“My rock bottom was really close to dying,” says classical Italian glassblower Martin Gerdin. “I don’t know how I got there, or what led up to it. A week fueled by whiskey and benzodiazepines. I ended up in the hospital with no skin on my back. Towards the end, I wasn’t even able to work because I was so sick during the day and so checked out at night.”
Long before the onset of his struggles with substance abuse, Gerdin was a curious young Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) student, and an assistant to artist-in-residence Dave Powers who helped teach glassblowing.
“I started blowing glass in this studio when I was 13,” he says. “I was enthralled. It’s this magical material that moves and has a mind of its own—the wildest thing I’d ever seen. Every free period: I came after school, I asked questions, learned. I proceeded to take the class eleven times.”
Upon entering Jacksonville University in Florida after high school, Gerdin had mastered more foundational glass skills than most seniors in the program.
Today, at 28 and teaching again, Gerdin fills the studio with six-feet-nine-inches of sober thrill. His career is fulfilling, lucrative, and fun. But it was no joy ride getting here. He hunkers down to examine a damaged crucible and speaks further of his own brokenness.
“Jacksonville was gnarly, kind of inner-city ghetto. I struggled with moving, with leaving everything I knew growing up here. It was a downward spiral; full-blown alcoholism and drug addiction by the time I was a sophomore. I knew there was something wrong in my head, I just didn’t know what it was.”
Despite ongoing addiction, Gerdin returned to the valley and purchased his first home, near a confluence on the Roaring Fork.
“The whole reason for that in my addiction-addled brain was to rent out the bedrooms so that other people would fuel my lifestyle.”
Existing blackout to blackout, Gerdin reached out to the Carbondale treatment center Jaywalker Lodge when he got a DUI in August 2019. Unable to commit, he was kicked out. A month later, his back still oozing and crusted from the injury sustained during his ‘rock bottom’ week, Gerdin met with clinical manager Kim Reil of A Way Out in Aspen. The nonprofit works to help provide equitable access to treatment when other avenues have failed.
“I was so sick, I was in danger of death from withdrawal,” he says. “She [Reil] said, ‘We’re going to fill out this paperwork right now, and you’re going to be on your way to Salt Lake City on Monday.’”
It was in 40 days of rehab there that Gerdin was finally diagnosed: bipolar, with ADHD. His life experience and challenges finally made sense. It was also in Salt Lake that he began Alcoholics Anonymous, which he totally dug.
“Sobriety is sick,” he grins, meaning sick in the good way. “You’re never gonna build a ‘tolerance’ to happiness. All addicts are chasing that first high. The more it progresses, the less you can enjoy anything. In recovery, if I have an incredible day, my next incredible day isn’t going to feel any less because of that previous one. I’ll never build a tolerance to stoke!”
Renewed, Gerdin has immersed himself in living—which has included a return to his first passion of glassblowing.
“In my younger years,” he confides, “I had found that getting involved with my hands helped calm my head. That’s a big reason why I became so attached to the glass studio. When you take glass out of the furnace, for me, nothing else exists.”
He’s also discovered genuine, robust friendships. A wholesome love interest. He’s helped to rebuild the CRMS glass studio with the newest artist in residence. And he’s become as obsessed with fly fishing as he is glass, putting in 300 days a year on the river and guiding for Jaywalker.
“Once I was fly fishing, I realized the fish I had been making didn’t even look like trout!” he chuckles, a former spin fisher. “Every time I catch one now, I note its colors, form, structure. And trout have such incredible colors, like glass—such a wonderful material for fish. In its natural state, if you don’t do any surfacing, it looks like a wet fish. It’s the perfect marriage of form and passion.”
So much so, that Gerdin’s glass trout are currently backordered through June 2022.
“Hope is important,” he says. “It felt hopeless for me and it felt hopeless for my family. All it takes is that first step and being willing to listen to the people who have done it before you. There is hope. I am surrounded by an incredible supportive group of people my age and younger. There’s a lot of us around. You just have to find us.”