It is said that alcoholism is the only disease intent on convincing those who suffer they’re not sick. This deception is, of course, only one of alcoholism’s many lies, the first of which is that happiness can be purchased and consumed.
There is a parallel, and equally dangerous, bit of twaddle in the world of mental illness. This nonsense runs thusly – I do not want to “become sane” because if I do I will lose my uniqueness, my brilliance, and my creativity. That skewed perspective has led to many voyages of self-destruction, some more abbreviated than others.
At first, alcohol does give one a rosy; numb feeling – so it is not hard to understand how people imagine they’re not ill but simply having a good time. Likewise, manic episodes carry much with them to provide the illusion of creativity – boundless energy and confidence, bizarre observations and juxtapositions of thoughts, and the feeling of being “directed” or “guided” by unknown agents. But this maelstrom of mad activity rarely withstands the cold scrutiny and deliberation of daylight.
As the great Taz Mopula reminds us, “Art is not produced by healthy people.” Well and good, but this does not mean that being sick – whether by natural or artificial means – makes you an artist. (For years I validated my descent into alcoholism and drug abuse by clinging onto the observation that nearly all the artists I admired, especially the writers, were alcoholics.) Being an alcoholic does not make one Faulkner; being an untreated bipolar does not make one Lord Byron.
The irony here is that we are seeing a very old syndrome – the human desire to possess the rose without confronting the thorn. We reach for alcohol to make us happy when we know in our hearts that happiness involves hard work – it is the byproduct of leading a righteous life. We cling to mania because we think of it as a shortcut to the heights of celestial creativity when we know that even the most deranged, brilliant artists achieved their heights the hard way – dedicated labor.
In madness, and in the despair of addiction, we forget ourselves – what emerges cannot be true because even we do not know what is true. The long campaign of self-discovery that leads to mental health will take you to what is true for you, and guide you to creativity that matters.
Art is not flash and hyperbole, art is something divine within you that you learn to set free as you heal. Drugs, alcohol, and mania are poor substitutes – hold out for the real thing.