“There’s hope,” says Eric Sorensen. “I keep it simple. I tell them there’s hope.”
That’s what he says when he meets someone living what his life was for decades – using narcotics, drinking, sleeping in back alleys, pulling food out of dumpsters, blacking out because of massive withdrawals, not knowing where he was. “Years ago, my biggest fear was that I’d keep living,” he says, disclosing that he lost his wife to an overdose. “Today I have such gratitude that I’m sitting here healthy, fed and showered, and I’m actually alive.
I ride a bike everywhere, so I see people on the streets.”
He takes a couple of pairs of new socks from Dollar Tree out his backpack, explaining that he gives them to people on the street to show them there’s hope, or at least kindness in the world – something that was a big part of his circuitous journey to sobriety.
“I got a lot of help when I got here 11 years ago,” he says. “It’s God’s grace. Art gave me a reason to stay sober.”
Sorensen, 62, was in his mid-50s when he pulled a large piece of cardboard out of a dumpster in Portland and felt the call to paint, something he hadn’t done in decades and had never done seriously.
“That piece of cardboard changed everything because I was connected to something beautiful and healing,” he says. “It’s transformative.”
Over the years, Sorensen established a pattern to his days, which include morning support meetings as well as lots of walking, biking and swimming. To the rhythm of all that movement, he began to pray, repeating a phrase like spoken word poetry, or a mantra or a plea.
“Your beautiful, spiritual, creative, powerful, passionate, uninhibited creative artistic design and energy,” he began, saying just those words as he walked, pedaled and stroked. The prayer grew, and as the prayer grew so did his art. “Flow through me into the heart, the soul, the spirit and mind of the many, many of your beautiful, beautiful children,” he says, pacing in time with the well-worn words. “Into the powerful, passionate, soft, gentle, tender, eternal spirit of the light, all in the beautiful, beautiful name of Jesus.”
Sorensen has been a working artist for the past four years, and nearly every inch of the walls of his apartment is covered with vibrant studies in movement – dancers, musicians, waves.
One of his most recent paintings, “Freedom in Our Hearts” challenged him to find just the right balance between darkness and light.
“I put more dark into it to accentuate the light, then I captured the lighthouse’s direction, hope and safety,” he says. “The wave is even more powerful now. It’s about uninhibited, fearless gratitude for freedom and beauty.”
That’s how Sorensen lives his days – uninhibited in his joy, fearless in his gratitude.
“Look at me,” he says, grinning and holding out his arms. “I have hope.”