While half-lit most days I brought on impossible expectations of myself and others. The hours spent drinking involved lots of dreamy moments waiting for things to materialize, or circumstances to turn in my favor. With a clearer mind now I see that my fabrication of such high standards was not only ironic, as I was in no state to appreciate them, but also futile. My impatience for perfection closed the door to learning new things and accepting the “flaws” that make us human.
For the past several years I’ve been working on humorous thematic illustrations with a view towards creating a stationery line. Somehow I was able to produce work here and there on weekends, before wine o’clock hit everyday at 5 p.m. Others would tell me that I have business potential, there is a market, I should create more, etc. Deep into my wine haze I would skim the internet and gaze at the work of other illustrators and artists, and decide that I am neither up to the task nor am I very good at what I’m trying to do. My drawings were never good enough and the What am I thinking? self-talk quashed any progress. Along with the idea that I wasn’t up to snuff, I piled on excuses as to why I never had the time to think through this idea and produce the work necessary to make it real: My nine-to-five ball and chain, motherhood, and all the time-sucking chores of being a responsible homeowner.
In sobriety my perspective on this self-inflicted “problem” has shifted. The roadblocks of perfectionism and squeezed time are opening slowly, and I can only hope to chip away at their permanent removal. So far, during the four months without my alcohol-addled brain driving the bus, I have worked on illustrations that, frankly, suck. Imperfect doesn’t describe them. In the bin they go! The difference is that now – instead of throwing in the towel and blaming a multitude of factors outside of myself – I see these situations as learning moments. What could I have done differently? I try to figure that out and start again, often producing something decent as a result. Also, since I no longer take up three to four hours each day drinking, there is my “extra” time to draw and work out ideas. I had this time all along, but misused it by letting addiction win.
When I drank it was easy to blame my depression and inertia on other people and my limiting beliefs. Instead of looking inward for a way out, I stopped at the barriers I unwittingly constructed myself. Art was a bust because of my dad’s unwillingness to put me through art school. My writing would never be as good as the literary stars on my map. And why would anyone try to sing and play guitar when there’s Joni Mitchell?
These self-defeating patterns of thought ruled my days all throughout my addiction. Even after just four months of clarity, with my brain slowly coming back to life, I see how this kind of thinking held me back from being myself.
Your beliefs determine your decisions and your behavior, which in turn, create your future. A belief can be so powerful that if you are exposed to information that contradicts that belief, your brain will actually filter it out.
The 30-Day Sobriety Solution
For years my limiting beliefs surrounded me, holding me in, bolstered by drink. Instead of painting, because I thought I could never be any good at it, I drank. Why finish that short story when no one will read it? Open a bottle instead. Guitar lessons cost money (but never mind the amount of cash I threw away on wine). These beliefs became so ingrained that any time I mustered up the courage to create something, it wasn’t long before gave up. I did keep trying, however, and I have the scraps and remnants of unfinished ideas everywhere.
It’s time to pick them up, dust them off, discard what doesn’t work, keep the rest, and start new things. I am done waiting for some kind of miracle to land. The change has to come from within, and the first step is to get rid of the weeds (my limiting beliefs) and plant my own damn flowers.
Learning to identify the triggers that make me want to drink is an ongoing process, and if I am going to keep up sobriety I need to figure out how to deal with them. I am not referring to the everyday visuals and subliminal messaging of advertising or other media, or how even driving past a liquor store can induce a sweaty upper lip.
The routine journey through my average day can be a minefield of triggers: The rude driver who cut me off. The millennials at the coffee shop who talk way, way too loud, complete with vocal fry and “like” in every other word. The guy at work who calls me the “marketing lady.” My husband’s friend, who I will call John, is a person I once got along with when I drank, but now when sober I see how his opinionated stance is littered with sexist and racist undertones. The hoarding nature of my husband, whose basement studio is cluttered with music gear, miles of electrical cords, and layers of dust he is somehow able to unsee.
If only I could practice what I preach to my daughter when she experiences bouts of anxiety. I tell her, “Rise above it, breathe.” If I could remove my self-centered position from these triggers, and remind myself: This is not about you. The driver doesn’t know me from Adam, and he will do the same thing to 30 other drivers in one day. The millenials’ way of speaking and communicating is probably (keyword: probably) just as annoying as my boomer/cusp GenX cohort sounded to the generation before me; nothing new there. The guy at work is 67 years-old and grew up in a culture where most of the women in the workplace were secretaries. At least he knows what I do! I can’t change John’s mindset or opinions, and he will always be in our lives. Most of all, who am I to say that my husband can’t have his beloved music gear?
Rise above it. Breathe.
Besides understanding that I need to remove the personal from these triggers, I can choose to see what’s underneath them. My reaction to the rude driver is also a sign that I hate my commute to a job that most days doesn’t challenge me or bring out my best. The twentysomethings’ youth and confidence makes me regret how at that age I was relatively introverted and painfully lacking in assertiveness. The “marketing lady” comment isn’t so much about sexism, but about how I don’t really love my job. My awareness of John’s offensiveness raises questions about some of my existing relationships, and whether or not I can keep them now that I am sober, and trying hard to be true to myself. Finally, the dusty, cluttered music gear in the basement symbolizes an aspect of my husband’s life that I can’t really share with him. He pursues his art freely, openly, and has an entire group of friends he shares it with. I am jealous.
Instead of going to art school like I should have, my father wanted me to be a secretary or a hairdresser, the sort of roles outside of motherhood women of his generation settled for. I came very close to being both, until I flew off to England to live an entirely different life altogether (which is a story for other posts). For years, no matter where I lived or how I earned my living, I carried around the desire to pursue the life of the artist, but I held a deep belief that I wasn’t good enough to claim that role.
I buried the desire, never practiced drawing or painting regularly, and convinced myself that writing was my thing instead. I had the mindset that I had to choose one thing and be really, really good at that one thing. Dive in and know everything about it, know all the people who are really good at it, have a network, expose yourself. Well, of course I never applied myself fully to writing, either. Writing and art lay low for years, until now.
Fueled by my daily wine habit, I maintained this negative environment in my head, where nothing truly productive ever happened. Somehow, I got by, but I wasn’t being true to myself: the artist and writer within. As I grew older, any vision of myself as an artist faded by the day. I convinced myself that my time had passed, I missed my chance, and to bother with it now would be futile. I told myself It’s a young person’s world these days, you are a fool if you think you can compete and dive in now. This constant hammering of negativity wore me down to the point where I convinced myself it was true.
Three months into sobriety I realize now that all of that is bullshit.
The only thing stopping myself from painting, drawing, writing is me. Putting down the drink means lifting up other parts of myself: the art of seeing, of believing, of doing.