It’s tempting to follow in the footsteps of great writers who used alcohol or other substances to boost their productivity. Tempting, maybe, but also long term most likely not such a great idea.
“Write drunk. Edit sober.”
This quote has been attributed to Hemingway, but the that’s been disputed. Regardless, it gives you an idea why writers do it. That first draft is so agonizing to get on paper. Staring at the blank page fills many writers with fear. Writing (drunk or high) can lower your inhibitions while you get it down for the first time.
Should you have trouble avoiding this temptation, be warned. While writing drunk and editing sober might work for a while on some level, think about the long term. All that drinking, or all those drugs, can affect your grasp on reality, your performance as a writer, your general level of functioning – not to mention your liver.
Why do writers have the worst track record of recovery in Hollywood?
Why is it worse for writers? Why is it harder to get sober for other creative professionals in town, like directors, producers, actors, rock musicians; and in another category… agents. Why? Because, all those performers and cut-throat business people, they’re on view every day, doing their work.
If they drink, everybody knows about it. If they drink on the set, people will smell the booze. If they smoke pot in their trailer, people will smell that, too. Too many witnesses.
Writers, on the other hand, can write in the privacy of their own homes, stoned, drunk or both. They don’t have to clock in. They can write all night. They can drink scotch and pop a handful of pills first thing in the morning. Nobody will be the wiser.
When do you decide to clean up your act? You’ll know when it’s time. Your life will start falling apart. You might be hiding your addiction from others in your life. You might have trouble paying the bills. You might not show up to meetings on time. Even worse, you could get a DUI. Speaking of which, why do people still get DUI’s when there’s Uber?
Reaching the decision to quit drinking or using drugs is the most important step in the process of recovery. If you’ve reached this decision and have time, you might need to be treated in a residential rehab for anywhere from 28 to 90 days.
Success in treatment involves developing a new way of life, with sober friends and supporters. It also involves getting to the cause of the addiction, and work towards removing that cause as a reason to self-medicate.
You’ll have to develop healthy ways of managing stress in this new way of life. If writing is a trigger, as it is for perfectionists, for example, getting sober will be a more difficult task.
The more positive influences in your life, the easier it’ll be to quit.
That means a supportive family, a supportive spouse, especially, and hopefully a 12 Step group with a sponsor you can call 24/7. You’re better off not being around old friends who still drink or use drugs, especially at first.
Conditions such as stress, isolation, frustration, anger, shame, anxiety and hopelessness will remain in your life even when you’re not using the drugs to cover them up. You’ll have to process these emotions without a crutch.
Having a 12 Step group and a therapist to guide you through the 12 Steps will be your best approach. Yoga, yoga-breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation will also be helpful in coping with stressful emotions, now that drinking or drugs is not an option. You have to relax without a pill, or a drink.
When cravings occur, it will help to redirect thoughts and take part in distracting activities, such as hobbies, reading, movies, jogging or biking, and calling your sponsor.
You’ll have to stay with the craving until it goes away, sometimes called “urge-surfing.” You’ll have to put thought stopping and redirecting to the test. You’ll need structure, hopefully a job, or exercise, and meaningful goals, which will eventually replace substance abuse in your life.
Most difficult, if you were drinking or using to get through a first draft, you’ll have to learn other, safer rituals to replace drugs and alcohol.
The “maintenance phase” of recovery is a time of practicing, how not to relapse, or what to do if you do relapse. Relapses are triggered by negative emotional states, physical discomfort, even positive emotions with a sense of “celebration.”
Other triggers include strong cravings, conflict with others, peer pressure and even celebrations where others are drinking, but you can’t.
In short, bad news can trigger substance abuse, and good new can, too.
The life of a writer is filled with isolation, insane deadlines, missed opportunities, rejection and burnout. There are good times, too. However, no writer ever avoids rejection or deadlines.
Those events can all trigger drinking or substance abuse. So be careful choosing your writing rituals. There might be a heavy price to pay. You might be better served to rethink your lifestyle and deal with the stress of writing in different, safer ways.