The Fall: Katie Boland’s Journey to Recovery

The following is a short story from Katie Boland, award-winning director, screenwriter, actress and author. This piece explores her journey of recovery as an artist and creative, and how through sobriety, she was able to take back her “specialness” and complete her first full-length feature, “We’re All In This Together.” 

Trigger warning: Mentions of suicide and suicidal ideation

You need stitches.”

I feel cold cement beneath me. Im sitting on a sidewalk. I look down at my dress. Why is it so bloody?  

You need stitches for your chin.”

What happened to my chin? I look down and see a rough bar napkin in my hand, pressed against the bottom half of my face. Its soaked in blood. I cant bite down on my left side. In a few hours, I’ll find out I broke two molars in half, too.

The man telling me I need medical attention is Australian, blonde and wearing a hat. I look at the pattern on his shirt, everything blurs. I ask the mans name for what could be the hundredth time and forget it immediately. I dont ask again. Even in this state, I know to pretend that weve experienced a mutual reality.

My mom calls. My brother calls. My boyfriend calls. 

Where are you?” they all ask.

I have no idea.

In the cab to the ER, I felt the space-time continuum shift from blacked out to sober. I’m an actress, a writer and a director. Whatever state I’m in, I think of life in scenes. Sinking into sobriety felt like when a director calls cut. You exhale. You let your face relax. You look around for some indication that you did a good job. 

Instead, I saw a sliver of the cab driver in the rearview mirror. He was scared of me. 

In movies, sober women are strong. Their arc is coherent. They start drunk, they struggle, they end sober. In reality, sober women are the most vulnerable adults. We wanted to disappear completely. Now, we walk around, just ourselves, with no armour at all. 

When Youre Under a Wave, You Cant Also Be On It

I started drinking heavily when I became a professional screenwriter. I was 27, pathologically well-behaved and unprepared to spend so much time in my own mind. Writing was actually the first relentless and compulsive thing, drinking followed. 

Writing and drinking will always be bedfellows. Where’s the escape in moderation?

I told myself my drinking didn’t hurt my writing, but helped. On weekdays, I worked so hard when I was hungover as a punishment. Meetings were a performance; I’m not hungover, I can do this. Vodka opened doors that seemed locked until I pushed. Drunk, the characters in my screenplays spoke more freely; told me all the ways in which I was wonderful and full of shit. I’d take pieces of conversations with friends, strangers, two people who had become just specs in a dark bar and tap them into my phone.

I’d wake up and look at my Notes. In the light of day, they’d lost all profundity. 

Here’s where the arc of a real sober woman becomes incoherent. Of course, my drinking hurt my work. I just can’t describe exactly how. Ive read every addiction memoir now and David Carrs is my favourite. You have no idea what your life was like while getting fucked up.” Hes right. When youre under a wave, you cant also be on it.

Did you know that when people die of thirst, their eyes tear up? Our bodies have confused ways of trying to save us, even if they don’t work. I don’t remember falling, but I believe my knees gave out for a reason.

Whatever I wanted to be, I wasn’t going to be living a half-life.

Katie Boland posing with fauna background

Artists Have a Cheat Code

Every scar on my body is from alcohol. One thick one on each knee. A thin white one on my upper right thigh I don’t remember getting. Of course, my chin, visible only in certain low angle close ups. My jaw will never work the same way it did before The Fall. One side clicks incessantly, the other pops out of its socket if I open my mouth too wide. I now have porcelain molars where real ones should be.

Bukowski called getting fucked up “how I did a safe suicide.” I didnt know that because I dont read Bukowski but it came up in conversation. Suicide is why I drank how I did. It was always wanting to die and be reborn, to leave for just a while. Thats the part I miss most. The desire to get fucked up is what distinguishes humans from other animals. A dog doesnt want to black out. Human consciousness demands an escape.  

The problem of consciousness still exists, but artists have a cheat code. When you’re doing it right, all creative work is a black out.

Katie Boland

Not Drinking is the Most Psychedelic Experience of My Life

“You have no spiritual life,” my sober little brother would tell me when I was still drinking. That wasn’t exactly true. I had a lot of spirit in me. I just had no way to access it yet unless I was drunk.

Ironically, not drinking is the most psychedelic experience of my life. Sobriety is like living in another dimension where reality bends, perverts, deepens and shifts on loop.

To quote my favourite sick woman, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Its all pornography to me.” Now, all of life is so visually rich and emotionally nuanced it can be too much. Look at the relief in that old mans face as he leans out the bus window. Dont you want to cry? Sometimes I want to get drunk not to invite the magic back in anymore, but to take it away, to notice the devastating, beautiful and obscene details of the world a little less. So it all feels less explicit. 

Sobriety has only given to me. Mainly, the one thing I fundamentally lacked, confidence, who’s elusive nature was why I drank in the first place or a comorbidity of my condition. I thought I was boring, or shy, or stupid without alcohol. I wanted to be special. 

Here’s the small print no one wants you to read. You can lose your specialness. You can throw it away on bad men or mean friends, anything that distracts you from looking too deeply at yourself. 

Ironically, my specialness slipped away with each drink. I knew this but I was in denial. How ridiculous that I was casting the shadow from under which I wouldn’t escape. But that’s drinking, isn’t it? It was a cycle I’d watched repeat over and over again in my family. 

Alcohol takes from you, and somehow, you are the only one to blame. 

I Made a Movie in the Middle of the Pandemic

I made a movie in the middle of the pandemic. I wrote it, directed it, produced it and played twins. It remains as crazy as it sounds. The only way I could convince myself I could pull it off was by telling myself Id already gotten sober. Nothing was harder than that. I could only make sense of the two characters through the lens of sobriety. One twin was me drunk, gliding through scenes, avoiding. The other messier, rawer, too loud, untamed, shitty hair and dirty nails twin, is me sober. 

Playing against myself in scenes felt so easy because those conversations, between who I was drunk and who I am sober, happen in my head all the time. Reviews have said the twins seem like two completely different people. Yes, of course they do, I think. Then, I’m embarrassed. Most people dont live with two people inside them like I do.

Katie Boland on movie set

I Couldnt Have Made The Movie If I Was Still Drinking

“Are you proud of your movie?”

What’s the real answer? It’s complicated. Sobriety made my relationship to reality clearer, but it didn’t make me more digestible to myself. Seeing myself, large on the screen, twice, allows me to critique myself twice. Now, nothing can dull that.

I like to picture what celebrating the movie would be like if I was still drinking. After whatever screening I attended, I would go out and down a double vodka soda quickly. It would hit me immediately. My shoulders sink and I feel a genuine sense of pride, relief; something very good. I talk a little longer than I should about what making the movie was like to whoever is with me. I let myself believe the person I am talking to is as curious about me as I am about them.

I let the fantasy play out but the whole premise is false. I couldnt have made the movie while still drinking. I wouldnt be sitting at that bar celebrating anything. 

You’ll Get to Know Yourself Better

What I want to tell women who are getting sober is what I want to tell women who write. Neither one is going to solve your problems. You’ll just get to know yourself better.

I still have the same desire to consume, only now its ideas. I listen to every podcast. I have read tens of books and hundreds of articles, watched every show, seen the movie you want to talk about in a meeting. I wish someone would talk me to sleep at night. I remember the feelings other peoples words and ideas give to me, but none of the details. Like drinking, its compulsive. I do it all too fast but I am no longer faded by fear.

I have one thought that stops me from getting drunk, that compels me to do all the exhausting work around not getting drunk again. The saddest thing in life is seeing how things really are, only too late. The act of investigation is a privilege.

It means that the case isnt closed yet.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Katie BolandKatie Boland is a multiple award-winning director, screenwriter, actress, and author. Her short film Lolz-Ita screened at TIFF, Share Her Journey, was nominated for numerous jury prizes at film-festivals, and was a Vimeo Staff Pick. She sold her shortform series Long Story, Short to Hulu which garnered millions of views. Her collection of short stories, Eat Your Heart Out, drew comparisons to “Hemingway and Kerouac” in reviews. Her first full length feature that she wrote and directed, and starred, We’re All In This Together, has won over 30 awards at film-festivals worldwide and will be released theatrically in the United States. Currently, she is in post for her Lifetime Original Movie, Jailbreak Lovers starring Catherine Bell. As an actress, she has over eighty-five roles to her name and is a Canadian Screen Award winner. She can be seen in a recurring role on the new Apple +show “Five Days At Memorial” from Academy Award winner John Ridley.