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.*



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.


  • 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.


Who are The Unruffled?

So, who are the Unruffled? We are women (sorry for the slant, guys, but you're welcome as well) who have broken the shackles of whatever was holding us down. What do we want? Well, we want to be happy, right? I know, it can be such an elusive state of being, especially when we are fresh at attempting this 'life on life's terms' gig. What if we defined happiness as simply, a joy we feel when we are working towards our potential. Don't be scared by the word 'potential' either, because I believe potential can simply mean productive and we need activities to encourage that feeling. Do you know what you like to do? Okay, that's why I'm here and we're going to jump right in.

Sewing is my thing, as I've mentioned before. If you don't have a sewing machine or if you have one but it's just too scary of an undertaking right now, this is a great book to start with.

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This book is from the Alabama Chanin Studios, by Natalie Chanin. She has quite a few books and they all include patterns and are designed for hand-stitching cotton jersey. No sewing machine required and you can even recycle old tshirts from your closet.

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This particular pattern is for a corset style top and besides tees, you only need scissors, embroidery thread and an embroidery needle. And coffee maybe.

Natalie says you have to "love your thread". Seriously, what is not to love about that?

Here's a little trick if you are a recovering perfectionist. Make quarter inch slash marks on your thumb with a sharpie to space your stitches. Doesn't that make your little perfectionist heart sing?

This top has eight pieces that you put together like a puzzle. I can't tell you how satisfying this is as it comes together. You must do this.

I wanted to enjoy this as a nightly activity before getting sober, I really did. I'd set out my supplies, make a space on the couch but once the wine was popped, it never happened. Never. Ever. If my potential is making a few cute tops out of my old tshirts, then I must be happy because this activity brings much joy. Simple.