Do you do something every day as part of your recovery?
Maybe you meditate, practice mindfulness, play video games or simply read a good book. Actively doing something you enjoy is a vital “tool” in most people’s recovery armoury. In fact, looking forward to that thing, that distraction is a great feeling – and one we all embrace.
Over the last few months on Instagram I have noticed regular posts featuring paintings, accompanied by the hashtag #100daysofsoberpainting… Just like clockwork a growing stream of striking, often simple, beautiful paintings was coming through my feed.
I had to find out some more… not for me, you understand… but for you!!
I got in touch with the mystery artist, Rachel, who lives in Washington state across the pond in the U.S. and asked her… why? Like all good recovery peeps she was only too happy to explain.
Rachel, thanks so much for sharing your story and art with us, love ya to bits!
So, Rachel, let’s start with you – tell us a little about yourself.
So, I’m almost 33 and I live in Washington State in the US. I live in the same small, rural town I grew up in after living away for about 10 years. I recently completed my master’s in social work and currently work as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (this sounds boring but it’s not!). I live with my partner of 6 years, his kids, a dog and a hairless cat.
I’ve been following you on Instagram for a while – a lot of people use IG as an outlet for their recovery. Does that sound like you? Tell me about your story in relation to addiction/ recovery… set the scene for us…
I didn’t really start drinking until I was 20, but prior to that I struggled with anxiety and eating disorders from age 8 or 9 on. It was the classic ‘love at first drink’ for me – booze shut the mouth of my inner critic and made me feel like I could experience peace for the first time in my life. I didn’t immediately hit rock bottom though, it took a good 10 years of drinking before I decided to throw in the towel. Somehow during that time I managed to maintain the appearances of a normal and successful life. I graduated college, I was active and physically fit, I maintained jobs, I seemed happy… but I was living a life that was incongruent with my authentic self. My life never felt like it ‘fit’ and booze allowed me to ignore my intuition for the sake of appearances.
It all kinda came crumbling down when I started my master’s program in 2014. Prior to that I was drinking quite a bit, but it didn’t impact my work or health or anything like that – my drinking didn’t often concern me. By trying to manage a full-time job, a master’s program and an internship, I just pushed myself too far and had no coping skills to deal with the stress. I started using booze for everything – to relax, to help me focus and study, to motivate me, to help me forget about the stress and pressure and then to cure the hangover and to squelch anxiety.
I won’t war-story, but it got pretty bad and I did some things that were against (what I would call) my moral code and it became VERY clear that I needed to stop. It took a while though, to admit that I couldn’t get sober alone. I looked at treatment facilities for about a year before I finally got started in an Intensive Outpatient Program online. Not to be dramatic, but I really think it saved my life. I was so depressed and anxious at the end there, that some days I wished I would die but I was too scared to do it myself. I had lost any sense of purpose or self-worth.
As part of the IOP program we were encouraged to engage in a local sober community but where I live AA is pretty much the only option. I did (and still occasionally do) go to meetings, but the message didn’t fully resonate with me and I wasn’t finding folks who shared my same perspective of recovery. I wanted to find people who viewed recovery as an expansive and beautiful opportunity, a catalyst for the creation of a full and exciting life. I knew that I couldn’t be the only one who felt like that, so I started searching all kinds of sobriety hashtags on IG and *bam* I found SO many people doing recovery in different and unique ways.
I felt like an awkward teenager when I started to post things (which I think is evident in my initial posts). I’m a pretty hard-core introvert so being social and especially initiating conversations was out of my comfort zone although I really wanted to get in the mix.
I would have to say that I was most inspired by Tammi Salas to begin making recover-inspired artsy things. She does a daily watercolour gratitude practice that I was drawn to and began doing myself. I found that showing my gratitude lists on IG was easier than showing a photo and then writing a caption, and, it allowed me to engage with other people in the sober IG community while doing something I love. Since then it has changed shape several times and I imagine it will continue to morph as I move further into recovery.
Which brings us nicely to your #100dayproject & #100daysofsoberpainting… what was the inspiration behind these hashtags?
I’m the queen of taking on too much and wanted to keep the aim of my project pretty broad so I’d stick to it. I figured #100daysofsoberpainting could be anything really, since it just involves painting and being sober. A lot of my paintings do have to do with how I experience life in recovery, but some don’t. And, I’m also not being too hard on myself for not painting 100 sequential paintings in a row. Life happens and if I miss a day or two here and there (or a week!) that’s ok. Progress not perfection, right?
Wait… you’re an artist right? Or is this something relatively new to you?
I’ve always been drawn to creating stuff but never considered myself an artist because I can’t draw for the life of me! I have to look at pictures for inspiration when I am trying to create something. I think I have the conceptual mind of an artist but translating that to something tangible is always challenging. I think being an artist just means that you have that really innate urge to create things that you think are pretty or that look cool. So under that definition, I suppose I am an artist.
A painting a day is a lot… how do you cope with the pressure of delivering this?
I don’t see it as pressure, I see it as an exercise. I kind of have the same approach to this as I do to physical exercise. I know that it’s good for me and keeps me centered and healthy. Whenever I sit down to paint and focus my energy I feel great – it’s just getting to that ‘sitting down’ part is sometimes hard. Some days I don’t want to do it and I do it anyway (same with physical exercise), and some days I don’t want to do it… and I don’t do it. I just try not to bee too rigid about it.
What does continuing this project mean to you – how does it make you feel? In what way is it helping you now you’re sober?
Continuing this project allows me to put bits of myself out there and engage with other people in the recovery community. I get comments every now and again from people who like my work, or who’ve been inspired to re-engage in some sort of creative practice and that means the absolute world to me. For so many years I felt like a waste of space, a suck on the world and to be able to be someone who contributes something instead of taking things away makes my soul happy.
There’s also something really validating about creating something, the process and the product.
I love seeing these paintings stack up against my wall. It’s tangible evidence of my sobriety, of what I was feeling on a certain day. I’ve had the habit of being the person who would say, ‘oh I could do that’ and then never actually did it. This project forces me to try new things, face my fear and perfectionism, and risk making really ugly paintings.
I learn something at every stage of the process.
What next, I mean, at some point 100 days will be up… do you have any future plans to use your creativity? How so?
I’m a pretty ‘live in the moment’ type of person when it comes to creativity, so we’ll see what happens. I would love to create something that I could give to other people, like a simple 30-day gratitude journal or zine (can you make a gratitude zine?).
Creating stuff and then giving it away is the best feeling in the world.
Because creativity has always been a part of who I am, and has become a huge part of my recovery, I will always try to be doing something creative, I just don’t know exactly what yet.
About our author.
Rachel is almost 33 and lives in Washington State in the US. She lives in the same small, rural town she grew up in after living away for about 10 years. She recently completed her master’s in social work and currently works as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counsellor. She lives with her partner of 6 years, his kids, a dog and a hairless cat. Like you do!
You can read more from Rachel, by following her on Instagram.