Chrissy shares her thoughts as she leaves creative group…
I feel really sad to be leaving creative group. Art therapy has been a part of my journey since I first started treatment a year and a half ago and it has helped me in countless ways. I began my recovery journey doing only one creative group, which was on Wednesday evenings, but then a few months later I also joined Friday creative. As I already left Wednesday’s group earlier this year, I now also have to leave Friday’s morning group. I do feel sad, but also excited for what is to come and how my life is flourishing outside of the clinic. I do want to write this piece though as an expression of gratitude for all the ways creative group has helped me and to express just how important creativity is in recovering from an eating disorder.
When I first started treatment, I was in a crisis, emotionally and physically. My descent into eating disordered behavior happened so quickly- the summer of that year I first fell ill and by that Christmas my food behaviors had reached their peak. I had no idea what was happening to me and why it was happening, but I desperately wanted to escape my sadness. I started at the clinic that Christmas a year and a half ago, and as I said, creative group was there for me from the start. I don’t remember huge amounts from when I first came, but I do remember my very first creative group. Our therapist asked us to show on paper the different parts of us. I remember trying my hardest to show everyone as clearly as I could the different parts of me that I thought I had. Though I was very unwell and it was difficult for me to dig as deeply, I tried my best and drew about 5 versions of myself. I remember I drew the acting/creative version of me in one corner of the paper, but also I think drew myself in the harsh light of my ED. I remember one of the group members, now a dear friend of mine, telling me that when I spoke it drew her in and she loved listening to me talk- words that to this day mean a lot to me. It’s funny, but not coincidental at all, how things you hear don’t make sense until they “click” into place. I didn’t realize that her words would come up again almost a year later, when I learnt that I shouldn’t be afraid to use the power of my voice. I only just realized this now as I’m writing and feeling very moved!
I said that I tried “my best” to draw what I wanted to convey in my piece. That word “best” definitely haunted my earlier creative processes. Eating disorders and their warped messages of needing to be “perfect” definitely played a part in creative groups for me at the start. I remember recently my therapist telling me that I used to draw in pencil ever so faintly, and if I ever wrote the writing would be so faint it was almost unreadable. This was because obviously I wanted my pieces of art to look the best they could be and to keep everything neat and tidy and “perfect”. One of the biggest things I learned in both creative groups is that eating disorders kill creativity- but mine convinced me that I “needed” it in order to create beautiful things, and to be beautiful. What I have seen is completely the contrary. Since I’ve let go more and more of my eating disorder, I’ve been able to grab paints and splash them all over the place, I’ve been able to get my hands (and most of the table) covered in oil and chalk pastels. I’ve made “mistakes” on my pieces but I’m more able to see them as part of my process and part of the piece. I definitely can’t imagine drawing faintly in pencil anymore, and I do feel sad that that was all my ED “allowed” me to do back then. It was always so critical of everything I did, but I am happy to say that now I don’t immediately jump to criticize what I’ve created- I actually find it much easier now to appreciate the beauty of what I’ve made.
I remember, also from my earlier creative groups, the first time I properly connected with emotion through doing art. We were asked to scribble on a piece of paper, just random scribbles, but then turn those scribbles into a picture which we would then write a story about. I scribbled in red pen and then turned the scribbles into a red eye crying tears. The story I wrote based on this picture connected me deeply to the pain of things from my past and I remember hugging my knees to my chest while I cried, though it was uncomfortable for me to let myself be so vulnerable at the time. After that group though, I felt so held and supported by the other members and my therapist, and I felt excitement at how powerful this process actually was. I remember thinking after that group “it’s actually working!”
The closeness and intimacy of creative group is definitely what I will miss the most. Over the course of the year and a half I’ve been in first one, then both creative groups, I’ve watched them grow and shrink, people coming then leaving. The one thing that always remained constant was the connection between all the group members. I remember last summer, Friday creative groups consisted of the same group of people for a long time, and we would play our “creative group music mix” while we each worked on our processes. Friday creative was usually a more relaxed group, for some reason I remember it as the highlighted group of that beautiful summer. I think it’s because the connection between us all was so special and powerful, we shared a lot of sad moments but also great laughter. I will certainly miss the chill vibe on Friday morning creative (in it’s past and current form) and the feeling of sitting round a large table with all these amazing, brave people as we connect through the power of our art.
The intimacy of creative group is definitely shown to me through how everyone responds to each other’s artwork. A year and a half ago, though I was always a caring person, it was much harder for me to connect to emotion unless it was extreme pain or sadness. Something that I will always be grateful to creative group for is for helping me re-connect with myself- and so making it easier to connect with others. Being able to feel when looking at someone else’s art and being able to connect and share feelings with others purely through creativity is a gift that I am so thankful for.
When I talk about the artwork I’ve done, I don’t mean just drawings. In creative group we all have access to many mediums of art and different art materials- such as pastels, paints, play dough, collaging and of course the one and only Sharpie! I am thankful for having had the chance to experiment with all of these, though I do wish I had gone crazier, bigger and brighter with my art! Perhaps in my remaining creative groups I will… However, I definitely think another thing I am grateful to creative group for helping me unlock was my love of writing poetry! I never liked poetry growing up, I found it boring (probably because of studying the same poem over and over in school) but discovering a love for it through this process is something I did not see coming! A wonderful friend who used to be in creative group had an amazing knack of being able to rhyme words and was able to write the most beautiful poems in such short spaces of time! I remember always being in awe of those poems and I felt inspired to try my hand at poetry writing. Result? I fucking LOVED it. And still do, in fact. Poetry is such a powerful method for me to express my feelings and thoughts in a creative way. Again, a year and a half ago I never would have thought that a poem could bring a tear to my eye or lift my spirits and empower me- but that truly is the power of creativity. Writing was always a useful tool for me to get my anger out or express things that I found hard to say out loud, and discovering poetry gave me yet another tool to help me connect with myself and others. To this day I still write poems once in a while (though mostly they are joke poems to my friends which I always enjoy reading to them, as mockery is best served through poetry!)
Another special moment that I remember from creative group was when I connected with my spontaneity and my inner child. I remember I was craving excitement and adventure in that group, and as I started painting I connected with the feeling of racing down Holland Park on my scooter as a child. I felt excited and inspired re-living that memory in my head, and I remember I was painting myself on my scooter but I used bright colors- a lot of pinks and reds! When I had finished I realized that I wanted to dye my hair red (like I had painted it in the picture) and get myself an adult scooter so I could re-live that moment. And soon after that group, later that month, I both dyed my hair a fiery red and bought myself a white scooter. Though my hair may be back to it’s natural color now and I may not have taken my scooter up to the top of Holland Park yet (I will challenge myself to do so when it is sunnier) that group will always hold a special place in my heart. Because of the militant rigidity of my eating disorder, having fun and being spontaneous were not things I was able to do- in fact they scared me. Creative group however, being such a fun and child-like process in itself helped me unlock this part of me overtime.
One final memory. Not in my earliest creative group, but in one of my earlier ones, I remember we were all told to use paint and dab all over a piece of paper and then turn the dabs into something. I remember I painted a massive brain-looking thing, covered in bright and rich colors such as reds, pinks, purples and blues. I remember I painted a dark patch of black in one corner of it. When writing about my picture, I wrote that it was my “recovery brain” and how my brain (without my eating disorder) was filled with color and excitement and brightness, and that overtime I’d manage to unlock all of that beauty. I also remember writing that the patch of black (which symbolized my eating disorder) would eventually fade away and would no longer have power over me. It’s interesting, but again not coincidental, that I chose to symbolize recovery with all those beautiful colors. Looking back on that picture in my head, I feel moved and excited to say that I think my brain is more colorful now than it ever has been- I think with every day I’m getting closer to having that “recovery brain” that I dreamed of back then.
I feel like I’ve written about the most meaningful moments and gifts that I’ve taken from creative group over the course of my recovery journey. I feel humbled and blessed that I was able to have this powerful therapy process in my life and that I was able to share it with so many incredible people. My only hope and wish for creative group after I leave (and all future creative groups) is that everyone feels as safe and inspired being in the group as I did. And I know that the memories of everyone who was a part of creative group once, myself included, will live on through that big tablecloth! As I said, I will deeply miss it and I do feel sad that I’m leaving but I also leave with excitement of what’s to come, and the wonderful things that I will go onto do in life. And at the end of the day, though I won’t be physically in groups, I’ll always carry creative group with me and I’ll still be in clinic badgering everyone!
So really, as I always say to my amazing art therapist, it’s not goodbye, it’s just farewell.