I’m in the financial aid office at Georgetown waiting for someone to come up front and answer a question. Another kid comes in and I find out he also grew up in Sarasota; we even went to the same school at one point. I didn’t make any “friends” while I was in law school, but now I’ve got someone to exchange nods with when we pass each other on campus. His name is Joseph.
Flash forward five months. My part-time job is still “assistant to the Law Center’s Director of Wellness Promotion” – and I’m running the school’s Healthy Recipe Exchange. As I manage this wholesome event, I’m more than a little strung out on heroin. Really – I’m not managing shit. I’m nodding out and sweating at a table while people swirl around me and ask questions that I answer with a shrug and a funny face.
Here comes Joseph. He tells me I don’t look well, asks exactly what the hell I’m doing – and finds it thoroughly amusing. Then he asks me how I’m doing. For some reason, he becomes one of the only people whom I tell that I’ve recently been arrested for possession of heroin. And then he tells me about some serious drug charges he had faced at one point for dealing meth. Of course we exchange phone numbers. Clearly, this is a good person for me to know!
It’s been a month since I talked to Joseph at the Healthy Recipe Exchange when I get a text message from him. “Do you have a stove?”
“Hmmmm,” I think to myself. “What are the implications of this text message? He knows I live in an apartment building, so he can’t possibly think he can get away with cooking meth here. What then might he be up to…?”
I write him back, “Yes. I do. And I don’t want to know why you’re asking. Just let me know when you want to come over.”
Because this sounds like an adventure!Right???
As it turns out, Joseph has learned a new trade. GHB! Which – as he tells me – doesn’t stink up a place the way meth does. Well – what’re we waiting for?!
[insert Act II here]
There is nothing worse than the pain of opiate withdrawals. Except for the pain of opiate withdrawals, experienced in a cloud of disgusting, noxious, chemical shit.
“4-Hydroxybutanoic Acid Talent Show.” 2/16/13. Acrylics on cardboard. 18×27″.
Sometimes someone will compliment my “talent,” despite the fact that I have none. What I lack in ability though, I make up for in willingness. Almost anyone can do what I do. What makes my art special is that they don’t (and I do!) Creativity? I get good ideas sometimes, but when I’ve got nothing that’s when the willingness really helps out. If I don’t know what to paint, I just go. Honestly, it’s mostly out of necessity. My brain is damaged and expressive art therapy is the best tool I’ve got.
It was Friday and I was upset. I had been at Tranquil Shores for six months so I had the kind of freedom that allowed me to go outside, cross the street, and grab a cardboard box off the curb. I spent the next two hours painting nothing, just moving colors around on the cardboard. When I was done, I was covered in paint and had a 72-inch panel of cardboard that was… also covered in paint. I let it dry and still had no idea what to do with it. I started looking for images that were already there and outlined them with black paint, adding details at will. Two hours later, I realized that I had one “canvas” but (the beginnings of) close to a dozen paintings. So I cut it up and spent the next two days finishing them. I did virtually nothing but paint for about 48 hours. Which is not really the kind of balance that one is taught to strive for while in recovery (and especially treatment)…
But that’s okay because that phase of my life was about to come to an (unanticipated) end. What had started fifteen months (and three facilities) earlier ended the following Tuesday. I gradually started moving out of Tranquil Shores and within ten days, fully transitioned to outpatient treatment. This is the first of those cardboard paintings I made between Friday and Sunday. There are ten in all and I consider them all part of a series that I call “The Weak End”.
The title of this firstpainting is an allusion to our first group session earlier that day. We had to perform a “talent” of some kind. I had been dreading it all week and tried to get out of it. Initially, I joked that my talent would be a demonstration: “how to cook GHB” (also known as 4-Hydroxybutanoic Acid) – something I learned (through doing) in my last year of law school. Then I joked that my entire life had been performance art and that I should be allowed to simply show up. That didn’t fly either. Ultimately, I brought in a painting, read a statement, and spoke off the cuff a little about it (all while Troublemake songs played in the background).
My apprehension turned out to be for nothing, as my whole “act” was incredibly well received. But as well as I felt about that, I was still off somehow. I think I knew that the end was coming and I was scared to move on. But I did move on and everything worked out really well. I didn’t fall apart the second I moved into the outside world and I actually started to enjoy life more than I ever had in the past. And I discovered that I could stay off heroin, out on my own, for more than three or four days.
One more thing about the title: it’s also (inadvertently) about fear. I hadn’t ever painted anything without some kind of caption but this piece felt right without one. Still, while any words I might add would feel tacked on, I felt a little vulnerable without one. That made it all the more necessary for the painting to have an absurd title for me to hide behind.
Today was a really great day and I think I’m finally starting to get my grip back. In case it doesn’t go without saying, I haven’t been using anything, but abstinence doesn’t equal wellness and it’s been a tough week. I decided this morning to start posting some of the paintings from this series and I’ve got the first four ready to go. The second one will be online soon with more to come…
Here are a couple photos from early in the process of creating “The Weak End” series of paintings.