Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Using Art As An Esacpe From Harsh Realities Of War

There’s no doubt about it, war is hell. Our Troops have been fighting long and hard for 8 years in two different war zones. Most of them have deployed multiple times. During those deployments, they’ve lost friends and fellow Soldiers, but they had to continue with their mission, even when they felt like they couldn’t go on any longer. They go for hours, often days in high stress situations, with little relief. They’re far away from their families, friends and loved ones for a year or longer, with only one short break of 2 weeks during that time. Many are very young, perhaps this is their first time away from home and they’re thrown into a situation unlike anything they’d ever imagined. They’re constantly in a heightened state of alert, as they never know what the next moment is going to bring. It’s no wonder that so many are returning home suffering from PTSD and other stressors of their experience. Some Soldiers have discovered ways to help relieve the stressors of the war zone and, if only for an instant or two, escape the harsh realities of what they’re dealing with. Having worked in a therapeutic setting where people were often dealing with so much stress, that they found it difficult to verbally express what was going on with them, I've used creative processes to help these clients. It's amazing to see how easy it is for those who are struggling to express their thoughts and feelings by utilizing some type of creative process, be that drawing, painting, poetry, writing stories, journaling or creating music.

The creative process has always been something that has a creative effect on people. That’s why it’s been used for years as a therapeutic tool for those recovering from illness. But even people who aren’t battling an illness or injury can benefit from the therapeutic values of the creative process. Those working with wounded warriors have utilized art as a way for the wounded warriors to express themselves, their fears, their anger and in the process help them to heal.

Soldiers in a deployed environment have been utilizing different forms of art as a way to escape the realities of war, if only for a few minutes. Doing so allows them to unwind, express themselves and escape the horrors that often go along with being in a war zone. That creative process takes many forms. Some may express themselves in music, others perhaps in drawing or painting, while others utilize their creative abilities to write on milblogs or to journal, or even perhaps in a wood shop, creating useful pieces of art. Whatever outlet they choose, there’s no doubt that the creative process provides them with an avenue to express their thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, while creating something beautiful in the process.

"It helps me cope with missing home," said Spc. Wilbur Deshields, an entry control point guard, with A Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. "You can only go to the gym so many times. Drawing is my mental escape. It gives me a chance to be creative. There's no limit to what I can do with my imagination."

For Spc Deshields his art is a therapeutic outlet for him. It allows me to better deal with stress, frustration, grief and the many emotions our Troops have to deal with while they’re deployed. Deployments change a person, they see things that they would never see at home, experience things that they’ll never experience at home and do things that they’ll never have to do at home. That changes a person, often times profoundly. The creative process allows them to express the changes that are occurring within them in a way that is healthy for them. Deshields says he does his best work when he is stressed or angry. His work has helped not only himself deal with the traumas of war, but his fellow Soldiers as well.

"Sometimes, people ask me to draw a picture or an image for a tattoo. (ther times, I draw something to cheer people up, to make them laugh," he said.

Whatever method a person uses to express their creative self, in a deployed environment, it helps them to rewind, refocus and refresh themselves, which helps to prevent these stressors from affecting their mission readiness. It’s great that these Troops are allowed the time to express themselves in such a healthy and productive manner. It sure beats having them set and brood about what they’ve experienced until it becomes so unsettling to them that they explode due to the stressors they encounter there. Sometimes all it takes to get those stressors out is a catalyst, such as creating something.

This type of process, Art Therapy or whatever you wish to call it, is often used with our Wounded Warriors as part of the recovery process from their injuries. Besides physical injuries, many are also suffering from psychological injuries or PTSD. Often they don't think that people will understand them or what they've experienced, so they find it difficult to share their thoughts and feelings, instead keeping it bottled up inside. When they do that, they're a ticking time bomb, and by engaging them in the creative process, some of that stress can be alleviated, sometimes that's the catalyst they need to begin their journey on the road to recovery.

Allowing our deployed Soldiers the opportunity to work through some of the issues they're dealing with while deployed is a great idea and one that can only be beneficial to the Soldier, their fellow Soldiers and to the entire military. It might mean the difference between them returning home from deployment in a healthy state of mind or not. If you're involved with one of the many Troop Support organizations and are wondering about something you could send to a deployed Soldier, you might want to think about sending things that will allow them to utilize their creativeness and thus decrease the stressors they're dealing with. That's just a suggestion, but one I think that will be appreciated by the Soldiers you may be supporting.


Haole Wahine said...

Timely topic in more ways than one. I can hear Sheldon saying it now. Karaoke is definitely ART. The Karaoke nights have been shut down at the FOBs in Afghanistan, so the soldiers can concentrate on the mission more.

Flag Gazer said...

I helped with prizes for Karaoke and Swing Dance nights for a group in Iraq a couple of years ago - it was their sanity...