Guest post by Dr. Julia W. Burns, author and psychiatrist. Learn more about Julia’s work at juliaburns.org.
After resigning from my job as medical director of a residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed children, I began making art. Listening to the children’s stories of abuse had taken its toll; I had secondary trauma, an affliction suffered by many therapists. I still wanted to help and asked God to show me how. After weeks of prayer, it came to me in the middle of the night. I awoke, crept into the closet with my journal, and wrote my first song — “I sing a song for the abused child, the song no one wants to hear…”
Writing was the first outlet I used to express my imagination and speak about my experiences. Three months later, I started painting. Creativity continues to carry me through so many wonderful avenues, I started painting healing meditations–one painting came to life when I wrote the 23rd Psalm over and over the collaged breast of a friend. Together, we visualized and drew the chemotherapy attacking her cancer cells but protecting her healthy tissue. We asked Christ to gain dominion over all her cellular functions. Her breast bloomed into a beautiful flower surrounded by the psalmist prayer, “yeah, though I walk through the valley, I will fear no evil,” which was covered by an acrylic painting of her sacred lake home.
Singing songs of my pediatric patient’s stories and painting them has contributed to my healing. After listening to a patient’s story, I release the trauma both for them and myself with energy work, prayer, writing and painting.
“How did you witness this abuse, God?” We question. After much soul searching, I realized a simple truth: It was humans who abused my patients, not God. God weeps with my patients, me, and all of us when we are wounded. I am now better able to honor our Creator instead of arguing and blaming.
As patients continue to tell me their life stories, the trauma doesn’t wound me, because I listen not with my ears but with the heart of Christ. And the blessings of wisdom, compassion and understanding are bestowed on both patient and doctor in the telling and believing in a benevolent Creator who knew about trauma before time began.
Gardening, cooking, dressing, painting, writing—these the kinds of creative ventures I treasure and hope you will, too. Never limit your creations just because you don’t have an audience, or your audience is small. God is watching and applauding, loving how you spend time in artistic reverence.
Here’s what I learned from re-balancing my life with creativity:
- Make time each week for nurturing your creativity.Do the thing you’ve longed to do but haven’t—visit a museum, take a walk in the woods, immerse yourself in a bubble bath. Fifteen to thirty minutes a week is a must.
- Go to your creative space EVERY day. A wise friend once told me, “Julia, if you don’t have time to paint, then go to your studio for five minutes and sharpen your pencils.” Just do it! The hardest part about creativity is getting started, after that, it flows and you never want to stop.
- Pay attention to how it makes you feel and ignore the product. Remember with all the flaws in our universe, God stood back and said, “It is good.” Not, it is perfect or boy, is someone going to want to purchase planet earth for a great profit—but simply, “It is good.”
This is the last line of a song I wrote while looking out at the Grand Canyon, the year after I wrote one thousand songs.
“Stand at the edge of the abyss. Feel the wind, the water and the acid cut your soul and set you free. Celebrate the end of this life and your new beginning.”
Julia W. Burns, MD is an adult, child and adolescent psychiatrist who lives in Chapel Hill, NC, and specializes in the treatment of attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, mood disorders, anxiety, addiction and autism. Her work has been published in the Buddhist journal, The Mindfulness Bell, as well as abuse survivor journals. Her first book, Momma, Who’s Babygod? explores how prayer decreases tension and soothes at bedtime. She leads workshops on Moving Through Your Life Stories with Writing and Creativity for medical clinics, colleges and retreat centers. She is working on her second book, My Record is True, which chronicles her thirty-five years of work with abused and traumatized children. Learn more about her books, survivor, and healing resources on her website.