When it comes to creative people getting sober, there are many stigmas surrounding substance abuse and the concept of what it means to be an “artist” that some will have to face. With legendary authors like Ernest Hemingway touting infamous lines like “Write drunk, edit sober,” or famous musicians like Slash saying “Drugs and sex go hand in hand when you’re a rock and roll musician,” these stigmas have become engrained in creative American culture over the years. Here are some common issues creative types may find themselves grappling with in recovery.
Your inner-critic is much louder in early sobriety, but it gets better. You know that little voice in your head that tells you you’re not talented? If you’ve had a substance abuse problem, you’re familiar with this voice all too well. After first entering recovery, you may find your head louder than ever when you’re no longer using drugs or alcohol to quiet the voice. This makes for a pretty tough state of mind when you need to be creative. Whether your work and state of living depends on you being creative or if you have projects on the side for a hobby, doing battle with this voice is key for a healthy mental space to work on your art. How do you tackle this voice? Start talking about it. Talk about your fears, talk about your creative failures and shortcomings, talk about what you’re feeling in the moment on a daily basis. Talk to your therapist, talk to your AA group, talk to your friends, talk to your journal, talk to your pets. Talk about everything, and the voice will quiet itself and allow you windows of creativity that will grow larger over time.
You do not need a substance to create. If you’re an artist, you will no doubt hear this from time to time among your creative circles. This is 100% false. While some may argue that alcohol and drugs are a gateway to a different way of thinking (leading you to be rich in creativity), there is also a much richer and healthier way to go about it. Artists in sobriety can learn to draw creativity from positive thoughts and energy rather than a negative place, and a great way to start is by reading a book called The Artist’s Way. Written by author and screenwriter Julia Cameron, herself an alcoholic in recovery, this book will guide you in the ways of creative recovery through daily techniques and exercises that will teach you to ignore the first unhealthy voice in your head and learn to listen the second voice- the voice of artistic truth and strength.
Alcohol and drugs are not required to maintain an image. This is more common among musicians who are seen rather than heard. Sober musicians can face a tremendous amount of pressure from their creative scene. Maybe all their band mates are still drinking and using drugs. Maybe their audience expects them to drink and do drugs on stage. If you’re a working musician in recovery, it may be suggested to you by a manager or band member to “play a role” now that you’re sober. While you have the right to play this role, just note that keeping secrets and lying to others most likely played a huge part in what led you to alcohol and drugs in the first place. It’s much healthier for your sobriety to be open and honest with the people around you. Have a discussion with your team of reps and band mates. Offer to take them to open AA meetings or speaker nights where they can observe and learn more. Try to make a point to let them know clearly what you need from them to support you through this transition.
The Artist’s Way is available on Amazon, Audible, and Google Play.
Chris Clancy is the in-house Content Manager for JourneyPure’s Digital Marketing team, where he gets to explore a wide variety of substance abuse- and mental health-related topics. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and researcher, with strong working knowledge of hospital systems, health insurance, content strategy, and public relations. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two kids.