Art, Therapy and Holding our Chaos

I find the intangible, cacophonous, fragments of thoughts and feelings that bounce around inside of me both incredibly alluring and a little bit terrifying. I call them my chaos. Through my life I have sought ways to channel, express and contain my chaos, most of the time without even realising I was doing it.

Why is it important to manage our chaos? Well, I think appropriate outlets for internal chaos are crucial, so that it doesn’t overwhelm us. If chaos floods us, it has the potential to emerge in harmful and destructive ways. A completely chaotic life is rarely sustainable, and like an uncontained fire, it may well burn out, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Equally, if we do not allow the energetic quality of chaos any expressive freedom at all, we are likely to find that too much of our emotional energy is used up in an effort to squash it down. This internal struggle might leave us flat, low in energy and feeling unfulfilled.

Art remains one of my very favourite ways to express and indulge my chaos. Musically, I can listen to the gloriously chaotic lyrics and music of The Pixies and make meanings of it which chime strongly with the intensely passionate internal experiencing which struggles to find resonance in most areas of my life. My chaos feels validated by Black Francis’s impassioned screams, and the contrast of quiet and loud, soft and harsh in his music.

The literary cut-up technique of creating poetry and prose, popularised by William S. Burroughs offers my chaos a kind of linguistic means of expression. I feel that my personal chaos does not have words, as such, therefore to express itself in words it must find, select and recreate meaning in them. Similarly, visual collage allows me to express ideas and images which are too abstract for me to draw or describe, yet through selecting and reordering existing images, my chaos finds its way onto the page. I’ve carefully selected an example of this from my own work, to illustrate how this works for me. Below is an image I created using magazines, and without too much conscious thought, selecting words from the magazines which jumped out at me. I then used the words to create the poem. It was a satisfying exercise, and I feel that it allowed my chaos a place in the world. It provided a real container for that internal energy.

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Crime novel justice, the hammering surrounds 
Intriguing concrete on the grass-green mounds.
The aesthetic potential of the white-grey day
And the open use of acid smearing it away.
Snake mother breakdown lovingly transformed,
Repeated patterns, artfully performed.
Surgical treatments set the heart free.
Thinking something scary and drinking weak tea.

Medieval characters remember gruesome hearts
Horrible implements fling the broken parts.
Morbid and emotional, the atmospheric war
Military snickets – a path worth lying for. 
Timorous adventurers alone in their minds
Looking out for products to help them unwind
The eponymous crumbled leaf from cultivated tree
Gripped by something scary and drinking weak tea.

 

“So what does this all have to do with therapy?” I hear you cry.

When I discovered therapy as a client, I realised there could be no greater validation for my chaos than to invite somebody into its wilderness, and witness them understand, value and embrace it. Receiving the message that my chaos really was a valuable part of me did wondrous things for my experience of self.

When clients attend therapy, often thoughts and feelings are fragmented, muddled and unclear. When we have no sense of the okayness of being muddled, our desire to make sense of everything can become extremely anxiety provoking. We can want our internal experience to be as clear and rule-abiding as the constructed society we live in.

Carl Rogers’s wonderful quote “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” springs to mind, and I think a similar sentiment applies to chaos – It may seem paradoxical, but when we accept that some things just don’t make sense, and we value the incomprehensible within us, things start to make a lot more sense! Sure, it’s a different sense than the one we were looking for, but I would argue it is a greater sense, because it is authentic.

For me, therapy is a place you can sit in front of another person and say whatever you want, and it doesn’t matter a jot whether it makes sense or not. You don’t have to make the other person understand, you don’t have to paint an accurate picture, you just have to experience what you are experiencing and trust that the therapist will bear witness to that, to sit beside you in the uncertainty and confusion it creates. It is from this place, I believe, that our chaos has a remarkable opportunity to thrive.

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