100 Mondays

Tammi Salas, my creative friend and podcast partner, and I just celebrated 100 episodes of The Unruffled Podcast. That’s 100 weeks, 100 Mondays in a row, showing up with a recorded conversation either between the two of us or with a guest, talking about recovery and creativity and then launching it out into a sea of podcasts, just hoping that someone finds it that needs to hear it. Contemplating the significance of that got me thinking about my big Why, why for starting the podcast and this site before that. When I first quit drinking and started to do the work of recovery, I began hearing these questions from other women in my sobriety circles, “Okay I’m sober, now what?” Putting this site, and eventually the podcast, out into the world was to help women answer that question and more importantly, to help myself. It’s been an exploration for me, still is and in an effort to revisit that Why, I counted down to the release of the podcast and for seven days, I posted something on Instagram that I’m currently doing that stretches my creativity and at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, keeps me in this gig. I thought I would repost all seven here, just to have them in one spot so that we can all revisit them if and when we need a reminder.

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A robe? Duster? A swing coat? I think we'd have to ask a Reagan-era Neiman Marcus salesclerk.
Really though, in an effort to breathe a little new life into my IG account and to countdown to the 100th (!) episode of @theunruffledpodcast, I thought it would be fun to revisit the roots of why I started theunruffled.com and why @tammisalas and I started the podcast. It was for the person who got sober and said, Now what? What do I do with all of this time, all of this space, all of this energy? We share how we fill that void on the podcast, we have guests that do the same. Some things I did in the very beginning of my sobriety and still do, but my interests change, my attention is always in flux. For the next seven days, I'm going to post some things that I do in a week that keep me sharp, motivated, fulfilled, that keep the bow of my ship pointed north. 
I love to thrift. I love vintage. I love that I can nearly reinvent myself with clothing on the daily. It's also an inexpensive way to explore your style because maybe you had a style but you lost it along the way. Sometimes I like to dress up a piece and then get back into my leggings for no other reason than because it's fun. And to post funny commentary on IG, of course 😉

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My current library haul 📚
Perhaps it's obvious that you can fill newly expansive sober time with reading but maybe you're asking: what does that have to do with my own creative endeavors? When I got sober, I started reading differently. Not only was I better comprehending what I was reading (not to mention all of the paragraphs, pages I didn't have to reread like when I was drinkin' and readin'), but I started to treat each book like a class, like I was back in school. That's why my journal is there on the top of this stack. I use books as a launching off point, other's words to inspire my own. And P.S. Do you use your library's interloaning system? Life-changing for me. I catch wind of a book I want to read, I request a hold and it shows up on my personal shelf at my local library. I'm on that site more than Google some weeks, definitely has cut down on impulsive Amazon purchases 🤣

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Look, I'm almost 50. I've done some things but there are many creative challenges I'd still like to try on. And yes, I realize some ships have just sailed and I'll never be a Fly Girl on In Living Color nor be Eliza in Hamilton 😑 But when I first got sober, I really laid into myself for squandering so much time, that elusive, scarce commodity that only ever seems to bullet train when we want it to slow the F down and then not more than waddle when we want to be there already. Instead of resigning into wistful regret and staying there, sobriety has given me a "let's do this" attitude and maybe it's also a bit of that Fuck It that comes with age, but I'm much more of a Yes-sayer than I've ever been. If there's something you've wanted to try and you're tired of hearing yourself say, That's not for me, I beg of you to challenge that. Why not? What else are you going to do? 🤷


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Could have swam in the springs yesterday but just like that, back in soup weather. Never boring, Texas.
I love to cook. I always have, except for that ten year stretch when I was with someone who convinced me that I was a terrible cook, buuuttt not relevant to this story. I come from a line of very good cooks, I love a warm kitchen, I love the smells of roasting peppers and banana bread. For twenty years (minus gestating two babies), there was never a night that I was cooking that there wasn't a bottle of wine open. Never. The two were so intertwined for me, like Sonny and Cher, long past the time they were even good for each other. I have many horror stories that I won't get into here but believe me, they go beyond burned cookies. When I quit drinking I honestly thought I'd never cook again. I didn't for a long time. I picked up pre-made food, had my husband pick up the slack but when I got tired of that, I broke out the crockpot and loaded that in the morning while I drank loads of coffee. It worked and eventually, I lost my muscle memory and I could get back in the kitchen without fear. I love Pinterest, I have two shelves of cookbooks, I enjoy providing nourishment for my family. There's an essential joy i experience that alcohol couldn't rip away and I'm really thankful for that.

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In the mid-90s, I went back to college for photography. I had a Sociology degree and a teaching certificate but I knew I wasn't done. It was the first time I acknowledged that I had a creative desire and I finally let myself get off the sidelines to jump in, even though I had no idea if I could even make a viable career of it. I worked hard, I accepted lots of opportunities to work on my craft, I was eager to get better. I've definitely put in my 10K hours, but booze shelved my ambition on many occasions. Sigh. Now, it's just something I do, like breathing, I've lost my competitive edge for it and that's okay. The most miraculous thing about a phone for me is that I always have a camera in my pocket. A wise teacher once told me that a good photo can exist regardless of the equipment, which was a pretty sweet thing to say to poor college students 😍 I love to play with composition, lighting, color even with a few phone pixels and sure, who doesn't like the Likes, but self-gratification is the ultimate reward. There is nothing I love more than Springtime and a slow, exploratory walk, even if I go nowhere but my own hood. I'm the lady in the hoodie, stooped over a flower. Just jog around me 😂

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Sit. Stay. Heal. (Those are my friend @spike.gillespie 's words, not mine. She wrote an amazing book with that title that you should read, btw.) I don't sit on a pretty meditation pillows (even though I make pretty meditation pillows, you own one, right 😂?). I sit right here on my 70s La-z-boy that's in dire need of a reupholstery job, by the window that looks out to my front yard, birds, cars and joggers to distract me or lull me, depending on the day. I read, I meditate, I write, I'm quiet. You can find me here every morning before the sun comes up, and 4.5 years later, it still feels like peaceful bliss. There are many gifts I received from getting sober that I never knew I needed and this morning time is top on my list. This is my antithesis to frenzied, chaotic, sweaty, heart-palpitating days and refills the well from which I draw anything I do creatively. Everyday, a reset, everyday, a reprieve, everyday, a recipient of this crazy exhilarating and complicated life 💜

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To have a room of my own, especially after I had kids and suffered losing my identity, was all I ever wanted. And then we built a whole studio. It's small, it's in the back of my yard, not attached to the house, close but far enough away. All of my favorite things are in that studio: shelves and shelves of fabric and lace, trim, crochet, bits I've collected for 20+ years. It's pretty magical, I can wander in there and not come out for hours, a whole day. I also did a lot of sneaky drinking out there, hiding, pretending, in denial about a lot of things, mostly the implications of sneaking, hiding and pretending. When I quit drinking, I could only spend a few minutes here or there, threw out bottles, moved my sewing machine into the house for a while, for a long time actually. The ghosts lingered but eventually I aired it out, tidied it up, let a fresh breeze in. It's a place I can stretch a possibility to a tangible, beautiful thing and it receives me just as I am ✂

Happy 100 episodes, Unruffled listeners! It’s been a ride, thanks for coming along.

The Flood

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Do you ever have those memories that sometimes blindside you? The ones where you are just going about your day with your menial tasks and BOOM, one knocks you on the side of the head. Except that these are drinking memories I’m referring to so it’s more like they knock on your heart instead of your head.

I had one of those this week. I was in the bathroom doing bathroom things (not that, I’ll spare you). We have one tiny bathroom in our house of four and it was built in the 60s and has the typical 60s aesthetic: pretty green tile, tiny wooden drawers and cabinets (in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint), laundry shoot, built-in shower/tub. The sharp memory I had was one of flooding that tiny bathroom, not one, not two but three different times. I can’t remember why I’d start the sink water and walk away but I can deduct a few other variables from the context to sort of piece it together.

Each time it was in the evening and to be so out of touch that I would flood the bathroom meant that I’d really tied one on and to really tie one on in the evening meant my husband was most likely out of town which meant that I was really tying one on while I was home alone with my children.

I know, shame.

There’s a part of me that wishes I could put these especially horrible memories in a drawer, shut it, lock it, throw away the key, set the thing on fire. It’s different now. I know better, I do better. But doing that would feel like an attempt to rewrite history and I can’t, it happened. That specific, painful memory is right there nestled with other memories, tucked away and waiting for their moment to ping my heart when I need to remember what it was like. If I can’t remember what it was like, I can’t remember why I quit and if I can’t remember why I quit, I’m very likely to go back to that old story, pick it up where it left off, me cleaning up a water-soaked bathroom again, kids no longer wondering why Mommy flooded that bathroom again, but now knowing exactly why Mommy flooded the bathroom again, knowing the bathroom sink wasn’t the only thing neglected under this square roof.

I carry these memories inside of me for other women too, to open that drawer and let them take a look, to let them pull them out, try them on and say, Oh this fits me too and thank God I’m not the only one.

Holding Space

Selfie taken at 3am while 'working', re: polishing off a box of wine, sometime in a life, my life, not too far away.

Selfie taken at 3am while 'working', re: polishing off a box of wine, sometime in a life, my life, not too far away.

Not just another term on the self-improvement landscape in which you are clueless of the meaning.

Most of the homes in my neighborhood were built in the fifties and many have either been removed, remodeled or modernized somehow. What has remained is a shopping center in the middle, where our very lively neighborhood grocery store still resides. I'd never noticed this elderly couple before I got sober, before I started taking daily walks or runs and started noticing things. Everyday around noon, the couple would trek to and from the store, the gentleman navigating, she along for the ride in her chair. If I caught them on their return home, there was usually their bag of sundries dangling from the back handle. I must admit, I didn't notice if or when I stopped seeing them take their daily walk, but several months must have passed when I began to see the same activity, only there was just the sweet, elderly man, pushing an empty wheelchair. His bride's human form was no longer there, at least as visible to my eyes. I now see him every day that I happen to be out at the same time, doing his diligent pilgrimage, pushing that empty wheelchair to the store. 

The first few times I heard the term 'holding space', I'm sure I rolled my eyes. I'm an eye-roller. What does that even mean? I didn't fully understand what it meant until I saw that elderly man pushing his wife's empty wheelchair to the store. Now I get it and now I can see where I hold space. I hold space for the old Me. I hold space for the one that still has a dark sense of humor and thinks inappropriate jokes are the funniest. I hold space for the one who used to shoot for a zine about drinking. I hold space for the one who used to love a good random hook-up. I hold space for the one who used to work as a photo assistant in the sex industry. I hold space for the one who saw Nirvana in '91 and only remembers a few scenes that flicker in and out like an old home movie.  I hold space for the paradox. I've changed some thoughts and behaviors but I'm still the same girl. There's no identity crisis, I don't need to scrub my hard drive. The Me I am today is pushing the chair, but the old Me is still riding along. She has a forever pass to ride along. She's not going anywhere. 

Maybe instead of being the one pushing the chair, you are the person in the chair. You are still your old thoughts, your old stories, but you are holding space for the person you are meant to become. I feel a calling to help women define that space, women that are like me, have gone through a major transition, afraid to change some of their old stories and afraid that if they do, they may have to let the old ones go entirely.  More of my thoughts on this soon.

My struggle this week has to do with an old story, one left over from the old Me that I'm working on integrating instead of sending to sail down the hill. These last few weeks, I've had many balls in the air, but 'self-care' has not been one of them. That word still feels very precious and indulgent to me and maybe that is where it should stay for now. Whatever I eventually do for self-care (and still trying to even define what that means for me, right now, it means going to bed at 8pm), I want it to feel like a precious act. I don't want to take it for granted that I even have space and ability to think about these things, to hold myself in that regard, that I am worthy. It may be my forever work, and that is okay. In the meantime, that girl that does not fully get self-care can still ride along.

Connection

The Fall #artexchange, officially scheduled for the Autumnal Equinox, has come and gone but I want to share what I made, what I received. The theme was Connection, so sharing this time around feels very relevant. It's what the impetus and execution for the whole #artexchange project was about for me, connection. When I first began to meditate on the theme, I immediately went back to adolescence.  I thought back to a time when friendships seemed easier, when I could while away an afternoon on my bed, gabbing on the phone about boys, listening to records, playing Scrabble until midnight on a Saturday. It was all so effortless. 

I wanted this piece to feel like a young girl's room. Feminine. Sweet. Effortless.

I wanted this piece to feel like a young girl's room. Feminine. Sweet. Effortless.

Now, initiating connection, maintaining connection, nurturing connection, all feels so hard sometimes. But making this piece forced me to think about that. It made me ask questions, like, is it? Is it hard? Does it have to be hard? I don't want it to be. I want it to be as effortless as it was then. This entire Recovery Gals Art Exchange project that Tammi and I initiated has definitely nudged connection along in this past year, and they have all felt real, organic and meaningful. Do you have to launch an art exchange to make connections? Perhaps not, but it was the thing I needed for my recovery at the time, so I'm so glad we did.

My partner in this exchange is named Heather, and she gets me. She sent me a beautiful stack of twenty (20!) collaged meditation cards that cover four connection landscapes: self, duo, spirit and community. She said she could see me using them as I sat in my favorite spot by the window. They are unbelievably gorgeous, complex, multi-layered. I am such a visual person, I like things all laid out in front of me, so I will use these a lot. 

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I love the #artexchange for a myriad of reasons, but connection is at the top of the list. Maybe connection will become easier as I continue to recover, grow and evolve but if launching a project means I get to reflect, make and collect art while connecting, then let it be so.

Shame Ate My #artexchange

It started in the the middle of my third grade year. I don't know why I decided to stop doing my homework, or if it was a decision at all. It's not like I declared some internal manifesto, I Will Not Do Anymore 3rd Grade Homework From Here On Out, no. It just started with one homework sheet. One sheet that I decided that instead of doing right away, I would stash neatly under my bed and use those parentless few hours to make myself and my little brother a pb&j and watch Sanford and Son. Perhaps it crossed my mind a second time, right before I slipped out the backdoor, hopped on my banana seat and biked down to meet my neighbor to continue our business of exploring every inch of our combined twenty acres of wooded property. 

I'll do it later.

I'm pretty sure I didn't meant to LIE lie to my Mom, who would come home that evening and ask me if I'd done my homework. I was a good, Christian kid who made straight As in academics and conduct. I was only taking out a loan on the truth because I knew that I'd have plenty of time to pay it back. I'll just double up tomorrow. When the next day's homework was again stacked neatly on the first, still tucked under my bed, I borrowed a little more. I'll do it over the weekend.

Third grade was the first time I experienced denial, avoidance, overwhelm. The memory is still so acute. The ever growing stack under my bed, I knew it was there but I couldn't look at it. I couldn't internalize the dread. Instead, I would eat another bowl of cereal, polish off a stack of Oreos and back out I would go to climb another tree or I'd hide inside a blanket fort in the living room  and listen to Crystal Gayle, but I would not think about it because thinking about it made it real. When the thoughts forced their way in, the only image I could conjure was one of completion. I wasn't the kid who hadn't done her homework since Christmas break. I wanted to be the kid who had already done it but I didn't even know how to start.

I remember at some point my Mom forcing a confession out of me. I remember, through resistance and tears, I revealed that stack of homework under my bed. I remember my Mom bringing it out and setting it on the fireplace and it was ten feet tall. Mom must have been alerted by my teacher, Ms. Noske, because it wasn't long after that we were both called to a conference. I sat off to the side of the room and stared out a window while they talked. I had no idea. This is very unlike her. I vacillated between needing to throw up and being so detached from the situation that in my mind, I had already snuck out the back door and was back home in my blanket fort, safe and sound. When Ms. Noske finally called me over to her desk and I took that first long look into her face, that was the first time in months that I'd felt some relief. She knew, my Mom knew, no more hiding. At that point, I didn't care what the solution was, nor the consequence. The gig was up.

It appears that Ms. Noske was so exasperated with me that she couldn't fill in my third trimester's grades and that maybe '4th grade' end of year placement was an afterthought. But perhaps I'm projecting.

It appears that Ms. Noske was so exasperated with me that she couldn't fill in my third trimester's grades and that maybe '4th grade' end of year placement was an afterthought. But perhaps I'm projecting.

In the end, the adults did come up with a solution. They decided that I was most likely bored with the third grade, that it would be punitive for me to have to repeat the third grade, so Ms. Noske pulled around twenty worksheets from the stack and would pass me through upon completion. 

What does any of this have to do with this Summer's art exchange? There are consistent demons I battle, some rooms would call them defects. I don't know if either of those words are helpful to describe characteristics that don't necessarily need a value placed on them. Sometimes they just are. They consistently show up, I consistently have to work with them, around them, through them and sometimes I question if anyone can inherently change.  The topic for this exchange was Abundance, and because I know what that means intellectually, I had an idea for where I wanted my piece to go. What I didn't have was a plan for execution nor time management nor a good handle on expectations, which to me means that I don't inherently get abundance. Will I ever, remains to be seen. 

Because my proportions felt off, I almost scrapped it a number of times but instead, I kept adding to it (another ironic nod to abundance) and I don't really know if that served it in the end. I also grapple with the existential of abundance versus enough. Perhaps they are one in the same, two faces of the same coin. Third grade Sondra would say that in a sea of homework abundance, twenty pages were enough.

I do want to share the happier side of this exchange on abundance. Here is my piece from my exchange partner, Susan. I'm in LOVE love with it.

It was covered in dried Iris petals that she used to hand-dye the fabric. It's tattered and torn, decaying and ephemeral, delicate but sturdy. According to her letter, I think Susan also struggled with abundance and enough and how they tug two sides of a beautiful, tender thread. I love Susan so much, as an artist and as the friend that she has become. If the quality of creative, sober friends were riding that tender thread, I think I would lean toward enough over abundance, any day.

Flying By The Seat Of My Pants

This title is the best description I can think of for Summer, 2017. That description could also include a head that was down, focused and determined. It was a hard summer but it was also an exciting summer, both, and. And it was fun, but it wasn't capital F Fun, like riding the unicorn on a merry-go-round while eating a cupcake. It wasn't that kind of fun. But it was the kind of exhilaration you experience when you do challenging things and you get to the other side, accomplished and grateful for the journey, bruised knees and all. 

The Summer Of Hard Things included (but not limited to): getting to THREE YEARS of sobriety, hiking eighteen miles in a week up some very steep mountains, making a podcast happen while managing a family and work, not turning down a single summer job so I could buy Hamilton, The Musical tickets for myself and kids, driving my kids to Chicago to see said musical. 

I was so looking forward to transitioning into the new school year and Fall, Tammi and I even recorded a whole podcast about it. But at only two days in, I felt like I was at a stalemate. That vision I thought I had cultivated acutely, blocked. Then the apathy started to settle in like a thick fog, and I suddenly felt like I was lodged in mud. Funny how I always find the thing I need to read at the right time, and this NYT essay explained it all. Being ALL IN for something, eyes on the prize, puts you in a flow and actually elevates your mood. Even though I felt I could barely look up this summer, I was happy. Happiness is never my goal but alas, there it was. Now that I'm in transition and all options seem open, I feel untethered and in slow motion. My job is not to put a value on this because this too is life. 

My city is currently getting hit by the periphery of Hurricane Harvey, so now I'm forced to sit with this. Instead of busying, I have no distractions to take me out of the discomfort of transition. It is the nature of the modern human to get ON with it already, to be there already, in the thick of it instead of being on the way. On the way is boring. I was always on the way to something when I was still drinking, which inspired more drinking and there I was, eating my own tail. If you keep following the signs, eventually you will get to the precipice of the thing that requires your next leap. 

 

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Why do you write like your running out of time?
I'm not falling behind or running late.
--Aaron Burr, Hamilton

What You Resist, Do That (Seven Weeks)

I mentioned in my last blog post that I'm pulling a notecard where I categorized my first sobriety journal, in anticipation of three years of sobriety, I'm reflecting on a bit of what I wrote. Yes, I know, breaking the ODAAT rules, but I like how this exercise is forcing me to look back. My past is not where I live nor where I want to put my valuable energy, the shame that brings up throws me right back in fear jail and once again, I am stuck. But I do need to remember how fragile and precious those first days and weeks were, and how I was like a sponge, sopping up every bit of wisdom I could lay my eyes on. The one I pulled today is about resistance.

It says, "Instead of looking what you are willing to do, look at what you are unwilling to do. Look at the resistance. Because if what ever you are doing isn't working, it's time to try something different." When I reached three months of sobriety, I remember very distinctly the extent of my willingness. I felt so different after that short time, I was much more afraid of going back than I was to try something new. That started with reaching out to people I knew that were sober, telling my friends, No, it's not just for tonight, I'm NOT drinking. This was when I started thinking about a 12-step program, and I didn't dive in just yet, but I began to think it could be a possibility. I started asking myself questions like, Well, why not? Is that true? Maybe, perhaps, I could? I took out that very long list of things I'd been adding to for decades, things that I didn't do, couldn't do, wasn't willing to try, Oh-that's-just-not-me and I took a long look at it. I examined every item. I had an inch of willingness and that was all that was needed.

Will it be uncomfortable? 100% of the time. And there is a 100% chance of failure. If you are willing to jump into that ring, only everything on the other side. Don't compare your first attempts at something to someone else's that is way down the road. Instead, let that be something to aspire to. If someone has what you want, set your intention on the path to get there. Name that thing you want and if you feel contempt come up (sounds like: I could never have that, that is just not me, I've never been able to do that before why do I think I could do that now...THAT voice), that is your resistance. And that is your next bread crumb, grab it.


So those words above me there, yeah, written a month ago and sat here unpublished. The same lessons keep showing up, don't they? I could give a million excuses why I couldn't commit to this series, even though the resistance is the obvious one. I've mentioned that working in seasons really flows for me, since I do have several passions that vie for my time. Lately, I have yearned to work with my hands. Writing is such a cerebral activity and when I neglect my hands for too long, I can feel their ache. My biggest lesson (and by virtue, gift) in recovery has been living in the moment. Whatever program you choose, rigid or loose, meetings or mats, I hope it is a program for living because that is all of it, wrapped up in a pretty bow. 

Living, showing up and say Yes has afforded me friends and opportunities that I just didn't have before. Sure, I had friends and opportunities but I always had an agenda, expectations. Now my checklist is much shorter, my first question true to my intention, Will this bring my joy? If there is a check by that question, the rest seems to fall into place.

This brings me joy.

If you live in the Austin area and haven't been to one of my meetups yet, please come! This was a succulent planting party that my friend Jenn was kind enough to host at her beautiful home. My one item list was definitely checked this day. Friends, this is what living in recovery means to me.

If it takes fighting a war for us to meet, it will have been worth it. --Hamilton, the Musical

 

 

Eight Weeks

Hi.

I am eight weeks from three years of sobriety, and yes, I know this is breaking the one-day-at-a-time rule, but let's just go with it (*cough*rulebreaker*). Because I am fast approaching the date, I've been thinking a lot about what it was like. In the first six months of my sobriety, I journaled almost every day, pen to paper, not because I was told to but because I felt compelled to. I didn't know what else to do and my brain felt like it may explode on the daily, so I got it down. I'm so glad I did. About a year ago, I went through that journal and made color-coded note cards, like a good nerd, and separated my journal into categories. I thought for the next eight weeks I would expound on a card I pulled from the deck. I was one lucky and determined chick from Day One and was immediately blessed with the Feel Goods, so the thoughts from this deck are more about epiphanies than a daily, internal struggle. I hope they will help someone reading this, while helping me remember.

Many of these thoughts or epiphanies had to do with old stories, things I had always thought and because I had always thought them, they must be true. So here is one. I always thought that if you didn't have some damage, like some sort of dysfunction, subversion or demon, if you were not flawed or fragmented, that you were just boring. Some of this story still stays with me and reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by the Lutheran minister and theologian Nadia Bolz Weber, "If you don't have any demons, I don't really want to have coffee with you." That resonates. The thing is, I only associated this subversion with drinking, like you had to be drunk to be any of those things. 

The association made sense. It was the only time I had those cut-to-the-chase deep conversations, where you told your deepest secrets, rehashed that shameful event, exposed your soft underbelly. It was the only time spontaneity happened, the middle-of-the-night-three-hour roadtrips, the Jackassery antics, the naked full moon raft trips. Subversion and raw, guttural vulnerability only happened in the middle of the night, surrounded by empties. I had no idea there was any other way to connect, like really connect.

Where did this story originate? I always surrounded myself with people that were smarter than me, funnier than me, more talented than me, or at least that is what I projected. Perhaps it was my own feelings of unworthiness as I trodded through young adulthood. Perhaps it was aspirational of me, hoping some of them would rub off? I know that alcohol was the only thing that seemed to make me funnier and less self-conscious. With the magic of hindsight, reality would argue that alcohol made everyone funnier and me only the more self-critical. And we know how this story ends, the introspection later would turn to guilt, shame and self-deprecation that eventually ended with the most miserable girl on the planet. Now that sounds like a party.

"Below the anger is fear."--Robin Williams

I think you could substitute the word anger for sadness, shame or self-sabotage, and it all comes back to fear. It took a very long time for me to see that the scale was tipping, to see that my coping strategies were backfiring and I could no longer deny the noise. And when you become more afraid of life, of exposing your insecurities, vulnerabilities, struggles, demons, than you are afraid of death, that is the ultimate in self-destruction. 

So I've come full circle. People that are striving to glue the pieces back together are way more interesting to me now, charging a way more subversive act. Exposing demons, unguarded is way more punk to me now. Do you have to get sober to do this? No, maybe not, but I think you have to be willing to change something drastically in your life that isn't working anymore and in doing so, you have to be willing to take a good, hard look at your ancient stories.

Emerge

I'm late. I'm late. I'm late.

These are the only words I can say these days. I am in a constant state of lateness, not-on-timeness, not emerging. So it's funny, writing about the past #artexchange that was supposed to have been exchanged on the Spring Equinox and the topic was Emerge that I have done the opposite. Not that I haven't been social on media or started a podcast or left my house, because I have done all of those things but I have gone far and deep inside. I have cried and cried until I'm not sure if I have anymore tears. I have listened to the Hamilton soundtrack so many times, the ending is written in history books and yet, I'm still devastated by Act II. I know to trust the plan even if the route doesn't make sense to me right now, but the route is taking me through some dense fog. The plan says to just keep walking, so I am.

This piece that I made for my exchange partner meant one thing when I first arrived at the idea, but it is continuing to unfurl like a flower, a flower emerging in Spring. I'll attempt to put words to my thoughts but they may fail.

The last few years of my drinking felt like I had fallen down a well, I could see the light above me, people walking by and carrying on with their day, but I did not know how to climb out. The background of this piece has the layers of wallpaper that may have appeared fine to anyone else observing it, but if you looked closely, you could see that it was patched and barely holding itself together.

Occasionally, small leaks of light would come in until there were enough promising beams that I knew if I just started grabbing these little bits and scraps and tied them together, I may build a ladder to climb my way out. 

Sometimes I tumble back into that well. It's not as dank now, the walls aren't discolored, I'm not trying to patch them and pretend there are spots that don't need a little tending to. But I do have all of the scraps I need to build another ladder, to emerge once again.

I Figured It Out

Last week, I got to spend some time with my first college friend, friend for 30 years this year, friend for life. I'm also simultaneously working on a personal essay for my writing workshop about a boy I was in madly, deeply with, also from that college-era-early-20s time. Yesterday, I went for a run and tried and tried to keep my head where my feet were, first day of Spring, an equinox. I could feel my freckles popping with every bright bloom, but my thoughts kept saying, Let's go back, back, go back to that time, 20, 25, 30. Let's go back and dissect and examine, let's cut and splay it open and see what went wrong, what went right. 

I have a mix of love and hate with time travel, I'm certain we all do. I hate that it doesn't make me angry, or maybe that is what I love. I love that I am okay with what happened, or maybe that is what I hate. It was before I understood the gravity of the situation and maybe it was more ignorance and less denial then, but even though I always blacked out, even though I had woken up on city pavement, I still did not know that alcohol had already enveloped me, stunting my growth as it swallowed me whole. I still thought there was some magic formula yet to figure out or it was just some moral failing that I could rewind somehow, but when I did, and I was so determined, then I would reap all of the benefits from drinking again. I would be less stupid, less careless, less sloppy, less vomit, less piss. I would be all fun, all promiscuity and precociousness, all dancing on tables.

Hell, if I could have ever successfully pulled off dancing on a table, I may still be drinking.

And that's the thing.

I wanted it to make me into a table-dancer, and it never did.

I wanted it to make me irresistible, and it never did.

I wanted it to make me into a funny girl, the funniest girl in the room, surrounded by adoration and when she snarked that line, everyone would crack their heads back in a roar. And it never did.

It never happened.

I went to a George Saunders book signing event a few weeks ago. I went alone and it was standing room only and I wedged myself into a spot in front of a book shelf, next to a plant. I was fully there, I was feeling so embodied, so joyful, unforced laughter and nods spilled out of me, I felt uninhibited and free. After the presentation, I waited in line for my book to be signed with about 150 other Austinites. I approached a little shakily as I would approaching anyone for whom I have much respect and because my body shakes now, it shakes when scared, excited, anxious and he told me, Hey. You. You are a terrific audience member. I noticed you.

If you had told me then that that person I was looking for was right here, I would have never believed you. I would have shook my head and cried and smited you even. Come on, fish swim, birds fly and I drink, of course I drink. Just hang on while I figure it out.

Hang on.

IMG_20170312_134631_432.jpg

I finally figured it out.


I published a new tiny vignette on Medium in my series about relationships and alcohol, if you get the boreds and feel like indulging me!

A Change Is Gonna Come

The biggest lesson I've learned in getting sober is that change doesn't just light on your shoulder like a bluebird in a Disney movie. Change is an action and sometimes it is brought forth by many tiny actions that accumulate over time. Sometimes change is the final tip that happens as a result of many small tips, one bumping up against the next like dominoes, until the last one topples over. Sometimes it's just the act of saying, Nope, this isn't working for me anymore, and that becomes the thing that knocks the first domino over. Some days, you may have more to give towards this change than other days, but the only way that last domino will tip is if you are actively moving towards it.

This could be a blog post about why I marched with 1000s of other like-minded people across this planet on January 21, 2017. Or this is simply a post about change. While I don't think that change begins or ends with one march, it did tip a domino that is bound to hit the next one. There is a giant mess to clean up right now, or many messes if you want break it down into smaller, less overwhelming heaps. And you can't toss a sponge without hitting one. There was a chaotic mess that had been growing for a long time in my head and soul and it had spilled out of me and into my life, family and home.  I finally got to cleaning that up in 2014. Now that my eyes are clear, I can better see the work that needs to be tackled outside of myself. Showing up for that march made me feel like I wasn't showing up with my bucket all alone, but that there are so many to lock arms with, showing up with their buckets too. If you are in recovery, you know the importance of the tribe, the weight of the community that will hold your mop when you need to take a break. That is what the march showed me.

Shaming anyone on either side is not helpful. Arming yourself with compassion is. Making signs and tshirts for the march, I got to express my passion creatively and carry my compassion around, literally, for everyone to see. Love is an action too.

This wasn't my first protest march but it was my kids' first protest march and hopefully it won't be their last. When I marched against apartheid in college, I wasn't thinking about the oppressor's feelings, but this time I did. I guess this is growth and what do you know? Change.

A Lesson in Surrender

The Recovery Gal's latest art exchange for the Winter Solstice has come and gone. If you want to catch up on what I'm referring to, you can here. The theme for this exchange was SURRENDER. Ah, I thought, and smugly I may add: I got this. I had the perfect, most Pinterest-worthy interactive piece of art all dreamed and schemed in my head, but there was only one problem. I couldn't start it. I was having so much resistance to making the thing and I couldn't figure out why. I knew I wanted it to be about a metamorphosis, the evolution that comes when one surrenders. The problem is that it's not the whole story, it's not my whole story. The bathroom floor, down on my knees moment had to be a part of it too. Most of my ideas come either in the shower or in a dream and this one floated through me in my sleep. I surrendered.

With this idea, I needed a box, a perfectly imperfect box that I made (without woodworking tools, mind you, and I wouldn't recommend) with my hands.

The two elements I kept from my first idea were a chrysalis and a butterfly, the metamorphosis, which I made with embroidery and applique. (I'm exchanging with two ladies as why there are two.)

I wanted to cover the box with words from an old journal. These particular words are significant because they were written in the middle of the night in one of the last years of my drinking. It was right around a birthday and I am attempting to describe, in barely legible handwriting, how my creativity only lies in the moments between sober and passed out. (If you want to see the journal entry in its entirety, it is here.) I thought that was the only magical creative moment for me and I chased it for decades. I cried as I made several copies of that journal entry to glue to my boxes. It's so hard to relive those moments, those lifetimes, so stuck, so miserable, so far from a solution. 

I used a decoupage-type glue and added many layers, so many layers of journal paper. I also added the words AND YET, NOT YET, which describes that continuous, incoherent state I was in, like purgatory. When the glue dried, I used an old grease marker to distress it more.

I glued the chrysalis and the butterfly wing to the front and back to finish it. I'm very pleased with how it turned out, exactly like my dream actually. It was very hard to make as it brought up so much emotion and the whole experience was one long exercise in surrender, the final piece, the metamorphosis.


I have to share the two stunning pieces I received from this #artexhange.

This is from Sarelle and please visit her blog to see her description of her process. It is so good. 

I can use it when I surrender to the day to get cozy under it with a book and a cup of tea. It reminds me of water, which is incorporated in the one and only tattoo I got when I was 19. One of my favorite things to do since I was a kid is to float in water and listen to my breath...surrender. I love this, the details are gorgeous.

My second piece came from Rachel. I'm going to paraphrase her description.

The idea is that when we stop trying to make the world go away and put down the umbrella and just experience the cold, wet rain, the pain, the discomfort, it isn't so bad. Just as the tree surrenders its leaves in the winter for new ones to grow, so should we. And the umbrella is actually a sketch collaged on to the piece, which is a metaphor for what we think is protecting us is sometimes just a mirage, or a story in our head. This piece is utterly beautiful, the woman looks so at peace, just putting her umbrella down and feeling the rain. It is going to hang in my studio for every moment I need to remember this.

If you want to follow along on Instagram to see the full collection of art exchanged this Winter Solstice, search the hashtag #artexchange and #recoverygalsartexchange . The pieces are still trickling in as the holidays threw some of us behind. If you are interested in joining in the next one planned for the Spring Equinox, contact me or Tammi Salas. We'll be coming up with the next theme in the next few weeks. This is seriously one of the most meaningful things I'm doing right now. I love all of the art we are making...pinch me.

Reflection

I know I keep yapping about this #artexchange, but it's seriously been one of the most fun things I've ever participated in, so bear with me. When creativity and recovery collide, this is the ultimate climax (for me and I *think* the other participants are feeling it too). I can't wait to start working on the next exchange and I'll speak more about that in a second. 

You have to see what I received. This is from my friend, Caitlin, whom I'm just getting to know in this community. She made two of these, and she pressed one up against the other as a reflection, which was the theme. 

Isn't it stunning? I think it's stunning. It looks like the ocean at night with the moon reflecting off its waves. It has so much texture that it almost becomes interactive (re. I just want to touch it).

And it came with this beautiful poem.

Gah. How lucky am I?

We have exchanged names for the next #artexchange and it's going to be a huge one. They will be presented the week of the Winter solstice (December 21) and of course I'll be back to yap some more on my process first, what I've received later. This exchange's theme is surrender and that could be the title song to the soundtrack of my life. Everyday is a surrender, so I can't wait to jump in. Be sure to follow me on Instagram as I'm sure I'll be giving some little sneakpeeks in the process. We're also using the hashtags #artexchange and #recoverygalsartexchange if you want to see all of the work as a collection.

In the meantime, Happy Making! And thank you for my beautiful Reflection, Caitlin.

Renaissance Girl

My first year of college, I finally got brave enough to sign up for a theater arts class. Away from my small town and that identity I thought I was stuck with, it felt like a fresh start. My first monologue was from The Glass Menagerie and I couldn't even tell you one line of it now, but I do remember that I was so nervous and I know I didn't nail it. Afterwards, the professor's critique was that I could have worked on it some more but he could see that I had natural talent and I should keep going.  I actually thought he lied to me. There is a line you hear in the rooms: I was the biggest piece of shit in the center of the universe. I had zero self-worth yet I thought I was so special as to be the one student who this professor, one I found out later rarely doled out compliments, would lie to. So what did I do? I never took another theater class again. In fact, I stayed away from the arts almost completely because I had decided I just wasn't that girl.

So I continued my education in the liberal arts and lurked around the performing and visual arts. All of my friends were visual and performing arts majors, I participated in various art projects on campus but always as a transcriber or a researcher of some sort. It wasn't until post-college that I really allowed myself to pursue photography. And while I always had an individual style, that was when I really began to own it and started making my own things and really expressing myself. I also started writing in my journal fairly consistently and wrote a lot of letters at this time too (pre-internets, youngins').

The more creativity I engaged in, the more I wanted to do it and the more confidence I gained around it. I don't think it would be fair to say that booze was completely working for me at this point in my life, but it also didn't have me completely unraveling at the seams quite yet. I can now see that had I been sober, I probably would have been able to more successfully wear all of my different hats and step into that place with aplomb. Instead, when someone would ask me, What do you do? I would make a self-deprecating joke that I was a Renaissance Girl: Jack of All Trades, Master of None. 

Like with most things, the more I said it, the more comfortable I got with it and now completely embrace it. I love the more recent terms to describe a person who does many things as multi-passionate or a multipotentialite. What I loved most about my adopted title is that it's humbling. It means I'm always a student. And right now, the most profound thing I need to master is abstinence from alcohol. I also aspire to master standing in the way of truth, beauty, service, gratitude and courage. Yeah, I want to master that.

Getting back to logistics though, what does it look like when a person wears many hats? We all should know by now that the idea of a perfect balance is a total myth, especially if you throw in partnering and parenting. There are times when it feels leveled out though, and I thought I would talk about that a bit. My personality type is INFP, which means I'm not a meticulous planner but am an okay executor. Especially now that the booze has been removed from my life, I can follow through like a motherf*cker. Amazing how that happened. 

Here are some other things I do:

I commit whole days to one thing. I can get distracted by ANYTHING, but if I stay with one project for a day or two, I have a better chance of seeing it to completion before moving on to the next thing. And I sleep better.

If I have to move from project to project, I set a timer. Okay, sometimes it's an internal timer, but you get the point. Sometimes deadlines all fall around the same time, so it's necessary to jump from thing to thing. Or, and this really never fails, I'm sewing and I think of something I want to write about OR WHAT REALLY NEVER FAILS is that I'll get some clarity around something I was stuck on and if I don't stop and write that minute, poof, it will be gone. So I'll let myself do that but then I always try and go back to the thing I was originally jamming on.

I don't have much of social life. I don't watch TV. I'm not saying this is for everyone, but this is how I do it. And honestly, I wake up so excited about what I'm working on, I want to work and it doesn't feel like a sacrifice. I have to be careful, though, about the isolate-y tendencies. You know, introverts, you know. 

I try and focus on the experience and not the outcome. Yes, I need to make money and yes, I am human and care what people think about me and my work, but if I get too wrapped up in that, I get overwhelmed, it's not fun anymore and I want to curl up in the fetal position, cry and question the meaning of life. So I really try and just enjoy the journey and then I do.

I know when I need to FULL STOP. Sometimes, it is time to hang it up and go to bed with a book and a cup of tea. At 4pm. And that's okay. Because I am only truly mastering staying sober and if that is a book in bed at 4pm or if it is impromptu coffee date with a girlfriend or if it's wandering around a library for nothing special and that is what my soul needs to not want something that doesn't nourish it, then that is what I do. 

As a multi-passionate, I think about this stuff ALL THE TIME. Another thing we hear in the rooms is, Keep it simple. My heart won't let me go there necessarily, so to keep it sober, I am always trying to make it all work. Please, if you are a sober wearer of many hats, how do you do it? Do you have any tricks? I'd LOVE to hear from you in the comments!! In the meantime, embrace your inner Jack, okay?


PS. If you want to read the latest words that I was stuck on for weeks when I was trying to write the thing but seemed to want to flow out of me when I was sewing, here's my last essay in my Relationships and Booze series on Medium. Thank you for the indulgence! 

 

 

God, Help Me Change The Things I Cannot Accept

I've had a couple of friends in my life recently that have wanted to talk to me about their drinking. I really like these coffee dates as it forces me to dig back, way back before this blog, before I met my beloved recovery community, before I ever Googled "Am I An Alcoholic?", before I'd ever uttered one word of the Serenity Prayer. It wasn't that long ago. It's a lifetime ago.

That morning in the summer of 2014, I woke up and knew it was finally time to change the things I could no longer accept. It was one moment in time, like the Sun breaking through a cloudy sky, and if I didn't raise my hands and my head upward, the next moment would be different, it would be dark again. 

I could no longer accept breaking promises to myself. I could no longer accept breaking promises to my family. I could no longer accept disappointing my son and hearing him say, No More, Mom. I could no longer accept my unpredictable behavior. I could no longer accept my lack of sleep, interrupted nightly with 2am full body sweats and shakes and the sensation that my heart was beating out of my body. I could no longer accept spending money I didn't have on booze, spending my kid's money on booze, selling family heirlooms for money to buy booze. I could no longer accept waking up and not knowing where I was or waking up and saying, "Thank you for getting me home safely" to a God that I only spoke to when I was up Shit Creek. I could no longer accept those tingling hands, the year-long eye twitch, the normal of feeling like curdled milk everyday. I could no longer accept not seeing one single dream of mine to fulfillment. Not one.

I didn't know what I was going to do or how I was going to do it, but I was going to do something. I took some of my power back that day. Now, every day I live sober is a celebration of this new life. There is not always a parade, but I am grateful every damn day. 

Gratitude is an action and making some art expresses that. So many friends I've made in the last two years, friends that I am so grateful for, are converging on Austin in November for a conference. I want to be armed with not just any old business cards but with my little cards of gratitude, and since this is right around the corner, I best get started!

I love LOVE collecting boxes of cool, vintage playing cards. And these little artist trading cards you can get at any art supply store and HOW CUTE ARE THEY?? Other supplies you'll need are pens, glue, easy peasy.

I like to wing things, so I'm going straight to pen but that also means that each one will be different and that is what I'm going for. After I've added a butterfly and sufficient info, glue. Done.

I'm in love with my cards almost as much as I'm in love with my life. This is not just a thing I'm doing. I'm not just trying to get through it. This is my life now. This is me.

What can you no longer accept?

When An #artexchange Is More Than An #artexchange

Do you know what it's like to be enthusiastic with someone? Like really dork-out hard on ideas, projects and dreams and just be down-right giddy, nothing withheld? I've had relationships like this in my life and if these brainstorming sessions involved booze (which they often did), the ideas were left right there with the empty bottles and over-flowing ashtrays. 

And then it happened when I met Tammi. Initial social media exchanges revealed mutual interests and before long, there were phone dates and ideas for projects with actual plans and timelines for follow-through. I've not buzzed so electric with dreamy creativity in a long time. We laugh about being separated at birth and I don't know if that ever really happens, but if babies were delivered by stork, we were definitely hatched from the same egg. 

After some thoughts tossed around about the possibility of our kids doing an art exchange, we got the idea for an adult version and put the call out to our creative sober community. The response blew me away. Tammi always says, Pinch Me and honestly, that thing you hear that if you wrote out the best possible version of your life post-sobriety, you would have sold yourself short? Well, that's true. Pinch me. 

The specifics of the art exchange are the participants make a piece of art from any medium (visual, poetry, photography...as long as it can be snail-mailed or emailed) on a recovery related theme. We drew random pairs and the dates for exchanges were set for the equinoxes and solstices. The theme that Tammi and I decided for this first exchange was Reflection, and our participants were encouraged to interpret the theme in any way that seemed fitting.

Sitting in reflection is a place I've spent much time in sobriety. Whether you are taking steps or doing the actual Steps, unpacking the events in your life that have led you to where you are is something that most of us in recovery feel compelled to do. I personally try not to get too tangled up in the 'what ifs'. Every road that we didn't take in our lives, we have no experience of  and therefore, without getting into the metaphysicality of it, doesn't exist. So for the artist or creative person, in trying to make sense of your life, the examination becomes its own product. It can be art or words, it can be meaty or syrupy, but what is happened, exactly the way it was supposed to. I need reminders and need to be reminded, and then I need to pass it on.

I knew I would probably go with some textile art since textiles are my jam, but the grand idea came to me where all grand ideas originate, the shower. I've had these antique hand mirrors for a while. They are such pretty dust collectors, *sigh*. I just knew they should be the premise for my pieces. (Note: My exchange is a three-way because we had an odd number of participants. So I made two pieces and I'll receive two pieces. Lucky me.)

I broke out the mirrors and got to work on the replacements.

What a pretty reminder, right? Still beautiful, nothing has changed and it never will. How comforting. And so is embroidery, by the way. I highly recommend picking up some thread and hoops. Couch activity, need I say more.

Perfectly imperfect.

Perfectly imperfect.

I added a little quilt padding, stitched it onto a felt backing and glued it in.

It's perfectly fine lying down.

It's perfectly fine lying down.

Or it's interactive!

Or it's interactive!

This is one of the funnest experiences I've ever had. The photos are coming in, so follow over on Instagram (and Tammi's IG here) and I'll post what I've received when they come in. There are a bunch of us beauties (15 to be exact), so if you want to see the whole she-bang, we are using hashtags #artexchange and #recoverygalsartexchange .

If you are a sober creative and are interested and jumping in on the next #artexchange, contact me or Tammi! We'd love to have you. Next exchange date is set for the Winter Solstice, December 21st, theme TBD.

Pinch me.

It's All Going To Be Okay

Whenever anyone asks me, HOW? How do I do this? My answer is always,

  • Can you meet me for coffee?
  • Can you meet someone for coffee?
  • Can you take a walk?
  • Can you take a scalding hot shower?

My answer is always to ask a question back and that question always involves an action.

For the years leading up to July 13, 2014, my question was always, WHY? I remember a point somewhere in between the time I was so hungover, I had a panic attack, hyperventilated and spent time in an ambulance to the time I threw up red wine everywhere until it looked like a murder scene, both incidences under the impressionable eyes of my little family, the only question I could ever ask was, WHY?

WHY do my friends get to drink and carry on and are never miserable like I am? WHY do they never have any consequences? So many WHYS while I continued to bang my head against a glass door, over and over (and my god, how many sliding glass doors I actually walked into, I've lost count). It wasn't because I was stupid or an imbecile, I just wasn't asking the right question. I didn't know HOW to do it. I didn't know HOW I could live my life without alcohol. I didn't know HOW to write that story where I was the main character who lived her life without drinking.

WHY does not incite an action. WHY keeps you down, as low as a victim as you can be, pity-party of one.

Now that I have been sober for two years, I can start to look back and question, WHY? One thing I've figured out is that drinking compromised my structure. I wasn't being good or bad, better or worse than anyone else. I wasn't a complete fuck-up or a victim or a princess. Drinking compromised my structure until my structure no longer worked. And now I am getting closer to whole.

I am not an efficient machine. There are days when I'll most likely fuck something up at some point. I am messy, complicated, imperfect and contradictory and life is a bewildering, enchanting, exquisite conundrum. I love routine but being open to a certain amount of surprise, curiosity and opportunity keeps my creativity in a flow and honest to God, keeps me sober.

Today, my actions are:

  • Interacting with men and women who have the same struggles and desires as me
  • Moving my body
  • Stretching my mind
  • Being of service to someone in some tiny way
  • Spending time in deep thought and prayer
  • Putting words onto paper
  • Making something with my hands

It requires effort. It requires action and faith and sometimes that means I have to do something different, something that I have to be open to or willing to try. But ultimately, it requires surrender. It means I have to stop fighting the thing I'm resisting.

I don't have a creative project to share today. Honestly, I'm working on too many things at once that I needed this. I've been feeling overwhelmed and I needed to come back to the basics.

Sobriety 101.

 

 

Sobriety Is Your Umbrella

I've been through the muck of the yuckiest of feelings this week. What started as neck deep in Compare and Despair led to Letting People Down and I'm pretty sure the first domino toppled over the next. These were both things that would have previously made me bottles of wine thirsty. And since ripping off my skin or running into traffic didn't seem like viable options either, I had to get creative.

We can all be guilty of occasionally spending too much time lurking in someone else's space. If I spend too much time there, pretty soon I'm thinking of all the ways I could do it better. Before I got sober, this would all build up to overwhelm at even the prospect of starting anything and my solution was always, open a bottle. Mull over it some more. Stew in it. But never do it.

Now, the cure for me is to start something, anything. Activity is the antiserum. It forces my eyes back into my own lane. I just can't live there for very long because it really makes me feel so gross and so low. 

Letting people down pierces my serenity just as hard. Even though I know intellectually that I can't control how other people feel or react, I think that capping my own emotions around it will take an eon of work. There's been some progress though. It used to feel like shame, the shamiest of shame. When I was drinking and disappointed someone, it was almost always directly correlated to my alcohol consumption. I either couldn't follow through with something or the follow-through was impaired because I was impaired. The aftermath was always, I feel like shit = I am shit, and forever the twain shall meet. This always induced the heaviest drinking and life is inconspicuously reduced to one cyclical diagram. 

Now when I disappoint someone, it's usually because I've said no to someone or something. Or that I've been my own advocate. I no longer feel like I'm a shitty person but I still feel like shit for a bit, and that's on me. I don't walk around with an impenetrable warrior shield (damn, where is my warrior shield?). I'm sensitive and I mostly embrace that. This week when I experienced it, for the first time I noticed where I felt it in my body. And get this, it felt like my forearms were about to sweat, profusely. But guess what happened next? The feeling went away. Yep, it left. I didn't stew in it, watching it circle the drain as I made up a new word for LOSER with every gulp. Nope, it just went away. And I got to smile and say, I'm sorry. I got to make it right, like a grown-up would do. So this is how you adult?

I said it last week and perhaps it was a little foreshadowing, but when the shitstorms rain down on you, sobriety is your umbrella. No matter how confident you are in the driver's seat, the road will have some unexpected potholes. It's just part of the road. And let's be honest, the urgent need to escape the feeling is still there. Lying down to get lost in a book sometimes feels like an indulgence I'm not ready for in the middle of the day.  I sometimes need to step away and do something entirely different while I wait for the lesson, because there is always a lesson. 

I've found it helpful to have one really long, like no-end-in-sight long, like no-sense-of-urgency long, like absolutely-no-guilt-dampening-it long project that I work on a bit here and there. It's always there, I can pick up where I left off, I can get lost in it for hours or I can give it a little attention when I can. I have a research project going like that for a novel I dream of writing, someday. It will be based on a historical event but I'm taking my time with it, swimming around in some Ancestry, spending time in the library like I'm back in college.

And what about Ancestry. Hours or minutes, it's a fun activity.

Eating a healthy bowl of humility soup, surely the more awful it tastes going down, the better for you in the end. I think a big lesson for me is to rely on my intuition, which for me is my Higher Power.  My other lesson is to know my limits and then know them better. Stay resilient, if something doesn't work, try something else. Perhaps old energy and old ways of doing things are always being cleared for new energy and new ways of doing things. That is an exciting thought. I heard this the other day from someone, maybe Tony Robbins? Who am I? But anyway, he said something like, 'Replace expectations with appreciation'.  Stay curious, because there is always a lesson.

 

Never Cease To Be Surprised

A common theme throughout my drinking years was that I constantly did things I didn't intend to do. I didn't intend to jump off that cliff on the rafting trip, I didn't intend to go home with that guy, I didn't intend to skip Thanksgiving, I didn't mean to piss people off and I didn't mean to not come home that night. My last day of drinking was the best example of this. I went to a party I didn't want to go to, I drank when I didn't want to, got drunk when I didn't intend to, pissed off my husband and scared my children when I didn't mean to and woke up at 2am in an unwanted sweaty panic, again. Once I had my first drink, I could never ever make a single decision that aligned with my intentions. It turned my life into one big reaction. 

This described my life even outside of the party, the party of many and of one. I never felt like I was the captain of my own ship, the person responsible for the quality of my life. And I honestly felt like this was something that could never be fixed. I felt like I was too old, it was too late, the patterns were set, the story was written. A bottom can be any moment when you've had enough. It's when you are ready to jump back in the captain's chair, take over the wheel and right the course, even if you don't have a map.

After the shock of waking up without a hangover subsided (actually, still amazing), I had to find things to do and actions to take that were meaningful to me. I needed a thing to get me out of bed each and every morning. That thing started as my morning zen run with podcasts I was excited about, books I could be present for, coffee, more coffee. That thing evolved into this blog, personal projects and collaborative projects that have developed from new relationships I've made through sobriety.

That brings me to something I've shared on some of my other social media platforms but I wanted to put out one last call here.

My friend Tammi Salas and I are looking for some creative sober bloggers or instagrammers who would be interested in doing an art exchange and then be willing to share what you receive, tag/link participants, etc. Themes will be recovery-based and all mediums accepted (as long as it can be emailed/snail-mailed). Contact me if you are interested. We want to get this party started in September and there will be more info to follow.

Some days are just to be tolerated. Some days I just need to merely get through to get to the elusive 'something better'. That's okay.  Regardless, when the shitstorms come and rain down on me, and they do, sobriety is my umbrella. It is intentional and ready.

 

In My Life I've Loved Them All

A few days before I left for a summer vacation, I stopped by the library to wander the aisles. I didn't need anything. I have stacks and shelves of books that I own of which I've not even cracked the covers and yet some days, I just like to roam and see what catches my eye. Two books jumped out at me that I recognized from my Amazon wish list or some other list, two separate aisles, both about friendship. One was "Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship" by Gail Caldwell and "Truth and Beauty: A Friendship" by Ann Patchett. I grabbed them with an urgency.

In the very beginnings of sobriety, there is a need to hermitize yourself, to hunker down and go inward, literally and emotionally. You have to change your patterns, you have to do things differently than you did before which challenges any and all familiar social interactions. I had whittled mine down in such a way that the only ones that brought me out of isolation involved booze, every time and most likely at my insistence. When I got some clarity, I began to question and doubt all of my relationships. I honestly didn't know which ones were built on booze and which were built on a more solid foundation. I'm still slowly figuring it out. 

In the meantime, it's hard. It's hard to rebuild relationships and it's hard to build new ones. I know that to have good friends you need to be a good friend and I know I haven't always held up my end of the deal. I'm not sure if I was ever taught how to be a good friend. When I read those library books, I sobbed. I know I've had moments where some of my friendships mirrored those described in those lovely books, but the intensity hasn't always sustained. You can't really give yourself to friendships when your first relationship is with booze though. Once that bond was broken, I know in my heart that not all of my friendships didn't just ride on the surface but I don't know how deep some of them go. It's like being an archaeologist and carefully digging out the artifacts, the bones, dusting them off, seeing what is there and deciding if they are still useful or meaningful. And that's just my side of the street. If the other person wants to do their own digging, it's work for the other side of the relationship as well. 

It's been hard to even find the words to talk about it, which probably explains all of the tears released this week. I know that nothing changes without taking action and showing up here is my first step. I celebrated two years of sobriety this week (woo-f*ing-hoo) and I made a list of all the things I would like to manifest in my life for the next year. Generosity was at top of the list again because, action. I always thought that gratitude was a feeling that you felt inside but it's really an action, it's showing someone you care about them, that you are grateful that you have them in your life, and you tell them with your words, you show them with your actions. This is how to make friends, this is how to grow friends, this is how to be a good friend. 

To celebrate my two years, I wanted to show the friends who have nudged me, listened to me, picked me up and propped me up how much that has meant to me. So I'm making them all lavender eye pillows!

First, you want to draw out your pattern. I just traced outside of an old sleep mask I had lying around.

And I'm going to add some actual eyes with embroidery, so I drew those on as well (I later added lower eye lashes to the open eye, btw). 

Next, you'll want to take some tracing paper and trace around your pattern, tracing the eye embroidery pattern as well.

And yes, you can buy tracing paper in modern packaging, but please enjoy my vintage variety. You're welcome.

Next, you are going to put your fabric in an embroidery hoop and get to town. Just be sure and not cut out they eye pillow yet or it won't fit in the hoop. I included a photo from one of my favorite textile books of basic embroidery stitches, but just Google, my friend. Don't be afraid of it. Anyone can do it and the longer you do it, the better you'll get at it. Embroidery is a fantastic Netflix companion. When you're finished, cut that baby out and cut a back piece out while you're at it.

Mix up your filling next. If you're fancy, you may want to use flaxseed and dried lavender. I had some rice on hand, so I used that. I also sprinkled a few extra drops of lavender oil but fyi, a little goes a long way. It takes about two cups. While that is mellowing, stitch the front to the back, right sides together and be sure a leave a little hole for your filling. Flip right ways out and before I filled it, I did a top stitch around the edge to give it a little extra reinforcement. There would be nothing less relaxing that a rice pillow busting in your bed. We're trying to make friends, not lose them.  I used a funnel to fill, which expedited that a little.

When it is filled to your liking, stitch up the hole, either by hand or machine (or both, which is what I did). 

It's not as wonky as it looks in the photo but even if it was, it smells heavenly. 

And does its job, as you can see. I could barely take this selfie.

The things I have learned in the last two years are almost innumerable to list but learning to be a good friend has moved to the top. It will take some time, but action will get me there. Making all of these friend pillows will take some time as well, but anything worth doing does.