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Author | Photos by Faith

How We Recover Within An Intoxication Culture

Depending on your vantage point, “partying” and “sobriety” can evoke different responses. Are the two always in opposition? Can you have “fun” in recovery? And how can the newly sober navigate the intoxication culture we live in?

These themes are explored by Charlie McQuaide and Faith in an upcoming collaboration. Charlie is a gender-queer non-normative substance user practicing harm reduction through abstinence. Through their artistic pursuits, Charlie is able to creatively process their emotions. Faith is a mixed-race non-binary “tomboy femme” artist who is also a sober addict in recovery. Their multimedia installation for the upcoming exhibit, Is Nothing Sacred?, is coming to The Costume House (165 Geary, 2nd Floor) on Thursday, January 25th. 

We caught up with them this week.

Charlie

SDTC: Can you describe what’s involved with your installation?

F: Because Charlie and I are both sober queer and trans people in recovery, I had been taking photographs of my queer/trans friends in both recovery settings and in party spaces. It was to show contrasting representations of each individual – one in a recovery setting and one in a party setting. As the idea developed, we were thinking of how a recovery setting is one sacred space, but then another sacred space that came to mind is Charlie’s living room, which we use as a pre-party space before we go out to parties. The installation space is inspired by their living room.

In addition to the photography, I’ll have two text pieces. They’re reproductions of a zine I wrote with Clementine Morrigan. The first piece is called Is drinking a privilege? and the other is What is your relationship to substances?

CM: The commodification of my creativity is hand-poke tattooing, which I do out of a private studio within my living space. From that sprung the idea of tattooing as a performance piece and as a collaboration. It’s a big part of my livelihood, but it’s also what keeps me going. It’s something important to me. I’ve been thinking about that as a collaborative performance, and how every time I tattoo, it’s a performance, but this time it’s going to be on display.

What ideas were going through your minds as you developed the project?

F: A lot of the work I’ve done has been advocacy work for sober spaces in Toronto. If you go out on a Friday or Saturday night, 90 per cent of the time there will be drugs or alcohol in the space. A [term] that has been coined before by Nikita Riotfag is intoxication culture: this idea that there’s a very certain way people should be using substances, and a certain idea of what substances people should be using. The “normal” way of using is to use alcohol and drugs in a fun yet controlled way – it’s the standard upon which other people are judged. So if you’re an addict who is using chaotically – or if you’re sober – you’re both a deviation of the norm.

C: This project focuses on having fun and partying and challenging the norms of party culture. It challenges the idea that sobriety is boring and that your life ends when/if you get sober. Those were things that I thought to be true of recovering and sobriety before I got sober; I couldn’t even fathom how boring it would be. I don’t think that’s talked about a lot. I also think there’s a lot of talk about sobriety, but not a lot of talk about life in sobriety – of how good and how varied that can be.

Faith

How has creative expression aided in your own recovery process?

C: I have been in and out of recovery for a long time. Nothing really seemed to be working well for me to keep me sober and sane and grounded. I am now in a place where I’m privileged enough to spend the majority of my time creating, playing and experimenting. Nothing has been as beneficial to my recovery and my continuing sobriety as that has been. In the last year, I’ve really been able to incorporate that into my recovery. It’s what keeps me going. 

What do you want participants to take away from your installation?

F: Not everybody who has a drug problem wants to get sober, but I want people to know that sober queer/trans people exist. Historically, within the LGBTQ community, it’s so normalized to drink and use drugs to cope with oppression or survival. But not everybody has to do that – there are other options out there. Letting people know if we are living lives we enjoy, we are living lives that are meaningful to us. We have made opportunities for ourselves and we have fun.

C: I hope that participants in the space will get a taste of what we feel when we come up against intoxication culture. I mean that in a positive way. The fact that we can still have fun while being authentic and we can do meaningful things together…not everyone is so lucky to have that. I hope that that comes across.

Is Nothing Sacred? takes place Thursday, January 25 at The Costume House (165 Geary, 2nd Floor).

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