Painting Through It: How Art Saved My Life

By Jacqueline Hamilton

Eight years ago, my life changed drastically. Honestly, I still haven’t completely recovered. I lost my best friend when my grandpa passed on August 10th; and gained a new one when I learned I was 21 weeks pregnant on August 2nd. Within 10 days my life seemed to morph into a sick joke. I was in shock. I had no real time to grieve or process the news of my child’s arrival. Yet, when I welcomed a healthy, 7 pound 9 ounce, baby girl in December, I was overjoyed and relieved.  My daughter was the singular bright spot in my life.

Still, between working 30 hours a week, taking four classes, and constantly fighting with the father of my child, I was exhausted.  

The Weight of a Burden Unevenly Distributed
My partner was struggling to accept that fatherhood required sacrifice. College wasn’t a fun filled experience with classes thrown into the mix anymore. There was one argument that marked the beginning of the end for us. I was pleading with him to spend more time at home. I wanted him to endure through parenthood with me, and to stop trying to live like the average 20 year old. He screeched at me, “This feels too much like marriage!” My only response was, “I thought that’s what we were working toward.” While we dreamed of a future together the present was too restrictive for him to be anything but selfish. I was drowning in loneliness, overwhelmed, and after 8 p.m., often times, I was an angry drunk. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to be relevant to someone other than my daughter. I found that feeling at the bottom of a bottle of $5 dollar wine. I did a lot of things I later came to regret on those drunken nights home alone. I knew something needed to change the morning I spent hours scrubbing my own vomit out of the carpet. I don’t blame the father of my child, because we were both grieving the loss of our autonomy. But in those moments I believed I had given up far more than he did. I was headed down a path of self-destruction when a graduation requirement saved me from myself.

Visualized Healing
To fulfill one of my many elective credits I opted for a beginning painting class. I was interested in trying something new. The watercolor coloring books I dabbled in as a little girl and my failed attempts at following along with Bob Ross on PBS were my sole qualifications to be a painter. I believed that mastering a fine art required God-given talent that I just didn’t have. This painting class in particular was lead by a great, free-spirited and encouraging instructor. When I completed the gray scale of my first still life portrait, the feeling of satisfaction switched something on inside of me. One A letter grade and six paintings later, I had a small collection I could be proud of. The process of creating proved to be therapeutic.

Through learning the techniques and making mistakes, I began to accept new things about myself: The sprawling maps of stretch marks that covered my belly and thighs, the modified dreams of becoming a world renowned writer, and the stomach churning recognition that my childhood was behind me. It gave me a space to relinquish control, to allow thoughts, emotions, and energy to flow freely.  

One evening I was up late with my daughter working to complete my final painting for this class. She sat quietly beside me playing with the baby friendly version of Legos. I had to grab fresh water for my brushes and I returned to find her smeared little fingerprints all over my piece. I wanted to be angry. The painting was of all my daughter’s favorite things: Cookie Monster stuffed animal, a Looney Toons blanket, and an assortment of other items that reminded me of her. Her tiny fingerprints actually became the perfect addition in that moment. The painting was made better by an imperfection added by the most perfect person in my life.

Present day? I am still creating in many forms with the intent to show the beauty in imperfections and highlight the reality that our perceived failures are not the sum of our life’s work. My art served as an oasis in the midst of my darkness and hope for a new life. You are greater than your darkness and your art is a reflection of your inner light. You can save yourself and someone else through the beauty you’re capable of creating. I am grateful and blessed to be here still and to share my story one stroke at a time.

PHOTO: DANIELLE BRANN

PHOTO: DANIELLE BRANN

Jacqueline Hamilton is a Seattle-based, self-taught writer and photographer. She writes about the subtlety of life, mental and spiritual wellness. A mother first, Jacqueline is resuming the pursuit of her writing dreams after building a prestigious corporate career. Her go to self care practice is dancing and photographing herself in the mirror. For more from Jacqueline visit her site (originoforiginal.com), and follow her on Twitter (@10LettersDeep) and IG (@Originoforiginal_).