The first time I ever decided to make art for its own sake, the results were… mixed. It was more than a year ago and at no point has it grown on me…
Maybe that’s for the best though – that I dislike it so much. Maybe it’s good for me to have to accept that the one piece of art that I can’t ignore – that I can’t leave out of my story – is one of which I’m totally embarrassed.
It’s (very seriously) insane just how much something like acknowledging that this painting exists can fuck with my emotional well-being. Sitting here typing this, I don’t … – I don’t want to type it. I hate it. But I’m doing it anyway. As imperfect as all of this is – it’s a good exercise in humility. I’m not perfect, my website isn’t perfect, my stories and artwork are not all uniformly fascinating. Sometimes I’m just okay.
Okay’s not so bad, I guess.
If you’d like to buy this painting, I would love to get it out of my home. Hit me up. (And remember: it’s got historical value).
In my last entry, I mentioned that I was kicked out of Tranquil Shores on October 3, 2012. For tonight’s entry, I was all set to write about my first watercolor painting when I remembered something that will help convey the transformation that took place between Nothing Helps and that painting. It’s the letter I wrote to Tranquil Shores’ clinical director, late at night on October 4 – about forty hours after my discharge.
Seeing as my track record for honesty in those days was a little spotty, I’d like to preface the letter with the statement that it was absolutely free of bullshit. Every word was written with total sincerity.
When I found out I was being discharged, I was genuinely shocked. The comments I made were nonsense to mask my hurt about the fact that I was still struggling to control my emotions and behavior. And you had always seen that. “Why was this incident any different?” I wondered.
On the way back to property, I fell apart. Why was I in this position again? Why did I have to be me? I stayed in that state of self-pity for hours. By sometime that afternoon, I dropped it in favor of anger. I told my friends that called, “They kicked me out for the same reason they had said it was the right place for me.” I was the victim; you had turned on me. But that faded too. My next phase is hard to describe. It was a struggle. But I still felt, as I had initially, that this was all some kind of misunderstanding. It stayed with me through the rest of Wednesday and carried over through this (Thursday) morning. It was during this time that I left Rob the voicemail that I’m guessing you’ve heard about.
Only later did everything finally make sense. Mask or no mask. Defense mechanism or the sincere boasts of an arrogant manipulator. My intentions and my actual feelings were irrelevant. The things I said were dangerous – even if I was just concealing pain, my comments suggested to the other patients that recalcitrance paid. I had to be discharged. Overlooking my behavior on this occasion would only reinforce, in the minds of the other patients, that we could get away with anything – even be rewarded for it. You had given me plenty of chances to change, even as I damaged the community with my negativity.
Forgetting everyone else for a moment – discharge was the right decision for my benefit. While I know I’ve made progress at Tranquil Shores, I realize now that I was still severely lacking. Something wasn’t clicking.
I believe wholeheartedly that that something has clicked now. I needed the discharge as a wake up call. I see my part now. The only way I could learn was the hard way. What matters though is that I learned. I get it. And I’m more determined than ever to really work. Though I know that I can do this work anywhere, I believe that nowhere can I be more successful than at Tranquil Shores. I don’t know that I deserve another chance but I can promise that, should I be given one, it won’t be wasted. I can’t guarantee perfection, but I can promise the most earnest, sincere, dedicated effort I’m capable of (and that my capacity for that effort is exponentially greater today than it was before).
If you give me this opportunity, it will be the greatest thing anyone has ever done for me. And it will not send the message of “he got away with it” to the other clients because it will be immediately apparent to everyone that I am not the same person I was just yesterday or even this morning. Meet with me. If you sense the slightest bit of resentment, defiance, or insincerity, turn me away. If you give me the chance and it surfaces later, discharge me forever.
I know I’ve been difficult but I believe I can redeem myself in a way few people are ever determined. Give me this chance, please, and I will not disappoint. If you decide against my plan, I’ll understand. But I will continue (1) to remain abstinent from drugs (including alcohol), (2) attending meetings, (3) talking with my new sponsor (as well as my new and old supports), (4) working my treatment plan, and (5) occasionally pestering you to reconsider. I can do this and become a whole person and I have faith that Tranquil Shores is the best place for me to succeed.
Thank you for your consideration and for everything you’ve done for me, whether or not I’m ever permitted to return.
Status Update (12/16/13):
I had two good conversations with two good friends today. Made some progress toward the publishing of my first book. And I dyed my hair green.
In September 2012, I was working on my first major assignment at Tranquil Shores. About halfway through, one of the questions wasn’t really a question; it just said to draw an image of powerlessness. Fuck that. (This was around the time that I had just started to sort of sometimes enjoy art). I skipped the question for the time being and went to the next. “Powerlessness can creep into how you feel about yourself. If you were painting a portrait of yourself today, how would it look? Do you go to bed or wake up with feelings of shame or grief? What about the things you’ve wanted to accomplish that remain undone? What feelings do you have when your actions go against what you know is right? Share the way you really feel about yourself today. Paint with words a self-portrait of your inner feelings.”
Here’s how I answered (on 9/11/12):
If I were painting a self-portrait of my inner feelings today, it wouldn’t look quite like my inner feelings. I feel a little too okay right now and – as we all know – only art born of anger, discontent, self-loathing, misery, pain, poverty, and/or shit is worth anything. So whatever I painted would be too contrived to be any good. Unless I successfully recalled some darker moments and managed to displace my current sort-of-pleasant state of mind.
I don’t usually wake up with shame. Well… sometimes. I always did when I was using (or a lot anyway). The things I want to accomplish will be fairly simple if I stay clean. Well, making another Troublemake record will be. Maybe not becoming at peace with myself and the world. Fuck, but I do sometimes act contrary to my intentions and then I feel really stupid, foolish, and inferior. Like when half of the things I say in a day (okay, less than that) can be heard escaping my mouth. That hurts. But generally, I feel enthused and intelligent. (I hate having to say good things about myself or about how I’m feeling though). It makes me feel self-conscious. And then less of whatever I was feeling before I said it (particularly when it comes to positive attributes). I’m definitely far more concerned with how others will perceive me than I have been at any other point in my life. I can’t feel good about myself and say it without it disappearing or at least fading.
Sometimes I feel confident, appreciated, (relatively) important, or even powerful (in some sort of sense) but the moment I acknowledge it, I feel insecure, discouraged, hurt, and lonely – which I soak in until those feelings morph into hopelessness, anger, apathy, and recklessness – which I use to ruin everything and ruin myself. Eventually, I feel outright hateful (though I direct most of it inward, at myself).
Maybe I don’t have to fake it after all… Maybe I’m really not in great emotional shape and I can paint a really awful self-portrait. I guess I could say… “I’m a bit miserable – not coming apart at the seams; things aren’t as bad as they seem but they ain’t much better…”
If I’m not always totally aware of these things, I’m at least thoughtful, but I’m also prone to confusion, self-doubt, and depression. It can be a little volatile. I’m a little volatile. My strongest “inner feeling” is instability. I don’t feel stable.
I finished answering all of the written questions within two weeks, but it wasn’t until October 2nd that I finally went back and drew the image of powerlessness that I needed to call the assignment complete.
I drew this on a Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday morning, I was pulled aside and told that I was being discharged. I was getting kicked out of my third treatment facility that year. It was raining. I had no way to get anywhere and nowhere to go anyway. Someone gave me a little bit of money to help get me wherever I might decide to go. I spent the next couple hours arguing with myself: whether or not I should use it to go to a shooting range where, for twenty-five dollars, I could get my hands on a gun, put a bullet in my head, and just be done with it.
In my answer to the “self-portrait” question, I quoted a song. As I drew my image of powerlessness, I had another song on my mind. Here are both.
“Sorry Sam” by The Slow Death I wake up in the warm sun on a folded out futon. Get some water from the bathroom sink and try to figure out what happened to me. And when I say, “I’m doing okay,” – it’s mostly overstated. I spent my nights forgetting, my afternoons regretting, all the stupid things I said and everything I should have done instead. And when I say, “I’m doing okay,” – it’s mostly overstated. I’m a bit miserable, not coming apart at the seams. Things aren’t as bad as they seem, but they ain’t much better.
“Wrong” by Off With Their Heads Sit back and let me tell you about the sadness, about the beast that’s been gnashing its teeth trying to destroy me. It rears its head every time I’m alone. In the middle of the night, if you don’t answer your phone, it snarls at me. It hides underneath my bed and it sinks its teeth in every corner of my head. Don’t try to stop it, don’t try to control it, don’t try to defeat it, don’t try to console it – it’s unstoppable and it’s a part of me. Your best bet is not to get too close to me. Stay the fuck away, stay out of its reach or it will poison you like it’s been poisoning me. It tells me what I’m supposed to say and it controls every move that I make. You’ve got me all wrong. It’s not “the real me” screaming you away – it’s that selfish sadness ruining every day. Everything is wrong.
“Sorry Sam” comes from The Slow Death’s 2011 album, “Born Ugly, Got Worse,” on Kiss of Death Records.
“Wrong” comes from Off With Their Heads’ 2008 album, “From the Bottom,” on No Idea Records. (Though it was originally released as “I Hate My Stupid Ass and I Hope I Get in a Car Accident Tonight” on the band’s 2007 split 7-inch with Dukes of Hillsborough, on ADD Records).
5¾x4″ prints of “Nothing Helps” are available in my webstore.
Aside from a couple hours of fliering, I spent all day painting. It’s still not done but I did put a small part of it online.
When I coined out at Tranquil Shores, a friend told the story of his first day. He got out of the van, stepped into the courtyard, and the first thing he saw was me: shirtless with a giant butcher knife, carving a pumpkin, smoking cigarettes, and listening to punk records on a portable turntable. I tried to hit him up today but got no response. I heard a few weeks ago that he wasn’t doing well and was probably shooting up again.
Earlier this morning, I got a call from another kid I was in treatment with (in January and February of 2012). We hadn’t talked in 18 months. He’s still shooting up but he’s still young… My heroin use didn’t become a heroin problem ’til I turned twenty-five so… The important thing was that he said he was doing well overall (and I believe him). When I get a phone call like that, it’s almost always from someone that wants to know if I’m still in [whichever city] and if I’m still clean – ’cause if I’m not could I maybe help them find some dope? He’s up in New York though and was just calling to catch up. It was really cool to hear from him.
I think I broke up with my girlfriend this morning. I’ve journaled about it a lot over the last few days but – whatever I choose to share of those – I’ll hold off on until my painting is done.
“Perfect love” (to me) isn’t just unconditional love; it’s bigger than that and it’s greater (or wider) than any kind of romantic love. It’s a total respect for the entirety of another human being. It doesn’t have any room for jealousy or anything like that.
I really like the word “cupidity.” Technically, it’s an excessive desire to possess something (like money or materials things). Given the connotations of “cupid” though, I like to think of it as more of an excessive desire to possess someone. It’s sort of the opposite of perfect love. When I meet a girl, I have a tendency to go from one extreme to the other. One minute, I might be totally enamored or infatuated with her and then – the second I fear that she might not reciprocate (if she’s paying more attention to someone else, for example) – I’ll totally shut off absolutely all feeling and cease to care about her in any way at all. And then – the moment my fear is somehow allayed – a switch flips and I’m one-hundred percent invested in her again.
I’ve never been what you’d call a jealous or possessive boyfriend. I’m not bothered by my girlfriend going out without me, having male friends, or anything like that, but I think that’s because – once she’s “officially” my girlfriend – my cupidity is sated. That’s all the “possession” I need to feel okay, but that’s still a problem. It’s still not okay with me that I (feel like I) need that at all.
Last October, I was in treatment and I liked a girl but I knew it was a bad idea for me to get involved. So I was trying to have a genuine friendship with her. I was trying to practice this concept of “perfect love” that I had in my head. I was trying to be real and authentic and honest, and to value and respect her as an independent human being. It was a totally different dynamic (and experience) than my usual approach of (still trying to be honest but primarily) trying to get her to like me (or want to be my girlfriend or want to sleep with me). I wanted my behavior to reflect perfect love, which meant acting without any expectation, desire, or even hope of receivinganything in return.
On Halloween, she was having a problem and – after coming to me for help – she went to someone else. “What – I’m not enough? My help wasn’t good enough? What’s happening!?”–I thought. I didn’t show any of this outwardly, but the switch flipped and I immediately ceased to have any interest in this girl. My feelings were hurt so I was going to stop caring. …Because I wasn’t the only person that she shared her problem with…
And it’s worse than that even. In these situations, I don’t usually stop caring about the girl alone – more often than not, I also stop caring about myself. Suddenly, I’m a worthless unlovable piece of shit and there’s no reason for me to be alive. (My attempt at perfect love was an abysmal failure).
This all happened just before expressive art therapy group. An “exit bag” is a homemade suicide device. To make one, you need a helium tank, an oven bag, a piece of string, some tape, and a tube. I felt like I wanted to die, but I knew that I didn’t really and I wasn’t ready to talk about my feelings because I probably wasn’t ready to feel better. I needed to punish myself by stewing in misery for a little bit longer. Writing “helium, bag, string, tape, and tube” here was my way of saying “I WANT TO DIE” without having to deal with anyone’s response to a statement like that.
Because so much of what I was experiencing as I made this piece so perfectly exemplifies (/is symptomatic of) borderline personality disorder, I came to see the ghost that I drew here as sort of a stand-in for BPD. He’s in at least five of my pieces (including a tattoo). Once I have more of those online, I’ll probably do a special post just to feature him in all his different forms. (That sounds like fun to me). : )