Two years ago, right around the time I was approaching my 18th month of continuous sobriety, I reached out to a local photographer I'd met a creative retreat earlier in the year and asked if she would document this personally significant passage of time for me. I'm friends with several talented professional photographers, but it was her, specifically, that I wanted to do the job.
If I'm being honest (and I am), part of my reason for asking her was that I didn't really know her. I knew of her work and got a good vibe from her when we initially met, but I think the clincher for me was that she didn't really know me. That was important at the time because I was just getting to know myself and I didn't want anyone from my old life to take such intimate portraits, if that makes sense. I think I didn't want to be seen by them in this new way - at least not yet. It felt way too uncomfortable to even ask someone I knew to do this, including my husband.
It felt incredibly vulnerable and almost silly that I wanted these pictures taken.
It felt completely self-indulgent.
It felt risky to ask for what I wanted.
And while I believed in my steadfastness and earnestness to stay sober, I had yet to cultivate true acceptance for the person I was becoming. It felt almost as if I was play-acting, if that makes sense. I hadn't really settled into myself yet. And, I wasn't quite ready to receive photographic proof of my existence and the taking up of space I was occupying in this world as a newly sober woman. In many ways, I felt like a fraud or a faker. I thought I had to have it all figured out, which I've come to learn is simply not an attainable or sustainable goal for me.
When Laura suggested a metaphorical twist on our photo shoot of using a chain to symbolize the bondage alcohol had over my life and how I'd systematically broken that chain of addiction, I creatively countered that suggestion by making paper chains for us to use. Laura, on the other hand, held the creative vision and showed up with a real, heavy duty metal chain she picked up from a local farm that literally felt as HEAVY as the feelings I held about the photo shoot. She honored my hesitation by taking a few shots with me and my son (to loosen me up) and the paper chains sat at my feet.
And then...we got down to business.
Giving up alcohol gave me my life back.
Subtracting that one thing has given me hundreds of other tiny, beautiful, ordinary things.
Most of all, I can wake up in the morning without hating myself or regretting the decisions I made the night before.
I could be reborn every single day just by not picking up a drink.
I could break the chains of addiction that run long and deep in my family tree.
I could celebrate myself and sing my songs because, well, I earned it.
Last year, around my 2.5 year sobriety milestone, I contacted Laura again and asked if we could do another photo shoot. I needed headshots for a few outlets I was writing for online and I was also growing out my grey hair. I wanted to document the transition.
The whole shoot felt different.
Hell, I felt different.
She warmed me up with tea and we kept it simple.
I felt about a thousand percent more comfortable in my skin than I had the year prior.
I think it shows.
I'm so grateful to have met Laura and had the opportunity to work with her.
Laura recently moved to Nashville with her boyfriend and purchased one of my paintings from the Full Circle series. Surrender now graces a wall in her home and I can't help feeling connected to this woman now and forever and how we have come full circle in this journey through our art, as well.
So this long-winded post now brings me to my 3.5 year sobriety milestone that just so happens to be TODAY. This is gonna be long, so maybe grab a cup of tea or La Croix and settle in.
I was tempted to go back and re-read my old sobriety milestone posts, but I didn't want to get influenced by nostalgia or what I previously wrote. Writing does not come easily to me and it usually takes me seven or eight hours to craft a post, which is way too fucking long. Why does it take that long? Well, here are a few reasons:
I start to doubt my command of the English language.
My inner critic gets really loud.
I think, "What could I possibly have to say that anyone would find important enough to read?"
After a few hours of that nonsense, I've decided to just write from the hip and not over-edit or worry about making mistakes. Here goes.
The last six months feel kind of like a blur to me. After my best friend, Kacy, lost her battle with cancer and left this world, I kind of kicked into hyper-overdrive in my life: school, art, 12-step meetings, travel and putting out a weekly podcast. I think I kept super busy so that I didn't have to deal with my grief. Five months after Kacy left this world, my 49 year old brother-in-law died unexpectedly due to complications from alcohol. His death completely sucker-punched our family. July 15th marked one year since we received that nightmarish phone call in the middle of the night telling us of his passing. Grief has enveloped our household for a solid year and a half.
I had my first panic attack on a plane home from Phoenix on May 10th.
I had my second one on a plane home from Austin on June 3rd.
I had my third one the day after my art show opening, while I was receiving acupuncture on June 9th.
I had my fourth one while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to attend a friend's memorial on June 24th.
I had my last panic attack while I was sitting on the couch watching Netflix on July 24th.
So while I feel sturdy in my sobriety from alcohol at this point in time, it's my body and mind that currently feels unhinged. I'm likening these panic attacks to ocean swells, gaining power and strength in my body over time. The more I try to suppress the feelings, the more powerful and intense they get and eventually take over. It's like my body has turned against me and I am rendered completely fucking powerless in the moment. Once I realize what's going on, I panic more - like it's never going to end. I very quickly lose my ability to breathe like a normal person and I feel like I'm going to die.
Part of me wants nothing to do with accepting Kacy and David's deaths.
I want to hang on as tight as I can. For me. For my husband. For my family.
I want to erase cancer and alcoholism as diseases or at least tell them to fuck off.
I want to control the universe.
And, yes, I know this is a major part of the problem.
I'm working hard on acceptance. It's gonna take more than a minute for me to get down with it though, so I'm trying to give myself a little grace in this department.
I'm trying hard to slow down long enough to feel the loss of my loved ones. I thank my higher power every single day that I found sobriety when I did because I know for a fact that I would have used the excuse of their deaths to drink my face off and that would not have been helpful to anyone. I also am trying to loosen my grip in the control department of my life, but this is not an easy fix. This will be my life's work, but I am aware of it and working on it. It's all I can do. I know the need to control is inextricably linked to my feelings of grief. I just don't know how to parse them out and untangle them right now. I'm trying.
Me + AA
I've slowed down my AA meeting attendance since I hit my three year sobriety milestone. I've gone from four meetings a week to maybe two, if I'm lucky. I took on the Sunday morning secretary commitment at my AA home group meeting the first six months of this year and when that term of service expired, I was volunteered for another at my all women's meeting (which I accepted). I have two sponsees and one temporary at the moment. The desire to drink has left me, for the most part, and emotional sobriety is what I work on at this current stage in my recovery and probably forever, actually. I recently told my Sponsor I don't want to delve into the AA 12 Traditions and that I'd like to hit pause on AA literature. She was totally fine with that and we decided to meet once a month for a general check-in either in person or by phone. I was nervous to tell her I wasn't into working in the books, but wanted to continue being honest with her because if she's taught me anything, it's to tell the truth no matter what. I've been spreading myself thin with all of my AA involvement and I have a desire to reclaim more of my time and energy at this stage of my recovery.
I'm completely embracing the woo and magical thinking in this phase of my recovery. Thanks to many of my sober sisters, I am learning about a great many things and I can't believe I used to reject them. I'll name a few here:
- Astrology - I had my natal chart read by Natha Perkins Campanella and it confirmed so much of what I already knew about myself. I just needed to listen to my intuition and embrace what I've pushed down for so many years. I am an empath. I am a teacher. I am a pleaser.
- Tarot - I pull a card almost every day from The Wild Unknown tarot deck and read about its meaning. It's a little nugget to ponder or guide me throughout the day and I enjoy the ritual, as well as the beautiful artwork and meanings behind the cards.
- Crystals - I'm enjoying researching and learning about crystals right now. I'm totally new to this, but love holding these well worn little nuggets in my hand or running my fingers over them when I'm stressed or anxious. Total newbie. And, I don't care if it seems weird to anyone. It makes me feel good.
- Essential oils - I can only use the roller ball oils or aroma sticks. Putting essential oils in the palms of my hands is a sensory no-no for me. I apply them when I'm about to go to a meeting or in any large crowd. It seems to ground me and allows me to step into situations that used to unnerve me.
- Malas - my friend Sasha Korellis, owner + designer of Satcha Malas, designs the most beautiful, one-of-a-kind, magical malas. She once told me that sacred adornment is a way in which we, as women, can crown ourselves every day and remind ourselves that we are indeed queens. I loved her words so much that barely a day has gone by that I haven't worn a mala around my wrist or neck in order to signify my own royalty.
- Moon - I'm still learning about the moon's energy, but it makes sense to me on a very basic level. The moon affects the tides, the ebb and flow state. Energy in, energy out. It's energy, pure and simple. That makes sense to me.
I put myself out there in a big way recently and had a dozen paintings featured as part of an exhibition at a local gallery. I shared the show with another sober sister. I poured my heart and soul into a painting series called The Geographic, wherein I examined the landscape of my drinking over the past decade while living in Valley Ford and it completely wrung me out emotionally. I wrote about the project as it developed and you can read more about it here. I ended up selling two paintings from the show. I don't think I want to do another gallery show anytime in the near future. It was too much pressure for me. I'm proud I did what I set out to do, but it was way outside my comfort zone. I need time to see where I want to go next with this body of work. For right now, we're on a time out.
The Unruffled Podcast
Sondra Primeaux and I co-host a podcast that focuses on creativity and recovery from alcohol. We recently hit approximately 300K downloads and love the interviews and connections we are making with other sober women who are recovering out loud. I feel very strongly that this is 12th step work and know we are trying to carry the message in the work we do.
Sober Lady Tribe
Over the past six months, my sober lady tribe has grown and relationships have deepened. Sober women are my lifeline in recovery. I email, talk on the phone, meet gals for tea, Skype, Whatsapp, attend women's 12-step meetings and text with women from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep. These women keep me sane and have been crucial to my emotional sobriety, especially over the last year and a half since Kacy's death. In real life meet-ups are happening more often and collaborating with sober creatives is really lighting me up. Stay tuned for more offerings of women's circles. We're hoping to take those on the road soon.
This got really loooooooooooong.
So I'll end with this:
I do not regret the fact that I gave up alcohol 3.5 years ago.
My life has gotten exponentially better since removing it.
I keep my word - to others and, more importantly, myself.
I'm doing things I never allowed myself to even dream of.
I like who I see looking back at me in the mirror.
I'm okay being the only sober one at a party these days.
I'm finally settling into myself and feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin.
I feel anchored in my home and family life.
I'm a way better mom than I used to be.
I work hard on responding, rather than reacting.
I read prayers now and mean them.
I'm trying to honor the grief.
Some days I feel weighted down by it.
Other days, I make friends with it.
I feel like I need a good long cry, but it just hasn't come yet.
I still write a gratitude list every single day.
No matter what.
I love my life.