It was Friday so I drove up to Tranquil Shores for my session with Tracy and my weekly expressive art group with the kids that were still inpatients. Earlier that week, I had found an apartment in Jacksonville. When I told Tracy, she was really surprised. (I had been talking about moving, but it was just a few days prior that I actually started looking for a place, so it all happened really quickly). “Seriously?” she asked me. “Well, let me get the papers for your discharge.”
Somehow that hadn’t occurred to me: that moving away would mean I’d be officially discharged from Tranquil Shores. My life was about to change and it was just now registering. It made me sad. It even made me a little angry, though I’m not sure with whom. (Probably myself). It was a really great afternoon; everyone at Tranquil Shores couldn’t have been sweeter to me or more supportive. But… I didn’t wanna leave. I didn’t want it to be over and I guess I was as caught off-guard as Tracy had been.
After my session, I went into the art room for group. I felt good overall, but had that little streak of darkness in me. I got an idea in my head of a sorta vulture and I liked it. I wanted to draw something that lived off dead flesh – something sustained by failure.
But still sorta comic and fun.
(Especially relevant) status update: Heather’s friends are getting married in Englewood next weekend, so I won’t be too far from Tranquil Shores. On Friday, I’m going to drive up that way and meet up with a crew of kids I went to treatment with for lunch, and then I’m gonna go in for the expressive art group just like I used to. I’ve been really excited about it but am getting more nervous as it gets closer. It’s gonna be a totally new crop of kids. I’ll still know all the staff obviously, but it seems kinda strange to go to group with a bunch of patients I’ve never met before. I hope I don’t wimp out. I hope it goes well.
I forget how it came up, but I found myself in rehab, defending some view as not being illegitimate or immoral. Something to do with property and how this world has enough for everyone to have everything that they need. But how people get scared, their fear morphs into greed, and they feel like they need to hoard wealth or resources to the detriment of others. One way or another, we got to that thing from the Beatitudes where Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven. And from there, “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son to burn the banks to the fucking ground and drink the blood of the rich” popped into my head – which I, of course, thought was hilarious. And I immediately started jokingly trying to recruit my fellow inpatients for a crusade to burn down the banks and – you know – drink the blood of the rich.
The next day, in expressive art therapy group, we were told that the theme was Christmas (it was December 22nd). “Not really Christmas though – just in terms of birth or re-birth – just as a metaphor.” Everyone else in the group kind of ignored that. We produced a lot of paintings of Christmas trees and Santa Claus that day. I – predictably – went really literal with it though. I started painting myself being born (fully grown and clothed). And not so much being born, as much as pulling myself out of a woman’s birth canal. (The distinction is that birth wasn’t “happening” to me, I was taking the action). I thought that was pretty great given my circumstances. Recovery or rehabilitation weren’t happening to me – I was making them happen. I was bringing them about. Doing the work to get better.
And then it occurred to me that the “For God so loved the world…” thing that I had come up with the day before would be PERFECT for this painting. It was supposed to be about Christmas, right? The celebration of the birth of Christ. And while I had intended for the character in the painting to be me (and – no – I don’t think I’m the messiah) adding the caption would make this a depiction of what must be the second coming of Christ. When he comes back as a lion instead of a lamb. Lion Christ just might be the kind of guy that WOULD burn the banks to the fucking ground and drink the blood of the rich, the greedy, and the selfish. After all, Jesus never spoke ill of homosexuals or [whoever evangelists are bummed out about these days] but he sure as fuck had a distaste for the rich.
So this may sound absurd, but this painting, the little things leading up to it, and the process itself.. this was a spiritual experience for me. No offense to any of my peers, but they all painted Christmas trees and (by their own admission in group that day) didn’t get much out of it, so this assignment/prompt MUST have been for my benefit. And the way that it all panned out – what I chose to paint without even thinking of the previous day – and then remembering it at just the right time – this was all predestined. Similarly, back when I was told that I needed to have some kind of faith – that I’d need to believe in some kind of higher power if I ever wanted to get better and stop shooting heroin – the first belief I adopted (albeit sarcastically) was that “my higher power thinks I’m fucking hilarious“; if this whole episode isn’t proof of that, then I don’t know what is. The universe really brought it all together for me this time around.
HISTORICAL note!: Our art therapy counselor brought us acrylic paint and canvas boards as a Christmas present, so this was my first time using “real” art supplies. (Normally we used cheap paper and tempera/poster-paint). And I kinda can’t mention that counselor without saying something else…
Even when everyone else thought that “something might need to be done” about the kind of stuff I was turning out in art group, Julie stuck up for me and insisted that I be allowed (and encouraged) to create whatever I was feeling. It’s so much more than entirely possible that – were it not for Julie – what little enjoyment I got out of those early art groups might have been snuffed out. Had that been the case, there’s no way in hell that you’d be reading this right now because this website (and all of these pieces) wouldn’t even exist. And It’s not quite as certain, but it’s extremely likely that I’d either still be shooting heroin or dead. A lot of people and factors played into my recovery but the one piece that I’m almost positive is totally crucial is art. And Julie gets total credit for that. (With an assist from my friend (and fellow inpatient) Mary Beth, who was also a huge source of encouragement in the early stages of the game.
And so long as I’m going on tangents: After I finished this painting, as I was carrying it from group to my room, one of the property techs stopped and asked me if he could see what I had made. Staff aren’t really supposed to be “friends” with patients/clients, but I definitely considered Kenny a friend and (as a Christian) I was afraid this would bum him out. But I showed it to him and he surprised me. He knew exactly what I was going for, got the joke, told me it was actually a really Christian sentiment, and even gave me the [call number or whatever it’s called] for a verse of scripture. That sort of reaffirmed my faith in humanity that day. It was really awesome.
By the way, that movie I was cast in over the summer… the production designer saw this painting and asked if I could redraw it so that it could be screened onto a t-shirt for my character to wear. So I did!
A lot of what you’ve just read was written a few months back. Some of it is even older than that. The word “predestined” jumps off the page at me. Do I really believe in such a concept? I don’t know. I’m tempted to say “not really.” I’ll say this though… on December 22nd, back when all of this was happening… when I say, “this was a spiritual experience for me”, Imean it. Did I believe anything was predetermined earlier that day? No. Did I believe it in that moment? Again – I don’t really know. But I know that I was having fun acting as if I did… This really struck me as too perfect to be random (it just felt too excellent) but … eh… Well, like I sort of said: this was the best evidence I had ever seen that [to borrow from Andrew Jackson Jihad] “my god thinks my jokes are funny.” And it was all great fodder as I explained the cartoon/painting/sentiment to the patients and staff that were giving me funny looks. So I was having a lot of fun with it. So far as my real (confident) beliefs go… – only what I laid out in my entry for “Everything Works Out Exactly As It Should.”
Anyway, here’s a song that I was listening to a lot around the time this was painted.
Here’s a song that strikes me as otherwise relevant.