- Heart racing.
- Uncontrollable, excessive sweating.
- Obsessive thoughts.
- Fast & repetitive speech.
- Talking to people who aren’t there.
- Mood swings from the highest high to the lowest low.
What is happening?!? Symptoms of addiction? A psychiatric crisis? Or, is it…? Oh, yeah, wait. That’s just an actor before, during and after that “Big Break” audition.
Why would anyone knowingly, voluntarily put themselves through such torture? Because we have a problem.
“Hi, I’m Lita and I’m an actor.”
Recently, I had the amazing fortune of being flown out of town to shoot a commercial. I got put up in a luxurious hotel, driven everywhere I needed to go, had my meals paid for, worked less than 5 hours and will get paid well enough that I won’t have to worry about rent for at least 6 months. Yes! Life is good. I’m an actor!
So, why was it that less than 48 hours after returning from this euphoric trip I was feeling cranky, restless, anxious and scared? One word: Withdrawal. I got a real good taste of the real good stuff and I wanted more. I was crashing and I needed another fix. The anxiety flew away and the euphoria returned as soon as I got my next audition notice. I am an acting addict.
I don’t know if I can pinpoint exactly when I first became aware of my problem, but, I know now and knowing is half the battle. It makes perfect sense. Why else do they say, “She’s caught the acting bug,” if it isn’t a disease? Where did that notion of acting being an illness you can catch even originate? Someone (maybe a Barrymore) recognized that once it really gets a hold of you, it’s got you for life. Be careful, it can consume and destroy you. I believe the far too common substance abuse problems that have taken far too many great talents may be an ill-advised self-medicating of the underlying acting addiction. Manage your illness one day at a time.
I’m honestly not being facetious when I call what I have an addiction. Acting has made me feel brilliant, loved, ecstatic, out of my body, on top of the world and given me a sense of community. Acting has also made me feel small, used, worthless, severely depressed, isolated, desperate and anchor-less. I have put every spare dime I can scrape together back into it at every juncture and lived below the national poverty level for most of my adult life. I prioritize it above everything. I have been saved by it and I have suffered for it. No matter how many heartbreaks, disappointments, near successes, failures, insults, ego punches and tears, I cannot stop. I will not give it up.
I tried to quit four or five years ago. That lasted about six hours. I can’t even remember now what the final straw was, but I was done. I couldn’t take this city anymore and I was sick of making myself vulnerable just to get rejected. I was heartbroken, scared, in doubt, broke and feeling sorry for myself. It felt like rock bottom, or so I thought. I announced to my boyfriend, “I’m quitting. I can’t do this anymore. It hurts too much. It’s too hard.” Then I buried my head under the covers and cried. And cried. And cried. For six hours. I cried. THAT was rock bottom.
Finally, I stopped crying and reached out for a lifeline. Thank God for Facebook. I miraculously saw that a friend had posted something to the effect of, “Having auditions for original web-series until 5:00. Come on down!” It was 3:45 or so. My boyfriend was already on his way to work and I don’t drive (more on that another time) but the audition was close enough that if I could get out the door in 15 minutes, public transportation could get me there. I posted that I was coming and jumped up to wash my face.
Running, puffing, panting, sweating, I literally made it there at 4:55. My friend was happy to let me catch my breath before I read. I did my thing and they laughed, a lot. I kinda nailed it. The next day, my friend called with an offer. I accepted. I was back.
The truth is, it wouldn’t have mattered if she offered me the part or not. I was back on the metaphorical crack as soon as I saw the word “audition.” I was suffering from self-doubt and a perceived drought of opportunity in my six hours of hellish sobriety. I don’t just “Like” acting, I cannot be happy without it. It’s not all that important what people think of what I do, what matters is that I do it. My pathetic attempt to convince myself I could quit was a turning point. I was able to face and embrace my addiction for the first time. I realized I could never again let my self-worth be defined by whether or not I was getting auditions or booking jobs. I know I’m good enough, smart enough and doggone it, people like me. That doesn’t change because they chose someone taller, smaller, blonder, tanner or any of the other myriad factors that go into casting.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
I knew I couldn’t quit, so I had to learn to focus on the things that I can control. Fighting windmills just leaves you broken. I learned to manage my expectations, set realistic and specific goals and remember how much I enjoy every chance I get to perform. I LOVE to act and I finally started loving auditioning. If the only acting I get to do in a given day or week is 30 seconds of walking across a room and smiling at the camera, then that is still better than nothing. I’m going to enjoy those 30 seconds and do my best. When I leave that room, I will also do my best to leave the walk and smile behind too, not criticizing myself, my work or the project. In many ways, I had to learn to care less. Confidence and ease will book a job. Fear and anxiety will not.
Shut up and admit you have a problem. The truth will set you free.
Here are just a few of the side effects and/or causes of Acting Addiction. If you’ve experienced any of these (pro or con), you may be an addict. Don’t worry you are not alone. Go take a class, you’ll feel much better.
PROS of ACTING
- feelings of euphoria
- builds self esteem & confidence
- interest in and feeling strongly connected to others, quickly forming strong emotional relationships
- feelings of empathy & compassion toward others
- ability to analyze and access one’s emotions
- increased adrenaline
- great pay
- opportunity for travel & new experiences
- being treated like royalty
CONS of ACTING
- delusions of grandeur
- breaks down self esteem & confidence
- fear, anxiety, self-doubt
- panic attacks, heart palpitations
- selfishness, self-absorption, narcissism
- toxic relationships
- loneliness & withdrawal when a project ends
- feelings of envy & hatred toward others
- hypersensitivity to criticism or perceived slights
- emotional outbursts
- little to NO pay
- getting stuck in dead end “survival” jobs that suck the very soul out of you
- being treated like an extra, aka “background”, aka “breathing furniture”