The Art of Recovery
By Gary Singh
IF ALL the books I initially acquired just for their titles, Eric Maisel's Staying Sane in the Arts was one that stuck with me. Maisel is a renowned therapist who specializes in the psychology of the creative person. He's written 30 books, delivered keynotes at numerous writers' conferences and regularly runs creative workshops in both Paris and San Francisco. Staying Sane was the first of his books I happened to come across. I yanked it out of the library during the winter of 2000 when I needed something to read while stuck at a humdrum job with way too much downtime.
At that juncture, my freelance writing existence had only been incubating a few years. After publishing a handful of articles, I was nowhere near making a living. Maisel's books helped my inner creative selves engage one another a little easier. For example, one section of Staying Sane provided a hypothetical list of 20 sources of creative blockage common to writers and, following the book's advice, I scribbled down how they related to me. For instance, Maisel wrote about how the myths and idealizations of being a writer can contribute to creative blockage: "The artist who waits to be inspired before beginning work may wait a very long time." Aha! I thought. That was just one of my quandaries during that time. Then came this: "The artist who goes out searching for community, dreaming of finding a modern-day Paris-of-the-Twenties, may wander endlessly." It's true. In fact, I'm still wandering around San Jose looking for a Paris of the Twenties, while ignoring the reality of the situation. Maisel's next sentence added more: "The artist who romanticizes his drinking, his self-abuse, his eccentricities, his differentness may lead himself down paths he comes to despise." Yikes. That one hit way too close to home. Of course, none of these ideas were revolutionary or anything, but at least they spiced up a few brain cells and moved me to reflect on my own situation.
Jump to 2008, and Maisel will hit Palo Alto for a book release party this weekend. His latest project, co-authored with Susan Raeburn, a professional in the addiction field, is an ambitious book called, Creative Recovery: A Complete Addiction Treatment Program That Uses Your Natural Creativity—an entire 300-page strategy designed for artists, writers, musicians and other creative types. The event takes place at a private home on Sunday.
In the book, the authors explain how your creative and individualist nature may actually increase your risks of addiction, and how to enlist that very nature in your recovery process, should you develop a problem. For example, many creative types have a strong thirst for the freedom of uniqueness, are never completely satisfied with their art, get bored easily or generally become demoralized and frustrated by any sense of underachievement—all of which can amplify a risk of addiction. So Maisel and Raeburn lay out a detailed plan, including specific tips and exercises for approaching your recovery the same way you approach your art—and then provide instructions for creating art that actually aids your recovery. So hear them when they declare: "We want to present you with a recovery program that takes into account your individuality, your creative aspirations, your oppositional edge, your drive, and the other personality qualities that make you the person you are." Now that is righteous.
Most importantly, Creative Recovery is not intended to replace another recovery program if you're currently in one; rather, it should function like a vitamin and supplement package, especially if your natural uniqueness and your confrontational prowess are blocking you from reaping the benefits of group-oriented recovery. So if you still crave the bottle because you're an artiste and everyone else just doesn't understand, this book will show you how to deal with your addiction while still honoring your creative nature. To attend the book release party, contact the author for directions: firstname.lastname@example.org.