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

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.

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.

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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.

Housekeeping

Me and housekeeping go way back. I was never taught to love housekeeping or be mindful over it. I was never taught anything except to have disdain over it. So when I figured out that it could be a drinking activity, it became not only tolerable but an event that I looked forward to for the ritual I had created around it. Back in my single apartment dwelling days, I would save all of the cleaning and laundry for my day off, buy a giant bottle of Gallo Red and a pack of smokes and drink and clean, and drink and smoke and clean and fold and smoke and drink some more, all day. Usually, I would get lost in some old photos or a particular record would have me journal illegibly, but I would always wake up to a hangover and a clean apartment. 

The hardest things for me to get back to after getting sober was cooking and then surprisingly, doing the ensuing dishes. In the beginning, I just had to take time off from cooking and it was both sad and hard. I love to cook but I hadn't done much inspired cooking without my companion glass(es) of wine. I had my husband step in instead while I would head out the door, earbuds in, for a walk at 5pm. Or we had lots of pre-made dinners during that time that just required time in the oven. The crockpot saved me as well as that was loaded up before noon and I was generally safe from the obsessive thoughts. 

The dishes, though. You wouldn't think a task so seemingly blameless and uninvolved is still something I only approach if I am of strong mind. Doing the dishes was always something I would save until after everyone went to bed and I could finish the bottle, or open another most likely, and drink without six discerning eyes on me. Now, I often go to bed with dishes in the sink because you know what? Who cares. I go to bed sober with dishes in the sink and no one is marred from that. I figure my kids have therapy to look forward to over many things but it won't be because I left dishes in the sink.

My love for cooking has reblossomed and I'm very grateful for that. My Granny was a baker and just an all-around fabulous Southern cook, so it is in my DNA. I get great comfort from preparing a dinner or baking a pie, and I'm so pleased that this is the warm emotion that I feel now.

And you will know peace.

If you are reading this, maybe you made it through Thanksgiving sober, and maybe you didn't. And we have more to get through. My first Thanksgiving was very hard and I just powered through but just know, you don't have to power through. You can do less or you don't have to do it at all, I promise it will all be okay if you choose your sobriety and sanity. There will be another overly stimulating, inflated holiday next year, I promise.

I really do love to make pie. All of the Southern women in me love pie. Buttermilk is my favorite but this year I also made a pecan, which was my Daddy's favorite. Every time I've taken a walk in the last few weeks, I've brought a bag with me to gather pecans that have fallen on the streets and sidewalks in my neighborhood.  I'm sure to feel wistful when they've stopped falling.

I won't give you a pie recipe because they are all mostly the same. I will tell you that I make my own crust and I use butter AND Crisco. I don't care what anyone says, it's the best crust ever, end of argument (winky face). 

I would recommend making yourself a pie, on a Tuesday even. I would also recommend having pie for breakfast, with a fat cup of coffee. Go ahead. I give you permission.


Now for a bit more housekeeping. I have made some recovery themed embroidery art and it is over in the Marketplace. Perfect gift for that sober person in your life that seems to have everything!

The next bit is that Tammi Salas and I are going to be on the Since Right Now podcast this week! It will be live Wednesday evening but then rebroadcast after. We're going to talk about creativity and how it informs our recovery.  Look for SRN on Itunes, Soundcloud or wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Finally, I am currently accepting submissions to Meet The Unruffled. If you are in recovery and find that creativity really fuels that, I would love to feature you and highlight your words/art/photography/poetry/music/hog calling/indigenous mushroom collecting/swamp dancing/whatevs. Bonus if you live in or around Austin, TX and I'll come and photograph you doing the thing. Hit me up!

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! 

 

 

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.

Inherent Vice

Throughout my childhood, my family spent a good chunk of every summer visiting my Grandparents in rural Alabama. One of my favorite memories is sitting on my Granny's couch, nestled in the crook of her arm, Lawrence Welk crooned on the TV while we crocheted. The memory is still so visceral. I don't ever remember feeling so safe as I did in those moments, it's a warmth that you feel through your skin and into your bones. As soon as I got in the car to head back to Texas, it was gone.

When the time came for booze to work, it worked. Food was probably the original offender, but alcohol eventually became how I learned to treat any and all distress. It worked better, faster. Instead of trying to connect back to that inherent, bone-deep warmth and feeling of safety, I settled for the warm flush alcohol provided, a temporary safety blanket and I wrapped myself tight. Over the years, that temporary fix began to rot away the very fabric of my being. 

Often with very old textiles, such as quilts, the fabric contains the very elements that lead to its own destruction. It happens with properties, like iron mordant, which was often used in the dying process and over time, it eventually disintegrates the fabric. Quilt preservationists lay the quilts out and very carefully and lovingly pick out the destructive fibers and replace them with non-destructive fibers. I never thought I could ever access that feeling again honestly, that feeling of being held, that emotional awareness of my own body, but slowly, carefully and lovingly, those destructive fibers are being replaced.

The mind-body connection is having it's light-basking moment today, as if we needed doctors to write about it to validate its truth. The practice of yoga takes me straight into my body, running keeps me aware of my lungs in action. Self-soothing by keeping my hands busy is intuitive now, I've relearned the art of listening to my body. I stitch during phone calls, doodle during meetings, crochet during Netflix. What may logically appear distracting, engaging my body actually heightens my awareness. 

Creating something with my hands is healing in the process, the act is the salve. I wanted to make something that symbolized that process, a tangible creation to remind me, "Pssst, what you seek? It's inside you." A meditation pillow it is.

For a medium pillow, you start by cutting out 6x9 pieces of fabric and you need 14 total. I used bright, fun vintage cotton, probably with its own inherent vices but hey, at least we'll relate.

You'll also need two circles that are 13 inches in diameter for the top and the bottom and I'm decorating mine with a couple of vintage doilies because doilies make everything better.

Next, you need to pleat your rectangular pieces so the ends will shrink from 6 inches wide to 3 inches wide. I don't get too precious about the pleating, I just eyeball it instead of measure each one, but if you are a pleating perfectionist, get on with your bad self.

So once you get them all pleated and stitched across the top and bottom to secure, you'll stitch them all together. This is where I got a tiny bit perfection-y but only to make sure the pleats were all facing the same direction.

This next part is where you can choose your own adventure, but a "proper" meditation pillow should probably be stuffed with Kapok, which is a precious organic cotton-silk like fiber or you can use buckwheat hull filling. If you use one of these, you may not want to attach your pieces end to end without installing a zipper or some Velcro, so you can replace the filling or add to it when it gets dull. Me? Well, I needed instant gratification with this so I just went to Target and felt around the pillow section until I found one that satisfied me, brought it home and ripped it open. All of this to say, I didn't do an opening there, I just stitched my long piece end to end.

Next, you'll want to turn your pleated piece inside out and with right sides together, pin and stitch your circular pieces onto the top and bottom. Be sure to leave a gap for the stuffing if you didn't install a zipper. Trim the excess.

Commence stuffing, stitching up your opening and if you are adding your decorative doilies, it's easiest to do that after the stuffing is added.

It's not perfect, but neither am I. I don't meditate perfectly either, but I can meditate on my perfectly imperfect pillow, imperfectly. I once heard that God lets you keep some of defects so that you can empathize with others, stay relatable. My pillow and I will have a lot to talk about.

The Big Ask

When I was finishing up my second college stint for Photographic Technology, I was working as a bartender but eager to get out of that industry. Not eager enough to have a real plan, mind you, but it was a time that I would say yes to any and all photo jobs that would come my way, with few questions and hardly any negotiations. So when a friend of a friend who was a Make-Things-Happen-Guy approached me about photographing an industry party for a popular week long music festival that happens once a year in my city..."you know, just walk around and snap party pics, two hours tops"...I said YES. I gave him a price (which was always under-valued and would never move me anywhere closer to leaving my bartending job), he gave me a time and place and that was that. Until I was driving there on that Saturday did I realize that I was driving to a pretty exclusive venue and 'industry party' was actually hosted by a pretty big record label at the time and did I bring the right film for this (yes, pre-digital)? All very good questions I should have known the answers to had I asked the right questions, or any questions for that matter.

Mr. MTHG found me right away and immediately handed me a check made out to the amount we had previously discussed, which was for my time only. Oh well, I thought, we'll hash out the rest...film cost, development, editing...later, I'm sure. Again, no questions, nothing was in writing. Driven by one hundred million forms of fear was my constant mode of operation. I started shooting the party scene while a band played, beautiful people milled around talking about what bands were showcasing at this party, booze was flowing, then another band played and another. Just when I thought it was wrapping up, Mr. MTHG came up to me, "Welp, time to move inside!" Inside, I thought, WTactualF? If you don't remember what film was like, there were different types for various environments, specifically, film suited for outside shooting and film suited for inside shooting. And film wasn't very flexible. I started panicking internally for fear that I didn't have enough of the right kind, but down the elevator I went.

When I got inside the venue, I find out that no flash photography was allowed, I would have a very tiny space in which to place myself while avoiding a moving cameraman and there would be five bands including a top secret special guest closer. I just went to work trying to act like I knew what I was doing and that I wasn't scared shitless which meant, you guessed it, faking it and not asking one single question, much less a cry for help. And forget that my shift for this job should have ended before I got on that elevator. I just couldn't state my needs. Hell, I'm not even sure what I wanted in that situation, or any situation at the time. I won't detail everything that happened the rest of that night, some of which is a complete blur, but I will tell you that the 'special guest' was Patti Smith. She, by the way, spits when she sings and I don't mean that saliva randomly falls out of her mouth but that she intentionally clears that passageway. And I, being stationed underneath her, was the direct recipient of a Patti Smith shower.

When it was over, I wish I could tell you that I took all of my film, ran straight to my car and held it hostage until I was paid more for the work I did that I did not originally agree to. I was angry and a little stunned, but when Mr. MTHG jumped on the same elevator and gave me the strong arm, I begrudgingly relinquished then ran to my car and cried. And I'm sure I couldn't get booze in me fast enough. 

If you think that this magically fixed itself when I stopped drinking, you would be wrong. I always thought that asking for help was a sign of weakness but true humility is only telling the truth about yourself and your needs.  Pride is a big, fat liar. But you have to know yourself and if you are numbing all your emotions to their lowest common denominator, how could you? 

I just got back from a vacation with my Mom and kids. I can do Mondays, I've got the fucking weekends down, I can even navigate a party but I do not know how to be on vacation. There were many, many times I had to ask myself...what is the appropriate emotional response to this? What would a grown-up do here? WHAT WOULD MICHELLE OBAMA DO?? It took me half the trip to realize that my point of discomfort was a result of my failure to ask for help. Becoming aware of this changed my entire outlook mid-week and I found myself saying, many times, "This is me, enjoying the moment!" 

So what did I do differently? Well, I asked my Mom to keep an eye on the kids while I took advantage of the workout room, or took a walk, or excused myself and inserted my earbuds. When it was time to engage, I dug down to remember what I liked to do when I was a kid on vacation, back when I knew better what it was that I liked. 

There was much Scrabble.

When you get up for the bathroom and your Mom plays FELD, TURD is open game.

When you get up for the bathroom and your Mom plays FELD, TURD is open game.

And gem hunting.

I could have done this for several days, it was so fun.

I could have done this for several days, it was so fun.

Another thing I like to do is walk off to take photos, phone or camera matters not. Not only do I look for things that interest me visually,

Always looking for the sign that says, Come In, Explore! Never found it.

Always looking for the sign that says, Come In, Explore! Never found it.

but also for cool textures or patterns that I can later use on social media.

Progress, not perfection. This shit takes time.

Progress, not perfection. This shit takes time.

The other discovery I made about myself is that I am resilient. Different than being a martyr or throwing myself a pity-party, I know I can do so hard shit and get to the other side with most of sanity and all of my sobriety intact. Perhaps I've always been. Actually, I have always been. This I know.

 

Do You Tarot?

Do you tarot? I'm a just beginner and that could be obvious as I may have errantly used that word as a verb. I'd wanted a deck for a long time but I couldn't find one that I vibed with until a friend showed me her deck from The Wild Unknown. Lordy, it is so beautiful, you just have to hold it to see what I'm talking about. So over the last five months that I've had it, I pull a card a day in my attempt to get to know the deck. It's become part of my morning routine, where I get in a quiet place, say a prayer and meditate on something. Usually that is on my gratitudes for the day, sometimes though, it is about my concerns for the day and then I usually ask the question, "What do I need to know about today?". It's like a non-affiliated Daily Reflections for your inner realm.

This week I pulled the SAME card two mornings in a row. So strange, right? After you get over that part, my next thought is, "Okay, I'm listening!" The card was the Four of Cups. It's a yucky card about greed and discontentment.

I've had money on the brain the last few weeks. I don't like to be here, I really don't. But Summer is almost here and so will be two years of sobriety for me. With that comes the questions, "Am I where I am supposed to be or should I be farther along...in life, in business, in success, in money?" 

The card goes on to warn against taking things for granted and my knee-jerk reaction would be, "Wait a minute! I practice gratitude and mindfulness daily. I don't take anything for granted!" But the truth is, it is SO EASY for me to forget how shitty things were just a few short years ago. Am I swimming in abundance? My instinct would be to say, NO, because I'm not out of debt and I don't have a surplus in my bank account. But just a relatively short trip down memory lane shows me just how far I've come. I'm not selling my things at pawn shops, for instance. I'm not stealing my kids' money. I'm trusted with the credit card again. I'm not borrowing from friends knowing I'll never pay them back. I'm not taking money for services or goods and not delivering. I'm not making promises I can't keep. That's how far I've come. To not acknowledge that as abundance is doing myself a giant disservice. The cards reminded me.

The reading ends by asking, "What are you truly longing for? Name it." I didn't have to think about that for too long. Integrity. 

in.teg.ri.ty - 1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness 2. the state of being whole and undivided

Funny, it doesn't mention money.

So yes, I want all of my integrity back and that is happening, slowly and surely. But it is only surely if I stay sober. It is surely if I stay sober and keep walking forward, one foot in front of the other. And when I stop and look back and see just how far I have come, I can see that integrity builds this way. Am I swimming in abundance? I'd say yes, yes I am.

Here is a peek at my morning set up.

And by the way, did you know that amethyst is a sobriety stone? Get out, right? It guards against drunkeness and instills a sober mind. I shuffle with my non-dominant hand, divide in three's, restack and pull the top card. Invariably, the card I pull reflects some thoughts I've had in my mediation. It's pretty magical, if you like magic and all.

Do you tarot?

 

 

Things I Used To Know

I've always been very empathetic. One of my earliest memories of this was watching Robbie MacDonald get picked on so horrendously bad in elementary school for his unaltered cleft lip that I would feel sick to my stomach. I remember several times not being able to watch it anymore and walking over to his oppressors and shutting it down. I don't remember what I said. I know I didn't launch a campaign to protect him but I did what I could and I went out of my way to acknowledge him. I'm certain that he gifted me the ability to see the vulnerability in people.

That gift is something I have always been able to switch on like a light. Even when I can catch myself going to a place of judgement, I can reach in and flip that switch and boom, a person's tenderness will almost glow before me. For a time in my twenties, I worked for a photographer who shot scantily clad women, for lack of a better description, and we were at this beautiful spot on a Jamaican beach that also happened to be a clothing-optional resort. The photographer scouted a potential model, and while she was flattered to be asked, she had reservations about taking off her top. After some conversations, some convincing and promises of Photoshop, she finally conceded and reasons for her hesitancy became instantly obvious. While she had the enhanced breasts that are quite perfect for this genre of photography, her plastic surgeon had really butchered her. The scars around her areola looked exactly like a child would draw on his face to play Frankenstein on Halloween. For about three seconds before the big reveal, my head was, "Seriously, you have a boob job, you're at a topless resort, a photographer wants to shoot you for a calendar...if you want to do this, just cut the demur act." But then, I immediately felt every vulnerable bone in her body. I just wanted to cry and hug her and tell her I was so sorry that had happened to her. After she eased into it, she looked like she was having fun, hopping the waves for the shoot. I hope she felt pretty. I will never forget that day.

One of the downsides of being highly empathetic is that it puts you in a position of an observer. This could be why I was ever attracted to photography, sewing, dressing people, making them feel beautiful, is that I could stay on the outside looking in. Participating only as an observer, a spectator, I could feel all the feels but not ever have to be in the middle, one of many. This all changed when I got sober. It had to. I had to identify with people not only as someone who empathized but as someone who shared the same experiences, not just someone who intellectually understood but who also walked the same path. 

I'm happy to say I have a few of these tribes of people I now call home. All are flesh and blood, however some are close in proximity, some are thousands of miles away. Although my virtual and literal groups carry the same weight for me, they are only as effective as the extent I am willing to engage. When I find myself sitting on the outside again, watching, observing, I have to walk back into the middle. The middle is dynamic. I never thought I would say that, but it has been the key that has unlocked the door to my recovery. And I'm creating more groups with the creative workshops I'm hosting. This is the part I hope continues to evolve. My new addiction.

I made a flag to remind me that I'm just an internet click, a phone call, a meeting away from anyone who is walking this path with me.

Welcome Home, seemed appropriate enough.

After I drew out a pattern I liked, I cut that out of some hearty vintage fabric I had. I used an upholstery fabric, but I would recommend any fabric that has a little weight to it. I didn't get too precious about it though.

I chose another weighty fabric for the background of the flag. You don't want it to be too flimsy. Then I laid out the lace as I liked, machine stitched that on and pinned my applique piece on after all of my flag stripes were stitched. If you don't have lace, different strips of varying patterns of fabric would work as well.

Then I went to work hand-stitching the applique, using a simple running stitch. Grab some coffee and a podcast, this takes some time.

I didn't do anything about the frayed edges because I kind of like them, but you could always use a blanket stitch to enclose the fabric a bit.

This took a couple of blissful, meditative hours. Seriously, enjoy!

When I finished, I sewed on a piece of felt backing, just to give it even more weight. I included a couple of lace loops on either side before I stitched it up, so to hang. 

If you are just starting out on your recovery journey and you haven't found your people yet, please message me. Don't do this alone. Not only is it not fun, it's not necessary and I would venture to say, impossible. It requires an action that is not our first reflex, but once we flex it, every next time becomes a little easier.

Welcome Home. 

*This is dedicated to Laura McKowen and Holly Glenn Whitaker who bravely put out a podcast called Home every week. They started one of my favorite tribes of which I feel so lucky to be a member, straight up in the middle.*

 

 

Writers Gonna Write.

One of the biggest gifts of sobriety has been the desire to try new things. I didn't expect this gift. I thought I'd tried everything I wanted to try and if I hadn't, well, it just wasn't for me. That was one of those big lies we told ourselves to keep us stuck in our old stories though, because if I were truly honest, there were so many things I hadn't tried because they would have interfered with my drinking time. That's the truth. If it happened after 5pm or too early on the weekend or too late on the weekend, nope, wasn't happening.

One of the first things I said YES to after I felt a little more sure on my sober feet was sign up for my first memoir writing class. I don't really have an interest in writing a memoir, per se, but I've always wanted to take a writing class. I've always loved to write, I'd journaled on and off since middle school, I didn't know if I was a good writer or even if I should call myself a writer (which, I've come to decide that if you write, you are a writer), but I didn't care. Now I do have to add one caveat, and that is when I turned the magical number of 4-0, something did happen. An I Don't Give A F*ck light came on above my head and it's gotten a little brighter every year that has passed since. The only problem was that I had fallen so far down into the well of despair, no one could see it. Hell, I could barely see it until I got sober. It didn't have a chance to shine until then. 

Now, I've taken this memoir writing workshop on and off for a bit over a year. Have I penned a best-seller? No. But I have published some essays, I started this site, I write most days, I show up to class and listen to my fellow writers as we all spill it on the page and for the third time last night, I read an essay I wrote to a small theater audience. And there was applause. I'm not saying this to appear fearless, because I'm nervous as hell every time, but the sheer joy I feel from feeling it and doing it anyway is electric. 

If you are new to sobriety, I encourage you to just stay sober. Don't drink. It's so hard in the beginning, it's like a full-time job. But when you get to a place where it feels more like a part-time job, I would suggest trying something new, put your head out, cross the line, make yourself uncomfortable. I promise you, it is a gift. If it sucked, no one would ever get sober.

I'd love for you to share the new thing you want to try in the comments!

A Place To Hide

My daughter was two when my husband began construction on my sewing studio. I vividly remember her tiny body crawling over the wooden slats of the foundation, her "Winnie-the-Pooh" book in tow. It would be a place for me to store my twenty year curation of vintage fabrics, laces, beads and buttons. A place for me to design and sew. It was a place that represented beauty and creativity and productivity. It represented freedom, sweet freedom, and l looked at it with deserving eyes. 
Just as Ms. Woolf needed a quiet room of her own in which to write, I needed a studio space. I needed those four walls to spatially separate me from my Mommy duties and Wifely duties to freely create. Being a creator and maker was my identity, or it was the one I longed for, so it was the one I presented to the world. At any given time, I had fifty projects dreamed up and schemed out, materials meticulously collected from thrift stores and Ebay, vintage craft books ear-marked, patterns gathered and cut. These surrounded me like an extra layer of protection in my fortress. I would be that person I projected to the world, glass in hand. Because there was always a glass in my hand. And in this sacred space, I finally had the freedom to drink as I wanted, bottles and boxes lining the walls with the bins of yarn and lace. Finally, I had the freedom to drink and create.
If you are a creative that drinks to excess, the glass of alcohol becomes a shackle, binding one of your hands to the other. Your brain still wants to dream and imagine and create, like it is bubbling up from the essence of your genomes, the core of your cells. Your mouth can still somewhat articulate your thoughts but your hands are no longer functional. And if they are, they are sloppy, their movement so restricted that it's anything but effortless. So your fortress of freedom has turned into a prison. The place to act without hindrance or restraint has become a place to hide. When we have the freedom to choose something that hurts us, cages us, disarms us and renders us motionless, is that still freedom? If I'd chosen a lover that did this to me, I'm most certain I wouldn't have considered myself free.
When I found that my fortress was indeed impenetrable, I began daydreaming of other escapes. I wondered if I could rent an apartment in one of those high-rises that was going up around my neighborhood so I could finally drink, I mean, create without the leering eyes of my family, judging my process. I could hide better, disappear from life completely. Oh, sweet freedom.
When the gig is up, rebuilding the trust takes some time, both externally and internally. It took me a long time to trust my space again, trust that it would lead me back to my creative passions, trust that my memories would be kind and forgiving. I had to trust that my reflexes would slowly change and that glass in my hand would be filled with La Croix instead of wine and my husband and children wouldn't think twice about it's contents. It all took some time, a long time, a relatively short time.
A shift in time can miraculously create a shift in perception, or maybe we become expert compartmentalizers. Either way, my twelve by twelve space is sunny, cozy and inviting now. My desire to isolate, hide and hoard my creativity has also shifted to a need for people, community, tribe. My solution has become my goal, which is to build a space where others can join and offer their stories and creative solutions, where recovery is as tangible as a pen, a needle and thread or a paintbrush. Freedom exists not only in a free hand to create, but in another hand to reach out and offer help or support, like a gentle hand on someone's back. This is what Ms. Woolf had in mind, I think, when she suggested other women demand a room to write, space to create, autonomy to work. Together, we no longer have to disappear. 


That essay was originally published at the end of last year on the Recovery Revolution's site. What I failed to mention was that my studio was actually a mess. A mess that was a chaotic representation of my old life.

I had a path to my sewing machine, for use only, but I could not deal with the overwhelming state of it all. I wanted it to be done. I wanted the feelings you have when you are in a space that is clean and organized, allowing your creativity to flow because there is simply nothing to block it, physically, mentally and emotionally. But I just couldn't do it. Every time I walked in there, I would hit a visceral wall and no amount of peppy self-talk could motivate me otherwise.

I cannot tell you what came over me that Wednesday two weeks ago. Maybe it was the Spring Equinox Full Moon combo that shot a bolt of energy through me. Maybe it was the thoughts of Easter and resurrection. I can tell you that it felt a whole lot like my day one of this sobriety journey. It felt like surrender. I knew it was time.

Just like with any change, you may know it deeply, rationally and intelligently but it only comes about through action. My biggest lesson of 2014, and perhaps the most important lesson I'll ever learn.

High-fiving the Universe, so hard.

 

How Sturdy Is Your Tether?

We all have those days, even weeks where we feel like we are floating around untethered. It feels like we are unattached, even though deep down in our soul we know that we are not. We know because we meditate every day and work hard to keep that conscious contact, but sometimes that tether feels thin. Not always the case though. Sometimes, oftentimes,  it feels thick and sturdy as a rope. And then sometimes, it feels as just the wispiest, transparent line that you know in your heart is there, but it feels so unstable. You can't read it away, because there are too many damn books to read. You can't write it away, because there are too many beginnings and not enough ends. You can't sleep it away because suddenly, you're sleeping like shit. Like, really bad. Not quite the same terror you would wake up with when you were drinking, but it reminds you of that because it's that same dreaded hour of 3am and you can't fall back to sleep. You can't pray it away, because you've forgotten all of your prayers. Your many creative ideas can't make it go away because there are so many, you just stare at them all, overwhelmed. Your eyes dart from project to project, you make lists, you stare at your Pinterest board but your brain seriously feels like it may explode. There's like a 70's slide projector flashing slides from a Yosemite vacation in your head, but the clicker is stuck and the carousel is just clicking through so fast you can barely make out each image: There's a mountain! Is that a bear? Old Faithful! Omg, look at Dad's socks!

Until you just scream...STOP!

STOP! JUST DO ONE THING. Just do ONE thing. What do you want to do today? You know, besides all of the other things you do for other people, just do that one thing for yourself.

One day, I decided I wanted to wear a new dress. Perfect. On my to-do list: Make a dress today. So I started. I found a vintage pattern, found a print I liked, something I already had in my stash. Kept it simple. I cut, I sewed, I stayed steady, meticulous and slow. For a little while that day, I felt the slack come out of my rope. It started to feel a little thicker, a little sturdier. This is what recovering through creativity means to me.

I made I little chart for myself as well, for those days that I'm especially out there spinning. This is mine, your's may look different.

PICK THREE:

  • Fitness
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Sew/Create
  • Read/Write
  • Self-improvement
  • Clean/Chores

I have a few caveats, for me, there is rarely a day that family isn't one of the three. Self-care and Recovery are sprinkled throughout this list, but there was a time that Recovery had it's own line. And for me, Work falls under the Sew/Create line, so you guessed it, if it's not chosen that day, I don't get paid. In looking at this neat, clean list, I am reminded that there was a day when Drinking had it's own line too and the days that it was checked, that made everything else a half-ass, no quarter-ass attempt. This really helps me when I'm spinning out. It helps to sturdy my tether. Just pick three. If we just hang on, we have time and all will happen the way it's supposed to, in time.

 

What happens when the newness wears off?

What happens when the newness wears off of a project? A relationship? A commitment? What happens when the newness wears off of a diet, a New Year's resolution, a new year? What happens when the newness wears off of sobriety?

Does this happen to the general population? Are those of us in recovery the Special Adventure Seekers: Slayers of the Mundane? When I look back on my drinking years as a collective, it does look like Groundhog Day as there were no significant changes in my life, no upwardly mobile strides towards potential. But in the minute, day to day, I never really knew how my day would unfold after my first drink. No matter how unexciting it would be in reality, even if I didn't leave my house, it was unpredictable. It was reckless. And it kept me drinking. Do we just especially abhor repetition?

The thrills I sought changed over the years: men, career aspirations, spontaneous dance parties, but they were all in an attempt to change how I felt. Fueled by alcohol, I wanted instant gratification. Be Here Now was never in my wheelhouse but Change This Now was my jam. So what can I do when zipping off my own skin everyday is not an option?

I suppose the most effective solutions would be to hop on a cross-country train with nothing but books and a journal or max out a credit card or have an affair or...drink. None of which are valid options. Next. I'm not going to say meditate and do yoga because (a) duh and (b) going deeper is not what I want when I feel this way and perhaps I'm not a good enough meditator or yogini to transcend this mortal coil, but I'm not. Long term goal noted.  

So this is a non-exhaustive list, all of which I've done, never all on the same day although that is not beyond comprehension:

  • Write myself right. Right about it, just like I'm doing. Hit publish. Make a connection. New connections are just the dopamine hit I need.
  • Drive myself to nature, since it isn't in my backyard, and go for a long-ass hike. Bonus if there are hills/mountains/water involved.
  • Start another fucking creative project. I need this like I need another oozing orifice in my skull but it really, really does the trick.
  • Watch a movie or read a novel. And by that I mean, NOT a documentary or a non-fiction book, suggesting I do life a different way. When I am at this place, I don't really want to be told what to do but I do want to dream about something different. Attraction rather than promotion.
  • Put on make-up and jewelry, fix my hair and go somewhere. Even if it's the bookstore, even if it's the library, even if it's a meeting or a cafe, go somewhere, bring my journal, spy on people, eavesdrop on conversations, make assumptions about other people's lives, observe, take notes. 
  • If all else fails or even if they don't fail, pray. Pray a new prayer, one you haven't used before or pray that same one, but louder, in a more distinct tone so that there is no mincing of words, "You take this, please."

I do know this, always seeking something new is exhausting, and ultimately unfulfulling. I've conducted 46 years worth of experiments and they've all eventually led me to the same conclusion. Sitting with something for a long time is where the real growth comes from. This is a brand new lesson for me and I'm still learning. And with everything we want to change, no matter how we try and circumvent this part, we have to do things differently than we did before. Change is the antithesis to stagnation and it will materialize if we do the work, more slowly than quickly, I've found. This life is new, these lessons are new and herein lies the thrill.

Collage It Out!

I totally get you guys and your life-changing magic of tidying up. I really do.  But it's not excess if you use the things, right? And how would I while away hours with scissors and glue, snipping cool graphics and type to make ransom note style collage without these?

It's curated! Promise!

It's curated! Promise!

You know those affirmations and platitudes that no one person on God's green internet can resist passing around? Make one. Hang it in your bedroom so you can look at that shit everyday. Make it pretty so it sinks in, becomes an action rather than a nice thought. Especially easy if you have your own curated collection of tidy, well-used magazines. Or hit a thrift store.

You can do this. Anyone can do this. It nicely fills up the witchy hour, and it's a big, fat bonus that you can reap the benefits of this project in one night. Just a couple of hours and you are done.

Then you can put yourself to bed at 8pm with your Passionfruit  La Croix and marvel at your work! Just me?





Baby steps, baby cakes.

We step because we can, right? Immediate gratification is a thirst that still exists in me.  In stepping forward, giving it a little water everyday, I satiate it. Satisfied is better than hurried or stuffed or grap-all-you-can. I like this intentional life and being able to stop and reflect, making sure that my actions are aligned with my intentions feels good. All of this to say, it's coming together! This site, that is, in it's sweet, precious time, is forming beyond my intentions, head and heart. Thank god, because feeling overwhelmed is a useless emotion, amIright?

This is the beautiful Sandra. There will be more of her in photos and words at the site launch. She is one of the steps that is nudging this baby along to help it come together. It's a great time to talk about creativity and going for it, with Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Big Magic and Brenè Brown's Rising Strong, there is a hum in the air. I've been in tune to that particular hum most of my adult life, but in sobriety, it is louder than loud. So soon, there will be lots of stories of beautiful, creative women in recovery, beautiful photos, inspiring ideas and oh!...a marketplace. Because we have time for this and we're moving forward.

So with this post, another baby step but soon there will be a JUMP. Because I can.