Magazine article Addiction Professional

The Art of Sobriety

Magazine article Addiction Professional

The Art of Sobriety

Article excerpt

During his time in prison about 50 years ago, a young Gary Ryan met two fellow inmates who proved to offer a positive and lasting influence on his life.

"I started painting in prison," the now 73-year-old Ryan recalls. "A couple of guys there were artists, and they invited me to join them." It wouldn't take Ryan long to realize he could lose himself in the creation of an artwork. Still, it would be many years before he would become comfortable referring to himself as an artist, finally coming to that conclusion in an "aha!" moment during an early-morning meditation.

Even today, Ryan jokes that using the "artist" title would actually suggest that he was making money from painting. But he does not hesitate to say that art has played an instrumental role in sustaining his 33 years in recovery. The former owner of a concrete contracting business, Ryan had the kind of job that left plenty of his afternoons free for developing his talent in painting.

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"My painting sustained me many times; it gave me something to do," he says. "I could be at home safe and have an enjoyable evening. It figured quite prominently in my recovery."

Spiritual focus

All of Ryan's paintings have a spiritual center. The theme serves to remind him of the noble message embodied in the 12-Step fellowship, the brotherhood to which he attributes his recovery.

Much as his memory of the actual offense that landed him in prison for "three years, seven months and 18 days" is largely lost, so too are details of his earliest involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) somewhat sketchy. It was Ryan's ex-wife who suggested during a phone conversation about visitation schedules that he attend a meeting with her new husband.

"I went to that meeting and I was pretty much overwhelmed with the friendliness and openness," Ryan says. "People were even laughing. I wanted to be like them."

At the time, he says, he lived in a "fantastic little shack on the beach" in Southern California and felt beyond miserable. The people he met at AA would get him through the fog of the first few months, beginning with the first night when one man said he would pick him up the next day for his second meeting. …

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