The misguided notion that intoxication is tied to making art is deconstructed in the documentary The Creative High
By John Lavitt
There is so much mythology built around creativity. Since humans first crushed grapes and painted on cave walls, among the most toxic and persistent myths has been the linkage of the creative act to intoxication. From painters and sculptors to dancers and musicians, a new documentary shows how transcending this mythology while authentically engaging with past traumas is necessary for recovering artists.
At the 14th annual Reel Recovery Film Festival this week at the Laemmle NoHo 7 in North Hollywood, Calif., a thought-provoking documentary by director Adriana Marchione, producer Dianne Griffin and editor Kirk Goldberg opens the door to the lives of artists in various stages of recovery. In The Creative High, the evolution of the stories of the nine artists begins with the rawest examples, teetering on the edge of relapse, and ends with the most experienced souls thriving in well-earned bases of creative wholeness.
When asked about the making of the documentary, Marchione revealed her journey: “I learned so much from engaging with the artists and hearing their stories. Their work and their courage in the face of real struggles gave me hope and direct access to the medicine of art. The experience reinforced what I have learned in my career as an expressive arts therapist and educator, illuminating the ways that art can be a restorative process for people rising beyond the ashes of their addictions. When we can honestly listen to what is happening within, we find that gateways to the imagination are opened. Being sober allows for a radical vulnerability that leads to creative freedom and authenticity.”
Such freedom and authenticity, however, are not easily achieved, given the barriers of trauma and the struggles to find a firm footing in recovery. There is a reason why addiction expert Gabor Maté, MD, describes this message as his mantra: “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.”
Art as Therapy
Indeed, relapse is an ever-present possibility for these artists, and the documentary does not back away from their apparent struggles. Most of their artistic efforts remain tied to their addiction. They continue to tell the same story because they continue to struggle. The act of creatively interrogating these stories in music, dance and the visual arts is part of what keeps them sober. At the same time, however, it keeps them from advancing beyond the trauma to a place where new stories can be told.
“I realize now that I was not creating from a place of authenticity when I was in my addiction.”—Dianne Griffin, producer of The Creative High
Such a focus on the trauma and the wreckage of the addictive cycle is not surprising. Still, in the stillness of the creative moment, being an artist in recovery is much better than being caught in the self-destructive trap of addiction. As Griffin explains, “I realize now that I was not creating from a place of authenticity when I was in my addiction. I was not sitting with myself because I was not comfortable with myself. I did make films when I was using, but there was always something missing, something blacked out by this constant cycle of suffering. In contrast, the creative process is an intuitive journey that sobriety truly supports.”
In the final part of The Creative High, artists on this journey tell their stories. As the founder of Rock To Recovery, a nonprofit that uses music to inspire, guitarist Wesley Geer describes his practice: “My recovery is a daily process, a spiritual program, and I stick with it no matter what. With such consistency comes growth, both as a human being and as an artist. Art is the ultimate expression of God, so attaching it to drug addiction is like saying my toilet creates the ocean.”
“As expressed in the journeys of these artists, recovery is the freedom to live a truly authentic life.”—Ahbra Schiff, producer of the Reel Recovery Film Festival
Ultimately, The Creative High helps to reveal the truth of the artistic journey. It is available for virtual and in-person screenings, and the filmmakers are happy to tailor a screening experience to specific needs. When asked why she chose to book this documentary, festival producer Ahbra Schiff explained, “The resonant theme of The Creative High highlights a message that reflects my experiences. By getting sober, I found a path to a greater sense of self-realization by working with Writers In Treatment. As expressed in the journeys of these artists, recovery is the freedom to live a truly authentic life.”