Tag Archives: halo

4-Hydroxybutanoic Acid Talent Show

"4-Hydroxybutanoic Acid Talent Show." 2/16/13. Acrylics on cardboard. 18x27".

“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 first painting 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.

The giant painting from which all ten paintings were eventually made.
The giant painting from which all ten paintings were eventually made.


Today, I use my hands as often as I use brushes. This was the first time I had done that though.
Today, I use my hands as often as I use brushes. This was the first time I had done that though.


“The Weak End” series includes:


  • This painting sold in April, but signed 10×14″ prints are available in my webstore (and they look awesome)!

Maybe I Don’t Believe in God

Originally, I was going to spend tonight working on some art for Billy Raygun, but (as excited as I am about that) I think I need to do some expressive art therapy. I’ve got a lot on my mind and a lot that I’m stressing out about, so I’m gonna try to be present, here and now, and just paint whatever comes.

“Maybe I Don’t Believe in God.” April 19th, 2013. Tempera and oil pastels on cardboard. 14×17″.

If you take the time to read this, I think you’ll appreciate it.

Statement. June 1st, 2013.

On “the inside,” my ability to express myself authentically reached incredible new heights. Out here, in the real world, sometimes I’m inclined to put my walls back up just a little bit. I had taken to talking about God for a while. When I’d talk about God, I was just referring to my ideas about love, acceptance, and [well] reality, I guess. The word “god” was part convenient shorthand and part… it just felt right. I didn’t feel the need to explain my personal brand of faith every time I used it. I speak coherently and my words have meaning that doesn’t require an exposition of my own understanding of (what I might call) God.

But back in the aforementioned real world… (outside of the contexts of twelve-step meetings and mental health treatment facilities) “God” has certain connotations that I might not want to be associated with. I don’t want people to judge me – to misunderstand me – and see me as something that I’m not, just because I feel okay terming my beliefs as “belief in God.” “Besides,” I thought to myself, “if I know that I’m only choosing to believe in the things I do – that I don’t think there’s any absolute truth to it (or to anything else for that matter) – is that even really belief?” I wasn’t really sure and I wasn’t certain that I was willing to take the risk of espousing something that could result in my being labeled as a Christian or even as some kind of new age spirituality dweeb.

This was on my mind when I showed up to expressive art therapy group back at Tranquil Shores one day in April. “Today, we’re going to make shields,” Julie told us.

And this is what came out of me. “Fucking perfect” – is how I’m compelled to describe it now. That afternoon though, as I was painting it, I was a little unsure. When I was asked to share a little bit about my piece with the others in the group (which – aside from me – is always comprised of the facility’s current inpatients) I spewed out a summary of my journey from the fiercely irreligious, non-agnostic, non-atheist to [whatever it is that I am today].

When someone finishes sharing about their artwork, the floor is open for feedback, if anyone has any. “That was better – that was more helpful than anything I’ve ever heard my counselor say”; “I want Sam to be my counselor”; “I want Sam to be my sponsor”; “that was amazing”; and “please don’t ever stop coming back for this group” were some of the things I heard. I felt incredible. I felt blessed.

This piece isn’t about my spirituality. It’s about fear. It’s about authenticity of expression. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but I still get scared. The quotes at the end of the preceding paragraph: I’m afraid to include them lest they be perceived as indications of arrogance. But when I stand up to my fear – when I put down my shield – and express myself honestly and authentically, the rewards are beyond description.

That’s not always easy. I started this statement with the story and background that I shared that day (about my spirituality). But – as stated – this piece isn’t about spirituality. After ninety minutes spent on this, I realized that what drove me to begin this statement in that way was the same fear that I was addressing in painting the piece that I’m writing about: a fear of being judged or labeled as someone who “believes” in something. Despite the time and energy I poured into that writing tonight, to not remove it would have been antithetical to everything you’ve just read (which was, originally, the conclusion of this statement).

I’d prefer to keep this personal, but I feel a little bit of background information is necessary here. Krokodil is a synthetic opiate that, basically, has the effect of eating the flesh off of your fucking bones. It sort of turns you into a zombie… It’s bizarre and fucked up and awful. For a time though, I reveled in krokodil; I was thoroughly in love with the concept of this people-eating drug. There’s nothing to really love about something that destroys people the way that this particular drug does though. With one exception…

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say to (or about) some drug addict in their life, “Why can’t [you/he/she] just stop? Just fucking stop.” Some people say addiction is a disease. I don’t know about that (and, really, I think that’s sort of a semantic argument anyway). I know this though: if addiction was a matter of control, of self-discipline, of restraint… no one would ever inject a drug that [ahem] eats the flesh off of your fucking bones. It’s only when a person is so hopelessly crippled by their misery, self-loathing, pain, addiction, and that endless cycle of the same that they would do something as devastatingly destructive as injecting krokodil. Which, I believe, makes krokodil proof positive that when we talk about addicts, we are not talking about willpower or resolve. Disease, mental disorder, a symptom of some other ill… classify it however you want, so long as you understand that we’re not talking about a simple character defect.

I used to say I loved krokodil because it was so wonderfully dark, evil, and fucked up. Now I claim to love it insofar as it’s the ultimate evidence that conquering addiction is not something that an addict can simply decide and will him or herself into. Which one is really the truth about why I love krokodil? In all honesty, I’m not sure. Certainly there’s truth to both of them, but to what degree I’m not sure. Krokodil is emblematic of my struggle to express myself authentically. And it’s something that I need to spend more time really examining.

The writing of this statement has been revelatory and – like many of my paintings – has been “painted and repainted” to the point where it bears no resemblance to what I first put on the “canvas.” At a certain point though, whether or not I feel like I’ve reached a point of denouement, I stop painting and let a piece exist for what it is – as a snapshot of myself at a certain moment in my life. I’m told (and I know) that I am not the person I once was. For longer than I can remember, I was thoroughly negative, but – today – I have a positive energy and am a welcome presence in the lives of the people whom I care about and who care about me. Nevertheless, I am still attracted to (what I can only think to describe as) darkness. Hate, pain, tragedy – these are things that I’m more than familiar with; I’m comfortable with them. I’m no longer interested in nurturing them or living in them, but… maybe they’re just part of who I am. And maybe – so long as I’m not contributing to them – maybe that’s okay.

Or maybe not. I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things. But I’m happy today and I like who I am today. I do good things. That’s enough.