kb8715 has asked that I post about my decision to go back to school to become an art therapist and any progress I am making. Hope I'm posting in the right place and that it's pertinent.

For those who don't know, I've been volunteering once a week teaching arts and crafts to heroin addicts at a needle exchange program in Manhattan. During my first class I knew this was something I want to do as a profession. I'd been toying with the idea off and on for some time, but this experience is a calling.

The agency where the course takes place exists to reduce the spread of disease, specifically AIDS, by providing clean needles to heroin addicts. If a client wants rehab, the agency refers him/her. The case manager provides support with follow-up. However, my group consists of active users. Most are real thugs, people you would be frightened to meet on the street at noon on any day. Many are homeless. Some will be dead before 5 years pass.

It is amazing what comes out of these people. I'll give a recent example. We recently made "totems" out of painted toilet paper tubes. One guy, BA, glued a wad of cotton on top of a tube, topped it with a blue square of felt, put some more blue felt down the front and used a navy marker to make a definitive large face. I asked what it was. "A graduate from Hunter" (College). He was very emphatic about Hunter. Makes me wonder. Regularly one of them tells me how glad he is that I provide a place where he can forget about everything for an hour.

BR, one of the regulars, lingered after the last class. He looked me square in the eye and said, "Oliver, I've been watching you. I know what you're about." Shocked the pants off of me. He then showed me a canvas he is working on. A depiction of his life (his words),nothing in it is happy. It's a great pen and ink on gray canvas; quite poignant. It is very graphic. The scratchiness of the thin ink lines on the coarse canvas makes for a very strong statement. In the center he has drawn a self portrait of himself crying. Much of his artwork has an eye, which he identifies as his own, with a tear in it.

During almost every session with my T I mention them. My T told me that not only do I provide a safe space, but that they can see the pain from my abuse and know that on some level I relate to the pain they feel. Heroin is a devil that can eat you alive and can own you. Sound familiar? My T is very supportive of my decision to enter the field of art therapy.

I'm 57. Needless to say, I'm totally freaked out, but I've made a resolve. One of my big problems is difficulty following through and lately I've wavered. I mean, here I am making this huge decision to go back to school just as I begin working on this thing called "recovery" as well as having just lost my job. I must be nuts! How I am going to pull this one off is beyond me. A LOT has got to happen before I start in the fall.

My hope is that by becoming an art therapist I can help children who have suffered abuse as I have. I often think if someone had reached out to help me early, I would not be hurting so damned much now. Believe me, my heroin addicts give me much more than I give them. Contrary to what many may think, these are not throw away people. To me they are very valuable. Wish I felt that way about myself. Sound familiar?

Last Thursday I attended a workshop entitled "Art Therapy and Grieving." Lots of fascinating case studies and projects (I am borrowing a few for my guys.) The lecturer is an art therapist and was excited at break to learn of my plans.

The final project of the day was a Soul Collage. We had been asked to bring a picture of something (person, thing, whatever) in our lives we had lost. I had originally thought of a loved one who died 20 years ago, but then changed my mind. In a very brave leap I took a picture of me at 2 years old, soon after my csa began. The requirements of the collage were to choose one background from pictures the lecturer had cut from magazines as well as 4 images from other categories (food and beverage, animals, people, and things.) If we chose to use the photo we brought, it had to be counted among the 4. Then assemble them to create an image expressing where we were at with the subject.

You can image that most people came from fond memories. An empty chair surrounded by images of tea cakes and a particular cologne which reminded a woman of her grandmother. A dog in a warm home with plenty of food and water.

But -- it is interesting how collages, and most artwork, takes on a life all its own. The artist becomes the vehicle.

My collage turned out dark and gloomy - with knives, a shaky, gray, blood-stained earth and the quiet, sad two year old keeping his balance on top of it all. I NEVER thought I would go that route!

After we finished we were to quickly flip our work over and give a title. Don't ask me why, but I hurriedly scribbled "Bloodletting" across the back.

We were invited to place them on the back table to share with the other attendees. I figured, hell, why not? The friend from the needle exchange program I was with said people were quite taken (aback) by it. I felt ashamed I had dropped my shark into the sea of doggies and kitties and grannies and other things sweetly sentimental. Thank God for anonymity.

Only my friend knew it was my collage. Of coarse she asked. I made up a preposterous story about a cousin I was close to who had a horrible end while we were both children. She does not know about my csa. She bought the story. Whew!

The workshop confirmed my resolve, because a lot of my feelings were in those little scraps of paper and, believe it or not, it helps to see those images. My T and I are going to be busy tomorrow. (hehe)

Next step is seeking out financial aid and a job streamlined to accommodate a school schedule and pay the bills. My gut tells me everything is going to fall in place in ways I could never imagine.

I'll keep you posted. Bug the crap outta me if i don't.