The blood-spattered, worn combat boots with a medical syringe lying alongside them portray a healing image for retired Army Sgt. Timothy "Mike" Goodrich.
April 13, 2017 - Combat boots covered in blood stains from his surgery are now a form of therapeutic art for retired Army Sgt. Timothy “Mike” Goodrich. (DoD photo by Terri Moon Cronk)
Goodrich, who was introduced to healing arts therapy last year at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, has found his way through art to express feelings of war that he cannot put into words because of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Following retirement after an injury when he was deployed to Afghanistan, the psychological operations team sergeant was at first leery about his treatment plan, which included art therapy, he said yesterday during the opening of a Pentagon exhibit of therapeutic art produced by wounded warriors. But it didn’t take long for him to become hooked on expressing himself through his art, he added, and it replaced his longtime coping mechanism of internalizing his thoughts.
“I didn’t have to talk. I didn’t have to say a word,” he said of working on art projects. “I could just work on something that was bothering me, something I didn’t understand or felt I couldn’t remember correctly. I could work on the art till I understood what I was feeling.”
His artwork gives him something tangible that symbolizes what he felt while at war, he said.
Goodrich said using his blood-stained boots as art gave him the emotional attachment he needed. The boots were stained from the surgery he underwent after taking a direct hit from shrapnel to his head, which shattered his jaw. “It’s a snapshot of what the ground looks like at any combat surgical hospital in Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said.
His well-worn combat boots are authentic, and using them in an art piece that displays something meaningful to him is helpful in coping with his trauma, Goodrich said. “It’s not a pretty thing, but it’s real,” he said. “It’s something I’ve experienced after being wounded in combat.”
Healing arts therapy is spreading across the nation in military hospitals as a coping mechanism for service members to open up when they cannot discuss battle experiences in talk therapy, Goodrich said.
Relief from PTSD might not bring an instant feeling of well-being, he said, noting that art therapy is a process.
“It’s a journey from the beginning to the end for me,” he explained. “I get something out of it at different steps, and I don’t get to determine what that is. It just happens, and at the end of it, I usually end up where I feel better about something.”
While the bad feelings might not go away entirely, he conceded, he is grateful for finally having the tools to keep his symptoms at bay, bringing time to adjust and fight back.
For Goodrich, using a variety of media – painting and working with metal and wood – provides the outlet for him to create tangible artwork he can look at every day so he can recall the emotions attached to it when he feels he wants to.
“It’s important to me, and I think it should be important to the Defense Department to continue these programs,” he said. “You can’t predict conflict. But you can predict that if you’re going to have conflict, you’re going to have casualties and [service members are] going to need access to the same kind of care we have right now.”
Goodrich and numerous other artists who have found outlets through creating art to quell the symptoms of PTSD and TBI were selected to have their art on display in the Pentagon for a year as part of the 2017 Pentagon Patriotic Art Program‘s Wounded Warrior Healing Arts Exhibit. The hallway display is on the second floor of Apex 1 and 2.
Goodrich said he is pleased with the exhibit.
“People are going to be able to see these every day, and repetition is important,” he said. “So now people are going to walk by and see how important it is -- at least to the people who have their pictures on the wall -- and it’s going to be important to hundreds of other people just like us.”
His artwork is a reminder of where he came from, albeit a bad day, Goodrich said.
“But that’s not where my story ended,” he said. “I didn’t die on the battlefield, I didn’t die in the surgical hospital, I didn’t die en route to the states. All those times when I could have died, I didn’t, and my art reminds me of that."
By Terri Moon Cronk
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