Is it possible to be creative in recovery without having to stimulate your mind with alcohol or drugs?
Of course it is! The problem is that you may have to convince your brain of this at first. And that can be a bit of a challenge.
The myth of creativity coming from drugs or alcohol
It is basically a myth that drugs and alcohol fuel creativity.
But you may have to prove this to yourself.
I watched a program once that took a bunch of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who were also artists. What they did was pretty interesting.
The took these artists in recovery and they basically told them that they were going to do an experiment. So they told them to produce art as best they could, even if they did not “feel creative” due to their new found sobriety.
The recovering artists reluctantly produced art. Most of them said that they did not feel like they really had their creative juices flowing, and that they relied on their drug of choice in order to get into that creative state of mind.
But then what happened next was the interesting part. The program brought out their previous work that they had made while under the influence, and they put it up next to the work that they had done while sober. Then they had everyone vote on everyone else’s work.
You can guess where this headed. Even though the artists did not FEEL creative while sober, they produced better work according to the votes.
So from an objective standpoint, the artists were producing better art and were being more creative when they were sober, even though they did not really feel like it.
This is a problem.
But it is actually not that bad of a problem. The good news is that an artist in recovery has not really lost their “mojo” when it comes to creating things, they just feel like they have.
But it is an easy problem to fix. Because if the person forces themselves to create something it will be as good (or better) than what they were creating while under the influence. They still have what it takes, they just have to convince themselves of that.
Training your brain to produce creativity out of nothingness
I was in this position once myself in recovery.
I was trying to create new work and I could not seem to get my mind kicked into gear.
My disease acted as you would expect. My addiction told me that if I could get high on drugs that it would make the creative process so much easier.
This may actually be true at first. If you take someone who is clean and sober, give them a certain drug as a one time thing, and give them just the perfect dosage to produce the right results, then you may actually get a tiny boost in creative power. It is possible, I will acknowledge that much.
However, this is not desirable for anyone, because:
1) It is not sustainable. If you get creative from using a drug then you will have to do so over and over again. Tolerance will build and you will lose your edge eventually. Then it will become a roller coaster where you will never know exactly when you will get inspired. You may find the creative spark every once in a while but you cannot sustain it every single day.
2) You can not reproduce the creativity on demand. If you rely on a drug to boost your creativity then you may or may not be lucky enough to find that spark on a given day. You cannot create on demand. You are subject to the whims of the drug.
3) It costs a lot more if you have to rely on a drug just to be creative, or to feel normal. There is much waste in this.
On the other hand, it is possible to train your mind to create on demand without any additional stimulus.
This is sort of like someone saying that they cannot do push-ups. Well, have you been trying to do them? Can you even do a single push up? If not, then you need to train. You need to build it up. You need to push yourself to make positive changes in this area and build strength.
It is no different with creativity. Not even a little bit.
Creativity is a muscle that anyone can develop. If you say or have ever said “I am just not creative” then you are fooling yourself. You have a choice to become creative in sobriety, if you desire it. Anyone can create.
The key is discipline. You can force your brain to create out of nothingness, while completely sober.
You just have to practice.
My own results in creating while sober
While I was experiencing my journey through sobriety I found the urge to create things. But I did not believe that I could do so without the help of drugs or alcohol.
So what happened? Basically I made a decision. I was going to force myself to be creative no matter what.
Creativity is about volume. Most of us have the false belief that we need to be instantly brilliant, that we need to think of this one great idea and have it all at once and then act upon it. People believe that we should be creative, be brilliant, and catch lightning in a bottle on the very first try. As if we are all geniuses.
This is not how creativity works for me in recovery. I am no genius, and I create plenty of ideas that don’t work out at all. In other words, in order to find brilliant and creative ideas in my own life, I have to have hundreds or even thousands of ideas that are duds.
New ideas are the currency that creativity is issued in.
If you want to be creative then you need to come up with new ideas. You need think.
In order to do this you need to force it.
This is where most people get all upset and start objecting. “But I can’t force it!” They complain.
Their problem is that they want it to be effortless. They want to be in the bathtub, scrubbing away, and suddenly have this brilliant spark of inspiration.
That may be how it works occasionally, but you have to set yourself up for that sort of thing.
In other words, generating new ideas is like doing push-ups. If you have not done any push-ups for a while, then you probably cannot drop and give me 50 right now.
In order to become good at doing push-ups you have to do them every day. If you quit doing them for too long then eventually you lose the muscles, and you can no longer do them.
It is exactly the same way with ideas and creativity. It is no different at all. If you come up with new ideas every day then it will become natural for you. You will get better and better at it. It will become natural. It will become normal for you to generate new ideas.
This is how to build up your creativity. This is how you can produce creative ideas instantly, on demand, when someone points at you and tells you to come up with something brilliant.
Then in the future if someone puts you on the spot and says that they need a brilliant idea, you say “give me 10 minutes and a piece of paper.” Then you write down a dozen ideas that might work in their situation. Maybe some of them are stupid. Maybe some of them would never work in a million years. But it doesn’t matter. You are forcing your brain to produce possibilities. Then you hand them back the paper with your dozen ideas and they read through them, and a light bulb goes on. Maybe you did not solve all of their problems but you probably gave them some direction.
You can do this with anything. You can brainstorm your way to a better life, to new results, to positive changes. And it is a practice. If you do this every day then you will get better and better at forcing your brain to produce lists of possibilities. If you stop doing it then you will get bad at it in a hurry.
Right now you are either good at it, or you are bad at it. If you make your brain come up with ideas every day then you are good at it, just through force of habit. Just because you “exercise” that mental muscle each day.
This has nothing to do with creative ability, intelligence, or talent. I am not that smart of a person, really, but I force my brain to come up with ideas every day. And therefore I keep my brain “oiled up” so that it can do the work that I want it to do.
Anyone can create. You just have to decide that you are going to do it, then you have to live it each day. Don’t sit around and wait for inspiration to strike you, thinking that it comes like magic. If you do that it will never come. Instead, tell your brain who is boss. Force it to create something, even if you think it might be lousy at first.
Building up your creativity takes discipline
So how do you force yourself to be creative in recovery?
Tell your brain who is boss.
First, stop judging the results of your creativity. You can always judge later on, after you have built up your creative juices again.
At first, you must let go of the need to judge your ideas. Just start generating them.
Use pen and paper for this. Do it fast and dirty. Write out your ideas quickly. Brainstorm.
People will complain of course that “nothing is coming to them.” Sit there and make it come. Don’t let yourself get off the chair until you have produced a dozen ideas.
At first you may think your ideas are lousy. It doesn’t matter. Keep doing this every day, and you will get better at it.
Also, if you do this every day, your speed will increase drastically.
On the first day, you might sit there and stare up at the sky and wonder what you should write on the list.
After doing this for two weeks you will know that you cannot get off the chair until you produce a dozen ideas. So your brain kicks into overdrive. You have trained it to produce possibilities.
Remember, don’t judge the ideas. Don’t say “oh, that will never work, so I won’t write it down.” That just limits you. Write it down anyway. It may spark something later on.
This is how to force creativity. It is all about volume. You want to write a novel about your recovery journey? Sit down and list a dozen possible book titles. Tomorrow you can list out a dozen possible supporting characters. The next day you can list out a dozen potential plot twists. Or whatever. It doesn’t really matter (nearly as much as we think it does), the important thing is that you are forcing your brain to produce and generate ideas.
This is how to build discipline. You must keep doing it every day. If you want create, you must do it daily. If you go through a whole day without forcing yourself to create then you can treat that as a major setback. Now it becomes harder in the future to kick start your creative juices. In order to keep the juice flowing you must create on a daily basis.
This is actually a very good analogy for how personal growth in recovery works. When you stop pushing yourself to improve your life in recovery, you get complacent. If you force yourself to take positive action every day in recovery, then sobriety becomes pretty easy over time.
It is the same with creativity. It is a daily practice. Just like personal growth in recovery is a daily practice. If you engage with it every day then it flourishes. If you neglect it for too long then it withers and dies.
How to bounce ideas off each other and use spontaneous actions to stimulate your mind
There is another analogy that is very valuable when it comes to creativity.
If you want to know how to recover from addiction, one valuable method is to gain strength from other people. One of the most powerful things you can do in your recovery journey is to get suggestions from others about how to live and what to do with yourself.
If you take suggestions from others in recovery then you get a shortcut to wisdom. You benefit from their knowledge. Your recovery grows stronger because you learn from their mistakes.
This is similar to how creativity works in recovery. If you want to get creative then get a partner or someone to help you.
Brainstorm with them. Bounce ideas back and forth. Maybe they are stumped at first and can produce nothing at all. If that is the case then use your technique of brainstorming a list of ideas. Force yourself to come up with a dozen possibilities in regards to your situation. Then go through the list one at a time with the person and get their feedback and ideas about each entry. In doing so you will spawn at least a few extra ideas when they react to each item on your list.
This is how you bounce ideas back and forth. This is how you spark creativity between two people. One person must have a seed of an idea, and then the other person can build upon that.
If you are really good then you should each do the initial “seed list” of ideas in silence, by yourselves, and then come together and go through each item separately. In doing so you will really maximize the amount of ideas that you can generate between the two of you.
Many artists have complained when they get clean and sober that their creativity is gone.
This is just an excuse though. They still have their creativity within them, they just don’t believe it.
In order to unleash their creative forces they only need to build up the discipline to do it each day.
At first they will be upset with their results. They probably will not think much of the stuff that they create during the first week or two of their efforts.
But if they persist at it then it will get easier and easier. Eventually they will produce ideas effortlessly, just because they are in practice at it.
I have found this rhythm myself in recovery. I create something every single day, and I generate new lists of ideas every day. And when I go on vacation and stop doing this temporarily, it gets noticeably harder when I try to jump back into it.
While this is mostly about creativity and the arts, I think that the concepts here have powerful implications for recovery as well.
There will be times in your recovery journey where you need creativity. There will be times in your journey when you need this “creative power” in order to solve certain problems.
You don’t have to be outlining your next novel in order to benefit from the process being discussed here.
Any problem or hurdle in your life could potentially benefit from this process. Let’s say you are dealing with a difficult coworker and it is really ruining your life. Well, get out a piece of paper and start brainstorming ideas. Talk to the boss? Find a new job? Promotion to a new department? Humiliating office prank? And so on.
Just get it all down on paper. Force your brain to generate possibilities.
Then you can evaluate those ideas later. Or talk with others in recovery who can give you wisdom and direction (see “bouncing ideas off of others”, etc.).
This is how to keep your brain in good shape for the recovery journey. If you can generate new ideas then you will be much more effective at overcoming problems.
And that will make for an awesome life in recovery.
What about you, have you found a creative spark in recovery? Are you good at generating new ideas? Or are you out of practice with this concept? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!