Art as a Coping Tool in Eating Disorder Recovery
By Z Zoccolante
Art can be an important tool in your eating disorder recovery. Eating Disorders thrive on rigidity. They tell us what to eat, what not to eat, how much to run, when we’ll starve, purge, or hide away from the world. Eating disorders are built on control and structure. Art can be flexible and fluid. Art can be wild and spacious and free. Art can be what we want it to be. This is why art is even more important to have on our side during eating disorder recovery.
What Defines Art in Eating Disorder Recovery:
When you hear the word art a plethora of images may spring to mind. Maybe you think of painting or sculpting, writing or drawing. Maybe your mind conjured images of burning man costumes with feathers and glittering limbs. Once, years ago I had a heated conversation with my acting teacher about the definition of art. I stated that art was simply whatever people or society deemed it to be. He retorted with a back and forth that left me with a simple statement – art is anything that makes you feel.
How Eating Disorder Stifle Art:
In our eating disorders, it’s common to cut ourselves off from the neck down. We essentially live from the neck up, in our cognition, while ignoring the sensations of the body and being present in our body. The neck up feels much safer because the brain can rationalize anything. The body, on the other hand, feels like a danger zone because it contains things like our heart. The body in general is a place we despise and don’t want to spend time being present in.
For years, I lived in my head, cut off from the body that I loathed and feared and tried to make my slave. When something got down past my neck and into my body it was often uncomfortable and scary. Sitting with feeling our feelings is the main reason we say, “Nope. Take a hike. And compulsively engage in our eating disorder behaviors.” We desperately try not to feel because if we feel one thing, what’s to stop everything from crashing in.
I had a friend in the hospital tell me once that she couldn’t let herself cry because she was afraid if she did it would never stop.
The truth is that it does stop. When we feel our feelings, when we can sit with them, they dissipate. It’s when we try to hold them at bay that they feel as though they are constantly pressing in.
How We Feel Feelings Through Art:
However, in recovery, learning to feel our feelings can be hard. This is where art can come alongside as a wonderful, therapeutic tool.
Like I said earlier, and I do believe this, art is something that makes you feel. Art gives us a way to connect to what’s inside, and place it externally in the world. Art can range from common forms like drawing, painting, or sculpting to lucid forms like aerial silk, body painting, or dance.
Dance at Art Therapy:
Community dance, such as ecstatic dance or five rhythms, is a cheap form of somatic therapy that allows you to move your body in ways that you desire. I went to one last weekend in LA where I live and although it can feel strange to move your body in public, there’s a freedom and liberation in it.
At the end of the day, our body is our body. It’s the only body that we’ll have in this life and it’s important to use it to express, to feel, to create.
Other Forms of Art Therapy for Recovery:
Maybe today you start writing a journal, or begin a healing short story. Maybe you take out crayons or color your sidewalk with chalk like when you were a kid. Maybe all you do is move your body a little bit in the safety of your room. Whatever art you create with your body, with your hands, with your heart is healing.
If there’s lot of darkness that comes up at first, write all the swear words you can think of in black magic marker on butcher paper and then throw it away. The most important thing about art is that it allows what’s in us to be expressed so it doesn’t fester. Art is one pathway to healing and wholeness and it’s an important tool to have on your recovery journey.
*This article first appeared on HealthyPlace.com