Editor’s note: This post is a part of an educational series for Tempest Membership. Throughout July, the content within the Tempest Membership program will be focused on Creativity in recovery. You can learn more about Tempest here.
Throughout history, countless artists touted the creative release that comes from alcohol and drug use. Ernest Hemingway and Lil Wayne come to mind immediately. This notion that you need to be under the influence to tap into the artistic side of the brain and really “let go” has long been an accepted belief.
For every person who swears by the need for inebriation in order to create, I can think of another artist who was tormented by their affliction— many of whom suffered tragic deaths as the result of their ongoing battles with addiction. Whitney Houston. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Amy Whinehouse. Kurt Cobain. Elizabeth Taylor.
And then, there are the musicians, artists, writers, and the television personalities who have shown time and again that living a sober life is actually much more conducive to creativity.
As a sober creative — a writer and visual artist — I come from personal experience when I say that sure, maybe alcohol and drugs helped me tap into my artistic brain initially. But it didn’t last. In fact, the more toxic my relationship with alcohol became, the further I drifted from my creative self. In the end, I wasn’t writing or painting or creating anything. I was just trying to survive from one day to the next. I’d allowed alcohol to dictate my every move, and I was completely disconnected from the very essence of my true self. That “essence” is the fidgety little piece of us that wants to explore and learn and question. This, I believe, is where the creative within us dwells.
Sobriety gave me my inner artist back. It was through recovery and living a sober, healthy life that I was able to reconnect with my creative side. It wasn’t until I put the drink down and picked up the tools of recovery and self-care that I started living the creative life I’d always wanted to have. Here are a few ways that you, too, can tap into creativity in sobriety:
Take a Walk
Or take the paddleboard out. Go on a hike or a bike ride. Plop yourself in the sand at the beach. Do something that involves nature and really practice presence with it. Turn off your notifications on your phone or leave it in the car and really immerse yourself in your environment. Count the petals on the flowers. Check out the clouds. Observe how many shades of green you pass.
Nothing recharges me quite as well as some uninterrupted time in nature. Creativity takes time and energy. If you’ve exhausted all of your brainpower on work and responsibilities, the likelihood of having anything left for that poem you want to write is slim. Take time to recharge.
Try a Class
At one time, I thought a writing or painting class outside my formal education (y’all, I have two degrees in writing with a minor in visual arts) was just a waste. I had all the knowledge I needed! Now, I just had to wait for inspiration to hit. I didn’t need a class.
I was wrong. Sometimes, when you’re stuck in that space between really wanting to create and actually putting pen to paper, an instructor telling you what to do is the needed kick in the ass. I once rounded up a few of my sober friends for one of those BYOB painting classes. With seltzers and tea in hand, we followed along with the instructor until we had a finished product.
The class gave me the opportunity to feel what it was like to create again, which at the time was something I was afraid of experiencing in sobriety. It was exactly what I needed to get the creative juices flowing.
Without alcohol or drugs to numb our minds, we have to find other ways to clear the neural pathways of clutter. Our thoughts can be loud and overwhelming, and it can feel impossible to cut through the noise. But we need some peace in our heads to be able to create.
Freewriting might be the answer. You don’t have to be a writer to do this. Painters, musicians, crocheters — anyone can use this process to clear up some mental space. What you’re doing is essentially a brain dump. You write down whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense. Grammar and punctuation mean nothing. You’re simply creating the space by getting what’s in your brain out and onto paper. You are physically clearing the space. Yes, it’s uncomfortable at first. You’ll likely write something like, “Wow this is so stupid,” on that piece of paper as you freewrite. Keep going.
Eventually, you’ll clear out the extraneous thoughts and more coherent, creative musings will come to you.
With the television on and our cell phones in hand, we’re constantly bombarded with some sort of stimulation. Our brains weren’t wired for this kind of constant inundation. Being filled with everyone else’s photos, social media posts, writing, and ideas doesn’t leave any space for our own ideas.
We actually need boredom to foster creativity. Constant stimulation isn’t helping at all. One of the ways you can combat constant stimulation is to turn the devices off. This isn’t going to be easy. It’s pretty well documented that many of us are definitely misusing our smartphones (and probably our other devices, too.
Forget About Inspiration
So many of us say that we have to wait for inspiration to strike before we can create. I’m guilty. What I’ve found over time, though, is that being intentional in our creating whether or not we feeling inspired — writing, painting, pulling out the guitar and strumming a few chords — is what breeds more inspiration.
Yes, there are absolutely times when I’m overcome with an idea that I have to write down and run with, but most of the time, I’m inviting inspiration in by creating the space in my life to write or paint. Yeah, routine seems counterintuitive to inspiration, but I’d argue that the opposite might be true for most of us. When I set aside 30 minutes a day to work on some piece of writing or painting just for sake of it, I’m making it a priority. If I don’t do this, and I wait for inspiration to hit, I’ll likely be too busy to do anything about it. I learned this from one of my creative writing professors and it has yet to fail me when I apply it.
In this way, creativity is a lot like recovery. We often take action before we feel like it. We quit drinking even though we don’t know how to. We follow a path or program or expert and do the things that lead to a sober life prior to motivation kicking in and before we know it, a life of recovery is what we’re living. A creative life is much the same— possible, probable when we work at it, and immensely gratifying.