Getting into some heavy shit lately, you guys.
I’m trying real hard not to give up my daydream while being slammed at my day job. I’m presenting one of my plays at the end of October and have gone into full production and marketing mode. Also, there are changes needing to be done to the script. I was also accepted into a writing group and will have biweekly deadlines which require me to bring work to the group to be read and receive feedback on. I ALSO have a big itch for a new show that I absolutely must start working on soon while the ideas are fresh in my mind and before I talk myself out of writing it.
I wake up every morning excited (usually) about what’s on the horizon. My artistic mind is emerging from a six year coma and it is hungry to be used. I have to keep notes constantly because ideas and images and characters keep flooding my head and won’t go away. I can’t just LISTEN to music anymore. Every song I turn on ends up generating more ideas. I’m extremely PUMPED and grateful that my vodka soaked brain is GONE GONE GONE for good.
This is all good news, right? RIGHT?
Well, yes. As it stands now, certainly. Very good news indeed. It means I’m waking up and finding joy in what I once did. Nothing wrong with that. But there is a very fine and almost undetectable line that I’m hyper-paranoid about and I have to make sure that I do not cross it under any circumstance.
About a week ago, my company put out a press release about the upcoming production and I got a fair amount of blurb level press from various sources who published small pieces about the show on their websites. That’s good for me, good for the company, and good for the show. You can’t make theatre without an audience and press is how you get an audience.
I couldn’t help but notice some old feelings resurfacing: Elation, pride, euphoria, excitement. None of these feelings are inherently bad things. There is nothing direclty wrong with being proud of the work you do and happy and excited that people are noticing it. My problem is not the experiences of those feelings. Rather, I struggle desperately with how I purpose those feelings; what I do with them and how I use them in unhealthy ways.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears recapping for those who perhaps missed the older posts. A major flaw in my last extended period of sobriety (2005-2008) was that I WAS NOT IN RECOVERY. I did an outpatient program, started feeling good, and dived head first into making art. I became so consumed with writing, rehearsals, giving interviews, and running a company. That was my recovery and it wasn’t recovery at all. I had huge, gaping, empty holes in my spirit and my entire being was wrecked and ravaged by a disease that had almost killed me in the fall of 2004. I was only 23 years old at the time and I can’t quite remember my rationale for not pursuing a program of recovery that would begin to repair my extraordinary injuries. Maybe I thought the outpatient program fixed it all? Who knows.
I started down a very dangerous path of seeking validation outside of myself. People would come to my shows. The press would cover my shows. More and more people became aware of the work I was doing. And each and every time I felt one of those emotions as a result of my artistic pursuits, I stuffed them into the bloody, rotting empty spaces that I never bothered to fill or correct by doing the crucial work that recovery requires. My success told me that I was OKAY when I was anything but. I never learned how to love myself. I never bothered to identify why I had these holes, what was missing that was causing them, and what I needed to do to fill them back up in a healthy way. Instead, I just kept working hard. I kept getting noticed. I kept getting praised. I kept feeding my ego with every article, review, email of congratulations, and grant received. I kept stuffing square pegs into round spaces and expected them to not only fit but to stay in place and make me whole for the rest of my life.
It worked for a while. For three years I walked around conveying a level of self-confidence that was exhausting. When there was a lull in my work or I was in between shows, I could feel those square pegs slowly starting to ooze out of the round holes. I’d push them haphazardly back in. I’d duct tape them into place by sitting down and churning out countless pages of a new script. I’d make plans for a workshop with actors just to feel busy even when artistic impetus for new work wasn’t there. The work that I loved to do had slowly become a drug and had replaced the substance that nearly took it all away. My art was no longer an accentuation of my being. It was all that I was. And because the artist underneath the surface was so irreparably damaged, the work never reached its full potential. Put simply, I was a fraud.
When my relationship of eight years collapsed, each and every wrong shaped peg came exploding out of every matchless hole at the same time. I went into overdrive and tried working even harder hoping I might be able to stuff them all back in, but now the holes were getting even bigger because of the trauma of losing love and stability. No amount of artistic work was going to be enough. After three years of sobriety (dryness) I found myself at a pub after rehearsal one night with a glass of hard cider. I had no conscious thought of drinking before I walked over there and sat down. It wasn’t premeditated. I just walked over and started drinking. It was horrifying.
I drank. And drank. And drank. For six more years.
You can understand my trepidation as I try to form a new and healthy relationship with my work. I’m still getting those feelings of elation and pride and excitement. It still is a high to have a play received well or noticed, but I’m doing more than rolling around carelessly in those emotions. I’m in RECOVERY this time. I’m speaking to other addicts. I’m writing these posts for myself and for others to try to connect to. I’m learning something new about myself every single day. I’m facing my biggest fears and unpacking the damage to see what really has happened and what really needs to be done to fix it. I’m placing my hand carefully over the round hole and dismissing the square peg because even though it’s there, it’s entirely wrong for this specific problem and will never fit the way it should.
Seeking validation from any person, place, or thing is NOT going to fill me up and heal me once and for all.
Working diligently on getting to know myself will.
If everything I know was to fall away and leave me alone tomorrow, what would happen? If my art, my job, my love, and my shelter were suddenly taken away, would I survive? Would I stay sober? I can’t answer that question, but I know I stand a much better chance of weathering a storm with this healthy foundation.
This time is different.