We’re all creative beings. In fact, every cell in our body is either in the process of creating or recreating itself, over and over again. Yet, despite the unfathomable masterpiece that lives so innately within us, we still tend to want to break free—we still want to discover more.
Writers, amongst many other artists, are known as a group to seek beyond God-given means for their muse. Many times with the help of alcohol or mind-altering substances. Coleridge floated away with opiates. Hemingway accelerated as a severe drunk. Huxley dived into another universe with LSD. What people don’t realize, however, is that these momentary bouts of experience don’t—and didn’t—last forever. In fact, there’s a saying in Marijuana Anonymous that goes, “Marijuana gave me wings but marijuana took away the sky.” Replace that with any other “creative” drug and it tells the same story.
Leonard Buschel, director of the non-profit organization Writers in Treatment (WIT), knows too well the difficulties that writers face, especially those affected by alcohol or substance abuse. As a publisher for six years and a substance abuse counselor for ten, the former addict himself holds the written word in very high regard. He refers to writers as “heroes” and though writing is not his own source of livelihood, he consumes and interacts with it as if it is.
One example of his enthusiasm is the Addiction/Recovery eBulletin. What started out a year and a half ago as his own personal selection of good reading material now goes out to 14,000 people every week. By gathering as many new and unique stories from around the web on the topic of addiction and recovery, Buschel hopes to bring either “something you want to talk to your husband about at dinner or something a drug counselor can print out as a reference at their treatment center.” His incredible excitement for information is only exceeded by his admiration for those who produce it. He understands that writing is a daunting task. “Anybody who sits down, facing a blank piece of paper, and starts to see what’s going on in their minds, tries to tell a story or write a news article—it takes a lot,” he says. “It takes a lot of courage.”
Courage, however, can come in many different forms and it’s something that the writer, more than anyone else, must define for himself or herself. There’s the surge of courage that may come with experimenting with drugs—attaining that creative high, if you will. That in itself is a leap of faith and can be considered courageous to some, albeit dangerously so. A less obvious kind of courage, though, perhaps due to its quiet state is going without any substances and simply taking on the blank slate of responsibility. This courage, according to Buschel, invites a person to “see what life is like without any buffers or filters between [him or her] and reality, in all of its glory and all of its gloriousness.” Sounds like a trip, but it’s just reality to its core.
The idea of responsibility may sound lackluster but it is inherent to those who seek success in both their recovery and careers. This is precisely what brings people to WIT. “All of our clients have done really well because they need to pick up the phone to call us, so that means they need to be motivated and want to make a change,” says Buschel. And change usually comes in the form of rehab. For six and a half years, WIT has been giving scholarships to anyone living off of the written word a chance to get the recovery support that they need. From there, the decision is their own. Buschel explains, “Most people come to a moment of truth or clarity and think, ‘Oh, crap. I can’t live with and I can’t live without [alcohol and/or drugs].’ Getting into a rehab seems like the best—if not the only option—just to be safe for a while, have a chance to clean out their bodies, clear their minds and then see which way they want to proceed.”
For the most part, his clients stick to the sober path, mainly because of its effects on their careers. Released from the shackles of creative manipulation, they can actually “get up and read what they wrote the night before.” Buschel defines the creative difference off of substance dependency as “going from a racecar to a motor car, meaning you might not have the same bursts of brilliance but you have more sustained bursts of brilliance.” A steadier workflow undoubtedly also means a steadier cashflow, which in the end is just as important as the product being created if writing is indeed a person’s bread and butter.
The responsibility of professional writing itself is inspiring enough to continue producing creative work. Like deadlines, having something so cemented as a goal can feel restricting but it actually gives a focused direction to move towards, something every writer can appreciate. “I think once you get paid for something, you’re a journeyman. It’s a craft. You don’t need to wait for inspiration,” Buschel says. “It’s like what Woody Allen said, ‘98% of the key to success is just showing up,’ which means doing it even when you’re not in the mood.” Which you can also interpret as even when you’re not stimulated by alcohol or substances. The sobering reality of professional work is not something to run away from or ignore, though that is what writers often do in addiction. Instead, it’s a discipline that not only accentuates the quality of work but the writing process as a whole as well.
Sure, inspiration may take longer to come without anything to aid a writer besides his or her clear, stark vision of the world. But now, being sober, there’s time to kill (or, depending how you look at it, embrace). “Just the amount of time you have available not spent drinking in a pub. Not spent hungover the next day. You have so many more hours to be creative or go to the gym or take a walk in the woods,” Buschel points out. “Your life becomes so much richer and when people experience or envision that, they make a decision to walk that path of sobriety.” This in turn allows the writer to finally produce real material—material untainted by anything other than the pureness of reality. And that in itself is a muse of endless inspiration.