Recovery’s coming home…

We’ve been so blessed to feature writers from all over the world on here. How did that happen?

Well, recovery is no respecter of borders, that’s for sure.

So today I’m delighted to focus our attention on someone a little closer to home.

Kiran is a Leeds based creative, journalist and recovery warrior!

In our interview, Kiran describes the challenges of coming to terms with her addiction, managing her recovery and finding freedom of expression through her art.

In addition, we’re properly proud to feature Kiran’s latest body of street photography, entitled “Endeavour. Part I” – which you can download as a PDF.


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Kiran, hi… let’s start with finding out a little bit about you…

Hello! I’m Kiran a Masters Student at Leeds Arts University, working on a film about recovery.

My background is that of a Film Maker and a Photo Journalist. I have worked at ITV, Screen Yorkshire, Yorkshire Forward and many more media companies. I have also been a Security Officer, and a University Mentor at Allerton High School in Leeds (U.K.).

OK, cool, so what brought you here? I mean, you must have some kind of “drinking/drugging/addiction story”… care to elaborate?

I am very lucky to still be here, most of my life consisted of drinking and taking drugs, at first it was a bit of fun, I loved the high and the confidence it gave me to socialise.

It made me forget my problems and deal with my emotions, so I thought. How wrong was I.

Then I got diagnosed with Raynauds and connective tissue disorder which made me want to drink and smoke weed even more to help with the pain. As I refused to take medication I got into a nasty cycle, of not dealing with trauma, not dealing with physical pain, oppressing my emotions, denial and drinking and smoking weed to help me cope.

What was your drinking/using like at the point you decided to quit?

I used to think I was a functional alcoholic, there is no such thing.

I would drink 3 bottles of vodka, or whiskey or brandy depending on my budget and thirst for a drink, throughout the day, from morning to night, then go out in the evening with friends who had no idea and drink more beer and more shots.

It was reckless and I had tens of blackouts and still carried on.

I embarrassed all my friends, and myself, and still carried on. I always worked and have worked so money wasn’t a difficulty, I had friends who would buy me as much drink and drugs as I wanted as they found me entertaining.

© Kiranjit Kaur

…and the final straw, for you, was what, exactly?

My sister died at the age of 34.

She was younger than me she and got diagnosed with cancer – within 4 months and 6 days she died.

As a family, we watched her die.

That still messes with my head thinking about it.

I still can’t accept things for what they are.

I tired to kill myself but found myself at Forward Leeds (Ed: the drug and alcohol service for Leeds) after a heavy drinking and smoking session.

A mess an absolute shell of a being. A complete wreck.

Do you see yourself as being in recovery… If so, how? What do these words mean to you? If not… how so?

Recovery is my nightmare burden to bear.

I wish I had never touched a drop of alcohol or smoked a spliff!

My whole life has been a recovery. I had just been in denial about my drinking and drug taking, up until 2017 July.

I knocked the weed on the head quite easily, the cold sweats, the jaw pain, the back ache, the pains, the cold flushes, hot flushes!

But the drinking, dear god… the devil juice had me by my balls.

Yet, I’m still in recovery and it’s hard.

It is an every twenty minute problem… still I suffer… but since July 2017 I haven’t consumed a top shelve drink. That is, until New Years 2019 when I had 4 Strongbow Ciders and 2 shots of Gin and Pineapple. My bad!

© Kiranjit Kaur

So, you stopped and changed your lifestyle (congratulations!)… how did you do that? How did you manage after you decided enough was enough?

Well, badly if you consider what I just told you there!

But, to be frank, I have learnt to fill my time in with things that keep me busy.

5 Ways is like my home, I have family there. The workers there are brilliant. They are like members of my extended family. If it wasn’t for 5 Ways and their Self Recovery Groups, and everything they have to offer I would be lost, for sure.

And as for my Art Therapist there, I would be lost without her and I would have no words for today, she helped me talk again.

So in nutshell 5 ways and Forward Leeds still help manage me.

Just knowing they are there is a massive reason to keep going on this journey of recovery which is life long.

It doesn’t happen over night like I want it to happen. It doesn’t work like that. Its a process of thinking and small baby steps and before you know it I relapse again but get back on the wagon the very next day.

Recovery is a life long journey.

What did you do to motivate and maintain your abstinence? Any hints or tips, sources of inspiration for people seeking to do the same?

I want to be able to live life and become a better person.

Drinking will only kill me off.

All I want to do is live a life where I can remember my day, not be frightened of the future, or fearful of my past.

Being sober helps me understand why I used to drink in the first place. It’s the hardest place to be, giving up drugs or drink. Being off your face only hurts more.

My advice would be do it for YOU… no one can force you to get sober, you have to want to do it.

I do it by staying busy, I get days where I sit and cry for hours, days where I can’t eat, can’t sleep, I just go back to why I am like this, because I struggle to process emotions, pain and trauma and it won’t heal if am drunk or on drugs.

My body and mind are healing slowly, its painful and I have days where my body doesn’t work, when I’m house bound and can’t even brush my teeth or wash myself let alone eat.

It’s all about letting go and becoming a healed whole human.

My university course is my sole reason for waking up each morning. I have something for myself to do, that I want to do.

I hadn’t picked up my camera for years but thanks to Sofia (my Art Therapist at 5 Ways) and everyone’s help and encouragement I applied for university and got in.

I couldn’t believe it  and still can’t believe it.

That’s my reason to stay sober for me, for my family – to be a better being.

© Kiranjit Kaur

Not drinking alcohol can be a very stigmatising thing… were you prepared for that? How did you deal with it? How did others around you deal with it?

Since going to university I have been very open about “me being allergic to drink”.

So far I have not had any negative feedback or stigmatisation, the problem is, for me personally, I don’t like the idea of being on show through my creative practice.

I worry that tutors or peers will think I’m mad and crazy for being in recovery.

I still struggle with the notion of being in recovery.

I can’t explain why that is – but it is.

Maybe I am ashamed of what I have become, nobody really wants to be known as a recovering alcoholic do they?

I did not wake up one morning and think “Yes, I know my desire is to be in Recovery!” Never!

It’s me that has the problem with drink, yet I am ashamed of it.

Strange but very true.

Were you successful from day one? Any relapses? How did you cope, emotionally with all this?

Relapses is a sure thing on this path.

The thing here is to be honest, yet I have had more than several relapses, which have consisted of beer, never top shelf…(apart from that once on New Years Eve)!

It’s horrible.

Each month I get an urge so strong during my infusion that I want to drink that day, and the urge get’s too much sometimes.

I can drink four cans of beer without thinking. To block pain.

The next day I feel so stupid and small that I have let myself down I don’t drink again.

A pattern has emerged when the infusion has to happen and the urge for drinking gets worse.

The medication in my drip is so strong. I like the feeling it gives me, it’s like being on three bottles of vodka again. Can I be this honest here? I hate being this honest like, am I being fake in my recovery? It’s just for the one day, then I go back on the wagon as they say. Get back with the program as they say.

You’re honesty is admirable… You’ve been mostly sober for a while now – are there any manifest benefits in your life that not drinking / using has afforded? What are they?

Not drinking helps you sleep better; your focus is better, everything pops out into high definition colour and sound – everything sounds better, smells better, looks better.

You can remember the whole day, get more things done, and spend quality time with those you love.

Meaning comes back into your life once you cut down and take the recovery path.

Trust me it’s painful, long and hard but well worth it.

Each relapse has helped me uncover a piece of me that was once hidden to reveal a whole person, yet some pieces of the jigsaw are yet to be put back, only time will let that happen.

Being sober is the only way forward for me. I can’t have one drink like a normal person, I get angry when I see people drinking in bars so I avoid them as I am not like other people. I have a real Issue with drink. If I can accept I have an issue with drink it helps me understand why I drink. And stops me from drinking. ITS NOT WORTH IT I, HAVE TOO MUCH LIVING TO DO.

© Kiranjit Kaur

Any advice for people reading this… heh, can we learn from any of your mistakes?

Don’t be harsh on yourself, be kind to yourself.

Surround yourself with people who will support you, not buy you drinks or drugs – these are not your true friends.

Take each minute as it comes, stay busy.

Make a plan of action things you’d like to achieve and get done. That could be something as small as cleaning out a cupboard, doing your nails, going for a walk, joining a club.

Being out of the house really helps, walking really does heal the mind.

Never forget you are never alone, people are always there to help.

You just have to want to change.

Stay positive… all these sound simple, it is when you put your mind to it, you just have to make some mind space time for you and you alone.

Your life is worth living and life is a beautiful thing for all of us.

You can do it, just keep on the sober path, it’s the right path, the only path and we all know it.

Putting crap into your body doesn’t heal you, it doesn’t punish those who have done you wrong, it really isn’t worth it.

Stop and think before you put a drink or a smoke or whatever your vice is to your mouth.

It’s like putting a shot gun to your head each time, ITS NOT WORTH IT – STAY SOBER GET CLEAN FOR YOU!

Wow, thanks Kiran… okay, let’s move on, let’s talk about creativity – in particular your photography… Could you tell us about how you approach your creativity? 

My creativity comes from a feeling deep inside, called phenomenology. A dialectic collision of images and shots to create meaning, less concerned with script, more in the synthesis association between shots.

To emphasise the phenomena of recovery.

© Kiranjit Kaur

Okay, so the images we are featuring today (“Endeavour: Part One”), can you tell us about this series? What makes a “good image” for you… what inspires you?

What makes a good image is all about perception.

To make it unique for each individual.

Effects and intention, space can be discontinuous in order to disorient a spectator: (Affect, Emotion and Pathos).

My main inspirations are Montage theory & Salvador Dali.

In these photographs I have tried to explore colour and dynamic ranges of tone. Oh, I also love The Kuleshov Effect – juxtapositions of shots, with lingering power… Recovery gets distorted by visuals, in the sequence of juxtapositional shots to reveal a presumption that recovery carries with it its own phenomenology.

Endeavour the struggle through.

Hence “Endeavour”, to me recovery is the struggle, recovery is the endeavour.

You seem to have an affinity with certain types of street photography/street life… Could you shed some light on these for us?

These photographs where taken during the first few months of my starting University.

My style has remained the same but the compositions have changed, I am drawn to proximity and continuity.

Especially the figure to ground relationship, that’s of great importance to me. I try and extract from each photo a real sense of distortion, yet flow.

My joy for street art has been a love of my life, having traveled Europe and India, street art to me is the soul of the survivors.

They say a creative person walks a fine line of chaos and destruction and somewhere in the middle is the “art”.

I see and sense things that my shadow self comes into being. It makes me not drink.

What makes you “tick” as a photographer/creative?

My felt pens and my paint brush on a rainy day, or my camera and a long walk into the unknown, on the sunny days.

Music makes me tick to be fair, my music is always on… the only time it’s not on is when I am at University, or out and about working with kit and people. 

© Kiranjit Kaur

What role does your creativity play in your own personal recovery?

My creativity is my therapy it goes hand in hand with my recovery.

I can’t have one without the other.

If I haven’t created a decent photograph or an illustration or painting in a day I get frustrated and the devil drink urges intensify.

I create to keep Mr. Sad becoming best friends with Mr. Angry… to try and keep the lost child in me quiet and safe.

My drawings, paintings or illustrations come from deep inside. They are my therapy.

My photography an extension of this and my film is the realisation of all three processes coming together to form unity.

Recovery and my creative practice is making me a more grounded being.

That’s such a fascinating insight… honest and to the core… so… what’s next for Kiran? Go on, spill the beans!

Staying sober and being in recovery.

I intend on getting this film made: “Recovery Endeavour”, and fingers crossed I can get it screened at 5 Ways. (Ed: I’m sure we can sort that out!)

As for anything else… taking each day as it comes, and not worrying about the future.

I can live life without drink, if only I could learn to live with emotions and feelings at the same time would be a blessing.

I am still learning to be me.

If am honest with myself I am at a bit of a cross roads, do I continue with my Masters? Or do I go down another path?

The struggle at University is potentially putting my recovery in jeopardy.

That said, I can see the signs this time round.



About our subject, Kiran.

Kiran is a Leeds based creative, photo-journalist and recovery warrior. When she’s not out and about working on her art, you can find her at 5 Ways, working on her recovery. Go Kiran!