How Creating Art Creates Hope

How Creating Art Creates Hope

posted in: Serenity Today Blog | 0

EVER WONDER HOW HOPE IS RESTORED after experiencing a trauma like sexual assault [#METOO] or a loved one diagnosed with Cancer? Trauma changes our life in an instant and washes away HOPE with our tears. So how do we find hope again?




In 1986 while separated, my X raped & sodomized me and stole all my stuff including my cat. I eventually got my cat and stuff back, but the sexual assault stole a piece of me – leaving me feeling broken.

For years I was looking for hope in all the wrong places – drugs/alcohol – then food trying to numb my way out of the pain and guilt and shame. But instead of hope, the anger and rage grew. Until I put down destructive substances and behaviors and started to create IT away. I released the anger into mixed media collages. As I wove different items together, I wove myself back together. As I reclaimed Robin [#IAMME] I recreated hope.




Turn the clock forward to 2017 – second husband – Dirk – of 28 years, I’m in recovery for 26 years and BAM – trauma strikes again!




On Friday, February 17, 2017, Dirk and I bought me a barely used Harley-Davidson 2016 Street Bob. We were ready to roam the roads wild and free. But all the while he was complaining of a very sore throat. Monday went to the ENT, got a biopsy. Tuesday February 21st at 5:15pm the doctor called with the dreaded news – Cancer.

          Funny how we remember the exact days and times of our trauma.

After Dirk’s diagnosis, we were swept into a whirlwind of activity.  Go here for this test, visit this doctor for that diagnosis, let’s see the surgeon to see if they want to take apart his face and rebuild it with pieces from his leg. And, on and on until you get a treatment plan. Thank God our surgeon passed and sent us directly to radiation.

And, so the journey of caretaker begins. Up at 4am, grab my laptop so I could try to keep up at work, drag him 45 minutes to University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).

Then the real fun begins watching your loved one get pummeled with radiation twice a day that burns his skin and ruins is ability to eat, and oh yea add in some chemo just to make sure the radiation works.

And don’t forget to check his temperature when you get home. Better buy a dozen thermometers so they are all around the house, now get a degree to try to figure out how to use the thing in his ear? Which button do I push to get an accurate reading? And, where is that dang gone piece of paper that tells me what to do?




Run him to the emergency room when his temps hits 100.4 NOT 104. The magic number for Oh Shit is 100.4. when his body has had enough and the white blood cells are falling and he can’t eat and the world is spinning out of control and the emergency room is in the next city cause that is where treatment is and treatment can’t stop. And when you get there the night shift comes on and everything S L O W S down. Really?

And the whole time, I need to be strong and organized to keep things going, to help Dirk not stress out, to keep the doctors in order – can all five of you from the same team [we have four teams in the hospital] PLEASE come at the same time so the man can get some rest. And, if one more needle nurse bruises him from not getting a vein – we will be meeting in the parking lot! God what is wrong with this picture?

And when is his primary oncologist going to come by to give the orders for meds to fix the white blood cells so he can get a feeding tube. How many days does he have to starve? Don’t make me go get that doctor!




Now let’s not forget that around all of this is my recovery. When I walked into 12 step rooms in February 1991, I was told that we don’t use no matter what – no matter what we don’t use. If I am not recovering then I can’t show up for family/friends in a positive way.

On the outside I am strong and kind and compassionate. On the inside, I am starting to drown in hopelessness.




As hopelessness started to drag me down, I got out a big canvas. Just like I did – DO – when the pain of sexual assault starts to sting.

Big dark holes need a place to be released. For Into the Light I first painted a background of silver. I wanted to express the hope and try to convey the feeling of slipping into a dark swirling place. Then I bought lots and lots – DID I SAY LOTS? – of navy blue super thick acrylic paint. First I dipped my hands into it and left fingerprints around the edges, like I was trying to hold on and not slip in. Then I used a pallet knife to create my hole of darkness. I love using a pallet knife to get intense thickness and movement.

With a vengeance, I released my hopelessness I got IT out! But like most of my art pieces, this one needed to sit, not yet finished…as I continued to process what was going on.

I started to realize this was not a hole but a tunnel and I was beginning to see the light.


Into the Light ©Robin M. Gilliam
Mixed media on canvas 30X40


Hope is a funny thing – it ebbs and flows – sometimes changing from minute to minute depending on how we are doing, memories that snap up to kick our ass or current situations that seem like too much to bear. When hope disappears, I feel a heaviness and pressure around my eyes and chest, a darkness that is trying to weigh me down.

HOPE on the other hand, presents itself as a light feeling in my chest that widens my eyes to let me experience the sunshine and light in the world.

To finish Into the Light I layered three found objects between layers of heavy gloss gel medium- a large flat round silver charm with crystals, a plastic star, and a smaller shiny charm all rescued from vintage jewelry – to symbolize the hope that is always there waiting for us.

©Robin M. Gilliam


Leave a message below to share how you are you going to create hope today?



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