Ray of Light Interview No. 39 :: Jenn James

Every Friday for the entire 2017 calendar year, I 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 features 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.

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Jenn James
20-Year Employee at Costco (aka: The Queen of Costco!)
Artist + 99% Vegan + Mama
Instagram: @muttonattacks

Do you remember how we first met or came to know one another?
I remember stumbling upon your Instagram account and loving how honest you were with your gratitude journaling and appreciating all the lines and colors. Then Miss Sondra Primeaux hosted a sober creative Meetup in Austin and you were going to be the ‘Guest of Honor’ and I was beyond excited to meet you in person. I was still new in sobriety so it was such a treat to meet someone as highly regarded in the sober community as you. I honestly felt like I was meeting a movie star. And you were absolutely radiant and had on a killer red bird scarf which made me love you even more! (Editor's note: Um, I swear I did not pay her to say any of this. Okay, let's carry on.)

What is your sobriety date? March 3, 2016

Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
At first I counted the days religiously, now I keep track of months since hitting my One Year mark. Every once in awhile I’ll look up my progress and still feel that tiny thrill inside that my days keep on piling up.

Do you use an app or some other method to do this counting?
I use the app Last. It was easy, convenient and free at the moment when I was needing something to count the hours in the beginning.

What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
Annie Grace used the term ‘Spontaneous Sobriety’ in her book, This Naked Mind, and I think this resonates most with me with my recovery. After reading her book my knowledge and opinion on alcohol has never been the same. Even if I wanted to, I will never drink again. I cannot unlearn what I read in her book, it’s the same concept as you cannot unsee what you’ve seen. My subconscious runs the show now! As for AA, I’ve only recently gone to a few meetings (I used to go to Alanon because I was married to an alcoholic at one point in my life. That’s a whole other messy story that I’m pretty sure got me here in the first place.) When I got sober for myself I wasn’t sure that meetings were going to work for me. I still question some days if I should go. I recognize that meetings are 10% about drinking and 90% about life, and the benefits of that would obviously be helpful to anyone. But honestly I use the Instagram sober community for support, do a TON of reading, attempt daily meditation and focus my heart on pure intention.

Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
No, but I say that with hesitation. I have never liked that word for myself, even though I probably fall into the category. That word has such a negative connotation to it and for some it works but for me it personally doesn’t. I have never liked labels and I feel like that is a label with a huge stigma attached to it, which is so unfortunate.

If you do not identify with the word alcoholic, what do you identify with?
Maybe problem drinker? Over-the-top social drinker? When people ask if I’m an alcoholic I say  “I was a social drinker that socialized a little too much. As in everyday and night, even by myself. And it wasn’t pretty anymore.”

What are your go-to tools in your sobriety toolbox?

  1. My Instagram account and sober community support, which includes the HOME podcast. (Thank god for Holly and Laura!).
     
  2. Lavender oil, coffee, tea, rocks and crystals, my cat, my common-law husband (who, by the way, is the BIGGEST supporter of all!), my garden and my chickens. I can go to or use any one of these anytime I’m feeling triggered or overwhelmed. Watering my plants while listening to music has such a calming effect on me. Sitting on our bench and watching our chickens is hypnotic and lowers my stress levels immediately.
     
  3. I also have met some incredible women in the Sober Sister Tribe that help hold me accountable. I am so grateful for the connections that I have made and consider my friends/followers a huge part of my tool box.
     
  4. I also started doing yoga again and am really enjoying the spiritual high I get after every class, not to mention the major ass-kicking I get in the process.

Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?
I was a drinker for over 18 years, and I drank to get drunk, not to enjoy the moment. It became apparent to me that something was wrong when I was drinking everyday, regardless of the situation. I would put wine in my coffee cup and go to PTA meetings, I would pour a ‘to-go’ mug of wine to go grocery shopping (with my kid in tow). I couldn’t go for a quiet stroll around the block without a damn glass of wine in my hand. Towards the end I was hiding how much I was drinking from my husband, and I would drink the heaviest in the afternoons on the days I knew my step-son was going to be staying with us. I always justified my drinking as not being a problem because I hadn’t gotten a DUI, I hadn’t lost my job, I hadn’t lost a relationship or been given an ultimatum to stop. But one day I realized that alcohol wasn’t ruining my life per se, but it was absolutely keeping me from the life I wanted, the life I deserved.

On December 31, 2015 I was on a plane from Salt Lake City, Utah back to Austin, Texas with my daughter. I had just spent the holidays with my family and friends, after just moving to Texas the year prior. I was on the plane, probably still drunk with some array of pills running through my system and felt absolutely empty. My sweet 5 year old was asleep next to me and I wrote the following with tears running uncontrollably down my face. I have never shared this with anyone until now.

Dec. 31, 2015

I have no purpose. No meaning anymore. When I wake up in the morning I am not full of excitement for the day ahead, I am not ambitious.

I do not make a difference. Rarely do I have happy thoughts - My faked happiness or words of encouragement to others are not genuine. I am so uncomfortable in my own skin.  I no longer care to make healthy decisions because I have no self love. My willpower and self beliefs are non-existent. I truly have no purpose. Just getting through the day is my purpose anymore, and to even do that I have succumbed to substances. I am overwhelmed, impatient, irritable, angry, sad and lonely. I am no longer at home anywhere anymore. Even my own body doesn’t feel like home because of the unhealthy, tired, overweight, ugly state it’s in. My family and friends are not what I remember them to be. I cannot continue to go down the unhealthy path that they are on, that I am on.

When did this start? I remember the days of happiness. Waking up rested, happy and full of joy and energy. Is this my life now?  Depression/alcohol?

I am saddened to tears to know and realize that I am lost. My old home and life are no longer home to me. It’s unhealthy, negative, manipulative, addiction filled and full of depression. My new home doesn’t feel like home either. No friends, self-hatred in myself - I have turned to drugs and alcohol to cope, to even get through the day. I can’t remember the last time I had a natural high. Everything I do is done with some sort of chemical. Waking up, going to work, being a mom, being a partner, going to bed. Literally everything.

It’s a rambling train of thoughts, an emotional rant, so please excuse the random sentences and scattered thoughts. It hurts to read today. It was 2 months later that I finally quit drinking, and I am so fucking thankful that I was finally able to pull my head out of the dark spiral and say YES to life and goodbye to alcohol forever.

Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
I’m not sure about this yet. I went to school for Illustration and Design after high school (and of course didn’t finish) and have always considered myself an artist. Art is the one thing that still keeps my heart beating, even on days the when I feel dead inside. I have worked at Costco for 20 years (I started at 18, it was supposed to be my summer job. Apparently my WHOLE LIFE is summer!). I have recently had an awakening of sorts and have decided that I am finally ready to take the leap and follow my heart. The scary part is saying goodbye to what I’ve known for over half my life, and believe in myself again. I am my most happiest when I have a paint brush in my hand and allow myself to get lost in the colors and lines pouring out of me. My biggest setback in taking this leap is myself. I have an extremely mean inner critic and am in the process of unlearning what I think I am and believing in who I am. I have made an agreement with myself that I am going to paint/draw/sketch and produce four pieces a month. I am also going to start posting my artwork online and just see where it takes me. I have had way too many signs from the universe whispering to me lately and I can no longer ignore the message it is saying. Dr. Wayne Dyer quotes a line from Tolstoy that refers to a man on his deathbed asking his wife “What if my whole life was wrong?” This quote hit me hard when I heard it. If I was on my deathbed right now I would be so disappointed that I was too scared, too critical, too conservative, too quiet, too shy, etc. to follow my passion and become an artist. I don’t ever want to question if my whole life has been wrong. Ever.

Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking? 
Holy shit YES! Most days I look at my life and schedule in disbelief and think How in the hell did I do this drunk and hungover everyday? Then I laugh and realize that I didn’t do nearly what I thought I was accomplishing. I guess waking up everyday and dragging myself and my family through the drudgery of alcohol abuse was an accomplishment in itself. I obviously had extremely low standards.

What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
It may sound vain, but my looks have changed dramatically! My eyes, skin, body shape, etc. I’ve lost 25 pounds and feel better at 38 then I did at 25. My energy is through the roof and I feel like a superhero somedays when I see what I can get done in a 24 hour period.

Before I finally got sober I wrote out a PROS and CONS list of quitting drinking. I am delighted and bewildered that every single thing on my PROS list has come true, even the most far-fetched hopes and dreams, and all my fears of being sober, the CONS, were never an issue! Some of the CONS included losing friends and family, which unfortunately did happen, but is such a blessing in the long run. And I have had to face my problems and all the issues I hid, but that’s what recovery and healing is all about. I keep this list next to my bed and read it every once in awhile and am still blown away by the outcome of my sobriety.

Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
Ask for help, accept support. Dream big and never stop believing. It does get better, it’ll hurt like hell some days, but just keep going. Everyday you stay sober you are one day stronger than the day before. There is beauty in the truth, and the light that shines out of you is the most amazing gift you can give yourself. Find a group, a community, a fellowship of supporters and hang on for dear life until you are strong enough to float on your own. I promise it’ll happen, you’ll just go through some enormous emotional storms along the way.

Can you recommend a few books, bloggers or teachers that have helped you on this path to sobriety?

  1. I stumbled upon Hip Sobriety on January 14, 2016 and if it weren’t for Holly Whitaker and her honest, raw, real and relatable take on sobriety, I don’t know that I’d be here today.
     
  2. Laura McKowen has been crucial in my recovery and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet both her and Holly and take their Never Not Broken workshop.
     
  3. Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind changed the way that my brain looks at alcohol and I can never unlearn what her book taught me. Even if I ever wanted to drink again, my subconscious wouldn’t allow it.
     
  4. The HOME podcast was an integral part of early days of sobriety because the girls were so relatable.
     
  5. The Unruffled Podcast, obviously, because I know both of these incredible women and I live in the same city as Sondra (co-host of The Unruffled Podcast) and can meet up with her beautiful spirit for coffee whenever I need.

    Meeting these people in person makes the journey more worthwhile and REAL. At first, every single one of these people were an enigma, and then I hugged them all and this dream became a reality! I am still so honored to be a part of this community.

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?
My biggest supporter is my husband, Christian. He was there during the worst of it and always unconditionally loved me and allowed me to recognize my problem on my own rather than force it. My Mom and Dad have been amazing support as well. But my Instagram family takes the cake and makes my heart fuller than full. I had no idea that there was a group of creative, strong, sober women out there willing to open their hearts and arms to a lost soul like me. The people that I have met and the life that I have now would never have been possible had it not been for other women telling their truths, their stories and being so real and honest. I am forever indebted to you all.

What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
That I am finally a present, conscious and happy mother. The guilt that I felt for years about the mother that I was is finally gone. My daughter will never see me drunk again and I am so grateful for that. My husband finally has a responsible partner to help raise our children and I never, EVER have to wake up with a fucking hangover again! I now take my health serious and have changed my diet completely and do yoga every morning. I am excited about life and the future for the first time in years. I never would have dreamed that I would be sober, living in Texas, consuming a meat and dairy-free diet, raising chickens, bees and children and planning vacations with the man that I love. I went through hell to get here, and I will soak up every beautiful thing that comes my way and take nothing for granted.    


POSTSCRIPT FROM JENN

I am currently listing and selling my artwork on Instagram and taking requests for commissions to custom paint people's animals in a funky, colorful manner.

I am also in the process of securing my website name jennjamesdesign.com. It's under construction, at this point, but it won't always be this way. Check back in the next few months for updates. If you are interested in having a portrait done of your sweet animal, it's probably best to reach me by emailing teetotalergal@gmail.com or direct messaging me on Instagram (see link in my bio above).

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