24x36 Las Vegas, Nevada
My very first substance abuse counselor had a painting in her office that I would always stare into as I tried to place all of the traumas of my life into a chronological order out loud. I didn’t like glancing over at her, as she had this habit of looking directly into my eyes that made me uncomfortable. I still remember with perfect clarity the large gold-framed painting of the forest, all in blushes and contrasting gold and pink. I felt really safe in that painting. That counselor told me in 2009 that I needed to take a look at the role that drugs and alcohol had played in the events of my life.
That was the dumbest thing I had ever heard. She reminded me I was in an addiction services facility - a fluke - I defended myself as I spat the response at her. “I don’t have a problem.”
But for all of my adult life up to that point, I was in the midst of war within myself but a master of believing it was everything outside of me creating that war. I thought if I just got the right guy that acted right or if I looked different or if I had enough money everything would be ok. Always trying to solve the insides with the outsides. Always comparing my insides with everyone else's outsides.
What happened in that facility was that that counselor listened to me. She actually listened. She remembered things I had said. She told me I had to commit to my recovery and staying clean if I wanted to keep seeing her. So I did. I was definitely way too cool for all of that religious, chanting, hugging stuff they all did. But, against my better judgment, I began to attend meetings. The last year of my using, 2009, was the most painful for me because I always thought I could just stop using. Over and over and over I learned that I was powerless. I had no control. Eventually, I started going to meetings. I got a homegroup. I got a sponsor because the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel. I work the steps. I am of service because I need to learn how to do something for someone else for nothing.
I always made myself the victim in order to not ever have to be accountable or take responsibility for my actions or the consequences. I let my boyfriend or whoever decide for me so that if it didn’t work out it was all their fault and I could feel sorry for myself. Through step work over the years, I learned that there have absolutely been situations where I have been a victim that people should be in jail for. My sponsor told me, however, that when I play the victim, it takes away all of my power.
I measure my success by the freedom that I experience in my day-to-day life. That freedom is directly a result of how much and how often I am willing to surrender my fear, my pain, my negativity, my desperation, my desire to use. My recovery has given me many gifts beyond what I can explain. I struggle to feel worthy. That counselor told me that she could only promise me one thing - that to do the work would be worth it. I think about that every day.
If you are sitting in this office it is because Michelle is your counselor. She has worked incredibly hard to become the professional that you see today and has your best interest at heart. She asked me to paint her something for her office, for you, her clients to see that symbolized the freedom and spirit of long-term recovery.
The very first step in what has become my life was admitting I was powerless over my addiction. Which I found profoundly unnecessary and demeaning, the concept of surrender. But not surrendering was to just fight that war with the inside and outside of myself and everything around me. So I started to let go of my agenda and do what was suggested of me.
Today I have 11 years clean. Two dogs, three cats, a husband I’ve never beat up or cheated on that I am crazy in love with, a bank account, an art career, friends, family.I can cook a dish to bring to a potluck. Today I have a painting hanging on this wall that maybe somebody is trying to explain the traumas of their life into a chronological order out loud as they gaze into. Maybe they feel safe there. Maybe they asked their counselor about the painting, and maybe now you’re reading this.
I was at a meeting two days ago and this man shared “I walked into a meeting so sick and this guy hugged me, patted me on the back. He said have a seat, man. The war is over. You lost. Only one addict can say that to another and know what that means.”
His words ring in my ears days later. What he said was the simplicity of the freedom of surrender, the exact frequency and visual I have created this painting.
Thank you Michelle for your hard work, your open heart, and for giving me the opportunity to share some of my art and my story.