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How art helped save addict after accident

Story highlights

  • A 27-year-old painter lost a lot of dexterity in his right arm after crash
  • Brian Menish's mother suggested he try painting with his left hand
  • Menish gained his sobriety in 2014, after years of programs

(CNN)When Brian Menish was a teenager in Virginia, he always got trashed at parties.

"When I got drunk for the first time, it felt like the key, a magical key to be able to relate to people, talk to people and have them like me for me."

Now 27 years old, this recovering addict says alcohol also helped him drown out his emotions over his parents' divorce.

    "I thought it was my fault. I went into really hardcore drugs and alcohol because I didn't know how to cope with those feelings and emotions," Menish said.

    But his attempt at a cure soon became a problem. His parents sent him away to attend a program for teenagers with emotional and addiction issues. It's there he learned he had a particular talent for painting.

    "This art teacher at this school in Utah really brought my skill to my attention. If not for that person in my life, I don't think I would be here today."

    But after nine months of sobriety in the program, he went right back to his old habits.

    "The day I got back, I went out with my friends and got so drunk, they had to carry me in and put me into bed. I didn't miss a beat. I was the same exact person I was when I left."

    A year later, after drinking at a friend's house, Menish headed off on his motorcycle to get money from an ATM. He needed to feed his addiction.

    "I was going too fast around a small winding road. My bike hit the guardrail, and I flew over. I hit a tree or a rock and split my skull."

    Menish couldn't move his right leg and couldn't talk. "I was not expected to live."

    He suffered a traumatic brain injury. His skull was fractured, and part of his brain, badly injured, was removed. After months of therapy, he learned to walk and talk again. But he was unable to paint with his right hand, and that was a big problem. Before the accident, his paintings were very detailed, requiring a steady hand. Depression set in.

    "I still hadn't gained any coping skills to deal with life," Menish said.

    One day, he was talking with his mother -- a conversation that would be a major turning point in his life.

    "I've put in so much time and effort into painting. What am I going to do?" Menish asked his mom.

    She had an epiphany.

    "She was like, 'have you tried your left hand?' I was hesitant at first. The paintings I was doing were not very good. Over time, it only took me like six months, I was into art school -- a freshman at Shepherd University in West Virginia.

    "Even though my style was much looser, it felt great to be painting again. I kinda liked, and still like, my style now almost better than my detailed drawings and paintings."

    Four years and a couple of addiction programs later, Menish finally decided he wanted sobriety for himself. He wanted to put 100% of his effort into painting and school.

    27-year-old Brian Menish, a recovering addict who paints using his left hand.

    "It relieves a lot of stress for me knowing that I'm good at something. Someone told me you gain self-esteem by doing estimable acts. That stuck in my head."

    This month, Menish, who lives now in Costa Mesa, California, is marking three years of sobriety. He now attends community college, where he belongs to two honor societies. His next step: the fine arts program at Cal State Fullerton.

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    "I'm making good grades, which is not what I could've done when I was drinking and using. It makes me feel really good, because I didn't consider myself remotely smart. I had really low self-esteem."

    Two of Menish's paintings were juried and accepted in a gallery.

    "I still can't talk very well without stumbling on my words. I communicate with a canvas now. It brings me a lot of peace just knowing that I can contribute something good to society."

    Today, the handsome young man walks with a noticeable limp but has a smile that lights up a room. Despite his physical limitations, Menish completed a triathlon in December: swimming nine-tenths of a mile, biking 26 miles and running a 10K.

    His advice for other recovering addicts: "The only person who would give up on you is yourself. We're not going to give up on you."

    Article written By Amy Chillag, CNN Special Projects

    To view video interview click source link below.