Not sure if her writing is autobiographical, but Joan Larkin’s poetry on addiction is really powerful. A friend just pointed her work out to me today.
I wanted to share this poem.
I got word recently that someone I cared about had health consequences which crept up due to his addiction. It occurred to me that when you are in recovery, and you are able to move away from addiction, you can feel a sort of betrayal for the friends you have that did not make it out of those throes. I never knew quite how to name it before.
Using is something people often do together. They share it. They bond over it.
You can want so badly for someone to join you in getting better, and you can still feel bad when they do not. I wonder if people who survive disasters or catastrophes experience this. It is a complicated and specific feeling.
I still have hope that this person and others can swim to shore. He is creative and always has been. I hope he can transmute that creativity into a strategy towards living. And fighting.
I struggled to find something that I could write about for this blog. I’ve never done drugs. I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not in any traditional recovery program. So, what do I have to offer this community? Then another severe attack from my obsessive-compulsive disorder kicks in, and I think, Hello, mind-crippling disorder. Goodbye, writer’s block!
You see, I may not have ever been addicted to any substances that don’t begin with Thin and end with Mints, but I believe that as I battle with OCD, it is creativity itself that I need to recover from.
Creativity is a drug, and it has symptoms.
I’ll never forget the day that I became aware of my OCD. I was walking home from high school- I was a freshman- and I came upon a stretch of sidewalk that was littered with twigs. It was Fall. They were out in force. Suddenly, an intense urge to snap every single twig took me over. And I did. As I walked along- Snap. Snap. Snap. I continued to do this day after day, whether I wanted to or not.
Now at 26 years old, I am still in a constant battle against such repetitive actions.
So, it got me thinking – is it possible to be addicted to creativity itself? To cross a line and succumb to its power like a mindless slave? I believe that the answer is a resounding yes.
To be creative is to be able to make connections between things that may seem really un-relatable. It was, after all, the creative mind that saw a simple round stone and created the wheel.
My mind takes this to a dark place.
When I flick a light switch, the bulb is illuminated. It’s a simple connection between two actions that make sense. In my mind, one flick of the switch might mean that one of my loved ones get into a car crash. Another flick, and someone has a heart attack.
Another, and even worse news. And another, and another, and another. Before I know it, I find myself doing the same action over and over again – all because I’m uncontrollably writing different scenarios with each flick.
In reality, of course, turning on light bulb isn’t going to cause some horrible event to happen. But creativity isn’t about reality. It causes you to imagine things that just don’t make sense.
OCD, or at least my version, is like writing and rewriting. It is being creative without control. It’s forcing connections between dissimilar things. It’s fun to sit down and imagine what wacky scenarios my fictitious characters may get themselves into. It’s not fun to imagine the tragic scenarios that my loved ones and I may get into. My creativity allows me to think of outlandish things, and it makes every nightmare scenario feel so possible. My OCD is like an editor revising the story over and over again to find a pattern that finally makes sense and makes me feel better…except that it never comes.
As science uncovers more and more about creativity, we see that there really is a thin line between creative and crazy. You’d be surprised at how close a creative person’s brain resembles that of someone with schizophrenia.
Every time I grab pen and paper to write, I feel that familiar paranoia take hold. I tense up. My heart quickens, as the compulsion creeps its way back in. It’s an unwelcomed thing in my life, but I love to be creative, and by doing so, I leave the door wide open for the OCD. So, like any addict that can’t quit the thing that’s so bad for him or her, I ask myself, do I give up the creativity, and, in turn, the OCD? Or do I keep doing the thing I love?
I would be lying if I said I never thought about taking some sort of illegal substance to ease the symptoms of creativity – to dull its constant voice. Ironically, though, I’m also a hypochondriac. And, believe me, if I were to ever do a drug, I’d convince myself that every damn twitch and cough is a sign that the drug did something fatal to me once I sobered up.
It is no surprise that so many writers, artists, musicians and creative people of all types turn to substance abuse. Creativity comes with symptoms that are hard to handle a lot of the time. It should come packaged in a bottle with a Surgeon General’s warning, or a list of the side effects written on the back. But dare we stop being creative because of this? Do we continue to indulge it by expressing it through the mediums we choose, or do we fight against creativity? Do we try to cure it? Could we give it up?
I can’t. But, then again, I’m an addict.
I recently went to the Museum of Sex with some friends. It was my first time there. I enjoyed a lot of it, though some of the placards had spelling errors, which I was not too crazy about. The exhibition that most surprised me, though, was that of Samuel Steward in an exhibit called Obscene Diary. I had never heard of this man, but became incredibly fascinated with his life.
Steward’s self documentation included a catalogue of every partner and sex act, illustrated through photos, diary entries, sexual record keeping, explicit drawings and erotic literary musings. He was a gay man who documented a number of his sexual escapades, was following avidly by Kinsey (sex researcher), and got involved in tattooing as a way to meet sailors. He was a documentary maker, and his life is incredible. Also, though, he shared a lot in his writing and work about sobriety and creativity. He expounded on sobriety as it relates to one’s sex life, as a creative person, and I found myself unable to read enough about his thoughts. He struggled with an addiction to barbiturates later in life, and had lost his father to opium addiction. Clearly, sobriety and addiction were heavily in his thoughts throughout his life.
He is a man worth investigating. Click here to check out a video of him and learn more.