One year ago today, I was in Southern California with my best friend, Kacy. She was undergoing treatment for the breast cancer that had metastasized in her brain. The hope was that she would receive treatment and then go home to recover.
Seven months ago today, I was standing vigil next to her hospital bed, holding her hand and telling her just how much I loved her and stroking her beautiful, bald head as she took her last sips of air and then left this earth for I don't know where.
Today is the autumnal equinox and the beginning of her favorite season: Fall.
Last year, on September 22nd of 2016, I had the privilege of driving her to and from her radiation appointments at UCLA Medical Center. A generous friend loaned us her home while she was off globe-trotting and we hunkered down. Kacy ended up sleeping 14-18 hours a day. While she did that, I busied myself creating dozens and dozens of small works on paper for a side gig I was working on with Holly Whitaker of Hip Sobriety. This work would distract me and sustain me during this emotionally taxing time. I would pour myself into the project and work while Kacy slept. I would absorb the mantras that Holly had written and they would loop in my head for hours on end. Those words and phrases, so carefully and thoughtfully written to help center and guide people in recovery, literally saved my sanity during my 10 day stint as Kacy's sole caregiver. Taking care of her was easy. Taking care of myself? Well, that was harder to do because I was so worried about her. Making art during this challenging time was like a much needed salve to my chapped + worried soul during the days and nights that awaited me on this trip.
Making art never lets me down.
I share all of this as a way to frame just how much art has helped me to heal and recover. Taking care of my best friend was an honor and I wouldn't have had it any other way, but it was emotionally draining, too. I felt scared and responsible for her well being. I felt powerless as fuck. I felt sturdy in my sobriety because I knew she was counting on me to be my best self, my highest self, while I shuttled her to doctor's appointments and small excursions around town to brighten her mood. I showed up. I was of service to another human being and asked for nothing in return. In hindsight, this time we spent together would become a precious gift. I mean, how often do you get to spend 10 straight days with your best friend? Just you and her? Priceless, right?
I shaved her legs + combed her crazy-ass bedhead every single morning so she didn't scare the nurses. I prepared + presented every meal to her like it was a prayer offering - simple + aesthetically pleasing to the eye. I opened the car door for her every chance I got and we ate at IHOP more times in that week than I'd care to admit. She craved pancakes with maple syrup almost every day. I couldn't refuse her.
We watched Wayne Dyer's movie The Shift and the Tony Robbin's documentary I am Not Your Guru. She blew through Season Four of Orange is the New Black and asked me to please dive into the new Netflix series Grace & Frankie with her before I left for home. I loved making her coffee in the morning and organizing + dispensing her meds for her three times a day. What I think about most is how she never lost her sense of humor and we would lay in bed laughing until we just about peed our pants.
What does this have to do with the autumnal recovery gals art exchange, you ask? Well, plenty, I think. You see, art helps me heal + recover the parts of myself that I bury deep and dark. It helps me smooth my rough edges and soothe and comfort my heart and mind when they are aching, much like alcohol once did. By showing up and putting pen to paper or paint to canvas, I am trying to be both seen AND heard. I'm no longer hiding the messy or uncomfortable parts of my life but, instead, reinterpreting them, transforming them, and eventually celebrating them.
The theme of this year's art exchange is CONNECTION. Last year, on September 22nd was the unveiling of the inaugural #recoverygalsartexchange and you can click here to read more about my prior work. The theme last year was REFLECTION. Do you see the connection? Kacy, the art exchange, art, life, beauty, women, recovery, reflection...connection. It's a full circle moment for me today. It's all coming together.
I created two pieces of art to exchange with two incredible women (who are also in recovery) this time around. I worked hard on these paintings and they came out fast and fully resolved once the idea came to me. I worked on these while my best friend's husband and sons were staying with me for 10 days this past August. We planted some of Kacy's ashes in my backyard, along with a fruit tree called Flavor Queen. The name of it was so spot on.
The triangle is said to be the strongest geometric shape. I had two art partners, plus me, and that equaled three. I usually draw circles in my work, but felt called to embrace the triangle this time around. I just listened to that calling and pushed on.
The underpainting consists of three colors: bright yellow + hot pink acrylics with a top layer of gold mica. I used a Sakura Micron Pen 2.0 to draw diagonal lines through both paintings and then created a grid within that triangle. I had none of this mapped out ahead of time and just went for it. Everything felt right and it flowed. I didn't question one thing about this project. I knew it was exactly how it was supposed to be. I was confident in my choices.
I ended up sanding parts of the paintings down to show a little wear and tear because, quite honestly, I feel like this in my own recovery. It's still beautiful. A little exposure and a little less perfection is how I've found my way out of the darkness I once resided in full-time. I now know with all my heart that my imperfections are my teachers and I wanted to embrace that sentiment with these two little paintings.
When I flipped the wood panels, the triangle design was still in tact - it just showed up differently and I loved that about the finished product. I think the triangle is a definite symbol of recovery, but I didn't think about other organizations that used the triangle as a symbol, I just made what my heart wanted to make until it pleased me and then I stopped.
And while I know that both of these paintings will reside in two separate homes, I feel comfort and peace knowing that the three of us are linked by the making of this work. I felt connected to my higher power and to Kacy while I was in the studio working on these and the three of us delivered two little paintings that are full of love, grace and soul. Usually, I need a lot of time with a painting to resolve it but, like I said above, these two flowed out of me and I couldn't stop myself until they were done. I kept the pieces touching throughout the process to reinforce the theme of connection.
I like to think that Kacy and my higher power were co-creators on these paintings. Just the three of us forming our own little triangle and working through me to help me gain some perspective about the deep well of grief that has resided inside of me ever since she passed away.
I miss her so much. I'm still not sure I want to recover from feeling this way. My grief has allowed me to be with her in a way that feels hard and sad at times, but it also feels good to wallow in my memories of her and wrap myself up like a blanket in those thoughts and lull myself into quiet contemplation. I'm so goddamned lucky have had a friend like her.
I know I'm still connected to her. I can feel her in my bones. I can feel her in my studio. I can feel her when I laugh really, really hard. And now, by way of this little project, she's connected to the two women I shared these paintings with. I think they're lucky to have a little bit of her in their possession and I know I'm lucky to have these two as sober sisters, too.
We're all connected.
If you'd like to read more about the exchange project I received from my partner, Cristina Ferri (aka Sober Unicorn) you can click here. I'm in love with her process + attention to detail. She'll be on The Unruffled Podcast in the near future. Stay tuned!
And, if you'd like to participate in the next exchange, please leave me a comment here or send me a friend request on Facebook and once I accept your request, please direct message me to add you to the Recovery Gals Art Exchange secret/private Facebook page. Our Winter Solstice Art Exchange theme will be announced the first week in October.
If you'd like to see more examples of the art exchanged for this project, you can search the hashtag #recoverygalsartexchange on Instagram or click here.