I am a great believer in art as a profound form of therapy that far surpasses counseling and other types of conventional therapy. The focus will be on various art forms created by others that helped me heal and my personal creative outlet – writing. These excerpts are from my autobiography.
Art as Therapy (art by others)
There are many different art forms in this world but the two that have helped me the most – by way of allowing me to get in touch with deeper emotions – have been music and movies. Music played a much more important role in my teens – especially heavy metal/hard rock because it allowed me to get in touch with my anger. I used to go upstairs to an entertainment room my father had built over the garage, lock the door and proceed to play all sorts of music in order to feel whatever it was that was coming up for me in that moment. Sometimes I played records (only the vinyl variety was in existence in my childhood) and at other times, I switched on the radio changing the stations until I came across a song that suited my mood. I would jump around and scream to release anger, frustration and hatred, and I would move slowly, sit still and/or ball my eyes out when I felt guilt, sorrow and sadness.
The sadness in relation to the loss of my aborted male child was felt through an Elvis Presley song called “My Boy.” Even though the lyrics are not about the loss of a son (they are about the disintegration of the relationship between the father and mother of this child), the brilliance with which Elvis conveys this sorrow allowed me to feel something that I could not express especially since I had no conscious memory of the abortion as a teenager. I would listen to this song over and over again until there were simply no more tears left to shed.
Movies were far more significant to me in my twenties and beyond. I prefer dramas as they allow for a deeper emotional transformative experience. This genre includes violent films which were a means by which I could get in touch with my homicidal rage. Gangster films, Rambo, Die Hard…take your pick of violent flicks. I loved seeing the bad guys suffer and/or be wiped off the face of the earth. I always imagined my abusers as these people and it was so very satisfying.
The one movie that exemplified this type of catharsis was “Taxi Driver.” The protagonist Travis Bickle (played magnificently by Robert De Niro) befriends a child prostitute (played equally brilliantly by Jodie Foster) whom he saves by murdering her pimp and anyone else who gets in his way. The part of the movie portraying this bloody rescue is my favorite because I imagine that my abusers die in such a way (as usual), and, I believe that this girl is me being rescued by this crazy, caring character. Each time I watch this film it allows me to change my own experience into something far more empowering.
I write therefore I am (my art form)
Writing has always been a very powerful therapeutic tool for me – the fact that I chose to revisit the sexual abuse through this book is a glowing testament to this. Taking the time to pen my experiences made them real – this was very important in relation to healing my trauma since I found most of it difficult to believe years after new memories emerged. When I needed to, I wrote poems, other material directed at the abusers as well as expressing various thoughts and feelings on random pieces of paper or notepads before I started keeping a journal. The following excerpts are examples of my diary-like entries in my pre-journaling days.
On understanding my experience (21 July 1993)
I have begun to understand why I have been feeling the way I have been the past year. Having that memory has aroused so many emotions in me – things that I didn’t allow myself to experience because I probably would not have been able to cope at those times. I must be ready now – even last year – otherwise my mind would not have let me see and start to deal with these emotions. OK…so I kept pushing them down because of my fear of losing it. But that fear is slowly dissipating – it’s almost gone. I’m at a point now where I am acknowledging how I feel and I’m feeling a whole range of things in a short period of time.
This is like a rollercoaster ride, where at times it feels and looks as though I’m going to die and then I come back up to reach new heights – it is all positive. I am walking through pain and so many other things, many unfamiliar things that I feel as if I don’t know who I am anymore, what I want, where I’m going, what I’m going to feel next – but isn’t that what life is all about anyway?
As [my therapist] said, I’m very lucky that it is happening to me now that I am young because I’ll be able to enjoy my life a lot sooner for a lot longer. For the time being I need to be patient. I have to walk through the pain, the joy, the confusion and excitement as they happen and to find ways, my own ways, of handling these things as they come up. I’m on my way out…don’t know how long this is all going to take…this is part of life – not knowing – it could be just around the corner.
On self-love (30 July 1993)
Now it is time for me to focus on myself – for me to begin to learn to trust myself and to do the things that I enjoy as a way of getting to know me even better. I want to spend time living without the stress, without having to work for anyone or study or think or analyze or even work on changing myself because it is so draining. I want time to just BE, just ENJOY – enjoy my own company, the company I have missed out on for so long and which now seems foreign.
I’m getting to know me from the inside out.
I am brave.
I have come a long way.
I have worked hard to get to where I am.
I deserve the best.
I must give myself the best.
I will give myself what I want when I want it.
This is where I belong.
I belong to myself.
On connecting with my inner child (30 June 1993)
Dear Little Helen,
I’m writing to tell you that I know how you feel and I am feeling it every day. As painful as I may sometimes feel, and you may feel, together we can get through it. I realized a long time ago that this was not your fault and all blame has been flushed down the toilet.
I care about you as I care about other little children. Other children have allowed me to find you again, to feel your pain as well as your joy. Remember how you used to get excited at bedtime when you knew you were going to do something wonderful the next day? Remember how you used to jump on the bed and squeal with joy? I recall it so well as if I lived it yesterday. Now I realize that I did live it and that I can do it again.
Remember when you were ten, babysitting your cousin who was about six months old? Do you remember how you felt? I do because I felt it then as I feel it now. We cried as we watched her play. The innocence and joy on her face made us grieve for all that we had lost. We cried for us and we cried for her because we didn’t want her to lose these things too.
What I understand now is that we can take back what was snatched from us. We have the power but I as the adult, can protect you from further pain and find ways for you and me to experience what we missed out on. I look forward to spending the rest of my life with you.
Lots of Love,
(Underneath this letter I drew a picture of the seaside with the following caption underneath it: “You know how much we love the beach.”)