Last Friday, I drove into Bodega Bay to pick up my son from a volunteering commitment. Over the last ten years, since we sold our wine bar business, I seldom travel the seven miles west needed to take me back there physically, but often travel there in my thoughts.
This is a deliberate choice on my part. Too many memories, too many fractured relationships, too many reminders of what it used to be like when I was in my addiction and fooling myself as a high functioning alcoholic. I don't mind that word now - alcoholic. It used to bug me, but I quickly figured out that by resisting the word, I was only resisting the cure. I look at myself as an alcoholic with a lower case 'a' and not a capital 'A' - the word doesn't define me, but is a quick way to identify that I am a person who can no longer fuck with alcohol.
I didn't stay in town long, but it was long enough for me to have a flood of old memories come rushing back as I pointed my car towards home on Highway One driving through the big canyon just outside of town and underneath the canopy of eucalyptus trees hugging the asphalt as I approached the town of Bodega; by the spot where I used to have to watch for the highway patrolman who camped out behind a large bush at the mid-way point between work and home; and as I took the last big hill that would drop me down into the valley of dairy farmers and ranchers where I've lived with my family for the last 12 years.
Once I returned home, I immediately walked into my studio and started painting.
I shared some thoughts about collecting seaglass with my son while I was hungover back in the day over on Instagram. Click here to read the post.
Something clicked within me about the body of work I need to do for the Bodega Bay series for this part of the project. I have a direction and will work on paper and hopefully create a small grid of watercolor studies. We shall see how it goes.
I'm adding geometric shapes to the larger Valley Ford paintings this week. Wonky circles and triangular shapes with heavy and thin line work.
The triangles represent my family of three - my husband, my son and myself. Did you know triangles are the strongest geometric shape? The triangular symbol is also found on my AA sobriety milestone chips, along with the words unity, service and recovery. I'm also taking geometry right now, so it's all coming together and making sense.
I'm smitten with the top three bands of color and the bottom four bands of color, but the green and hot pink color blocks in the middle are not working for me at all.
After talking to my professor, she suggested using a color I didn't like over the top of the hot pink. Sounds weird, right? I never paint with purple, so purple was what I ended up mixing. I still don't love how the band of color looks, but at least now I can go over it with another value of hot pink and see if it sits back any better in the composition. The problem wasn't the hot pink itself (because I love it), but my professor and I agreed that it was too transparent and lacked any depth of field. It was also way too large of a shape to just plop in there without any texture or any way to create the illusion of depth or having that section recede into the landscape. I needed to use a color I didn't like (the purple) in order to practice doing the opposite of what felt good or "right."
This is EXACTLY what I did in early sobriety. EXACTLY.
The narratives that accompany these paintings have been at the forefront of my mind these past 13 weeks. I cry almost every single time I paint. The layers I'm building up are telling a story about what was underneath all of my drinking. Growing up with the expectation of being perfect or "the good girl." My lifelong search for spirituality, community and connectedness. My feelings of self-consciousness at never having completed college. Living with anxiety and being mocked or made fun of by my family for my "quirks." The 17 year estrangement from my father. The shame I felt around not wanting to be a mother once I had my son and then suffering in silence from post-partum depression. All of these feelings are wrapped up in these paintings. It's a lot.
With paintbrushes and old credit cards I'm applying layers and scraping them back, applying more paint and scraping it back. I settle into a rhythm with the work and it my body feels like it knows what to do. This week I worked inside the painting studio on campus because I didn't want to isolate and be alone with my thoughts. I wanted to create near other creatives and riff off of their energy and conversations. I wanted to be near my professor and eavesdrop on her conversations with other students and glean the lessons she so freely gives away during each class. I wanted to soak up the environment and feed my own work with this energy.
Nothing changes if nothing changes is a phrase I hear a lot in the rooms of my 12-step program and this week I heard it in a lot of other places, too, reinforcing it's message. This week found me reacting to people, places and things and I did a lot of this when I was drinking - reacting, that is. Living in reaction is how I used to live my life, so when I found myself going there in response to a few high drama situations, I reminded myself to take a step back and do the opposite of what I would normally do. It was mostly uncomfortable, but turned out to be the best thing I could have done in all of the different circumstances.
The creative lessons I'm learning from my professor and my creative coaches have easily been applied to my recovery and sobriety this week. It was a hard week, made easier by in real life connections and the tools in my ever-expanding sobriety toolbox.
As I sit here today, I feel most grateful for the thread of women who are stitched through my life right now. I feel a beautiful return to myself and I'm quietly acknowledging that I don't live there anymore.