Mary Rockwood Lane, PhD, RN, FAAN, experienced art and healing first hand as she painted herself out of a severe depression during a divorce. She took what she learned from this experience and became the co-founder and co-director of the Arts in Medicine program at University of Florida, Gainesville.
Here she tells her story:
Several years ago, I rediscovered the artist within and used art to heal myself. I was extremely ill at the time and going through a very difficult divorce. I was outraged, depressed and out of control. My support network had collapsed and everything was being taken away from me. Surrounded by my grief, I felt like I was drowning in darkness and despair. Therapy wasn’t helping. Finally my therapist said, “It’s time for you to do something different with your rage and your grief.”
I had always dreamed of being a painter but had never given myself permission to be one. “I’m just not good enough,” I would tell myself. But now my world was collapsing and the fear of inadequacy seemed trivial compared to my painful loss. I walked out of the therapist’s office and into the gray drizzle. Life seemed to be going on without me. Stopping before a large puddle, I stared down at my reflection in the murky water and imagined myself sinking into the mud. Just then a car came to a slow stop nearby. It was my friend Lee Ann, a painter. She rolled down her window and called out, “Why don’t I take you to breakfast and then over to my studio so that you can start painting?”
Sitting in her studio, I remembered how I had always wanted to be an artist. This was a part of me that I had never acknowledged or honored. Right then, in a lucid moment, I decided to abandon all my fears of being a painter. Although I didn’t even know how to hold a paintbrush, I selected a large piece of canvas to work on. Flipping though several magazines for ideas, I came across a picture of a woman who was broken and distorted. What a familiar feeling! And so I started painting.
I became excited with the sheer process of painting: the colors of paint, the textures, and the way different shapes swirled together on canvas. The painting began to transform into an image of my pain and hurt. I forgot about how I felt and instead painted those feelings. I worked feverishly, releasing my energy passionately onto canvas.
Making no attempt to define myself or my process, I began a series of self-portraits. They were all distorted in the beginning, with garish backgrounds. But I was too absorbed in the pure expression and gesture of painting to let that bother me. I called my first self-portrait Cut Out My Heart. It was my pain, a deeply intense and dying pain. The figure was broken, distorted, crumpled, crying, and bleeding. This figure had been my despair, my uncensored and purely emotional energy. When I finished releasing the image onto canvas, I stepped back and gasped! What I saw was an aspect of myself that I couldn’t face; it was so ugly! I had let go on an intense emotional and physical level. I backed away, left the studio and went home.
When I returned (when ?), I had an incredible insight. I saw that the painting had captured genuine expression from a moment of time that was now behind me. I had moved past it. I was actually witnessing my own transformation! Throughout the series of self-portraits, I continuously struggled with form and perspective. Metaphorically I was recreating my inner form and inner perspective. The external creative process mirrored my inner world. The manifestation of movement and change was powerful and it was a process of knowing myself.
As I immersed myself in painting, I not only became well, but clearly became the artist I had always wanted to be. I remember the moment that I truly felt empowered as an artist. I experienced a sudden shift and encountered something within that was healing. There was an aspect of me that rejuvenated my spirit and I began to feel stronger and more alive. By seeing my pain on canvas, I could step away from it.
I was the artist; my pain was the art. And I was free.
From her website, Maryrockwoodlane.com