The content of this post was submitted to Edge of Humanity Magazine by Matt Nelson a photographer and writer at The Street Dog Collective.
By Matt Nelson
For a long time I have found respite in substances and alcohol, respite from myself and the world around me, in short I am an addict. Being a drug addict or alcoholic is much more than just using substances on a regular basis, for me anyway these are symptoms of a much deeper, more spiritually debilitating disease. From as early as I can remember, I had incredible issues with being able to feel any love for myself. I woke up most mornings wondering how I was going to get hurt, cheated or failed by life and people. I very rarely looked in the mirror and saw someone worthy of love, instead I saw a person I felt was bad and incapable of functioning effectively in life.
Whenever I felt good I was always in anticipation of when the fall would come or how I would ruin the positive situation I was in. In my late teens, I discovered drugs and alcohol and for the longest time I used them as a cushion to life.
For a long time I enjoyed them, they numbed the noise inside my head and allowed me to function and fit into society as well as be accepted into a range of social circles. Over time though what started as casual and weekend use moved into more regular dabbling. I essentially broke the rules I had set for myself. I started using on weeknights, during daylight hours, before work, when things were good, when things were bad, when I was happy, when I was hurt, before I knew it I couldn’t survive 20 minutes without my cushion.
I know some people believe it to be weakness and I completely understand their opinion. It was my choice to use and drink, however the darkness that eventually gripped me, with one part of my mind, call it the pure, wanting to stop and get help, the other part, the darkness, wanting more. Eventually the darkness overwhelmed the pure, I lost any sense of connection to self and soul, I was a shell of a person, whose only purpose was to get and use more.
I had the usual outcomes of using and abusing, run ins with the law, incredible sickness, loss of self and taking risks that could have meant my life.
Eventually I had a choice, either I could end my life or I could get help. I didn’t have the guts to end it which therefore left me the option of getting help.
I walked into a clinic and laid out as much as I could at the time. It wasn’t a lot as I was still incredibly fragile but it was a start, and this started my journey on recovery.
I’ve been clean and sober almost a year now and it’s been one of the most incredible journeys I could ever have imagined. See when I entered into recovery I felt that the drugs and alcohol were the issues, as I mentioned they were the symptom. I had a much deeper issue and that was me. Since I’ve been in recovery I’ve been able to look deep into myself, at my resentments, my anger, my frustration with the world and with some amazing people start to find peace with this all.
One of the things that I was told early on that to purely stop the substances wouldn’t be enough. I had to spiritually fix myself and find a new way to live. I’d always loved photography. There’s something beautiful about being able to freeze a moment, so during one of my early sessions I mentioned that doing a photography project raising awareness about addiction and it’s dangers would be a positive step. In my acting using the shame and self disgust was almost too much to bare. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror let alone put my hand up and ask for help. What would people think about me? The numbers say 10% of the population are suffering from addiction to something, in my eyes and from my experience that could have been a wife, brother, mother or son. I was so good at hiding the truth of my issue so I wondered how many people may have an issue without asking for help.
So this project, From Isolation to Solitude, was something I moved forward with. I wanted to use photography as a medium to showcase, artistically, those moments of Isolation that I found myself in as an active addict. My feelings were if I put these images on the wall and stood next to them to say it’s ok to come forward maybe others will identify with the emotions of the images and ask for help. From a personal point of view it was important that I put myself in the images. This was me taking a very important step in my recovery. I was admitting to my past and facing the moments that had almost destroyed me.
All in all it took me 6 months to shoot and the final outcome was an exhibition in Singapore which overall was a great success. People quite often asked during the exhibition why I didn’t put any descriptions to the images. This was important for me as I wanted people to interpret them how they wanted too. I felt that too often an artists work can be diluted if it is explained for the viewer. In the end, this was about addiction. If people suffering depression or the like related and felt something then this was important for me. The isolation of addiction is in the images and for the solitude is me being able to put my name to the work, stand next to it and own it as a piece of my past, one that I’m moving away from day by day. One that has made me a better member of society, in the end there is no shame with asking for help. It saved my life.