As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Kenneth Fowles who is currently an IT specialist at Landmark Recovery. He lived a life of active addiction for 34 years and has now been sober for 3 years. He is also a professional artist focusing mostly on abstract surrealism in acrylics and oils. His unique painting style makes him a fan favorite at art festivals in Arizona and at the coffee shops and art galleries that he shows at.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?
I grew up in a white, middle class, suburban area with alcoholic parents. As a child I was always artistic, creative and imaginative but had behavioral problems as well.
Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
I always felt like I was different, like I had a big hole in the middle of me and I could never fill it up. I was the kid that was lonely in crowds, and awkward around people. But the first time I drank alcohol, it filled the hole in my life. I always say I didn’t have a drug problem, I had a drug solution. I didn’t look at drugs as my problem, they were my solution to filling the hole in my life.
In terms of my addiction, there wasn’t one drug or one thing I was addicted to. I tried every drug, all types of alcohol, every chemical substance that I could for 34 years in an effort to fill the void in my life. I got to a point in my life where I couldn’t do anything without being high first.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
My lowest point of addiction was when I was actively homeless for about 7 months with nowhere to go or stay.I was bouncing back and forth between homeless and prison every 15–30 days all while doing any drugs I could get my hands on.
Can you tell us the story about how were you able to overcome your addiction?
Well, the way I look at it, no one overcomes addiction, but we learn to live with it. For me, I will never overcome it, but I live with it. I have a good life in spite of my addiction. Initially the reason that I got sober was because I had a moment of clarity in prison. I was at the end of my third prison sentence and I saw an old guy in the yard and he had done decades in prison on and off for drug possession and stealing and all the things I was doing. I realized that if I didn’t clean up, I would end up doing life in prison in stints of 2 years and 3 years at a time.
I was a tornado of destruction when I would get high and that ruins all work and personal relationships. Once I decided to stay sober, it required a lot of hard work. A lot of intense introspection and questions about what is wrong with me and why I did these destructive things. I had to start taking responsibility for my own life and decisions.
I had ultimately created a situation in my life where I had fixed all the things that I used to treat with a bag or a bottle and I just didn’t need them anymore because I had new, healthy ways of coping. But to do this it required honesty, hard work, integrity, humility, and ownership.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
I don’t know that I ever truly reconciled what I have done to friends and family. I do find frustrating when people say “you’ve worked really hard, you deserve a break”. This phrase is hard to hear because I know the pain and damage that I have done and I know I don’t deserve anything good because of what I have done. I pay my mom every month to try to start repaying for what I have stolen from her. I make amends by restoring what can be restored and I amend my behavior so that it never happens again and that’s all I can do. And I am super grateful I get to live a cool life because I don’t deserve it.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
When I got sober, I didn’t all of a sudden think I had a bunch of free time, but what I did notice was that I didn’t know what to do with myself. If I wasn’t chasing drugs, alcohol or women, then I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was more about staying sane all day. For me it was meditation, yoga, going to sobriety meetings. I started meditation the first day I got sober because I understood that getting sober is a spiritual thing and i’m an atheist so it was hard to be spiritual. What I did was get behind the spiritual things I could, like yoga, meditation and the principals of kindness and honesty.
I also filled my time with art, lots and lots of art. Now being sober I have direction and focus and discipline which has allowed my art to go to the next level, from just a hobby to a job.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
I have always been very creative and interested in art so when I was a kid I would copy comic book artists and copy pictures from dungeons and dragons books and I’ve watched people like Bob Ross doing art for years. I do remember one specific event that lead me in the direction of art. When I was a kid, like 5 or 6 years old, I had this babysitter who drew a killer whale picture for me and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was mind blowing that he could take a pencil and make a beautiful sea creature. I liked the ocean so I started drawing things in the sea and then as I grew up I would draw shipwreck scenes. I was always really smart and would finish my schoolwork and then I would spend all my time drawing.
From there it moved to skulls when I was in high school and then comics and I realized I had a knack for drawing people. All through my life I’ve always been the kid who can draw. Then people started asking me to draw stuff for them.
I was doing some art while in active addiction, mostly in a sketch book, but I didn’t have any money to truly be an artist while I was high. My art really became a success after I got sober and had the time, money and clarity to focus. What I have now that I am sober is the ability to apply myself to something I am passionate about.
Can you share three pieces of advice that you would give to the entrepreneur who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?
You have to have a “thing” because your thing was drugs or alcohol and now that is gone. So you have to find something to fill that space. Normal people think it is as easy as “stop doing drugs”, but it just isn’t. You have to find something to fill that hole that you were filling with drugs. That’s what makes an addict — the inability to stop a behavior despite overwhelming consequences.
The biggest piece of advice I can give people is to find your “thing” and stop doing drugs because it will kill you. I have so many friends, roughly 25 people that have died in the past 3 years and I should be dead, but for some reason, I am still here and all I can do is be grateful.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@Frazzmata on instagram