Nov 21, 2017 | By Emilie Modaff

The Art of Being A Sober Artist

Marijuana Addiction Personal Addiction Recovery Stories Recovery


The incredible thing about my sobriety has been its effect on my artistic process. What a damn relief to see a project through to the end. That never happened before. My greatest talent was not finishing what I started. And what a blessing to be able to appreciate others’ growth and success. To watch my friends slay the game while still trusting that my journey, though slower, is my own. A very big part of me feels lucky to have maintained my career throughout my struggles with addiction. Many lose everything. Many don’t recover. This isn’t to say that being an artist in this city is comfortable for me as a sober person. This is to say that I need to remind myself how lucky I am to be alive enough to have an artistic process.

The artists I know can drink like fish (do fish even drink, though? This is a weird expression). The moment the curtain is closed, the bottles are opened. Everything is warm and comforting and we are best friends. We promise to call each other after the show ends. We exchange phone numbers and develop show-mances and it’s all very dreamy. The stark reality is that cast parties and performances are where I made some of my worst decisions. Who told me it was a good idea to sleep with someone I perform with…or two or three? WHO TOLD ME THAT? What possessed me to get so drunk I spent next evening’s pre-show puking in the bathroom. What was I thinking switching out prop alcohol for real alcohol? Dumb. All of that was dumb. Nevertheless, it led me to discover the following things about myself, my boundaries, and my needs:

Reasons why I struggle being sober in the arts community:

  1. I want to be cool. God, I want to be cool so badly. Much of my addiction stems from this intrinsic need to be a cool kid. I can only hope that, as I age, I learn to give less of a shit. Until then, I find myself resenting my fellow artists who can bond over beers, stooped on barstools forming friendships I perceive I’ll never have.
  2. The struggling, addicted artist archetype. Hemingway, Cobain, Joplin, Winehouse. How I love them. They didn’t inspire me to use-that was a choice i made on my own. But they did give me an illogical excuse to blame my habits on my artistic process. “Oh, I totally write better music when I’m drunk.” “Yeah, Adderall makes it easier to focus in rehearsal.” “I find that taking a shot before an audition makes for a better performance.” Dumb. So dumb.
  3. Pressure is real. Ya’ll, I thought peer pressure dissipated with age but that was a damn lie. The amount of times I’ve been told that having one drink won’t kill me is absurd. Listen–it will kill me because one drink will lead to 10 will lead to enough weed for 6 grown folks will lead to coke will lead to dangerous sex will lead to me being a person you really don’t want to know. At this point, I’ve resorted to walking away when my sobriety is questioned. Interrogation about my well-being and personal choices are a waste of my precious time (and yours, honestly).

Reasons why I love being sober in the arts community

  1. Very often, a fellow artist will timidly contact me saying “me too. Help me.” I know ya’ll are out there, silently sipping your whiskey telling yourselves this will be the last time you drink, only to find yourself sipping whiskey the next night because it’s safe and comfortable and makes you feel a part of. I am here for you.
  2. My art is better. My music is more honest, my performances are more grounded, my ability to access my emotions is simultaneously refreshing and alarming. Who would have thought that refraining from drinking myself into a blackout and snorting coke for breakfast would result in better quality work. Weird.
  3. I have the energy to show up for myself and my collaborators. You work more when you’re dependable, kind, grateful and considerate of collaborators. Stop with that diva shit. I don’t care if you’re an addict or not. Treat people with kindness and show gratitude whenever you can.

Tips for maintaining your sobriety in the artistic sphere

  1. Daily maintenance. There are no off days in sobriety, sorry! Find your routine and stick to it. When you ground yourself in the morning it carries on throughout your day, allowing you to manage difficult situations with more bravery and focus. My routine consists of morning quiet time and a nice little chat with the universe, a big glass of water, and a short AA literature reading. I’ve been terrible about doing this lately and I feel the effects. Do as I say, not as I do.
  2. Stop comparing yourself to normies. This is like comparing a tree to a dog and getting upset that they don’t behave the same way. Stop it. Replace your tendency to compare yourself to those who can use casually with a tendency to compare your present self to your past self. Remember who you were and be grateful for where you are now. Also, it’s possible to hug yourself. Give that a try.
  3. Make more art. Have a craving? Make art. Feeling resentful? Make art. Want to lash out? Make art. Make art. Make art. Make art. Make art. Still feeling bad? Make art, you beautiful artist, you!
  4. Have a sober family. Being able to reach out to other sober people can mean the difference between a relapse and another day spent sober. I don’t know a lot of sober artists but I do know a lot of sober humans, and I utilize their kindness as much as possible.

You can exist as a sober artist if you want it. Addiction takes and takes and takes. To lose your art is to lose yourself and I don’t want that for you, friend.

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