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.
I’ve made my career in information technology, but my heart is in art. I currently work in Academic Technology for a large university, performing project management for e-learning technologies and applications. I also do contract web design and development as well as graphic design for both online and print media.
I have dual passions - scuba diving and painting. I learned how to scuba dive -- after learning how to swim -- just 10 years ago and am now a PADI Rescue Diver. Scuba diving is intertwined with my primary passion - creating art. In recent years, I’ve released several series of abstract paintings inspired by my observations while diving in Texas and Florida. I’m starting one soon based on recent travels to Honduras.
Although I’ve taken a few classes on color mixing and specific techniques, my work is largely self-taught. I am a visual learner, inspired by viewing the works of others as well as books and videos, but I am unable to understand and fully grasp techniques until I have the time to experiment with them myself. In this way, my artwork is always an exploration.
I became reacquainted with you when my friend SaraJane Parker (and former Ray of Light!) recommended The Unruffled Podcast. I really love the pod. Listening to you and Sondra speak of so many relevant topics in your friendly, positive way was a breath of fresh air from some of the other podcasts I’d been exploring. Now, many months later, I look forward to each new episode and feel like I’m listening to friends. I giggle right along with you most of the time. It was a treat to purchase Sondra’s work and meet her in person. I love the work I’ve received from you and hope to meet you someday soon.
What is your sobriety date? I have been in recovery since Wednesday, 3/9/16.
Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
Months … although I look forward to counting years. And I know in my bones that I will. Now that I’m finally clear on my sobriety, I’m never going back to the way I used to live.
Do you use an app or some other method to do this counting?
In early recovery I used an app called Habit Bull. This app was kind of cool because it tracks days and gives you data points and reports of your behavior trends over time. Although I did not manage to remain sober for all of 2016, I was able to look at the data and see my sober vs. non-sober days. The overall trend of 89.4% sobriety for the year is kind of remarkable considering my many, many years of almost daily drinking.
I'm not that interested in detailed tracking right now and just use an app called I Am Sober. I Am Sober has has clean, minimalist graphics, pop-up reminders and encouraging messages. It also calculates the money saved by not drinking -- which is mind-blowing!
What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
Hip Sobriety School (HSS) and all of the amazing tools I picked up during the course. I really like how it combines overall wellness, self care, and spirituality, with a focus on being present and making choices that serve our highest good (healing). I also like the science-y details which shed light on what addiction is, how our bodies are impacted by alcohol (or other substances) how cravings happen in the brain, and how we can rewire our habits and ourselves through daily rituals, activities, and the guidance in creating a sober toolbox.
Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
You know, I don't like this word. Identifying as an alcoholic reminds me of unpleasant scenes I experienced early on during my very limited AA meeting exploration. I felt like their requirement of identifying as an alcoholic and saying that I am sick is overly negative. This, combined with all the religious language, left me feeling that AA was punitive and shame-based. I know that others have had a different experience. That’s the beauty of today’s recovery landscape - there are a number of paths to sobriety and people can choose what serves them best.
I’ll admit it - I’m into the woo. I am one of those people that believes that our thoughts create our reality. I feel that I am better served by using language that reflects the situations and feelings I want to create in my life, and not using limiting terms that reflects a reality that I want to be rid of. In my mind, the word alcoholic inspires connotations that are too narrow.
An example: the thought that an alcoholic having to have a bottom or some big life drama to need to quit drinking is false for me. From this perspective, the word alcoholic can create an unrealistic expectation that people don't need help yet because their world hasn't fallen apart. Goodness knows, that’s what I believed for years! I hadn’t ever had a DUI, gone to jail, lost a job or a lover … I thought that surely I must be fine! I know now that I wasn’t fine - not by a long shot.
If you do not identify with the word alcoholic, what do you identify with?
Choosing recovery. I prefer language that resonates with the concept of choosing a life free of alcohol. I didn't quit drinking because someone made me, or because something terrible happened, or because my life was falling apart. I quit drinking because I chose to. I quit drinking because I wanted a different way of managing my stress and a different daily experience in this world. I quit because, after drinking for literally thirty years (not kidding. We started partying young!) I decided that I was too old for this @#$% and needed to quit. I spent a lot of time examining the role that alcohol played in my daily life and decided to make the early exit.
The one drawback of the early exit, I think, is that without some big catalyzing event that forces you to quit, you have trouble sticking to the decision that you want to. I would manage long periods of sobriety before having a relapse. Those few relapses weren't responses to stress events, they were more a result of my growing ambivalence regarding drinking. After accumulating some time in sobriety and feeling like I’ve learned a lot, I would trick myself into thinking that I had it managed and that maybe, just maybe, I could drink a little bit.
I thought of my relapses as collecting data. I'm not sure that's an accurate term, but at least my relapses did eventually teach me that my thinking was wrong. I never have drank like a normal person and I never will. I can moderate for a little while but it always increases in frequency and duration until I'm on the slippery slope back to shame, hangovers, daily blackouts, and feeling disconnected from my life. My relapses left me sad and pining for all the good feelings and experiences that I have when I am present in my own life - the feelings I have when I am sober.
In the end, I had to own the fact that alcohol just isn’t welcome in my life. It didn’t get me to my goals or do anything positive for my health. It got in the way of my self-care, my ability to be a good wife, my job performance, my artistic creativity, and my life overall. Alcohol made it impossible for me to stay present, to think of my life in terms of positive energy, and to actively manifest what I want to bring into my daily experience.
What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?
Bubble Baths. A LOT of bubble baths. It’s a wonder I don’t have webbed toes. I’d hate to know how much we have spent at Lush since my quit date. Luckily, that’s offset by all the money I’m saving on alcohol!
Journaling. Taking time to write in my Desire Map journal in the morning and evening helps ground me. I’m a rabid follower of Danielle LaPorte. When journaling, I outline the tasks I want to accomplish that day, but more importantly, I write down my Core Desired Feelings (CDFs) and how I plan to achieve them. Moving the focus from what I want to DO to how I want to FEEL helps me stay sober. The CDFs I have tuned into since I began my recovery are: Radiant, Mindful, and Creatrix. Radiant and Mindful are obvious, but I could share a bit more about Creatrix. I mean this as a woman who manifests/creates my own life experience in addition to just creating artwork. I’m so focused on this word that I just got a custom license plate for it: CRE8TRX.
Creativity. I feel like it has opened up new worlds now that I work actively to link my creativity to my recovery. When I am overcome by stress or in a funk (or just bored) instead of reaching for booze I head upstairs to my home studio. It doesn’t matter if I paint something salable or if I just play around and make a mess. Spending time working with the tools and playing with colors helps me improve my mood. I’m SO EXCITED to be participating in the Recovery Gals Art Exchange. The themes of connection and healing resonate perfectly with where I am at with my creativity and recovery. It is through online connection that I've learned sober tools, created my tribe and reinstated my creativity. It is through this process that I am healed.
Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?
I had to come to the terms with the realization that I don't drink like other people. I had to own the fact that I drank too much and too often, and in ways that encouraged a loss of control. After losing nearly 90 lbs (different story), I found that I drank to black out almost every time. Disconnection from my daily reality is not what I want from this life experience. I had to resolve to release alcohol in order to create space in my life to reach my goals, to be present, and be my most authentic self.
Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
My creativity has ebbed and flowed during my recovery. It wasn't planned, but it happened: relapse. It's almost as if I had to slip a few times before I could really stick with the decision that I want to have a life free of alcohol. I eventually learned to leverage creativity as a recovery tool to help strengthen my sobriety.
I had largely abandoned painting and my studio because it was so triggering. I drank a LOT there, often alone, then followed it with bad decisions like eating crap or driving home. It's a minor miracle that I don't have a DUI. My fear of drinking in the studio led me to put my art aside for awhile. I was paralyzed by fear when I attempted to plan new work. I didn't understand how to allow myself to be creative without also being drunk.
I'm happy to say that I am now learning to make creativity an active part of my recovery. I have moved my studio from the arts district to an in-home practice and I am creating work again. It is a little strange to paint sober. It feels almost like I am relearning some of the techniques that I've employed for so many years. I'm also learning new techniques, too. Most importantly, I'm learning how to relax my perfectionism. I’m learning how to let go, get out of my own way, and not overthink pieces that I work on.
Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking? If yes, how so?
I’m not more productive just yet, but I am headed there. I got a slow start on creating sober artwork because I had so much fear around the process. I’m a nerd at heart, but my artwork has always been a very unstructured process of throwing acrylic paints at a canvas (like literally, standing back and slinging paint!). Creating artwork while drunk helped me to uncouple from my Type-A geek programmer brain and let loose.
I am now learning how to allow this process to happen while sober. It’s not always easy to rein in perfectionism, but I make attempts all the time and am getting better at it. I’m experimenting with some acrylic painting techniques that really remove planning from the process. The outcomes are more controlled by gravity and the materials than by me. The resulting artwork is often unexpected and a fun surprise.
What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
My wife. She gives me unsolicited feedback on a fairly regular basis about how much nicer I am, and how much she appreciates the changes in our home since I stopped drinking. I’m a better wife, mother to our pets, and friend as a sober person. I now keep the commitments that I make, both to others AND to myself. That is a very new, and very rewarding, feeling. For many years I wanted to stop drinking - I promised myself that I would stop - and I let myself down again and again. I’m so glad that I’m not doing that anymore. Keeping the promise of sobriety helps me honor myself in other ways, like good rest, exercise, and other healthy habits.
Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
Yes. It’s possible to change, and it’s worth it. If you think you need to quit drinking, you do! You don’t have to have some dramatic moment, an ultimatum from a loved one, or a scary score from one of those online should I quit drinking quizzes. The only decision that needs to be made, the only decision that is valid, is the one you make for yourself to leave alcohol behind. No one has to validate that for you. If you feel like you need to quit, if you feel like you WANT to quit, then do. Following through on this gift to yourself will be so rewarding.
There are many paths to sobriety. If you try AA and don’t like it, try something else. Reach out online. There’s a huge sober tribe waiting to receive and inspire you. Subscribe to The Unruffled Podcast for camaraderie and inspiration. Check out Hip Sobriety, or Smart Recovery, or Women for Sobriety. Start small and when you find something that resonates, dive deep.
That’s probably the best part of today’s recovery landscape: visibility. Resources like The Unruffled and Hip Sobriety brings the conversation about recovery out into the open. Instead of hiding in anonymity, real people like you and me are recovering out loud and proud, and ready to share our inspiration and processes to help others. I think we’re moving to a time where being the sober one doesn’t make a person such a social pariah. Perhaps one day soon it will even be trendy?
Can you recommend three books, bloggers or teachers that have helped you on this path to sobriety?
HOME podcast with Holly Whitaker and Laura McKowen
Annie Grace's book - This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life
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?
Online. It was all online. And now that Holly Whitaker & Laura McKowen of the HOME podcast are traveling around doing one-day events, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of my sober tribe in real life. I’m hoping to drive to Austin in the Fall to attend an Unruffled Recovery Through Creativity meetup.
My recommendation is to start Googling sobriety blogs and podcasts. Search for tags like #recovery or #sober on Instagram. Follow the links like breadcrumbs to other sober blogs, teachers, and communities. There’s a giant recovery movement starting and it’s easy to become a part of it.
What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
Wow … there’s so much that has changed for the better that it’s hard for me to even find the right words here. How about this: I’m proud that I now keep commitments to myself. I wanted to quit drinking for so many years but never followed through. At long last I decided that I’m worth the effort. It makes me proud to honor this deep commitment to myself. I’m also proud (and slightly terrified!) that I’m revealing all of this publicly. My participation in this Ray of Light interview is very much like a public coming out.
If you can't get enough of Amy (like I couldn't!), please listen to me and Sondra interview her on The Unruffled Podcast, Episode 25. Teaser: You'll get to hear her soothing, beautiful voice + her southern accent. Swoon!