“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.”
― Carrie Fisher
On December 13th, 2009 I woke up to a bottom that I hadn’t experienced yet in my life and it scared the hell out of me. So much so, that I began the process to stop drinking that very morning, clean up and change the course of my life not fully understanding what that meant. There was nothing easy about this process which included changing my career, places that I might socialize and associates who may not want the same change for me. It was messy and ugly often leaving me depressed, isolated and insecure while constantly searching for purpose and meaning as the process into sobriety became my commitment. The haze of where I had been in my life began to slowly fade as the days became months giving me a new perspective in which to adhere and adapt to. Regaining some dignity took a lot longer.
I am telling you this because I am passing 3 types of 10 year markers all at the same time and none of them would have been marked had it not been for my choice to get sober. First, this is my 10th year of being sober and with every year that my sober birthday arrives, I bake a special cake to remember and celebrate my process and to share with loved ones the rich and delicious reward of my efforts while helping me to mark the occasion. This year was Double Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting…the exact one I made on my first year sober. I choose to call this my birthday rather than anniversary because it was on December 13th 2009 when I chose to, in essence, be born again and it remains the most important day of the year for me.
The process of being sober is one that I constantly consider and track. I count every day and often reflect on the milestones that have brought me here, to today. A large portion on my life had been under the influence of substances, starting when I was 14 or 15, and I had developed behaviors and traits to allow room for this behavior to flourish as well as carefully placing people around me that could facilitate my “party”. Getting to a point in my life where I had no choices left was difficult, getting sober was more difficult, but learning to deal and cope with myself was the most difficult. I had to give up my “security blanket” and learn to live without it and what that meant to me, reaching back into my childhood to remember times when I didn’t need anything to get me going, dull the pain or to be able to be “me” socially. The first year of sobriety was all about this as I slowly began to fit into my new skin and shed the old one. Getting sober and remaining sober is no joke and often it isnt the alcohol that poses the threat, its how I cope with the mechanism of life that does. Being sober is something that I am very vigilant to protect and is something that I am extremely dedicated to with every day that passes and every tomorrow that approaches knowing that one, just one, misstep could bring it all crashing down.
The second 1o year is one of photography and this is my 10th year as a practicing and now professional photographer where over the last decade, photography has been a gift of discovery and perspective into my newly sober world. Without step one, step two would never have occurred and I will tell you why. It was my love Agnieszka who put the camera into my hands in an attempt to quell my desperately restless soul and have something that I could focus on and grow into. Already an avid photographer herself, she taught me the basics in photography a few months prior to getting sober, but it was her endearing support for me after I had committed to being sober where it really counts. During this time, photography became the perfect ingredient that I needed in my life, allowing for me to “see” the world around me and to describe it in a visual way. This perspective, along with my new life perspective, quickly became intertwined as I searched for things to fill the frame and stoke the embers of creativity that had dimmed over the years. Another process that wasn’t ever easy, but with Agnieszkas loving support and constant cheerleading I found my way into this craft with diligence and perseverance leading the way.
A year into being Sober and feeling more confident each day, we decided to spend Christmas of 2010 in Poland with Agnieszkas family. Little did I know it then that this first Christmas in Poland would become the marker for the next 10 that I would spend here in Poland. Which now brings me to the third 10th anniversary…10 years of Christmas in Poland. This is also directly linked to being sober because if I had not remained so or made not the choice to do so, then none of this would have happened in this manner. But, once I actually got sober…man, it’s like life took off in directions I had never dreamed of and for the first time in a long time I went with it, leaning into it, learning to adapt to being uncomfortable.
That first Christmas in Poland will be one I will never forget and remains a high point in my life. We took a round about way to get Wlodawa going through Prague to visit a friend and experience a little Christmas there. Prague was everything that I had imagined it might be complete with winter landscapes filled with snow and frozen cityscapes that looked like they were straight out of a fairy tale. We climbed to the top of the clocktower on a deliciously cold day at sunrise and looking out over the icy cityscape I was stuck by how much different my life suddenly looked. Once in Wlodawa, we were greeted with so much warmth and love that it immediately felt right being there and although I didn’t speak nor understand Polish then, it made no difference and I found there was little that I really didn’t understand and the experience of it all was pure magic.
The process of sobriety paved the way for possibility like I had not experienced before and once home, back in Seattle, the second year of sobriety began with a bang. In the spring of 2011, Agnieszka asked me how I might feel about moving to Poland and accompany her as she continued her studies there. The idea terrified me and immediately filled my head with all kinds of “what if” scenarios and thoughts of failure, but my heart spoke differently to me and eventually trust silenced my mind and let the heart lead. The entirety of this process was new ground for me and I realized that through years of heavy abuse that I had lost the ability to trust in myself and others and that sobriety was giving me clarity to be able to learn how to once again.
2011 was the year that I leaned into trust and gave myself room to experience the growth that comes with it. On September 28th, 2011 we boarded a plane heading to a new home and the destination would be in Poznan, Poland. The process of getting to this seat on the plane took months of work, selling our possessions and saying goodbyes all of which felt cleansing and cathartic, and again, somehow right and even though I had fear, there was never a shadow of doubt that prevented me from doing it. We have now been in Poland for the last 8 years, making this last Christmas the tenth one here and it still feels right and as with the process of being sober, has not been an easy road but it has been one that has been far more rewardign than I could have imagined.
For many of my years drinking I had slowly stopped dreaming or believing in any that I had once had as the years of endless parties and dependency took its toll. The cycle of drinking to ease pain, to cope and then repeat became my way to manage and hide from who I could be. Since getting sober, my life has become a series of events that I hadn’t anticipated but heartily embrace, changes that have brought me to celebrate living in a more meaningful and loving way and the last decade offers proof to this. As a photographer, I have chronicled a large part of it and just as in sobriety have learned how to trust myslef in how I see with what moves me. Sobriety has allowed for me to explore my emotional being as well and in photography this has also been chronicled in the process of a decade of shooting.
2018 was the most difficult year I have had since becoming sober, constantly challenging my every step with a new assortment of issues developed from deprssion and dilemmas caused by it commanding my attention, but I trust the process and lean into it just as I did for the last decade using the tools and techniques I have learned along the way to help sort it out as well as seeking a therapist to help guide me with new ones. Patience has never been my strong suit but the clarity with being sober has given me an appreciation and better understanding of how to be patient as the process takes precedent and I learn to live in the present. 10 years of sobriety has taught me a lot but there is still not a day that does by when I don’t consider how easy it would be to wash and dampen pain or to cope with it through the end of a bottle. It is with these thoughts that I find strength in just one more day and an ability to push it aside to appreciate the process. It is never easy, but if it were, would I find it to be of value?
I am choosing to share this with you today because its important for me to do so. The feelings of helplessness that I felt for so long prior to getting sober still resonate and echo within me. I do not often speak of my sobriety and what it means for me, but with the close of this decade and the next one looming, I felt that it is the right time to offer some words about it. My journey in sobriety has hardly been perfect and I am not without flaws. If nothing else, being sober has given me deeper access to these flaws for them to be corrected and addressed. Staying silent about my journey is something that haunts me a little when I know that there are others out there who might be able to benefit from it. So, if this is you or someone that you know, these changes are not ever easy but they are worth it. You are worth it. There are plenty of ways to get help if you need it and I also know that there are plenty of ways to convince yourself that you don’t need it. I also know that to start is the first step, the most important step and one that you might have to make several times, but with each step comes release and eventually freedom. You really are worth this. Talk to your loved ones, find support where you can and learn how to trust again. Sobriety really is a gift… for those who are willing to receive it.
I have gathered for you a selection of images that are like a road map of the last decade, starting in Seattle and taking you to now, Warsaw. It’s a “small” selection and just like the history I wrote above, there are spots that are not present. If you want to view a larger and more concise library of my total work then I encourage you to visit my Flickr stream that has 53 pages of work and is a chronological representation of then to now. You can find the links below to each of the galleries.
There are a lot of people who have come into my life over the last 10 years creating a meaningful narration to this journey and to each and every one of you who have stopped by, read, reached out, enjoyed and shared my work over the years, a resounding thank you for all of it. If you are new here, then welcome aboard and I look forward to sharing with you in the future. Along with Agnieszka, the support of my friends and family, you have also been my cheerleader for me over the years and have given me the ambition to carry on. Your constant support means the world to me. Cheers to you and to 2020. Tonight I will be opening up my finest non-alcoholic sparkling wine and making a special aknowlegement to you. See you in the New Year.