Recovery Gals Art Exchange. Summer Solstice Theme. Pink Cloud.

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.

Winter Solstice :: Recovery Gals Art Exchange (Renewal)

My little studio used to be my son’s little studio. Over the years, I’ve commandeered the place and slowly took it over as my very own. His interests in creating art have waned considerably upon entering high school and as hard as it’s been to accept that he is his own person (no one every old me this would happen!), I didn’t want to become the kind of mom that made her kid do art. God. That would be awful, wouldn’t it? But I miss those days where we used to spend hours and hours on end creating things he dreamed up in his mind. So as much as it kills me to watch him be a normal teenager and reject something that I love so much, I released him from pleasing me in this way because it cannot be about me. I know that.


The theme this time around for the Recovery Gals Art Exchange is RENEWAL. That word got me thinking about my relationship with my son and how he and I are constantly renewing what it means to be at this place we’re currently at - adolescence (an 11-letter word!). What once was, is now vastly different. Our relationship ebbs and flows and I get my feelings hurt quite a bit. In recovery, I’ve heard that we’re not supposed to regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it, but I gotta be honest - sometimes I wish I could.


I was hungover daily for almost a decade of my son’s life. I was short-tempered and bitchy upon waking. In my home, my tone of voice set the tone for the day. In recovery, I’ve had the chance to right some of the wrongs from my drinking days. As luck would have it, I’m a morning person now. i’m actually writing this at 4:30 in the morning! I can hardly believe it. But that’s the thing about recovery that I’ve come to appreciate, the ways in which we have the opportunity to be reborn every 24 hours. I can choose to start again, hit the reset button and rehabilitate old patterns with intention and dogged determination It’s now the work of my life and I love it.


For this exchange, I wanted to use a humble material as my base to symbolize how raw and bland I felt when I first quit drinking. I dug through the shelves in my studio and stumbled upon my random cardboard/chipboard collection. I save these to use when reinforcing something flimsy when shipping, like a drawing or painting. The symbolism that it was useful and sturdy was intentional, too.


Over the past few months, I used this simple piece of chipboard to wipe excess paint off of my brushes. Over time, it has become it’s own work of art. The layers symbolic of my recovery, too. No pre-meditation, just a simple, rhythmic exercise that I would do before cleaning my brush or library card off in water to remove the final bit of paint from those simple tools.


The simple practice of using the chipboard as a place to receive excess from my paintbrush made me think of my simple morning routine. By starting my day like a blank canvas, so to speak, I can start layering the basic things that help me create a fresh start and attitude for what is to come. The idea that there is not a pre-determined outcome to my routine is helping me to see the beauty in just what is. No bells and whistles go off when I’m done. It’s a quiet union I make with my higher power and it transforms my way of being as I venture into the next 24 hours.


So while some could perceive this painting as a messy or chaotic, I like to think of it as a revitalization of what it once was - a simple, beige-colored, one dimensional, functional piece made hard from the build up of layers. An item that could have been easily discarded as not worthy of being seen or framed. What I did was choose to see it, revive it and give it life by adding broad strokes of random colors, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, until it became fresh and reinvigorated. This is EXACTLY what I did when I got sober. I was that sad little piece of bland chipboard. So flat and emotionally wrung out of all color in my life and slowly (very slowly), over time, I started adding color back into my life. Layer by layer. One awkward brush stroke at a time. I didn’t know how I was going to turn out, but I knew I could no longer remain beige and blend into the background of my life.

2018: renewal acrylic on chipboard

2018: renewal
acrylic on chipboard

I also enclosed a copy of Pixie Lighthorse’s Prayers of Honoring book for my exchange partner because she has been one of my biggest teachers this year when it comes to my morning routine and feeling renewed after I absorb her words. She has been helping to restore my spirit by starting the day reading her one-page prayers. This is something I never thought I would do, but I’ve learned that I quite surprise myself when I remain open and willing to learn new things. Her words are a salve that I apply to my soul every single morning. I am restored when I finish reading them. They baptize me with their beauty and, in a way, I am born again.


I love how these art exchanges help me to think about what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now.

Renewal is an action for me. It is something I take every morning upon waking, moving through my rituals and routines and I’m grateful that when I set the tone now in my home, it is one with far more softness and grace than I once possessed.

I just opened a package containing art from my partner in this exchange and it literally took my breath away.

IMG_5389 2.jpg

My exchange partner shared that this was her first attempt with working with stained glass as a medium. I’d say she has a future with this art form, right?

Here is a little bit about the meaning and power behind her creation.


Thank you for such a thoughtful + creative gift, Amy. I will treasure this for years to come and feel deeply honored that you would make this one-of-a-kind creation and then gift it to me. I am humbled by your generosity and talent.

If you are interested in seeing more #recoverygalartexchange work, click on the hashtag and you’ll be taken to Instagram and you can peruse past exchanges. We have close to 200 images showing work made over the past two years and exchanged between women in recovery from alcohol.

If you’re interested in participating, send me a DM on Facebook at Tammi Salas and I can add you into the secret Facebook group for the next exchange (spring equinox), which will be announced in early January 2019.

Recovery Gals Art Exchange :: Vernal/Autumnal Equinox :: Awake(N)


The theme for this round of the recovery gals art exchange was Awake(N). i met my exchange partner, Anna, at the She Recovers LA event that took place last weekend at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was a total bonus to be able to exchange in person and get to know her over the weekend. She was totally alive and excited by the event, too.

My co-host on the unruffled podcast, sondra primeaux, anna + myself

My co-host on the unruffled podcast, sondra primeaux, anna + myself

One August morning, I woke up and was, like, EYEBALLS. Yep. EYEBALLS. And, that had me walking out to the studio to grab a stack of magazines and start cutting out eyes that spoke to me.


Last weekend, during a guided meditation by Biet Simkin, I took part in an exercise that involved left eye gazing and it was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had in meditation. You can read more about it here. Biet’s story, as well as her original music and guided meditation, became one of the highlights of the weekend for me.


Collage has never been my medium, but I enjoy those who do it and do it well, like artists Danielle Krysa, Hollie Chastain and Christa David.


I applied rubber cement to the square panel and the backs of the images and let them both dry. Then I started placing them on the small wood panel foundation in an overlapping manner. I had to commit to placement because the paper was thin and couldn’t be removed and placed in a different spot. It looks like it bubbled up, and it did, but it calmed down and smoothed out once it was totally dry. After a few hours, I turned it over and used an X-acto knife to remove the overage on the edges.


Connecting with Anna in LA was the best. Her vibe was infectious and helped me to remember how amazing it is to be AWAKE in my life, in sobriety.


She gifted me this beautiful hand-carved crystal grid kit. Here is how she explained the materials used:

It was made with curly (quilted) maple wood. It was kiln dried at the mill where my husband carves at. The wood came from a tree in the Pacific Northwest near where I live. It’s important to me to use locally sourced materials, like I’m offering a piece of my home to the recipient.
— Anna B.

She also shared in her letter that crystal grids are all about intention and sacred geometry and the power of the stones. The stones she bestowed on me were clear quartz, citrine, and amethyst.

Anna’s verve and zest for life showed me, in real time, how awake she is in her sobriety and recovery. She brought a smile to my face every time I ran into her during the conference or saw her posts on Instagram. She soaked up every bit of the LA-experience and was a shining example of how good sobriety can look on someone. She exuded confidence, wide-eyed curiosity and joy. I feel so fortunate to have crossed paths with her on social media and then in real life.

Thank you for such a thoughtful and generous creation, Anna. It’s gonna live in my studio with me.

The view from our room at the beverly hilton hotel on the morning of 9/15/18

The view from our room at the beverly hilton hotel on the morning of 9/15/18

I feel like I definitely woke up to my life on February 3, 2015, when I decided to tell my doctor at my annual physical just how much I drank in a week.

I woke up to the chance to live my life by being 100% alcohol-free.
I woke up to the gift that my addiction had given me.
I woke up to going deep within myself to unearth what I had buried for so long.
I woke up to stepping out of my comfort zone in an attempt to grow into myself.
I woke up feeling all my feelings and choosing not to numb them out with booze.
I woke up to a new version of myself that felt familiar, but had been dormant for so long.
I woke up to my own recovery and eventually began embracing it as my superpower.
I woke up to not caring what other people think and embracing the woo.
I woke up to my life.

When I could no longer stand the person I was, I chose to do things differently so that I could feel different.

I chose to stop drinking for 8 weeks as part of an elimination diet.
I chose to stay the course when those 8 weeks were over because I loved waking up without a hangover.
I chose to greet as many sunrises as humanly possible and nurse myself back to health.
I chose to do things that took me WAY outside my comfort zone.
I chose to eventually go to 12-step meetings and suspend my judgment.
I chose to listen more than talk.
I chose to surround myself with others who shared my common problem.
I chose to seek a spiritual solution.
I chose to go back to school in order to fulfill a lifelong dream and reclaim my lost self.
I chose all of this so that I could live a life I no longer wanted to escape from.

I’m grateful I no longer abandon myself to fit in or please others or soothe my anxieties.
I’m grateful my darkness helped me identify the dimmer switch in my life and showed me how to turn it up, instead of down.
By removing just one thing (alcohol), I finally woke up to the possibilities of a brighter, bigger life.

Alcohol actually delivered me into this amazing world of introspection, inquiry work, the 12-steps and a recovery community I adore.
Alcohol allowed me to find a way out and into a more conscious way of living.
Alcohol has shown me what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now.


I am wide awake to my life today and feel like I am the luckiest.

My True North


In early sobriety, I would roll out of bed before the sun came up and root around in the dark for whatever outfit was leftover from the night before. I'd eventually find an all black ensemble crumpled up in the corner of my bedroom floor, covered with a bit of dog hair. I'd throw it on while shuffling to our one and only bathroom. I'd do the basics and then quietly leave the comfort of my home and head towards a church in town, 20 minutes away, knowing I would drink bad coffee and hear strangers tell the truth for the next 55  minutes. Nothing could keep me away from the siren call of these early morning meetings. 

Not even my anxiety.

Even though I felt called to attend, it still took everything I had to stay in my seat at these 12-step meetings. Armed with my Moleskine notebook and my favorite pen, I would channel Ally Sheedy's character from The Breakfast Club, purposely keeping my eyes focused on the linoleum floor, chin pointed towards my chest, hair hanging down and obscuring my face. When my anxiety would flare-up, I would feverishly scribble hundreds of tick marks onto the blank pages of my notebook to help quiet the tsunami of emotions building up inside of me.

When you cannot speak your truth, the symptom is the way your body tells the truth.
— Peter Rollins, The Holy Shift Tour 2018
Tammi kid w: necklace color.jpg

The way my body tells the truth is through my anxiety. 

When I was five years old, I would ask my mom if I could go next door and clean my friend's bedroom and walk-in closet. I would continue to do this for my friends over the next decade. Putting order to chaos helped me to feel "good" and bring a sense of calm over me. It brought me loads of praise from adults and made me feel special. Praise would become my first drug of choice.

When I was almost seven years old, I was sexually molested. After that incident, I took to hiding under my bed for long periods of time. I liked knowing people were looking for me, concerned and focused on my whereabouts. It felt like retribution for the awful way I felt after that fateful sleepover, the one I didn't even want to attend, where half a dozen young boys poked and prodded me, terrifying me so much that I couldn't even make a sound. Hiding under my bed helped me to feel like I was in charge of the situation. Shortly thereafter, control would become my next drug of choice.

I figured out pretty early on that getting good grades in school would be my one-way ticket to feeling worthy. I would chase the A+, the 4.0 GPA and tally up as many gold stars as humanly possible, all in a concerted effort to be the best, to be enough, to be perfect. Perfection has been my drug of choice ever since.

All the while, anxiety fueling each quest for praise, fake power and perfection.

Listen to the prophet of your anxiety.
— Peter Rollins, The Holy Shift Tour 2018

I started counting 11-letter words in my early twenties and never told anyone about it. Counting was something I'd done for years. It was part of me. It felt personal. It felt soothing. It felt necessary. One day, as my boyfriend (now husband) and I were driving north on the 101 just south of San Francisco, I spotted an exit sign that read "Embarcadero - next exit" and I casually mentioned that the word Embarcadero really bugged me. When he asked me why, I responded very matter of factly, because it has 11 letters in it and 11-letter words really bother me. I'll never forget the look on his face. He ended up finding this quirk of mine to be very charming and, of course, being the praise-seeker I had always been, I started telling him about all the 11-letter words that really bugged me, like promulgated, fascinating and prerogative, to name a few. The more I shared, the more interested he became. Revealing (out loud) my 11-letter word preoccupation would scratch the itch I sought in the Praise Department. It made me feel special.

It would take me another 20 years to finally understand that I counted letters in words when I felt anxious. 

It would take me getting sober to realize that I drank to excess to try and quell my overwhelming desire to constantly seek praise and give up the illusion that I had any type of control over people, places and things. It would take me getting sober to realize that perfect is totally fucking overrated. It would also take me getting sober to realize that alcohol was the medicine I used to treat my adult anxiety and it worked, until it didn't.


After having five panic attacks in the short span of three months earlier this summer, I have done nothing but try to listen as hard as I can to the prophet of my anxiety. I've slowed things way down in an effort to figure out why my body is revolting against me. I've tried acupuncture, a sensory deprivation float tank and meditation. I've changed my diet, taken daily afternoon naps and decided to forego all travel this summer. I've done yoga, taken scenic drives up Highway One and had my blood drawn to check my hormone levels.

A holy shift is when you stop.
— Peter Rollins, The Holy Shift Tour 2018

On August 11, 2018, I removed the Instagram app from my phone. I removed myself from 16 Facebook groups. I started reading How to Break Up With Your Phone and took inspiration from a few friends who were also detoxing from social media. And you know what? Something amazing happened. My anxiety started to quiet down. It felt like my mind was on vacation. My days felt like they consisted of 36 hours instead of 24. I read three books in one week. I started a spreadsheet to catalog memories from my childhood and it felt good to deposit them there instead of warehousing them in my mind. I took my email inbox down to zero. My to-do lists shrunk. I was getting more done, with less stress. I felt better than I had in years.

Grace can be found when you stop the frenetic pursuit.
— Peter Rollins, The Holy Shift Tour 2018

Hitting the pause button on social media has helped me to pause the frenetic pursuit. I haven't had a panic attack in over three weeks. I think that's Grace. I feel expansive and well rested. I know there is a correlation between how I've been feeling and my phone.

On Saturday, I turned 48. I received over 100 messages from loved ones, friends and internet friends. It felt a bit overwhelming to receive these nice notes and birthday wishes. Why? I'm not exactly sure. I guess my soul somehow felt conflicted by the outpouring of kindness and, if I'm being honest, it's hard to receive. Yesterday, I re-installed Instagram and have started to slowly dip my toes back into my online communities. My throat has been constricted ever since. My nervous system is wound up tight.

I'm not sure how this is going to go, but I do know that I'll listen to what my physical body is telling me and then respond accordingly. It's all I can do.

Anxiety is necessary. You are creative, it comes with the territory. Anxiety is one of those things which plagues every creative you know. It’s one of those pars-for-the-course, showing up in physical and debilitating ways, threatening to derail our serenity and stop us in our tracks. It makes my head throb and my neck feel like it’s on the chopping block. Breathe. Get some oxygen to your brain. Allow the flow of what’s happening to happen without fighting.
— Pixie Lighthorse, Prayers of Honoring Voice

I really need to start embracing my anxiety as something that points me to the parts of my life that need attention and deep, loving care. I think my anxiety can be likened to a compass. A compass that demands that I listen to the prophets of my anxiety and do something about them, rather than operating out of fear or choosing to self-medicate. A compass that puts me on the path to look inward at my patterns and behaviors as if my life depends on it, because I finally believe it really does. 

The depth of our anxiety measures the distance we are from our higher power.
— Heard in the rooms

A compass that helps me measure the distance I am from myself, so that I can return when I stray too far and tend to my inner wants and needs and knowings and callings without guilt or shame. And to do this without reservation because I have nothing to be afraid of and I finally believe I am enough.

Instead of silencing my anxiety by cleaning out a closet, hiding under a bed or self-medicating with an ice cold vodka martini, I now have the unique opportunity to partner with it and see what it has to say. I believe my anxiety has always been my compass, I just didn't know how to decipher it or trust myself enough to know what I already knew. I got lost along the way from time-to-time and disoriented. My intuition was discounted, ignored and neglected...until now. Since I quit drinking, I can clearly see that my anxiety has been pointing me in the direction of home, back to myself, my entire life.

It turns out that I am my true north.

I just didn't know how to read my own compass and now, I do.

3.5 Years

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.

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

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. 

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

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.

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

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.

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

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. 

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

And then...we got down to business.

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

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.

18 months: photo by  laura schneider

18 months: photo by laura schneider

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.

2.5 years: photo by  laura schneider

2.5 years: photo by laura schneider

The whole shoot felt different.

Hell, I felt different.

She warmed me up with tea and we kept it simple.

2.5 years: photo by  laura schneider

2.5 years: photo by laura schneider

I felt about a thousand percent more comfortable in my skin than I had the year prior.

I think it shows.

2.5 years: photo by  laura schneider

2.5 years: photo by laura schneider

I'm so grateful to have met Laura and had the opportunity to work with her. 

Laura + 'surrender'

Laura + 'surrender'

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 over-analyze.
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.

Acceptance is the answer to ALL of my problems today.

When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation- some fact of my life- unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment...
— Big Book of AA, page 417

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.

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to
alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
— Step Twelve, 12 Steps + 12 Traditions, page 106

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.

3.5 YEARS OF SOBRIETY: Mega Mala gifted to me by sasha korellis of  satcha malas

3.5 YEARS OF SOBRIETY: Mega Mala gifted to me by sasha korellis of satcha malas

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'm healthier.
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.

#recoverygalsartexchange :: Summer Solstice (WONDER)

During the last week of school, all of a sudden, I was inspired to work on my recovery gals art exchange. I had previously been worried I wouldn't be able to find the time or fit it because of my busy end-of-the-year schedule and my impending art show. 

It all worked out.

Just like it always does.


It started here. I wasn't ready to dig into homework yet and, if I'm being honest, I wasn't ready to wrap up the last few paintings in The Geographic series.

A fellow classmate had done an in-classroom demo demonstrating how to apply gold leaf and I was immediately intrigued. I drove myself directly to the art supply store and picked up a gold leafing kit. If you're interested in learning more about how to gold leaf, you can watch the Youtube video I watched before I jumped into the process here.


After applying black gesso to the hardwood panels, I scraped color across the panels using an old plastic credit card. Ultimately, I knew I wanted these pieces to be white with just a hint of color peeking through. Layers are an important part of my creative process.


Next up: I pulled out my childhood dictionary and looked up the word WONDER. I ripped of a piece of glassine paper from a roll I had shoved in a corner of my studio. I tucked it into my vintage electric typewriter and tapped out the definition.


I ripped off the excess negative space and placed it directly in the center of the prepped panel.


Then I used matte medium to adhere it and a Speedball roller to push out the air bubbles.


Next up: I applied the gold leaf, following the directions on the box.


And the final product was more than I could have hoped for.

I absolutely love how it turned out.


I removed the tape, sanded the edges and applied a layer of matte medium to seal it.

The month of May was a challenging stretch of days for this gal. I'm so grateful this art exchange gave me the opportunity to step back from my drama, my story, my challenges, and spend some time with myself in the studio, creating something from nothing for a woman I don't really even know in a bid for connection with someone who shares my common problem with alcohol.

The layers.
The darkness I experienced this month with my health.
And how I listened to my gut and knew that making art would lift me up and out of myself.
Stumbling upon my old childhood dictionary.
Looking at my name inscribed on the inside cover in my loopy handwriting from 1977.
Feelings of nostalgia bubbling up and enveloping me.
Having the time and space to let my mind wander...

Wondering why I didn't allow little Tammi to follow her childhood passions.
Wondering why I sloughed off the things that brought me the most joy.
Wondering why I conformed to other's expectations of me.
Wondering why I started faking it in my daily life.
Wondering why removing just one thing from my life gave me the opportunity for a bigger one.
Wondering why it took me finding my bottom to figure out I was my own worst enemy.
Wondering why I left myself so often; and
Wondering why I felt like an imposter in my own life.

Wondering why it took me so long to return to myself.
Wondering why I still feel awkward at times.
Wondering why I doubt my intuition when I know that it should be listened to and honored.
Wondering when I'll stop questioning myself.
Wondering when acceptance and surrender and willingness and open-mindedness will become second nature to me.

Wondering when curiosity and pleasure will be my guiding principles.
Wondering when I'll fully shed the shame of my drinking past.
Wondering why, in sobriety, each new day feels like a baptism.

And, deciding I don't need to spend my days wondering about any of this.
I know full well now that I have everything I need and,
I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.


I am a WONDER.

And so are YOU.

The Geographic :: Week 14

Riding the wave of change from last week, I continued to quickly move out of the grey area with my large format paintings and found comfort in using oils again. I approached the works in progress with a new vigor and excitement. I felt like I knew what to do next and set about working with intention during my class studio time.

View of my neighbors fields from my home studio

View of my neighbors fields from my home studio

Adding in black oil pastel marks to delineate the color blocks felt like a natural next move. I use black lines quite a bit in my sketchbook drawings and I'm trying to incorporate some of those marks into the work. The circles I once loved about the piece have started to take on a too perfect quality and I think they might need to be painted over. I'm pausing, but will have to make a decision next week about them.


Working with purple has been a game-changer for me. The ability to mix different color values and incorporate them into the paintings has given them a different feeling.


Adding oil paints over the acrylics and blending of few of those initial black lines helped the painting take shape. Next week, I'll continue adding oils and blending and hopefully liven up the painting. I think the circles either have to go or get drawn over with an oil pastel pen to create a less perfect look.

No. 14 :: Cutoff before the flip

No. 14 :: Cutoff before the flip

The above painting was at the end of the day on Monday. I added in a few purple color blocks and then needed to wait a few days for them to dry. Oils do take a while to properly dry before you can paint on top of them. The sky felt good to me and the painting was starting to come together and not feel like two separate paintings. I had felt like the sky and the fields were not communicating with each other, but now I feel like they are at least talking.

No. 14 :: Cutoff

No. 14 :: Cutoff

By the end of my studio time on Wednesday, a lot more blending and color was added to the fields . I flipped the painting while working on it and had an epiphany - the sky should be the blur of the roadside as seen from the driver's seat on my seven mile drive home from the wine bar. I had been trying to create a blurred effect and thought it had to be in the sky, but that doesn't really make sense. The blur you see while driving is usually lower to the ground. I love the flip and the fields. I'm not loving one of the purple blocks of color on the left, but will fix that when I get back into the studio next week. For now, the new perspective has me delighted!


Adopting a new way of thinking about my work and choosing the opposite of my gut reaction has really served me this week. I'm still listening to my gut on whether or not it feels good or right, but making room for a new way to approach the canvases has changed my mood and confidence around the work. I feel like I've tapped into something these last few weeks and I'm totally digging the results..

I have less than four weeks to finish 11 paintings for this Valley Ford series. I'm not freaking out.

I'm currently in Bodega Bay for a girls' weekend and plan on creating a batch of watercolor studies that will serve as the Bodega Bay portion of this body of work. I'm not sure how they will turn out or how many I'm gong to make. I'm just going to let it flow.


I'll let intuition be my guide.

I've added a tab on my website where all of The Geographic weekly blog posts are listed. You can click here to access same. 

The Geographic :: Week 13

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.

My old wine bar reincarnated as the Sonoma Coast Visitor Center.

My old wine bar reincarnated as the Sonoma Coast Visitor Center.

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.

— overhead in the rooms

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. 

The Geographic :: Week 12

What I'm learning, over and over again, about this project and about myself, is that I am continually granting myself permission to tell the story of what it used to be like when I was out there drinking. My mind revisits what it was like and sometimes I get stuck in a moment, and other times I just keep circling the confines of my mind looking for the kernel of truth hiding just underneath the surface of my memories. Walking this labyrinth in Los Osos last weekend reminded me about the meandering path I've been on since the day I chose to quit drinking. All of my little choices and shifts keep returning me to the center of myself and for that, I'm grateful.

A labyrinth is a patterned path, often circular in form, used as a walking meditation or spiritual practice. A labyrinth’s walkway is arranged in such a way that the participant moves back and forth across the circular form through a series of curves, ending at the labyrinths’s heart or center.
The Los Osos Labyrinth  Photo credit:  David Silpa

The Los Osos Labyrinth
Photo credit: David Silpa

The personal and creative work I do feels like a constant returning to my heart, my center. And in choosing to live my life in this way, I feel like I am allowing myself to listen to the knowings about my true self and to gain a deeper understanding about the meaning of life and my place in it. Sounds heavy, right? It can be.

This morning, in a room full of people who share my common problem with alcohol, there was talk about the concept of turning it over. This is shorthand for the full expression of turning it over to God, a phrase I once recoiled from but now can hear without rolling my eyes.

I turn shit over like nobody's business. I mull over my past relationships, former and current grievances with others and take a daily inventory as part of my Step 10 work. I'm in a constant state of trying to reconcile my past with my present and what that means and even what it looks like. Sometimes it can be self-indulgent, but more often that not I'm acting as a historian of my own life. I need to understand how my choices landed me here, today, right now and taking inventory of my past (and present) is the easiest way I know how to do this.

What I heard in the room this morning resonated with me and I agree that it is indeed necessary to turn things over in our lives but this action alone doesn't cure what ails me. No, there is another action that must piggy-back the decision to turn things over and that, my friends, is to let it go. Those three little words are loaded, but I firmly believe they are the solution.

I've been turning and churning so many memories in my mind lately. My anxiety attacks have re-emerged. Feelings of overwhelm and spiritual suffocation are happening on the daily. I was reminded that all I need to do is turn it over to my higher power and then let that shit go. That's it. If I can do this with great honesty and intention, I know I will find relief. This is my emotional and spiritual work today, this week, this month, and forever, really.

The Los Osos Labyrinth Photo credit:  David Silpa

The Los Osos Labyrinth
Photo credit: David Silpa

A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.

Being a 47 year old returning college student has been both liberating and intimidating, all at the same time. Walking into my geometry class this week, I felt prepared and ready to ace the test - only it didn't go down that way. I ran out of time. I took too long. I was too careful. I checked and re-checked each problem as I went through the test. In the end, I overworked every problem and didn't allow myself enough time to finish.

I did the same thing with a simple art poster I was asked to create this week, too. I overthink and overwork almost everything. I've been told I over-function and, as much as I hate to admit it, I know it's true.


How does this relate to my painting project? Well, I think I'm doing the same damn thing with all of my works in progress with The Geographic. I'm dissecting the layers of paint, as well as the layers of story, and getting stuck in the big feelings. I'm simmering in the muck, really. I'm also letting fear of the unknown or, god forbid, fear of success with this project get in my head. I'm having trouble getting out of my own way, so I stopped making art associated with this project over the seven days. I hit pause.

The (holy) shift is the pause.
— Rob Bell

And, you know what? It helped. Giving myself permission to slow the fuck down, enjoy my family, connect with new friends and spend hours talking to old, dear ones and staying off of my phone was exactly what I needed.


Upon returning to painting class this week, I had a great chat with my professor about where I'm at with my progress on this project. My professor is my mentor. I deeply value her opinions and suggestions. We chatted about the pressure I'm imposing on myself with this show.

A visit to The Shell Shop in Morro Bay

A visit to The Shell Shop in Morro Bay

She matter-of-factly posed the question - If your show was tomorrow, could you put together enough paintings for a show? I responded immediately with a big fat NO. No, nothing is DONE. I could not have a show just yet. And then she asked - Who would know that these aren't done? And I had to think about that for a minute. Well, no one would know they aren't done. I guess I get to say when they're done. I get to decide, along with the painting, when it's really done, right? Riiiiiiiiiiiight.

Her words made me pause and think about what was really going on.

I've been turning things over in my head for months and creating a lot of expectations for myself when it comes to this future art show. I want to be taken seriously as an artist, but no one is putting additional pressures on me about it. No, that job has been all mine. I've been my worst enemy and that feels all too familiar, it reminds me of how I used to feel when I was drinking. I never felt seen or heard in my life, like, not the real me, the one who was underneath the outgoing gal who had a lot of friends and volunteered for everything. The one who judged everyone because fear was her biggest emotion. The one who tried to go back to college three times and never followed through (until I finally did).


Underneath all of that was this young woman who wanted to talk about her anxiety out loud, but instead just went to the OB/GYN a lot in her twenties and thirties to talk about debilitating headaches and the best forms of birth control to insure she would NEVER get pregnant. The woman who would go to therapy with her husband for seven years before ripping off the emotional bandaid and finally admit she had a problem with alcohol. It took my whole life to finally tell the truth about who I was and once I did, I didn't want to stop. And that's what this project started meaning to me. I was creating a way to tell my story without verbally vomiting it onto people.


The paintings could be my voice.

And just like that, I told my professor I knew what I needed to do and I set to work adding anxiety tick marks and circular forms representing my journey to wholeness to my largest painting. 

No. 14 "Cutoff"

No. 14 "Cutoff"

I have got to start trusting myself.
I need to paint how I feel and quit thinking so goddamned much.
The feelings I carry around about who I used to be are heavy and I know I need to lighten the load.

Photo credit:  David Silpa

Photo credit: David Silpa

I have to start turning things over AND then...start letting them go.

The Geographic :: Week Eight

In an effort to stretch out my newly adopted slower pace from last week, I started off this week by meeting a friend for coffee first thing Monday morning after my son's carpool drop off. The week unfolded with a string of commitments for me and my family, which is nothing new right? We all lead busy lives and there is not one woman I know that isn't juggling her calendar, her lists or the management of her home on a daily basis to make it all magically happen.


The work for this painting project has me digging deep into emotional terrain that I haven't visited for quite some time. I feel a spiritual connection to the old me and I'm kinder to her during this process of recollection. While unearthing some of these memories has been hard, I feel like it's been made so much easier because I am sober and have the presence of mind that won't let me wander too far down the path and into pity party territory. I'm vigilant about sticking to the truth, with as many facts as I can remember. But when you drink to excess, like I often did, things do get murky.

However, when I go to bed at night, my mind has had a different plan. My poor decision making has quietly been haunting me while I sleep. It's been quite an emotional week. In dissecting the landscape of my drinking habits over the course of many years, I'm revisiting my reckless behavior in my dreams. The excavation of my past has me vividly recreating certain painful and sketchy situations, often ending in a dire consequence. It's been a pretty fucked up way to wake up.

One of my wet gessoed panels fell on me today

One of my wet gessoed panels fell on me today

In an effort to quell my (almost daily) anxiety attacks over the last two weeks, I met with my sponsor to talk about what I could take off of my plate in order to help even out my emotions.

What we discussed was whether or not I should push forward with the additional 4th step work having to do with sex conduct and harms done (yes, it's a real thing) with my sponsor that we had just started a few weeks back. Actually, my anxiety attacks started right around that time, too. Hmmm. She suggested that we hit pause with that work and pick it back up once my work is complete for the art show in June. At first, I balked at this suggestion. I told her it felt like more procrastination on my part and that I think I needed to push through. She gently offered (as she does) that I reframe my thinking about the old story that Tammi is a Procrastinator with a capital P and, instead, look at hitting pause on my step-work as a version of self-care.

Gold star-seeking Tammi Image taken 2016 by  Laura Schneider Photo

Gold star-seeking Tammi
Image taken 2016 by Laura Schneider Photo

I resisted.
I told her I was hearing her, but I wasn't fully signing on for the delay.
I didn't want to quit.
I wanted to finish the work that I set out to do.
I wanted to get a gold star for doing the work. 
I told her I'd think about it and get back to her.

And, I went home and thought about it and came to the conclusion that she was right. Dammit.

I hit pause on my step-work and the world didn't end. The anxiety attacks haven't stopped, but I have a feeling they might.

The panels I ordered from the local art supply store didn't come in until late Monday afternoon, so I didn't go into the studio on Monday. Instead, I did some research on painting techniques, listened to podcasts, made notes on The Geographic project and took myself to lunch. Remember, self-care must be part of my process with this body of work!

48 x 48 x 1.5 inch hard wood panels (BEFORE)

48 x 48 x 1.5 inch hard wood panels (BEFORE)

On Wednesday, I showed up ready to get busy.

I needed to gesso the two 48 x 48 inch panels and I had to be pretty efficient about it. I didn't have a lot of time to waste because I needed to bring these two panels home, so that I could paint on them over spring break.

The two freshly gessoed panels will need to communicate and start a dialogue with these two larger format paintings (below) over the next 10 days (while I work from home instead of the school studio).

WIP: No. 12 - Lush

WIP: No. 12 - Lush

WIP: No. 13- Parched

WIP: No. 13- Parched

I popped by the hardware store tonight and purchased a large canvas drop cloth, so that I can paint on my front deck.

View from our front deck in Valley Ford, CA - March 15, 2018 Photo credit: Steve Hecht

View from our front deck in Valley Ford, CA - March 15, 2018
Photo credit: Steve Hecht

This photo is not enhanced. The late afternoon sunset was bathing the fields in this golden, glorious light. Look at all of the value changes in the color green and the monochromatic grey sky. 

I'm completely inspired by my surroundings this week. 

On my drive home from town, words kept popping into my head that related to the landscape, as well as my thoughts on the past and my drinking days.

Not Sustainable
Mowed Down

This is what it looks like when lightning strikes a cow. The cow did not survive the strike. Photo credit: Anna Erickson, Hands Full Farm, Valley Ford

This is what it looks like when lightning strikes a cow. The cow did not survive the strike.
Photo credit: Anna Erickson, Hands Full Farm, Valley Ford

We had a big thunderstorm here late Wednesday morning before I left for school. The thunder shook my house with picture frames shifting, glasses rattling on the open shelving in my kitchen, and my dog hid under my desk. Lightning struck a cow on my friend's ranch just two miles away.

The extreme beauty and fragility of this place is never lost on me. I'm so grateful that we moved here when we did back in 2006, even though I didn't know why I was choosing to move here at that time. 

I loaded up all of the Valley Ford paintings that are in progress to work on over spring break.

I loaded up all of the Valley Ford paintings that are in progress to work on over spring break.

The phrase geographic cure is one I read in the Big Book of AA. It references a desire to relocate in the hopes of reframing one's drinking - a fresh start in a new place. Escapism, really. When I moved here it was under the pretenses of buying a home and settling down, but if I'm being super honest - I liked the fact that I would living at the top of the lane on a dead end dirt and gravel road. I could isolate and be alone with myself. My drinking would escalate here.

Living in the valley of Valley Ford felt like what I deserved. I felt a loneliness that even today I can't fully describe why I felt that way. I was surrounded by good friends, a wonderful husband and the best kid. But the feeling of incomprehensible demoralization was always with me near the end of my drinking. All I wanted to do was to drink and be left alone. I felt hidden and tucked away from the community that used to keep such a close eye on me when I owned my wine bar in Bodega Bay. I felt liberated, too. I felt like I deserved to drink the way I did because, hey, everyone else I know drinks this way, too. Which was a story I told myself for years.

But I no longer feel like I need to shed this town or the memories I made here, even the bad ones. Actually, I feel quite the opposite. I feel a need to embrace it, re-inhabit it, make it mine again.

Laying claim to my art cubbies at school 

Laying claim to my art cubbies at school 

Memory is always reinventing history. Memory is how we see history in the present day.
— Clément Cheroux, Senior Curator of Photography, SF MOMA

This quote made me pause and wonder if my memories are, in fact, reinventing history. I'm trying to paint and summarize how it was, but maybe that can never be a fully accurate portrayal. If memory is how we see history in the present day, then these paintings will illustrate my own history but with the added benefit of my current history, too. It doesn't have to be all doom and gloom with this project. My transformation can be factored into the landscape, too.

So many layers.

This is what I love about this project. I get to channel my feelings into the work and turn these thoughts over and over in my mind, like rocks in a rock tumbler. They seem to be coming out softer, smoother and with less of an edge. A softening of my memories is happening in real time. 

Blank slates. Fresh starts. Do-overs.

Blank slates.
Fresh starts.

I'm accepting the ways things were and acknowledging where it led me.
I'm letting a lot of these feelings go, as they no longer serve me.
I'm forgiving myself in the process, too.
I'm finding greater peace and clarity about those years I drank the most.
I'm acknowledging that's who I was then and that's not who I am now.
I'm extending myself some grace.

I feel like I'm finally coming home to myself through this work.