Tuesday, March 3, 2009

PTSD Healing: Survivors Speak

Today we kick off a new feature on Parasites of the Mind. Tuesdays will be devoted to voices other than mine. In case you wonder if I’m the only PTSDer who’s healing – I’m not! In case you wonder if you’re the only person experiencing your triggers, emotions and symptoms – you’re not!

In this space every Tuesday I’ll be highlighting the voices of other survivors around the world. If you have a topic you’d like to see explored and addressed, leave a comment or shoot me an email. I promise if you have a concern other people do, too; I’ll find them so you can hear other perspectives besides my own. It will be good for all of us!

To get this series started I’ve chosen to feature the sculptor, Kim Marchesseault.

Kim describes herself simply:

I’m a sculptor and I teach children’s art classes at an art center here in the town where I live. I’m married, I have two kids and a poodle.

About her art she explains,

My work is about relationships among people, with self, with the universe. It’s a study of why we are here, what makes us who we are and how we affect everything and everyone around us. I play with shapes and lines until they work together in a soothing, healing way.

I'm always hoping to make a connection with people through art. Sometimes I have things I want to say, but no words. Sometimes I have so many words to say that I don't dare because I will drown the people around me in the tediousness of so many words. Art is my way of inviting people to join in. Often symbols or subjects come up in my work unexpectedly and I believe it is because I am supposed to explore that area of my life or the world at that particular time.

I absolutely LOVE Kim’s work. It is full of honesty, hope and strength. She's got a PTSD series of sculptures that are truly beautiful. I think you’ll find her words as inspiring, interesting and expressive as her art.

Michele: What, if any, relation did you have to sculpting before using it as a therapeutic method?

Kim: I enjoyed sculpting and pottery for years. I have the good fortune to work as an instructor at an art center. I didn't intentionally use sculpting as a therapeutic method. It happened intuitively - perhaps because I began figurative sculpting at close to the same time I began therapy. After I had completed about four figurative sculptures I looked back on these four works as a whole and realized what was happening.

What first inspired you to explore your trauma/PTSD experience in art form?

This exploration happened on a subconscious level for me. I was simply sculpting from a model and then making subtle changes to the poses when I was at home, alone. Afterward, I would look at the work and suddenly become aware of what it meant.

In what way do you feel using artistic expression has furthered your healing?

Art connected me to my own subconscious. Art has a way of quietly inviting you to reflect on your life, your world, your relationships while at the same time offering comfort. Good sculpture allows you to see what you need to see -- to project onto it the things you need to work out. The forms can be soothing and can communicate gracefully and directly without intruding, without a word. You choose to look or not. There is no right or wrong.

What's the single most important benefit you've discovered from expressing your trauma this way?

I can't narrow this down to a single most important benefit. I don't think in that way. The benefits are complex, intertwined and endless. When people see the work I did years ago during healing and find comfort or hope in it today, that is a wonderful reward.

At the time I was sculpting the PTSD series, the healing steps took tangible, sculptural form so I could not deny to myself that I had completed them. It was easier to keep from falling back into old, defensive patterns because this tangible evidence left behind in sculpture reinforced each healing achievement.

What have you learned about healing by filtering it through art?

Healing requires kindness, gentleness to yourself. You must be there in your own corner cheering yourself on.

Do you have a single piece of work that you feel best embodies what you were trying to express? What elevates this piece above the others?

Every single piece in the series was critical to my healing process and is significant to me. The sculpture most people are drawn to in the series is called, "Letting in the Light". It is of a woman with windows through her body standing in a cityscape tearing a hole in a building next to her. It's the most dramatic, and was the most painful, difficult time during my healing.

The piece that expresses most what I wanted for myself-my goal, is called, "Free Diver", which is of a figure floating peacefully. This is the point where my flashbacks stopped.

What tip would you give someone who is interested in exploring the idea of addressing his/her own traumatic experience through sculpting?

Learn to relax and know in your heart that nothing is wrong in art. You are improving with each piece, you begin to work quickly, finish, let it go and do better on your next piece of art -- then it becomes a growing, wonderful experience. You suddenly find you are being productive instead of beating yourself up. Ideas for more art begin to flow. You discover you've become resilient and this manifests in other parts of your life.

(Photos: Kim Marchessault: 'Why', 'Letting in the Light', 'Free Diver')

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