Today I’m happy to share a guest post written by Melissa Hathaway.
Writing Someone New: Writing Therapy & Addiction
It’s often suggested that writing can be therapeutic. Even when writers aren’t drawing from their own lives, the process of creation and the joy of seeing a work come to life are often a kind of antidote for the blues; Ray Bradbury put it best when he said to “stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Yet for some people struggling with addiction, a different idea can be helpful: write, so that staying drunk cannot destroy you. Art therapy, including creative writing, is beginning to take hold in addiction recovery programs across the country. No matter where they are in the rehabilitation process, writing allows individuals in recovery to gain new insight on themselves, raise their self esteem, and rewire the thought processes that may have led them into addiction. Examining the effect this has on recovery provides an intriguing perspective on why people write in the first place, and what writers gain from their work.
How Creative Writing Therapy Works
The advent of art therapy couldn’t come at a better time. Traditional recovery centers often struggle to achieve long-term success with their patients, and many institutions have a success rate of below fifty percent. Some states, such as Minnesota, require addictions counselors to hold a degree, but there is often little regulation at the state level. In this environment, any form of therapy that can help people get the most of their treatment is vital, and creative writing seems particularly well-suited to the task. Classes are held either at residential recovery centers or as part of outpatient programs, and are usually small, with 10-15 being the maximum number of participants. Music, props, and costumes may be used to inspire the day’s writing challenge, and time is provided after each writing session for members to read their most recent work. It’s a simple system, but one which provides an important creative outlet and a chance for emotional growth.
Reading out new pieces of writing can be a daunting prospect for even the most experienced writer, and rules are put into place to ensure that participants see the classes as a safe place to share their work. Judgments such as “good” or “bad” are usually discouraged, while comments about emotional responses help budding writers see the effect they can have on others. Through these and other guidelines, classes can become a place of support and safety – the perfect ingredients for a sorely-needed sense of community.
What Writing Offers Those In Recovery
Although the public attitude is beginning to shift, there is still a heavy stigma around addiction. Those struggling with it must contend with feelings of guilt, shame, and helplessness in order to escape of the cycle of recovery and relapse. Creative writing therapy offers a chance to confront and grapple with these feelings in a supportive atmosphere, free from judgement or expectation. The process of sharing what they’ve written can also be a powerful influence on participants, giving them the chance to see themselves as creative people with the potential to change or challenge others. Increased self-esteem and confidence are key factors in avoiding relapse, so even this factor alone would make art therapy a worthwhile part of recovery.
However, it would be a mistake to think that the benefits of creative writing therapy end there. One of its most fascinating results is the way it can help “rewire” old thought patterns and habits, in much the same as traditional therapy. People with addictions must change their perspective on almost everything in their lives – work, family, hobbies, and self-image are all vulnerable to the influence of addictive thoughts and behaviors Because all art – including writing – uses different portions of the brain, approaching these thought patterns through the artistic process can provoke important new insights and the chance to jump-start this difficult work.
What We Can Learn From Creative Writing Therapy
The strength that people with addictions can gain from writing brings to mind a different Ray Bradbury quote: “And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege.” Even in the middle of a writer’s block, even when inspiration won’t come and the inner critic is at its loudest, it’s crucial to remember that writing is a difficult, messy, beautiful thing. Striving for perfection isn’t a bad thing, but any kind of writing – good or bad, inspired or dreary – teaches us something, whether about ourselves or the process of creation. It seems particularly important to write when we least feel like it, since writing has the potential to break through the everyday unhappiness and help us remember that we are creative people with the potential for greatness. (And then it’s time to edit, but that’s another story.)
Tags: addiction, Addiction Recovery, Addiction Recovery Programs, Alcohol Addiction, Alcoholism, Creative Writing, Drug Addiction, Drug Addiction Recovery Programs, Therapeutic Writing, Writing Therapy