By Lindsay Walker, DMH Office of Public Affairs

Last week, I had the pleasure of informing and congratulating an Art of Recovery (AOR) artist on the fact that a piece of hers had sold. She recently submitted about 10 pieces of artwork for the 2016 Art of Recovery Call-in and is a “new” AOR participant. I was so thrilled with seeing her pieces; they were all unique, varied in style and absolutely amazing, and it was immediately clear to me that she has real talent. In fact, I am thinking of buying two of the pieces she submitted.

Just the other day, I began to hang her work around the Central Administration building. Many of her pieces were already getting compliments and it wasn’t long before another staff member was interested in buying one of them. Once I had received the payment for the piece and had given the staff member the work she purchased, I made a call to the artist, my next step when a piece sells. I began by congratulating her on selling her art and told her that it was so popular there was another person that had wanted to buy it.

I could hear the excitement in the artist’s voice as she began to tell me how great that was to hear. She almost sounded surprised that someone would want her work. She asked me if I had reached out to her therapist, Jayne Clark of the Beckman CMHS Laurens Clinic, to let her know her submissions had arrived in Columbia safely; I told her that I had. She relayed how Ms. Clark had read her my e-mail confirming their arrival and that it meant the world to hear that someone was excited to see her art. I told her that seeing her work brightened my day, that I love each and every piece, and how talented I think she is.

The artist, becoming a little emotional at times, told me what a coincidence it was that I called her that day. She had very recently experienced something that hurt her deeply, but in that moment, she did not lash out or harm herself. Instead, she thought of her artwork. She focused hard on it. She also thought of her work with Ms. Clark and began to react in a much different way, looking at herself in a positive light and deciding to turn around her deep feelings of hurt, anger, and wanting to harm herself. She decided that she was worth something and worked to keep that positive outlook even though the event had hurt her.

She told me that she had never had the chance to learn about who she really is. Low self-esteem resulted in her not knowing how to value herself or look at who she is. Then, Art came along. The artist said that she had simply stumbled upon Art, one day seeing art tutorials and thinking, “Well, I can give that a try.” She started watching more videos, learned about creating art, and Voilà! – an artist was born. She said that she’d never known she could paint and didn’t expect she would be any good at it. Now, she paints almost every day and is excited to submit more of her work to the Art of Recovery program.

Art is a powerful thing—it can be calming. It can be an escape from the day-to-day situations in life. It can be a stress reliever. But it can also brighten other people’s days; it can reach out from the artists that create it to the people who view it and touch everyone involved. Art can boost one’s confidence and self-esteem, allowing him or her to find their own self-worth. Art can be a tool for Recovery that helps people heal, as this artist has, by providing a positive way to respond to negative situations. Artists can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, which helps re-inforce their self-value.

This artist told me that by focusing on her artwork, she was able to remain calm, keep the negative feelings at bay, and respond to the negative situation she faced in a more positive way. The experience has clearly boosted her self-confidence and made her proud of both herself and her accomplishments, showing her that she is making progress in becoming who she wants to be. Clearly, she is on the road to recovery thanks to Ms. Clarke, and the DMH Art of Recovery program is proud to play a role in her journey.

When I got off the phone with her, a smile spread across my face and I was suddenly filled with emotion. I began to cry, but they were good tears; I had just witnessed, first-hand, what an amazing and positive influence our Art of Recovery program can make. I was filled with emotion because I was a part of that – I was able to contribute to someone’s recovery. This means more to me than any award or prize I could receive, knowing that what we are doing in this Program matters and has such a profound effect on others.

After the conversation, I e-mailed the artist’s staff contact to let her know I was sending the payment to give to the artist. I told her I’d just got off the phone with the artist and that I couldn’t wait for her to submit more art to the AOR. The staff member told me that she too had just gotten off the phone with the artist, who had told her how excited and proud she was of herself. The staff member proceeded to tell me that the artwork has gotten many compliments at the center and that the artist was surprised to find how talented everyone thinks she is.

Last week, an artist was so thrilled at hearing a piece of her work had sold, decided to call her therapist immediately to tell her about it. That artist was also able to openly share her feelings and her personal experience with a stranger on the other end of a phone line. The experienced not only brightened the artist’s day, but it brightened my day, too, providing proof that the Art of Recovery program is influential in helping our patients recover. I’m proud to be a part of a Program that shows Recovery is real and it is possible with art!

To learn more about DMH’s Art of Recovery program, call (803) 898-8581.