From time to time there is a police presence at the Lighthouse when someone needs to be escorted from the facility, a fifteen month, faith-based, residential treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse. But I’ve never before had a staff person lean in the dining room/art room door and tell us to stay inside because the police were there. I was a bit taken aback, but didn’t perceive that we were in danger. Even with a wee bit of anxiety, I turned my attention back to our usual Tuesday morning open studio art making.

Unlike the Friday morning therapeutic art workshops my art partner Lee and I do, Tuesday mornings a volunteer and I host an “open studio” opportunity for the ladies at the Lighthouse. We unlock the art supply cabinet and those interested are free to make whatever kind of art they want. Most weeks jewelry making supplies are scattered around the room as they sit in clusters beading and chatting. Our goal is an opportunity for unstructured creativity and time to speak into on another’s lives on a more intimate level.

This Tuesday was no different until the police arrived. The level of agitation and anxiety in the room rose perceptibly once the “lockdown” began. Two of the women were experiencing panic attacks. Their body’s fight or flight response had dumped “buckets” of adrenaline into their systems. Suddenly trying to string seed beads on a fine wire with trembling fingers was a daunting challenge. As Denise’s agitation grew, I asked if there were other art materials I could get for her so she could creatively express her anxiety. Soon she was vigorously at work drawing a three-dimensional box that had all sorts of chaos spewing out of it.  

The image became more and more complex as she added words and shapes with oil pastels and baby oil, paint pens, gel pens, and watercolors. As we talked about her creation she described how the threat of violence that prompted the police presence triggered her own history of physical abuse. What she had emotionally locked up in a box was now splattering all over the place. She wanted to paint that so she could lock it up again. Denise was creating her own version of a lockdown; attempting to lockdown unpleasant feelings as a way of controlling them.

At the end of the morning we were chatting about her completed piece. I enquired, “Do you feel any different now, physically or emotionally, after creating this?” She reflected for a few seconds. “Yes, I feel more relaxed.”  That was my open door to encourage her not to try and lock up painful past experiences, but to put them out in the open where she could deal with them differently. By painting a picture of her internal chaos and anxiety, she could deal with it more openly in the moment when those inevitable feelings were triggered by a similar experience.

Creatively, Denise addressed her anxiety by making it visible rather than putting it in lockdown. By making it conscious where she could work with it productively, rather than stuff it in her unconscious where it could annoyingly resurface at inopportune moments, Denise was learning to be proactive with her anxiety through creativity. We both realized that while a lockdown invites some level of anxiety for everyone, sometimes creatively working though it leads to things opening up.

Have you every tried to “lockdown” a difficult experience only to have your anxious feelings surface at an inopportune time? Or in an unhelpful way? If you were to draw a picture of those anxious feelings, what would it look like? As you imagine that image, how might it make you feel more relaxed?

As always, I look forward to your wonderful comments.







2 comments to Lockdown

  • cynthia

    art is my most effective way to get uncomfortable feelings out. i’ve even had times when i was very angry but didn’t know why. with fabric i made a landscape with a spewing volcano in the center. as i couched down each red crd of anger out of the top of the volcano, i identified what i was angry about. as i recall, i had 6-8 cords coming out of my volcano as well as a cascade of molten lava (represented by some gold lame fabric). by the time i finished my quilt, i felt calm & peaceful; the anger had dissipated. the best part was that i expressed my anger instead of eating over it (compulsively overeating is my addiction).

    my quilts are usually 8 1/2″ x 11″. and i usually doing some writing to go with the quilt. i love this tool for recovery because it’s inexpensive & i can do it anytime.

  • Deanna Bowling

    Right now, I am going through information overload, some opportunities to rethink some of my prejudices,some medical stuff. Right now, the doors are unlocked. New and interesting journey to go on.

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