Throughout historysome of the most famous musicians, painters, authors and poets have shared a common thread. They all battle with personal demons that haunt them and are evident in their life and work. Whether it be mental illness, addiction or a combination of both they all share the theme of tortured soul. This is something that one can see both in past and current time. Perhapsthere is some sort of connection between creativity and substance abuse and mental illness. I could name numerous individuals whose personal struggles were reflected in their lives and works.
Which Came First?
One rather pervasive belief is that substance use enhances creativity. As someone who was also under this belief, myself. I get it. Perhaps in certain situations there could be a case for this. Looking at the fact that many great songs, poem and works of art and literature were conceived during bouts of substance use, it’s easy to see how that belief has been enforce. But, is it true?
There is no evidence that substance use increases levels of creativity. If anything, it simply lowers inhibitions, which can possibly make creating easier for those who suffer performance anxiety or lack of confidence. However, the creativity is already there. Accessing it feels difficult sometimes, but a lot of it is a personal block. The idea of creative “blocks” is something that people talk about, but is often simply the need to take a break and recharge, or do something different to get inspired.
Addiction Kills Creativity
Unfortunately, many of the artists who have relied on substance abuse have later found it to be their downfall. Addiction is a progressive disease. While many people go on for years abusing drugs and alcohol, it does catch up. In some cases, the isolation, constant craving and the drama that goes with addiction ultimately leads artists away from creating and into a life of degradation, depression and poverty. Often, it leads to death. The music world is a perfect example of this, with so many of our legends gone too soon.
Are Addicts More Creative People?
In childhood many addicts prior to substance use were sensitive, inventive individuals who felt a pull towards creativity in all its form in childhood. Drugs and alcohol did not nurture this aspect of them. Perhaps it allowed them to feel less inhibition during the creative process. While each person is an individual, it seems overwhelmingly clear that a good majority of addicts share a creative, sensitive and intelligent mind, that too often becomes tortured. This is something that in addiction treatment programs is a well accepted aspect for someone suffering from substance abuse. As most offer some type of creative therapy to help them get back in touch with this aspect of themselves.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues among addicted people is common. It is not uncommon for individuals who struggle with mental illness to turn to substance use to self medicate. Again, this has nothing to do with creativity, this is simply unaddressed mental health problems which are compounded with the use of substances.
Unfortunately, many artists feel if they get treatment for their mental illness, or stop using drugs and alcohol, they will lose their “creative edge.” This myth is so widely accepted that sometimes it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Recovery And Creativity
Addiction changes the brain. It altersneural pathways, and it wreaks havoc with the neurotransmitters that create that feelings of well being. When addicts stop using, the brain undergoes tremendous changes. Over time the brain works to heal the damage done by addiction.
For the creative person, there is probably a time where it may be that their creativity is enhanced through substance use. However this time period is short due to the progressive nature of this disease. As the disease takes over the creative output dwindles and eventually dies. Sometimes it may be hard f to realize it just takes times for the brain to re-balance itself.
The Importance Of Creativity In Recovery
Whether you think of yourself as an artist or not is not important. Take the time to find out what you like. A Lot of people are surprised by abilities that they did not know they even had. Expressing yourself is vital to a healthy recovery. The more new experiences that you have the more new neural pathways you create. When you do this you are helping your brain not only heal but also grow. Often you can get in touch with, and feel emotions a way that is more difficult if you were just talking about them. This is why Art Therapy is often offered as an option in treatment.
Sometimes, people get so caught up in the mechanics of their recovery that they forget to do this. They are busy going to meetings, groups and being of service. They are trying to find jobs and become productive members of society. Particularly for those who feel they have “taken” a lot in their addiction, there is a sense of responsibility. Playtime is over, it’s time to be a grown up, and do grown up things.
But, creativity is part of who we are. And, it can help your recovery. Living creatively allows recovery to stay fresh and keep dissatisfaction and restlessness at bay.
How To Be Creative In Recovery
Creativity like a muscle needs to be used and it important that you use the it even when you are not feeling creative. Surrounding yourself with other clean and sober creative people is one way. Building community in recovery is one of the most powerful things you can do to protect your sobriety.
Search for like-minded people. Take a group painting or sculpting class. Go to a play or a symphony. Find other people that share similar interests and visit a museum. Host a weekly writing group. You are not the only one who may be struggling with creativity, or who is yearning for a creative outlet, so put it out there and you will see results.
How To Boost Your Creativity
It’s important to remember that creativity is a process. While you cannot make yourself become creative you can nurture it with practice. If you are a writer, artist or musician, you may panic when you find you can’t write the songs or your inspiration has left you. The temptation to use may hit you if you don’t step back and realize your creativity hasn’t abandoned you. It needs to be nurtured and practiced over time. Just like everything else in life the more you do it the better you will become at it.
First, start with taking away expectations and putting pressure on yourself to perform. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. Getting sober is a shock to your system in so many ways. Cut yourself some slack and as Nike says “Just do it”. Good self-care is important for your brain to be able to. Take breaks to allow the ideas to simmer and marinate. You may be surprised by what you come up with. Eat good foods, sleep well, surround yourself with supportive people who respect you and who value creativity. This last one is so important, one surefire way to have your creativity squelched is by spending time with naysayers who don’t support you!
Finally, expose yourself to art. Sometimes, the well does run a bit dry. When this happens, it’s time to refill your cup. Don’t limit yourself to your own type of creativity. If you are a musician, don’t just listen to great music, read some poetry. If you are a poet, go to a rock concert. If you are a painter, go take a walk in nature.
Rose Landes is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing. You can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram