Painting For Peace

Crying in the Shadow's Tear Stains Madi's Eyes

Abuse survivor turned artist Michal Madison explores the role of art in her healing process


My innocence was stolen before I could speak a word. I know that is one of the reasons art is so important to me. It doesn’t need a vocabulary to help me express hidden emotions and deep feelings.

Child abuse is impossible to wrap my mind around. I don’t understand it! It was even more inconceivable while it was happening.

How could these people, who said they loved me, do these appalling things to me? I separated the evil events from my “good” parents, dividing and hiding the darkness so deep that I almost convinced myself it never happened. I dissociated. And so, as an adult, I always felt there were pieces of my story I just “didn’t” know ~ or maybe didn’t want to know… But I did want to know. I wanted to understand why I was the way I was.

But how? How does one uncover a past they’ve buried so deep in their psyche? Art! Art allowed me to discover my history in safety and continues to help me process my journey gently. It gives me the freedom to move beyond the barriers that confined me, to live in the freedom I was created to enjoy! Art helps us express emotions that we can’t find words for. There are so many art forms to express those emotions. The possibilities are limitless!

As a child I was rescued by music. I remember the moment the piano arrived at our house. It was a huge old upright grand with a magnificent full sound. I sat there mesmerized. That piano would become a place I could express my feelings. Through music I developed an inner strength.  I felt alive, grounded, present. I lived at the piano, lost and found in the notes, using music to tell my story.

Later I started exploring visual art.  There would be several more years of abuse before I would be in a safe enough place to truly start my healing journey using this medium. And then, it was through watercolor and collage that the puzzle pieces of my life story started to fit together. I started to understand why I ended up in more than one abusive marriage. Marriages that looked so great on the outside but were filled with assault and pain (just like my family).

I love the saying “life is a great big canvas, so throw as much paint on it as you can!” Part of my healing has involved “throwing paint”. Yes, it gets everywhere, but the benefits far outweigh any cleanup that I may have to do (besides, beach towels make great drop cloths and look so much more artistic with paint splatters!) It’s cathartic to let the paint “fly”, just to enjoy the process without allowing the outcome to be a priority.

I’ve found when I become focused on the finished product, I lose, to a great extent, the healing power of the journey — the process. I have discovered so much about where I am today, about where I’ve been, from these “paintings without a plan”. It’s as if a window was opened and I was able to look into my inner world.

I created a collage book, as soon as I left my second abusive husband. I was unwavering, at that point, to get to the root cause of my issues and start to heal. I was determined to never allow anyone to abuse me ever again! So I started using art as part of my healing, much more seriously.

I collected pictures and words from magazines that resonated with my feelings and desires. I had a little box with glue sticks, scissors, cardstock and magazine pictures. Every day I’d create something that expressed what I was feeling that moment or what I wanted to be feeling — the life I wanted to be living. I kept them in plastic pages in a three-ring notebook. I still have this collection of collages, and still find healing in its pages.

The amazing freedom of art is that one doesn’t need to be an artist to use art to heal. Anyone can collage — just as anyone can “throw” paint on a canvas, or find a box of crayons and a pad of paper and just let the inner self express feelings. The medium we use isn’t as important as just doing it!

The one subject I love to paint more than anything else is eyes. We all know William Shakespeare’s famous quote “The eyes are the window to your soul”. I believe that’s really true.

As I see the eyes looking back at me, newly revealed from the brush strokes of my soul, I almost always see myself in those eyes: a tiny child, without words; longing searching eyes; an angry woman who’s been holding it all inside under the fragile veneer of happiness; a strong, but fragile girl who can’t stop the tears from overflowing a moment longer. These hidden layers surface to be faced, to be loved, to be healed.

A couple years ago, I started sharing my art on Facebook. With my art came my story. Almost overnight I discovered how un-alone I was on this journey.

I wasn’t the only one whose family had stopped talking to her when she told “the secret”. I wasn’t the only daughter of incest whose parents said “it never happened”. I wasn’t the only person who had been sexually abused by both of her parents! I wasn’t alone.

People were sharing their own stories of survival with me. When they told me how my art touches something deep inside their soul, giving them courage to face the past and start to truly live, I was inspired to continue sharing my journey.

 I am continually amazed by the healing power of art! How it heals me, the artist. It heals those who see it and find inspiration. And now through it I am also able to give back and help abused children heal.

 People were connecting emotionally with my art and wanting to buy originals and prints, or cards to share with others. Right away I knew I wanted to give back, to help make a difference in the lives of children who were in the midst of healing. Today 10% of every sale from my art is donated to Childhelp. Giving back is another layer of my healing.

Childhelp has a phenomenal art therapy program that is helping wounded children heal! Through art, the silence is being broken! Through art, children are able to express those emotions they just can’t put into words. Truly, how do you put into words the pain of abuse? To me, it’s indescribable, even as an adult, because it should never ever be! Join me in making a difference in the lives of children by supporting Childhelp.

 Michel’s art can be found at:


To Learn more about Childhelp's Art Therapy programs, go to

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