The Grey Area

Earlier this year, on May 4th, the night before I was scheduled to jump on a plane to New York City to attend the She Recovers Conference, I bought my last box of hair dye, Loreal’s Medium Chestnut Brown. I came home, pulled out the ratty t-shirt specifically designated for this monthly purpose and went to town applying dye to my roots, pulling the rest through to the ends of my hair and waiting 50 minutes until I could wash that grey right outta my hair.

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I’ve been dyeing my hair since I was 27 years old. This also happened to be the same year I got divorced from my first husband and started drinking like it was an Olympic sport. What started out as just a few highlights added to my hair by a professional stylist, eventually turned into me and a five dollar box of Preference in my bathroom because, you know, I’m worth it. That was Loreal’s slogan back in the day and I let it sink in. I was worth it. I deserved to wash that grey right outta my hair in an effort to fool myself into thinking I was delaying the aging process, even though the only one I wasn't fooling was myself.

Summiting Mt. Lassen with my son on my six month sobriety milestone 8/3/15

Summiting Mt. Lassen with my son on my six month sobriety milestone 8/3/15

Since I quit drinking a few years back, I’ve had this overwhelming desire to get back to the most authentic version of me, my true self. Getting sober allowed me to slowly peel back the layers and remove things from my life that no longer serve me. I started with my physical self first. I stopped wearing contact lenses and ordered prescription glasses from Warby Parker. I shed 16 pounds during my first year of sobriety and hiked up four mountains in the Cascade Region of the Pacific Northwest (Mt. Lassen, Shasta, Hood + Rainier).

I dismantled my altar to alcohol in my living room and burned boxes of old photos, love letters and the wedding album from my first marriage.

My Jackson Pollock-inspired wine-stained wedding dress before I threw it away.

My Jackson Pollock-inspired wine-stained wedding dress before I threw it away.

One afternoon found me going through my closet and channeling my inner-Marie Kondo and asking myself does this t-shirt spark joy? I stumbled upon my wedding dress from my current marriage and unceremoniously pulled the faded 14 year old white plastic sleeve off, only to find the front of my gown splattered with red wine from top to bottom. I stared at that dress and felt sick to my stomach. I then had a good, hard cry remembering how that day started with one of the worst hangovers of my life from partying too hard the night prior. On my actual wedding night, the first day of the rest of my life with Steve, I thought it was a grand idea to bring guests back to the honeymoon suite to drink more champagne. I ended up dancing on a table with a friend and breaking it. Hilarious, right? No. Just sad. After my 15 minute reflection with the wine-splattered gown, I slid the dress off the hanger, threw it in the kitchen trash can and moved on.

Always hiding behind a scarf

Always hiding behind a scarf

For the first few years of sobriety, I was absent from photos. My body was at war with me and my face, jawline and neck had erupted in cystic acne. My scarf obsession kicked into high gear and I was rarely seen without a stylish piece of fabric securely wrapped around my throat.

I treated myself to monthly facials on the 3rd of each month to mark sobriety milestones and practice self-care. One year and nine months into my recovery, I finally gave up dairy and caffeine and only then did my skin start to recover. I’m only comfortable going scarf-free lately - 2.5+ years into my life without alcohol. I still love me a beautiful, colorful scarf, but it’s as a fashion accessory now and not a skincare necessity.

This brings me back to my hair. After returning home from the She Recovers NYC event, I felt like I wanted to be seen and heard for the woman I actually was - a 47 year old woman in recovery who was trying to live her best life, grey roots and all. 

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When it came time to dye my hair again in early June, I resisted the urge. I sat with the uncomfortableness and, trust me, it was uncomfortable. I wore a lot of hats for the first few weeks of June and then I came up with a plan. I would go to a professional hairstylist and get her opinion on how best to transition my hair from fading boxed-dye brown with a white skunk-like mark down the middle to grey. I would ask for help.

Dealing with my hair has brought up the same feelings that came up for me in early sobriety. Feeling ashamed, uneasy and uncomfortable were not new feelings to me and because of my sobriety journey, I knew I could handle them with ease and grace if I could just resist the drama of the situation. When I was drinking, drama was my second drug my choice and getting sober and working the steps have helped me alleviate my propensity to use drama as a scapegoat. Actually, all I really needed to do was surrender, accept my humanness, grey hair and all, and move on.

Photo credit: Laura Schneider Photography taken at 16 weeks

Photo credit: Laura Schneider Photography taken at 16 weeks

And so here I am at 24 weeks, slowly sinking into myself. And I’ll let you in on a little secret…I feel more beautiful than I’ve felt in years, decades, even. I’m so surprised by this.

My skin is glowing lately, too, and the cysts are practically non-existent. If I eat or drink dairy, my skin flares up and that’s on me. I no longer get monthly facials, but I get one every 3-4 months, along with an alpha-hydroxy peel treatment.

Photo credit: Laura Schneider Photography taken at 16 weeks

Photo credit: Laura Schneider Photography taken at 16 weeks

By subtracting alcohol, it is evident to me that I can do anything I set my mind to. That’s not just a saying to me anymore, it’s my lifestyle. By removing caffeine, dairy and now hair dye from my routine, my body is thanking me. What’s next? Well, meat is next to go. You knew that was coming, right?

Photo credit: Laura Schneider Photography taken at 16 weeks

Photo credit: Laura Schneider Photography taken at 16 weeks

The feeling of being uncomfortable has taught me that no feeling is ever final and that there is usually something really wonderful waiting for me once I push through that feeling. Getting sober, going to 12-step meetings, sharing part of my recovery story, being in therapy for nine years with my husband, doing Friday nights without a cocktail, the death of my dear friend - all of it has taught me something. 

Five months into the grey hair experiment + loving how it looks Photo credit: Natalie Fairbrook

Five months into the grey hair experiment + loving how it looks
Photo credit: Natalie Fairbrook

And come to think of it, maybe Loreal's slogan was onto something - because now that I'm sober I know one thing for sure - I'm totally fucking worth it.