Art & Addiction Recovery

in Recovery resources
Published Jul 17, 2020
Michael Blanchard

Art is a pursuit that many people in recovery discover for themselves. It can be a useful coping strategy, a means of escape, and even a new skill to develop. This week’s blog is an interview with award winning photographer Michael Blanchard, author of Through a Sober Lens, about how he uses art to maintain his recovery and overcome relapse.

What is your experience with relapse/returning to use?

Michael: I had two major relapses and almost a third.  After 35 years of drinking I entered into  a 5 day detox in Florida.  It was difficult with the DT’s etc.  On my return my girlfriend and I made a vow of sobriety.  The next 10 months were the best of my entire life.  We got married.  She was my only support system.

However,  when we began to fight I had no one else to talk to and eventually broke down. I convinced myself that one nip of vodka wouldn’t hurt — I was soon off to the races.

Two years later I was arrested twice for drunk driving, with both incidents occurring within two months of each other.  I hired the best attorney I could. In exchange for going to jail I was instead admitted to a 30-day rehab.  Six days after discharge, I was once again arrested for drunk driving for the third time. That which life as a knew it, leading to a suicide attempt.

The “almost third” relapse occurred after a perforated bowel and a med flight to Mass General Hospital for emergency surgery, which occurred five years into my current term of 10 years of sobriety.  After 10-days in the hospital and a colostomy bag, I was released and faced three more surgeries over the next few  months.  The colostomy was reversed and I had two hernia repairs.  By the third surgery, I was starting to cut Oxycodone pills to make them last longer – no longer using them for pain management, but rather sedation. I turned myself in and did not start drinking or using again.

How did your experience of returning to use shape your recovery today and what key lessons did you learn?

  1. I know the disease never goes away
  2. I know I will die if I start using again. I will never be able to control alcohol or drugs – that “knowing” has helped save me
  3. Never depend on just one person for your recovery.  If that relationship goes bad, you go bad
  4. Move from isolation and invite others into your life regardless of how uncomfortable it may feel at first
  5. Giving back should be a part of everything you do
  6. The 30-day rehab was AA-only and medications (of any kind) were frowned upon.  I came to find out I had undiagnosed bipolar disorder and when I attended a three-month rehab the medications saved me
  7. Three months is almost essential rather for rehab
  8. If you feel you are slipping be mindful and tell on yourself
  9. Relapse happens more from social issues at home after returning from rehab, rather than “not getting it” while in rehab
  10. Finding a passion makes an enormous difference in recovery
  11. Have a relapse plan immediately available with phone numbers and action steps


How has art influenced the trajectory of your recovery and to what extent does art help you maintain your recovery?

Photography has made all the difference. I was a chief operating officer of a company and when I lost most everything. I re-emerged as a photographer who changed completely through the process of post-traumatic growth.

The camera pulls me out the door and connects me to spiritual energy.  I started out seeking landscapes and seashores but kept running into people along the way.  Those interactions and synchronicities became the material for my book.  In seeking solitude I found people and learned photographs can help me and others.

Evenings were my most difficult time in early in recovery, as I tried to relieve stress at the end of the day without alcohol.  Now the evening hours are my playground.  I look for clouds, sunsets and reasons to be out the door and back to life.  This is a complete shift in the way I look at sobriety.

Photos serve as a means of expression and mindfulness.  I express emotions and feelings that used to be locked deep inside by the taking and editing of photographs.  I write stories influenced by the photograph, as a means of self-therapy and to help others.  By telling my story, struggles, pain, happiness and joy, people find hope they can overcome adversity and live a joyful life in the absence of drugs and alcohol.  Photography has become my means of giving back.

How can people in recovery access art and experience the benefits of creating?

Michael: I believe the finding of a passion has been overlooked in the AA model of recovery.  AA saved my life but I attend less now.  I instead use my writing and photography to connect with people.  There are many paths to recovery and it is so important that alternative paths be revealed and discussed.  Some people struggle with AA and can succeed by connecting through art, cooking, teaching, yoga etc.  The key is connection and getting out of isolation.  In my master’s program is psychology I uncovered many programs of recovery from Buddhist to religious to cognitive.  All have been successful.

A snapshot of Michael’s photography

Published with full permission.

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