Every Friday for the entire 2017 calendar year, I will release a new interview + a newly created mixed media piece of art as part of my weekly Ray of Light Interview Series: Women in Recovery. This series will feature brave, kickass, beautiful women who have chosen to embrace an alcohol-free lifestyle. The light was dimmed for these women when they were struggling with alcohol (either a little or a lot). I wish to honor them for their brave choice to ditch alcohol, rediscover themselves through sobriety + shine bright in the process. You can access links to the entire series by clicking here.
Do you remember how we first met or came to know one another?
I first saw your name pop up in Hip Sobriety School Winter 2016. Actually, I had also seen you in a post on Hip Sobriety about how to make friends in sobriety and I followed the links to your blog. I was kind of mortified when I read that blog post because I was pretty sure it was a response to a drunken email that I had written to Holly one wee small hour of a morning about needing friends. Yeesh. I am cringing just recalling that now.
I had admired you and your art from afar and when you left a comment on one of my first instagram posts - I think you wrote something like “kick ass art” - it just lit me up. You were a bright light in a very dark place. When you put out a general call for the first #recoverygalsartexchange I raised my hand immediately.
What is your sobriety date? 1st of September, 2016.
Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
I kind of do now but I did not in the beginning. For me, counting days felt like setting myself up to fail. It felt like I was building myself a long, thin ledge to fall off. Early sobriety was so very fragile. So many of us have countless Day 1’s before it sticks. But we don’t start over every time we slip. We just keep going. We just keep going no matter what. I do look at my day count every now and again. I remember checking my day count in early sobriety and feeling really disappointed with the number. It felt like it should have been more! Counting days was not motivating for me, although now that I’m up into the 300’s it does feel pretty fabulous. I just checked and I also have 586 days clear of cigarettes today!
Do you use an app or some other method to do this counting? If so, please share.
I use the Quit That app.
What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
That is a huge question. I found sobriety through Hip Sobriety School. The communities that we have created through the school have flooded my life with connection. Connection with people but also connection with the world-at-large. Connection with books. Connection with blogs and courses and podcasts and nutrition and ideas and spirituality and hope and education and love and forgiveness and creativity. The list goes on and on and on. I had been all but completely isolated for about a decade. I did not use Facebook. I did not have an Instagram account. I did not even know what a blog was. For many years I was too afraid to even leave the house. This was exacerbated by my addiction to alcohol but the main reason was PTSD.
I have a daily meditation practice. That is the foundation of every single day. I discovered in early sobriety that things don’t go well when I don’t meditate.
I am a member of an all women gratitude circle, where at least one of us posts a list of all the things we are grateful for, every day. I joined this group about three months into sobriety. Just being asked was fundamental to my recovery. I had been “out” for so many years, to be asked “in” was life changing. We don’t just share the shiny stuff, we share our gratitude for the pain and the growth it gives us in return for staying with it, we share our triumphs and failures, our grief, our sorrow. These women have taught me to trust women. Trust was my word for the year last year. That was another fundamental piece that I got from you, Tammi. Choosing trust and deciding to let it influence every aspect of my life the year I got sober was integral to my recovery.
I have a deep connection and relationship with God. We were not friends for many years. When I stopped ignoring God inside me and all around me, when I stopped demanding and started listening, I found the God that words cannot describe and we talk all day, every day now. One day last summer I was floating in a lake, hungover and so afraid that I would not be able to stop drinking. That I would not be able to live. I asked God, what is surrender? What does it mean to surrender? I had relied on the fight, on tenacity, on running and never giving up to survive. How could I surrender? How could that be the answer and what does it even mean? The answer came from within and it said, try just surrendering to this water. Stop swimming, stop paddling and just let the water hold you. That is how God feels, to me.
I use mantra. I have reminders in my phone that go off every two hours. My favorite is “There is nothing wrong with me.” When Holly gave this to us one day throughout the 60 days of Hip Sobriety School I just broke in the messiest, most fundamental way. Having the mantras in my phone helps me to remember the messages themselves but also the myriad ways that they have affected me and deepened with time.
Honesty and sobriety are synonymous and sober people are the most courageous, honest people I have ever known. There is no bullshit in our circles. There are no unspoken rules. Everyone is in. I had been buried under a mountain of lies my whole life and being amongst people who could hold space for my truth and who trusted me with theirs has been nothing short of miraculous.
Everything I learned in Hip Sobriety School about the physiology, the neurology, the psychology of addiction, the countless and complex how’s and why’s we become addicted - this powerful knowledge and how it changes our relationship with ourselves and other addicts is a core modality in and of itself.
Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
I don’t. I definitely was an alcoholic. I accepted it when I needed to but I have moved on. I no longer abuse alcohol. The label has a negative effect on me so I have not integrated it. Freedom works wonders for me so I have integrated freedom instead.
I feel free. I am no longer compelled to do something that was destroying every aspect of my life. That is how I identify with myself. If I am asked, I say I am sober. And every time I say it my joy is palpable. I love that.
What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?
- Gratitude Circle
- Online communities
Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?
Oh gosh. I had known that I had a problem with drinking since I was 20, when my father died. The circumstances around his death, our lack of a relationship, the lack of support, the weirdness of events around me at that time, well, it was all just too much. A few weeks after I found out that he had died I remember taking a big slug of wine and feeling this deep sense of relief. I took the bottle to bed with me and I decided that that was what I would do every night from that night on. And I did. That was 24 years ago. I floated in and out of denial all of those years but I knew.
I had always lived with PTSD but I didn’t know that that was what it was called. I just thought I was crazy. I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me. When I became a mother the truth behind the flashbacks and traumatized behavioral outbursts became clear one day, all at once. It was like a wave of truth just rose up and washed away all of the facades and containers that I had built around what had actually happened. That is when the addiction to alcohol really dug in deep. I started drinking heavily, very consciously. I made a pact with myself that I would use alcohol to keep the memories at bay, to knock myself out in the hopes of not dreaming nightmares, to be the best mother I could be until my daughter was old enough to understand. Then I would go.
I had a great therapist who helped me to understand that I was not crazy, that I was traumatized and that I could use different techniques to bring myself into the here and now when the flashbacks came up. I traveled from Berlin to California at a time when I was in financial crises, afraid to leave the house, claustrophobic and agoraphobic, to learn how to release trauma from my body from an Israeli woman that I had heard about.
As hopeless as I felt, I can see now how I really never gave up on myself. I never gave up on being my daughter’s mother. When I started to come out of the PTSD I could see that a life I could live with was actually a possibility for me and it became very clear that alcohol was destroying any chance of that. I felt that I had not come that far to have only come that far. I wanted to live life, not just be alive. And like so many of us, when I wanted to stop, I found that I couldn’t.
Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
Oh boy! I am SO much more creative since I stopped drinking. I have started painting. I have started writing a memoir. I am writing music and songs again. I had always done that but far less than I wanted to and it was never really mine, you know? I am showing up to my studio every day and doing the work. So far, it’s not flowing and that is all kinds of hard but I know that this is my greatest gift. It’s the thing I love to do most in the world. I feel home, I feel that everything is right when I sing. So I know that I must keep going.
Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking?
Definitely more. There is just more space for everything else when you are not fighting this internal battle every day. As I said, I had known for a long, long time that I needed to stop drinking. I lived over half of my life fighting that daily battle to greater and lesser degrees of intensity. Along with that there is the heavy load of fatigue and the shame and self loathing that we feel when we are poisoning ourselves every day and witnessing how that in turn poisons every part of our lives and every person in our lives. To be free of all of that? Leaves so much space for doing and being and living.
Saying that, I have also been very, very tired. During the first 6 months of continuous sobriety, I was falling asleep on the floor of my studio for hours at a time, in the middle of the day. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism around 10 years ago and I did nothing to help myself but take the synthetic hormones in increasingly large amounts. When I stopped drinking the amount of thyroid medication I was taking became way too much and I got quite sick. Then I tried not taking medication at all and got very, very sick. It has been a journey. Right now I am back on synthetic T4 and T3 hormones, I am following a gluten-free, vegan protocol, using a singing bowl to massage my thyroid daily with my meditation and a thousand other healing, self-care things and most days, I’m feeling much better.
I think it takes time for our bodies to adjust after the years of neglect and harm we do ourselves in addiction. It used to make me feel terrible about myself when I saw and read so many stories of women losing weight and taking up jogging and yoga and bouncing back so quickly while I was still so tired, gaining weight and not bouncing back physically at all. I am so grateful to all of these women for inspiring me. At the same time, it’s important that people know that it’s just not like that for all of us. Just like sobriety, it takes the time that it takes. The fact is that I feel, we all feel, infinitely better than we ever did when we were drinking. I was addicted to alcohol and cigarettes for decades. I am practicing patience and loving kindness with this resilient body of mine.
What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
That I can be in the world without it. I really did not think it was possible for me to be here without alcohol. If I think about it, every breath is a delight. I’m here.
Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
For those still suffering: There is nothing wrong with you. You are loved. You can do it. You can want freedom from alcohol and when you do it is only a matter of when, not if, that freedom is yours.
For those in early recovery: Just keep going. That is all you ever have to do.
For both: Sobriety far exceeds all expectations. Seriously.
Can you recommend three books, bloggers or teachers that have helped you on this path to sobriety?
- Carry On Warrior by Glennon Doyle (Melton at the time). Heaven knows how I found that book but it started a chain reaction that lead me here.
- Holly at Hip Sobriety is an angel on earth. She taught me how to save my own life.
- Dry and Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, Harley Loco by Raya Elias, Lit by Mary Karr - all of these books showed me that we can come from a very, very fucked up childhood, adolescence, adulthood, that we can run and fall into addiction and rise up out of all of it.
Are you part of a tribe or a recovery community that supports your sobriety? If so, how did you figure out how to find that tribe/community. What was your path to discovering it?
I am a part of several Hip Sobriety School communities, including the Hip ACe after care community for students who have come through the school and want to keep learning more to deepen our knowledge and roots in sobriety.
I don’t have an in real life community yet. Baby steps.
What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
That I can stay with myself. That I no longer leave myself. That I’ve fallen in love with myself. That I’m here. I did not think it was possible to live with my past without alcohol. Removing alcohol helped me see that I don’t have to live with my past. I can sit with the pain of the past and let it move through me, let it enrich me and deepen me, let it strengthen me and soften me and then, let it go and just be here now.
Sitting with the feelings that I was using alcohol to run from, deepens my compassion for myself and in turn my compassion for everyone and every thing, ever deeper. It expands my capacity for love.
Sobriety is up there with the hardest and greatest things I have ever done for myself. I wish it for every one of us. Now and always. Sobriety delivers everything that alcohol promised. For those of us who are Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse or suffering from PTSD - alcohol keeps the trauma chained to our lives. It strengthens our weakness and weakens our strength. Freedom from alcohol sets the trauma free. I promise.
Notes about the Artwork from Caitlin
This is a self portrait, depicting myself as a Black Angel, with wings protruding from my back, one wing covering my neck, healing my 5th Chakra. I was inspired by a recent trip to spend time with the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln, Switzerland and the Goddess of every kind of love, Kali Ma.