Ray of Light Interview No. 24 :: Lisa Carmen

Every Friday for the entire 2017 calendar year, I will release a new interview + accompanying artwork as part of my weekly Ray of Light Interview Series: Women in Recovery. This series will feature brave, kickass, beautiful women in recovery. 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 or accessing through the menu on the right-hand side of my home page.

Mixed media: Using original photo by Through the Looking Glass Photography, acrylic paint on wood panel

Mixed media: Using original photo by Through the Looking Glass Photography, acrylic paint on wood panel

Lisa Carmen
Professional Instigator, Soul Provocateur + Devout Sensualist
Blog: Sacred Sexy U
Twitter: @SacredSexyU
Facebook: Lisa Carmen, Sacred Sexy U

What is your sobriety date?
Technically, November 1, 2016, after a couple of failed moderation experiments here and there in 2016, which was all part of my healing journey. However, I first started my sober journey, alcohol-free on January 1, 2016, so I like to think I have about a year and a half of sobriety under my belt, with a couple of important and informative slips that solidified my commitment to sobriety!

Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
do and I don’t. I have a counter and I check it now and then out of curiosity. It makes me proud to see the numbers go up, but on a daily basis I’m not counting. 

Do you use an app or some other method to do this counting?
The SoberTool app. I like it because it has tips and advice, too. It’s more than just a counter. 

What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
A little of this, a little of that. That’s what fits best with who I am.  

Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
This is one of those things I’ve struggled with, what to call it. In fact, I think my resistance to naming it actually delayed my recovery for years.  

I consider myself to have a problematic relationship with booze. That’s good enough for me. Because I knew and loved alcoholics far worse than me, I managed to justify my problem drinking. By telling myself It’s not that bad. I haven’t gone to jail/crashed my car/killed anyone/lost my job...yet. I went back and forth for a long time with the question Am I? or Aren’t I? Being caught in that loop definitely kept me stuck. I took the online quizzes and, yes, I scored very high, but my reluctance to name myself an Alcoholic actually got in the way of my healing.

One day, I finally heard a voice in my head say Look. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s a problem. Call it ‘bicycle’ if you want, it doesn’t fucking matter. Fix this problem, before it destroys you. And I think that’s true for many of us problematic drinkers. We get so caught in the loop of what to call it, we prolong our own suffering while in it, whatever it is. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what we call it.

Truthfully, my problem is a me problem. My “thing” has shape-shifted over the years, and because I’m genetically predisposed to alcohol addiction, it was only a matter of time before it became about drinking too much.

What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?

1. Connection with other sober people. This has been paramount. I’ve tried for years to be strong, on my own. It wasn’t until I started reaching out and connecting with others in recovery that I had a chance. We are so much stronger when we allow ourselves to be supported. Seems like an oxymoron, but it’s the truest oxymoron there is.

2. Books. In the beginning, I read every addiction memoir and self-help book I could get my hands on. I devoured them. They helped me feel less alone and promised me another way to live.

3. Helping others. The more I get out of my head, the stronger I get. It can be a scary place in there. Every time I reach out to support someone in their recovery, it’s a gift to me too, and I grow stronger.

Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?  
I was inching my way toward being the world’s oldest party girl. Not really, but heading into my mid-forties and spending hundreds of dollars a month on bar tabs, hanging out with strangers, being out until all hours, and ending up in some dangerous and risky situations for the good part of twenty years had gotten very old. I was always proud that I was able to keep my life together because this helped me to maintain my story that I was okay. I had created a great career helping others as a life coach and burlesque instructor, it was critical for me to feel that my life was together. Sure I loved to drink, doesn’t everyone?

It was becoming clear, though, that my drinking was not like everyone else’s anymore. It was progressing and I was beginning to scare myself. I carried booze with me most places toward the end, drank when it was completely inappropriate, and was becoming secretive and sneaky about it.

I kept trying to manage my alcohol intake by tracking my drinking on a calendar, making rules for myself, rewarding myself with alcohol for not drinking alcohol! Oh, the irony. Drinking was woven into everything - my friendships, my relationship, my work, my entire life. I was tired of being sick (“Ugh, I have vodka poisoning” I would moan from the bathroom.) I was tired, scared and knew I was losing my grip. It was becoming more than I could manage. It was well past that point, actually. I can’t count the times I resolved to do better, drink less, take it easy, back off for a bit, calm it down, reign it in. I kept sleeping with the enemy. I just wasn’t ready to give it up.

There were several things that happened in 2015 that led me closer to calling it quits. Embarrassing things, things that made me feel ashamed and as it turned out, my little “secret” wasn’t so secret, after all, and it was finally seeping into my “put-together” life and work. People close to me knew and were worried. I think I was waiting for someone to be worried about me, for someone to say Lisa, you have a problem. Because if nobody notices, is it a problem? That finally happened on Christmas Eve 2015. And, of course, it was my best friend of 30+ years who threw out the lifesaver. I grabbed on for dear life.

It was a devastating night, but it also felt like a relief, to no longer be alone with my secret, to be noticed, seen, and loved enough for someone to call me out. It felt like the lights had finally been turned on. No more hiding this in the darkness. I was ready to give it up. I surrendered.

Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
I like to describe the first year like this: You know that movie, Regarding Henry, or other stories we hear about people who suffer major brain injuries and have to learn everything over again - how to walk, how to talk, how to read, and on and on? That was me, my first year of sobriety. I had to learn how to do everything all over again, sober.

From sex to karaoke, from weekends to large burlesque shows that I produce. Doing them sober was really difficult in the beginning. But just like my sober friends promised me, it got easier. After that first year, since the start of 2017, my creativity has returned. I’ve been writing, I’ve taken up watercolor painting, I’m teaching myself piano, and I'm sixteen chapters deep into birthing a novel. I haven’t written fiction in more than ten years. I couldn’t! I was too busy partying or recovering on the couch. I’m excited for this creative renaissance I’m experiencing.

Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking?
Goodness yes. Saturdays have a morning! is the joke around here. I have so much more time, because like I said, I am not on the couch recovering most of the weekend. Living hangover-free has given me so much time to get things done. I’m not as behind on everything as I used to be. I feel like I’m more on top of my shit than I’ve ever been.

What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
My ability to feel. Take karaoke as just one example. I’ve been singing karaoke for 25+ years, and literally, never sober until last year. Once I got sober, karaoke suddenly became scary! I’d get nervous as hell before my turn, my adrenalin rushing through the roof, anxiety, completely foreign and new. I was never nervous! Then I get up there and sing, and holy crap, the thrill, the exhilaration, the pride and endorphins and excitement I feel afterward is also through the roof. I get high from it. Sure, I was missing the nervousness while under the influence (obviously they call it liquid courage for a reason), but I had no idea I was missing the joy and pleasure, too.

Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
Three words that I clung to, and they proved true:  It gets easier. It really does.

It’s so tough in the beginning, so you’ve got to set up your success strategies, get your buddies in place who will be there for you to cheer you on and hold your hand through the bumpy times. Create strategies for those crucial moments, plan out your weekends to avoid triggers, or have your plan in place for moving past them. We don’t really just end up in a bar with a drink in our hands. There’s one hundred tiny things that we allowed to happen before that to end up in the bar with the drink in our hands. Plan ahead. Be radically honest with yourself. We’re so good at bullshit, we even believe our own! Enough of that. Call yourself out.

Whatever you do: DON’T GO IT ALONE.

Here's another thing: You don’t have to stay away from all the drinks. Just the first one. This simple shift really helped diminish the overwhelming magnitude of a sober life in the beginning. Worrying about never drinking again forever and ever is daunting. But not drink the first one? I can do that.

Something magical happened once a year passed and I’d had all my sober firsts and went through all the milestones (throwing a party sober, doing the holidays sober, having a sober birthday, hanging out with drinking friends while sober).

I don’t struggle to “get through” things sober anymore. It actually feels natural to be sober. I don’t have to “try” to be sober, I just am. It frees up so much energy for being present and enjoying life, sober!

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

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?
Listening to the HOME podcast, before I knew about the community, and old friend invited me in at the very beginning of my sobriety - thank god! These women and the support we give each other has been priceless!

What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
Getting and staying sober was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It’s less hard now, because I’m stronger, and now, I know I am unstoppable. I did that. I can do anything. In this alchohol-infused world we live in, where drinking is the “norm” and not just socially acceptable, but encouraged and celebrated, committing to go against the grain takes great strength, courage and fortitude.

I’ve come to believe that sober people are some of the strongest and bravest people in the world. Anyone can drink. Being sober takes guts.

I’m proud of the ways I’ve changed. I’m not the same person. I’ve been completely rewired. It’s incredibly brave and dangerous to do life without filters, without numbing. To show up for life with all of my edges. To stay with myself. To stay with my emptiness. To face and lovingly heal these wounds and traumas I’d been avoiding my entire life.

I’m not certain about much, but I am certain now about this: I am a badass.

All of images Lisa sent my way were gorgeous, but the one I chose to work with spoke to me the most. She's beaming. I worked on editing the interview early on in the week and finalized the artwork on...wait for it...TUESDAY! Yes, I am changing my procrastinating ways over here.

I've also updated my website, as you may (or may not) have noticed and added a marketplace to promote a few of the new offerings I have. If you would like to commission a Ray of Light mixed media piece, please click here to check out my pricing + details.

In a few weeks, I'll post a roundup of all the women I've featured here (26!) so far. I'll work on mailing each mixed media piece to the rightful owner as a small token of my appreciation for their bravery in sharing some of their story here with me and my readers. 

Some of the pieces are a wee bit wonky, as I've been learning about my process and which tools to use along the way, but I kind of think that's beautiful, too. Very wabi-sabi. Imperfectly perfect. Isn't that how we are in sobriety? In life? I definitely think we are made more whole by overcoming our struggles and our imperfect parts, our old stuff sloughed off and our newfound self-worth bursting right out of us. I hope this series continues to evolve and I look forward to the last half of the year and the interviews yet to come.

Thanks for your story, Lisa. And, yes, you most certainly are a badass!