What could art, music or nature possibly have to do with struggling against an eating disorder? Recovery through rock art, rap or riding a bicycle?
In the face of life-changing conditions like eating disorders, art, music and nature could be dismissed as trivial, distracting, unlikely to address or resolve the deep issues behind the condition. Talking therapy or CBT may be preferred, alongside diet or eating plans and maybe medication. And all of these can be vital, life-giving and liberating. So many eating issues have roots in experiences and challenges which might seem unrelated. Exploring what may have sparked the condition is so important – maybe to uncover suppressed trauma, or focusing on feelings already out in the open and trying to lessen their power.
Specific art therapy can be a way to do this exploring, and to express feelings through colour and line. But the arts can also play a part in other ways, not only as specific therapy.
In her book “The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite”, Laura Freeman writes how learning, stimulus, taking up an interest and pastime, can be the best way to get through. For her, this was books as she lived with anorexia. In another passage, she writes that therapy is important – but that as time went on, she needed more than therapy, new thoughts to free her and to open up life once more.
This is one way that art, music and nature can help combat eating issues. Stimulus is what they are all about. Colour and light and sound and rhythm and trees and flight. Art is productive and absorbing. Music lifts the spirits and can express more than any amount of words. And nature creates such a different perspective on issues which may dominate our minds but which do not even figure in nature.
Art and craft can become endless treasure troves of creativity and challenge. Music can transform mood. Nature opens up sky, space, air. They might all help you think less aout eating and more about the richness of the rest of life.
So all these things can become a treasure trove, but also far more – a tool, a form of self-expression to give voice to what troubles or torments you maybe. Paint in colours you feel express what is inside. Draw symbols (a wall maybe, or a dark sky, or glimmers of light). Try journaling regularly. Sing along to songs. Try percussion to express anger or relieve tension. Focus on the elements on a walk, feeling the wind blow against you or blow you along. Dig and clear soil to clear your mind. None of these things take the place of therapy, of medical help, of eating more or less. But they might let in a shaft of light.
Maybe food has become an ally, a haven, a refuge – or maybe an enemy, a barrier, a threat. I’ve read the writer Jennifer Rees Larcombe’s experiences of seeing food as a substitute for love. It’s impossible to generalise, but binge eating can have roots in feeling a lack, maybe isolation and loneliness, or inactivity and boredom. Eating becomes a way to spend time, to feel “full”, to seek fulfilment. But creativity too can satisfy and fulfil, as you complete a painting or colouring or drawing. It can also boost self worth, which can be an issue in anorexia in particular. And it can help create a feeling of agency in your own recovery, of being active, not passive. Everyone is different, and an eating disorder is a highly emotive and personal experience. Within that experience, art, music and nature might open up some space – as too could faith.
I would really like to hear any thoughts in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.