Out of the Mud and Into the Sunlight: Loved Ones of Addicts Find Healing Through Art

Jun 20, 2018

In Buddhism, the lotus flower is a symbol of purity in speech, body and mind. Born from the mud, it blooms clean, its layers of petals emerging from murky waters to receive their new beginning, a fresh start. Given its long-established metaphorical nature, the lotus couldn’t be a more appropriate emblem of Amy Carreño’s art therapy workshop for the loved ones of addicts.

The idea for The Lotus Project was sown in 2013 when Carreño attended “Amanda’s Easel,” a workshop in Hazlet for victims of domestic abuse. At the time, Carreño had been facing her own personal battle: Her daughter’s father was an addict. Having attended traditional individual therapy and group classes, Carreño had been struggling to find an effective coping method. This program, however, was her first run-in with art therapy. And it worked.

“I was moved at the healing powers I visually saw in the art. I decided once I was ready, art therapy would be the way I helped others,” she said.

Carreño threw herself into recovery. She read countless self-help books, studied Buddhism and consumed the work of Oscar Wilde and abnormal psychology texts, before ultimately discovering that she was a classic co-dependent. Mental Health America describes codependency as a learned behavior affecting the spouse, family member, friend, child or coworker of the person afflicted with addiction. Co-dependents are compulsive caretakers, and their inclination to heal and feel needed takes an unhealthy, destructive bearing on the parties involved. Relationships characterized by this behavior are often one-sided, abusive and cyclical.

After facing her own difficulties head-on, Carreño had built an armory of tools for dealing with codependency. She wanted to share her knowledge and help mend others like her. Thus came The Lotus Project. “We strive to focus on building empowerment and strong sense of self. Loving an addict tears you down and destroys any positive self-image you have. A co-dependent’s personality is that of a nurturer, which is what the narcissistic personality of an addict is drawn to,” she said.

The nonprofit organization was launched three years ago and uses art therapy to draw sufferers into a safe, creative space. Megan Tucker, a prevention specialist, facilitates all Lotus Project workshops. From DIY coat racks and wooden string art to painting and 3D collage, Tucker and Carreño offer a variety of restorative activities.

“Art is soothing for the brain. The process promotes positive self -wareness and improves mental and emotional well-being,” said Carreño.

The effects of alcohol and drug abuse aren’t limited to the addict alone. Addiction inflicts a wave of destruction, puncturing family members and friends with the shrapnel of its explosion. But, just as the lotus flower grows from the mud, Carreño hopes members of The Lotus Project will rise from tragedy into fresh beginnings, strong and beautiful.

“The beauty of The Lotus Project is we are here for the attendees. Conversation is organic – sometimes it’s about day-to-day life, sometimes it’s about their stories. It is never about the addict,” Carreño said.

The group meets every other Sunday at the Coffee Nest in the Artifacts & Company store located in Beach Haven. Here, they drink coffee, peruse the store and converse. Art workshops are held every other Thursday, September through May. Though hands-on crafts are a focal point for the organization, workshops also include potluck dinners, nature retreats and yoga sessions with The Yoga Hive and Blooming Lotus Yoga. Carreño even finds time to work with neighboring high schools to foster a sense of positive, productive decision-making and leadership skills through scholarship opportunities.

“I want to assure anyone interested, you are not alone. Everyone knows someone. Addiction is a family disease. I encourage people to call me. Once we talk, you will feel comforted,” she said.

By creating a haven for the loved ones of addicts, Carreño has found a haven for herself. “I still find myself resorting back to that co-dependent, timid person. In group, I am able to share my story and my journey. It helps me knowing my experiences are helping others.”

One of Carreño’s favorite quotes from Picasso properly embodies the essence of art therapy: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” For more information about The Lotus Project and upcoming events, visit thelotusproj.com.

— Sarah Hodgson

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