I believe this book offers a glimpse into the minds of individuals in the early stages of recovery from substance abuse.
With the exception of the “Where Would You Rather Be?” section, the exercises are time specific. That is, these images represent only the feelings and emotions occurring at the time of their execution.
My intention is not to instruct, or provide answers, but rather it offers an invitation to become a vicarious participant.
Our own history and experience allows us to attach meaning to the images in this book. The way we see and interpret them varies from person to person based on our own experience.
I think sharing these individual approaches highlights the commonality of those seeking help. The goal may be universal, but getting there has many paths.
Sobriety suits me
My story is much the same as any garden variety drunk, i.e., if I was conscious, I was drinking. I thought only other people were alcoholics. My denial allowed me to pity them while I began every morning with a stiff drink. Besides, I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself (and a couple of my own cars). I was oblivious to the emotional damage, mental anguish and constant uncertainty I was inflicting on the people I loved. My “bottom” did not include the cinematic drama of losing my wife, my house, an attempted suicide or incarceration. It was just a very slow crawl through the life I had created.
I would like to say I had a lucid moment and got myself to a treatment center, but I can’t. I refused to entertain the idea that I might be an alcoholic. But, when given the choice between rehab and the loss of my bi-weekly paycheck, I greedily chose the former. I assumed I would be the brightest drunk to ever enter a treatment facility.
On my way to the treatment center, my wife my wife took me to a hospital to get me detoxed. I figured detox would be pretty cool because almost all of the artists, musicians, and writers I admired went through detox too! Much like my drinking, detox was a few days of which I remember very little. It left me physically and mentally drained.
“I might be ready.”
My first experience in treatment was the discovery that I was not alone in believing I was the smartest kid in class! On my first day we were asked a very interesting question: Have you ever tried to stop using your drug of choice using your own willpower? Followed by, “how’d that work out for you”? I looked around, realized where I was, and considered the question rhetorical. Obviously I hadn’t done such a hot job of managing my own decision making. I was being offered help for a problem I didn’t think I had! However, detox had relaxed my contrarian tendencies. My first thought was “what’s the catch?” There was one; I was being asked to have an open mind. No one was trying to force feed me. Instead, I was being offered some ideas that had opened a door and seemingly helped a lot of drunks just like me. I had a choice. My history of basing my decisions soley on what they could do for ME, RIGHT NOW, might not be appropriate.
“Open mind?” “Maybe worth a shot?”
Sobriety has never asked me to consider anything unreasonable or I conflict with common sense. At the risk of sounding like a cheerleader, I can honestly say, I’ve never had the opportunity to enjoy life as I do today. But as I said, sobriety suits me.
ART THERAPY and TREATMENT
Art therapy is not really about art. It’s about expressing feelings using a different language. Similarly, sobriety is not just about abstinence from one’s drug of choice. Sobriety is about allowing one’s feelings to surface, and dealing with them as opposed to avoiding them, at least temporarily.
Translating feelings into a visual language generally involves reducing how one views their feelings to their simplest form.This simplification may offer a clearer understanding of whatever makes us feel the way we do.
In exploring one’s feelings through art, individuals can combine literal and symbolic devices that not only allow their own expression, but invite the viewer to be a participant. This participation allows others to step into their shoes without stepping out of their own. I find this combined approach the most interesting aspect when thinking of art as therapy.
Art and sobriety are both about choices. Some may have very different paths, but I find both essential for me to live with purpose, peace, and the gratitude that keeps me happy.
Therapy is defined as treatment for an illness. Treatment of this disease does not claim to cure, but can offer methods for management. Work is key. The payoff is on us.
Where are they now?
What’s going on now with the men and women who generously permitted me use of their art therapy output? I wish I knew! Truth is, so few people stay in contact after completing drug and alcohol treatment programs. Of the few I have heard from, there’s been some good news and some bad news. And that’s the norm.
I was compelled to create this book to provide a glimpse into the minds of people in their first 28 days of treatment for drug or alcohol dependency. The images in this book represent their feelings at the precise time of each exercise and their expressions on paper in crayon, marker or some other tool from the table. This visual, and sometimes very colorful perspective provides a thought-provoking snapshot of what it must be like to be them, to feel what they are feeling, experience what they experiencing. It rings of truth and reality.
Recovery is an ongoing process and is never exactly the same for two people. My hope is that this book provides insights for people with addictions and for anyone who comes in contact with them including family, friends, co-workers or treatment professionals. By intention, I haven’t commented on anyone’s work. The work speaks for itself. I encourage you to turn the pages and see for yourself. Take your time and let yourself “hear” what these people are “saying.” What you will experience is the art of recovery.
Through my own recovery I’ve learned that life-changing choices require courage, honesty and a lot of hard work. In my opinion, the images in this book reflect this, as well.
Is the hard work of recovery worth it? I can only speak for myself and say, “Yep!”