A collaborative piece with Mark Goodson, Laura Silverman, Aaron Lee Perry, Olivia Pennelle, Cristina Ferri, and Lara Frazier.
Intro by Lara:
One of the greatest honors in starting to write and be very, very public about my sobriety and recovery is being able to meet other artists and writers who are on the same path and the same journey.
Last month, I was introduced to several other writers while being part of a collaborative piece on Liv’s Recovery Kitchen. We have all decided to create a 12 series and release a new list of 12 things that have helped us in our sobriety on the 12th of every month. Last month, we wrote this piece on 12 Lessons We Have Learned in Sobriety. The host of each piece will pick the topic and the 6 writers will join forces to make magic. This month, I have chosen to ask: “What artists influenced your recovery?”
I have been thinking a lot about art and creativity and how it moves me again. How it influences me and inspires me. I lost touch with this side of my soul for many moons. But, recovery has reintroduced me to this innate connection that exists in nature and art and creativity. It is a drive to produce works of beauty that heal your soul.
THE 12 ARTISTS
I am excited to share our words and introduce you to a few beautiful people who will share their own connection to art and creativity and how it influenced their own recovery. The eclectic lists of artists we have chosen in no particular order include: Bob Dylan, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, Mike Ness, Rumi, Frida Kahlo, Rainer Maria Rilke, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jason Mraz, Jessica Lark, Justin Furstenfeld, and several Recovery Memoirists.
NOTE: Just as I have included the beautiful words of my fellow writers, I have also included the beautiful art of Aaron Lee Perry to add a special touch of design to this piece. All of Aaron's work will be cited.
By: Aaron Perry of SobrSoldier
My heroes and idols growing up were a collection of junkies, drunks and suicides. From Bukowski to Burroughs to Pollock to Dylan Thomas to Hemingway to the Velvet Underground. I loved art. I loved books. I loved music. I loved the underbelly of culture. It spoke to me like nothing else in the world ever did. I felt like I belonged. I was amongst friends. People that finally understood me and had the same thoughts as me. And it nearly killed me.
1. ERNEST HEMINGWAY
It wasn't long after I got out of detox a friend got me a new copy of The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I have, well had, a pretty large collection of books that I’ve collected over the years but due to the nature of losing my house and having to get out pretty much overnight I lost a lot of them, including my Hemingway collection. My friend could not have picked a better book than the one they did. The Old Man and the Sea was already one of my favorite books, but I had no idea how astounding and eye opening this re-reading of it would be. I also read the Big Book early in recovery and there is a lot of really good stuff in the Big Book, a lot of good lessons.
But The Old Man and the Sea to me is my Big Book. It is the essence of the struggle every man faces, the singular struggle to conquer himself. “..man is not made for defeat … A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
And facing the ultimate humility and fear along the way. “He was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.” Which is exactly the road I had ahead of me in early recovery. “Take a good rest, small bird," he said. "Then go in and take your chance like any man or bird or fish.”
2. MIKE NESS
I have listened to Mike Ness of Social Distortion for over 25 years but never really heard them until I got sober. On my way to IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) I turned them on and with clear ears, the revelation hit. Here was a man singing in the language that I knew and hearing lyrics written by someone I knew that had been thru it. Had lived it. Had beat it. In early recovery it was important for me to hear people like this because no one else, not even the best therapists in the world can understand addiction like an addict. Mike Ness fought his demons and battle with heroin and has been sober since the early 90’s. You can hear the absolute honesty and truth of a man who has found a better life in recovery in the music. And that honesty helped me heal immensely. There is a little of me in some songs and a lot of me in others.
“Well it's been ten years and a thousand tears
And look at the mess I'm in
A broken nose and a broken heart,
An empty bottle of gin
Well I sit and I pray
In my broken down Chevrolet
While I'm singin' to myself
There's got to be another way”
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By: Mark Goodson of The Miracle of The Mundane
3. SALVADOR DALI
A collection of Salvador Dali’s artwork sat in the shared space of the sober living residence. It was my first year in recovery. In my eight-month stay, I thumbed through the whole book. Being sober was surreal, so I appreciated his distortions of reality.
Take his most renowned work, “The Persistence of Memory.” I was re-discovering my past, getting to know myself better. It took me many a sober 24 hours to realize that hoarding pain medication all day in order to binge at night is not normal. My addiction invented these narratives in my head that were utter bullshit, and then forced me to believe they were true. When my denial starting to peel away, like slowly removing gauze sticking to a bloody wound, time felt molten, as his painting depicts—like my memories were melting away to reveal a naked, and true self.
4. BOB DYLAN
Define him as you will—songwriter, poet, folklorist—Dylan means a lot to my sobriety. For the sake of brevity, I will choose one song in particular called “My Back Pages.” Dylan reflects on his youthful stubbornness in 6 verses that each end with the lyric:
“I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”
I relate to feeling younger as I grow older. In fact, recovery felt like a timewarp back to when my growth as a man was arrested by alcohol use. In my first year, I felt like the 10 year old kid I was when I first discovered the drink, filled with insecurity and angst. And then I had to go through the stages of maturity that I had avoided all those years—facing life on life’s terms as they say.
Find more of Mark Goodson @ the Miracle of the Mundane
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By: Olivia Pennelle of Liv's Recovery Kitchen
5. RAINER MARIA RILKE
Rilke for Emergencies, translations of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry by Edward Snow, Stephen Mitchell and Joanna Macy.
My mum bought this book for me in my first year of sobriety and I absolutely adore it. It has been printed in a hand crafted book. Not only do I love the textured paper, but the words - Rilke evokes such emotion in me in a way that I can only describe as speaking in a language which my soul understands and soaks up right away. My heart feels full when I read his work. He wrote this poem, and I feel so comforted and soothed by it (below). It says to me that I’m not alone, life is really fucking tough and it speaks to the frightened child within me. He says:
“Nearby is this country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand"
6. ELIZABETH GILBERT
Big MAGIC : I read this quite recently, at a time when I was experiencing massive growth and the first blossoms of my writing were starting to emerge. Its truly magical. In many ways I have felt like I’m wandering around in the dark, unsure of my direction. Whilst I was struggling to catch my breath, I also felt somehow propelled forward. This book spoke to my soul; it swept me up, stroked my hair and strongly reinforced the message that I have a gift of creativity, and I have a responsibility to share it. And it said that I am to move forward, in spite of my fear - fear can come along for the ride, but it has no control over my direction, or decisions. For me, creativity is a fundamental aspect of my recovery; its the ability to express myself in a fluid way - whether its writing, drawing, cooking or colouring. Her most profound statement, for me, was this:
“We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun.”
Find more of Olivia Pennelle @ Liv's Recovery Kitchen
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By: Lara Frazier of A Story of Healing
As much as I love Rumi, I almost didn’t want to use him. I wanted to say Sharon Olds, or Ginsberg, or Bukowski or e.e cummings. I wanted to use any other writer than Rumi. Because, he is basically social media gold and so much of his work is being shared today and of course, me, who always wants to be unique and special, was begging for someone else to come to mind. But, it didn’t happen. There was no other writer who accompanied me in the way Rumi did during my early months of sobriety. He changed my world and he was the key that unlocked my belief in God.
Rumi and Jasmine Thompson’s voice were my nighttime rituals for many, many months. They kept me sane. Rumi introduced me to God. And I think God introduced me to Rumi. I was at a bookstore, around 5 months sober, on a date with some man who I thought would be my forever, after knowing him for 2 weeks. We were going to each buy each other a book. I picked up the Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks. Little did I know I was picking up my connection to spirituality and to a God I never knew. I just thought I was going to read some poetry on nights I couldn’t sleep.
I can’t even explain how Rumi writes about God, and loss, and grief and connection. It made me want to study Sufism. But mostly, it just made me realize that there was a God and He could take care of me. And I started trusting Rumi’s word, and in trusting Rumi, I started trusting God. This collection of poetry changed my life. And I will never, ever forget his words. They are highlighted and underlined and marked. And every time I talk to God, I know I speak to Rumi too.
“One moment I was at the bottom
of a dank, fearful narrowness, and the next,
I am not contained by this universe.
If every tip of every hair on me could speak,
I still couldn’t say my gratitude.
And in the middle of these streets and gardens, I stand and say
and say again, and it’s all I say.
I wish everyone
could know what I know.”
- Excerpt from Nasuh
8. FRIDA KAHLO
I don’t know many women who don’t hail to Frida. I am going to call her Frida, because I feel like we are friends. I was seventeen years old and graduating from high school when my creative writing teacher handed me a book. It was a collection of Frida’s paintings but included her story, and the story behind each painting. My creative writing teacher used to tell me I reminded her of Frida. And I didn’t quite understand it, but I was beyond honored.
It makes sense now. I know Frida had no intention to study art or make art her career. But, she was in a tragic bus accident that left her confined to her bed for several months. She suffered immense pain after this accident. She began to paint. She painted herself often. She said:
“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”
She was a woman who honored her truth and who painted and spoke about all those things in which women weren't supposed to speak about. She was real and authentic and vulnerable and honest. And I thought of her, in every moment of bravery and courage and pain and sadness. I thought of Frida during my addiction – asking why I gave up art for a career, asking why I gave into societal expectations of normality.
I know, when I was younger, I used to write openly. I discovered confessionalist poets and fell instantly in love. I wrote with ease and candor. I wrote with truth and vigor. I wrote and I wrote and I had no shame in admitting every single detail of any part of my life. I lost this ability during my addiction. I lost the ability to not feel shameful or ugly – I lost the ability to not feel failure.
When I got sober, Frida opened me back up. She told my story. She reminded me of my own beauty. And she led me back to my writing, to my words, to my first passion and my forever love. I can be brave because Frida is brave. I can tell my story of loss and addiction, of pain and heartache. But, I can tell my story proudly, knowing I am a warrior who overcame it all. Just like her. Just like Frida.
Find more of Lara Frazier @ www.larafrazier.com
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By: Cristina Perri of Sober Unicorn
9. JUSTIN FURSTENFELD
Lead Singer of Blue October
“Everyday I try to find a quiet spot and just focus on what I need to get done, what I need to do better, who I need to thank, who I need to pray for, and mostly connect for just a bit internally.”
To say that music is my life doesn’t quite exemplify that I would literally be lost without it. In early 2015, before I made the decision to get sober, I was in a very bad place. I lost someone close to me to an overdose and another person I loved dearly admitted to using and I took them to rehab. I was such a zombie. I knew that I couldn’t drink because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop if I had one drop. I also stopped listening to music. For about three months, I welcomed the silence because every song seemed to haunt me, sending me further into my zombie state. I’m not sure when it was, but one day I started scanning around on YouTube. I came across the Blue October song “Hate Me” which was his getting sober anthem to his mother. But then I found out that he had relapsed and was sober again and changed his life around… and there was new music about his new journey.
Listen to the song that saved my life here.
I listened to this song on repeat for about a week straight. I wasn’t sure where I was headed. But I finally had the one thing back in my life that I had lost… Hope. “Today, I don’t have to fall apart.” It was my first introduction to understanding living one day at a time. And for 383 days now I have continued to live one day at a time.
10. JESSICA LARK
Photographer @ www.jessicalark.com
“Be who YOU are, in a way that follows YOUR passion and talents, and leads you to YOUR purpose.”
After getting sober, I decided that I was going to try one more time to go into business for myself. I re-found my passion when I finally bought the camera I’ve been wanting to buy for a long time, but alcohol never let me. Being an artist, it’s always been a difficult thing for me to “like” other artists. No matter what format. I didn’t want to have other artist’s ideas seep into my brain and not be original. But somewhere along the journey, I realized that that thinking was utterly ridiculous. How can I learn and grow if I don’t see what others are doing? Especially in the field of photography, there’s always new technology and tips and tricks to make a shot your own. In doing research online one day, I came across Jessica’s Facebook page. I immediately began to follow her.
Here was the first image of Jessica’s that inspired me.
There are just some people that get what being an artist means. This woman is lovely and kind and so supportive to other photographers and I am honored to be able to learn from her.
Find more of Cristina Perri @ Sober Unicorn
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By: Laura Silverman of The Sobriety Collective
11. JASON MRAZ
Jason Mraz. A modern day “hippie”; a lover of love. Way back before he blew up on the mainstream charts, something about his voice, his melodies, his lyrics—they spoke to me in a way no other musician/artist ever had before. To put a timestamp on all of this: it was fall of 2002, way before my drinking got bad. In fact, I had only really recently discovered alcohol and what it could do for my state of mind (Quiet the noise! Feel [falsely] confident!).
I believe in love,
I still wish on,
I believe in love songs,
Yes, I think that they are real,
All you have to do is feel.
I believe in fate,
I believe in good things coming to those who wait.
- Jason Mraz, “One Find”
The lyrics above are from a totally out of print album. They’ve kept me company for years and surround me with warmth. They validate my struggles and fears and hopes and dreams and passions.
Ironically, my first alcohol poisoning hospitalization was in 2005 at a Jason Mraz concert. That’s another story for another day and *completely* unrelated to the vibes Jason emanates/ed. I was just in the beginning of the end of my drinking.
Meanwhile, I found a community of fellow Mraz lovers online (my first foray into Internet communities/friendships) and we traveled across the country following him and his band on tour. A few of the women I met through RKOP (Lisa and Holly) I’m still friends with to this day. They showed me what unconditional love and support really means—and they walked and guided me through that first raw, emotional, gut-wrenchingly beautiful first year of sobriety.
So thank you, Jason. Thank you for your music, your love, and your community. You’ve seen me at my best and worst and best again. You helped me get to where I am today.
PS: If/when I get married? You’re totally invited.
12. RECOVERY MEMOIRISTS
If it wasn’t for my own personal recovery journey (yes, it’s a journey, but that word is so overdone. Makes me think of a trek into the mountains with hobbits or something), I wouldn’t have found these enchanting voices. And maybe it’s borderline cheating (and unfair to each author) for me to do this, but I’m going to list my favorite recovery memoirists and their life-changing books, in no particular order.
Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood
Sacha Z. Scoblic
Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety
Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster
Drinking: A Love Story
*Koren’s book was the very first that made me gasp, ME TOO! Different stories, different trajectories, but it was like living my life in book form. I had just started my intensive outpatient rehab program and couldn’t think in terms of forever. Quitting for the rest of my life? I just knew I needed to get off the sauce for a few months and get my life back together. Whatever that meant. Smashed put a lens on my destructive behavior and connected me with a kindred spirit. For that, I’m eternally grateful. Spoiler alert: I’ve stayed “quit” since those early days. Going on nine consecutive years in July. And now that beautiful author and I are friends.
Life. It’s pretty damn magical, isn’t it?
NOTE: All ORIGINAL ART is credited to Aaron Lee Perry. His works can be found here