Mind-altering substances have long been ingrained in the culture of advertising. Now, as the pandemic rages on, abuse is on the rise. Award-winning creative and substance abuse counselor Steffan Postaer shares his personal and professional advice for self-care when many need it more than ever.
When this publication asked me to write about ’self-care in adland’, I thought maybe I’d gotten the wrong brief. I wasn’t exactly the poster child. For much of my career, I was caught up in the vices so often attributed to those of us in advertising. Of course, I’m referring to drugs and alcohol.
In the beginning, it was fun, part of the misguided search for inspiration, release and then, alas, relief. Without dragging this story into ’drunkalog’, I stopped calling the behavior ’partying’ long before I stopped doing it. I had my day of reckoning. And if you party like I did, you will too. I know this implicitly, from both sides – for now, in addition to my mercenary duties as a writer and creative director, I am also a counselor at Serenity Knolls treatment center in Marin County.
Some of you might have heard of the Knolls as it was the place the Grateful Dead’s iconic guitarist Jerry Garcia spent his last hours on planet earth. So I know from what I speak. Therefore, my first piece of advice relating to self-care is don’t gobble pain pills like they are Skittles and stop drinking if you’re in the habit of keeping a bottle of Stoli behind the toilet or in the garage or under the bed. You get the picture.
Contrary to popular myth, it is not the ’Mad Men’ lifestyle that drives so many advertising and marketing professionals to self medicate. Not any more. Not for decades. Rather, it is the nature of what we do. Especially from a creative perspective.
Even though creative is no longer the magical enterprise it once was, writers still write, designers design. All create ideas. And because these ideas are made on someone else’s dime, they are subject to endless criticism and often from people who know little about art and copy. Over time the criticism takes its toll. The maligned creative becomes cynical, defensive, dark. He or she craves validation for their ideas and instead gets only ’comments’ and ’tweaks’. Death by a thousand cuts. We are, or become, egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. To soothe our battered egos, we drink or get high. Often too much.
Don’t do that.
Do this. I like to tell my clients at the treatment center to spend an hour of every day doing something physical, another hour doing something mental and, finally, an hour that is spiritual. Do that, I say, and life gets a lot better. It’s not a new idea. In the 19th century, the YMCA used the phrase in its logo: ’Spirit. Mind. Body.’ Look it up. A triangle. FYI, Alcoholics Anonymous uses a similar icon for its.
So, work out every day. Go for a run. Do yoga. For mental stimulation, read a book. Remember those? Have an authentic conversation with a true friend. Seek out truth. For the spirit, try prayer or meditation. If you’re agnostic or an atheist, go somewhere private and shut the fuck up. Listen to the quiet. Get out of your head. Drift.
Speaking of noise. Stop making it. Don’t try and be the smartest person in the room. I did. I wasn’t. One-upmanship is rampant in adland, making its endless meetings more soul-crushing than they already are. Remember what I said about egomania and inferiority?
There is no dogma within this prescription. Serving the spirit, mind and body can be many things in myriad combinations. Bespoke for every individual. They are as often fun as they are difficult. Exciting as somber. Heartwarming. Sweat inducing. Inspiring. Many of these things overlap, like yoga or intimacy.
Three hours. Spirit. Mind. Body. It works. Not only have I not had a drink or mind-altering substance in almost 20 years, but I wake up reasonably happy and go to bed that way. Despite the pandemic. Despite political chaos. Despite global warming. And yes, despite that bad meeting with a know-nothing client.
Steffan Postaer is an award-winning creative, perhaps best known for coining Altoids’ tagline ’Curiously strong breath mints’. He is also a primary counselor at Serenity Knolls Treatment Center. Read his blog here.