Ray of Light Interview No. 17 :: Michelle Winder

Today I credit social media with how I first came to know today's Ray of Light Interviewee. I noticed she posted a selfie from inside of her closet almost every morning and in those images she would sport some kind of cute t-shirt with a positive message on it. Over time, she started sharing her own words and feelings on living an alcohol-free life. She shared her home improvement projects and her family life, too. She radiated positivity and I could tell she was a really good person. 

This is what I love about social media and how it can connect us to others all over the country. It's fascinating to me how many women I've been able to connect with that either share my affliction with alcohol or we share a common interest. I hope you enjoy's Michelle's interview as much as I did. She is coming into her own and I'm so honored she agreed to share part of her story here. 

Michelle Winder
Business Owner, Sober Momma and Wife
Recovery Coach-in-Training
Instagram handle: @hello_its_michelle
Facebook: https:/www.facebook.com/michelle.g.winder

Do you remember how we first met or came to know one another?
I sure do.  I had signed up for The Mantra Project: 40 Days of Sobriety Email Course that you and Holly Whitaker (founder of Hip Sobriety) were doing back in November 2016. You were doing the art for the project and Holly crafted the words.  I fell in love with your creations from day one and set out to see who you were.  I found you and immediately started following you on social media.

What is your sobriety date?
This is the tricky one. There are two different schools of thought here.  One is the day after the last time you drank alcohol, or like me, the day I knew that I had to quit drinking for good.  It was do or die for me. That day of surrender was 10/7/2015. I had never truly surrendered before that day. And although I had a couple of slips after that day, I knew it was finally game over. I embrace 10/7/2015 wholeheartedly now without reservation.

Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
I did in the beginning, but not anymore.  I did the year thing quietly with myself, because again, I wasn’t comfortable enough with my slips yet to fully honor the way that I really felt about it publicly.  

Do you use an app or some other method to do this counting? 
I used the Nomo app in the very beginning, but I never really was that interested in the number part of it. My main concern was seeing the moon at night sober, and the seeing sun rise in the morning guilt-free.

What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
If I had to tell you what has worked the best for me, I would have to say social media. The connections that I have made are priceless. I didn’t do rehab or AA, although at my lowest point I believe that they should have loaded me up and sent me to rehab.  AA never appealed to me at all, so I just never tried it. I found that I was drawn to reading recovery blogs and inspirational quotes resonated with me. I soaked it all up like a sponge. During this time, I realized clichés actually had meaning and exist for a reason!  I set out to read and dissect all that I could. I also immediately fell in love with Rumi.

Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
I did in the beginning, but don’t anymore. My grandfather was an alcoholic, that’s the only word we knew. It took his life. I remember my father drinking during my formative years and then somewhere along the way he wasn’t drinking. I still don’t know why or when he quit for good. Over the last year, I have been exposed to so much stuff on sobriety that I have chosen to remove the word alcohol as it pertains to me. I choose to identify myself as sober or as someone who just doesn’t drink anymore. Sober AF happens to be my very favorite form of identification, really.

What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?

  1. Fitness and nutrition have always been at the top of my list. I was of a high-functioning heavy drinker for a very long time. I had to keep the mom-slash-business owner image up and I tried to hide behind that lifestyle. Being sober has only furthered my love for being healthy.
  2. My online community. I have met so many wonderful human beings that contribute to my daily world with their posts, texts, phone calls and blogs.  

  3. My daily gratitude journal (that you helped to inspire).  The practice has allowed me to open my mind to the things around me that I am thankful for and didn’t even realize before I started writing the lists.  There are just so many things to appreciate when you are sober and aware.

Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?  
I knew for quite some time that there was a problem, I just didn’t want to accept it.  Life without red wine or Crown Royal seemed Impossible. I tried to manage it for a while, but that only made it worse. My life had gotten so out of control that it was only a matter of time before I hurt someone or myself. You see, I had never been in trouble, not a DWI, an accident or anything like that, but my life was in shambles. The only consequence that I suffered was knowing that I was hurting everyone around me. I didn’t even care about that for a very long time. I stumbled upon Laura McKowen’s blog (formerly called I Fly at Night) and was hooked. I never knew people talked, much less wrote about sobriety.  At that very same time in my life, a dear friend who is also in recovery said to me in a conversation, “you could quit drinking, or you could die” - like those were my options. That rocked my world. Those two individuals saved my life and I will forever be grateful to them.

Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
Yes.  I have never really been pen and paper creative, mostly I've channeled my talents into interior design. I had many unfinished projects in our new home. Once I was sober, I quickly got to work on completing all of the partially finished projects around the house and now it looks amazing and I am proud to call it my home.

Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking?
Let’s just say this, yes and no. I have many things that I want to do, and conquering my master closet is at the top of the list.  Running two businesses and having a daughter in travel softball keeps me super busy. For now, I’m just glad I have lists to keep me on track.

What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
I would have to say being present. We have a beautiful backyard with a pool that is my happy place. My husband takes great pride in his landscaping work back there. I have come to love the beautiful place that he has created for us. The water noise, the wind chimes, the birds, trees and flowers are just so much more beautiful to me now.

Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
My best piece of advice would be to keep going. Always do the next right thing, and when it gets hard, try harder. Don’t give up, ever. If you slip, drop the shame and guilt and keep going.

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

  1. Laura McKowen, she’s my number one.  Her blog posts are so relatable and real.  They are written on a level that helps you feel like it’s all going to be okay (and it is!).  

  2. I have also fallen madly in love Holly Whitaker of Hip Sobriety, Lara Ann Frazier and Sarah Roberts, my #sugarmomma from The 28 Day Sugar Challenge. All three of these ladies have touched my life and taught me things that can’t be unlearned. Their words and support are everything.

  3. That’s more than three…...I have always done things to excess.

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 don’t have any one particular named community that I am attached to. I have a potpourri of folks, from all different walks of life that come together for one common goal, and that is to support one another. Day in and day out I am amazed at what the hashtag has done for making connections through social media. I’m continuously grateful for the support others give me and that my gracious God has allowed me to return the favors.

What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
I am most proud to have “reconnected” with my family. No one was ever gone, just me. I was pretty much checked out most of the time when I was drinking, but I am back now. I am also proud to be able help others through my experience.  That is very rewarding.

One last thing about me. I plan on taking Holly Whitaker’s Hip Sobriety School in the spring and continuing with the She Recovers Coaching program. My longterm goal is to get out of the dry cleaning business after 22 years and plant my feet somewhere in the recovery field for the rest of my days here on earth.  

Today I experimented with creating a small collage-like piece and overlaying it onto the image of Michelle. I used sheet music that I'd previously added block printing ink to in my favorite color - hot pink. The music was called Grand March by Verdi and it is stately and regal. I thought this gal from Texas seemed a good fit for the sheet music, as she is most definitely showing up for her life and marching to the beat of her own drum now that alcohol has been removed from her days (and nights).

Once again, I had adhesive troubles when I affixed her image to the 5" x 5" wood panel and so I had to rip it off and start over once I got home from school today. I hate doing these pieces last minute. I had worked on the collage overlay this morning and applied gold and black acrylic paint to the hot pink sheet music.

I love this picture of Michelle. She looks strong, beautiful and fierce. We get to meet next week at the She Recovers NYC conference and I'm sure it will feel a little surreal to finally meet in person, but I can't wait.

This self-imposed weekly assignment of interviewing women and making art from their images is really helping me grow as a person and as an artist and writer (even though I just mostly edit their awesome words). I'm 17 interviews into the year so far, only 35 more to go. I'm learning a lot about myself in the process, too. My incessant procrastination, for one. I'm posting this just a few hours before it goes live and I hate that I keep waiting until the last minute to finish them up. It is my goal to stockpile a bunch of interviews and have the artwork done weeks ahead of time. I'll keep trying.

Thank you Michelle for being such a positive ray of sunshine on Instagram and showing other women how good life can be once you remove the dulling effects of alcohol. I love how bright you're shining and sharing yourself with the world.