“Basically, I’d been fairly drunk or high since I was 14.” Colin Farrell
Why do so many creative people use and abuse drugs, often to the point of addiction?
There is of course no easy answer, but one of the factors for many people may be childhood trauma.
In his article Emotional Trauma: An Often Overlooked Root of Addiction, David Sack, M.D. writes, “A history of childhood neglect or sexual, physical or emotional abuse is common among people undergoing treatment for alcoholism and may be a factor in the development of alcohol use disorders…
“Trauma has been associated not only with drug addiction but also overeating, compulsive sexual behavior and other types of addictions.”
Another article notes, “Children who have a history of abuse, neglect, or trauma may exhibit oppositional behavior as a response to their experiences. Experiencing any kind of traumatic event increases a child’s likelihood of acting out, as they must cope with challenging feelings, thoughts, and memories.”
So many people experience unwanted sexual contact, rape and other forms of sexual abuse.
And they often help deal with the aftermath through creative expression, perhaps using art therapy, but more often some other form of creative self-expression.
One of many articles on the topic here on Psych Central, Mental Disorders Often Follow Sexual Abuse by Rick Nauert PhD, reports: “Researchers have discovered that a history of sexual abuse is frequently linked with a lifetime diagnosis of multiple psychiatric disorders…this association held true regardless of the victim’s gender or age when the abuse occurred.”
There are many references and articles on “healing” from sexual abuse and other kinds of trauma, but it is important to keep in mind the emotional and spiritual impacts may endure, at least to some degree; dealing with abuse is not like healing a broken bone.
But experiencing abuse of any kind also does not make us “damaged goods” – see actor Teri Hatcher’s comments below.
The painting is a self portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653). An article notes she was raped by an art tutor of hers, followed by a “highly publicised seven-month trial. This event makes up the central theme of a controversial French film, Artemisia (1998), directed by Agnes Merlet.
How important is it to identify yourself as an artist – to others, and especially to yourself?
What if you don’t get awards for your creative work? What if it isn’t even seen by others?
Are you still an artist if you are doing something else for survival?
Psychologist Robert Maurer has worked with many creative people and researches the dynamics of success. He comments:
“The people who love their craft and see themselves as artists, and carry that identity through and study each day… are the people who thrive. To me, that’s the only definition of success that matters.”
[Continued from Part 1]
Musician Henry Rollins commented about being a performer and staying healthy on road tours:
“Eating well is becoming easier on the road as more places are health conscious. Gyms are easy to find anywhere there’s electricity and traffic.
“Time is the hard part. I do my best and I learned a long time ago that without recuperative sleep, good nutrition and constant exercise, this high stress lifestyle of traveling, etc. quickly takes a toll. I just see it as a very important thing and make sure I get it done.”
From my article Taking Care of Your Creative Self.
Good self-care is taking steps daily, even hourly, to stay replenished with the energy and positive attitude needed to be productively creative.
One way is to slow down or shift our thinking about having “too much to do.”
Entrepreneur coach Molly Gordon writes about this kind of shift:
“Life is about courage and going into the unknown.” Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
The movie is a celebration of the wonderful diversity of people and places on Earth, and pursuing ideas with courage, even if most of the pursuit by Mitty is in his imagination.
It is based on a story by James Thurber (by the way, he hated the 1947 movie version, according to Turner Classic Movies), who said:
“Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.”
Ben Stiller stars in and directs this version, which a writer summarizes as being about “an ordinary man with an extraordinarily active imagination” who embarks “on a globe-trotting adventure that ultimately trumps anything in his daydreams.”
As a child or teenager, we were perhaps more freely creative, but as supposed “grown-ups” we face fears and uncertainties about our talents, or the marketplace value of a particular form of expression, or what our investing in a project means – both for us, and others.
Some forms of creative work may have structures and guidelines to follow, at least during some stages, but at some point the venture is, well, creative. You need to make things up.
There can be many inner threats and challenges to all these aspects of creating.
Author Milli Thornton describes one example: a CPA who kept shutting off his dream to write.
“Art work is ordinary work, but it takes courage to embrace that work.”
That is a quote from the book “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking,” by two artists: David Bayles and Ted Orland. They also point out, “Artists become veteran artists only by making peace not just with themselves, but with a huge range of issues.”
Actor and teacher Jeffrey Tambor describes how fear can impact presence and creativity in performances and auditions, and how to shift the experience of fear.
He notes, “We are all fear-based creatures. And fear can be the great killer. It kills your original impulses, your creativity, and it kills desire. Rather than deny fear, we have to find new ways of dealing with it. We actually have to dance with it, so to speak.”
[Continued from Part 1]
“The practice of any art isn’t to make a living, it’s to make your soul grow.”
To be creative at times feels like an almost effortless flow, but creative work may also require a high level of courage and boldness – even to make the choice to do something creative.
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
That quote (attributed to both Leonardo da Vinci and Picasso) is most likely about the process of creating a piece of work – but what about abandoning even the attempt to create something: a painting, novel, smart phone app, new business, or anything substantial?
What if your talents and intelligence have gained success for you in an area that is not particularly creative, but still, deep down, you have a passion to create?
Did you enjoy creating early in life? What stops us from continuing that pleasure? There are, of course, a number of reasons.
In her book The Gifted Adult, Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, PsyD, for example, writes about an experience in fifth grade when her teacher “shredded” a poem she had written:
“She insisted I had copied it from a book, humiliating me in front of the class by bellowing, ‘No one your age could have written such a thing. Shame on you.’ I learned that expressing myself was a dangerous thing to do. Becoming a person of few words was difficult for an enthusiastic extrovert such as myself.”