It was my first expressive art therapy group after Tranquil Shores readmitted me. The theme was grief / loss… and I chose to paint a giant glue bottle, chasing down some kids, trying to get them to sniff him… (I had my reasons – and I’ll get to them, I promise). It was a scene I remembered from a cartoon we watched in fifth grade. It’s stuck with me not because it was effective but because it was so incredibly stupid and condescending – even to eleven year olds! We laughed through the whole thing. It was a big dumb joke.
Regarding anti-drug messages – in the short span between my discharge and return, I received some that were just slightly more powerful. I called a friend that had been my regular dealer whenever I was in Sarasota. She said she was in the hospital. Chris and I picked up some things for her and went to visit. After a particularly strong shot of heroin, she had nodded out at the wheel and flipped/rolled her car. Her scalp was torn off, her teeth were knocked out, her neck was broken, and her body was filled with broken glass. She survived but it definitely didn’t seem to be a “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger situation.” What didn’t kill her left her a fragile mess, now forever at risk of paralysis or death.
Later that night, I saw something cryptic on Facebook that seemed to imply the death of my friend, Mitch. That familiar flood of panic and dread rose up through my body and swelled into my head. I called a mutual friend in Delray…
I struggled to get the words out. “Is… um – is… is Mitch… ?”
“Yeah. He is.”
(You know the feeling…)
I had only met Mitch nine months prior; he wasn’t my best or oldest friend. But we had been in the same “small group” at Wellness Resource Center and had gotten to know each other really well. I liked him a lot. And there was another reason his death affected me as it did – a reason that didn’t really have anything to do with Mitch or my relationship with him, but that hit me on a really deep, personal level. I’ll save that for another time.
Drug addicts (particularly heroin addicts) die. And those that don’t – by virtue of their association with other addicts – get to witness a lot of death. But death isn’t the only kind of loss (it’s just the most permanent). I lost a lot in the midst of my addiction. A relationship with the girl I was about to propose to, my record label (which was sort of my whole fucking world), my integrity, and plenty of friends – to death and otherwise. So why was I sitting in expressive art therapy group (during grief/loss week), painting this stupid cartoon bottle of glue? I had my reasons, but I still felt pathetic.
I grew up as a snarky, cocky, little fuck. I had all the answers, I knew all the tricks, and I was always ready with the cynical, witty little quip. But now… now I had to be… something else. Desperation forced me into a corner where the only choices were to change everything or die. I was gonna have to look at the world with a new set of eyes and address it with a new tongue. If everything isn’t shit – and I’m not the shitty little kid – then what is it? And who am I?
The loss I was grappling with at that moment – and I mean really grappling with – was a loss of identity. Or a perceived loss of identity in any case. I was extremely grateful to have had the epiphany consequent to my discharge; I was really grateful to have been readmitted to Tranquil Shores. I was feeling upbeat, optimistic about the future, and sort of (dare I say) happy. And that was really fucking my shit up. I was friendly, and positive, and I felt like the biggest impostor on the planet. I wasn’t pretending, I wasn’t faking — but I felt like I must have been and I just didn’t know it.
At some point in that first week back, I actually asked everyone in group: “Be honest with me. Please. The way that I’ve been since I got back – positive, smiling, all that – does anyone think I’m full of shit? Like – does anyone suspect even a little bit that this is an act? You can tell me. I’m not gonna be upset.”
“Sam, there is one person who doesn’t believe you,” Tracy said.
I knew it! There was no way at least one of my peers hadn’t gone to a counselor to complain about the way I was acting. After all, this “transformation” was unbelievable! How could anyone buy into it? But was Tracy going to actually out this person? Unlikely but maybe this would goad them into coming forward themselves.
I nodded: “It’s okay, I understand absolutely.”
“It’s you, Sam. You’re the only one that doesn’t believe you.”
How did I not see that coming? I just kinda shook my head. “Okay. I guess if… I don’t know.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Seriously though? Nobody else?”
Everyone assured me that they believed it and they were happy about it. Which was nice but didn’t totally squelch my skepticism. It was another couple months before I’d be able to really set it aside (and I still have little questions with myself every now and then) but I think that was the point when I was able to stop grieving the loss of my identity or (maybe) started to recognize that I hadn’t really lost anything after all. Nothing of value anyway.
I still get to play that snarky little character sometimes – he’s just less of an asshole than he used to be. (His jokes aren’t mean anymore). And I also get to play another character now: the kind, loving friend that actually gives a shit. I think I’ve struck a pretty good balance.
One of the albums I released through Traffic Street Records was the first full-length by The Credentials. The first song in particulalar has meant (and continues to mean) a lot to me.
“Nice Girl / Coffee Shop” by The Credentials
Rolled down the footbridge, waited for the light
Like giving up on all my dreams or finding out a friend had died
It seems like anywhere I go from here won’t really take me anywhere.
Our fingertips are numbing from the cold and how we make it go away
The deafening silence, alone in our heads, won’t leave us alone
So we hope that our friends can relate to that feeling
That weight on your chest, walking back home across the turnpike again
I saw her standing there behind a counter across the street
I crumpled up a flier in disgust and in defeat
You see, I’m sick of knowing what it is I want out of this life – and fucking up While all these assholes mill around and can’t decide
Same old story, drunk and bored
We trudge on through the slush and stormy weather
Wishing superstitious fears would go follow someone else.
- Read about my adapted worldview in Bright Side Nihilism or Everything Works Out Exactly As It Should.
- Read about the time I nodded out at the wheel and crashed a car in Jail (This Time I Turned Myself In).
- Read about my little “moments of clarity” in Letter, written 10/4/2012 and No Accident.
Get in touch if you’re interested in purchasing this painting (or a 9×12″ print).