Writing to Transform

This originally appeared in Daniel Maurer’s Transformation is Real. But I was recently reminded that creativity once saved my sobriety. And I want to read know how creativity plays a role in your life.

Writing is therapy. 

I put pen to paper or keystrokes to screen to feel refreshed. On a rare occasion, it becomes a singular action to remove an obsession or urge in my life. On this even rarer occasion, it removed two.

I know right where I was when it happened.

The North Park Blocks of Portland, Oregon, walking south to catch a bus home. Catherine, an old obsession of mine texted me asking if I could give her the contact information for my cocaine dealer in Los Angeles. A mental tailspin ensued. Two triggers ignited mental gunfire: Catherine and cocaine. I saw her entire body in front me; I could taste it on my gums: lust, rage, spite—a sinister cocktail mixed in my thinking.

I called my sponsor.

“Delete the message. Then delete her name from your phone. De-friend her on Facebook. Take the Pinback CD she gave you off your iPod. Then say a prayer.”

Doing these things helped. But, antsiness remained. I continued to reel in the fervor of spiraled thinking, reminiscent to the abyss I had crawled out of months earlier.

It was the very next day I was on a plane to see family. I would make amends to my father that weekend. I took my window seat still anxious in old lust, old craving—old self.

But then it happened. Words came to me like staring at a flat body of water when rain starts to scatter ripples. A poem put the feeling on the page. I was given a shovel to bury this nonsense. Where’s my pen? Bing. Flight attendants prepare for take off.

“Excuse me miss,” I stop her from closing the remaining overhead compartments. “Do you have a pen?”

She checked.

“I don’t. I can go back to the cabin and get one after we are airborne.”

Panic mode: the fear of words slipping away forever, the feeling that this obsession will always haunt me, the worry that my road out of misery is closing.

“I need a pen now!” My legs jerked back and forth.

“I’m sorry sir, but I’ll get one when we’re airborne.” Her voice dropped an octave and slowed to a measured cadence.

I rub my temples, caught between the euphoria of creation, and the fear of its loss.

An ascension to cruising altitude. The pen! A deep breath. The words:


Yesterday was yesterday.

And my tempered, stone heart

was waiting in the tide pool

of healing time, learning the

slow eternal values of incompletion.


Today your words came.

Time’s healing trickle was consumed by

a molten flow, and hardened in

the unforgiving wind.

your breath, your forgotten

warmth, enveloped my rock while

my mind burned in the ambient fire.


How a woman rehearses my

memories I will never understand.


We reach cruising altitude and I experienced the release of revelation.

This is what synthetic highs can only mimic. I thought drugs gave me wings, and they became a crutch. Now, I depend on creativity to sustain my soul. It is my crutch that gives me wings. The spiritual high has no peak or valley; it catapults you into new dimensions where all you need is what you’re already given. You become the instrument of something great.

The next poem is hidden in some future experience or act of letting go. Already written, all I do is uncover it. This fills my life with purpose and passion. It helps me adhere to principles of character and discipline.

Author’s note: Transformation is Real features transformations of all kinds and in all forms. Writing has been the most transformative aspect of my recovery. What is transforming your recovery?

Share for the person still searching.

25 Responses to “Writing to Transform

  • My faith. From the inside out, one day at a time.

  • I am not in recovery from substance abuse but I do suffer from severe depression. This is a luscious piece of writing and your words brought chills to my spine and cartwheels to my heart. My own writing has saved me from the monsters in my head on more than one occasion. In fact, parts of my entire novel-in-progress stem from a need to work out my own demons. Words have become my drug of choice. Thank you for reminding me of their power. Please don’t ever stop writing.

    • Thank you Melinda. You don’t stop either!

      I’m glad this piece resonated with you. I can see why. Words are without a doubt my drug of choice as well. I’m so hooked. I usually need to wake up early to get a thousand in before I start my day. I’m wishing you the best in your novel-in-progress. Whatever happens, I hope you find that deep satisfaction that comes with finishing a long term project. Whatever keeps that mental health stuff at bay is totally worth it!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Saoirsek
    8 months ago

    That wing/crutch analogy makes so much sense. And yes, I had to stop listening to certain music, sounds a bit hardcore but if I was being honest it was an attempt to hold on to certain people,places and things. Thanks for the words?

    • Man do I get that. Seriously, that pinback album was very unhealthy for me. It brought me back to such bad places, both mental and physical. Triggers are real, for sure. The only music that has transcended both bottom and recovery for me is Dylan. His music was special when I was sick and it’s special to me now.

      I’m glad that analgy worked for you too. It’s that new freedom stuff I hear all the time.

      Have a great weekend! Hope you get a good run in.

  • Writing has been mine as well. I started my blog as a companion to my book being published. But it also is a great outlet for me to educate others about multiple sclerosis. And of course my faith in Jesus Christ as my savior and Lord!

    • I believe we are sub-creators under the true creator.

      I can contribute to God’s creation in my own creativity. It feels like a divine process, a connection, and it sustains me and my soul. I’m so glad you’ve experienced that sensation and could share it here!

  • I really loved reading this, Mark. I know that manic itch of needing a pen RIGHT NOW before you lose something brilliant that’s just sitting in your brain. I used to write a lot of poetry in my younger days and was constantly doodling on anything I could find when the inspiration hit. Haven’t tapped into that in a long while, but reading this brought back memories and although this memory you’ve written about is a sort of madness, I found it really familiar and comforting. It truly is a beautiful high to unleash onto a page. Cheers!

    • Isn’t it though? I haven’t been writing much poetry lately either. I’m trying to rock with stories, narratives. Although, when, rarely, a poem does come to me, it’s still my favorite artistic expression. Something about the urgency, like you wrote. It’s that urgency that is so exhilarating. I’m glad this resonated Alicia and thanks for your comment.

  • I want to “like” all of these comments…you know where I hang out! LOL I love your sponsor and I love that you took all of the actions he suggested but it still took some time to recover from those triggers. You had to simmer for a bit, but you did and you managed and you were ok and you used the thing so precious to you, your gift of writing to center yourself and get your spirit back to where it belonged. ❤️

    • That’s exactly right, Annette. If it wasn’t for sponsorship, I’d be dead. Pure and simple. I’m glad you commented on that because it’s always a good reminder. We do this thing together. Always together. Never Alone. Have a great weekend!

  • Writing and music for me, brother. Love this post.

  • john spence
    8 months ago

    Mark, its been a couple weeks, maybe more since I had my regular injection of MoM (miracle of (the)mundane). Ive always wanted to be able to write lyrics to riffs I’ve come up with on t guitar. alas its not easy. Writing your poetry, I know serves you well. For me I like to mess on guitar, can’t read music, couldn’t tell u what half the chords I use are called. But I LOVE it. also messing with photos, text, the layout. better the message the more it helps.
    The phone call from the other side! sex+flake, can be a terrible thing!!! love johnny

    • Keep strumming that guitar! Who cares how it sounds or what you know because it’s about how it makes you feel! I think you’ve really got something there, Johnny. I’m glad you stopped by today and reconnected. Thinking about you, my brother across the pond. Take care and stay in touch.

  • I’m also finding writing a surprisingly effective ally in staying sober. Great poem!

    • I’m so glad you’ve found writing! Without it, I’d be so lost. Probably dead. Thanks for letting me know. Have a great weekend!

  • This is a great post and I love your poem. I’ve had a glimpse inside your head and it’s helped me understand the struggle of someone very close to me. Those brave enough to share their stories gives me hope, always! Thank you.

  • I recently cycled back through one of my favorite post of yours, The Thirst. In it, you mention chasing the perfect combination of chemical high, in hopes of maximizing creativity. Until recently, this was the starting and ending point of my creativity. It was all in vain.

    Now, as you beautifully mention here, I chase the hidden piece already written and waiting to be uncovered. This keeps me going; this keeps me plugged in.

    To be completely honest, this creative thing is new to me. At times it pushes the limits of my sanity, but I continue because it feels right, while providing meaning and purpose. We wake to fight another day, my brother, finding creativity in all we do; this is recovery.

    • Tate –

      First of all, thank you for reading and caring enough to connect the dots the way you have. You’ve pinpointed a major truth to me. Something I’ve never seen for myself. Such a powerful thing, to have people in your corner in this thing, and get in the other people’s corner for the fight. You’re exactly right. I did chase that perfect balance of chemicals, and now I chase that perfect stream of creativity. One was synthetic, chemically induced. The other is organic, and in my opinion, directly from God, or if you like, a higher power. There is no doubt in my mind that the creativity I used to obsess with chemicals about, is the same creativity that keeps me sane. It is a natural drug. Maybe a divine drug? If there could be such a thing. Thank you for pointing out what I never fully connected for myself. You’re such a good friend in this thing.

      I’m glad you’re exploring what creativity can mean to your recovery. I hope you find it a reprieve like I have. I think we need it, brother. We need to find outlets for ourselves. I write everyday. If I don’t, I feel off. And for us, it’s not just about feeling “off.” It’s about walking one day, one step, one moment closer to a drink or a drug. I’ve lost two people this year, man. Shit, three. This thing is real. It’s not a matter of, “oh, let’s find some cool new hobby,” it’s like, find something you love to do and cling to it like a life preserver or drown. Maybe I’m being dramatic.

      I also find exercise helps. I play basketball once a week and take the kids on bike rides. If I’m not doing that, I feel that same off feeling that I know is trouble.

      Thank you for your friendship and support. It means everything, Mark

  • Great piece Mark.

  • Writing does it for me, too. A similar experience to the one you share about in this post, though, is what pulled me away from publicly sharing for these past few weeks. I withdrew to the pages of my notebooks rather than posting to my blog.

    The last line stuck out to me, though: “Share for the person still searching.”

    I questioned what kept me from posting these past three weeks and I believe it’s ego. The idea that I need to have all the right answers. Some incredible message like you do. That I need to be on the other side of the pain rather than sharing from the trenches. Sharing the process while the scab still forms, though, can show others how to navigate similar places in their process.

    Thank you, Mark.

    • Elliott- thank you for visiting and commenting! I’ve put you up in the “community” part of the site. It was great to hear from you again.

      I hope you enjoyed your time away. There’s nothing wrong with taking time for that. Your privacy should always be your preference. I think this online thing is only for people who are comfortable with it. I would understand anyone who chose to remain private about their process. And it’s not like remaining private doesn’t mean you aren’t in your own “in the flesh” community, helping people.

      But I’m glad you’re out with your story. It’s a strong message. And people look for answers online. Think about how often we “google” things. Whether or not we like it, it is true and it’s not going anywhere. So let’s get out there and show up online with the solution right? Part of the solution is the struggle. That’s where people identify in with what we’re going through.

      Anyway, it’s great to hear from you. I appreciate your comment. It got me rambling. And that’s all this blog is anyway!

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