SQUARE PEG. ROUND HOLE.

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. 

 

15 comments

  1. This is a really great post. I’m 5 days sober today. This isn’t my first attempt at sobriety but definitely feels like a good one! Being in recovery and changing my behaviours one day at a time seems to be working 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  2. powerful – reminds me of a line from one of my favorite poets George Michael:
    “all we have to do now
    is take these lies and make them true
    somehow”

  3. Oh how I love this post. So full of wisdom. So insightful and helpful. I love the imagery of the holes being improperly filled and the recovery versus non-recovery. Thank you for sharing! XOXO Libby

  4. This.
    This is glorious.
    Sometimes I wonder if I am doing recovery right. I am not attending meetings (not that I am uninterested, I just currently do not have a driver’s license and no real access to transportation at this time).
    We addicts seem to always be addicted to something. If it is isn’t alcohol at the moment, right now mine is working towards building a brand and giving myself purpose again. In this case, it is being built around my sobriety so I am elbow deep in self administered accountability. I haven’t gone long stretches of time.
    Even though I feel strongly about the work I am trying to do, I struggle with impression management anxiety.
    If I mess up…or if I want to quit or make it go away, it is out of my hands. And that is a scary, scary thing. But I push forward because I know it’s good for me and hopefully good for others.

    You’re awesome.
    And I congratulate you on your success.

  5. John,
    Keep writing your hilarious, poignant and often, Incredibly! relatable thoughts.. Keep seeking advice… PLEASE Keep telling your truth…But most of all, Keep putting yourself out there, because.. Your courage gives a voice to countless addicts/drunks or “whatever’s” out there.
    If you make just One person get help or shit … Even think about using your blog as a refuge… That’s powerful.. That’s a life change.

    As Dr. Spock said “Give yourself credit, you know more than you give yourself credit for.”

    BTW .. That wasn’t Star Trek Spock, although I’m sure he had some gems too

  6. I know that it’s different for you this time and youre doing great! Just don’t try to take on too much cuz it’ll make you crazy & unfocused. That’s when some of us get into trouble..not putting sobriety first.

  7. If it were all gone in a blink,you’d survive.I had a horrible accident 2 weeks ago and after 10 days in the hospital I’m learning to walk again,and am sober.Really sober.So today I’m truly from the bottom of my heart grateful to live.

  8. Well, you’re ahead of the curve from my perspective. Don’t know if you listen to the podcast but I raise the issue quite a bit with Jeff (long-time friend, current co-host, one time coworker, and disastrously, one-time boss) of how completely out of control my ego had become about 6 years ago.

    I wasn’t focusing on being the best me—I had become consumed with being the better everybody else. And, most egregiously, I wanted everyone to acknowledge it. I was miserable and a misery. Jeff had to fire me.

    I’m now reaping the benefits of my renewed focus on my recovery that began after that wee career flameout.

    Anyway! Congratulations on all your creative endeavors! Very happy for you to be in a healthy creative place. Please share when/if appropriate.

  9. I was a professional musician, semi professional photographer, and a published poet. At 9 months sober, I am none of those things. Drinking took them from me a year before I got sober, and trauma prevents me from pursuing them now. Mostly because all of those activities were done in the midst of hardcore substance abuse, but also because of massive abuse I suffered, and never worked through, as a kid, has come to the surface in a full blown way.

    It’s fucking hard to go from someone who lived on the stage and lived for wild parties and travel, someone who had boyfriends and lovers, to a lonely, overweight gay man, barely holding down a desk job. I struggle daily with feelings of guilt and restlessness and depression, and I no longer have a social life (for the time being, anyway)

    I may sound bitter, but I’m not. I have a great addiction counselor/psychologist who is working me through my troubles. I have my health. I have a few dear, sober friends. I still have the love of my parents and my siblings. In short, I am blessed.

    All that said, it is still a motherfucker trying to make this work and adjust to my new way of life.

    Good luck you you all!

  10. I am enjoying your blog. I am a self employed artist…musician. After years of travel, some booze fueled, i quit drinking. And quit touring, and generally let go of much of my community. I just didn’t want to make the scene in early sobriety. And still kinda don’t. The upshot was I signed my first record deal soon after quitting booze, and immediately delved into a major artistic project. And for months I couldn’t figure out why I was struggling with it. I relate to your experience in this regard. There was too much to untangle. I really though I would quit drinking and snap my fingers and get the new thing rolling. Its much better now. It took awhile to develop the patience for the good ideas to come together. I used to just drink and use whatever came up. Which actually wirked for a long time. So its new now. Thanks…Its great to have a boozer artist blog to reference.

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