Detoxing from opiates takes much longer than from any other substance. Going cold turkey is not recommended; the usual treatment involves opiate-like substances that produce a slight resemblance to the original high with a gradual tapering off under close medical supervision.
Once officially in recovery, it can be hard to adjust to life due to the brain’s permanent memory of the high like no other and a high frequency of depression that seeps in and stays. More and more rehabs and recovery programs are using expressive art therapy to deal with just this.
How Art Therapy Works
The purpose of this article to is to show how and why it works and even more importantly, how to use it all of our lives. The truth about living clean and sober is that the mind is still and probably always will be addicted “in spirit”.
Once we allow our brains to experience an inauthentic high with drugs, alcohol, even pornography and gambling, an authentic, natural high never seems to fully cut it, especially when we are highly emotional about something.
Expressive Art Therapy is using the genres of:
- Playing an instrument
- Writing without any thought of a final product
There isn’t a lot of thinking or planning involved. It’s more like play and as you use your medium, something happens. You lose yourself, but it’s ok and the images you create, the words you write, the notes you play show you what’s been on your mind and what to do with that information.
For example, let’s say you look at your painting and you see an obvious form of a wolf. Sit with it and see what it tells you. Maybe, you are feeling like you devoured something or someone or maybe you feel strong and confident as these may be a wolves characteristics to you?
A Bridge to Getting to Know our Souls
Opiates lessen the sensation of pain by altering its emotional implications. They inhibit the transmission of impulses over pain-carrying brain neurons. Opiates also affect feelings and behaviors associated with eating, anger, sex, and memory. Opiates can rebalance a body undergoing intense stress like nothing else!
The person is immediately brought to a state of calmness, tranquilized, and relaxed. The user often loses their sense of appetite for food and sex. Eventually, the good feelings cannot be experienced anymore once that tolerance level crosses that line. From then on, no amount of the drug will let them feel good again.
Opiate users do not consider themselves to be self-medicating. They use for the high and the drugs used to help with withdrawal frustrate them because they give them a steady, low, unrewarding high instead of the high they loved once upon a time. Values have to change, the heart needs to change, the inner environment needs to change in order for recovery to happen. The desire to get high is too strong otherwise.
So, how do people have a change of heart?
I suppose there are many different ways, but the word art is in heart perhaps for a reason? Everything that is living was created, not made. Art can be made, but there is also a process in which art crosses a line and becomes something created and this process has everything to do with the body working with the soul. I like to think that creating art is that bridge to getting to know our own souls.
For the addict, this can be a scary, but transforming experience leading to an understanding of themselves they never had access to before.
Using art in a “spiritual” way can develop a soul to the point where they can intuit from a higher dimension. Often, a person has or is coming through great pain and change in their lives as when I was going through a divorce ten years ago. I felt numb, afraid to feel my feelings entirely but something told me to buy a guitar.
I had never played before. I learned 3 chords and all of a sudden, just sitting alone one night, words came to me, whole songs came to me and I knew how to play them! This is an example of connecting with that intuition in the spiritual, invisible realm and finding answers, finding ways to move forward.
Freedom, Light, and Purpose
A recovering addict has shame and still believes on some level that they are not “good enough”. They might remember art teachers, music teachers, coaches, parents, all going for perfection and the final product.
There were rules to follow and little freedom to explore so we find ways to explore that aren’t very healthy don’t we?
Expressive art therapy is total freedom! You have your colors all in front of you and whatever you want to use for brushes and you just let go, make one choice to start and you’re off and running! Time stands still; you are pulling from a place that is full of messiness and creativity and it feels so good!
When people then recognize your light in your work you begin to believe in yourself again and you want that light to stay on. The addicted mind and recovering mind are still full of toxins locked in the crevices of our cells and they will continue to surface as they must to be released.
To be strong enough to not relapse, we must know we have this light and a purpose way beyond our drug taking years. If you would like more information on how to use expressive art therapy techniques individually or with groups please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to assist.
We are here to experience our souls in a human body. Let art show you how.
Expressive art educator, drug and alcohol counselor, and teacher
Dupont, Robert L. M.D.: The Selfish Brain – Learning from Addiction. Hazelden Press; Center City, Minnesota 1997.
Farrelly-Hansen, Mimi: Spirituality and Art Therapy. Jessica Kingsley Publishers; London, England 2001.