Native American Dreamcatcher
As an artist and former fine arts student I have a bad attitude about “kits,” crafts and vacationbibleschool-ie art. This goes for most product-centered art therapy projects. I brought this conceit to art therapy and vowed to avoid “cute” like the plague. I use good paper and archival media as much as possible. So when some women in art therapy asked to make dream catchers I thought long and hard before saying yes. I consoled myself with the idea that dream catchers are therapeutic and a way to talk about dreams and recovery. I consoled myself with the fact that dream catchers are referred to in Anita Johnston’s ED book Eating in the Light of the Moon. I consoled myself with the fact that there are some crafts, beading for example, which are soothing and even uplifting. Then I bought the necessary supplies to try this dream catcher thing. Wow. Granted I wasn’t expecting too much depth but I was surprised when both the process and the product were meaningful.
Dream catchers are not that easy to make. Wrapping the hoops was difficult. In fact it took F. four tries before she was successful. I asked her what else has taken four tries. She was positively breathless when she replied that this was her fourth treatment! We thrilled at the idea that, like her dream catcher, this fourth treatment would also “work”. Then another. wove the central web and decided to un-weave it. She needed a do-over because she said the anchors were too far apart! She related this to her first attempt at recovery after treatment. She saw clearly that she needed her “anchors” closer together for success and began to plan an aftercare program for herself with many anchors each day – a morning spiritual practice, a noon 12 step meeting, an evening phone call to her sponsor and nights socializing with other recovering folk. The dream catcher had made its point in a way that this woman could not miss. The one that really got me though is this one. At her lowest weight she was 58 pounds. She wrapped then wove and attached the hanging feathers. Only her feathers were not actually hanging down but sort of resting sideways. She needed to put some weight (beads) on them so they would work right. It took her a minute to catch the metaphor but when she did she laughed and added beads to weigh the feathers down while she confessed that she too needed some weight on her to “work” right. She related this especially to her brain. One woman wound up with a big piece of shadow work and another took hers apart because if it wasn’t perfect she didn’t want it. She got to see that perfectionism keeps her from having her dreams.
All in all it was a very powerful and meaningful experience that reminded me of my old friend Nell. I tell her story here to commemorate the many years of friendship we had before her death by suicide. Nell was wealthy, incredibly smart and well educated. She spoke German and French. She had a masters in contemporary southwestern art and an important art collection, which she rotated regularly throughout her house. We were in 12 step programs together and went to a Jungian study group every Tuesday for years. In addition to chemical dependency issues she also had a mean form of mental illness. She had suffered a complete psychic break and spent years in institutions and hospitals receiving treatments and medication adjustments. It was traumatic and cruel and she was lucky to live through it. She was really excited about the idea of art therapy and was one of my earliest supporters. She told me the following story from her own experience. Once, when she was hospitalized and in severe psychological pain she went to the art studio. That day was leather wallet- making day. Just the effort it took to get there was huge and I know she was way sophisticated for the project that day. But she made a leather wallet. Step by step she laced and folded and snapped. It was a breakthrough; just the breakthrough that Nell needed. She had left the day room! She had managed to complete a task! She made something! and it changed the direction of her spiral. Making the cheesy kit-wallet had shifted her momentum toward recovery. She was coming out of her pit thanks to a classic camp craft kit. I am likely to turn my nose up to macaroni projects and pasting beans on paper plates. I don’t feel great when I buy tracing paper for my super hero creators and comic book artists. But I am learning that truth and god’s grace can be found in many surprising places.