“I don’t understand what’s wrong,” I said to my friend across the coffee shop table. “I’ve always been full of ideas and plans. Always in the studio. But now, I just can’t seem to touch my paints or write my novel. I don’t know what’s wrong with me; I thought the point of creativity was to help me get through the pain.”
This conversation took place on a sunny summer afternoon three months after my now ex-husband had completely surprised me by admitting that he had never really loved me and that he wanted a divorce. (For the record, looking back, I commend his total honesty and courage to speak the truth and start acting on it. Honesty always sets us free in the long run, but it was, nonetheless, a shock.)
While it seems obvious to me now why my creativity had dried up, at the time I was still in so much shock that I had thought I could carry on with my normal life, including my normal creative practice. (All while downsizing 90% of my life, selling a house, having three weeks to move into an apartment and wondering how I was going to pay the rent the following month).
Trauma has a way to turning everything on its head. Even the things—like your creative practice—that are supposed to help you heal.
I hear so many talk about the benefits keeping up a creative practice during traumatic experiences and recovery. But my experience was different. (Maybe yours has been too.)
Trauma sent my creativity into hiding for the better part of a year.
Perhaps you resonate with this experience. Maybe you too have experienced a deeply traumatic event like a divorce, the death of a loved one, the loss of a beloved job, or a long season of malaise and depression that no one can “chalk up” to any particular trauma at all. You used to be a deeply creative person, but now you barely have the energy to pick up pen or brush. Stepping into the studio brought you so much joy, but now it feels like a war zone.
You wonder how creativity could possibly ever feel good again. You wonder how you could possibly feel good again.
Being here on the other side of that experience, I can say with conviction: Your muse will return. With kindness, patience and a lot of self-love, you will find your dancing shoes again take a twirl in the studio.
The day is not lost, even if it feels like it. YOU and your creative self are not lost.
Here are three realizations I had over my trauma journey that helped me reclaim my creative self and (eventually) step back into the joy of my creative practice:
1. Love yourself through this, no matter what.
Beating yourself up for what you seem to have lost in the way of “spark” and inspiration is never going to help. Plus, it sends a subconscious message to your brain that you have somehow lost something of yourself that can never be reclaimed. This is a lie—and the faster you choose to see it that way, the faster you can heal. Your creativity is not dead; it is simply in remission while your body, mind and heart heal, so it can come back again in an amazing new form. Love yourself for this. Celebrate this process, and look forward with joy to the NEW, sweeter, more mature projects and plans you will devise on the other side.
2. Find one tiny creative action that brings you joy.
Even in my darkest days of pain, beautiful things still brought me joy. Maybe you’re not ready to start weaving a brand-new tapestry, write a new book series or plan a series of paintings—but you can take time to scribble in a coloring book. Smell some flowers. Cook yourself a simple, luscious dessert. Take a walk outside. Any of these simple creative acts will help you tap into a small stream of what used to give you joy in your creative process. Soon that small stream will become a river.
3. Choose activities that make you feel good.
In your daily life, focus on feeling good as much as possible. This might be hard in the beginning but gets easier over time. Don’t “force” yourself to do things you really don’t want to. Go for the path of least resistance. If you feel like doing something healthy “just because” or “because it will make me feel good,” do that thing. Do not allow yourself to refuse yourself pleasure simply because you are grieving. As you focus more and more on finding small moments of delight in your daily life, you will begin to shift your sadness and malaise.
There’s a funny thing about recovering from trauma: You cannot consistently train yourself to find bits of joy and not also find that that joy starts to pile up in a big heap all its own. As you begin to embrace this small pieces of joy, more will come. And when more comes, you will begin to hear the sound of the orchestra under the trees, and the soft touch of your muse, pulling your hand toward the dancing circle in the flat, green grass.
The only mistake I made in my time of trauma was believing that trauma was the end.
Your creativity will come back again, and so will you: bigger and better than ever.