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.