The 32-year-old, who has been sober for eight months, said she was astonished by the support she received at the Association For Visual Arts (AVA) Gallery last Friday. Her art has also featured in The South African Artist magazine.
For her, painting was a way to cope and gave her a sense of healing. “Like most addicts, I was in denial that I had a problem. Drinking was part of my daily routine; I drank because it made me feel good, I enjoyed feeling numb. I didn’t want to deal with any feelings of being hurt. I used to hide my bottles in the cupboard so that my husband couldn’t find out,” said Hess.
From a young age, Hess had always enjoyed painting, but never saw it as a career as people told her she would struggle financially.
“I worked at one of the big accounting firms, and I forgot about my gift and passion for painting.The job was stressful and I was diagnosed with depression, bipolar and anxiety disorder.
"I got married in 2012, and was admitted to different psychiatric hospitals every year for three weeks at a time, but my parents and husband have always remained supportive and loving,” said Hess.
After her third major depressive episode, about three years ago, she was admitted into a psychiatric clinic in Durbanville. She went back to her first love, painting, which was part of the recreational activities offered at the clinic. That is where she discovered that painting helped with the process.
“I am proud to say it's been 263 days since I last touched alcohol and now I know it's normal to feel pain, and other emotions; you just have to find a way to deal with them. I have a greater sense of self-control and self-awareness. I have also started training and am saving up to climb Mount Kilimanjaro on World Mental Health Day in 2019.
“I will be climbing with three other activists, one of whom is also recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. We are hoping more people will join and raise awareness about the various mental health disorders and addictions people face,” said Hess.
Project co-ordinator at AVA Bonolo Kavula said they had an outreach project looking for artists around the country and Hess’s story and paintings touched them. “We chose her because all her pieces have a purpose for her, as much as for others. Her story and work speak to many people. She is truly special and talented.”