It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that our ability to think with creativity is heightened by alcohol. We often associate troubled drinking habits with creative genius, the film industry tells stories of countless writers, musicians, actors, and artists whose creativity is seemingly intrinsically linked to alcohol. But surely to give credit for our creativity to alcohol detracts from our achievements as artists? While drinking may make us feel a little more confident or allow us to lower our inhibitions, it does not make us different people. We are who we are, and no matter what your relationship with alcohol, your creativity is yours to own. In this week’s podcast, we get chatting to Kyle Ambition, a musician who has spent four and a half years living a sober lifestyle and recently began moderating his drinking.
Who is Kyle Ambition?
Kyle is a musician, first and foremost, but is generally full of creativity. He loves filmmaking, and edits and shoot music videos as well. He has also been known to dabble in acting and comedy, but music is his first love. He is an original artist and focuses heavily on the lyrical content of the songwriting aspect. More recently, he has also been dabbling with all production, and recording all the instrumentation.
I knew one day I would have to quit
I never viewed myself as having a real problem. There was something in the back of my mind, nights when I would go out and go a little too hard. And then I’d be hanging over the toilet bowl. There was a part of me that was saying ‘one day you’re going to have to quit drinking’. The focus with alcohol started shifting. It used to be about going out with my guy friends and having some drinks at the bar, maybe meeting some women. Slowly but surely, the focus on that part went away, and it just became about going to the bar to get smashed.
During that last year of drinking, the anxiety started to increase. With that came more depressive feelings. I noticed every time I went drinking, there was a period of three or four days where everything felt heightened, my anxiety was through the roof, and I just felt really low.
I was having more nights where I was just getting too drunk, I’d end up at home throwing up, head spinning. I started noticing it play into the days afterwards. When I was trying to fall asleep something would jolt me awake, like a surge of adrenaline. That would happen for around three hours each night for three or four days after the drinking session. I was never an everyday morning-to-night drinker, I was a weekend binge drinker, but that impact was stretching out into my week. Then I started having suicidal thoughts, ‘kill yourself already, just do it, get it over with’. Those freaked me out. Anxiety had been something I’ve dealt with since I was about 19 years old. I went to therapy and got it to a point where I thought it was manageable. During that last year of drinking, the anxiety started to increase. With that came more depressive feelings. I noticed every time I went drinking, there was a period of three or four days where everything felt heightened, my anxiety was through the roof, and I just felt really low. Eventually those suicidal thoughts happened more regularly, even when I hadn’t been drinking. One night I went out with a friend and spent $300 at the bar and came home feeling so sick. I was so low and depressed and I woke up feeling worse than ever. Those thoughts were so strong in my head, I felt like I was a step away from actually ending my life. I knew I needed help. Alcohol was the one thing I knew that was exacerbating all those problems. That fear of losing my life motivated me to stop cold turkey*.
I think I have an addictive personality, I do things to excess. It started with marijuana in my teenage years, then occasionally dabbling with other drugs. I decided I couldn’t do drugs anymore. I didn’t start drinking more until I was in my early 20s. I rationalised an incase in my drinking as the normal thing to do in college. In my later 20s, I started hanging out with a different group that wasn’t getting blackout drunk the way I was. I felt like a leper, like my drinking was abnormal.
Drinking loosened my morals around creativity and lyric writing
In my earlier years, I was strongly focused on hip hop. Weed is the big catalysts they say you’re you’re not a rapper if you don’t smoke weed, they go hand in hand. The first album I created, I was high constantly when I wrote it. The second album, I wasn’t smoking weed anymore, but I was drinking. I spent a lot of time sitting in my apartment thinking I was being an adult having a couple cocktails and writing lyrics and stuff. But I wouldn’t say It helped my creativity. If anything, what it helped me do was push aside my morals. There are certain things on my second album that I’m not so proud of. I went against my intuition and who I am as a person for the sake of creating something catchy that would get people’s attention. I had a gut feeling that was telling me ‘don’t write that, don’t write that!’. I actually had a rule that I would not drink alcohol when I was performing, which is uncommon for artists. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I didn’t want alcohol to compromise my performance. With rapping, you have a lot of words to say, you can’t be up there slurring. But that was another part that made me think that maybe the drinking was a problem, because I would be focussed on looking forward to being done with my performance so I could go out in the crowd and drink and party.
The anxiety and depression turned out to be a blessing, because that’s what enabled me to stop drinking. At first was easy, because I felt I was on the brink of self destruction, I was terrified. The stakes were high, I really felt that I could potentially end my life at any moment. That made quitting easier, because I didn’t want to risk committing suicide. I didn’t say I can’t drink forever, I just said ‘right now I need to stop until I get this in check’. I thought maybe I’ll do this for a month or two until till I get the anxiety and depression in order. That was my mindset throughout, which I think was tremendously helpful. Sometimes the thought of forever can be overwhelming. When I started to notice the positive effects it was much easier to keep going. It got to be four and a half years. I don’t even know if I wanted to risk going back to social drinking. I’m afraid I’ve improved so much, I’m doing so much better, I don’t want to play with fire again.
My songwriting process changed a bit and I started writing more acoustic songs. It went hand in hand with therapy too, I had a lot of stuff to say and a lot of things on my mind. I developed a skill set during that first year that I probably wouldn’t have if I’d have been drinking. I really got in touch with myself a lot better.
During the first year I spent more time not going out intentionally. I was afraid to be surrounded by alcohol and I didn’t trust myself yet. I spent more weekend nights in, which was different for me. That was really the first time since before my teenage years that I had decided to stay in on a Saturday night. It was weird, but it was also kind of cool. It got me more connected with creativity and my music. I have an acoustic guitar that I’ve had since I was 13 years old, I’d only played it a handful of times. I started playing that. My songwriting process changed a bit and I started writing more acoustic songs. It went hand in hand with therapy too, I had a lot of stuff to say and a lot of things on my mind. I developed a skill set during that first year that I probably wouldn’t have if I’d have been drinking. I really got in touch with myself a lot better. I still went out and had a social life, it was just different. I found myself gravitating more toward activities rather than just going to the bar. If we were going to a bar I wanted to know if there was a live band or some good music I could dance to. Or maybe we’d go bowling or to the movies. I wanted more activity, rather than just sitting at a table while everyone drinks.
Creativity as an outlet for emotional issues
At a young age I realised that it was ok to struggle with things, it fuelled my creativity and gave me something to say that others can relate to. It was a way for me to take any hardship that came at me and spin it into a positive. Sometimes shit just happens, and I’d accepted that. Regardless of whether my lyrics went anywhere and anyone heard them, it made me feel that much better to create a piece of art that came out of something negative. There were all these painful experiences, but I could take them and make something beautiful and productive. I could pat myself on the back and say ‘wow, look what I created’. It made me feel a lot better, being able to turn that hurt into something artistic.
I’m at a place now where I don’t need that idea in the back of my head. I don’t need to think that hard experiences in life are happening to me for the benefit of my music and creativity. But all the years leading up to now I really needed that. I would always say to people who don’t have a hobby or outlet for creativity that I don’t know how they do it. I felt very grateful that I had that because it made it easier to spin any situation into a positive. So I commend people who don’t have a creative outlet like that. I don’t know how they get through it. I’m very curious about how other people cope.
Finding the confidence to try moderating
It’s not something I consciously have to moderate anymore. I was sober for four and a half years, that became my new norm. For the most part, that’s still how I live.
I’m not the same person I was in my 20s I’ve grown a lot, I’ve changed. The desire to drink is not strong. There used to be a part of me that was fighting against a desire to drink. I have confidence in myself that I’m not the same person I was, and that maybe I could try having a drink here or there on social occasions. That’s how I began moderating. I had that safety net of a good relationship and supportive friends, and a newfound strength with who I was as a person.
It’s not something I consciously have to moderate anymore. I was sober for four and a half years, that became my new norm. For the most part, that’s still how I live. Especially with Covid-19 and being isolated in the house and not going out, there is no need for me to drink. It’s more now in attachment to a situation rather than a thing on its own. If I’m not going out to socialise then drinking even a thought in my mind. My norm is to be sober now, and I drink very occasionally. I am still conscious of how much of an issue it was for me before and I know there is a part of me that may lean toward binge drinking. So if I do go out with friends, I check in with myself regularly to see how I feel. Sometimes, if you’ve had enough to eat and gotten enough sleep, like you can have a few drinks throughout the night and feel ok. Sometimes I might feel a buzz after two drinks, so I’ll say ‘I guess this is it for the night’, and switch to water. I just need to make sure I check in with myself, see how I’m doing physically and emotionally and know when to stop.
If you want to hear more about moderate drinking, check out our other blogs about moderation.