Expressive art therapy for addiction

Expressive art therapy can be a gift to addicts and alcoholics in recovery. We talk to Parker Lanier, an artist in recovery, about his work, the creative and expressive process. Learn HOW YOU CAN use expressive art therapy in a personal addiction recovery program here.

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ADDICTION BLOG: Hi, Parker. LOVE your work. I personally find it funky and original and inspiring. And just so personal and general at the same time. Kudos.  You’ve been sober for about 8-9 years, right? You’ve said that your creativity definitely appeared after you got sober. To quote you from the members page of the No Depression social network for music, you say, “When I got sober, I started drawing and now I cant stop.” What inspired you to first pick up art supplies and to start using art as a way to express recovery from alcoholism?

My sponsor used to tell me that if I stopped drinking and worked this program to the best of my ability things would happen in my life that I couldn’t even dream of, Of course I wanted to know what, what, what kind of things? I know now it doesn’t work that way, it is Faith. Trust the process. I guess the flowering of my creativity and the lives that have touched me because of it have been ONE of the many pleasant surprises I have known in sobriety.

I would like to tell you that I had some kind of creative “moment of clarity” but as with most things it came from doing something I wasn’t comfortable doing. My old school sponsor pushed me and had me do things I did not want to do. He said that was essential in changing the way I looked at my role in the world. One day he said he thought I should keep a journal of my meetings, thoughts, problems fear etc. After I pitched a bitch, I went to the store and bought myself a fancy new leather-bound journal. Being “King-shit of Turd Mountain”, I had to have a fancy journal. If I could have afforded a Mont Blanc pen I probably would have bought one of those too. As you may have guessed, I didn’t write much but I started drawing the other funny drunks and addicts in my meetings. I wasn’t really a doodler as a child. I do remember my dad would always turn a paper placemat over at a restaurant and draw the outline of an old car. He would then pass it around the table and we would add funny things to it. It passed the time till the food got there. Another hidden inspiration may have come from a book of Rube Goldberg cartoons my Uncle Charles would study with me. Of course MAD Magazine was a big influence as well.

It seems that producing art around the theme of recovery has become a way of life for you. Would you say that this is true? If so, what source of inspiration do you return to create images based on the theme of recovery from addiction? What motivates or inspires you day after day, month after month, year after year to produce art?

: Recovery and a good program of sobriety has been the most significant thing I have ever accomplished. When I completely surrendered and turned my will and life over to my higher power I became and instrument of Him. At the risk of sounding like the Reverend Howard Finster, I really think it is just an organic, visionary gift. I do thoroughly enjoy documenting what is was like, what happened and what its like now. I discuss this with old timers including my sponsor and they pretty much say we all carry the message differently.

ADDICTION BLOG: Do you think that art should be a “practice”, or should pieces of art come when they come, without pressure. In other words, is it more useful to commit to the process of art and keep creating work on a regular basis, or is it more useful to wait for inspiration and create from a compelling space inside yourself?

There is no doubt that I am obsessive about my drawing but hey, I am an alcoholic, that’s what we do. It is in many ways a daily habit that I would miss but it is also extremely cleansing and therapeutic. It gives me time to think about my life. I guess to answer your question, it is a bit of a habit that so far as not lacked inspiration. I usually do not know where a drawing is going to go until I am half way in to it. I draw in roller ball pen and color my stuff with Sharpies. No sketches. I work without a net so to speak.

ADDICTION BLOG: In your opinion, is there any thought or reading or experience required in order to start expressing recovery through art?

Absolutely not. Just start creating. Pick a medium and let it pour out. If you are so moved, eventually you will develop a style that is all your own. Just like your recovery program.

ADDICTION BLOG: Also, what would you say to someone in early recovery who is looking to art as a way to enhance recovery? Any words of wisdom on how to access inspiration? Do you have any tips or suggestions for getting started? What tools will a person need? And given that we addicts and alcoholics tend to be really hard on ourselves or set very high ideals….what kind of realistic expectations can we have when we first start exploring artistic expression?

Open your eyes and your ears, close your mouth and approach this with gratitude. Like most “outsider” artists I started off creating my stuff just for me or to show people at meetings. Wear the world like a loose garment and people will be drawn to you. I really think “principles over personalities” comes into play here somehow. If we are happy in our own artistic skin people recognize it just like the rest of recovery.

ADDICTION BLOG: Finally, what online groups, websites, or media channels can addicts and alcoholics in recovery join in order to network with other artists in recovery?

This is growing everyday online, in print and in “real” life. John Hopkins Medical school just produced a new book which you have reviewed called Addiction and Art, I was blessed to have been chosen to participate. Also, to be released soon is a documentary called Bette: The Life and Death of an Alcoholic. My art was used to illustrate passages in it. It is really a remarkable piece of work that illustrates the different struggles women have with alcoholism.  Look for a link soon on my outsider art recovery blog.  The blog also has a quite extensive list of links.  Facebook is a great source as well.

ADDICTION BLOG: Anything else that you want to say, here’s the space…

Not a day goes by that I am not more amazed at my sober life. If I can do it, anyone can. Stop drinking, go to meetings, call another alcoholic, work the steps to the best of your ability with a loving sponsor, help people and develop your own relationship with your higher power one day at a time. Then let the world come to you and see where it takes you.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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