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The Art of Recovery

My art, music, and writing reflect my journey into and out of active addiction. But addiction is only part of my story.

I came to substance abuse late, in my mid-50s. But as a confused gay child, born into a rural Florida farm family years before Stonewall, and as a young victim of emotional and sexual trauma who came of age during the AIDS epidemic, I developed emotional coping mechanisms that set the stage.

None of that was obvious in early life. I began piano lessons with my mother at age four and later studied voice, violin and organ. Furthermore, I made up songs as a child and frequently drew, entranced by geometric forms I recognize in my adult art.

Music was my earliest passion, but flying emerged in my teens. At 19, I rebuilt a modest two-seat 1946 Aeronca Champ, and flew it all over the eastern U.S. without radio or navigation aids. After encouraging my father and uncles to fly, we built a small airport on family farm property on the southeastern side of Tampa Bay, on Florida’s west coast. It remains a thriving public use airport today.

After undergraduate studies in history and political science at the University of South Florida, I studied international economics at the Universität Mannheim in Germany and received my Diploma in International and Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics.

Rand Snell

My early career was in politics and public policy. I worked in the U.S. Senate and the Florida Governor’s office, helped shape federal human genome mapping and biotechnology policy in the Senate and at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, ran for Congress and ended my public policy career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where I was Director of State and Local Relations and senior advisor to the Administrator under President Clinton.

But I also continued to fly, write, play, perform publicly and compose. After leaving politics, I stayed in Washington and concentrated on music. My pieces were performed in concert by the Congressional Chorus of Washington DC, the Orlando Chorale, the Florida Orchestra Brass Quintet, the University of Maryland Percussion Ensemble, the St. Petersburg Opera Chamber Ensemble, and numerous university, church and community choirs, soloists and instrumentalists. One Land: An American Tapestry, commissioned to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Congressional Chorus, premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

Then I moved back to Florida, to care for aging parents and manage our family agribusiness and airport while also going back to school. I had just finished a Master’s degree in Music Composition, in the spring of 2010, when I was introduced to crystal meth. I was 54 years old.

Over the next nine years, music composition became impossible as I dealt with an accelerating binge or episodic pattern of use that had significant health consequences and forced me to give up flying.

In the absence of music composition, I found creative expression in playing piano and writing. But during addiction treatment I rediscovered art, and through it came to terms with old trauma. This opened the door to a whole new era of creativity that harkened back to those early childhood drawings, long forgotten.

For many months, I drew or created collages almost every day. Even now, I find no week goes by without some form of visual expression. In the beginning, I deliberately did not write about my experiences, because I had depended too much on my left-brain strengths of language and linear narration. Shutting that down temporarily seemed to allow, perhaps even to force, a deeper process of healing integration through daily meditation and art.

Rand Snell

I can now write and speak freely. I am grateful for the treatment and counseling that gave me a very good understanding of why I was so vulnerable to addiction. I am also grateful that Buddhist and 12-Step programs allow me to step into a new life of recovery.

I have returned to music composition, primarily through jazz piano improvisations, although I am occasionally inspired to formally compose as well.

Writing has been a constant over my lifetime, and I hope my writing will resonate and be interesting and helpful to others.

Recovery for me is recognizing and letting go of old patterns of behavior and embracing a higher version of myself. There is freedom in letting the mud settle, in seeing more clearly, in becoming a better person each day than I was the day before.

I hope all who suffer the trap of addictive behaviors and substances will find that freedom.

Watch a Conversation with Rand Snell

I have returned to music composition, primarily through jazz piano improvisations, although I am occasionally inspired to formally compose as well.

Writing has been a constant over my lifetime, and I hope my writing will resonate and be interesting and helpful to others.

Latest Work

Moritzplatz

Moritzplatz

16"x24" collage on mat board, from photos taken
12 October 2022 in Berlin. November 25, 2022.

Reflections

Reflections

17 1/2" x 26" collage on paper,
from photos taken October 2022 in Berlin, November 13, 2022

Mies

Mies

16"x22" collage on paper, from photos taken Oct. 9, 2022
at Die Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, November 9, 2022

VIEW ALL WORK

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