By Alessandra Pisano
Let’s go deep and personal for this one, as I think this could potentially help someone who may be silently struggling. As creative individuals we tend to have the most pain; that’s just a fact. The highest functioning among us are often the ones suffering the most on the inside. We see this time and time again in musicians, actors, performers and visual artists. What gives?
Well, the human brain is greatly shaped by our environment, which starts in early childhood between the parent/child connection. Even something like your mom having high levels of stress while she was pregnant with you can affect how your brain is formed. Many of us grow up with a profound emptiness, that in both childhood and adulthood, we try to fill up with activities, learning and mastering skills to get outside validation, relationships, even our ideologies, rather than just sitting with that pain on our mind, bodies, and heart. Pile that on top of a society that sets us up to be distracted and disconnected from ourselves, and a lot of artists end up addicted to something.
Addiction is not a choice like our “justice system” might have you believe. Addiction is a lack of self-value and self-affirmation. Addictions are an attempt to solve a problem, a problem which often came because needs weren’t met as a child. Addictions include not just drugs and alcohol, but also sex, love, work, gambling, emotional, social media, shopping, gaming, eating, plastic surgery, risky and chaotic behaviors. All designed to make that void feel a little better… but it’s just temporary.
So, let’s go back to trauma. Trauma is what happens inside you, and not what happened to you, that was just ‘traumatic’. Trauma can cause you to disconnect from emotions, trouble staying present, a negative world and self-view, defensive nature towards others, and a feeling of always waiting for the shit to hit the fan (because you know it’s going to). The loss of ‘self’ is often the result of trauma.
So how do you fix trauma and addiction? Well, you can’t go to the problem for the solution, so instead of going to ‘why the addiction?‘ Go to ‘why the pain?‘ The basis of any therapy is to reconnect you with yourself. So naturally, as Artists, we should use our art to help reconnect us to ourselves. Now full disclaimer, it takes a lot of daily work to recover from trauma and addictions. It’s grueling and usually requires multiple things; a lot of time, daily work, and the assistance of a professional, to fully recover. But this can be your start!
In 2019 I started exploring this with my piece ‘The Part You Throw Away’ (named after the Tom Waits song). This painting ended up being nominated for a Spectrum Award last year, which meant so much to me, considering all the meaning that was behind it.
I’ve done a few pieces at this point inspired by the old Cherokee tale of the White and Black wolf that live inside all of us. The black representing, greed, jealously hate, etc. and the white representing empathy, love, kindness etc. The one you feed the most becomes the one who rules over your essence.
This piece for me was to honor all the parts of myself that no longer served me, but got me as far as they did and served me well for so long, but it was time to shed them for better copping skills and traits. When we sit at our easels and work for hours on end, we are processing things on some level. So creating pieces that help you sit with things you maybe don’t want to, can only help with the processing.
Next up we have Graveyard named after the Halsey song. “It’s crazy when the thing you love the most is the detriment, let that sink in, you can think again when the hand you wanna hold is a weapon and you’re nothing but skin”
I was in an emotional roller coaster of an abusive relationship for 3.5 years. I had a lot of cognitive dissonance around the relationship (Cognitive dissonance is the mind’s way of keeping you safe from looking at the horrifying truths of what’s actually happening to you). Words and actions were never matching up. But hope, dissociation, and my empathy kept me stuck.
This piece made me sit with the reality of my relationship that on every level I already knew but didn’t want to accept. No one wants to sit with the fact that the love of their life is actually the trauma bond of their life, and everything they experienced was a lie. So, this piece worked in two ways for me, one was in the image itself of a woman laying in shallow water starring into a skull, starring into the illusion of love that was left and what was really there the whole time. The second part, which was originally just for me, was writing out what the relationship actually was in the area where the water was going to go. Again, just to sit with it, to process it and face it. It still took some time for me reach the acceptance phase and be able to let go after I did this piece. But ultimately, I was ready.
Be gentle on yourself during your recovery process it’s often not linear.
I closed out 2020 with this piece, the Latin title meaning “Remember to Love” it’s about sitting with your grief which is really just the absence of love. Going back to the results of trauma, it can shut your heart off, your emotions and everything else. Even though this is an attempt to keep yourself safe, ultimately, it’s self-sabotaging and you will perpetuate the cycle of hurt people hurting people. Once you heal from your loss, open your heart more then you ever have before and watch as the universe will pour all that love back into you.
Healing isn’t linear. It’s messy and grueling. But ultimately, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself and the spiritual journey you’re embarking on in this lifetime. At the core of every one of us, we are remarkable beings. But throughout this life experience we often forget that truth because all the pain and distractions going on in this world. Whatever you are going through or have been through, you are not alone in that experience.
If you are healing from something, let your art help you through that. Because it can. If you need strength, then paint it! if you need grounding, paint it! If you need tranquility, then paint it! You will always get back what you put into this world. Take care of yourselves, be kind to yourselves, and of course, one another. We are all here to learn, grow and experience. Just never forget who you are at your core.
This is beautiful, and brave. And your work becomes all the more beautiful with the understanding of some of the meaning behind it. I see a lot of hugs in there (we all need more hugs.) I’m still figuring out how to capture my emotions in my work. I’ve been able to portray love and joy at times, but struggle to channel pain and other emotions into a piece. Maybe I’m afraid to open that door to the public, or my family. My struggles seem small to me compared to the rest of the world, but emotions are powerful fuel. Your thoughts here are very helpful and I’m going to dig deeper. Thank you for sharing.
Your feelings and your experiences are valid. Also we are only as sick as the secrets we keep. I hope my vulnerability can help inspire yours when you’re ready. Thank you for the kind words!
Thanks for sharing this Alessandra! Your comments on the core of every being feel very relatable to me. Was once in a coaching experience called Engineering of the Impossible where we did a mental exercise about the “Trash Space” we keep inside ourselves unconsciously and how we could clean it to let the diamond in the center shine brighter.
So cool such a personal piece of yours got nominated for an award.
I’m gonna store this quote:
” If you need strength, then paint it! if you need grounding, paint it! If you need tranquility, then paint it! You will always get back what you put into this world.”
Thank you so much! I’m glad this resonated with you and you found something to take with out out of this.
Very true, I started in art during a very dark time in my life. A tough powerless uncertain time. Looking back focusing and dedicating my self to my practice opened many doors and made me stronger. Still have tough times but thankfully I have become more self reliant and open to the possibilities of life. Having art to channel through and figure things out is a life long thing. Thank you for the insights, they are very helpful.
It’s daily work for sure! Keep it up and thank you!
Alessandra, thank you.
I’ve often felt tremendous connection with your art without knowing the “why?” beyond this feeling of awe for the tremendously beautiful scenes you paint. Every paragraph you wrote resonates with me at a deep level, from my childhood with my parents working almost all day long, to a bad relationship, to the process of healing through therapy and making a mistake on choosing a career and more stuff I don’t talk about that have affected my whole world and life. I took art late at life as I didn’t know I had the right to, and just lately I’ve been working towards taking a bit of myself and my experiences and let them flow into my art. Much like in therapy I guess. I’m holding a few tears, I really appreciate this post and I hope you know your words have inspired me to continue knowing myself and allow my emotions to keep pouring to my art.
I’m so glad this resonated with you! Keep letting those emotions flow. Things happen when your ready for them to happen in life, you didn’t start art late, you started when that part of your journey began. Keep going!
Thank you Alessandra, you’re really kind <3