Body Memory and How Art Heals

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  I’ve been following Connie Solera’s 21 Days of EmBody Challenge  and it got me thinking about how much freer, lighter I’d have felt if I’d found something like this decades ago.

The first week of my freshman year in college, I sat in a converted warehouse that served as an art studio for Life Drawing 101. I felt embarrassed looking at the model who appeared to be completely at ease stretched out on her side with thirty pairs of eyes tracing the contours of her naked form. Then I realized I could simply view her body as lines, planes and shadows. My method worked until after break when our model changed positions and disrobed to expose large plum-colored bruises on her buttocks.

Instantly, I heard the snap of a long-ago belt and felt the pain and humiliation of exposing my bare bottom. I felt panic and had to run outside for air.

As was my habit, I quickly stuffed those memories into the “don’t-look-back” pocket of my brain and was able to return to life-drawing as long as I viewed the model as a still-life. Dehumanizing the experience made it more comfortable for me.

Living in my head, disengaged from my body was a habit I developed in adolescence when I became the target of a turbulent temper. I honed these skills in my thirties, inventing a technique to leave my body on the cold metal table and take my brain away, to disconnect from the pain of medical procedures. Detachment was my anesthesia.
In my early forties, I studied various healing arts including somatic-emotional release and was reminded just how deeply our bodies hold memory. In massage school, I was strong as the practitioner but when I was the subject on the table, I completely fell apart. I’d received massage before but not that specific form of deep tissue work. When the instructor demonstrated how to work the gluteals, a particular trigger point brought back all the shame and grief of my twelve-year-old self.

And I decided right then that I was not going to bury that trauma for another thirty years.

I went home and pulled colored markers out of my son’s art-supply cabinet and drew a rather primitive female form. As I intuitively lay down layer after layer of color on the parts of my body where I felt discomfort, it was like peeling away layers of old stories.

Each subsequent time I received deep tissue work, I continued to put color to body on paper and let go of more of the myths of my childhood. I am convinced we hold memories in our physical bodies. Things we want to forget and those we couldn’t possibly know but do know, like bone-deep ancestral wisdom.
It’s taken decades of work to reconnect my whole self to it’s parts. Over the years, I’ve created rituals and practices to bring me back fully into my body. When I feel discomfort somewhere in my body, I have secret tricks I do with breath and color to relieve pain without having to run away from my physical self. Sometimes it’s vivid visualization, sometimes art to bring cool calm into my muscles or organs.
A deep dive into body work or art journaling can bring things to the surface that we’d all prefer to leave buried but those memories don’t disappear when we push them back down. They just turn acidic and eat away at their hiding place. If I had known earlier the healing power of embracing my body through art, I’d have saved myself decades of pain.

One beautiful way to honor the vessel that is your body through art is to join Dirty Footprints-Studio’s 21-Secrets Embody. 

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