Three years ago, Sondra and I founded the Recovery Gals Art Exchange. If you don’t know what that is, you can read more about how it all began here. To see over 200 of the exchanges, we have a hashtag for the exchange and you can click here to see more at #recoverygalsartexchange.
Painting has been on the back-burner for me since May of 2018. I stopped painting after I had my first, debilitating panic attack. I just stopped. This was on the heels of my first gallery show for The Geographic called The Art of Recovery. I ended up delivering what I had completed to be hung, showed up for the opening and closing and promptly said - I’m never doing that again. I was operating in fear-mode. I was tapped out emotionally. I felt depleted. I had zero desire to paint again.
But something shifted in me during the evening of the full moon last month. I had this overwhelming desire to get an idea out of my head and onto a blank canvas. It felt like an emergency, as my friend Amanda Grace likes to say. Yes, a freaking art emergency.
A few months back, my exchange partner and I had a phone date and we got to know each other a little better. During our conversation, she shared with me about what lit her up - nature, photography, her journey to sobriety and her love of hiking. She shared that she had attempted to summit Mt. Whitney (tallest mountain in the contiguous United States!) four times, but her plans being thwarted due to her body being overtaken by altitude sickness each and every time she made the climb. She also shared that she was okay with the fact that the summit had eluded her. The training, planning and journey was part of what she loved about the goal and guiding other women to the summit was what made it all worth it. Plus, the mountain was still going to be there and when the time was right - it would happen.
Her confidence and ease talking about the elusive Mt. Whitney summit reminded me about the journey to sobriety for so many. A lot of starts and stops can happen. Research, attempts, false starts, turning back around and starting at ground zero is all part of the road to recovery.
Upon reflecting back on my notes from our call, I knew what I needed to make and set about doing it.
Since the theme this time around was PINK CLOUD, I decided to use a hardwood panel to symbolize the sturdy mountain and slathered on my favorite hot pink acrylic paint as a base. I then used black and green as the foundation for the mountain and added a bit of gold because, well, I love gold and it seemed fitting. It would end up being sanded down and just peeking through, but I thought it would be like a secret gold star underneath all of the future layers.
I added a thin layer of white over the majority of the painting. I lightly sanded down the mountain to create texture. I vigorously sanded down the areas where the pink was underneath on both sides of the montain to reveal a PINK CLOUD-like sky.
Next up was adding a triangles. This geometric shape packs a punch of meaning for me. First, it is the strongest geometric shape. I made them wonky and different to represent how many of us feel in early sobriety. I used India ink and a calligraphy pen.
As the mountain began to take shape, it was clear to me that the triangles would also represent the many different paths we take to attain a life we no longer want to escape from - some short and some much longer. The goal (sobriety) never changing, but knowing that the summit of sobriety is not always achieved in a straight line or on our first attempt. Quite often it’s done in fits and starts until it finally clicks and we find our way.
The PINK CLOUD is often characterized as a short period of elation or euphoria in early sobriety. Some think this can be dangerous because newcomers might come to believe that this magical, i-can-do-anything attitude is going to last throughout sobriety, when, in reality, the PINK CLOUD feeling is often short-lived. Some think that when the PINK CLOUD wears off that many will return to drinking because sobriety no longer feels good.
I can see where people might worry about those dangers, but I have always felt that the pink cloud moments of euphoria that I have experienced sporadically throughout my recovery were absolutely essential in giving me hope. As I climbed the metaphorical mountains of living life without my favorite numbing agents, it was a steep and careful climb up and out of my addiction. Sometimes I had a good long stretch of days and then things would go sideways. I’d regain my footing and either pick a different route or double down on the tried and true things that were working for me.
I came to believe that I needed those pockets of magical thinking so that I could push off from there and get back to the business of trying to reach the summit of my sobriety, which is a daily trek of me just doing the best that I can for the next 24 hours.
For me, the summit is no longer the goal. It’s in the byproduct of my day-to-day living, my rituals and routines. It’s in the lessons I’m learning from teachers. It’s in the way I’ve cultivated a life I no longer want to escape from. It’s my path, my mis-steps and my miscalculations that I learn my greatest lessons. It’s not all darkness, but traversing those dark times fortifies me and gives me strength to go out into the world and continue the climb.
The PINK CLOUD concept has helped me to better know and understand that when I’m in a funk or down at the base of my metaphorical mountain that my feelings of defeat or discomfort are only temporary. I understand the beauty of my darkness now and how it delivered me to exactly where I am today. I’m grateful for it. I no longer fear it.
Knowing there is a PINK CLOUD somewhere in my future actually gives me a tremendous amount of hope and the desire to move onward and upward.