Sunday, 20 June 2021

"Even in the most crazy, terrifying moments, we are not alone." The exhibition is done, what a week.


The Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition in Brighton last week

Busy week.

I am sitting alone in absolute silence on my pink sofa in the empty house, feeling exhausted.  Today is the first day in a long time that I am, theoretically, doing nothing. Except today is the only day I have in which to do my blog and newsletter and so I am not quite doing nothing.  And, I am dressed in my walking clothes because this afternoon I aim to go back on the Downs for a walk.  Have I been invaded by aliens?  Probably.  I was looking forward to today so much, imagining myself lying on my bed in glorious well earned abandon, pots of tea on my bedside table, a plate of shortbread within reach and a smile of absolute success on my happy, sleepy face.  Interestingly, I have my lipstick on in this mental image.  I think I was imagining it on the front cover of a magazine.  The idea of a day of joyful snoozing has been the carrot that has kept me going.  But, I am not doing that.  I did a bit of it and then decided to get up and get stuff done.  And, I am really looking forward to a walk this afternoon.  I have even made the salty soup that I took on my walks while training for the Macmillan Mighty Hike, the 26 mile sponsored walk that I completed two weeks ago yesterday.  I think I am a changed person, taken over by aliens, or whatever, because where once my greatest love was to sit on my sofa where possible and live my life from there, now I am wanting to put on my walking boots and go for a hike on the Downs. Crazy.

A week ago today was the last day of the exhibition Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  This was the culmination of two years of work putting together paintings and words by me, drawings by Marie Paul and photographs by Michael McAlister on the subject of addiction.  The exhibition tag line was "behind every addict is someone traumatised by loving them", because though I am not an addict, there is addiction in my family.  The ongoing, messy, destructive, chaotic and ghastly business of living with and alongside addiction is something many of us experience.  Working through art to tell stories, paint portraits and share experiences of addiction helps us understand how other people manage. It is also the only thing I can think of to do.  I cannot change the addiction in my family, I can't make it go away and I can't escape from the fall out.  I have to find a way to manage the damage and to keep myself strong and boundaried while hoping for a miracle and keeping my idea of love strong and bullet proof. I will need it for myself and it had better be robust.  If I keep working on that love for me, I can hold it for my addict. It is a hard lesson to remember, that if we believe love is all, we must love the unloveable.  The love is there but it is tough, and real, and detached and keeps us going when we are in despair. This love is about letting go, walking away, and maintaining a distance from the madness (which is not ours) while keeping our hearts ready to respond if that response is going to work.  It is about hope. But a realistic hope.  

The week of showing the exhibition in Brighton, as part of the Brighton Fringe and supported bymy friend Ian's relapse prevention support group Arun Exact, and the excellent charity supporting families in addiction Adfam, has been intense, beautiful, enlightening and amazing. It has been hard work.  It seems that the people who came all needed to be there for whatever reason.  There were tears, powerful stories, insightful comments and interesting interpretations.  There were some crazy people, there always are, but they have stories too.  I met with and talked to many brave people who were living with, inside, and alongside addiction.  There were two fellows who left their cans of beer outside and came in for a cocaine filled experience of Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  After a while I asked the less buzzing of the two to take his friend out now, as he was not going to stop whizzing about and talking unless he was removed by his friend.  They both had a hug, gathered their beers, and left.  

Cousin Maddy helping to set up
We had an eighteen year old couple with addicted parents visiting every day, and telling their stories.  They had been together since they were thirteen, and seemed to be both way older than eighteen and also lost in a stunted childhood that could not progress.  I am hoping to work with these two youngsters to tell their stories and create their portraits. They would touch a great many people who have the same lives but who are no so articulate.  I met people with brain damage who were living free of active addiction.  I met a lady who I hope to work with, who is sober now in her seventies but with parents, children and grand children drinking as she had. Her husband died of drink.  Her story and portrait will be very important. One evening, we had a whole AA fellowship group come to see us after their meeting.  That was lovely.  All those people had found God, each other and hope.  It does not follow that they were all sober though. After listening to the stories from the week I am aware that giving up alcohol and drugs often takes more than will power and a good fellowship.  It helps, they say, but rehab is where many were able to stop.  And even that, I am told, is not necessarily effective only once.  It may take many rehabs.  There is a rule of three, my friend Ian tells me. Ian is ten years sober and clean after forty years of addiction.  He says that one person will relapse, one person will die and one person will recover.  The rule of three.  So speaking to the visitors in recovery last week, and having a whole fellowship meeting come to see us, was a powerful expression of hope.  And I suppose, it keeps me going where my own addict is concerned.  If these people who were so deep into addiction found ways through, maybe my addict won't die an addled death alone somewhere, maybe we can visit each other and have tea one day and talk about life, and sit together on the sofa in companionable silence.  Maybe. 

The next stage

 I will gather all my notes, new contacts and thoughts into some order from last week now.  Then I will start to paint and speak with new people from the exhibition just gone to create a new body of work for the next showing of Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  I don't know where I will hold the next exhibition yet, I will find a gallery or an exhibition space and take it from there.  Michael McAlister, a dear friend and colleague, will show his photographic series of powerful and challenging photos called Small Signs.  These are the small signs that describe his thirty years of addiction.  Sober and clean for many years now, Michael's work is deeply inspiring.  Marie Paul, another dear friend and colleague, is hoping to add to her dark, beautiful and mysterious drawings in charcoal, pastels and black crayon.  Marie's work is skillful, detailed, and personal to her own journey with drugs and addictions. It is the insight and creativity that Marie and Michael bring to the exhibition that inspires me too. They are part of the story of the exhibition through past addictions and are now exhibiting their own artwork from a position of recovery.  I am looking forward to working with new people for the next showing, though I am a bit nervous because there is so much work to be done to get to the next stage.  However, "nothing comes of nothing" as Shakespeare says. Or "get a move on" as my late husband Alan would say.

The Addict's Room.  Oil on wood.

Thank you

The exhibition ran smoothly because of the help and support I received. The generosity of all those heroes who helped to fund it through my Go Fund Me crowd funding is deeply wonderful.  Thank you all.  My two cousins Maddy and Kirsten stayed with me for the week and provided food and care at home here, and practical exhibition management support with me daily in Brighton.  My cheerful and efficient assistant Lora from Pink Spaghetti has helped from the very beginning, and everyone who came to this first showing of Addicts And Those Who Love Them made the week so worthwhile.  Thank you.

And it was sunny. Most of the week was downright Mediterranean. Cousin Kirsten turned a healthy shade of mahogany during the week and fair skinned freckled Maddy turned a gentle salmon pink despite being in the shade for most of the time.  The Fishing Quarter gallery where we were exhibiting overlooked the beach on the Brighton sea front, which meant that we had to have lots of chips.  We had to.

And now

It is time to rest and recover. Whatever I do on addiction is only a single grain of sand on a seashore. I want to gather together all the stories of the people I met last week and plan my next exhibition phase. In my own life, I have always decisions to make about the addiction in my family.  It does not go away, at least not for long.  It is unsolvable, constant and destructive.  It is distressing, frightening and confusing. I suppose one of the most important messages from this work I am doing is that we are not alone.  Even in the most crazy, terrifying and out of control moments, we are not alone.  And we all need each other.  Keeping quiet about what is happening to us when it is traumatic and distressing (whatever it is) is unsustainable, and it is a shock to meet other people and hear that your story is their story too.  We can get lost in the shame and stigma of having this thing, addiction, in our lives, and try to keep quiet about it.  We make excuses, explain things away, take the rap, try and cover up the damage.  And when we don't any more, and the world does not end, because we have found the support of a community who know how we feel because they are feeling it too, we can move forward.  I remember walking into a drugs and alcohol support meeting many years ago for the first time, and collapsing in tears when it was my turn to speak.  I heard myself saying that I hated my addict, and I wanted them dead.  I was taken aback by what I had just said, feeling a little out of control and was expecting the group to ask me to leave. Instead, they listened, gave me tissues, hugged me and said they understood.  Many of them had come to this group with the same feeling, and look at them now, they said.  Of course I would feel this way they said, it is intolerable dealing with so much on my own.  It isn't that I want my addict dead they helped me see, it is that I wanted the situation to go away.  And I hated the addiction, they said. If I hated the addict, I would not be there with them in floods of tears with my heart breaking.  

And so this project continues.  But first, in a minute, I will go for a walk.  I has been an insanely busy time.   


Marie, Me and Maddy. What a wonderful week.

I am looking for stories and experiences of addiction, either your own or someone who you love, for possible use in the Addicts exhibition.  Stories can be anonymous too. Email me here in confidence.

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