Famous authors, painters, and philosophical thinkers have struggled with addiction throughout history. Edgar Allan Poe famously battled personal demons and took too often to the drink and the drug. He exclaimed, “ I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.” Poe, like other artists, was haunted by creative, demonic imagery that plagued him, yet possibly gave him the ability to write so poetically.
Let’s observe Poe’s words for a moment. He wanted to escape from memories, from a lonely heart, and from some preconceived, imagined doom that probably didn’t have a basis in reality. His memories, while certainly painful, most likely became more painful because of his vivid imagination. His loneliness perhaps stemmed from an overly vivid imagination that left him feeling ostracized from other people. His feeling that something terrible might happen to him was a result of his overly zealous “fight or flight” response brought on by a vivid imagination.
In essence, Poe suffered from an overly active, creative mind that became too much for him to handle. It caused him nightmares. Many alcoholics and addicts tend to say, “My thinking is the problem.” In an AA meeting at a local Orange County chapter, a man told a story about how terrified he was just to go to a movie. “I wanted to see the movie. I was excited to see it and hang out with my friends. But the thought of sitting in the theater for hours without being able to escape led me to feel great, indescribable fear. I ended up going and had a great time. But I still felt anxious throughout the movie regardless.” So what’s going on here? Why do addicts feel anxious and unsettled in their own skin?
One recovering addict explained that if he no longer used his creativity in a productive way, he began to move in a dark direction. “Throughout my life, my creativity in a way has been like an escape. A little place of my own where I can make stories. Then I stopped writing. I wasn’t inspired anymore. I used my favorite vices to calm the need within to write but I couldn’t.”
This is an interesting line of thought. When the addictive, creative mind stops using his or her talents, they have to fill the void with other things. The creative writer, author, or painter has a God-given obligation, in a sense, to produce work. However, this type of production can often hit a stalemate and be too much of a pressure on the addict himself. We get distracted by other things in life, like the fact that creativity doesn’t always pay the bills. We get “real” jobs that involve sitting at desks. We get bored. We begin to do drugs because we aren’t creating what God intended for us to create. We feel guilty. We feel empty inside.
Many of us assume that we are better at writing, drawing, and thinking when we are loaded. To an extent, this may have some basis in reality, which would explain why so many famous authors continued to abuse drugs and alcohol as they were churning out books like Alice in Wonderland. But truly, drugs and alcohol don’t make one more creative; they just serve as a stimulant when our emotional turmoil inside is hindering our own creativity. In other words, if we can resolve the problems that causes us to have “writer’s block”, then we won’t need alcohol or drugs anymore to paint, draw, or write.
Others argue that there is no direct correlation between addiction and creativity. A prominent neuroscientist stated that, “No I don’t think there is a link between creativity and addiction per se. There is a link between addiction and things that are a prerequisite for creativity. We don’t even know all the genes involved in conferring addiction risk. But the ones we do know have to do with the signaling of the neurotransmitter dopamine for pleasure and reward. Addicts feel pleasures more weakly and are more likely to achieve more. This blunted dopamine hypothesis is supported by brain-imaging studies and biochemistry tests in rats and monkeys. It also holds for addictions to food, sex and gambling.”
In other words, the theory states that addicts need more stimulation to receive pleasure than other people might need. In theory, this makes sense. If someone is creative, they use more of their imagination than someone who thinks in a more linear fashion. They need more exciting movies, more frightening roller coasters, and more tumultuous relationships. In a sense, they need a bigger “high” to feel alive, even if it has nothing to do with alcohol or drugs. This is why many recovering addicts who are sober from drugs and alcohol sometimes continue to shoplift or have sexual fetishes and addictions. What would be enough in life to satisfy a normal, non creative addict is not enough stimulation to ease the creative, addictive mindset.
All of this gives us food for thought. The bottom line is that no creative person should use any of this as an excuse for abusing drugs and alcohol. There are many healthy, exciting ways that creative men and women can use their talents without partaking in negative, destructive substances. And the chances are that a sober, creative thinker who has worked to resolve any issues that hinder their skill set will be much more the type of person that God created him or her to be.
Do you over think things, and tend to become overly anxious about that which you can’t control? Does your anxiety or depression cause you to drink or use drugs? Call Linda Rose at (949) 558-4723 today at Footprints Behavioral Health. Get started on your road map towards recovery now.