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 Kolk. a 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.