From Surviving to Thriving: Unleashing Creativity

Madeline Goldstein
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“Adversity has effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant”

          -Horace

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It started out innocently enough, with no preconceived ideas or expectations. I had no idea that what began as giving a gift would change my life forever. I live in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. It is a college town nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. As of this writing, I am eighteen months drug free after having been on Xanax for twenty years. While this, of course, makes me very happy, I still struggle with many, many withdrawal issues and can’t enjoy being here as much as I would like. I’ve been exhausted much of the time, dealing with various withdrawal issues like fear and physical pain, insomnia, anxiety and much insecurity about my appearance (weight gain, hair loss, dry skin.)

I have a friend, Hiram, who lives in East Harlem in New York City—El Barrio to be exact. This is a poor, rough part of New York City. Being a native New Yorker myself, I know that neighborhood well, I know how stressful it is living there, and I know how hard it can be to find “beauty” there. I decided to send him some photos of Boulder to bring some beauty and peace into his life. At that time, I had a very old, primitive cell phone with an even more primitive camera on it—so old and primitive that I couldn’t actually see what I was photographing. I’d just point at something that looked really beautiful to me, hoping that even if the pictures were not very good he could still enjoy them. I took a few pictures and sent them to him.

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Even though the technical quality of the photos wasn’t very good, I realized that I seemed to have some kind of affinity for photography, especially nature photography. I also had an affinity for naming each of the photos I took for Hiram, a process I discovered was really fun and creative, and I loved that part of the process almost as much as actually taking the photos: “Mysterious Snow,” “Sparkling Water,” “Magic” “Singing Stones,” “Divine Detail.”

I fell in love with every aspect of photography. Prior to this, I’d only taken the usual photos of family, friends, parties, never really any of nature. Here I was in Boulder, though, surrounded by such majesty. I took photos of the sky, the snow, various creeks; the flowers, trees, and mountains. Everywhere I looked, it seemed, was something spectacular. I could feel how much this helped my heart and soul. There were days that I’d wake up and all I could do was cry for no particular reason, just another miserable day of withdrawal. However, the idea of taking photos would get me out of the house. Especially on those days, the absolutely only thing that would get me to move at all was the idea of taking photos. One particular day, I was just crying, crying, crying, and as soon as I got to a beautiful spot that I loved, I stopped crying, took photos, and felt at peace. I even found that the days I felt the worst were the days I took the best photos. Sometimes as I’d lie in bed (or on the couch, which had become the only place I could get any sleep at all), I’d see the images I’d taken in my mind and my whole body and heart would relax. Through these photos, the beauty I was surrounded with became a part of me.

I also noticed that since I started taking photos, my ability to write has seriously declined. I find it very hard to write anything and writing this has taken a long time. Writing is all about words, while photographs are all about images. Taking photos makes my brain feel open and at peace. For me, taking photos is like dancing: no words, just movement and joy and being totally immersed in the present moment. No past or future, just the immediacy of taking that shot before the clouds change or the light shifts, and worries fade into the background.

Going through the horrors of withdrawal in many ways has left me speechless and beyond words, and I wonder if this is why taking photos has been so healing for me. Through photography, I’ve also come to realize that the beauty I see outside of me also reflects the beauty and light that are within me. There must be an inner light within me that recognizes beauty, as though the photographs are already inside of me, just waiting to be freed. I feel that I am living more fully, more alive. I forget myself and feel part of something larger. I am part of nature more then ever before. I flow more. The edges of my life are softer.023

For me, finding this wonderful new area of creativity has become like a meditation. A flowing, moving meditation. I am climbing places, walking around seeking the allure of the clouds, the mountains, the water, the earth. Creativity is a way to encourage the body’s relaxation response. It’s helping me to cope better, and gives me something to look forward to other than another horrific day of just trying to survive. Creativity in any form increases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has been called a natural antidepressant. Our brains do make new neurons in response to whatever activities we do, so I believe I am helping my poor, tired, overworked, injured brain to heal and create new and healthier pathways.

I got a new cellphone with a new, much better camera and I am ecstatic. I can actually sometimes see what I’m photographing and now I can upload the pictures myself. I can now even adjust the exposure, the contrast, the shadows. My joy of taking photos is enhanced by this technology and I have found another layer of creativity that I love.

I believe that it doesn’t matter what medium we choose, whether photography, dancing, knitting, or singing. We can be creative in whatever way feels best and right for each of us. For those of us in withdrawal, if we can’t get out of the house, we can creatively clean, do laundry, or cook. Even if all we can do is lie around, we can creatively rest and know that we are artists even in withdrawal. We have our imaginations. The brain doesn’t know whether we are actually painting a beautiful picture or whether we’re merely imagining it. Our imaginations can help free us from our beds, our couches, the seeming smallness of our lives and our day-to-day struggles. We are creating new lives free of drugs knowing that we are true Warrior Artists in every way, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow. Nature in all its glory is full of grace, harmony, majesty, timelessness and passion that speak to the heart and soul. Creativity and art in any form can help us tap into the knowledge that there is no actual separation between oneself and the exquisiteness of creation that is alive in our every cell, even in the midst of withdrawal.

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Madeline Goldstein
Madeline is originally from the Bronx, New York and has done extensive community work throughout her life. She is the editor of two published books, had several articles published and is a freelance copywriter with web content, ghost writing, marketing and research expertise. She has written promotional materials for individuals, small businesses and non-profit organizations.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Wait-did I write this?? (joke)…I am in my 13th month off Klonopin; I have come to the same conclusions. While I do have a camera on my cell phone, I have yet to be successful sending a photo (cognitive deficit? A bit!) I have picked up my old Canon AE1, found a battery and film for it and have been taking it with me when I feel well enough to go out for one of my walks…

    On good days, I can feel my creativity bubbling just under the surface-haven’t had the money to develop any film yet (also using an old Yashica 120 format and a funky plastic lens 120 Chinese camera) but have been reacquainting myself with film and processes as my brain damage allows.

    It keeps my mind occupied and helps prevent the constant looping psychological horrors that have characterized this process thus far.

  2. I, too, am a “Warrior Artist” who walked through the valley of the shadow of death of psychiatry. It’s possible that the fact I painted a lot while I was being poisoned with massive amounts of dopamine antagonists may have increased my dopamine levels, thus prevented my death.

    “Creativity and art in any form can help us tap into the knowledge that there is no actual separation between oneself and the exquisiteness of creation,” beautifully stated. My best wishes on your recovery journey.

  3. Is it not the moment of the light coming into the eyes, the moment the colors become clear, the sense of feeling and the scent of the earth and that of the wondrous stars – that life again unfolds in the self?

    I feel your words, as I do your photos, and call to the -now – the days of wonder, rolling out – in the wilderness – to the point of being drunk on the images of a living earth and heavens but without others the heart cannot survive.

    I hear in you the understanding of the box the system put us in, the medication is a coffin first spiritual than actual. We are looked at like subjects in a cage, and related to as such – that so many fall to being the image of their captors is horrific

    In your reaching out and photos we see the emergence of the self, being and truth of living

    Thank you for sharing

  4. “I also noticed that since I started taking photos, my ability to write has seriously declined. I find it very hard to write anything and writing this has taken a long time.”

    Ms. Goldstein, may I make a suggestion, if you don’t mind? If you are correct, if there is an inverse relationship between your taking photos and your diminished capacity to write, please, please take photos all day and night, 365, with one exception. Take breaks from photography when you are absolutely positive your writing skills are at an all time low or completely gone. Then, take some time to write.

    If what you’ve written here is an example how photography is destroying your talent for writing, you’ve got to do more work with your camera.

    With your second posted picture you captured the path I imagine after I die and am on my way, strolling along, to heaven.

    The last picture catches what occurs while on my trek to heaven, it suddenly bursts into view. Silent. Stunning. Lush. Indescribable. Overwhelming, piercingly beautiful, heaven.

    Thanks for touching my heart today

  5. I gasped as I read, “There must be an inner light within me that recognizes beauty, as though the photographs are already inside of me, just waiting to be freed.” Although I experienced something similar when I drew what I saw on paper, and now as I put into words the stories that come to mind, I didn’t associate either drawing or writing with a “light within me that recognizes beauty”. How enlighteningly beautiful!

    It makes sense to me now that the photographs that we “take” become part of us. This supports my concern about actors who play the parts of horrid characters: what does that do to them?

    I laughed when I read your words, “creatively rest”. I just wrote about that in another discussion at this website. You can find my comment by clicking on my name.

    I can literally see why you enjoy photography so much as I look at the pictures you posted here. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing them, and for sharing your experience of “taking” them. I wonder what the story is behind the stacked stones.