Starting at the Recover ClinicI started at the Recover Clinic in October 2013. I was lost, confused and didn’t know where to turn; I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to recover from my eating disorder, all I knew was I couldn’t live my life the way I had been anymore. When Emmy gave me my programme, I remember feeling scared of the journey I was about to embark on.
I had been in therapy many times before then over a period of 18 years, but group therapy and a programme that intense was overwhelming. When I saw that my programme included an art group and a creative group I felt fear suddenly wash over me. It took me back to my school days, being told by my art teacher that I was no good at art and that I should definitely not take it as a GCSE option as I wouldn’t pass.
I started at the clinic and found talking in groups to be an overwhelmingly tough experience. I felt paralysed just being in the room; I grew up being told to only speak when spoken to, so the concept of having to talk openly in a group was petrifying. Thoughts rushed around my head at a million miles per hour with no way of expressing them through words and my anxiety grew and grew.
I wondered if this was ever going to help me to recover if I couldn’t get any words out. I often left feeling worse than when I went in, with my eating disorder really beating me up for not doing it right, for not talking enough, for not being good enough at recovery; I felt trapped by my mind and by my eating disorder.
My first art groupMy first ever art group was daunting, I still remember it. I was given some paper and access to a box of art materials and told to do whatever I wanted to do. There were things in the box that I had never even seen before, let alone know how to use. So I reached for the only thing I felt safe with and had experience of, a pencil. Sitting there with a blank piece of paper and a pencil, with a group of people I didn’t know, I had lots of thoughts running through my mind… what will happen next, what was I going to draw, did the drawing have to mean something, what were others doing, will my drawing be good enough, can the earth open up and swallow me now?
I folded the paper as small as I possibly could, scared to even put a mark on the page, I doodled as slowly as I could so as not to take up too much of the paper. I had this horrible fear of being judged, fear of hearing those words again, ‘you’re no good’. It was a big relief at the end of the session when we all shared our art that no-one judged me for what I had done; no one told me I was no good.
I felt anxious leaving the group that night, not really knowing how art and creative groups were going to help me in therapy, I felt like it had been a waste of time, that what I created was not good enough to be called art and that it wasn’t really “therapy”.
But I had to put my faith and trust into the process, trust that the clinic knew what they were doing and go with it. I stuck with my trusty pencil for many weeks to follow; it was a feeling of safety in a group I felt so exposed in. Other groups I could get away with not talking, but in art, once I put something on to paper, it was out there, I couldn’t take it back, I couldn’t change it, it was there for everyone to see, it was a little bit of me on the page.
Using art therapy as an outletOver the weeks I was challenged more to experiment with using other art materials, making a mess and taking up more of the page. Some experiences, like using finger paints, I am not in a hurry to re-experience, but I am slowly becoming more comfortable in trying new things to express my feelings and communicate to others in a different way, which is a relief as I still find verbalising my feelings to the groups terrifying and like I am in a constant tug of war with my eating disorder.
Art was an outlet that I had never experienced before then and I was asked to keep an art journal outside of the clinic. I found decorating the cover fun, but when it came to actually drawing inside of it, I was scared that I would ruin it. Over time, it got easier to use it. I am glad that I put my trust into the clinic and I now know how art therapy can be helpful, I no longer think it is a waste of time.
The art groups can be intense, it can sometimes bring up feelings that I did not know were there, but it is a safe place for me to express those painful feelings that have been suppressed for so many years and that I have not been able to verbalise and process properly in the past. Art therapy takes me to a deeper level than talking therapy, it has helped me to discover more about myself than I thought possible. I find that I can talk more whilst I have a pencil and paper in front of me; I am not thinking about the words that are leaving my mouth, I am not judging what I am saying, I am being freed by the art to express myself fully.
For me, art therapy really has been a major part of my recovery journey so far. My journey is still going, but I now have a tool to take with me through life to which I will be eternally grateful for.