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  • Writer's pictureAlana Stewart

The Creative Ds of Addiction Recovery: an arts-based approach to relapse prevention

Recovery and creativity go hand in hand. Here, I will share some simple yet innovative ways I have thought up to blend art and creativity with existing addiction relapse prevention strategies.

There are many ways this could be done, but I hope my suggested art processes help you to reflect on the value of arts and arts therapy in the recovery process.

Firstly, what are the D's about? Sometimes known as the 5 D's of managing cravings or 4 or 5 D's of relapse prevention. They are behavioral strategies which help to resist unhelpful urges and give individuals practical tools to navigate and cope in moments of struggle.

Some frameworks I have seen use some different D words but here are 7 D's I have encountered across different sources: Distract, Delay, Do, Deep Breathing, Deal, Drink Water, Distance Yourself

Let's explore each one and see how these could be applies through a creative or arts-based therapy lens.

1. Distract - Shift your focus to something else to take your mind off cravings. Engage in an activity you enjoy or talk to someone.

Art process 1: create a "distraction box" filled with small unfinished art projects (eg. half drawn sketches, incomplete colouring in pages, unfinished craft works). You could also add your to do list for projects around the garden or home.

Art process 2: Make yourself a set of prompt cards with some creative-based distraction challenges

Here are some examples of what you could include:

  • Search the web to discover a new genre of music you like

  • Learn a new style of dance

  • Start a new drawing

  • Search the house for old magazines and brochures and make a collage

  • Find an area of your garden that needs some tidying up

  • Create a card for a friend

  • Pick some flowers from your garden to make a small table arrangement

Image above: Representative of a "distraction box", a small upcycled packaging box filled with some small unfinished sewing, small sculpture painting and card making projects.

2. Delay - Postpone the urge for a few minutes. Urges usually fade after time.

Art process: Set yourself a timer and do a timed art challenge.

Some timed art suggestions:

  • Choose a prompt and write a poem or creative story

  • Draw or paint a themed or unthemed image for specified amount of time

  • Try a dance or drawing tutorial on YouTube

  • Go outside to your garden or a park and challenge yourself to draw/paint the scene around you for 30 minutes, or longer if you are enjoying it!

  • Give yourself some time to learn how to make some origami objects. For an added challenge you could then time how quickly you can make something a second, third, fourth time - see if you can beat your personal best time the more you practice.

Image above: Representative of an art challenge requiring time to master. Origami objects featuring butterflies, a boat, fox, jumping frog and bird

3. Do/Doing Something Different - Perform a positive action that's incompatible with the addictive behavior.

This could be going for a walk, reading, or any hobby in itself.

Art process: To fit with the theme of doing something different I can suggest engaging in an art form that is new or unfamiliar to you. For instance, if you usually paint, try sculpting with clay or working with pastels. The novelty of an unfamiliar activity can serve as a strong distraction by requiring more focused attention and learning.

Image above: Representative of "doing something different", a unique art process of self made rainbow scratch board, created with first layer of oil pastels then second layer of thinned black paint on top before drying and using for mark making and drawing.

4. Deep Breathing - Practice deep, slow breaths to help calm your body and mind. This can help manage the immediate physical urge of craving.

Art process 1: Practice deep breathing with art materials whilst tracing a circle. Start at the top of a page, slowly breathe in for 4 seconds whilst slowly drawing a semi circle shape down to the bottom of the page. Then once reached the bottom, breathe out for 5 or 6 seconds slowly making your way back up to the top to complete the circle. Keep going around like this at least 10 times.

Art process 2: whilst practicing slow deep breaths, notice the rhythm and movement of your breath, focus on this and imagine what this may look like. Grab some art materials and draw the shape/pattern/movement of your breath, keep tracing over this as you continue your breaths.

Video above: Alana showing art process 1 for deep breathing. Pairing breathing technique with slow tracing of a circle.

5. Deal - Address the underlying emotions or situations causing the urge. Reflect on what's happening and how you can cope in a healthy way.

Art process: use art materials expressively to confront and process underlying emotions leading to cravings. Create yourself a visual journal where you can allow yourself space to draw, paint, write about your feelings. This can aid in your understanding of emotional causes and also help develop your self understanding.

*For this you may need to consult a professional arts therapist who is registered with a major counselling/psychotherapy/arts therapy association to safely assist you with this, especially where there is unprocessed trauma.

Image above: Representative of art journalling for dealing with emotions. A picture of art journals with pages opened to images created to help express and process emotions of the creator.

6. Drink Water - Sometimes, drinking a glass of water can help manage the urge, providing a simple action to focus on and fulfilling a basic need.

Art process 1: why not personalise your water bottle! Decorate with vinyl stickers, paint markers to express your identity. This may encourage us to reach to our waterbottles more often which is overall a healthy habit we should keep up always!

Art process 2: A mindful cup of tea. Spend a good 10 or more minutes in this process and a good couple minutes noticing each sense. Pour yourself a cup of tea to drink and notice all your senses whilst doing so. Take in the sounds of the cup, teaspoon, the sounds of the water boiling and pouring. Once it is made feel the warmth as you hold the cup or place your hands close to it, feel the steam if you place your hands above it. Smell the fragrances coming off the tea as you wait for it to cool and watch the reflection of the water and the steam coming off it. Lastly taste the tea and notice the different flavours and if you can detect more than one.

You could also follow up with writing down what you notice for each sense or creating a poem about it. You could also try drawing the cup, the teas reflections and steam.

Image above: Handmade ceramic mug containing herbal tea in the Yellow Gum Art Therapy Studio.

7. Distance Yourself - Physically remove yourself from the situation or environment that triggers the craving. Changing your setting can help diminish the urge.

Art process: As well as physically distancing ourself from the triggers we can also practice mental distancing through art. Create a drawing, painting or collage of your ideal "safe place" or "best day ever". These images can be real locations or completely based in fantasy. Through visualising and creating a place where you feel safe, calm and free from worry you can help the brain switch out of survival mode/fight or flight and back into feeling safe. Peaceful visualisations can help us to experience mental distance from worries, anxieties and triggers.

If this works for you then why not create a series of safe space paintings or follow up with creative writings about this place. When you don't have art materials you can close your eyes and picture being there again, think of your 5 senses and imagine what you would experience in this place.

Images above: Representative of creating a safe place for gaining emotional distance from negative feelings. First image shows a clay human figure wrapped up in a blanket, found eucalyptus leaves put around the outside with collage image of Eagles underneath. Second image is a collage of pictures of trees with a kangaroo lying down surrounded by trees and a gold heart shape with sun symbol behind. Both represent a safe and comfortable place for the creator.

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