Tag Archives: addiction and recovery

Drawings from the Halfway House: Portraits from the earliest days of my sobriety.

Sue at Fellowship Mar 9 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThe first thing I started drawing, when I arrived at Fellowship House in St. Paul, was the people around me.

This portrait of a woman named Sue in the living room of “The House” was drawn on March 9, 1989, so I had only been sober 41 days, and only at Fellowship a few days. Newly sober, I was still completely determined to be a comic artist, and wanted to get back to practicing. Sue reminded a lot of my teenage bestie GIlly.

Michael at Fellowship April 11 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesMy beloved friend Michael. Michael and I shared a connecting bathroom in the last month we were in the house, as “Senior Peers”.

He was a marvelous professional Broadway singer and dancer; we went to Alvin Ailey together. I loved to hear him bustling in the bathroom, making fabulous. He was so handsome, and posed so well! I think I drew those kinda ’80s design elements of the circles to reference the stage. His T-cell count was ok when I was last in touch with him, so I very much hope he made it to the next generation of treatments.

Scott at Fellowship June 27 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is Scott.

I don’t think I slept with him, but it looks like I would have liked to?

A lot of the guys at the house wore those preppy Hamptons shoes. Dockers maybe?

Rebeckah.

A ferocious, feisty girl from Queens, drawn April 7, 1989. She was so young, not even twenty. This is from a photocopy; she kept the original.

Julia at Fellowship May 7 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesJulia, my friend and roommate, who I called “Jewel”.

She was lying on the hill behind the house (which was the old Schmidt brewery owners’ mansion) in the early Spring sun. People used to come lounge on the “Beach” as we called it and wait for me to draw them.

Me and Julia at Fellowship April 7 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI also did a drawing of Julia and I in the room we shared.

Being a single mom and a working-class lady, she was orderly and had her shit together, despite the whole alcoholic thing. So she found my sloppiness and chaos astounding. However, this was a day when we’d both gotten packages from home (thank you Mom!!!) and so the mess was truly a remarkable thing to witness.

Ray at Fellowship March 191989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is Ray.

He was a kind, haunted, deeply depressed man; he killed himself not too long after I made this drawing. This is a photocopy; I gave the original of the drawing to his family, who were glad to have a picture from the last year of his life.

A lot of people I knew in treatment killed themselves even in the first year.

A lot of them relapsed. A lot of them had HIV or AIDS. And hepatitis. The odds for recovery from chemical dependency are very, very poor. I know I’ve been incredibly lucky, and I’ve been living on borrowed time since I was 22. But I’d like to keep living, and working, anyway!

So I am on total self-isolation, with my husband, and expect to remain so indefinitely. For months, possibly. If I have to stay inside for a year to survive this, I will totally fucking do it.

I’ve been doing fine without alcohol and heroin since 1989, surely I can manage a year without outside!

Only one of these portraits had ever been photographed; no modern media record of the rest existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever. And of course, I am the only person who knows when they were made and why, the story of the people in the pictures.

As a highly-vulnerable person with asthma and auto immune illness, it seems more important than ever to document my life’s work. Not morbid, just pragmatic!

I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

For the Archives: other people’s addictions.

Clock me and Max Fall 1990 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesWow, that situation was a hot mess.

I have generally only experimented with codependancy for short periods. Other people’s problems tend to get in the way of my own addictive nature, and the ego strength and ambition I’ve been pulled along by my whole life.

Max Vampire painting with police Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesStill, I took a pass at a bad boy now and then, back in the day.

If they were hot enough. And Max was VERY hot.

Me and Max black and titanium buff acrylic on paper Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesHe was the manager at the St. Paul coffee shop I worked at in 1990, Dunn Bros. (now a big Minnesota chain!)

This crude painting of the two of us behind the counter at the store (as we called it) is still one of my favorite paintings from MCAD, the art school where I was in my second year at that Fall.

Max had white hair, and six-pack abs. He was 6’2″.

He was local, and a hard drinker, and a musician, and divorced, and like six or seven years older than me. Perfect.

Max Vampire painting with police Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesHe was a darksider, which is what the older generation of Twin Cities Goths were called in 1990.

They were kinda glam and kinda metal.

Painting of me and Max Fall 1990 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesWhen he moved in with me all he brought were weights, leathers and a white Gibson electric guitar.

And some Flexidiscs of his band’s demo song.

max 9 24 90 playing guitar while his hair bleached by Rachel KetchumHe just seemed like good material.

I was still willing to risk a fair bit for good material, then.

Me and Max seated acrylic on paper Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesHe moved into my St. Paul apartment with me when we’d worked together for a couple months, and stayed a couple months.

Painting of me and Max Fall 1990 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes detail MaxHe moved in after he got beaten up somewhere, by somebody, and it looked like he needed to get out of Minneapolis for a while. He paid half the rent without my asking, which was cool. He was mostly decent to me most of the time, despite being pretty much a jerk.

He was a binge drinker, so he’d be off with his local friends when he went out, and he didn’t wreck the house and I almost never saw him drunk.

I was pretty scared for him the first few times he didn’t come home, but then I kind of got used to it.

Nightmare assignment with me and Max Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis was for an assignment for Illustration class, about nightmares.

I did several versions, but this one was clearly about me and Max, two people who woke up screaming all the time. When we slept spoons, as we usually did, the razor scars on our left wrists lined up. He was very into his damage, and I was interested in visualizing the material of my own trauma in a way I mostly ceased to be after art school.

Me and Max acrylic and ink on paper Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes The situation was some bullshit, but oddly enough, both of us were kind of playing it like we were doing a bit.

Me and Max clock acrylic on paper Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesMy dear friend Erin once said, “It’s no fun when there’s two sharks in the tank!”, and few statements have ever summed up my dating life like that.

I knew I wasn’t gonna fall in love with a fellow shark, and he knew I could handle his nonsense.

I used the drama of it for material for Illustration class assignments and he posed for my painting class homework, and we made each other laugh.

After two months or so he decided to get sober, and took off to Montana or somewhere. For years all I heard he was sober, and also being pretty weird.

Sketch of Max black acrylic on paper Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesHey, whatever it takes!

The relationship served a purpose for both of us. I saw him buying milk in the supermarket years later and he thanked me for saving his life, which I did not feel I deserved credit for.

Portrait of Max mixed media with spraypaint stencil Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThe art that I made about him formed the first student show I hung at MCAD, and I met one of my most influential art friends through it.

Figure sketch of Max Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI came upon Georgia Johnson Mrazkova and a friend standing in front of the paintings, discussing whether a man had done them and if so, did he know what a dick it made him look like.

“No, they’re mine.” I said.

And Georgia yelped with delight, and she said “I knew it! I knew it was a woman, and she knows EXACTLY what she’s doing!”

And we became art school friends, and I learned a lot from her, both about art and feminism.

I find it comforting that I did make a few images of Max that expressed his unique humanity, not just his role in a drama.

There’s the painting below, and a big painting and a few drawings I’ll try to scan next month.

Me and Max in the kitchen Fall 1990 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis painting of the two of us in the kitchen of my St. Paul apartment is another favorite of my art school works.

It was funny sometimes, how we were fucked up addicts in this crazy dynamic, and also, humans!!!

These paintings and drawings had never been photographed; until now, no record of them existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.