Lars Von Trier

Famous movie director, Lars von Trier worries he can’t write movies now that he’s sober – we worry he won’t stay sober if he feels that way.

He made headlines this past weekend after revealing his long-time struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction. The 58-year-old director is best known for his bold films, Dogville (2003), Antichrist(2009) and Melancholia (2011) and the two-volume sex epic Nymphomaniac.

While we’re thrilled to congratulate von Trier on his sobriety and drug and alcohol addiction treatment, we’re concerned: von Trier didn’t make headlines or start trending on Twitter because he’s undergoing addiction treatment, because he’s touting his sobriety, or because he’s attending AA meetings. Instead, von Trier is making the front page by announcing he may be done writing films because he’s worried he will produce only “s****y films” in recovery.

The director confessed he used to drink a bottle of vodka per day in order to enter a “parallel world” where he could be creative. His most recent odyssey, Nymphomaniac, took him 18 months to write while sober  – whereas Dogville took him only 12 days under the influence.

In his interview, von Trier states, “There is no creative expression of artistic value that has ever been produced by ex-drunkards and ex-drug addicts. Who the hell would bother with a Rolling Stones without booze or with a Jimi Hendrix without heroin?”

Von Trier’s interview with Danish newspaper Politiken has gone global. Not only do his words have us concerned about his treatment, but they also has us asking the age-old questions: Do drugs, alcohol and self-destruction really fuel creativity? Can we still be fun people without the alcohol? Without the drugs?

Does Mr. von Trier actually have a point? Do mind-altering substances really impact our work and our lives to the point that we are only a shell of our best selves without them?

Arguably, some of the greatest writers, musicians and artists have faced addiction. Ernest Hemingway was addicted to alcohol. Edward Allan Poe took opiates. Vincent van Gogh drank absinthe. F Scott Fitzgerald was a known alcoholic. Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Judy Garland all died of drug overdoses. If those aren’t enough examples, Wikipedia does us the courtesy of listing all the actor and musician deaths due to drugs and alcohol over the years, in alphabetical order.

That doesn’t mean that we need substances to be the best that we can be. We don’t need alcohol to get out on the dance floor or to meet new people. We don’t need drugs to create our best work.

While the list is harder to find, there are many accomplished celebrities, models, musicians and artists who have careers without drugs or alcohol. Look at Will Smith, Natalie Portman, Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift, Tyra Banks, and Jennifer Lopez. They are all squarely on the wagon.

When we say our creativities and personalities come from alcohol or drugs, we’re really doing ourselves a disservice. When we say substances make us better people, we’re giving all the credit to the drugs. When we feel like we can’t be something without them, it’s our disease talking.

It’s a common problem for many that are early in their recovery – they fear that they won’t be as funny, as beautiful, as productive, as smart or as good sober. The truth is, when you’re sober, you’re all of those things and more because you’re not fixated on how to get the next high.

Had it not been for heroin, who would Jimi Hendrix be? Well, Mr. von Trier, Jimi Hendrix would have had a lot more years to make incredible music. He would have taught the world so much more.

Had it not been for booze, who would care about the Rolling Stones? They would have been even more legendary.  Former junkie Richards gave up his heroin habit in 1978.  They still rocked. And still rock.

The truth is, we’re always reaching to fill some sort of hole. We want to feel fun, creative, pretty and smart. Those who reach for drugs or alcohol to “fuel” a part of them, really aren’t fueling anything but an addiction. A disease. A disease that tells them the heroin will take them to another level of creativity. A disease that tells them the alcohol will make them funnier and more likable. A disease that tells them the painkillers make them more productive.

Instead of reaching for substances to fill the void, we need to reach within and discover ourselves. By seeking treatment and becoming sober, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel to find out who we really are – just find out what the wheel really looks like. If you don’t know, it’s OK, you can be whoever you want to be without drugs or alcohol. Make new friends, if you have to – meet new people.

By saying he enters a “parallel world”, von Trier is romanticizing his addiction. He was in the same world that all the rest of us are in, just with some extra poison in his body. Using drugs or alcohol doesn’t take you anywhere special.

I don’t feel sorry for Lars von Trier’s feeling that he has to give up his film-making career because he’s sober. I feel sorry for him because he can’t give his talent enough credit, and he can’t see that creativity fuels creativity.

By making excuses that we’ll only be a fragment of the person we were with drugs and alcohol, we’re only making excuses to go back to using. The truth is, we’re funnier, prettier, more creative, and more whole without them.

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