I was asked by Florida Beach Rehab to write an article about my experience as an artist in recovery.
“It’s a nice talent you got, to make music, to move people. Make ‘em wanna laugh, make ‘em wanna cry. Make ‘em tap their feet. Make ‘em want to dance. That’s an exceptional talent, Joey. Don’t waste it.” – “Passage for a Trumpet”, The Twilight Zone (1960) by Rod Serling
My name is Jackie and I’m an addict.
My name is Jackie and I’m also an artist.
Surprisingly, for me, it was easier to accept the first statement. It took a couple of years in sobriety to stop making excuses and accept what it meant to be a creating artist. I felt undeserving and feared the sense of responsibility that came with the title. Being an artist meant you created, and it had been years since I had created anything other than wreckage. It was one thing to name myself an artist; it was another to take action around it. Fortunately, I learned how to do that in recovery.
When I was five or six I drew a picture of myself (blonde of course, though I am a brunette) standing on stage, hands extended to accept the audience’s applause, lights shining on me. All my life I had created. I wrote stories and plays, and in college I began directing. When I graduated, I followed my friends to New York. I worked for a Broadway producer and directed an off-off-off Broadway production. By that time I was drinking and smoking pot every day and “partying” with my roommates every weekend. I had no idea that it would be another six years until I wrote a single line of dialogue or found myself in a rehearsal room. By the time I was 27, I was defeated and I moved back to San Francisco. A cocktail of booze, coke and vicodin cost me a job, several friendships, my apartment and landed me in the hospital. And it was there I made the decision to go into treatment. It was Valentine’s Day of 2006.
Those first two years of recovery were tough but also magical. I can’t describe it any other way. I joined a twelve-step fellowship after completing my outpatient program. I had a sponsor, a home group, I worked the steps, and I began sponsoring. Life had meaning. I had energy. I went to meetings everyday and a fellowship built up around me. I got a job working as a projects manager for a performing arts company. So many of the promises came true … for a little while.
After two years, life in recovery lost a little of its shine. My new life in sobriety became a mundane routine. I still enjoyed meetings and sponsorship, but I trudged my way through the time in between and it just felt wrong. What had happened to my life of sane and happy usefulness? Why did the same resentments crop up over my friends and my work mates again and again no matter how many times I inventoried and prayed over them? What was missing?
I believe in a higher power. It’s been an important part of my recovery. I often call that higher power God. And I believe God brought me to my place of employment so that I could see living examples of artists in action. The artistic director of the company I worked for had been making dances for over forty years. We had a rehearsal studio that I managed. I could use the space for free for rehearsals. At three years sober, the idea struck me that I shouldn’t waste the opportunity. I had wasted so many when I was drinking and using, and being in recovery meant doing the next indicated thing.
I decided to direct a stage reading of a play about the history of recovery in the United States. I invited friends in recovery to perform it as a benefit for our local service organization. Creating theater, which had always been exhilarating but also fraught with the fear of failure, had become a faith-filled and giving experience. It became an act of service and therefore the only possible failure was in not trying. Inspired by the idea of “one alcoholic working with another,” we became a nameless bunch of alcoholics performing for our fellows in recovery. The Bay Area recovery community is large and active in fellowship. We had over two hundred people at the reading. After the show, I had old-timers with tears in their eyes coming up to tell me that watching the play was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of their lives. Newcomers thanked me and told me how proud they felt to be a part of this fellowship. I was blown away and I was hooked. I knew I was an artist, and I knew I had a responsibility to continue creating. And in the last six years, I haven’t stopped.
When I’m not in rehearsal, I’m researching and writing my next play. I work primarily in the recovery community and since that first staged reading, I have written and directed full productions of recovery-themed plays that have toured all over Northern and Southern California. We have performed in jail pods, coffee shops, church auditoriums and state-of-the-art performance complexes. Over 10,000 people have seen my work and we have raised almost $20,000 for recovery organizations. One of my plays performed in San Antonio, TX during a major international recovery convention. My new play on the history of the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous will perform in Atlanta, GA this summer during the Celebration of Recovery Festival.
Just this year, my troupe of loyal actors and I have decided to formalize under the name Recovery Works Theater. I am now the Artistic Director of a theater company. All I wanted since I was a young child was to tell stories. In recovery, my life is filled with stories. I hear them at every meeting; I share them when I qualify and when I sponsor. And at nine years sober, I now I spin them on stage for the most attentive, loving audience one could ever hope for.
My name is Jackie and I am a grateful artist in recovery.