The Art of Recovery

July 2, 2024

The Art of Recovery: Art Therapy as The Guide to Recovery & Gender Exploration

Written By: Wednesdae Reim-Ifrach

As an art therapist and a queer person in recovery, I can attest to the power of this work. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves the use of art making, art assessment and specific art directives created using psychotherapeutic theories. Art often taps into our subconscious and allows our nervous system to release. Activating different parts of the brain, the body, the nervous system, and the central spirit of a person provides a holistic approach to processing, uncovering, and healing. As a board-certified and Registered Art Therapist, I spent three years learning the craft in school and 10+ years practicing, honing my skills in eating disorder treatment. Working in eating disorder treatment has been my biggest asset. Art therapy allows people to connect to their bodies, envision the dynamics in their heads, and understand their relationship with their bodies and with others. I often invite clients in for an opportunity to try something new. I share that I won’t speak unless they want me to, and I set out art supplies based on their issues and allow them the space to create. I observe and hold space, note body language, material, color choices, and what they seem to make. In the end, I ask if they can reflect on their process, share insights around what I see, and connect it to their eating disorder journey. Seeing art help people connect to recovery, to their bodies and to healing is the greatest honor and some of the best work I have ever done. Knowing how this works as someone who needs art to survive feels like a gift to share with clients and the world. 

The story of my eating disorder no longer matters. Not because I want to erase it but because how I got here no longer feels like a narration that controls my life. As a queer person, the development of my artist self and how that led to my healing and gender exploration continues to be the most important narrative I have to offer. Art was a saving grace that opened up all the potential I possessed in a way that nothing had before. 

Like many, I struggled with body image on and off for most of my life; and as I got older, it became more intense. I can remember, at my worst, feeling painful discomfort in my body that no amount of weight loss or gain seemed to erase it. I couldn’t understand why I constantly felt trapped in this “thing” that felt so foreign and surreal, and I was desperate to be in control. 

The only time I felt like me was when I got lost in painting, lost in the colors and textures, in the experience of being able to be seen as something more than the body I felt trapped in. As I dove into my art therapy training, I was making art daily; being pushed to uncover the layers of who I was, and being confronted with the truths I felt unable to access or too scared to speak. It was through the art therapy process that I began to witness the discomfort in my body as something much greater than hating my fat body, wishing I could shrink away to a size deemed worthy. Instead, the art therapy process forced me to see myself. It made me confront my eating disorder, and in return, it allowed me to finally see myself. 

Art therapy became the window through which I could see that my eating disorder was an attempt to feel safe, to feel seen without abuse or trauma, to feel worthy, and to finally be left alone. Most of all, it was the space where my Queerness was safe. My art had no gender, no labels, no parameters; it just was, and I longed to be like my art. Art therapy was how Wednesdae was born, how they could finally be embodied (when possible, in our current world) and become who I am; not who I always wanted to be, but the person I never thought possible. With every painting, every sculpture, and every creation, I found myself stepping deeper into myself. And with every step closer to myself, managing my eating disorder healing became less of a chore.

I continue to be in awe of the power of art therapy. It is more than a part of my career, my art, or my clients' art. Art therapy became the vehicle through which I discovered the version of myself that I love being. It allowed me to step into my gender identity and queerness, and it allowed me to see my eating disorder with compassion. Without art, art therapy, without the power of this process, I wouldn’t be me; and I can think of no greater tragedy than a queer person denying themselves who they are for other people's comfort.