Being creative without drugs
Addiction recovery and being creative without drugs
By Ted Brown, Singer, Songwriter, and Former Addict
From the first time I used drugs, I thought that being high (no matter what the drug) fueled my creative process and that I needed drugs to function as an artist. Over my 15 year career, I wore out this theory by creating total unmanageability in my life and sabotaging the career that drugs had supposedly allowed me to pursue. By the time I finally got help for drug and alcohol problems, I was convinced that my career as a musician, singer and songwriter was over. After eight years of heroin addiction — broken promises, fractured relationships, total unreliability as well as complete physical and emotional degradation — I was pretty certain that I couldn’t go back to music, that it was somehow too synonymous with my using.
I had enjoyed some modest successes as an artist: made music videos, had some releases through an independent label, I’d even won a music award in my native New Zealand. But any achievements had been overshadowed by my addiction and the daily grind of finding ways and means to get more. When I finally hit my rock bottom in 2000 (for the umpteenth time!) I was ready to try anything to stop the pain, even if it meant giving up on my musical dreams.
I attended an 18-week inpatient treatment program and spent a lot of that time wondering what my life would be like without drugs. Would I have to change careers? If so, what would I do? Would I ever have fun again? Could I even operate in society without getting loaded?! It all seemed too much to deal with, but with some help I was able to see that all I needed to do was take it one day at a time and I would be OK. I really took that advice to heart… every time I felt like using, I would say to myself, “If I still feel this way tomorrow, I can use then.” After a few weeks, I noticed that my obsession to use had lifted and I experienced a feeling of freedom that I hadn’t felt for many years.
Music as meditation
I eventually came to realize that despite what I thought, music was a more powerful force in my life than I could resist. It was my meditation, my prayer, a life line that had kept me tethered to the world even in my darkest hours. I was compelled to play and sing, so within a few months of getting sober I was back playing, this time as guitarist, background vocalist and co-writer in my friend’s band. Within three years I had contributed to two albums and traveled around the world playing music. In spite of my fears, my dreams and ambitions had been reawakened in recovery, and I was able to channel those feelings of desperation, loss, and hopelessness, as well as hope, relief, and sometimes even joy, into my songwriting.
In 2007, I made my first full-length solo album, something I was never able to achieve while I was in active addiction. I shot two videos for songs from that album working with a good friend and director who had also been my first sponsor in the program. I did press and interviews for that record, but I was always careful to skirt around my story of addiction and recovery, partly because I didn’t want to make it a selling point, but mostly because I still felt ashamed of my addiction and the behavior that had gone with it. In my tenth year of sobriety, after many years of writing and performing as a clean addict, I had finally written the songs that spoke directly to my experiences with addiction and recovery. In 2011 I went back into the studio to begin tracking a new record and in October 2012 completed the ten songs that make up An Unwide Road. Songs like “Bringing My Past Back (but not to haunt me)” refer directly to working the steps and looking at my past so that I can move forward, while “Love Is..” adresses the important things in life and how they can be overshadowed by looking for fulfillment in material possessions, substances and obsessions.
Sobriety gives freedom, focus, and strength
Addiction can be overcome. I used to believe that drugs were what allowed me to be creative. In recovery, I have discovered that the opposite is true: I have now been given the freedom, focus and perseverance that have led me to discover my true voice. Recovery has been an amazing adventure, including ups and downs, successes and disappointments, joys and challenges… and every sober day represents an incredible new beginning for which I am truly grateful.
Photo credit: Difei Li