Art Therapy: What’s In It For You?

We have art in order not to die of the truth.  Friedrich  Nietzsche

Art therapy has been an important part of my healing journey.  Sometimes it helps me deal with difficult and painful emotions, sometimes it’s a vehicle for my unconscious to speak to me, sometimes it’s just plain fun.

It started early in my regular therapy. When my therapist went on vacation, it was really hard for me.  On the outside I would say, “No problem.” But on the inside I felt this urge that roughly translates to throwing myself on the floor, holding his leg and crying, “Don’t leave me.” (Boy is it embarrassing to admit to that.)

Obviously, I couldn’t stop my therapist from going on vacation, so I needed to find a way to self-soothe. My first thought was art.  I had heard of art therapy and the idea really intrigued me.  There are therapists who are specifically trained in art therapy–but decided I couldn’t afford my ‘regular’ therapy and art therapy. So I did the next best thing. I started checking out art therapy books from the library.  I continued looking at different books until one day, I found it.  The book that for me is the perfect art therapy book:

Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox

From the book: “Visual journaling speaks a language deeper than words, drawing from within our beauty, our truth and our wisdom.  It brings to paper the landscape of our life’s serenities and struggles, joys and tears, passions, fears, and dreams.” Linda Hill-Wall

In this book, which I highly recommend, they combine a sort of mediation with art and the result is fascinating. My drawings are rudimentary and childlike,which is alright.  They serve the purpose of helping me understand myself.

But for this post I would like to share my friend Carrie’s drawings.  I was so enthusiastic about this book that I told Carrie about it and she decided to give it a try.  I love her drawings, but that is not the main reason I am sharing them.  I asked her permission to share her drawings and her comments on them because I really like the way she explained how the process worked for her: what she was thinking as she drew and how the outcome managed to surprise her.  She really captured what I am trying to share.  So, here’s Carrie.

Don't Fit by Carrie all rights reserved
Don’t Fit by Carrie all rights reserved


“Here’s my first one! I was going to not bother doing it, but I remembered saying to you that if you don’t give the other parts a voice, they don’t have one – and I knew the ‘right’ side wanted to say something. I remembered you saying that you have to silence the left side in order to find out what’s in the right side. I found that I had a box of craypas, too! And I used my left hand, and although of course the left brain wants to chatter away, I also held an image in mind of a little girl drawing without talking. I asked her what she wanted to draw, and it was amazing how this thing “I” meant to be just a black ball turned into a girl in a fetal position. And how she had to be all the way over to the side. And waaaaaay over there is a wall, a brick wall, with a tiny opening (one brick high). And she has this beautiful flower she’s growing, with many layers of colors. And it keeps getting big, so big, and she’s just curled up trying to hold onto it. But all the good things, well, all the other good things, are all behind that wall. You can’t see it, but that’s where the cozy houses with lighted windows are, full of people enjoying each other’s company and listening to each others’ stories. And there are big overstuffed chairs there where men sit. And things smell good and look pretty, and gardens grow and people cook together from them. And where people care about what you think and feel. Oh, and most important, no one has to pretend. Doesn’t it sound heavenly? But the only way in is this teeny tiny mouse-sized hole. And she doesn’t fit in. Isn’t that amazing? I knew the hole had to be small, but I didn’t know why till I was all done, and then the title came to me.”

Because she was so intrigued with the first experiment, she decided to try it again.
Castle Mountain by Carrie all rights reserved
Castle Mountain by Carrie all rights reserved

“I started out asking myself, what color do you want? And I picked gray. That immediately turned into a castle in my mind. But then I just did some scribbling in a castle-like direction, and it started to take shape. But at first it was up in the air, and I thought, no, it has to have stairs up to it. And the stairs have to reach the ground, because I absolutely have to be on them. And then the air was just not right, it had to be grass, and that turned into a mountain. And when it all filled in and I looked at it, I realized my mind had done one of those pun things – it’s an illustration of a quote from Dan Siegel, talking about how he got along in medical school: “Medical school was my mountain, and I wanted to climb it.” So the caption to my picture is “This is my mountain, and I want to climb it.”

If you have ever thought about art therapy, I recommend giving it a try.  You don’t have to be an artist.  As I hope Carrie’s comments show, in art therapy, it’s not about the art, it’s about discovering you.


DID: Waking up in the middle of your life

Photo by --BlackCubeSVK Dušan Ďurajka
Photo by –BlackCubeSVK
Dušan Ďurajka

Do you ever have the sensation of waking up…in the middle of your life?

Tonight (and this has happened to me before,) I have a strange feeling of having been away for a while.  It’s like I just woke up and I feel really refreshed.  Or you could say it is like coming home from a vacation.  I have that sense of returning, and yet everything feels familiar.  Because I have been away and rested, I feel renewed and ready to face the challenges of my life.  But egads, I really need to have a talk with the part of myself that was in charge while I was gone.

I would say to myself (ever so gently)…”Yikes! You haven’t been wearing make-up?  Don’t you realize your blonde eyebrows and eyelashes are basically invisible without it?  And what are these frumpy clothes you have been wearing?

“Why haven’t you talked to (or emailed) ________________ for a while?  That friendship is important.  Ah, Leslie. . .”

I don’t mean to give the impression that this is simply about being critical of myself…I realize almost everyone falls prey to that trap.  What I am trying to illustrate here is how I can FEEL like a different person.  It’s pretty weird sometimes.

But…and I know I told you this before (here), but it is worth repeating…the whole point of Dissociative Identity Disorder is to hide things.  Mostly we hide dark and difficult things from ourselves (or try to), but we hide the whole essence of DID too.  I do NOT go around telling people to call me by a different name (as you have seen in the movies.)  I try to act as normal and nonchalant as possible.  Hopefully, if I weren’t writing about it no one would ever know.

I admit, as much as I try to it reign it in, sometimes DID can cause me some awkward and embarrassing moments.  I’ll tell you about one.  My close friends love to tease me about this–all in good fun, I don’t mind the teasing.

One day I came home from work (in the morning because I work graveyard).  There was a car in my driveway and it was in my spot.  The way I would deal with that situation if it happened now–would be to get out and smile and approach the person and see who it was, make friendly conversation (even if it were a sales rep,) etc.  But that morning I was in a different “space” of my mind.  So. . .

I approached the car.  The gentleman inside rolled down the window and smiled at me.  I glared at him and said, “Who are you and what are you doing in my driveway?”

He looked a little confused, but smiled and said, “What?”

I repeated, more annoyed now, “Who are you and what are you doing in my driveway?”  My voice was as cold as I could make it.

He looked really confused now, but kept smiling and explained that he was the father of my daughter’s friend.  The girls had a sleep over, the previous night (at his house) and now he was bringing them to my house to retrieve something before they went to an early morning play practice together.

Would this be a good time to mention that I had met this man three or four times previously and should have recognized him?  Or that in some part of my mind, I knew that my daughter had stayed the night with a friend and would be coming by in the morning?

But I couldn’t quite connect the dots in mentally, so embarrassed and now really confused, I stammered, “Oh, forgive me I just got off of graveyard shift, I’m really tired.”  I use that excuse to cover up a lot of  DID moments, by the way.  Now you know my secret.

That morning still makes me blush in embarrassment and laugh at myself at the same time.  Another thing I’ve noticed is that I have to be in the right “space” to write about DID.  You can see from my archives how often that happens.  And I can almost guarantee that later in some other space of my mind we, ahem–I–will be questioning the wisdom of this post.  But there you go…moments with DID.

Living with PTSD: Stumbling in the Dark

Ugh, I just have to say…I am so tired of this…so very tired.

Tired of what you ask?  Tired of hurting, what else?

Healing feels like stumbling around in the dark, sometimes you can move along pretty stealthily and fool yourself into thinking you are some kind of ninja, but then you bump into something and hit your shin.  Reflexively, you bend over to grab your wound and while doing so you hit your head.  This throws you off-balance and you end up lying on the ground without enough hands to touch, soothe and comfort all the aching places.

Fumbling around in the dark is a great metaphor for triggers because they often seem to hit you out of no where.   I know some of my triggers and can anticipate them and work through them fairly stealthily.  Therapy has helped with that.  But then there are other triggers. . .

I’m struggling to explain what I am feeling without going into specifics about what hurt me this time.  Let’s see if we can work around this.  A family member did something that hurt me deeply.  The hurt was not intended.  (I wonder would it hurt less if it was?  Maybe so.)

Photo by Gerhard Suster
Photo by Gerhard Suster

That situation may or may not be as it appears to me.  We may or may not work it out.  I may or may not emotionally guillotine this person.  Emotionally guillotine means that I cut him or her out of my heart.  I can do this with a rapidity and a finality that shocks even me.

I do wonder if this is healthy.  (My husband doesn’t think so, and my therapist is out-of-town. . .)  Healthy or not, I have guillotined a lot of people, and it does stop the hurt.  So how can that be a bad thing???   My husband says it’s bad because if I guillotine enough people I will be left alone.  And yet, I don’t think they were really there in the first place…that’s WHY they were guillotined.  So how has anything changed except that I stopped my emotional hemorrhage?  Anyway. . .

The real issue here is the pain of the past that was triggered by this incident.  How does a four-year old child deal with the pain of feeling rejected, abandoned and traumatized?  It breaks my heart to think of it.

I’ll tell you how I dealt with it.  I learned to emotionally guillotine people (it’s amazing I don’t have some sort of attachment disorder!) and I put the rest away in my Haunted Mind to deal with later as an adult.

Now I am facing that emotional time bomb.  An event triggers it, and suddenly I am awash with the unbelievable pain of being a child abused and feeling very alone in a very dark and scary world.  All this while people around me wonder why I am over-reacting to whatever the trigger was.

Somebody please turn on the light.  I want this healing business to be done already. . .like yesterday.


P.S. Please note in my effort to blog regularly, I am now scheduling posts in advance.  So I have had a little time to recover from the situation that hurt  me.  I am feeling better, and yes, I did emotionally guillotine the person that caused the problem.  Here’s hoping I can get back to Ninja mode now…at least emotionally!

Photo attribution is embedded in the picture now.  Just hover over it.   Don’t I feel clever?!


Centering Prayer: Sabbath for the Mind

Vera Kratochvil

It’s been a month since I last posted about my foray into meditation and centering prayer.  Time to check in and report.

Yes, I am still doing it and yes, I still love it.  I wish I could tell you it has gotten easier, but so far that is not the case.  I try to spend some time meditating before I sleep and again when I wake up.

Meditating when I wake up can be tricky because I’m not a morning person, so I’m often pushing “snooze” to many times and getting up late.  But when I wake up and make time for Centering Prayer it is a wonderful way to start the day.  It feels grounding, seriously like I am pushing my roots deep into the earth while simultaneously turning my face up to the sun…or The Son.  It’s lovely.

Meditating before I go to sleep is different.  Usually my mind is churning and not necessarily with worry or concerns, but ideas and inspirations, questions, ponderings….trying to quiet it feels like standing in the eye of a tornado and asking the wind to stop.  Part of the problem is sometimes I want to think about the inspirations instead of being quiet.  During one such a time, I was trying to reassure myself that the “great ideas” would still be there later and would be better for having given my mind a rest (which, in hindsight, has proven to be true).  It was then that I realized that meditating is like Sabbath for the mind.  Resting your mind does help you feel renewed and refreshed later.

Grounding, and resting are wonderful, and if they were the only fruits of meditation, that would be enough to continue…but that is not all–no that is not all!  (said in my best Dr. Seuss voice)   The greatest benefit I have experienced so far is a partial realization of the hope that I mentioned in my last blog post about Centering Prayer…that feeling of coming home.

One of the hardest things for me in this journey of healing from abuse is the separation I have felt from God…its the Jaws of Hell, I tell you!  There are many reasons for those jaws gaping after me–which I won’t get into now–the point is that after practicing meditation I feel that gap closing.

Of course, I considered if I could be certain it is the meditation that is making this difference, or perhaps it was something else that I did…perhaps that something else was also inspired by the meditation. . . The conclusion is that I can’t really say for sure, but I believe Centering Prayer is helping me Come Home again.  I had forgotten how wonderful “home” feels.

Photo attribution Vera Kratochvil

The Jaws of Hell

It recently occurred to me that of all the things I have talked about on my blog, during this healing journey, one thing I have not really talked about is how it has affected me spiritually.  I have alluded to it a couple of times, but never really discussed it.  I don’t know why.  It’s not that I was intentionally holding back.  Maybe it is just an unspoken feeling I have that one’s relationship with God is a deeply personal thing.

Yes, that is likely what prevented me.  It’s kind of like this….a great piece of advice I received when I got married was: when you are upset with your spouse, don’t talk to other people about it.  The rational being that later his awesomeness (as you see it) later makes you inclined to forgive him, but your mother (or friend…), who doesn’t see him as quite so adorable is less likely to forgive him.  I guess in that same light, it was hard for me to talk about the difficulty I have been having with God, because I don’t want to pass on my frustration to anyone else, and then have them not ‘bounce back’ when I do.

Fortunately though, my relationship with God was strong before all this healing stuff started, and though the relationship has been rocky, I am mending the wounds.  In fairness, to myself, I must say, that DID has played a big part in the separation I have felt from God.

I don’t really want to get into that now, suffice it to say, that some how, some part of me decided that the Spiritual aspect of myself was much too precious and too pure to be subjected to all the filth that was about to come forth.  So the Spiritual One was whisked away to a far, far room of my Haunted Mind.  It took me a long time to understand what had happened and why.  Then to develop some inner co-operation to bring her back.  I know that probably sounds really strange, but rather than thinking of it as strange, I hope you can see that it is actually a testament to the amazing power of the mind.

Perhaps, I will write more about that another day, but today it feels like a side-trip, so back to my main point.  Even though I haven’t really talked about the spiritual aspects of my healing here on the blog, I am writing a book about it.  The book I have wished for to help me, but couldn’t find.  Good grief, as I write that it sounds maybe a bit egotistical, but here’s hoping you know me better than that.

My intent is to help others navigate this rocky path any way that I can.  That’s all.  So, the first chapter of the book is about the spiritual divide that has been part of the process for me and why it happened (aside from DID).  The rest of the book is about healing that divide.  The first chapter is tentatively called, “The Jaws of Hell”  from Doctrine and Covenants section 122…”. . .if even the jaws of Hell should gape after thee. . . (paraphrased because I am too impatient to look it up now).

As I pondered and later researched “the jaws of Hell”, I learned that the phrase has been used at least since medieval times, likely longer.  It was very common in their art.  I just have to show you a picture I found.


Photo Attribution:  HERE

Isn’t this picture great?  I showed it to my daughter, Vienna, but she didn’t share my enthusiasm. I don’t get it.   And yes, in case you were wondering, this whole blog post IS just so I could share this picture.  I think it is perfect and I am wondering if I can get permission to put it in my book!

So can any of you reading this relate?  If you would like to tell me about your “jaws of Hell” experience (meaning that you felt separated from God due to anger, shame, DID, or another reason).  I would love to hear YOUR story.  As always you can share here, or privately by sending me a PM to lesliesillusions at gmail.

Oh, and have I told you lately…thanks for reading and sharing this journey with me.


Betrayal of the Mind–OR–Embarassing Moments with Art Therapy

Very Basic Notan…to see something better check out the google link below

Awhile back, when my therapist was going to be on vacation for a week, which at the time felt like forever, I decided to give myself some homework.  I got some books from the library on art therapy.  I’ve been doing it on and off ever since.

ON–I do it because it helps bring things from my unconscious mind forward, and can be helpful in therapy.  Kind of like dreams.

OFF–sometimes I don’t do it because it helps bring things from my unconscious mind forward, and I don’t always like that.  Kind of like dreams.

In my on again, off again way, I have filled about 7 sketch pads with my randomness, some of it revealing, some mysterious, some dull.  Each sketch pad is more personal than a journal simply because I have more control over what I say in a journal.

If you haven’t tried art therapy, that may seem like an odd thing to say.  But I will give you an example of a time art therapy took me by surprise.  Part of the problem was that I had not intended to do art therapy at that moment, but the subconscious doesn’t care about little things like proper timing.

So, I was in my son’s Kindergarten Art Class.  They were learning Notan.  It is a form of art that uses contrasting colors and paper cutting to make designs.  Some notan is really intricate and beautiful.  You can see some google images of notan HERE

As I often did in that class, I helped my son with his project and then I made my own.  (I had so much fun in that class!)  After we all finished our pictures, the teacher had us hold them up (parents too) and show them to each other.  So I held mine up for this class of Kindergarteners and three or four other moms.  Then we sat them on the table and started on a second one.

That is when I looked down at mine, blushed furiously and turned it over so no one could see it.  This happened on a therapy day, so I took it to therapy.  My therapist burst out laughing when he saw it.  Then said, “Can I take a picture of it for your file?”

“A picture?  You can have the horrid thing.  I don’t want it!”  I said.

He just smiled, took a picture with his cell phone and told me he would email it to me.  Much later, I was glad that he did.  But it has taken me a year to overcome my embarrassment enough to post it here on the blog.  I’m sharing it to show you the power of the mind, and of art therapy.

So….what were we talking about?  The weather…how about that fog we’ve been experiencing in the Seattle area. . .


Five Things NOT to Say to Abuse Survivors

This swan is warning you to Stand Back!
Bobbi Jones Jones

Dear friends,  I have had a really difficult week.  I had a nightmare that will likely forever be in the Top Ten of  Worst Nightmares.  Therapy was intense…thus, as you might imagine, I’m not in a great mood.  That makes this a perfect time to tell you: Things NOT to say to an Abuse Survivor

1. Forgive

Forgiveness is not a one-size-fits-all principle.  What is right for one person may not be right for another.  For example, if you have a squabble with your mother, then forgive and reconcile your relationship is good advice.  But for a survivor of abuse, if the offender is not repentant i.e. could still be dangerous, reconciliation is not remotely a good idea.

And please even if you are a survivor and you think you are helping…do NOT tell another survivor to forgive.  There are so many factors involved for example the severity of the abuse (one time, or lasting for years), and who did it (a neighbor or a parent)…so many factors that what helps one survivor may not be a good solution for another.

2.  Let it Go –

All I can say to that is I wish I could.  If someone will make the nightmares stop, and the PTSD go away…then I will be happy to let it go.  The thing is I can’t let it go any more than someone could simply let go of cancer.  When someone loses a loved one, is it ever appropriate to tell them to “let it go”, I don’t think so.  There are times when “let it go” is good advice.  I say those three little words to myself regularly over little things…like when some well-meaning person tells me to forgive.

3.  Don’t assume I am depressed.  Listen to me I am NOT depressed.  I have emotional pain–there is a difference.

When you go to the doctor, and tell him you have a pain, you will be asked what is the pain like?  Is it dull?  Is it sharp?  Throbbing? Sudden Onset?  So then why do we throw all emotional pain into the “depression” category?  I have been depressed, and I am telling you what I feel now, is something different.  It bothers me when people assume I am depressed because there are certain assumptions and stigmas about depression that I also feel do not apply to my situation.

4.  Don’t try to fix it

You can’t fix me in one conversation, even my therapist does not attempt that.  What a survivor needs from you is a listening ear, validating words, perhaps a shoulder to cry on….no advice.

5.  Don’t ignore me

I am not a china doll.  I won’t shatter if you say the wrong thing.  Ignoring me hurts worse than mis-spoken words.

There is a theme underlying most of these cautions–it is invalidating pain.  When you tell a survivor to forgive, let go, try to fix them, or ignore them you are basically saying, “Your pain does not matter.  It is not real or significant.”  And that hurts.  So please don’t do it.

I know people who say these things just want to help…please believe me the best way to help is just to listen and validate.  I will give you an example of some wonderful validation I received today.   I was talking to my wonderful primary care doctor.  I mentioned my horrific nightmare to her.  She asked me if I wanted to talk about it, or not.  Because we have a relationship of trust, I did want to share it with her.  I told her about the dream and some other related things that happened this week.

She said, “I think I am going to have a nightmare now, but thank you for sharing that with me.”

That was wonderful to me because by saying that, she validated my pain.  She said in essence “you have experienced something terrible.”  I felt heard and understood.  It was wonderful.

Listening and validation…that really is the best thing you can do.

Photo attribution: Bobbi Jones Jones