Every Friday for the entire 2017 calendar year, I will 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 will feature 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.
Do you remember how we first met or came to know one another?
Well, we hooked up on Instagram somehow awhile back. Your fervor for sobriety was something that made me smile on more than one occasion. Then your art started playing a bigger part on your Instagram feed and, as a fellow artist, I was pulled deeper. Finally, I reached out and asked if we could maybe be friends or be considered as one of your Rays of Light for this series.
What is your sobriety date? October 20, 2014
Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
I do not, but that’s mainly because I had four kids in four years and I hardly ever know what day it is.
What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
I’ve never been to a meeting, and I HATE saying that, because I don’t want to deter others from trying one. I do, however, work my own version of the 12-steps every single day. My church (Denver Community Church in Denver) is a very safe to be as human as you need to be, so my community there helped and continues to help carry me through my recovery.
Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
If it feels good, I’m recovering from it: sex/love, food, alcohol, self-harm, Voluspa candles, benzos, sleeping aids, and my drug of choice--oxycodone. That’s the one that got me into trouble.
If you do not identify with the word alcoholic, what word(s) do you identify with?
I always just say I am a recovering human, because I think we are all just recovering humans. I think we are all addicts, all of us want to hoard the good-feeling shit and reject the not-so-good.
What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?
- Therapy. I had been in therapy for about twenty years off and on (I am twenty-nine right now), and because I am a recovering sociopath I knew exactly what to say to get the therapist to nod and agree and cry; I felt nothing. When I finished my IOP, after inpatient rehab, I knew I was ready to start showing up for a therapist. She continues to crack me wide open.
- Community/Love. Like I said earlier, I am a young mama-to-many, and I want to scratch out of myself often, especially in those first eight months of sobriety when the nerve pain I suffer from was begging for a 20mg tab and a shot of vodka to ease the pain--inside and out. My sisters surrounded me, I texted them ALL DAY. I voiced every single horrific thought and desire. They let me show up exactly as I was, which is why I didn’t need meetings.
- Writing. And by writing I mean creating, showing up, looking in the mirror and choosing life.
Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?
I put my son in the NICU, my substance abuse put my son in the NICU. A bone marrow transplant three years earlier had caused me unspeakable physical and emotional pain, which stirred up the waters of grief caused by my sister having died from cancer in 2004 -- she was fourteen. Lots of uncried tears, lots of disassociation, and I just gave up. It was all prescribed by a doctor, but toward the last five months of the pregnancy, as my pain worsened, I started hoarding prescription meds from other procedures and stealing some stuff from my husband. Looking at my boy in that plastic bassinet proved the first step to be true: it could not be managed anymore, not even by pain doctors and oncologists.
Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
HOLY SHIT! How could we NOT find a deeper well after removing all those chemicals from our brain bits!? I remember so distinctly the feeling of the Cymbalta and Lyrica leaving my system; they were supposed to treat my fibromyalgia, depression, and nerve/muscular pain--they didn’t work (#YogaDoesThough). Late October in Colorado is spectacular, and the yellowing aspens surrounding the Parker Valley Hope inpatient facility were aflame. Four days prior, I hadn’t noticed their striking colors and perfect forms set against the hills. When the brain-zapping withdrawal stopped I knew for sure that those drugs were banished from my blood for good. “Look at those trees! Have those been there the whole time!?” I exclaimed.
“Yes, Sweetie, “ the nurse replied.
Now I not only notice the trees, but I can capture them in word and image. It’s a miracle.
Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking? If yes, how so?
Again, HOLY SHIT! Yes! My first sober Christmas was gnarly, I kept saying out loud and to my husband, David, “I know I used to decorate the house for Christmas without the help of Adderall. I know I can do this without chemical aid. But how?!” One garland at a time, that’s how.
Today I woke up at 5am, wrote, weeded, harvested a few zucchini and a handful of roses, went inside and prepared meals for four little mouths, made coffee, applied mascara, pet the dog, spoke words to my kids and gave them citrus essential oil spray with their vitamins, dropped off Daddy at work, took the older girls to swim lessons, went to Cherry Creek reservoir with them all and baked in the close Colorado sun, FED THEM AGAIN, put them down for naps with books and bottles and clean diapers. Now I am filling out this beautiful Google Doc for you. It’s 1pm and I am a rockstar because I have Jesus and coffee in my heart. Also, because I am sober.
What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
My garden. I’m from Southern California and I was raised in a land fertile and full. My grandma’s garden in Malibu was epic, wild, wet and yummy. I gardened before I got sober, but it was sterile, dry, forced, bug-infested, and such a burden for my achy body.
Now I’ve got this...actually, I can’t even describe it. It’s Eden, that’s all I know. It’s everything God wants for humanity sitting in the southwest corner of my yard. It’s nothing wasted, nothing missing. If you want proof God exists, love the soil and create a Garden. Not a perfect or big garden, just a little land to dig and co-create with. You can’t fuck it up, I promise.
Do you have any advice for those still suffering or those in early recovery?
Oh sweet friends. This is the hardest. I want you to know that staying sober is harder than being beaten by your mom, and it’s harder than watching your sister die of brain cancer, harder than telling your husband you cheated on him, and it’s harder than having a bone marrow transplant. Staying sober, showing up for ALL of your life is the hardest thing you will ever do.
In rehab, a firefighter was saying his goodbyes in front of us all and said this: “I run into burning buildings for a living, me and my closest friends are what you would consider ‘heroes.’ But I want you to know that you all, you’re the bravest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.”
My answer when people ask me how I do life, how I’ve done life so far, is this: Do you know about the bleeding woman in that Bible story? For twelve years she bled, which made her unclean and unable to partake in the community that she so desperately needed. She was probably really pissed at God. She was probably really tired of all the blood leaking out of her. She probably missed singing psalms in Temple, and watching children run around the town square, because now she was banished from those places. This woman literally had nothing left to lose except her life.
Then, one day, Jesus shows up and he’s walking through a mob of moving people and feels power leave him. “Who just touched me?” There are people mashing into him everywhere.
“Ummm, Jesus...that would be me.” She mutters.
And then she is healed, in all the ways. She had the courage and gall to push through a crowd (every single person she touched would have been considered unclean now too, they knew about her and her woman problems). She made a choice that she was worth healing, and so she went and got healed.
How do I do it? The only choice I make is the one to reach out and touch that cloak, to grab healing by the balls and say, “That’s mine! I’m worthy of this, too!
Can you recommend a few books, bloggers or teachers that have helped you on this path to sobriety?
- Anne Lamott
- Richard Rohr
- The Bible and anything by Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh (I think Jesus and Buddha are best friends)
- I’m going to add musicians Sia, Macklemore, Lorde, and Lady Gaga to that list. Is that okay? I know everyone except Lorde is sober, and they are modern-day prophets. They are naming the aches in our world today and reminding us that the answers aren’t found in escapism, but in head dives. We’re going to see A LOT more people become sober over the next five or so years, in part because these artists’ Truth-Telling.
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?
See above. Also, I think church is uniquely qualified to deal with addiction because Jesus LOVED addicts and the wounded, he knows we are the luckiest, just like Laura McKowen often says. Unfortunately Evangelical Christians have fucked a lot of shit up (I created an IG page with my husband called The Recovering Evangelicals/@revangelicals for this this reason). If you can find a church that values and edifies the voice of the marginalized, that’s where I would start; we’re all in, no matter what.
What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life? I’m not preparing to die anymore. I’m alive, as Sia would say. Also, I don’t hit my kids anymore.
Interview Postscript from Claire
A month ago, doctors found a nodule in my lung, in four months they will re-scan. If it’s grown it’s cancer, my third bout, and likely my last since I’ve had about as much chemo as my body can hold. If the size hasn’t changed, we say Thanks God and treat it as scar tissue or just a little fucker hitching a ride.
The thought of maybe only having four more healthy months left lit me up. I have a book in my basement, one that I was planning to write in the fall when the kids go back to school and my schedule stops crying. But what if time isn’t playing on my team anymore? I have a story about a Good, Hard, Wild, and Loving God, one who I can prove is not, contrary to popular belief, a dick. I need to write this story so I can prove to my kids that God isn’t a dick, they need to know.
It’s the title of the book, and I decided to publish a chapter or two a week on my blog. That’s how I will spend these next four months, living and writing and showing up and praying/manifesting really hard that I don’t have cancer again. Because I have no clue how one manages cancer and four wonderful, young monsters.
As far as I know, Story seems to be the most poignant way to communicate Truth and Love. And in sharing the stories you share, you have not only honored the teller and their journey, but created space around a campfire for many more to choose healing. We’re all just walking each other home, and you’re helping create some road signs with this series. Sending much love, and good vibes, and inspiration, and blessings your way.