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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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.

Grief
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.

Woo
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.

Art
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

I absolutely love how it turned out.

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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.

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I am a WONDER.

And so are YOU.