Creating While Clean and Sober: Thriving in Recovery

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Many artists think they need alcohol or drugs to attain their creative passions. Too many artists often claim, “‘I could never get sober. I’m too creative!'” or “I need to drink to be creative.” Such a myth leaves a trail of tears, destruction, and blood. All too many creatives have lost the battle with drug and alcohol addiction. The more you drink or use substances, the farther you pull yourself away from your fullest self. 

For this reason, White House Recovery and Detox aims to remind the world that creativity doesn’t have to be fueled by alcohol or drugs. We can find countless examples of great artists who achieved even higher levels of creativity after stopping using drugs and alcohol. Sober artists always deliver their best work, and they do it without the risk of losing their health, relationships, and lives.

Creativity and Addiction

One might wonder what relationship exists between creativity and addiction. As so many creatives hold a gift of insight into the deeper meanings of life, creativity tends to make you feel things intensely. With heightened senses of their surroundings, many artists experience pain much more profound than most. This intensity can lead to higher risk behaviors regarding substance abuse and addiction to relieve themselves of such intensity. 

Creatives often use substances to reach altered states of consciousness, which they falsely believe will enhance their creative abilities. However, in reality, the search for heightened consciousness through substances turns into destructive realities. Look no further than the many famous artists who battled substance use disorder (SUD) and left us early. 

Be Inspired by Sober Celebrities and Heed Their Struggles

Some of the most iconic creators of all time battled their demons with drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately,  too many have died as a result. Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, and Billie Holiday are just a few artists who have lost their lives due to alcohol and drug overdoses. These talented individuals could have continued contributing to the arts and culture but lost their battles with addiction.

On the flip side, look at the many recovered celebrities who are making outstanding contributions to the arts and culture, such as:

Elton John

The legendary British singer-songwriter has been open about his struggles with substance abuse for decades. Elton John has been sober for over 30 years, since 1990. He’s released albums since then, including “The Lion King” soundtrack, with its iconic song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” John’s most recent release, Wonderful Crazy Night, came out in 2016, and he continues to rock the world with his music. He’s also toured and performed extensively throughout his sobriety.

Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. became a household name in the 1980s when he starred in films like Less Than Zero, Weird Science, and The Pick-up Artist. He also received an Academy Award nomination for his role as Charlie Chaplin in the 1992 film Chaplin, which he followed up with films such as Natural Born Killers, Richard III, Restoration, and The Gingerbread Man in the 1990s before he was arrested for felony drug charges in 1996 due to his heroin addiction. Downey Jr. has been clean since 2003 after receiving treatment for his addiction and has starred in films like Gothika, Tropic Thunder, and Iron Man in more recent years.

Ray Charles

Ray Charles was an incredible singer and pianist who could create music that touched the hearts of millions. He struggled with drug addiction, but he managed to get clean in 1965 and continued making music until he died in 2004. He even helped to found the Ray Charles Foundation in 1986 to support education, children’s needs, and arts programs.

Robbie Williams

The British singer who penned the classic “Angels.” credits getting clean and sober early in his solo career with helping him stay focused on his creative endeavors. Though he has experienced relapses, he continues to choose recovery as the fight of his life. 

Combatting the Myth: Reasons SUD Restricts Creativity

When we treat addiction as an asset, we lose sight of how damaging it can be over time. Creativity is not dependent upon self-destructive behavior. Rather, research suggests that artists bring order into a world of chaos. 

There are plenty of ways to channel your creativity without drugs or alcohol. Many artists, actors, and musicians still succeed after reaching sobriety. Many of these people find that their work improves after getting clean or sober because they no longer have the distraction of their addiction weighing on them; they can focus on their craft without fear of self-sabotage. 

Creativity is not restricted by sobriety for the following reasons:

Addiction Robs Us of Our Craving to Create

Addiction is a disease that fundamentally changes the way our brains work. Addiction causes changes in the brain’s structure and function over time, making it more challenging to think clearly and creatively. The disease creates cravings for drugs and alcohol, dulling our hunger for creative outlets.

Sobriety Does Not Equal Boring

Although many people believe you become dull when you get sober, that’s false. Ask yourself what you think is more interesting: a person who has been trapped in the same cycle for 20 years or one who has overcome addiction and created a successful life? For most, it’s the latter. When we are mired in our addictions, we become stagnant, the most boring state imaginable.

Recovery Means Honesty 

In recovery, we learn to live authentically and honestly. Being authentically ourselves opens up new pathways of expression, which helps you be more creative. The opposite is also true: being in denial closes us off from others, which prevents us from being our most creative selves. Ultimately, being honest with yourself empowers you to take ownership of your life, which allows you to make better choices for yourself and artistic expression. 

But what does any of this have to do with creativity? As it turns out, quite a lot. High art is a reflection of our human condition. So to make high art, we must first be honest with ourselves about how we feel, how we think, and most importantly, what we want to see in the world. Yet, substances pull us away from honesty. 

Here are five ways that honesty can help improve your creative output in sobriety:

#1. Discover Who You Are

Honesty enables you to discover who you are at your core. When you’re struggling with addiction, it’s easy to lose touch with who you are at your core and what makes you unique as an individual. You might feel like you’re living someone else’s life and constantly figuring out who you are. In recovery, however, the focus on self-honesty gives us the chance to discover who we truly are.

#2. Open Your Thoughts

Honesty promotes the open exchange of ideas essential for the creative process. When we don’t feel safe sharing our thoughts or feel like we’re doing something wrong, we end up holding back and never making progress.

#3. Face Fears

Honesty helps us face fears and fears of failure head-on. When we’re honest with ourselves and others, we’re forced to look at what’s bothering us and figure out a solution. Suppose a particular idea or piece of artwork doesn’t feel right or doesn’t have “what it takes.” In that case, it’s time to let go and move on, rather than allowing ourselves to feel frustrated about an unachievable goal that might only lead to more frustration later on when our art isn’t meeting the high standards that motivated us.

#4. Defeat Self-Deception

Honesty can serve as a check against self-deception and drug-induced subjectivity. Honesty, though painful, stands as the best policy — especially when it comes to creating great art. In the same way that openness serves as a check against self-serving biases, honesty helps us separate the good from the mediocre. Creating art under the influence of drugs or alcohol may lead artists to exaggerate or lie outright about the output of their work.  

#5. Process the Past

Honesty helps you process the past and creativity blocks. Remembering, talking about, and writing about painful memories often helps individuals gain a better perspective on their creative process and message. Many of the world’s poets and artists’ masterpieces were born of the artists’ pain, longing, traumas, and victories. While individuals turn to substance abuse to block painful memories and trauma, perhaps, the pain that leads to substance abuse could be the avenue to their unique artistic expression.

Sobriety Allows You to Access a Greater Range of Emotions

Drugs and alcohol dull our emotions, Yet, emotions feed the arts. Think of your favorite song, movie, or book. Those artistic pieces dripped emotions. Such pieces draw people into a space where they feel safe to feel. All true art comes not from our intellect but from our raw emotions. For example, we relate so strongly to songs that express pain and loss, even if they’re not our own stories. It’s also why comedians are some of the most sensitive people. 

Clarity of Thinking

The clarity of thought a person experiences when sober often leads to more ideas, resulting in more creativity. This is why some people say they have “aha moments” and experience insights into things like relationships and life issues once they stop using drugs or alcohol. They see things differently because sobriety allows them to think instead of making decisions based on a state of intoxication or withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. 

A sober mind is free from paranoia and other negative emotions that accompany addiction. It allows you to focus on the positive things in life and use those feelings as creative inspiration instead of letting them hold you back from being productive.

Sobriety Improves Your Workflow

 Sobriety improves your workflow in various ways, including:

  • Discipline: When you stop drinking and using drugs, you have more time and resources than before. You can use this time to be productive, take classes, or develop your craft.
  • Focus: While drugs and alcohol may help you relax, they distract you from what’s essential in life. You can complete tasks with greater focus and precision when you’re sober.
  • Time management: When you are sober, you can manage your time better than under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You’ll have more hours in the day to create since you don’t have to spend money to get high or recover from a night of drinking. You’ll also realize how much time was wasted getting high or drunk.
  • Confidence: The confidence that comes with being sober allows people to achieve their goals without worrying about things they cannot control, like using substances to make it through the day or night. It’s a mind-expanding process.
  • Be present: Sobriety allows you to be present for the creative process instead of being absent by being high or drunk. Creativity is about delving into different perspectives and seeing things from different angles — like expanding your mind, which leads you to find new ways of being inspired.

Thriving in Your Creative Juices

In her latest book, “The Artist’s Way,” author Julia Cameron argues that creative people are often “the night of the soul.” She asserts that amid creativity, we often fall prey to the dark night of the soul, where the artist feels depressed, uninspired, and without purpose. Many creatives relapse or try substances to feel better in such a vulnerable place. However, recovery empowers the artist to push through the “dark night of the soul” for a better horizon, full of inspiration for their next artistic piece.

Everything in life harbors a creative element to it. From cooking to raising children, we constantly use our creativity. Just because you no longer drink or do drugs doesn’t mean that your creative juices will dry up. They may flow more freely without substance abuse as a roadblock. Along with a treatment program, here are seven steps for creating art in recovery:

#1. Don’t Rush Back to Work

Once you’ve started recovering from an addiction, it’s essential to take things slowly and not rush back into work too soon. While working can be therapeutic for some people, taking on too much too soon can also be stressful and cause relapse. Instead of returning to work right away after overcoming addiction, take some to relax and explore. 

#2. Identify Your Core Values

The first step in letting your creative juices flow after getting sober is to identify your core values. What do you love?What beliefs and principles guide your life? What behaviors make you feel good about yourself? What beliefs would you like to share with the public? 

These are all aspects of core values. By identifying these now, you’ll have a guide map to direct your actions and decisions moving forward, including your art. These will help you choose your path and vision for your life and artistic expression when faced with choices.

#3. Find New Ways to Process Emotions

Find new ways to process your emotions without substance abuse. As a creative, you have a leg up here. Sober creatives often turn to other methods for emotional release— music, art, sculpting, crafts, and writing. These methods will also fuel their creativity. Creative types know that these tools can help them create without getting sidetracked by their emotions.

#4. Set Time Aside

Set aside time each day to work on your craft. You may have the talent, but do you have the time? Making a schedule and sticking to it is vital.

#5. Find Support

Surround yourself with supportive people. If you want to be creative, you need support from people who encourage your vision and understand what it means to make something out of nothing.

#6. Learn From Mistakes

Learn from others’ mistakes. Study great artists who struggled with addiction and see what they did right and wrong. Like you, they were on a journey and learned along the way. The more you know about what worked for them and what didn’t, the better equipped you will be to avoid relapse.

#7. Develop Healthy Habits

Your life won’t change overnight; it will take work to develop new habits that lead to greater happiness and fulfillment. Make sure your goals are realistic and achievable so that you don’t overwhelm yourself. 

 Whether you’re a musician, a producer, or another type of creative, you have likely dealt with substance abuse or addiction in one form or another. Instead of giving up on your dream, turn to White House Recovery and Detox. You don’t have to limit yourself to the stereotypical treatment center. We understand the importance of connecting with your creative side in a meaningful way. From 12-Step programs to music therapy, we provide the tools you need to begin and maintain a sober creative lifestyle for years to come. If you can set your ego aside, we will help you through your journey so that you can achieve a sober life doing what you truly love. Ultimately,  we support those seeking recovery through a community of like-minded creatives and professionals who have seen their share of struggles. For more information about our treatment program, call us today at (800) 510-5393.