Jim Ruland on How Getting Sober Impacted His Creative Life ‹ Literary Hub


Jim Ruland is the guest. His novel Make It Stop is out now from Rare Bird Books.

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From the episode:

Brad Listi: What about sobriety as it relates to creativity? I’m always interested in this when I speak with writers who have gone through a recovery process. We both know that this profession has a lot of strong ties to substance abuse. Some of it gets glorified. You talk about Kerouac or you talk about Hemingway. I think men in particular. There’s like a masculine, kind of macho thing that happened in the 20th century in particular, where I think it can become a problem when you internalize that. You almost feel like you have to be a boozer in order to be a writer, at least in an earlier stage of life.

I’m just curious to know about having the aspiration to write; as you said, filling your head with toxic ideas in your twenties, probably filling your head with other toxic things; and then getting to a place where you ultimately put all that stuff down. Maybe a good place to start is when did you get sober? And then if you could just talk a little bit about how it not only impacted your life, but how it in particular impacted your creative life.

Jim Ruland: Sure. I love this question. I got sober in 2009, so I think I just celebrated 14 years in February. You know, the benefits were right away. I was mainly an alcoholic, along with other things that would kind of help that going. But when I got sober, I was newly married, a fairly new parent, I had a job.

And I lost a close friend to addiction—I believe we talked about this actually the last time I was on—and that was a wakeup call. And so I was kind of a high bottom, because I didn’t lose all the things that it usually takes to kind of snap people out of their disease. But some very close to me lost everything, and thankfully that was enough.

The benefits to my creative life were immense because, one, it freed me from just all these lies that I was dragging around, trying to project this image of myself as a sane and sober person when I was just off the rails and riddled with secrets and drinking every chance that I got. And of course, people close to me knew that, but I had to lie and pretend like none of it was happening. And just to be relieved, put all that aside, was an immense relief. And now I just tell myself all the time, I got no shame about the things I used to do, and it feels great.

But one of the best things is that I learned early on that for me, and for many alcoholics, is that resentment is a one-way ticket to a relapse. That’s kind of what they teach you in the rooms, is that you’ve got to live a resentment-free life. You got to have gratitude for where you are. I never realized how much resentment is tied in with the arts.

Whether you’re a musician or a visual artist or a writer, there’s all this resentment about things that aren’t happening in your career, things that you’re not getting, awards, other people’s success. There’s a lot of resentment about all of those things. I wasn’t even really aware of what’s happening, and then once I just kind of cleared the decks of that resentment, I was able to just really be a happier person, but happy for all the success that other people are enjoying, and that I wasn’t turned inside out by these things.

And I wasn’t quite there yet because I didn’t have much of a career before I got sober, but I could see myself turning into this bitter older person who is just riddled with resentment about all the things that should have happened. That was who I was going to be. That was absolutely the course that I was on. And now it’s pretty great where I can just be concerned with my own work and not worry about outcomes, not worry about anything that happens. And when those great things happen to other people that I know or we’re in the same circle, I can be genuinely happy for those people.


Jim Ruland is the co-author of Do What You Want with Bad Religion, and My Damage with Keith Morris, the founding vocalist of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and OFF! Ruland has been writing for punk zines such as Flipside and Razorcake for more than 25 years and his work has received awards from Reader’s Digest and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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