myself telling Kay that it was often so hard to untangle as it was like a bunch of necklaces all knotted together and you can’t just pull one out you have to loosen them all and work patiently until one at a time they come free!
    There is a lot of anger and confusion to untangle just now – please tell your artistic friend that her art work and story spoke straight to my heart and encouraged me no end. Thank you x

  • Rosalind Tan

    Often, in a workshop the participants are subjected to long lectures on how tos, what not to do,or the whys.Instead, your creative workshop leads them through a process of self searching and draws from the participants heartfelt responses; bringing lasting transformation. It is not “one ear in and the other ear out.” But deep reflection that brings healing and wholeness. Keep up the excellent work!

  • Matt Hoyt

    For me sadness is the thing that resonates most here. I am a dreamer and when you dream there are great highs and some pretty low lows. When a dream is realized or people come along side in working toward something there is a lot of joy, but many dreams are not realized and often people will not dream with you or come along side. It’s sad to see so many unrealized possibilities.

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