JenniferSeasons come and go. Out here on the West Coast, May gray has given way to June gloom so it seemed appropriate to do a “shades of gray” art activity with the ladies at the Lighthouse, a fifteen-month, faith-based residential treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse. Because catastrophic/perfect-horrible thinking is common for those in recovery, we created a “shades of gray” scale from one to ten. One being perfect, ten being horrible. Collectively, we worked on a more nuanced vocabulary of evaluation. If I asked one of them, “How are you?” and her reply was a six, I’d know she was feeling so-so. A two? Not a perfect one, but great nonetheless. Then they practiced painting nuanced shades of gray between white and black. Some painted squares, some clouds, another hearts.

Jennifer included a brief poem with her shades of gray:

When I was a child I saw
life in black
and white
Decisions were precise
either right or wrong
good or bad
There was no grey
no color now
that I am an adult
I can see life through
an adult eyes,
a child’s biggest fear
Now my life can be
as black, white, or as grey
as I want it!

Great glops of paint and smears of color represented the “seasons” of Jennifer’s life. No life details accompanied her seasons; the paint was so soupy thick we had to anchor the painting with rocks and let it dry outdoors. Christine’s present season is a messy mix of red and black as she admits to struggling inside her head as to whether she’s going to say in the program or not; a brave confession that may well be a significant step in her recovery.  Another woman also created her four seasons without detail, a process somewhat common for those newly entering a recovery program. Sometimes the details of abuse and addiction are just too difficult to detail.

The diagonal seasons of Michelle’s painting boldly represent her descent into drugs. She has entered the program again as an alternative to jail. Openly declaring that she LOVES getting high, nevertheless she was deeply affected by her daughter’s tears as she was led away during her most recent arrest. She is beginning the hard work of learning she has someone more worthy of her love than drugs. 

Tanni’s colorful seasons represent a fond memory of her childhood in Florida playing among the pine trees near her home, falling off the dangerous cliff of drugs, the hills to climb, and the promises ahead.  Sarah’s seasons were a delightfully intuitive unfolding of images as she began with the roots of her life in poverty with a mom on drugs. The vine eventually began to leaf and bud as she became a teenage. Her maturing bloom was crushed by an abusive relationship and addiction. Now, in the latter months of her recovery, the roots and vines are becoming a strong tree. Similarly, Olivia is nearing the end of the recovery program. In much of her art work over the last year, cars on roads have been an abiding theme of getting into trouble. Her “seasons” painting includes the early fearful years of living with an abusive, alcoholic father. That season segued into marrying a man similar to her father. When he went to jail, for the first time in her life Olivia lived without the fear of chaos. And she felt bored. Trying to deal with her uncomfortable, unfamiliar feelings of a chaos-free existence, she began drinking. Now, rather than driving down a road to destruction, Olivia is seeing her faith as a road of healing. What a great image of redemption!

If you were to write a poem about black or white thinking and shades of gray, what would you write? If one of your seasons was blobbed paint, how long did it take to dry? What kept you anchored in place so you didn’t blow away? If you have an abiding image that represents trouble in your life, what is it? Over time, has it been transformed into something more redemptive?


2 comments to Seasons

  • have been unwell for many weeks
    and today the grey lifted and i began to feel better
    these poor women have my sincere sympathy and you
    and your colleagues my admiration for the work you do
    bless you all

  • Love the images of shades of grey…..light to dark or dark to light. When I see crows I’m reminded of the evil and pain that exists in the world. I’ll have to try to see how the crow image can become redemptive….

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