“A riot is the language
of the unheard”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve loved writing and journaling for as long as I can remember. But, it was fine art that captured my high school heart and dragged me away to art school, captivated by drawing and painting and creating.

Creating anything. As a child I was obsessed with my little Fisher Price magic set. The idea of making something real materialize out of nothing absolutely mesmerised me.

Years later, it didn’t take long to realize that it’s very hard to make a living by drawing and painting, not to mention it’s even harder to excel (or even learn things) at school when you barely attend class. The only thing I was materializing was a proficiency for balancing drinks and drugs and the ongoing ability to stay awake for no less than 3 days in a row, fading in and out of blackouts. I later took to waiting tables and managing a beach bar; the perfect place for a budding alcoholic, still drawing, still trying to sculpt my feelings into something I could actually see.

I would explain that wine and weed were “my most important art supplies”.

One of my healthier addictions has always been expressing myself artistically; if I was even remotely coordinated and had any scrap of rhythm, I’m certain I’d be a very drunk and washed up musician, too. Whatever helps me get whatever is inside, out. Whatever helps me pluck on my own soul strings or others.

Whatever helps to distill the intangibility of emotions and ideas into something sensory, something that can be seen and felt deep beneath the surface of our fingertips.

I believe my alcohol addiction grew from a place of simply wanting to quiet my mind. To turn off all the screaming ideas and flashing lights that kept it lit up like Times Square, constantly bustling and buzzing and impossible to stop. Millions of thoughts would pass like tiny tourists; just anonymous little blurry streaks of inspiration in the bigger time lapse of my restless, creative brain.

Drinking became my barricade. Drinking became a way to turn all the tourists away and unplug all the lights for even just a little while. A way to dim the busy metropolis of my perpetually racing mind.

The more I drank, the more the dimming of my light became a bleak and rolling blackout until eventually, the entire city of my spirit simply went dark.

That’s when the riots began.

That’s when all the monsters crept from the alleyways, no longer afraid to be seen. That’s when the darkness brought the demons, awake from their slumber like smoke slipping from a bottle. It was as though I had summoned them to grant me three wishes, having no idea what it was I was even asking for or wanting.

Wine became the genie I turned to, rubbing his belly in search of answers and begging for cures.

All it ever gave me were more demons, as if they were poured into my streets to chase all the other demons away.

It only made for a more crowded kind of hell.

It only made the riots louder, with more claws scratching at me as they tried to climb my towering walls, and the more of them there were, the more they blacked out the sky, obscuring the moon and whatever was left of the sun bouncing off it.

All of the “slowing of my thoughts” I was unconsciously grasping for raised the barricades that stopped so much from pouring in, but in turn they also stopped so much from pouring out. Every drink, every binge, every bender, every bottle built them taller and taller until there was nothing left standing in the dark Times Square of my mind but myself and all the demons I was unwittingly trapped with.

I had successfully (and inadvertently) managed to smother my curiosity and my passion, as though when all the lights went out, the fire inside me did as well. All of my creative motivation that was once thick and rich with ideas and inspiration became thin and diluted, until absolute indifference moved in.

All my demons gathered round to feast on what was left of my enthusiasm.

That’s one of the saddest and sweeping side effects of addiction: an overall indifference towards everything both inside and out. Alcohol does not differentiate between what you love and what you’re seeking to numb. It will inevitably inject your entire life with an apathetic anesthetic until you’re in an overall state of simply not caring.

Except that somewhere deep down inside, you still do.

And I still did.

The childhood magician who was enamoured with creating something out of nothing was still inside me, but he was shaken up like a can of Coke, carbonated and under pressure and ready to explode. I had repressed ten billion bubbles of self-expression, and they were agitated and waiting to burst.

The riots raged inside me for decades like a drawn out drunken war.

There are things you can quell and things you can quiet, but your youthful passions are not one of them. Whatever it is that makes you feel as though you’re in the right skin will always be there, haunting you until the barricades come down.

Reminding you of the things you love, because they in turn help you love yourself.

They’re those feelings of indescribable, hungry sadness within that tell you that something is missing. It’s that dark and heavy hollow inside you that weighs you down despite it being empty and unfulfilled. It’s the things you say you’ll do one day, when you’re sober, when you have more time.

When you finally have all your shit together again.

They’re the things you once did and the times in your life that you come to use as landmarks, measuring how far your addiction has dragged you away from doing what truly makes you happy.

They’re the good ole days. The days before the riots.

I never stopped being creative, I just stopped the flow from flowing. I never stopped having the ideas or the inspiration of things to draw or art to create or journals and stories I felt compelled to write; I just stopped drawing them and creating them. They were always still there, waiting, and my inaction is what caused the suffering, and it was my drinking that caused my inaction.

And it was that chain reaction that caused the riots.

I could write volumes on how so much of my life passed me by while I was cowering in dark alleyways, hiding from my demons during the riots. But one of the saddest chapters would be about all the years of unfulfilled ideas, that just piled up like never-inflated balloons, never taking flight, never feeling the satisfaction of being full. It would be the chapter that recounts the battle between my creativity and my addiction, and how my “most important art supplies” overtook their original purpose.

What was once a brush I used to accentuate my art became a blade that cut my desire to create into pieces, leaving it bleeding and lifeless like another casualty of war.

One of the most beautiful rewards of sobriety has been feeling creativity flow through me again since the barricades came down, as though the riots have ended and the lights have slowly started to turn back on. It’s seeing all the wreckage left behind as inspiration instead of remorse. It’s knowing the riots ultimately gave me true appreciation of what I don’t ever want to take for granted again, and knowing that I can use all the ruins and debris as my new favourite art supplies.

Don’t be afraid to start over.
It’s a new chance to rebuild what you want.

Surviving the riots are how I finally got to hear once more the long silenced voice of that little magician inside me, the one who doesn’t need anything on the outside to create something beautiful from the inside.

It means I’m no longer weary of the dazzling lights of my inner Times Square, because to be lit up by them means I’m alive, and I survived.

Written by SJ VanDee

Recovery Blogger. Sober AF. Photographer. Storyteller. Writer.

9 comments

  1. Insomnia gifted me with this … so far my favorite of your posts … Write on, my friend. Keep taking your “medicine,” because you’re helping countless numbers of people to heal right along with you. #peace

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ohhh thank you Barb! And sorry about the insomnia…I feel you! The last few nights I’ve had some of my best sleeps ever…not sure what is different LOL. SO happy you’re enjoying the posts here…it’s my favourite medicine, that’s for sure LOL! xx

      Like

  2. So spot on once again. Sometimes it feels like you’re writing my story. I look forward to your post each and everyday as I always take something away from it that I truly needed to hear or feel! Thank you 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This made me so happy to read, Kate!!! I think it’s fair to say we all have a lot in common when it comes to alcohol and addiction, and all the many phases of moving into our new life without it (thankfully!). Feels good to not feel alone! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t tell you how much this applies to me. I experienced 9/11 close up when I landed in N.Y. in the 7th from Blighty. As a singer/songwriter I skipped across America/Canada doing my thing in cafes, subways, gigs. I’d first gigged, solo at 13 in a pub and then post America, continued awhile but grew tired. Like you, my head would feel like it would burst without self-expression poured into song and performance. I am at heart a musician but fitness, family life and a job that nourishes myself and others have replaced it. It would be next to impossible writing a song into the early hours! Thank-you once again SJ. Almost had me blarting this time. Xxx

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