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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Coloring: A Path to Mindfulness

01/21/16 11:42 AM | Tom Bardwell | Trauma, Mindfulness


When I posted this drawing on Twitter just before New Year’s Eve, it was almost too much for me to bear. Should I really post this silly scan for all 900 of my Twitter geeks to see? Many people were sharing what 2015 meant to them, including resolutions that they will likely drop by March and superlatives about the previous year’s experiences. For me, I had to post this tweet because it was true. Coloring saved my life.

I thought I had lost my creativity and fluidity at moments during 2015—that somehow things had gotten crushed inside. Working in the recovery field as a survivor of a parent struggling with addiction has called attention to my own trauma history. It has also meant that work has come home with me and barged through my office door. I have struggled with self-worth constantly, even well into my 30s and well into my career. Adjusting to my family’s ups and downs, I was uprooted physically from my support network when I moved to the Pacific Northwest six months ago. The unfamiliarity helped to dislodge me.

What I discovered through my friend Claire was the mindfulness of coloring. Adult coloring is made of quintessential qualities that have been lauded by critics, hailed by public health practitioners, and blogged about by folks who’ve opened up about their personal journeys.

It started for me in the spring with detachable postcards. Then I moved on to Mandala coloring books. Thanks to the Elliot Bay Book Company, my eyes were drawn to compilations of illustrations in coloring books like this gem from 90 artists: the Doodlers Anonymous Epic Coloring Book.

Coloring was familiar to me. It told me about my feelings: Are you being negative? Stressed? Resentful? I would pick up a book and color for hours—until my wrists would ache. Each page colored left a smile on my face. Memories flooded back to when spirits at my grandmother’s house were low, but there was always a pack of markers to be found.

It feels okay to have discovered my palette in 2016.

Join Tom's upcoming t3 courses on Critical Time Intervention (CTI) starting in March:

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Image colored by Tom Bardwell.

Tom Bardwell

Written by Tom Bardwell

Tom is a Senior Analyst at the Center for Social Innovation and a t3 faculty member. He is a public health professional specializing in training and technical assistance on harm reduction. He is also one of the founding artists of Boston LGBTQIA Artist Alliance, a nonprofit that builds community through exhibition opportunities. Tom received his B.A. from Hiram College and his Masters in Theatre Education from Emerson College.