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