(TW/CW: depression, anxiety, alcoholism)
In my years-long journey with depression and anxiety, there are various habits that I have developed. Some of these habits are positive ones, the ones that help me maintain and practice awareness so that I can actively combat depression. Some of these habits are symptoms of the depression itself–subtly self-destructive actions/behaviors that feed the beast.
A major part of actor training is the recognition of habits, and the breaking of them. In actor-training-land, these are often physical habits, like slouching, pacing, looking at the floor, releasing breath before speaking, speaking in a higher/lower register than your natural/neutral speaking voice, etc. Some of the habits are less tangible, like over-or-under-analyzing, daydreaming, self-doubt, etc.
Working on the recognition and deconstruction of habits that effect one’s artistic process may likely spill over into other aspects of existence. It does for me, at any rate, and it makes sense to me that it does, because even though acting/theatre is only a part of who I am and what I do–all that I am and do impacts my work in theatre.
A bad habit that I developed (or that already existed, but grew exponentially) as I developed alcoholism was that of coming home and numbing myself and shutting off. For nearly four years, I would regularly come home from work/school/rehearsal/life, close the door, open a bottle, and shove some shitty junk food into me. Did it happen every single day? No. But it generally happened at least 4 days a week. Sometimes a week would go by without booze, but there was generally junk food. I gained about 60 pounds over the course of those 4 years. I didn’t read much, I didn’t keep my house terribly clean, I didn’t write much, I didn’t make much art, I didn’t see friends or cultivate friendships, I didn’t watch movies or TV (other than streaming a few TV shows), I didn’t do much in the way of keeping my spirit and soul alive.
I will have been sober for one year on November 10th, 2017. It’s really huge. It’s the best gift I have ever given myself. It’s difficult and easy all at once. The easy part is not drinking. The difficult part is discovering myself again and gradually breaking the bad habits of self-denial, self-loathing, and self-flagellation that were conflated by the alcoholism.
When I come home these days, it’s still a challenge not to just shut off and completely zone out in my phone or in some crap food (my relationship with food is a story for another day) or in some form of procrastination. (I don’t mean the procrastination we ALL do, I mean the kind of extreme, destructive procrastination that is symptomatic of depression/anxiety.) Sometimes I make myself learn a new song on the guitar, or I read, or I journal, or I choose one of the tasks I have to do for school or work and I put in 30 minutes on that task. I actively make the choice to engage in my life when I do these things. I also spend time (more than I’d care to admit) zoning out and shutting off.
But it isn’t as much time as it used to be. And some of the zoning out is just the normal decompression time–and these days, it is a lot easier to identify the difference between healthy decompression and unhealthy self-destructive/self-denying habits. Recognizing the habits is a big part of the work, because once they are recognized, they can be worked on.
I’m working on it.