St Pat on the Back

Sometimes the only thing to say is well done. Especially when we’ve planned a more or less non-therapeutic art activity for the ladies at the Lighthouse, a fifteen-month, faith-based, residential treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse. During open studio time on Tuesday I’d discovered that a significant number of us had anniversaries or family member birthdays on St Patrick’s Day. One of the women suggested we create St Patrick themed paintings. Sounded good to me. I did a bit of Internet research to unpack some of the holiday’s traditional symbols plus reviewing St Patrick’s background in order to provide some kind of reasonable context for the art activity.

The young boy who became St Patrick was born into a Roman-Briton aristocratic family in the late 4th century. He was abducted from his home in Wales as a youth by pirates who took him to Ireland where he was a slave for six years. The women could identify with the abusive, rough life he’d experienced.

A voice came to him in a dream telling him to escape by making his way back to Britain aboard a ship. During that time he experienced a deep spiritual conversion eventually returning to work among the Irish people. Again, the women could see the correlation between St Patrick and their own spiritual journeys leading them out of the slavery of substance abuse toward recovery…and the hope of helping others in the future.

Sometimes the future doesn’t take long to arrive. One of the women, whose father’s birthday is March 17th, found the art activity emotional hard because of the difficult relationship she has with her father. By her own admission she hurried through creating the painting just to get it done.  To be able to distance herself from the pain. Wiping quiet tears away she said I don’t like art – even though she is one of our better artists as the image above suggests.

Another Lighthouse lady had hoped to celebrate her deceased husband’s March 17th birthday by lighting a candle for him at a nearby church. Circumstances wouldn’t allow it and several of us talked about the difficulty of meaningful grieving in highly structured situations.  In the midst of our conversation around the sink, Lisa, the young woman “who doesn’t like art” volunteered that she would paint a lighted candle for Teri to hang  in her room so she could spend the day honoring her husband’s birthday…even if she couldn’t go and light a candle in reality. What a wonderful, creative alternative!

Lisa is still struggling with honoring a parent who has harmed her in the past, but she is able to move through enough of her pain to help a friend creatively engage her sorrow at the loss of her husband. She is breaking free of the slavery of past abuse as she helps another navigate the rough seas of grief. Impressed by her spontaneous thoughtfulness, I believe she deserves a well done…a St Pat on the back.

If someone has helped you creatively navigate your own pain, how did they do it? If you were to draw a picture of that experience, what would it look like? Who would you give a belated “St Pat on the back” to?  

Looking forward to your comments.




1 comment to St Pat on the Back

  • Erin Thomas

    This is SUCH powerful work you are doing! The doorway of art can lead to so many “openings”… Art and the therapeutic element of art should always be lifted up. Thanks for these stories. They are amazing!


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