Thursday, October 21, 2010

Healer, Heal Thyself

Mask for a Young Person, ©2005, H. Hunter

I was determined to try and make this week's post about something other than the bereavement group but I underestimated the power of the group to affect me. I thought I'd learned how to leave the group behind me when it was over for the evening, ready to absorb myself in whatever awaited me next. We're such forgetful creatures, we humans.

Forgetful perhaps, but I think something else is at work here. The longer one does this work, the more one tunes in. You learn when to speak, when to wait in silence, when to make eye contact, and when to lay down your tools and acknowledge the force of the wave crashing over you.

This week we made clay grief masks. I love introducing this process. We pound the clay, tear it to bits, reassemble it and poke holes in it. By this time, I'm sure you've guessed we're not following the orthodox method of kneading clay to remove the air bubbles. No matter. People love it. Permission to pound the clay to bits has had tables absolutely vibrating.

Watching their faces last night as they worked affected me deeply;  eye sockets became deeper,  eyebrows arched higher and tears were etched into the clay.

The next day I had a headache of monster proportions. "What's up with this?" I wondered,  checking off my mental "self care" list: eating--check, sleeping--check, exercising--yeah. Nevertheless, cracking a smile seemed like just that. An impossibility.

Halfway into the day, I felt tears stinging my eyes. I sought the refuge of my office and called my husband, wondering between snuffles what was wrong with me. After some probing, oh yeah, the group. That little thing about being gentle, going easy with myself. Permission to cry was what I needed and what I received.

But that was only half of the equation. Today in art group, I found the other half. As we sketched large ghosts on white paper with oil pastels, we drew small things inside the ghosts that move us or scare us. Besides bright purple pigtails, my own ghost had a broken heart and dragged a long set of chains. As heavy as the chains appeared, their acknowledgment lightened my load considerably. Putting the burden of that grief that I was carrying onto paper, gave me comfort in a way I often espouse though perhaps too rarely allow myself to experience.


  1. I'm glad the therapy works for you too.
    Your reactions to your work reminds me of a time when ALL of my clients were abuse victims. I could not do that got to be too much to hold. Do continue to be gentle with yourself Hannah.

  2. we all have moments of tears and moments of happiness and laughter- art therapy is wonderful- love the idea of drawing out what you are feeling.

  3. Hannah, thank you for sharing this. You have a beautiful way of sharing!

    I am glad you too found healing in the artwork. Hannah how I wish I was presenting at this years conference... my presentation starts with the quote: Native American teachings say “every time you heal someone, you give a piece of yourself away, until at one point you will need healing yourself”

    It is the basis for my work. And why I originally started art journaling!

  4. I hope you do feel better, your broken heart is touching. You are healing everybody in the class. It is okay to join in. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. We all need to understand how others deal with pain.

  5. Lynn, It's funny bc I'm always working on my own art--but not often working on art as therapy. It's one of those things I'm working on doing more of, particularly after a moving session.

  6. Oh is amazing how being in such strong presence of grief can bring our own feelings to the surface. As facilitators, it is easy to forget that even a container weeps on the outside when the liquid on the inside is one temp (cool, soothing, compassionate) and the energy/air around it is charged with the heat of firey emotions. It could be your own grief emerging from past experiences or simply lovingkindness pouring out over your rim.

    the mask concept, the way you made them from torn bits of clay (and adam the first being born of earth) is such perfect metaphor...piecing back our broken selves into the whole humans that we are.


  7. Beauty full Hannah
    so real.
    so revealing of what lies within
    thank you for your honest vulnerability.

  8. Donna-Thank you. When I take the opportunity it's wonderful!

    Kelley, What a great quote. Wish you were presenting too--I'm putting those words up in my office. I like hearing the back story on your journaling.

    Beth, Thanks--I am feel much better, clearer really. Writing the post was a way of letting go.

  9. What a beautiful post Hannah! Thank you for sharing your journey here as well. Your description of the ghost with the broken heart and chains almost brought tears to my eyes. Such a powerful and healing visual. It has me thinking of some inner work I may need to do soon.

  10. Once again, I am moved by the tender part of yourself you generously share, Hannah...blessings on your courage.
    I, too, love Kelley's quote...thanks for reminding us all that while caring for others is valuable, and wonderful, caring for ourselves is vital also.

  11. I did wonder how you coped with the sadness you see on a regular basis and whilst reading your post i could feel myself welling up. No surprise that these emotions surface and overflow. You do wonderful work, Hannah. Do make sure you remember to take the time to replenish.

  12. Thank you Dianne--As powerful as the chains sound, they just rolled right out onto the paper. So--note to self (!), carrying the emotions is the tough part, letting them out is not nearly so hard.

    Tracey--Isn't this the toughest prescription? I'm learning-slowly:)

    Robyn, I tend to hide that part, the coping piece, and I don't write about it easily. Perhaps, though, honesty is the beginning of healing. (Although there's really no perhaps about it!)

  13. Laura,
    I love the metaphor of creating ourselves anew from the earth--or rather mending ourselves, tikkun o'lam in action.

    And it's true, I think our own experience of grief weaves compassion.

    Thank you--I think being honest helps me find my way out...

  14. this is such interesting work you are doing and something would kind of be wrong if you weren't affected by this process.

  15. Hannah,

    I think nurses could use much more art therapy to handle the things we see and do. Your post was very moving and I could feel myself healing as I was reading it; thank you.