Sobriety and Art

Plan for the best, expect nothing. – Me

Can’t people pursue writing and music and fun and intensity without drugs? Isn’t it more punk rock to do music for music sake? Why have drugs and art become so intertwined?

I’ve been asking myself this question a lot in the past few days, while the universe is hitting me right to left across the face with messages (stepped in dog shit two days in a row, I mean STEPPED in it, saw a sign emblazoned across the side of a trash can that stated “Forgive Yourself” just when I was about to buy a cigarette for the first time in over two years).

People assume because I’m an artist and I’m heavily tattooed that I like to partay.

I don’t fucking like to party. I like to spend time in nature and I like to hike and I like to work hard for things that I know will be rewarding in the future.

I am a recovered addict  because I made a conscious decision to not use any substance that distracts me from reality. Should I ever make the decision to use again, you can just call me ADDICT.

I indulged in all sorts of alcohol and pills, at three separate points in my life. The first time, when I was 12, led to being sent to juvenile hall twice, a mental institution once, and locked up in another country for ten months by the time I was 15. At THAT point, I should have stopped, but no, after four years sober I let other people (musicians, believe it or not) teach me some hard, hard lessons I don’t ever want to have to learn again.

An engineer I was working with on my songs the other day joked about loosening me up with some whiskey. Me, ever the skirter around issues, said, “I’ve taken that road as far as it will go for me. It’s not a pretty place.”

I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the second I casually imbibe a substance, it is GAME ON. That substance, and other of its kind, will be all I care about from there on out. You will not be making music with me or reading my eloquent writing or going on great nature hikes. I will be raiding cabinets. I will be in a doorway with a 40 in a paper bag.

It’s been years of sobriety, and I’ve had a (more) consistently stable life internally and externally because of it. The drama has been dialed down exponentially. I’ve outgrown the need to indulge to avoid my reality. I generally like my reality, in spite of the trappings that frustrate me. And as much as I love music and art shows and all that, I hate that alcohol (and often drugs) have to be so prominent at both. I don’t want to be around it. I do myself a service by surrounding myself with people who get me, all sides.

At the same time, I am not a biggie on going to meetings. I like finding other sober people, sure, but I’ve been around meetings for many, many years and have found that they don’t make me feel much better, usually. I’m sure many people who go to meetings will get all up in arms and tell me, “You’re not really sober if you don’t go to meetings, and that’s why you’re unhappy if you don’t go.”

Believe it or not, I am pretty happy in individual moments. I know what I want and a lot of who I am and how I operate. I know which people make me feel good and which people don’t. I know how to read energy. I have meet some lifelong friends through meetings, but usually we continue our friendship outside of the meetings.

What about the fearless and thorough inventory, you say. I do daily inventories. I clean up my side of the street if something’s not working. I’m honest and I work out my resentments.

Meetings are a tool, not the end-all be-all. I’ve been told before that if I don’t do something I’m going to end up going to hell (or in this case, relapsing) and that was in the Mormon church and the behavior modification program I went to in Jamaica. Not much difference between those two places and meetings where people are asking me to chant and be superstitious and follow rules that were made up by a guy in the 1930’s. Before you worship Bill as an idol, take a look at his life. He was fallible, just like you and me. He was not god. He was speaking truths, yes, and we can take what works and leave the rest. I have.

So, I’ll go to meetings if I’m really feeling like getting loaded, but usually, the thing that helps more is simply calling up a sober friend who is healthy emotionally and saying, “I feel like getting loaded, let’s go on a hike.

Seems a lot of the dogma in substance abuse programs and AA is similar to societal dogma in that they encourage you to “buck up” and “get a real job” and “stop fighting everyone and everything,” “just surrender.”

Surrender to a lifestyle you don’t want in a system you don’t believe in working jobs you despise so that you can keep buying stuff you don’t need and checking out in front of the television night after night stuffing your face with shitty food and wondering why you don’t feel alive? Been there, done that.

I have never cared about trappings and traditions. Not unless you really know why you are doing them, have investigated what they mean to you and are OK with it and don’t need to push it on me. I do not push my life on other people.

I’m a strong believer in prayer and meditation and nature walks, and I do all three. I also do believe in utilizing support groups when you need them, and many people get a lot of good out of them. But you can get lost in those rooms, avoiding your daily life, waiting for people to help you out.

Prayer, meditation, walking, talking to people: These things all help me through some rough times. I also believe in good, clean, honest friendships, or friendships with people who, though they may drink or do other stuff occassionally, know me well enough to never encourage me to “just have one.” That would just be stupid.

I believe in writing and music, that if you use it–either as your lifelong passion or a hobby outlet–you will find your truth looking back at you through your own creations. My art reveals my heart to me.

A lot of people are afraid to put pen to paper because of this very reason. Don’t be afraid. There is nothing to be lost by following your heart. Nothing that will last forever, that is. A lot can be surrendered and let go in the process and it all hurts. I accept that, like the Buddha said, life is suffering. When I accept that, I find that the happy moments (eating watermelon, being with good friends, being heard, picking flowers, writing, playing music) are more accessible, because I am living in the moment, not expecting things to be any different than what they are at this current moment. Accept, yes, this is something they teach in AA. Yes, surrender…I agree…to an extent.

Just don’t surrender your spirit to a life that makes you just want to go pick up a drink and white knuckle it every single day of your life. Not worth it. There is good and bad in many things, and life is one big lesson. You stop learning when you’re dead.



  1. cloudborne says:

    Really look forward to reading your posts…I love how you stay true to your theme of “pep talking”, it’s very inspirational…I admire your pursuit of dream!

  2. This isn’t directly related to your post, but I wanted to share it with you anyway.

    From an interview with Shirley Manson of Garbage:

    “What advice would you give a female rock singer trying to make it?”

    “I would say figure out what it is that you want to say. When you figure out what it is you want to say, you have to be willing to stand by that. You have to be willing to take a million slaps in the face, and keep standing up.”


  3. gunnmakaba says:

    Well, you can have all of that without the drugs. Wear your sobriety like a shield and force them to adapt to you rather then adapting yourself to them. There is a place for artists in your shoes and in that space they thrive, you will too!

  4. Ron G says:

    I love the layers to your rant, in one way it’s about drug use and abstinence, but to me the rawer message that people should be paying attention to is how you are feeling all these outside spheres of influence, many of them opposing of each other, pulling you about and trying to infect you with their paradigms. It pisses you off, because you’ve made it pretty clear your life will be lived as YOU see fit, on YOUR terms. This righteous wrath is exactly what will get you there. Great stuff.

  5. It seems like anytime there is a change in your life that’s obvious to people on the outside, they show up with casseroles and drugs, and binge party offers, and lifestyle change advice. Religion and dogma.

    I like that you’ve realized the universal truth that what’s good for you isn’t necessarily good for other people, and what’s on other people’s plate, you don’t always want to eat. I know it’s been a long journey for you there, and I’ve been there at least a few times through your couch treasure hunts. It’s scary on the outside, so I can only imagine how scary it is any time you’re facing that memory. Personal change is hard enough without everyone trying to plunge you into their river.

    We have addiction problems in our family. It’s not always substance abuse, but we all like to abuse ourselves in little ways that aren’t too healthy. Not every family member makes it through the same, but we get by. I like to think we’re getting better at understanding how similar we are, even though our paths are radically different.

    I’m a pretty simple person, live at let live. Maybe I’m a bit of a recluse because I don’t always trust that I’ll make the best decisions when other people are involved, but I respect you for always getting out there with people and experiencing the world in ways I can’t. As a reclusive artist, I can understand the frustration of being seen as living a cliche. People see what they want to see.

    I don’t believe in prayer myself, but self reflection is the way to success, and prayer is a tool to do that, if you do it in a way that suits you, and not for the sake of someone else. I’ve had some bad times where all I could do to get by was rest on the laurels of some belief that I didn’t understand, that didn’t appeal to me, and that I just went through with because I had nothing else.

    Just because a tool helps you through something, doesn’t mean you have to be devoted to it for life, something I think a lot of program-goers don’t understand. I’ve obsessively counted prayer beads, reciting nonsense until I could trust myself to step forward. I’ve never believed in god, or higher powers, or some universal truth, even though I’ve wanted to at times. It’s just not in my wiring to care about anything that’s not there when I need it.

    I’m always there for myself. I’m sure inside you’re always there for yourself even if you don’t see eye to eye all the time. I think you understand that. Saying the only thing we can rely on in is ourselves isn’t sad. It isn’t lonely or misguided, it’s just true.

    We can have people near and dear to us that are there when we need them, but we can’t expect them to be there. We can’t expect that they will know what we want, or abandon their dreams to fulfill ours, nor should anyone else be expecting us to do so. We are all individuals. We are all responsible for ourselves and no one else. Sometimes we’re working on keeping the same boat afloat, but that shouldn’t be seen as a lifelong journey unless you just happen to be getting on the same boat together every time.

    It’s when we have expectations that we get disappointed, lost, angry, frustrated. I guess you can say the same for the expectations we have for the world around us. Do you expect people to know that offering you substances is a bad idea? Probably not. I know it’s frustrating, the way that hitting all the stoplights on your way somewhere important can be. I get frustrated when people expect me to excited by the same things they are. I get frustrated when people get hurt when I’m just being myself.

    We can’t not expect things, we have a minimal grasp of reality and the effects of time. Expectations are as natural as breathing, it’s how we react when they’re disappointed that we can control — in theory. I try not to get bummed out by anything beyond my immediate control, but feelings are whimsical.

    I think ranting is good for you, especially on a blog medium.

    Pep Pep, keep up the good work. Cheers.

    • Just read what you wrote again, and it is very wise and astute. I am again questioning dogma and groupthink and groups that will not accept you unless you participate in them, too akin to the church we grew up in, but most of them can’t see the parallels because unlike me they didn’t attend two separate groups (behavior mod/LDS church) that used the same tactics as them (AA).

      People are crazy, I find it nuts that in a society with so much access to freedom and free independent thought (working at the library has made me so much wiser, through the study of philosophers and researchers and psychologists, but mostly philosophers) we can find ourselves susceptible to the same animalistic need to belong to a group at any cost. It’s unfortunate that we have to be either/or–free rangers, on our own, or part of a group that forces you to adapt ALL of its principles OR ELSE.

      I mostly get frustrated at my human tendancy to want to fit into a group by adapting its lingo, even though I am very vocal about not believing in it, and fight the dogma tooth and nail. Granted, we have some liberal people in the Bay Area, but I still find the reframing of everything into the 12 steps to be prohibitive.

  6. Heather says:

    Run far away from those offering you a drug or booze.. they’re not on your wavelength obviously and aren’t your “Friends”. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that yeah, they may not know your life story and such. But you’re sober for a reason.. and offering up x and y to a person sober going through a hard time is recipe for disaster. I love you, girl. You’re gonna be okay.

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