6 Ways Artists and Addicts can be Body Present
by Z Zoccolante
Being an artist is synonymous with being highly creative. The bright side of creativity is that wondrous works of sculpture, painting, writing, music, etc. live on for the world’s enjoyment after the creator has gone. But it’s the shadow side of the art that is sometimes overlooked. Artists often fall into the category of highly sensitive persons.
It’s estimated that about 20% of people are highly sensitive. These people have increased sensory detail, emotional awareness, and empathy. They may also fall into the category of empaths, who can feel what another person feels and can take on the energy of who they’re around as if they’re a sponge. Sensitive people can become easily overwhelmed and deeply affected by others emotions, which can lead to a desire to numb out.
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There’s an unmistakable correlation between more sensitive persons and addiction. SENSITIVITY + ADDICTION
Many famous historical artists such as Beethoven, Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Tennessee Williams experienced addiction/abuse problems that commingle in their legacy. The media today holds a nearly constant flow of actors whose lives have been affected by addiction. Artists and Addiction
Society today leads us to believe that sensitivity isn’t strong, but strength is what tends to be rewarded. Most of my male friends received messages in the veins of, “Suck it up. Put on your game face. Don’t cry.” Even as adults, women tend to bond over listening and sharing stories, laughing and crying together, while men, as a generality, tend to bond over an active aggression like playing/watching a sport, or troubleshooting.
If we’re conditioned to believe that our sensitivity is shameful and should be hidden then sensitive persons, who feel too much all the time, must reach for something to ground them from their emotional instability. This grounding tool may be food, drinking, smoking, drugs, exercise, or any form of ritual that gives them a sense of control over their lives.
They teach themselves to numb out when their internal emotional world becomes too overwhelming. The result is often a substance or behavioral addiction, which becomes the only coping mechanism they rely on to stop the world from pressing in.
I’ve experienced this process of addiction and I’ve spoken to many others who’ve ventured similar paths. Our stories are different but the common denominator is a running away from emotions we don’t know how to manage.
Recently, I heard a therapist say, “Psychotherapy isn’t to feel better, it’s to feel.” When we get so used to numbing our emotions, we no longer know how to manage them in a safe and healthy way. The goal of therapy is to be able to feel all of our feelings.
My common problem: After years of using my eating disorder to negate any emotion, I’d gotten pretty good at numbing out. Attempting to be present in my body again was something I had little interest in because it felt unsafe, even dangerous. But I was at a point where I needed to change because the feedback loop for my internal suffering was too painful.
So slowly, with great irritation, I learned how to be in my body again. I learned how to show up, and to recognize and accept how I felt. I learned to sit, planted on my couch with a belly full of food, instead of running to the bathroom. I learned about my thoughts and fears, and that being in my body was not, as I’d once thought, “unbearable.”
I learned it was possible to change. Change didn’t have to be torturous, but rather like a long stretch.
Our bodies are amazing storehouses for locked memories and emotions, but you can begin cleaning the emotional stagnation.
Here are 6 tips as you embark on the journey
of living comfortably in your body.
My therapist told me this often. It’s one of the easiest ways to connect to yourself. When you focus on your breath it brings you smack dab into the present moment. Often when people undertake a shamanic journey, the shaman will have the person use their breath, or a rhythmic sound, to focus on because of its ability to ground the person in the present moment.
I prefer to do this as a meditation exercise, lying down although there are various methods to relax. You can flex and then relax different parts of your body in succession. You can bring your awareness to specific parts of your body. You can meditate. You can listen to a recording or a relaxation tape. Ex Tara Brach’s freely offered mediations
3) Check for feeling:
Do this right when you notice you’re experiencing increased emotional activity. Practicing this in your house or while driving. First, take a deep breath, and then ask yourself what you’re feeling. Let’s say you feel angry. Say, “Ok self, tell me about the anger.” Begin talking out loud in stream of consciousness style. In my life, anger tends to be the lid for sadness so often I’ll end up tearing or crying when I get to the root of it.
4) Perform a Self-Body Scan:
If you can name the feeling or even if you’re not sure what it is, you can still locate it in your body. Ask yourself a simple question, “Where am I experiencing this EMOTION in my body?” Maybe it’s stuck in your throat. Maybe your heart feels like a giant is sitting on it. Maybe your stomach feels anxious and hollow.
Discover where the feeling lives or shows up in your body.
5) Embrace: AKA – Sit with it.
Notice I said, “Sit with it,” not “Suck it up.” Sitting with feeling can be uncomfortable especially if you’ve become a pro at distraction or numbing out. At first sitting with a feeling seems terrifying. Your mind might even tell you that you will physically die. Take a breath. You won’t die. You’ll be fine. In fact, when we avoid feeling a feeling it doesn’t have a chance to be released. It’s like blue-balling your own emotions – it’s not nice and only you lose, so don’t do it.
Sit with the emotion where you feel it in your body. Allow yourself to experience it fully and let it unfold. Often the terrifying emotion we thought would kill us will dissipate in less than a few minutes.
6) Move your body in a different way:
As part of my eating disorder recovery, I took up aerial silk to challenge myself to stay positively present in my body. It reminded me that my body was strong, capable, and that I had permission to love it as is. I’ve also liked yoga, pole dancing, walking in my neighborhood, lap swim, and ecstatic dance. There are endless possibilities, limited only by your imagination.
Garden, swing on the swings again, fly a kite, ride your bike for fun, dance in your living room, or get a massage or another somatic therapy. Find a form of movement or touch you enjoy and commit to being present in your body.
Whether you’re an artist, addict, empath, or highly sensitive person, your heightened feelings are a gift.
Get in your body. Hang out there. Become friends with your emotions. Use your gift to leave your unique fingerprints on the world.
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My newest short story Her Terror of Food, published this week in If and Only if.