“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.”
“Writing is so difficult, that if it doesn’t heal you in the doing of it it isn’t worth the trouble.”
That is a quote by massage therapist, author, artist and teacher Cynthia Waring.
In her book and one-woman play, both titled “Bodies Unbound”, she relates the story of her life and growth as a therapist and artist, her journey of self-discovery and healing from childhood trauma and abuse.
In the process, she invites the audience and reader to see how ordinary life is the perfect process for transformation and actualization.
It may be advice often given to writers, but is the idea to “write what you know” always understood, and valuable for creating good work?
In his post “Write what you know” – the most misunderstood piece of good advice, ever., Jason Gots comments that writer Nathan Englander “says that ‘write what you know’ is one of the best and most misunderstood pieces of advice, ever.
“It paralyzes aspiring authors into thinking that authenticity in fiction means thinly veiled autobiography. If you’re a drunken, brawling adventurer, like Hemingway, no problem.
“But Englander, who grew up in the Orthodox Jewish community of West Hempstead, New York, says he spent a lot of his childhood watching TV, playing videogames, and dreaming about being a writer. Was he required to write about the Atari 2600?”
Cheryl Arutt, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, specializing in trauma recovery, fertility and creative artist issues.
In our recent interview, she talked about a number of topics that affect actors and other creative people.
“Bad boy” images and acting-out
Actors and actresses with “bad boy” or “troubled” images, or problems with issues of anger and acting out, have included Christian Bale, Shia Labeouf and many other talented performers.
Dr. Arutt notes this kind of behavior is based on underlying emotional challenges, and that people (not just actors and performers) “Aren’t doing it to have fun.”
[Continued from Part 1]
Creative work reflects your state of mind
Painter Gayle Stott Lowry also talks about attending a program at the Lucy Daniels Foundation:
“I attended Lucy’s class on Dreams and Creativity, and during a presentation I made to the class about my work, I began to see that changes in my painting were paralleling my personal life and giving me direct feedback about my emotional state.
“My calm landscapes became more melancholy, lighting changed from sunny daylit scenes to sunset, dusk, and eventually, night time.”
[See her photo in Part 1.]
This is one of the values of creative expression for self-awareness and healing: our work can reflect back to us qualities of our state of mind when creating.
Lena Dunham is the creator, executive producer, and one of the stars of the HBO series “Girls” about four young women living in New York. She bases the acclaimed show on many of her own experiences.
In a newspaper interview, she was asked, “How do you manage an awareness of the pitfalls of your age while you’re still in the midst of it?”
Dunham: “I’ve been in therapy since I was 7; that’s probably helpful. The way I process my experiences is to translate them into some artistic form. I don’t know another way to get through them.”
“Life without pain isn’t real at all.” Shia LaBeouf
Many people have had traumatic childhoods, and are drawn to creative expression as part of their way to deal with it, to heal and regain self esteem.
A number of talented actors have suffered traumatic experiences, including Ashley Judd, who was sexually abused; Charlize Theron, as a teen, saw her mother shoot her father in self defense; James Dean lost his mother to cancer when he was nine, and reportedly once told Elizabeth Taylor that he was sexually abused by a minister.
Shia LaBeouf started acting at age 12 to support his mother when his heroin-addicted father abandoned the family.
LaBeouf has said he was subjected to verbal and mental abuse by his father, who once pointed a gun at him during a Vietnam War flashback.
Depression impacts many people, including artists.
A fairly long list of visual artists who died by suicide includes photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971), painters Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), Mark Rothko (1903-1970), Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), and possibly Frida Kahlo (1907-1954).
From listing: Artists Who Committed Suicide.
Creating art can be a powerful way to deal with depression and other mental health challenges.
Artist Marlene Azoulai says she was “first introduced to Art Therapy while in a psychiatric institution. There, I learned that when there are no words, there can be pictures. I learned that an artist is not necessarily someone who has studied art, but one who has something to say, and the courage to say it.
“I learned that an artist is someone who makes art to save her life.”
Therapist Natalie Rogers says that “using the expressive arts gives people a safe place to explore their shadow side… The shadow is the part we have repressed in our lives. Some people have denied their anger and rage for a lifetime.”
From my post Creative Expression and Healing.
“The work talks about what people don’t talk about – what people are afraid to say.”
That is a quote by Clara Lieu, a visual artist and professor at the Rhode Island School of Design; she is referring to her projects, especially “Falling” – a series of fifty self-portrait drawings that visually represent her personal experience with depression and anxiety.
“I think I’ve spent my adult life dealing with the sense of low self-esteem that sort of implanted in me. Somehow I felt not worthy.”
She recalls being terrified that her violent father, who physically abused her mother, would turn on her.
One of the consequences for many people who suffer abuse and trauma is a corrosion of their self esteem. Recovering can be a long, even ongoing process.
Berry explained, “Before I’m ‘Halle Berry,’ I’m little Halle…a little girl growing in this environment that damaged me…I’ve spent my adult life trying to really heal from that.”
“I learned that an artist is someone who makes art to save her life.” Marlene Azoulai
Creative expression can transform our painful reactions to traumatic situations, providing renewed strength of our identity and a way to give voice to difficult feelings.
Art that we create – or even made by others – can remodel our inner realities.
Charlize Theron as a teen saw her mother shoot her father in self defense.
She said in a 2004 interview that her work has helped her deal with it: “I think acting has healed me. I get to let it out. I get to say it and feel it in my work and I think that’s why I don’t go through my life walking with this thing, and suffering.”
In a later newspaper interview she added more perspectives: “People want to think that I am this tortured soul, that my work is drawn only from this one well.
“And though I would never sit here and say that it didn’t mark me, or mould me into the person that I am, my life has had many painful journeys and heartbreaks since my father died, many of which I draw on for my work.”