Creativity and Trauma – Guest Post by Ginny Lee Taylor

 

SONY DSC

 

I’m thrilled to host writer, blogger, and Woman of Wonder, Ginny Lee Taylor, on the Creative Mix blog. Ginny and I met last year in an online course and bonded when we discovered a connection in our work. We had both come face to face with buried feelings through visual art and were writing books about it.

Ginny’s courage to stand up to her traumatic past and turn  it around to serve other women, impressed me from the get-go. Over the past year, I’ve watched her transform her experience into a website, blog, and series of courses for women healing from trauma. Please show Ginny some love in the comments box at the end of her post

 

Creativity and Trauma: What saved my life

by Ginny Lee Taylor

 

I’ve often told people that writing and yoga saved my life.

 

Back when I started my MFA in 2008 at the age of 50, I thought I was done with my past history of being molested as a child. After all, I rationalized, the trauma had happened decades prior. I hadn’t been raped. My mind kept reassuring me that I was over it. Then I started to write about it.  And, to no one’s surprise but my own, my house of cards crumbled. I fell into depression. I saw psychiatrists and therapists. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I started on anti-depressants. I cried a lot.

 

Strangely, perhaps, I couldn’t stop writing about the trauma, exploring it on the page, writing about how it had affected my life, my relationships with my children, how it had contributed to my lack of self-esteem, my self-loathing, and even to my lifetime of hopping from one career to another. Words poured out of me.

 

Despite my cognitive rationalization on the pages I created, I didn’t feel like I was becoming any less depressed, or experiencing any less feelings of shame. One day my therapist asked me if I had ever tried yoga.  I looked at her skeptically. Yoga seemed new-agey to me. No one I knew did yoga. Besides, didn’t yoga mean that you had to put your foot behind your head, or do crazy poses like headstands? My therapist persisted. “Your breathing is very shallow, and it seems to be happening mostly in your shoulders which also seem very tense. Yoga may help with that.”

 

She was right about the shoulder breathing. I felt like most of the time my shoulders rested just outside my ears, so tense were my upper back and neck. So I signed up for a yoga class. And my world changed because I discovered I had a body, one that needed just as much healing, compassion, and love as my rationalizing mind, if not more.

 

Creating is good for us as women who have experienced trauma (and we all have experienced some form of trauma in our lives whether through abuse, illness, injury or loss.) Creating helps us transform our trauma into a new narrative, a new song, a new play, a new sculpture—art that benefits not only us but others like us who also hurt. When we can change the narrative from reliving the past to transcending it through our creativity, we’re able to move a step forward towards becoming our best selves.

 

Yet by itself, creating isn’t a magic bullet for healing, much in the same way therapy couldn’t be the cure-all for me. And the reason, I’ve come to learn, is because we have bodies. And unprocessed trauma—a word that has its origin in “wound”—lives in our senses and limbs, our heart and soul, our hands and minds. Whether its words or events or something physical, trauma always inflicts bodily wounds.

 

This became piercingly clear to me when I had a full body massage for the first time during those therapy years. I wept. The tears seemed to spring from the muscles, tendons, and bones that were being compressed firmly, almost rhythmically by my therapist’s hands. I was experiencing what Bessel van der Kolka noted psychiatrist in the field of trauma, said in a recent interview—my own “physical substance” for the first time. It frightened me immensely. I had no idea what was happening, why I was uncontrollably sobbing afterwards. Only later did I realize how much that massage had been a deep cleansing of my body’s tissues, wringing them clean of toxic memories that been stored there for a long time.

 

As creatives, we often bring our trauma into our art making consciously, like I did with writing a memoir or countless others have done when composing symphonies or songs, paintings or sculpture.

 

So what can we do to continue creating beyond our trauma and shame with truth and authenticity?  What can we do so we don’t burn ourselves out or find ourselves in constant meltdown? I’ve often told people that writing and yoga saved my life. But now I know there were many traditional and holistic modalities that synergistically offered me healing, including the considerations Saundra included in a recent her blog post, How to be Wonder Woman.  Here I offer four additional modalities I’ve found necessary to transcend trauma:

 

1) Connect with your body daily whether through your breath, through yoga, or some other mind/body activity like a deep tissue massage, tai chi, or mindful walking. Your body needs you to pay attention to it in a loving, compassionate, kind way.  Breathe and mindfully move.

 

2) Express gratitude. Research has proven that finding gratitude does more than just make us smile. It also improves our physical and emotional health. And for women who’ve experienced trauma, the significance of gratitude journaling lessening depression and boosting optimism can’t be ignored.

 

3) Find nature. There is a lot of healing available to us just by being in a natural setting like a city park, a lake or a small pond.  Walk slowly, breathe deeply, notice what you see, what delights you, what stops you in your tracks. Give thanks for it.

 

4) Deepen your spirituality. Or, as Brene Brown writes in The Gifts of Imperfection, deepen your belief in “a power greater than self, and interconnections grounded in love and compassion.”  Whether you relate to this greater power as God, the Divine, Source, or Nature doesn’t matter. When we become more spiritual we cultivate hope, a key element of building resiliency.

 

Above all, be compassionate and gentle with yourself as you continue to create and heal. Traumatized people need your art, your stories, your music, your films to help them transcend their own pain and to find hope in knowing they are not alone. By making yourself a priority, you courageously show the world that there is more to life than darkness. You offer it light.

 

 

Ginny Taylor wants to live in a world where everyone does yoga, writes in a journal, and where sexual abuse is extinct. As Chief Creative Officer for Women of Wonder, she’s devoted to empowering women with a past of sexual abuse to move through lingering shame and to bring their best selves to the world. She calls this Wonder-Hearted living. As a writer, her award-winning work has been widely published in journals and anthologies including This I Believe: On Love.  Follow her at Women of Wonder

 


4 thoughts on “Creativity and Trauma – Guest Post by Ginny Lee Taylor

  1. Sharyn DImmick

    Thank you for this, Ginny Lee. I have been grieving that at 56 I am still experiencing disproportionate reactions to situations that remind me of my childhood in a alcoholic family. Like you, I thought I was “over that,” after years of therapy and nearly twenty-five years of meditation. All it took was for me to get into a deep relationship and reactions started springing up like mushrooms in the fall. I have not developed a big “body piece,” but I know I experience a lot of joy on the infrequent occasions when I dance and that my meditations are full of shaking (and sometimes crying). I believe the body is trying to heal itself and it is my job to pay attention and help it along. Thank you for sharing your discoveries here. — Sharyn

    Reply
  2. Ginny

    Sharyn, first of all thank you sharing your thoughts honestly and openly here. Big step. Always. I hope you continue dancing, and moving, and meditating because when we let our analytical brain go quiet in these times of creativity, our right brain kicks it up a notch and all kinds of things can happen. If you haven’t yet listened to Bessell van der Kolk’s interview with Krista Tippett, it’s worth your time. I learned a lot about trauma, the body, and how any kind of trauma we experience is an embodied experience. I wish you more joy and peace.

    Reply
  3. Beth Howard

    Thank you, Ginny. There is much wisdom in your words. As a yoga teacher for over a decade, I’ve borne witness to innumerable physical releases in my students. Often, someone would approach shyly after class whispering that “something happened,” where tears had suddenly released as we moved more deeply into a pose.

    As you’ve noted, there are many ways to transcend trauma. I remember asking writing teacher Natalie Goldberg, “How do I write through the pain?” She answered simply, “Keep your hand moving.”

    So for me, doing yoga poses, following the breath in meditation and keeping my hand moving in writing practice are all valuable ways to transcend pain. Besides the greater traumas in life, there are also accumulated lesser ones, sometimes referred to as “the trauma of everyday life.” It is good to remember to do what we can to release stress in the body and mind on a regular basis.

    Thanks for the powerful reminder and for your wonderful website.

    Reply
  4. Ginny

    Hi Beth,
    Thanks for your wonderful comments as a yoga teacher. I so appreciate them and what you do for your students. And yes, thank you for the reminder that we do experience traumas from every day life, too, that can build up up to a breaking point. If you know of women who would benefit from Women of Wonder, please feel free to refer them to the website. I intentionally designed it to be a safe place, one of beauty and inspiration, where traumatized women can find hope and courage.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *