Coping With Divorce: Healing Through Creation

Grab some fingerpaints, and let those feelings out. And bonus: You might get something beautiful to hang on your wall.

Grab some fingerpaints, and let those feelings out. And bonus: You might get something beautiful to hang on your wall.

What is it that scares people about exploring their creativity?  Is it because it feels like a pointless luxury, or that it's somehow against our cultural or religious beliefs?  Or that our drawings or music or voice or dancing was ridiculed back in childhood?

One of the best ways to start the emotional healing process during or after divorce is to find ways to vent and express your emotions through an art or craft.

A few days ago, I asked our 1100+ Facebook community as well as 1000+ Facebook friends to chime in with ways that they used their own creativity to help them get through tough times in life.  

Crickets.  Not one comment (even though I invited women to remain anonymous and message me privately).

What do I make of this?

I'm not surprised.  Creativity is such a scary word to most people.  I know this because the mention of doing something "creative" gets the same sort of response from most of my coaching clients.

What, me creative?  That's crazy!

I think that's one of the reasons Liz Gilbert wrote an entire book about how "real" people can get in touch with their creativity, and why they might want to do this.  She called the book Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear, and I bet she chose that subtitle because she understands how much fear is involved in holding creativity at arm's length.  And that most of us have internalized, a deep, unspoken message that it's not okay to express ourselves through the arts and crafts. 

So, if you've never considered yourself an artsy person, why would you want to add some creative self-expression to your life right now?

1.  Because it feels good, and it lets you explore some beautiful parts of yourself that you may never have known were there.  It lets you open a door to playfulness and stop having to be a grownup for a while.

2.  It gives you a way to vent your emotions without making you feel sick to your stomach or ending up starting a fight with someone you care about.

3.  There's always been a form of expression you've wanted to try, or something that you were a little bit good at when you were younger and would like to explore again.

4.  Or, maybe you were shamed last time you tried to express yourself through the arts.  Did you take some criticism for singing off-key, painting the sky the wrong color, making a mess of your piano recital, having two left feet in dance class, forgetting your lines in the school play?  It's time to take your power back!

5.  Have you always been a perfectionist?  Give yourself the excuse to make a mess.  It's liberating.

6.  Creativity isn't just about the traditional "arts."  Creativity includes any activity that is a step beyond the mundane and strictly useful.  That means you can include absolutely anything you already like to do -- and make it your art.  Cooking, gardening, needle arts, home decor, working with shop tools . . . anything that gets one of your senses involved in a playful, "what if" sort of way.

How creativity helps:  Story #1

Once, during a period of heartbreak and betrayal, I began to fear that I wouldn't be able to pull myself back together again.  I decided that I would heal myself through creating an icon watercolor of my ex, in which I could work out my feelings.  Surrounding my neon-toned portrait of him (wearing the tense and dismissive expression with which he eviscerated me), I painted symbols of all of the ways he had hurt me.  I hurled insults at his image as I painted.

Simultaneously, as I worked on the icon of my ex, I also painted an icon of my beloved grandmother.  I painted her sitting behind an enormous aloe vera plant, which looked so powerful and alive that it could vanquish any evil all on its own.  I didn't think too much about why I chose to paint her this way, but I think what I wanted to see and feel was the union of my most beloved and powerful female relative along with the power and beauty of a plant she had given me which lived with me in my home.

And, by the way, I'm not a visual artist, and no one has ever praised me on any visual art I've ever created.  All I needed was a couple of sheets of paper and a little box of watercolors.  No one ever saw these paintings but me.  And, after I completed them, the worst of my emotional suffering was over.  I could see that man for who he was, instead of as the person who had betrayed me, a person I believed was far more powerful and more important than I.

How creativity helps:  Story #2

I've healed myself through dance during all sorts of turbulent life experiences -- including the death of my mother.  And, although I've been a dance studio owner, dance teacher, and choreographer, no one ever encouraged me to pursue dance.  I loved dance more than anything, and so I found a place for myself in it.  No one gave me a big break.  No one held my hand and told me I was terrific.  (So, don't wait for someone to give you permission to do something that every bone in your body aches to do.)

When my mother died, shortly after my divorce was final, I worked through my emotions through dance.  But, not in the way you might expect.  Not by attending dance classes, teaching my students, or from performing my own choreographies, but simply by going out dancing at a club after helping to make funeral arrrangements on the night of her death.

I needed to deal with my sorrow at what she had gone through, the sadness I had always felt was an undercurrent in her life, and my guilty feelings of being finally free from her disappointment in me. 

While dancing, I had a conversation with my mom in my head, saying, "See this is who I really am.  I could never earn anyone's approval, but, this is who I am anyway.  I'm just a person who loves to dance and who wants to be free."  

Dancing through misunderstandings in relationships and dancing through differing points of view has helped me to understand that we are all just hapless individuals, with our own opinions that often can hurt others.  Just because someone is related to me or supposed to be in a romantic relationship with me doesn't mean that she or he will be able to love me in a way that feels good.  People do cause harm to each other and do abandon each other -- all the time.  In fact, it's almost the norm, for a wide variety of reasons.

Exactly why and how did dance help me to understand this?  I haven't a clue.  That's the mystery of the arts and how they create magic in our lives.  "Big Magic," as Liz Gilbert says.

Giving yourself permission to express yourself and create something from your artistic play allows you to become a new and growing person, a person who feels truly alive, day after day.  And it can give you the most powerful emotional healing you'll ever experience.  You can feel the support, from the things and experiences you create, that will give you so much of what you have always wanted (and missed receiving) from other people.

Things to try:

  • If there's already an art or craft that attracts you, and you've explored it in the past, give yourself 30 minutes to say hello to it again and spend a little time on it.  Maybe even let it know that you'd like its help in working through the feelings surrounding your divorce.  After 30 minutes, how do you feel?  If you feel mysteriously better, that's all the permission you need to let creativity back into your life.
  • What if you feel stuck, or have no clue how to allow creativity to become part of your life?  Ask yourself, "Is there any form of creativity that calls out to me at all?"  Think back to childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood before marriage.  If you get even a little glimmer of anything, explore.  Sometimes, the best exploration has nothing to do with finding a teacher or taking a class.  Get a piece of copy paper and draw.  Dance around in your bedroom.  Sing on your way to work.  Make a new recipe that's pleases only you.  Paint a wall a new color. 
  • Do something that's the opposite of your day-to-day personality.  If you're very detail-oriented, try something messy, like fingerpainting.  Does your life tend to be a disorganized clutter?  How about coloring inside the lines with an adult coloring book and gel pens?  Are you a quiet or shy person?  Singing might be a great release for you.  You get the idea.

Give yourself permission to have fun.

My parting thought in all this:  Creativity shouldn't be just another healing modality for your to-do list.  

Instead, I'm suggesting that it's fun and cathartic at the same time.  

How do you know if you've picked the right form of creativity for you?  It makes you feel like you've released a huge weight.  You're able to suspend judgment about whether what you've created is pretty, useful, worthy . . . and the only reason you're participating in this form of creativity is because you love it and it makes you feel good.  And, it somehow lets you release shock, sadness, despair, rage -- whichever feelings you want to release before they completely consume you.

Ultimately, you develop a relationship with your chosen form of creativity, and it becomes a faithful friend.  You can even have conversations with it, and ask for its help in figuring things out in your life.  It will be loyal and helpful to you in ways that people, often, are not, because people are enmeshed in their own busy lives.

Try it, and I would be beyond thrilled if you comment with whatever you experience along the way.